Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mutants Amok #1

Mutants Amok #1, by Mark Grant
March, 1991 Avon Books

I was unfamiliar with this five-volume series until I read about it over on Zwolf's blog, The Mighty Blowhole. The concept sounded pretty goofy -- a future America where human-created mutants have enslaved the human population, all of it relayed in an appropriately over-the-top style.

"Just wacky," as Zwolf put it in his review. Which is exactly what the book turned out to be. To be sure, Mutants Amok is a violent, sex-filled trip into a funhouse future America, but it's told with a definite tongue in cheek vibe. I mean, there's a part in here where the main mutant villain stomps on (and crushes) the head of a baby, and it's played for laughs!

Before we get to the meat of the review, a bit of background: Mark Grant is a house name, and this first volume as well as the next three were written by David Bischoff, a noted sci-fi author with reams of books published under his own name and a variety of psuedonyms. The fifth and final volume, Christmas Slaughter, was written by Bruce King, though it too carried the "Mark Grant" by-line. (And speaking of which, Christmas Slaughter is by far the most rare and expensive volume in the series, so act now if you're interested, before it disappears -- or before online sellers jack up the prices of their copies to even more absurd levels.)

As mentioned, Mutants Amok occurs in a future America which is now enslaved by mutants. There are a variety of "muties," from Braingenerals to foot soldiers to even cybernetically-enhanced monstrosities (in the guise of Charlegmagne, ruler of America). There are mutants who have been created for specific and menial duties, others that are bred solely for war. Humankind has been reduced to slavery, working on farms or other areas, overseen constantly by mutant overlords who have total authority over their lives.

However, the mutants are complete idiots.

What on the surface sounds like a dystopian trawl into some hellish future world (which is how the back cover even tries to hype the novel) is really more akin to a fantasy sequence from The Simpsons or the average episode of Futurama. I'm not sure if Bischoff created the series concept or someone at Avon did, but at any rate when it came time to the actual execution of the tale, Bischoff must've thought to himself, "This is just goofy, and I'm gonna write it goofy."

So then the mutant rulers are incredibly cruel and vicious but in such an over-the-top, cliched way that it's all just a plain comedy. And yet, there's so much in-fighting among them, with bosses killing off their underlings for no reason, that one begins to wonder how in the hell the mutants were able to take over the world in the first place. From first page to last the mutants, even the ones bred for war, are presented as incompetents, bungling everything. They're incredibly stupid and lazy, unaware that their human captors are carrying on secret lives right beneath their noses.

Which again seems to indicate that the book, if not the entire series, is just a light-hearted spoof. But a spoof with a punch; the action scenes here, even though there are only a few of them, are filled with gore, and there are also a handful of purple-prosed sex scenes. In short, Mutants Amok seems designed to appeal to sex and action-obsessed teenage boys, and given that I was such a teenage boy when it was published, it saddens me that I wasn't aware of the series back then.

The "hero" of the tale is Max Turkel, a famed human rebel who, when we meet him, is in the process of escaping from his latest assault on mutantkind. Hacking up a few mutant soldiers in gory fashion, Max takes off in a plane, getting shot a few times for his troubles. He crashes in a forest near a mutant-controlled agricultural center, where young field-worker Jack Bender catches sight of Turkel's plane as it's going down. Convenientely enough, Bender has a veritable treehouse palace hidden out in that very same forest, where he goes to get away from his abusive mutant owner, and Turkel's plane has crashed near it.

The majority of the novel is given over to the awakening of Jack's rebel spirit as he cares for the stricken Turkel, whom he hides up in the treehouse. Jack likes his life on the farm, even if he is a slave; plus there's Jenny Anderson, a gorgeous blond Jack has frequent (and explicit) sex scenes with. Meanwhile he listens to Turkel's rants against mutantkind, also putting up with the man's cynical remarks, drunkeness, and sexual advice(!). (The scene where Turkel, hiding up on the treehouse roof, provides Jack with tips on cunnilingus -- while Jenny is downstairs waiting for him -- is especially priceless.) Turkel comes off more like the annoying neighbor in a sitcom, but he's presented to us as the stoic hero of the human freedom movement -- yet more indication that the entire book is just a goof.

In a sideplot we see the activities of Braingeneral Torx as he searches for Turkel. Emperor Charlegmagne has demanded Turkel's head, or else he will have Torx's, and to demonstrate this the emperor has a few mutants killed in front of Torx. (Not that it makes much of a difference, as Torx himself kills a few of his underlings as the novel proceeds.) Torx is the aforementioned baby-stomper, and it's another sign of the book's spirit that he comes off as the most memorable character in the cast. The very walking cliche of a jack-booted ruler, Torx storms and stomps through the novel, determined to capture Turkel. ("Braingenerals" by the way were the original line of human-created mutants, designed and bred for military strategy genius; Torx is yet more proof that the experiment was a grand failure.)

There's also a building subplot in which the mutants are harvesting humans and dissecting them, in the hopes that they can figure out how to create self-replicating mutants; the only reason the mutants keep humans around, despite the menial labor, is because the mutants themselves are sterile. This subplot builds up until it's the turning point in Jack's relation to Turkel and the movement, and appears to carry over into the next volume; this first one ends on a cliffhanger.

But it's all very sci-fi, if overly goofy. There are robots and cyborgs, even a friggin' race of hobbits which the mutants designed! (The hobbit though provides another fun opportunity for Torx to display his mercilessness.) Battles however are staged with the weapons of today, ie machine guns and pistols and Uzis, not to mention knives and even chainsaws. Bischoff takes special relish in describing the impact of each and every bullet into the hides of his mutant villains.

I've actually picked up the rest of the series, and I enjoyed this first volume enough that I'm looking forward to reading the rest.

1 comment:

Zwolf said...

Great review! And thanks for the plug! ;) I snagged all of these (even Christmas Slaughter, when I found a good copy for $9... which is a little steep for a used book for me (years of Book-Rack-ing have me spoiled to think they should all be half of cover price), but considering that's the lowest I've ever seen it I jumped on it. Haven't tried reading beyond the first one, though... they're pretty goofy! I'm hoping they'll get a little more serious as they go, but I'm kinda doubting it.

I got lucky and snagged the first four at half-of-cover at strange local used bookstore a few years back... I miss that place, they had some strange things.