Tuesday, November 30, 2010

TNT: The Missing Two Volumes

As mentioned in my reviews of the TNT series, volumes #7 and #8 of the original French series were not included as part of Charter's English translation. Below I've placed the original covers for these missing volumes, published by Editions Robert Laffont in 1979.

First up is #7: Le Grand Chaperon Noir (aka The Large Black Hood). I have no idea what the book is about, but the lady on the cover certainly intrigues me:

And next there's #8: Les Cobras De Lilliput (aka The Cobras Of Lilliput) which sounds unusual, even for TNT standards; it appears that our man Tony Twin is shrunk to Lilliputlian size in this adventure!

The smart thing to do would be for some publisher to release an omnibus edition of the entire TNT series, adding on new translations of these "missing" two volumes. I for one would love to know what we're missing out on!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Performance, by William Hughes
1970, Tandem Books

Despite the rekindled interest in Performance, this novelization has been forgotten. The movie's finally on DVD, there are manifold books out there about the film and its production, and you can even buy Donald Cammell's script, but this novel by William Hughes has been out of print for 37 years.

The first thing to be said is that Hughes was obviously working off an early draft of Cammell's script, or at least the shooting script. There are many mysteries around the multiple edits of Performance, and they all can be answered by the script. Long story short, Cammell wrote a story in which a thug on the run spends a day with a shut-in rock star, ending with the thug having gained a new lease on and appreciation for life, but still going off to his death at the hands of the thugs he was running from. While shooting Cammell changed the script to the darker storyline we know, one in which the thug (Chas) not only meets his end, but the rock star shut-in (Turner) does as well. Despite changing this, Cammell still followed his script in that things followed a logical progression of events.

The first cut of the film was rejected by the executives, who abhorred the violence and nudity. Cammell went to LA and recut the film, taking out some of the violence and nudity, but replacing them with a quick-cut esthetic which if anything made the film more visceral and shocking. Most of the changes were made to the first half of the film, Chas on his daily errands. Whereas the script and the first cut of Performance (and this novelization) followed Chas step by step, this new cut was all over the place, cutting to and from scenes of destruction with fury. So, whenever you read something like, "The original, more shocking version of Performance has been lost," know that the first version was in no way more shocking than the version which has come down to us.

As for this novelization, first of all Hughes' prose is dry as the Sahara. No fancy literary tricks here. Just a straight-up rendering of Cammell's script. However Hughes explains many things that the film leaves unsaid. For one, he clearly points out that Chas and Joey share a past that was much more than just friendship; explanation for why the two have such a loathing for one another. This is something the film only hinted at. We also learn more about the inhabitants of Turner's lair; Pherber is an artist, and Lucy supports herself by doing modeling work around London. Noteable also is that the novelization features the character Mojo -- featured in early script drafts but not in the movie. Turner's assistant, he shows up for one brief scene in the novel to fix Turner's tape recorder, and it is to Mojo that Turner says what would have been a great line in the film: "I can't now, baby. I have an orgy on." (Colin MacCabe mentions this line in his BFI book Performance.)

It's in the second half of the novel that the differences become so apparent. First, Chas has his way with Pherber, which of course doesn't occur in the film. This has a major effect on his personality (something Hughes strains to convey, but has difficulty doing so), but doesn't make for a permanent change. Then the cops show up, looking for the drugs they know Turner has on the premises. Apparently this part of the script was a big part of the film's funding; the executives were nonplussed to discover Cammell ditched the entire subplot while filming. For muddled reasons (again, the novel does little to convey the symbiosis between Turner and Chas, though I'm sure this is more due to the film relying so much on visual impact and import) Turner takes the fall, afraid the cops will discover Chas and his gun rather than the drugs.

After a fight with Pherber, Chas retreats to his room, where he has his encounter with Lucy -- something which does happen in the movie, but under different circumstances. This makes for a permanent change to his character. Again, Hughes struggles to relay just HOW a brutal thug like Chas can so thoroughly change within a day, just from being with two hippie chicks. Hughes even has Chas question this himself. But no matter, it was the sixties; stuff like that just happened.

