Thursday, April 9, 2015

Z-Comm #4: Blood Storm

Z-Comm #4: Blood Storm, by Kyle Maning
No month stated, 1990  BMI/Leisure Books

One immediately notices a few differences about this fourth and final installment of David Alexander's Z-Comm series; not only are both the series title and volume numbering gone, but so is the inner cover artwork which graced the previous three volumes. Also, Blood Storm is published by BMI,* whereas the previous books bore the Leisure imprint.

Other than a brief reference late in the novel to the events that occurred in #2: Killpoint, there’s really no continuity at all to worry about in Blood Storm; like the other books in the series, this one appears to take place at some random point in the hectic lives of the five titular mercenaries. In fact as we meet them they’re on another mission, parachuting into Libya and blowing away a faction of the Apocalypse Battalion, a coalition of Muslim terrorists which operates out of “Colonel Daffy” Qaddafi’s country.

Alexander must’ve learned a new acronym shortly before penning this one: SLAM, which is repeated throughout, and which stands for Search, Locate, and Annihalate Missions. This has become Z-Comm’s new modus operandi and indeed Alexander must’ve liked the term so much that he even used it for a later series he published through Gold Eagle Books. But anyway, Z-Comm is here to “SLAM” some terrorists, and they do so with the trademark gore you expect of Alexander, though it’s not to the extent of his almighty Phoenix series.

While the reader might expect that the Apocalypse Battalion will be the central villains this time, they really don’t appear much; instead, the villains turn out to be Nazis! So then Z-Comm ends where it began, for just as in #1: Swastika they go up against a bunch of “vomit Vikings.” But whereas Deacon Johncock’s minions in that first volume were neo-Nazis, the ones in Blood Storm are the original issue, former Werewolf SS commandos who were mere teenagers in the waning days of WWII.

They’re lead by a sadist named Hans Kleist, known as “The Ghoul.” Decades ago Kleist hid the Proteus Chain, a Nazi-created chemical-biological weapon (or CBW; as is usual with Alexander the novel is filled with acronyms) that he’s now sold to the highest bidder – namely, Colonel Qaddafi, who plans to use the nerve gas on America posthaste. Z-Comm, who is tasked by their contact, Peter Quartermaine, will of course have to destroy both the CBW and Kleists’s Nazi underlings.

Before they can get to that, though, Z-Comm themselves are under attack. Here Alexander gives us brief glimpses into the private lives of each member of the team, something he did to greater extent in Swastika. First we have Sam Proffit, the lethal weapon of the squad, unveiling his artwork in a museum in Portland; we learn that Proffit is now a famous artist, known for his sculptures of scrap metal. The museum is attacked and Proffit uses his deadly hands and feet to take out a squad of Arab attackers.

Meanwhile Domino, the female member of the team (who does not, despite the cover art on each volume of the series, wear an eyepatch) is taking a vacation in Paris. In a subplot that is never again mentioned in the novel, Domino we learn is having second thoughts about her life as a mercenary, and wonders if she should quit. Here we finally learn about the woman’s background: once married to a Miami cop whom she had a daugter with, Domino lost her family to “savages.” Domino then went undercover, eventually becoming the mistress of the drug kingpin who had killed her husband and child. She killed the guy with her bare hands, and from there hooked up with Z-Comm.

But now Domino is “tormented by memories of the bloody tasks she had performed,” in particular the devastated look in the eyes of a Battalion terrorist she blew away in the opening sequence of the novel. Zabriskie, Z-Comm’s tech guru, surprises the gal before she can ruminate much more; they’re both here in Paris for a weapons convention, and Zabriskie wants Domino to go with him. Throughout the series Alexander has snuck in implications that these two might be an item, but he never elaborates. Anyway, they too are attacked, by terrorists who storm the convention in “duck masks!”

Finally there’s Logan Cage, the leader of the team, and Bear MacBeth, getting drunk and oggling the local gals down in Rio De Janeiro during Mardi Gras. They too are attacked, by a group of “scum sheiks” in masks who are no doubt part of the same network that’s attempting to waste the rest of Z-Comm. We learn later that this is a vengeance scheme initiated by “Colonel Daffy” himself, though Alexander doesn’t do much with it; instead, more focus is placed on the fact that the Libyans, via Hans Kleist, will soon get hold of the Proteus Chain.

Alexander provides his trademarked running action sequences as the members of Z-Comm take on their attackers. This part includes many memorable moments, like Zabriskie and Domino escaping the weapons convention ambush in a commandeered HUMVEE. But after the dust settles the team gets back together in Paris, where Quartermaine tells them about the Nazi germ warfare. Somehow they already know where it’s being held in Paris, but instead of sending in the Marines it’s up to Z-Comm alone, who hope to capture the CBW material before it can be transported to Libya.

