Thursday, April 30, 2015

Doomsday Warrior #10: American Nightmare

Doomsday Warrior #10: American Nightmare, by Ryder Stacy
March, 1987  Zebra Books

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I returned to the post-nuke saga of the Doomsday Warrior. And this strange volume sees a much-needed change to the series formula, as hero Ted “Doomsday Warrior/Ultimate American” Rockson finds himself transported back in time to the pre-holocaust days of 1989.

As expected, this volume picks up immediately after the last, with only cursory background to help out the new reader – one of the reasons I was never able to get into this series as a kid. But as we’ll recall Rockson flew a commandeered Russian jet all the way from Alaska down to Utah, chasing after a nuclear missile, which after much struggle he finally destroyed in the air. But now Rockson is alone on the desert wastelands of Utah, his fellow FreeFighters back in Alaska, and his home base of Century City far away in Colorado.

As we meet him Rockson has been walking in the desert for three days, and a lone vulture has constantly been watching him. Starving and dehydrated, Rockson comes across a big mutant fruit called bloodfruit and eats its juicy core. But it turns out to be different from the bloodfruit in Century City and sends him into a night of turmoil on the desert ground, collapsed from the pain and nausea. (Apparently the vulture has lost interest in him at this point, as it isn’t mentioned again.) Rockson comes to feeling better in the morning, and promptly walks into a massive thunderstorm, which at least provides him with some drinking water.

Then a jeep filled with KGB sadists appears and they start having fun chasing after the near-death Rockson. They’re led by Lt. Lev Streltsy, this installment’s stand-in for Colonel Killov. Like his former superior, Streltsy is a jackbooted bastard who dreams of taking over the country some day. He captures Rockson and takes him back to his KGB base which is in this remote section of Utah, where Rockson is beaten and tortured.

Rockson challenges Streltsy to a game of chess (author Ryder Syversten showing the moves and scores in an obvious page-filling gambit), but when Rockson wins Streltsy goes back on his word and punishes him anyway. Hitching Rockson to the back of his jeep, Streltsy joyrides around the desert in the middle of a sandstorm…and Rockson’s able to use the limited visibility to free himself and get away unseen. He finds himself in the middle of a “Kala-Ka,” ie how the “Indians” of the post-nuke world refer to a mega-storm that combines the power of a typhoon and a hurricane. Rockson’s pulled from his meager shelter and thrust into the maelstrom.

This sequence retains the psychedelic vibe the series sometimes attains as Rockson is flung around in the bizarre storm. Somehow he lands on his feet, in the middle of a bustling metropolis; we’ll soon learn that it’s Salt Like City, and the date is September 6, 1989…five days before the nuclear war that destroyed civilization. (As I mentioned in my review of Doomsday Warrior #1, the coincidence of that “September 11” holocaust date still gets me.) Interesting note: we learn here that Rockson has come from the year 2092, meaning that the series has finally progressed beyond the “2089 AD” that was constantly mentioned in the earliest volumes.

However this is not the Salt Lake City of our reality. Bland “elevator muzik” constantly plays on the city streets and the place is patrolled by red-jumpsuited “rooks” in mirror-lensed helmets who tote machine guns and flamethrowers. Rockson, dressed in a shredded sealskin parka, is refused entrance everywhere and treated like a derelict. He ends up taking the advice of an actual derelict and bathing in a public fountain, only to be arrested by those jumpsuited stooges. They take him down to the station, where Rockson gives his name to a “consultant.” The man “seems to have heard” of Rockson.

Things become progressively weirder, which is just what you want and expect from this series. Rockson is given a shower and then put in a cell in which muzik blasts at him all night. When he comes to the next day, his real world of 2092 appears to be a hazy dream; he thinks he imagined it all. The cops now know him from “the files:” his real name, they tell him, is Theodore Rockman. And plus, his “wife” is on the way to pick him up! This turns out to be Kim, Rockson’s blonde “true love,” though Syvertsen doesn’t inform us how she looks in this pre-nuke world; in fact, he doesn’t even bother to describe her at all.

Syvertsen also doesn’t bother to describe Rockson’s kids(!); we’re informed that he and Kim have sired a young boy and girl, but they have like a line or two of text space. I mean, do they have differently-colored eyes, like their father? But the story’s less about Rockson being a stranger in a strange land and more of a headfuck sort of thing…clearly the people of this alternate reality Salt Lake City are under mind control, and even Rockson falls prey to it. Soon he is thinking of this as his “real” world, the 2092 stuff a dream, and a soon-forgotten dream at that. Nope, “Ted Rockman” is just a CPA(!).

