Monday, December 30, 2013

The Executioner #46: Bloodsport

The Executioner #46: Bloodsport, by Raymond Obstfeld
October, 1982  Gold Eagle Books

It was strange reading one of Gold Eagle's first Executioner publications. Written by Raymond Obstfeld, Bloodsport seems less like that writer’s own work and more like an attempt at mimicking the style of Don Pendleton. From what Stephen Mertz has told me, this was no doubt intentional, given that in the earliest days Gold Eagle strived to retain the feel of Pendleton’s work.

It’s funny though because, other than a few stretches here and there, Bloodsport doesn’t come off much at all like the work of the guy who gave us Masked Dog and the awesome Invasion U.S.A. novelization. Throughout the novel, Obstfeld’s narrative will arbitrarily break off into Pendleton-style rhetoric about the evils of terrorism or the heroic nature of Mack Bolan; that is, when it isn’t indulging in Gold Eagle’s other favorite mainstay: gun-porn. Given that Obstfeld had already published a handful of novels by this point, my assumption then is that all of this is mostly due to some editorial manipulation.

Also since it’s so early in the series this installment has April Rose, the hotbod Stony Man PC lady who served as Bolan’s love interest and was later killed (in a Mertz installment, by the way), likely to the relief of fans everywhere. I’d forgotten how boring of a character she was. However April shares no time with Bolan this time out, instead hunching over a computer back in Stony Man HQ, “head Fed” Hal Brognola leaning over her shoulder all the while. Periodically the narrative will shift over to these two for some pages-filling, go-nowhere scenes as they worry about the Executioner.

Anyway Bolan’s in Germany when we meet him, cracking down on a blackmarket gunrunning ring on a US Army base. Bloodsport is unusually short on action scenes, but we have one here as Bolan and two young security guards break in on a fat sergeant and his underlings, a few hours before these men are scheduled to meet with representatives from German terrorist group the Zwilling Horde. Bolan blows a hole in the fat sergeant’s head and spends the rest of the novel posing as him – another penchant from the Pendleton era, with Bolan operating for the most part undercover.

The Horde is led by a pair of insane siblings: Thomas and Tanya Morganslicht (those German names just roll off the tongue, don’t they?). Tanya and a goon named Klaus show up for the gun-purchase from the man Bolan is posing as, and since the two never met the now-deceased sergeant no one’s the wiser. Bolan, with the help of the local Army base, fools Tanya into believing that he’s been found out, and blasting their way out (Tanya unwittingly firing blanks) they “escape.”

Bloodsport runs at 188 pages of big print, and most of it’s comprised of Bolan killing time with the Zwilling Horde as he tries to figure out what major threat they have planned. This is why he’s on the mission; that, and the handful of European Olympic athletes the Horde have kidnapped for some unknown reason. So then we have the obligatory scenes where Bolan must convince Tanya and her brother that he’s just a heartless “businessman” and is only willing to help out the Horde in exchange for payment.

The hostaged athletes are kept in a shack in the middle of the campgrounds that the Horde has taken over, deep in the German woods. There’s a martial arts master, an archery expert, a skier, and an attractive Czechoslovakian gymnast named Babette who of course would end up with Bolan in the final pages if it weren’t for April Rose. Bolan also has his chance with Tanya Morganslicht, who as you’ve no doubt guessed is beautiful herself. True to genre form the evil woman has raven-black hair whereas good girl Babette is of course a blonde.

In fact, the lack of sex is another throwback to the Pendleton era; when late in the tale Tanya makes her expected come-on to Bolan, our boy turns her down cold. Not that Obstfeld doesn’t have fun with the scene, having Tanya unbutton her blouse, show off her “ample breasts” as she propositions Bolan, and then slap around an underling who happens to stumble in on them. Bolan of course isn’t even attracted to the woman, despite her beauty, too disgusted by her sadism and evil nature. Jack Sullivan would’ve felt the same way, no doubt, but at least he would’ve still banged her.

Gradually Bolan learns what the Horde has in mind – they want to steal an experimental nerve gas called Yellow Rain and unleash it on playgrounds, killing “hundreds” of children! But for some bizarre reason, even after discovering this Bolan still bides his time, waiting until the 15 or so members of the group plan to steal it from a nearby base. Having told the hostaged athletes earlier that he’s really on their side, Bolan is able to spring them as they make their way for the base – the Horde having abducted these specific people so as to use their skills in the Yellow Rain theft.

Bloodsport ends on an action scene, as Bolan, armed with a Hechler and Koch G11, singlehandedly takes on the Horde. This sequence too seems to have been tinkered with behind the scenes, as tonally it’s at odds with the rest of the book, filled with these arbitrary sermons on the evils of the world as Bolan runs through the snow-filled woods. Also we’re denied a Bolan-Tanya confrontation; Bolan does get the drop on her, using her as bait, but Thomas ends the negotiations by blowing away his own sister. Thomas’s own death is nice and action movie-esque, with Bolan blowing up the van Thomas hides behind.

It wasn’t my favorite Gold Eagle Executioner by a longshot, but Bloodsport does have its moments, if they’re a bit lost amid the faux-Pendletonisms and the rampant rhetoric. The Prologue is especially laughable in this regard, reading almost like the transcript from a Rush Limbaugh broadcast. Also the gun-porn was pretty egregious here, with Bolan in his guise as a blackmarket arms merchant doling out huge chunks of firearms detail.


Grant said...

"Jack Sullivan would've felt the same way, no doubt, but at least he would've still banged her."

Maybe I have a one-track mind, but I think the hero should just about ALWAYS do that with the femme fatale. Whether it's because he actually uses poor judgment (like in some of the Connery Bond movies) or because he's actually "in control of the situation" and she doesn't even know it (like in those Destroyer books I'm always mentioning), or mixtures of the two things.
To me, almost the only exceptions are stories with "squeaky-clean" heroes - like those comical attempted seduction scenes between Catwoman and Adam West's Batman - where it actually MAKES SENSE that the femme fatale doesn't get anywhere with the hero. The strange thing is, so many writers and film makers take stories with good guys who AREN'T REMOTELY "squeaky-clean," and do the same thing when it comes to them and the hot villainess characters, almost making a POINT of not allowing any "banging" between them!

Odon said...

In fairness, as I recall Bolan *was* about to bang her before the underling stumbled in on him. Tanya makes the underling hold his hand over a flame as punishment and proof of devotion to their cause etc -- it's that which turns Bolan off.