An important note is that in the novel (and early draft of the script) Chas doesn't kill Turner. Instead, upon Turner's return from jail the next dawn, the two of them share an awkward moment in which Chas thanks Turner for all of his help. So then we lose all of the moments that made the film so unique -- Chas being dressed up like a Hashishin, being prepared for the murder of Turner (however the "Chas on drugs" scene remains, only in the novel it's marijuana that does him in rather than mushrooms). This makes for a less effecting but happier ending. Instead of being shot in his bed, Turner instead watches Chas being driven off by Harry Flowers, and somehow knows the journey will be his last.

While this novelization is a great item to have for the Performance fan, I wouldn't recommend spending too much on it. The book is super-slim and the print is small, but it conveys none of the impact or mystique of Cammell and Roeg's film. Fans who want to read the story but don't want to search for this novelization are recommended Cammell's script, which was published a few years back.

Friday, November 19, 2010

John Eagle Expeditor #2: The Brain Scavengers

John Eagle Expeditor #2: The Brain Scavengers, by Paul Edwards
May, 1973  Pyramid Books

Manning Lee Stokes serves as Paul Edwards  for the Expeditor series once again, dropping us back into John Eagles life a month after the events in the first volume of this series. And once again Stokes delivers a novel as if from another age, filled with terrain description straight out of Jack London and reeking of a male chauvinism unheard of even in the rarefied world of '70s men's adventure novels.

And like the first novel, The Brain Scavengers takes forever to get going. Its also longer than the average mens adventure novel, coming in at 220 pages. Stokes could've cut a lot of this stuff; indeed our hero John Eagle doesn't even appear until page 60, and the entire novel is basically him preparing for his mission.

In a way The Brain Scavengers is padding in its worst form; Stokes fills pages by hopping from one characters POV to another, but it's all immaterial because their thoughts and actions have little bearing on the novel. In particular he wastes a lot of space detailing the life of Suthinya, a gorgeous (of course) Russian scientist who lives in a hidden base in the midst of Siberia; here Suthinya heads a team who has extracted insane scientists from the US and other capitalist countries, where they aim to repair the damaged brains and coax the newly-sane scientists to work for the USSR. But rather than providing details on her scientific methods, Stokes instead focuses on Suthinya's romantic woes with a Russian commander.

It takes our heroes endless pages to discover this latest commie threat and devise a plan of action. Mr. Merlin, wheelchair-bound director of the Expeditor program, calls in his one and only Expeditor: John Eagle. Again the rudiments of Eagles training and prep are glossed over, and hes sent out into the Siberian wasteland. Once more in his chameleon suit and armed with his needle gun and trusty bow and arrow, this time Eagle has a new gadget: a nuclear grenade which can destroy six square miles. But the novelty factor of the previous volume is gone.

Indeed, the action half of the novel goes down without any big fuss; Eagle treks through the frozen wasteland, kills a few Russian soldiers, and gets into the hidden base. But then he meets Suthinya, and here the novel appropriates all the lurid charm youve been waiting for. For Suthinya has already rebelled against her Communist leaders and wants to escape with Eagle, only she fears him, and in fact threatens to break down entirely. So what does Eagle do? Realizing that women are the weaker sex," he knows that only one thing will calm down this complete stranger: bed medicine. Yes, Eagle takes Suthinya into a side room  moments after meeting her  and coaxes her into sex, where his manly passion will of course subdue her womanly fears. I couldnt believe what I was reading!

Of course it works, and Suthinya comes out of it worshipful of Eagle and ready to help him in any way possible. But really, that's about the extent of the action in the novel; even the escape is handled in a perfunctory manner, with Suthinya doing the big work while Eagle waits, using her credentials to smuggle the nuclear grenade into the depths of the hidden complex. Eagle himself only pulls off a few kills, and I must mention he comes off like a heartless bastard this time out, killing everyone  even those he promises not to kill  in order to accomplish his mission.

At any rate, this was Stokess last Expeditor novel for a while, so I'm hoping the next author opens up the series a bit more.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Flowers And Flesh

Flowers And Flesh, by J.X. Williams
1968, Pleasure Reader

I'm definitely trawling some forgotten fiction depths here. This has to be the most forgotten genre of all: hippie porn fiction. Flowers And Flesh is pretty rare and goes for big bucks, so I wouldn't advise seeking it out; it's certainly not worth the money sellers ask for.

