Thursday, April 19, 2012
Ninja Master #1: Vengeance Is His
Ninja Master #1: Vengeance Is His, by Wade Barker
November, 1981 Warner Books
In the 1980s we were ninja crazy, especially kids my age. Sho Kosugi films, American Ninja, even a TV show (in the craptastic form of Master Ninja, starring Lee Van Cleef!), we loved them all. I remember going to the mall and checking, every other month, for the latest issue of Ninja magazine -- which always had these kick-ass painted covers of some ninja about to waste an unsuspecting samurai or whatever, but the innards of the mag were given over to glossy color photos of dudes in ninja gis throwing each other around in the countryside.
Anyway, I think at the time I was aware of the Ninja Master series, but it was difficult to find. I think I also assumed it was based on the similarly-named Master Ninja TV show, but nothing could be further from the fact. Actually, the template of the series is similar to the show, in that it's about a ninja master traveling around the US and righting wrongs, but the protagonist and the way things go down are wildly different.
Our hero is Brett Wallace, who first appears in the novel with a different last name. He's home from studying philosophy and martial arts in Japan, and with him he's brought his gorgeous Japanese wife, who is pregnant. After a lavish party at his dad's mansion, Brett drives a drunk guest home, and returns to find his family slaughtered in gory fashion. It's eventually learned that a trio of bikers were behind it, high out of their minds and just looking for some fun. Brett tries to let the justice system do its job, but this being a men's adventure novel, Justice is portrayed as a two-dollar crack whore, useless and ineffective.
After a year of planning his attack and funneling his money into various accounts, as well as re-naming himself "Brett Wallace," Brett springs his trap on the bikers and kills 'em real good with some martial arts. After which he heads to Japan to take up this old master on an offer the man made to Brett years before: an offer to make Brett a ninja. Flash forward (literally) nine years later, and Brett is now a ninja badass, one of the "top five" ninjas in the world. This flash-forward is so goofy as to be hilarious, but to be honest the last thing I'd want to read is a long novel filled with ninja training techniques and etc.
Brett sets up a new life for himself in San Francisco, even scoring a new beautiful girl in his life: Rhea, a Japanese lady whose uncle was a ninja. In between frequent sexual escapades, Brett opens a SanFran restaurant and makes Rhea his chief cook, using the restaurant as a cover for his hidden wealth. Now he is free to do what he has returned to America for: to travel about and use his ninja skills to aid the weak!
But man, it's all so plodding and boring. This novel is filled to the brim with characters sitting around as they drink and talk about shit that has nothing to do with anything. Dialog about where they want to go eat dinner and what the place serves. It's obvious too that the author has no clear idea what a "ninja" is; reading Vengeance Is His, you'd get the idea that a ninja isn't much different from a karate master. Brett uses no weapons, no shadowy skills, and of course doesn't even wear a ninja gi.
There's a group of punks killing elderly residents of an inner-city borough in Los Angeles, and after hobknobbing with the residents Brett figures out who they are. Man, it takes a long time for this to happen. To get there you have to navigate through more chitchat, including an endless trip to a karate school run by some local elders. And of course more trips to various restaurants. Finally Brett closes in on the gang, but instead of the ninja massacre I wanted, with Brett killing hordes of the bastards with ninjutsu steel, he instead takes out the leaders one by one, the "action" scenes incredibly brief and hamfisted.
Reading this, you'd figure that the Ninja Master series would be dead in the water. And apparently it almost was. "Wade Barker" was a house name, one that eventually became associated solely with author Ric Meyers. But according to this post on VintageNinja.com, Meyers did not write Vengeance Is His or the seventh volume of the series, Skin Swindle. Meyers states in his post that the guy who did write Vengeance Is His also turned in a second volume, but Warner Books felt that it was "unpublishable." Hell, I think this one was unpublishable!
What's odd though is that parts of Vengeance Is His are well-written, but well-written in a style not beneficial to the men's adventure genre. What I'm saying is, the author was trying too hard to turn out a "regular" novel, not realizing the pulp nature of the genre. Also, this author name-drops more than any other men's adventure writer I've yet read: Brett listens to the jazz stylings of Keith Jarrett and David Sanborn, he drinks Absolut Vodka (a lot of it), the hooker who lives in the apartment beneath him wears Rolling Stone T-shirts, and on and on. There's even a veiled reference to then-popular Bo Derek ("the perfect ten herself").
The few action scenes, as mentioned, are brief. Brett usually uses some fast moves to take out his opponents, and in one cool sequence he wastes a dude with a pencil. But the book could've been so much better. There's a distinct lack of tension or drama, and a sort of pallid tone envelops it. There is though quite a bit of sex, which veers into the humorous purple-prosed territory. But anyway, the Ninja Master we meet here isn't all that tough, and would certainly get his ass handed to him by, say, Mondo.