Kim is as annoying as ever, even in this alternate reality, always fretting and nagging…but then, in some ways she’s THE GREATEST WIFE IN LITERARY HISTORY, cooking Rockson a juicy steak, sitting worshipfully at his feet as he watches TV, asking him if they can have sex that night, and then telling him, “After a hard day, the best thing is a blow job,” before promptly treating him to one! Indeed, after the Ryder Stacy-trademark graphic-but-goofy sex scene which ensues, one wouldn’t blame Rockson if he just settled right into this strange new world and forgot all about the blasted post-nuke wonderland of “2092 AD.”

Salt Lake City is a Nazi-like hellhole, overcrowded, with armed rooks toting flamethrowers. Prices are astronomically high, everything’s made of plastic, and the poor are treated like dirt. Criminals are killed on the spot by rooks, and bums are hauled to prison. Rockson’s corporate job is the epitome of the mindlessness of the modern day, but things get even weirder with the appearance of hotstuff redhead Rona, who turns out to be the secretary (and, apparently, the mistress) of this alternate reality Ted Rockman. In fact she pleads with him to meet with her that night. Rockson refuses, still feeling awkward; this whole sequence is strange, because for the most part Rockson has become Rockman.

But a restless Rockson goes out into the hinterlands of Salt Lake City, rents a fleabag hotel room, and has arbitrary, off-page sex with a hooker who stays across the hall. This, combined with the lack of muzik in this section of the city, allows him to remember who he really is. There follows a goofy, ‘80s movie-type moment where he starts yelling “I’m the Doomsday Warrior!” into the mirror. He goes out, sees a punk get incinerated by a rook, and then beats the stooge to death in a hand-to-hand brawl. He even manages to gut another rook as he escapes; Rockson has truly returned.

The cover shows a fist with a shotgun, but the artist should’ve detailed the bizarre contraption Rockson assembles in another goofy scene. After he kills the two rooks, Rockson sneaks into a gun store and starts grabbing guns. He finds an Uzi hidden beneath the floorboards, and “modifies” it with “a Browning antiair World War II vintage weapon,” along with a Colt .45 and a Widley .45 Magnum. Working for “two and a half hours” on a lathe in the shop, Rockson creates for himself an “Uzi-Colt-Widley-Browning antiair hybrid weapon. A beauty of deadly power!” It’s big and bulky, but still capable of being hidden beneath his clothes. I would’ve loved to see cover artist Joe Devito’s attempt at it.

In his brief time here Rockson has already become aware of a brooding underground; the poor of Salt Lake City are like the Free Americans of Rockson’s world, the rooks the Russians. A revolt is brewing, and Rockson will of course be its champion. He soon discovers the ruler of this corrupt, crazed city: Chessman, a red-visaged psychopath who has been appearing in Rockson’s overly-detailed dreams. Rockson learns that he was a Russian chess master who took on “The American” in some match but lost, only to find later that the American cheated. Chessman had him killed and took over the city.

Okay… The reader will of course recall the opening chess match with Streltsy and deduce that all of this is the heartfruit-generated hallucinations of Rockson. And it gets increasingly goofy; Rockson learns that a mist covers Salt Lake City, preventing exit. There’s also a “time-door” on the city’s main bridge, which has a wormhole-type portal of an entrance near the city dump. We get a bizarre sequence where Rockson keeps trying to run through the portal, even stealing a Jaguar and racing through it because he assumes he needs “more energy” to use the wormhole to get back to his own time. He fails on all accounts and uses “logic” to figure out that he can’t get back home yet because his home was created after the nuclear war, and the nuclear war doesn’t start for a few more days!

There are patches of somewhat-gory violence as Rockson runs roughshod over the rooks and “Red knights” who come after him, mowing them down with the “compound gun.” But when Rockson sneaks into the Salt Lake City Tabernacle, which is now the fount of Chessman’s skewed religion, he’s discovered, dosed with a tranquilizer, and captured. More psychedelic stuff ensues as Rockson finds himself in a windowless cell which blasts muzik at him ceaselessly. Bed and food appear magically at his thought, proof to Rockson that the muzik controls the mind of the listener. He uses the “KA” teachings the Glowers taught him to combat it, and spends two days in mental combat.

After which he’s right back where he started; freed by the Bishop who runs the Tabernacle, Rockson is briefly reunited with Kim and then immediately sent back to work. Rockson has meanwhile become friendly with the rabble of Salt Lake City, the bums who live in constant fear of the Chessman’s minions. Barrellman, their leader, encounters Rockson again, and leads him to their underground world in the sewers. They’re known as “The Runners,” as they’re always running from the Chessman’s people, and the man who started them years ago prophecized that “the White King” would one day come to lead them to victory. Guess who they think the White King is?