For a pre-Woodstock cash-in on the hippie generation, the novel's actually pretty prescient in that the hippies are just as clueless as the older generation they rebel against. Our "hero" is Captain Kosmos, a hippie guru who descends on a midwestern town with his legions of followers, vowing to "save" them from their boring lives. His nemesis at first is local high school jock Joe, who after some LSD sex with his turned-on girlfriend becomes Kosmos's best pal and co-leader. Together they build a permanent commune outside the town, for hippies from all over to flock to.

The novel is more of a serialized affair, with Kosmos going on one crazy adventure after another. And it's a strange mix. For, moments after preaching peace and love, Kosmos is killing off his Hell's Angels enemies and murdering innocent townspeople who mock his hippie lifestyle. And for a hippie, Kosmos is as rich as Howard Hughes; he flies around in his own helicopter, dropping fragmentation grenades on his enemies. (There's a gruesome sequence where he puts a frag grenade in an old farmer's mouth and clamps shut the man's mouth as the grenade explodes, which goes beyond anything I've ever read in a men's adventure novel!)

Strange too is the way this book is written. "J.X. Williams" (a psuedonym, it goes without saying) proves himself capable of writing some great dialog and some truly mystical blather -- several times Kosmos preaches to his flock and the writing here excels. In fact, Kosmos' blather put me in the mind of Alejandro Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain, and his plea that everyone yield to the "sex force" Ka gives the novel an extra push, as if Williams knows more than he lets on. But for every moment like that, there will be another that seems to have come from a different author, a dashed-off and middling sequence filled with spelling errors and terrible dialog. I get the impression these bits are just padding, there to fill up the page count.

And guess what else fills up most of the page count? That's right, sex. There's a ton of sex in Flowers And Flesh. What more could you expect from a good ol' "stroke book?" But here's the thing...the sex here is pretty repulsive. There's nothing erotic about any of the plentiful sex scenes; people just screw, and that's it -- none of the purple prose one might expect from such shenanigans. And the sex scenes that are described are usually pretty gross, there for shock value...or something. Really, this aspect of the novel mystifies me. I mean, who was this book for? If it was for the "raincoat crowd" looking for some literary porn, then they would be dissatisfied; there was much more erotic and explicit stuff being published in mainstream literature (remember, this was the era of Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susan).

I'm also confused about the mash-up of Kosmos' bicameral mentality. Throughout the novel he kills with glee, and then moments later he preaches love. I assumed this was Williams spoofing the hippie movement, following the old saw that beneath their LSD pacifism they were all just a bunch of nazis, but the thing is, this whole aspect is never addressed. I kept waiting for Kosmos to get some sort of comeuppance, but it never happened. Which is a shame, because the entire novel comes off like a satire -- Kosmos destroys an entire town without worry, but pages later freaks out because the cops show up at his doorstep and he's afraid they're going to find his dope stash.

Anyway, I'm giving this novel more thought than it deserves. It's clunky, trashy, seems to have been printed straight from the original typewriter manuscript, and is only occasionally enlivened by some psuedo-guru prose. The sex scenes add nothing, the action scenes are flat because they lack any realism, and the characters are caricatures -- bad ones at that.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mini Marvels

Mini Marvels Ultimate Collection, by Chris Giarrusso
January, 2010 Marvel Comics

I generally steer clear of anything which proclaims itself as suitable for "all ages," but this book is an exception to the rule. Chris Giarrusso's Mini Marvels really does justify the description: kids will enjoy the goofy humor and pint-sized versions of classic Marvel heroes, while adults -- especially ones who grew up with Marvel comics -- will appreciate the in-jokes. In fact I think adults just might enjoy Mini Marvels more than kids.

I've only recently discovered the series. Giarrusso started up a "Marvel meets Peanuts" strip in 1999 which ran as "Bullpen Bits" in Marvel's editorial columns. As the years progressed Giarusso's art got slicker and the strips longer, some of them running into epic proportions as mini-series or special editions. This paperback collects all of Giarusso's Mini Marvels work (save a few Bullpen Bits; one of them, featuring Cyclops, I've placed below). This is by far one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a long time.

