Monday, July 21, 2014

The Penetrator #21: The Supergun Mission

The Penetrator #21: The Supergun Mission, by Lionel Derrick
July, 1977  Pinnacle Books

Mark Penetrator Hardin once again heads down into Mexico, courtesy author Mark Roberts. Researching the “wetback situation” (as it’s constantly referred to throughout the book, as well as on the back cover), the Penetrator gradually becomes involved in a plot that involves an island kingdom outside of Dallas(!), a sonic raygun that melts people, and a billionaire villain.

Roberts’s previous installments were a lot of wild fun, particularly #17: Demented Empire. But with this volume the same sort of rot has set in upon his volumes as it has upon series co-writer Chet Cunningham's, whose previous few books have been snoozefests. But then, by this point both authors had each written 10 volumes of the series, so it had to be tough to maintain their interest levels. Especially given the rate of publication – I mean, it’s taken me four years just to read 21 volumes of The Penetrator.

For once we open with Hardin in his desert Stronghold, sipping pina coladas with Professor Haskins and David Red Eagle. Too little time is spent here with Hardin’s comrades; each installment usually opens with Hardin already out on a job and stays with him throughout. But with this volume Roberts actually has Hardin occasionally calling back to the Stronghold to get intel from Haskins. Anyway as per usual Hardin comes up with his own mission – he wants to look into the recent mass-murder of 25 “wetbacks” in California, the tractor-trailer they were hauled in having been burnt to a crisp while the Mexicans were riding in it.

Hardin goes down to Mexico and poses as a “coyotero,” ie a dude who smuggles Mexicans across the border. He meets a pair of Americans who really are coyoteros, flying their haul on old planes, and Hardin gets the shit knocked out of him in a surprise ambush moments after talking to the guys. For once in the series our hero is out for the count and could easily be killed, but he’s left alive, though well-stomped. Never fear, for a well-endowed young Mexican gal named Consuela happens along and takes him back to her place, tending to his wounds.

Consuela (or “Connie” as Hardin calls her) provides more info on the situation Hardin is here to research – turns out there is a particular group based outside of Dallas that is “hiring” all of the Mexicans in this area, promising them work and money in the US, but apparently just abducting them, as the men are never heard from again. Connie’s brother Raul happens to be one of the men missing. We learn via cutover that these men are taken to a muddy island called Dwyer’s that’s sprouted up in the midst of Lake Texoma, about a hundred miles from Dallas, Texas. Here evil billionaire Howard Christiansen is using the Mexicans as target practice, employing a sonic raygun on them.

For once Roberts skips the details when the expected Hardin/Connie lovin’ ensues. The Supergun Mission is pretty tame in both the sex and violence departments, with Hardin only getting in a few scuffles in the first hundred or so pages. In fact Roberts is more eager to, once again, dole out lots of inconsequential detail about how to fly small airplanes. Was the guy going for his pilot’s license or something? Because just as in previous Roberts installments we have long scenes of Hardin flying this or that private aircraft, with all manner of technical detail provided.

The first fight scene is one of the more unusual in the Penetrator annals. Hardin goes up to Dallas to try to get a job with the mysterious company that’s hiring the Mexicans, posing yet again as a pilot looking to fly cargo out of Mexico -- any cargo, as long as it isn’t drugs. Meanwhile a gang of street punks break into Hardin’s van (right across from Dealey Plaza!). Hardin, unarmed, comes upon the scene and beats the shit out of all of them. But the bizarre twist comes when the gang’s lookout shows up, jumping Hardin from behind, and Hardin slams him into a car – only seeing after the fact that the lookout’s just a ten year-old kid. Hardin takes the other prepubescent lookout over his knee and spanks him mercilessly!

Hardin gets the job as a pilot, and for a trial run hauls out a new shipment from Mexico. Here ensues a long airchase in which narcs come after Hardin when he crosses the US border, assuming he’s yet another drugrunner. We get all manner of detail on how to fly around in storms, using heavy cloud cover to hide from pursuing planes. But when Hardin finally makes it to the fortress on Dwyer’s Island, he is informed he cannot leave. Also, he discovers that Connie has snuck aboard his plane, disguising herself as a young boy, in the hopes of finding out what happened to her brother.

But it’s all just sort of plodding, with none of the bizarre or even sadistic flashes of previous books. Howard Christiansen’s storyline is also underdeveloped; we learn he’s developed the sonic gun to sell it to either the Red Chinese or the Cubans, despite not having any political ties himself, and to build the thing he’s adbucted beautiful Dr. Frances Graybar, who to her horror finds herself testing out the gun on “dead” Mexicans, the poor men reduced to puddles of goo beneath the sonic onslaught.

Things get slightly back on track in the final third, when Hardin, on another flight, pulls all sorts of aerodynamics to knock out his copilot, Sid, one of the coyoteros who beat him up back in Mexico. Hardin drugs him up with truth serum, discovers that Sid was one of the men who torched those 25 Mexicans in California, and hurls the bastard out of the plane! Now, finally, Hardin gears up for “a hard hit” on Christiansen’s island kingdom on Lake Texoma.

Only the final few pages show any life, as Hardin raids Dwyer’s Island, blowing away Christiansen’s goons with a shotgun and various sidearms. We also here have the subplot of Dr. Graybar forced against her will to test out the sonic gun on living subjects, who of course are none other than Connie and her brother Raul. It all leads up to a James Bond-type finale in which the villain is of course subjected to his own nefarious device. Roberts does leaven the sequence with gore, documenting each and every shotgun blast.

Once again we end with Hardin on a brief vacation, with the previously-bookish Dr. Graybar, who has, beer commercial style, doffed her thick glasses, let her blonde hair down, and unleashed her previously-subdued sex goddess nature. But then Professor Haskins buzzkills the fun with a call, telling Hardin that a friend of David Red Eagle’s needs help, and Hardin’s ready to leave asap.

Believe it or not, the next installment is one of the two volumes of The Penetrator that I don’t have (the other being #52), but I’m not too worried about it – the series has been faltering for the past few installments, and the plot of High Disaster doesn’t sound compelling enough to make me seek it out.

No comments: