Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Last Ranger #4: The Rabid Brigadier

The Last Ranger #4: The Rabid Brigadier, by Craig Sargent
August, 1987  Popular Library

The Last Ranger picks up immediately after the previous volume, with hero Martin Stone sprawled out unconscious in the snow, the ruins of the Dwarf’s depraved villa still burning in the distance. Unfortunately the “slave-whores” Stone freed in the final pages of the previous book are gone, having knocked him out, taken all of his weapons, and raced off into the post-nuke night. Meanwhile Stone’s sister April and his new buddy Dr. Kennedy have escaped – and by the way go unseen this entire volume.

But at least we get Stone’s faithful canine companion Excaliber, who still waits where Stone left him midway through Madman’s Mansion. When the two hop on Stone’s weaponized Harley and blast off into the night, the reader expects that they will reunite with April and Kennedy and the series will proceed on from there. However, Jan “Craig Sargent” Stacy has other plans; this volume, instead of continuing on with the building plot of the previous three books, will instead get mired in an elaborate “New American Army” setup that Stone is drafted into.

Easily my least favorite volume yet, The Rabid Brigadier features hardly any of the stuff that makes The Last Ranger so fun, and is for the most part an endless training and initiation sequence Stone goes through. Yet I recall really enjoying this one when it was brand new and I was 12 years old. Reading it this time, I found myself bored for long portions, something I could never say about those earlier three installments. All the crazed, gore-filled sadism of those books is gone, and this one’s basically “The Last Ranger joins the army.” 

Calling to mind the similar survivalist fiction Stacy co-wrote in the first few Doomsday Warrior books, The Rabid Brigadier features a practically endless sequence early on in which Stone and Excaliber are nearly swept up by a massive tidal wive that’s rampaging through Colorado – courtesy that post-nuke freak weather, of course. It’s page-filling at its best as our two heroes struggle desperately to outrace the huge waves; the goofiness expected of this series presents itself when Stone finally remembers a friggin’ raft his dad (who was gifted with an almost superhuman sense of foresight, it would appear) had built into the bottom of the bike.

With the push of a button Stone inflates the raft and he and the dog are nearly in the clear, but the waves are pushing them toward a cliff. They’re saved by the last-second appearance of an army helicopter, which pulls man, dog, and bike clear of the waves. These young soldiers are members of the New American Army, which has been founded within the past few years under the leadership of “Supreme Commander Patton.” Stone meanwhile falls into a stupor; in the opening pages, during a savage battle with a group of ear-collecting cannibals, he was bitten on the hand. Now it’s infected, and Stone is sent off to the NAA infirmary.

When Stone wakes up and finds a hot-bodied blonde nurse at his bedside, the veteran reader knows exactly where it will be heading. This is Elizabeth Williamson, whose sad story has it that she was a refugee saved by the NAA as it moved through the area, “cleansing” the country of cannibals, pirates, and criminals. The expected shagging takes a while, but expectedly it occurs, and humorously Stacy basically just plagiarizes from the sex scene he wrote in the previous book, complete with the description of Stone “mining” the girl with his massive prong. And just as always, once Stone’s banged the girl she’s dropped from the narrative, not mentioned again until the end.

As mentioned, the majority of the book details Stone’s hellish trials during the two-day basic training course all NAA recruits must endure. Stone you see has decided to join, despite his long-borne hatred of authority in general and the military in particular. We are reminded again that Stone’s dad was a total ass, an army man right down to the bones, and his stern nature resulted in a son who was a born rebel. But Stone figures the NAA has the right idea, as he’s been doing alone what they’re looking to do as an army: clear away the criminal, rapist riff-raff and rebuild America.

Curiously, one of the initial tests Stone and the recruits must undergo is ritually cutting themselves, and they use the same blade. I couldn’t help but recall here how Jan Stacy died of AIDs. But Stone has more worries than contagious diseases; the practically-endless training has them going through one hellish thing after another, from shooting at fresh corpses to running a death-trap course through thorns and quicksand. There’s even lots of brutal fighting courtesy ninja-type ambushers who spring out of the thorns and attack them all with fighting staffs.

As expected, Stone is a total badass and gets through unscathed, saving his fellows and uniting them as a team – subtle commentary from Stacy that our hero, despite his rebellious nature, is a true leader. In fact Stone has done so well that General Patton himself wants to meet him. An older vet who carries twin .45s at his waist, Patton bears a similarity to Stone’s father, and indeed actually knew Major Clayton Stone, claiming that he temporarily served as Stone’s commander back in ‘Nam. Unfortunately, Stacy doesn’t do much with any of this. The potential is there for a father/son dynamic between Patton and Stone, but it’s all cast aside within just a few pages.

Instead, Stone’s sent out on a mission, commanding a squad of tanks. Their assingment is to wipe out a village of cannibals. But even here we are denied the crazed nature of action scenes from previous volumes, with Stone more so trying to figure out how to operate the massive tanks. And here we get the first glimpse of the evil nature of the NAA, as the men in Stone’s crew blow away the surrendering members of the village, even the women and children. Stone, “crying like a baby,” is informed that Patton has ordered “no enemies, no survivors.” Stone cannot accept the wanton disregard for life.

Stone is even more shocked when Patton reveals that he has a nuclear warhead, one which he plans to launch on a meeting of Mafia bigwigs only a hundred miles away. In a completely goofy sequence, Patton takes Stone to his handy nuclear silo several miles from the NAA base in New Junction, Colorado, and shows off his ballistic warhead. Despite claiming to have run a similar silo before WWIII, Patton doesn’t realize that a nuke strike so close to the base will wipe all of them out. Here Stone gets further proof of Patton’s insanity, and vows to stop him.

In a development a little hard to buy, Stone decides to unite with the Mafia guys and their biker comrades, ie his former enemies, as Patton is the greater threat. Stone claims to hate these guys, but feels that they’re small fish, only doing their own thing within their own spheres of influence, whereas Patton wants to wipe out the world. So then it would appear so far as Stone’s reasoning goes that raping and killing is okay, just so long as you keep your activities to like a few square miles or something. Strange!

The Mafia-biker meeting is the highlight, as Stacy writes it more like some Satanic gathering; the leader is even described as a craven-faced ghoul who looks like Boris Karloff. Stone sells out his own troops, letting the mobsters and bikers slit their throats (it’s okay, though, as all the NAA soldiers are bad guys, or something), and he leads them all in the commandeered tanks on an assault upon the NAA base. Even here the action is mostly perfunctory, with Stone tearing through the base and finding Excaliber, who has been locked up in the pens – once again the dog spends the majority of the narrative off-page.

The finale sees a desperate Stone tearing ass on his Harley for that nuclear silo, with the warhead launched despite his best efforts. One is reminded again that this series has no grounding in reality when Stone blasts the warhead out of the air with an anti-aircraft gun. Oh, and then Excaliber pisses on the missile’s wreckage! But Patton is gone, and I seem to recall that he appears again (as does the Dwarf), but meanwhile Nurse Elizabeth is dead (remember her?), somehow murdered by Patton during his escape, even though she was all the way back at the base, waiting for Stone to come back and get her, and the last we saw him Patton was still at the nuclear silo.

But that’s that – Stone’s crestfallen, and as a kicker he’s learned that Patton has even more nukes, so all this has been moot. Well, here’s hoping the next volume gets things back on track. And I seem to recall the next volume was the last one I bought when this series was being published, so this was around the point when my enthusiasm for The Last Ranger was beginning to fade.

No comments: