Monday, February 27, 2017

Christmas Slaughter (aka Mutants Amok #5)

Mutants Amok, by Mark Grant
December, 1991  Avon Books

The Mutants Amok series comes to a close with this final volume, the sole installment written by Bruce King (to whom the book is also copyright). Curiously “Mutants Amok” isn’t mentioned anywhere on or in the book, other than an ad for the previous four volumes. It makes one wonder if Avon intended to drop the volume numbering and just continue with standalone titles, or if by this point the writing was already on the wall, the series was cancelled, and they were just publishing this final book to be done with it. Given the scarcity of Christmas Slaughter, I think that might be the case – I’m figuring this fifth volume had a lower print run than the prior four.

King follows a different tack than David Bischoff did in volumes 1-4. Whereas Bischoff created an almost Loony Tunes-esque world of lowbrow, cartoonish humor followed by slapstick gore, King delivers a mostly straight piece of men’s adventure, complete with genre-mandatory gun-porn. There’s more firearms detail in Christmas Slaughter than the previous four books combined. Not that King overlooks the comedic angle; as with the Bischoff installments, there’s a fair bit “crazy mutant world” afoot in this one, but it’s undermined by the way King writes it.

Whereas Bischoff for the most part showed us the mutant insanity, King instead tells us about it, usually shoehorning exposition into the narrative or having characters baldly exposit on various things, even if they happen to be in the midst of a firefight. In this way the book reminds me of the recent misfire Go, Mutants! (coincidentally another book with “mutant” in the title; what are the odds??), which also tried but failed to be funny thanks to the same mistake. Like Go, Mutants!, Christmas Slaughter will have some punchline about mutant whackiness, and then King will spend a few paragraphs on backstory and/or exposition to explain the joke.

The characters are also a bit different. Rebel leader Max Turkel is no longer the clod of the first four books but is now a post-holocaust badass. In fact we learn here that his nickname among humans is “Mad Max.” Teen hero Jack Bender has lost much of his naïve nature, coming off like Max Turkel Junior. Only egghead Phil Potts stays mostly the same, and King appears to favor him the most of all the characters. However it’s via Potts that King delivers his most eggregious exposition, with Phil going on about arcane lore no matter the situation they’re in.

And speaking of which – just like I just did, King arbitrarily refers to his characters by first and last name in the narrative, which as far as I’m concerned is a no-no for professional authors (but just fine for unpaid bloggers who have gotten about two hours of sleep last night thanks to a crying newborn). But seriously, it’ll be “Turkel” one sentence and “Max” the next, and King does it for all the characters from beginning to end, resulting in a few bumps along the reading road.

Many of the subplots Bischoff built up are not only jettisoned but not even mentioned. For example, the alpha female rebel leader Max Turkel had developed a relationship with in the past few books doesn’t appear here and isn’t referenced once. And speaking of another Turkel subplot, the deal with BrainGeneral Harten monitoring Turkel via the robotic spleen (a sicko Loony Tunes-esque bit if ever there was one in this series) is dropped within the first few pages; sluglike Emperor Charlegmane announces that he knows Harten is a traitor and has the BrainGeneral “returned to his vat.” Speaking of Charlegmane, for the first hundred or so pages King will jump over to him and his cronies, and it’s here that we get most of the attempts at “comedy.” But luckily after this King focuses solely on our human heroes.

As the novel opens Max, Jack, and Phil are scouting the sewers beneath New San Francisco, investigating the latest mutant plot, which apparently will see a “final solution to the subhuman problem,” ie an eradication of human beings entirely. Here we get lots of details on the various guns our heroes are equipped with. They get in a gory firefight with “faders,” aka mutant zombies, and King proves that one thing he’s retained from the Bischoff books is the hardcore violence and gore. 

And also like Bischoff we have weird strains of mutantkind who are intended as goofy spoofs of humans; in the Haight-Ashbury district our heroes encounter “counter-culture muties,” including a bunch of “mutant Krishna monks,” who go around chanting for peace – Turkel et al slaughter them. Indeed, the “slaughter” in the novel’s title actually refers to the slaughtering the heroes perpetrate. One begins to feel bad for the mutants, who we learn are crazy about Christmas; thus it’s a bit of a downer in the many scenes where Turkel and the others will jump up out of sewers and mow down hordes of unarmed, harmless mutants who are singing Christmas carols or shopping for presents.