Giarrusso recreates the famous Marvel characters as feisty kids. But this isn't one of those stupid modern-day kids-centric hero deals; you know what I mean, shrill cartoons featuring little smart-asses who spout lame dialog at one another. Mini Marvels is several steps above that. These comics are funny, not stupid, and therein lies the difference. In other words, Giarrusso hasn't written a dumbed-down product to appeal to children; he's put real work into his stories and his art so that it not only appeals to kids but also resonates with an adult audience. It's a special kind of magic for sure. When I finished the book I actually missed these little guys.

Giarrusso pretty much does everything -- he draws all of the strips and writes the majority of them. A handful of quickies are written by others, and without a doubt those strips are the worst in the book; it appears that only Giarrusso knows how to portray these characters. He has a definite handle on the various major and minor Marvel personalities (keep an eye open for incredibly obscure characters hiding in the background), and he really seems to have an affinity fo the unsung Avenger Hawkeye. The scrappy archer appears in many of the strips and usually serves as the protagonist; it's nice to see a writer who knows that not every story needs to star Wolverine or Spider-Man. I also love Giarrusso's take on Iron Man, whose ego hasn't diminished despite his smaller stature here.

The biggest shame is that Marvel cancelled the title because they feared people would confuse it with their craptastic new cartoon Super Hero Squad. This nauseating animated series is all the things Mini Marvels isn't: it's stupid, crass, and seems designed to appeal to children brain-damaged from inhaling magic marker fumes. In fact it seems to have been written by those same brain-damaged children.

So, a smart and clever title was cancelled so that a stupid one could live. But then, that's the way of today's rotten world. If Marvel had been smart they would've given Giarrusso a steady job and sold the property as a Sunday comics feature with national distribution. With it's "Peanuts for the Marvel Age" mentality, I'm certain a weekly Mini Marvels strip could've become a huge hit.

I could just rave on and on about this book. There are only a few negatives. For one, I'm uncertain why that aforementioned Cyclops strip and a few other Bullpen Bits weren't included (numbers 2, 9, 10, 36, 37, and 44 respectively -- and it's a real shame that #44 wasn't reprinted here, as its "Wolverine as Charlie Brown" image is downright iconic). Luckily you can find all of the Bullpen Bits over at Giarrusso's website, under the "comic strips" tab in the Mini Marvels section. And another thing I don't like is the somewhat-smaller size of the book. It's not up to the usual trade paperback dimensions; I'm thinking Marvel's done this to appeal to the tweener manga-reading market, which only serves to increase my anger.

Below I've placed some samples of the various strips (freely stolen from about the web), from the early scratchy material to the later, slicker affairs.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Book of Stier

The Book of Stier, by Robin Sanborn
June, 1971 Berkley Medallion

Here's another primo slice of psychedelic science fiction. Actually, it's not exactly science fiction, even though Berkley labelled it as such; The Book of Stier takes place in the "future" of 1979, but it's pretty much the same world as 1971. The war in Vietnam still rages and hippies still roam the streets. The sci-fi element doesn't arise until over halfway through, when the novel takes on a sort of Illuminatus!-in-miniature vibe.

Our "hero" is Paul Odeon, a leading agent at an advertising firm (just like Darrin in Bewitched!). Odeon is assigned a new account: a music revolution has taken over Canada, all of it in the name of one Richard Steir. Steir's music is sort of a pagan/tribal/opera thing, something so unique that those who hear it are immediately enthralled. Steir's about to break in the United States, and Odeon is assigned to write some copy for the back of the LPs, introducing the singer and his beliefs to the country. And Steir is a man of many beliefs -- on the war, on nature, on sex, on how one should live.

Odeon takes the job and finds himself completely at odds with Steir's world. Odeon at 31 is older than the kids who flock to Steir, and would prefer to drink booze or smoke a little pot than inhale the mysterious, narcotic clay the "Snowchildren" of Stier always have with them. But as Odeon works the account he sees Steirmusic invading the minds of America's youth; they band together in covens with rigid hierarchies and wear nothing but white, the sole color which pleases their guru Richard Stier.