Another action sequence ensues, as Z-Comm first blows away a ton of former Werewolf SS Nazis before they themselves are caught. In this volume Alexander inserts lots of horror-novel stuff, in particular through the guise of “soul-suckers,” ie the psycho-pharmacological experts of the intelligence world. In other words, the guys who drug you up to get the truth out of you. The opening section features a few CIA “doctors” on the job (one of whom we’re informed was a former Nazi himself), but here Kleist calls in one of his own, a sadist who shows up and immediately choses Domino as his first victim.

Meanwhile Sam Proffit, who not only appears to be Alexander’s favorite character but also appears to be the most capable member of the team, acts as a one-man rescue squad as he gets an M-60 from the Z-Comm van and goes in blasting. This scene features the debut of Kleist’s henchman, a hulking Nazi brute called “The Hook” due to his prosthetic right arm, which has a razor-sharp claw on it. He and Bear are of equal size and take an instant hatred toward one another, Alexander delivering several knock-down, drag-out fights between the two.

But despite their best efforts, including a long chase sequence in which they go after the escaping semi with the Proteus Chain on it, Z-Comm fails, and the CBW ends up making it to Libya after all. Now it’s time for Plan B: going undercover. Just as in the first volume, Cage takes the point, pretending to be an arms smuggler; he goes to Libya to sell missiles to Miles O’Bannion, Qaddafi’s top weapons buyer and a former US intelligence agent who has gone turncoat. Domino goes along as Cage’s escort, vamping it up, though she doesn’t engage in any sexual shenanigans like she did in Killpoint. In fact, there’s no sex at all in Blood Storm. Bummer!

Meanwhile, Proffit goes undercover as a globe-wandering Canadian, eventually getting a job as a dishwasher near the government mansion in which Cage and Domino are staying as valued VIPs. Macbeth and Zabriskie bide their time over in Chad, where they wait with some of that country’s military personnel for the green light to go in and kill. Speaking of which, these two characters don’t get much print in Blood Storm, but then again Alexander has focused on different members in each volume.

In addition to lurid sex, another thing lacking this time is Alexander’s patented over-the-top gore. While many, many characters die spectacularly, Alexander doesn’t dwell on the splashing brains and exploding guts as he did in the insane Phoenix books, nor does he deliver any of his goofy “vicious prick to Moby Dick” type of death descriptions. There is though a heavy sardonic vibe throughout the novel, with the dark humor extending even to Alexander’s narrative. There is also a total disdain for anything remotely politically correct, with all Libyans, even innocent bystanders, referred to as “ragheads” or “camel-fuckers.”

And just like in that first volume, Cage is of course uncovered, but Proffit shows up just in time to once again save him and Domino. Seriously, Proffit should’ve been the star of his own series; he’s very much in the Mel “Lethal Weapon” Gibson mode. After another running chase, this time over the desert surrounding Tripoli, Z-Comm escapes to Chad, where they then launch a full-scale attack on the base Cage suspects of holding the Proteus Chain.

Handily enough, all of the villains have congregated here, save for Miles O’Bannion, who turns out to be a plot thread Alexander fails to tie up (Cage swears to kill the turncoat, but it never happens, and O’Bannion isn’t mentioned again once Cage and Domino escape Tripoli). However both Kleist and The Hook are there, the former suffering an entertaining if expected end when he himself is subjected to the full effects of the Proteus Chain. Another horror-esque moment, which sees the flesh melting off the bastard’s face and body, until he’s a ravening, skull-faced freak who dies screaming!

Alexander might’ve shirked on the Cage/O’Bannion payoff, but he doesn’t on the final Bear/Hook matchup, with the two going mano e mano in a brutal handfight. Guess who wins? We get another movie-esque sendoff for a villain as The Hook is crushed by ten thousand pounds of rubble, his prosthetic arm popping off from the impact. From here it’s just a bunch of Libyan soldiers getting gunned down as Z-Comm again attempts to make their escape before the air strike comes in.

And that’s that – the team looks back at the conflagration that was once a military base and then hops back into their HUMVEE and heads over for Chad, riding off into the dawn and never seen again…in print, at least. Here endeth the saga of Z-Comm, and while it wasn’t nearly the equal of Phoenix, it was still a gory thriller of a series that I’ll miss. It looks like after this Alexander wrote a pair of standalone novels for Leisure (Hitler’s Legacy and Angel Of Death), and I’ll be checking those out next.

*I’d like to know more about BMI. Yet another variant of Leisure Books (aka Dorchester Publishing), my assumption is that BMI (Book Margins International, I believe?) is the imprint through which the publisher got rid of books that had been in the pipeline for some time. I say this because I have a few BMI books, and all of them seem to have been hastily published, Bood Storm no different, with grammatical errors even on the back cover copy.

More curiously, while the book is copyright 1990 (by David Alexander), the last page of the book features an advertisement for a new Leisure Romance books hotline which will go live in June, 1995. This is five years after the copyright date, and I can find no indication of any other printing of Blood Storm other than this one. So…was it written in 1990 and not published until 1995, when Leisure chucked it out under the BMI imprint?

1 comment:

Grant said...

I know this book, but if there'd been a film version, it sounds like "Domino" might have been a good role for Rachel MacLish(judging by her part in IRON EAGLES III).