Armed again with his compound gun, Rockson leads his hobo army on a raid of the police armory, and from there they attack “the Tower,” where the Chessman lives. Clad in a white “karate gi-like” garment which was made for the White King (and which turns out to be bullet proof), Rockson scales the Tower – as a Colorado native, he claims to be an ultra-expert at climbing anything. While the Runners battle the rooks on the ground, Rockson smashes into the top floor of the Tower and blows away a few guards, before confronting the Chessman, who turns out to be a skeletally-thin man wearing a skull-like mask.

Ryder Syvertsen gets far out in the battle, with the Chessman using hypnosis against Rockson, who defends himself with the KA power of the Glowers, as well as the mantras they taught him. And after defeating his evil opponent Rockson discovers that he’s none other than Streltsy, who belittles Rockson for being surprised, as he too has come over to “this world,” which he prefers to 2092. He also seems unconcerned that it’s now Sept. 11, 1989, and the nuclear war is about to occur within hours. Rockson tosses him out of the penthouse window and Streltsy/the Chessman plunges to his gory death, his body ripped in half.

Doomsday is fast approaching. Syvertsen gets real far out here; Rockson happens to recall that the nukes hit at 6:04 PM, and guess what, that’s like an hour away. Or is it? The clocks are going nuts because Salt Lake City is leaving the time-loop (or something) and the place is mired in chaos thanks to the death of the Chessman and the breaking of his mind control over the populace. It’s all real goofy, with the rooks, who had been trying to kill Rockson, now being all polite to him and helping him escape. Rockson rounds up Kim, his kids, and a few of the Runners and steals a car, racing for the portal.

We’re treated to possibly the most psychedelic sequence in the series yet, which again destroys my old theory that Jan Stacy was the New Ager of the two authors; even though Stacy departed the series with the fourth volume, we’ve still been treated to the occasional psychedelic touch. American Nightmare features a doozy of one, with Rockson stepping through the portal and being cast into what comes off like the finale of Kubrick’s 2001, flung into the blacklight poster-eque depths of time and space. He watches as the universe spins beneath him, he voyages through the Big Bang, and he experiences hundreds of thousands of lifetimes in the blink of an eye!

And, as expected, he comes to right back where he started, in the desert outside the ruins of Salt Lake City in 2092. Surprisingly, Kim, the kids, and Barrellman have made it over with him. Rockson scavenges the destroyed Russian base – no doubt torn apart by that Kala-Ka storm – and they begin the long journey to Century City. But then Kim and the others become transparent and slowly fade away, Kim sadly telling Rockson “Goodbye” as she disappears. Bizarrely enough, this actually hit home for me – I once had a dream-within-a-dream where there was a dream-world version of my wife, who came into “reality” with me (ie, the second dream), and I watched heartbroken as she slowly began to disappear…!

Anyway…it gradually dawns on Rockson that the entire damn thing might’ve just been a dream. Even his bulletproof white gi is gone…did it disappear too, or was his sealskin parka blown off in the Kala-Ka storm while Rockson was hallucinating everything, all of it the product of that poisonous heartfruit? Rockson figures he’ll never know, and the ultimate hell of it all is that it doesn’t really matter – frustratingly enough, Rockson ends American Nightmare exactly where he started, 250-some pages before: in the middle of the Utah desert, walking for his home in far-off Century City.

In other words, this volume of Doomsday Warrior is the men’s adventure equivalent of Bobby in the shower, the whole thing amounting to a big dream. While it’s filled with interesting touches, ultimately it’s undermined by its inconsequential nature. And for that matter, while the tone of the series is generally goofy, American Nightmare is just too goofy, even more cartoonish than the other volumes. That isn’t to say it’s bad, though. At the very least, it makes one want to read the next volume.


Brigonos said...

I recall one of the books has Rockson on a dragon chasing a nuke through lava tunnels, so it gets a lot goofier than this. In retrospect, it's one of the tamer efforts because it has the "all a dream" get-out clause, but there are some later references to it and it's treated as an instance of time travel rather than Rockson tripping balls on cactus juice.

Joe Kenney said...

I'll be looking forward to that volume with Rockson and the dragon! Glad to hear the series just keeps getting weirder. Also glad to hear that the events in this volume aren't just brushed under the carpet.

One thing that didn't occur to me until after I read American Nightmare was that the alternate reality/dream world was kind of similar to that part at the very end of #3: The Last American, where Kim's soul was trapped in the time warp or something -- I wonder if this alternate reality is where she went? Probably not, but it was interesting to reflect on for a few minutes while I was sitting in Dillard's waiting for my wife.

Felicity Walker said...

Muzak™ ☺