It's at this point we realize The Book of Stier is a satire on the entire counterculture/hippie movement (as if Odeon's sarcasm wasn't clue enough). For the Snowchildren shun drugs, instead preferring to sniff that mysterious clay, and do little to mess with the system, doing their own thing without rocking the boat. And, unlike the scraggly hippies, they wear uniform, pristine white, keeping themselves and their homes clean -- indeed, they're such clean-freaks that they gather together and clean the streets and alleys of America's cities.

Odeon finds himself further pulled into the mysterious mind of the still-unseen Richard Stier; the albums keep coming, the world's youth continues to change themselves in his image, but the man himself remains a shadow, only glimpsed in occasional publicity photos, where he appears as a white-clothed youth with golden blonde hair. As Odeon watches the world change he becomes consumed with finding out who Stier is. However, it soon arises that Stier himself has plans for Odeon.

Here the novel takes on a definite Illuminatus! vibe; Odeon is "initiated" by a handful of Stier's "high priestesses." Women who teach Odeon via dancing and sex the secrets of history, how the modern world was spawned from the ruin of Atlantis. Things continue to spiral out of control and soon Odeon is seen as an agent provocateur, with the US government shadowing him -- there follows a few hilarious bits with a gay CIA agent who accosts him. Now a man on the run, Odeon escapes to Canada, where he's determined to find the man behind the myth. As the novel rushes for its climax it becomes increasingly surreal, and when Odeon achieves his goal he finds the last thing he ever could have expected.

The Book of Stier is all about the search for a gifted artist who might not even exist; the same could be said of author Robin Sanborn. Who was this person? He (though of course it could be she) is a fantastic writer, delivering great dialog, narrative, and plot. Paul Odeon in particular is a wonderful creation -- he's one of the most cynical, sarcastic, and asinine "heroes" I've ever had the pleasure to encounter, delivering smart-ass lines with aplomb. Many sequences had me laughing out loud, something that's difficult for any novel to achieve. What I'm saying is, there's no way such a talented writer could churn out only one novel and then disappear -- doing some research I've found that only one other book was published under the name Robin Sanborn: Mohammed Wong Spouts, a 56-page book published in 1979 by Exposition Press which "explains that whales have brains more developed than those of humans."

There's no rule that says psuedonymous authors can only publish one book, so I really suspect that "Robin Sanborn" is a guise. If I'm correct I'd love to know who he/she was. The caustic tone and pitch-perfect comedic timing make me suspect someone like Michael O'Donoghue, but that's just guesswork. At any rate this is an enjoyable novel, one that pokes fun at the hippie movement while still retaining a funky-freaky vibe of its own, and it's definitely recommended to those who prefer their science fiction a bit trippy.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Storming Heaven

Storming Heaven, by Gordon Rennie, Frazer Irving, and others
January 2007, Rebellion Books

Another one of those fortuitous web discoveries -- I was Googling something like "psychedelic superheroes" and came up with this slick trade paperback, which collects a host of stories drawn by fab artist Frazer Irving for the UK comic 2000AD. In particular the book features the Storming Heaven story arc, written by Gordon Rennie. It's about as "psychedelic superhero" as you can get and well worth the price of the paperback (which you can actually find for pretty cheap, even though it's currently out of print in the US).

From what I've discovered online, at the time Storming Heaven was being published in 2000AD, the current editor had a policy that all stories had to be fast-moving with lots of razzle dazzle. So then, most character and plot development was jettisoned in favor of action, action, action. This appears to have mortally damaged Storming Heaven, as this was a storyline which certainly needed some time to properly play out. Instead we have a 30-or-so page storyline in which characters are introduced in dialog, killed off in dialog, or glimpsed for half a panel. We really don't get to know any of the characters or even get a good look at this psychedelic world they've created, and it's all over before we know it.

Despite all that, it's still pretty cool, not just for the concept alone but also for Irving's slick art. Each panel is like a psychedelic painting in miniature. And the concept is one I've had in mind for years. It's little discussed today, but there was a brief time in which comic books (particularly Marvel characters) were embraced by the late '60s/early '70s counterculture. (The Hulk even appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone -- back when the magazine was cool!) Hippie leaders like Ken Kesey often said that psychedelics could turn one into a turned-on superhero (indeed, Kesey's comment served as inspiration for this story), so I've often wondered why no comic creators capitalized on this. But Rennie and Irving have and, though compromised by editorial constraints, the story they've delivered is a good one.