The novel takes place during the few days leading up to Christmas, and our heroes gradually learn that Charlegmane’s “final solution” has to do with taking the essence from humans (asexual mutants needing the procreation abilities of humans to survive) so that the actual humans are no longer needed. Thus Planned Genocide, Inc. is opened (surely the author’s spoofing of Planned Parenthood??), with its towering pyramidal HQ located in New San Francisco. The place is guarded by NZ mutants, aka blonde Nazis in black uniforms.

King adds a new character to the series who would’ve gone on to be a regular: Sue, a mega-babe redhead with a phenomenal bod which she shows off in a spandex leotard that follows the same color pattern as Supergirl’s costume (which geek Phil notices). She saves our heroes before the NZs can take them out, driving a hearse and firing an Uzi one-handed at pursuing NZ vehicles. They go back to her place, where Sue reveals that she’s actually “S.U. 912,” aka Seduction Unit 912, a cyborg (she prefers the term “replicant”) specifically created to bed Max Turkel – and then kill him.

But Sue was granted sentience and within seconds of being able to think for herself she realized the mutants were awful leaders. She wants to join the human revolution. She proves her devotion posthaste, killing hordes of NZ troops who attack her house, handing out Thompson submachine guns with heat-seeker bullets(!) to her new friends. Here King shows the lowbrow tastes of the Bischoff books, with a bonkers capoff where our heroes find a mutant corpse with a blown-off dick impaled through its forehead. (On a similar note we earlier have learned that Charlegmane only knows the word “schlong” for the male anatomy; this after a few pages of various penis euphimisms.)

In the second half Max and friends hook up with the Cleavers, a group of merciless human rebels who have taken their name from Eldridge Cleaver. They’re mostly black and are led by Hosannah Brown, a gorgeous lady who goes around with way-too-many guns strapped to her nubile form, which is properly displayed thanks to the black studded leather outfits she and the rest of the Cleavers wear. After initial hostilities the two rebel factions decide to work together. Meanwhile Hosannah takes an unexpected shine to Phil Potts, and also meanwhile Sue asks Max, “Don’t you think it’s about time we fucked?” And King delivers on another of Bischoff’s mainstays: a super-explicit sex scene that leaves nothing undescribed. (After which Sue announces her intention to go next door and screw Jack, to keep any jealousies from forming within their group!)

The titular slaughtering occurs on Christmas Eve, our “heroes” just blitzing unarmed mutants and watching as their bodies explode into gory ruin. But they’re all caught while trying to break into the Planned Genocide pyramid. Here Max is strapped to a table and a sexy human lady gives him a blowjob; then a machine comes in to “collect” his specimen right before the moment of truth. Sue meanwhile is about to be raped by a BrainGeneral who has no idea he is interrogating a cyborg; she rips his heart out with her bare hands.

The finale sees Max and Sue hooking up with a commando squad of the rebel army and launching an assault on the PG pyramid, flying helicopters and bringing along a tactical nuke. Max Turkel finally does some badass stuff, toting a flamethrower and crisping hordes of NZ soldiers. For the epilogue, King again shows that Phil Potts must’ve been his favorite character, having the nerdish bookworm in bed with Sue, who tells Phil that he’s her favorite of all the humans – a finale that has no setup anywhere in the novel and which comes off as a rather awkward way to end the book, not to mention the series.

And that was it for Mutants Amok. It would’ve been interesting to see where King might’ve taken the series; as I say, it certainly would’ve been in more of a men’s adventure-esque direction. But there’s no resolution to any of the main plotlines: Emperor Charlegmane is still alive and the humans are still the slaves of the mutants. This only gives more indication that the series was cancelled. Overall I enjoyed the five volumes of this series, but the dichotomy of lowbrow humor and gory ultraviolence proved unwieldy in the long run, as if the two authors couldn’t figure out the series they wanted to write. Perhaps this is why Mutants Amok never gained enough of a market to last beyond five volumes.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

'Meanwhile Hosannah takes an unexpected shine to Phil Potts, and also meanwhile Sue asks Max, “Don’t you think it’s about time we fucked?”'

That may be the single greatest thing you've ever written. I'm DYING over here. :D