It's San Francisco, summer of 1967 -- the Summer of Love. Professor Adam Laar, a Timothy Leary-type proclaimer of the virtues of LSD, takes a heroic dose of acid to prove his colleagues wrong. He is reborn as Dr. Trips, the first turned-on superhero. Irving gives him a super-cool design, with a flowing Day-Glo beard and blazing third eye:

A new dawn of man springs forth in Trips' image, a world of psychedelic superheroes who conglomerate in the Haight-Ashbury district. Here Trips proclaims his brave new world and urges people to overcome their "stupid monkey" brains and become "true humans." But evil threatens the idyllic world Trips proclaims -- evil in the form of Thomas Caliban (basically, Charles Manson). After a few sex magick rites Caliban becomes a sort of demon and assembles an army of zombielike followers. They assault Haight-Ashbury and a battle for the soul of mankind ensues.

It just all happens too fast. Rennie and Irving hurl several novel concepts at us: Trips enters the "psychedeliverse," a kaleidoscopic zone from which he gains his powers; lurking there is the cosmic fetus of his unborn child, which when born will be the first fully turned-on human being. The psychedelic heroes of the Haight band together in groups with colorful names, but unfortunately we don't see any of them. And it's obvious from the beginning that Rennie is developing an Isis-Osiris-Horus theme, but due to the editorial-mandated rush we have little chance to fully appreciate it.

Researching the book I also discovered an interview with with Irving in which he discusses Storming Heaven; you can find it here. As for the trade paperback, it features several other stories Irving provided the art for, most of them only a few pages in length. I haven't read them. I will however read Storming Heaven again -- it's unfortunate the story wasn't allowed to reach its full potential. Here's hoping Gordon Rennie does the proper thing and expands it into a full-blown novel.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Centerforce, by TA Waters
December, 1974 Dell

What a missed opportunity. This could've been THE psychedelic sci-fi novel of the entire countercultural movement of the early 1970s. Its "Easy Rider meets 1984" near future America of biker gangs, hippie communes, roving vigilantes, and overbearing governmental agencies encapsulates all of the countercultural staples -- there's even sex and drugs and rock. But the novel fails to deliver on its own promise, and instead becomes a pretentious trawl of a read. Pretension was also one of the staples of the counterculture fiction, as I learned to my dismay years ago when I read a batch of forgotten hippie fiction. CenterForce might be the most pretentious of the lot -- and I've read Stones of Summer!

In barely 200 pages the novel relays this "hippies against The Man" near future of what appears to be the early 1980s. It doesn't matter, though, because the novel's as "early '70s" as you can get. The hippie protests of yore have escalated so that now the government is killing its own; the CenterForce has been created to track down and eliminate home-soil hostiles. An entire stretch of desert in the Midwest has been blasted apart, but here the bikers and the hippies eke out their existence. Like Escape from New York, this barren wasteland is now theirs. But satellite technology tracks their every move as they travel to and from their little kingdoms; and, more dangerously, government-sanctioned vigilantes have clearance to shoot them on sight.

Ben Reed (think Waters was a Fantastic Four fan?) is one of the bikers, and we follow him as he heads on into the forbidden territory to meet up with his fellows. Along the way he evades CenterForce patrols with his augmented BMW chopper (which looks nothing like the Roger Dean-esque illustration on the cover!), takes some mescaline, and thinks about the various women he's slept with. Outside the biker-controlled town is the StarChilde commune, in which a virginal girl has come to seek spiritual knowledge; instead she meets Ben, which results in instant love.

But if only the novel was told in as simple a fashion. Instead, CenterForce is made up of elliptical chapters of two to three pages; many of the chapters aren't even narrative, but governmental dispatches, transcripts of hippie interrogations, diary entries, letters from one minor character to another, "translations" of Chinese poems (which turn out to have been written by a computer, ha ha ha), and, worse yet, sections of script complete with action, dialog, and camera directions. It's as if Waters tried every trick in the book to get around the fact that he had such little story to tell. He even gave each "chapter" titles lifted from the I Ching! Pretension so thick you could choke on it.

Anyway, it's a shame. This novel really could've been something.