Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Enforcer #3: Kill City

The Enforcer #3: Kill City, by Andrew Sugar
June, 1973 Lancer Books

First off, I want to say thanks to Ralph Blanchette for posting a comment on my review of Enforcer #1. Ralph, an artist, was friends with Andrew Sugar in the '70s and collaborated on some work for Argosy Magazine with him. (He's also confirmed that Sugar was indeed a man!) Unfortunately Ralph doesn't know what happened to Sugar, or even if he's still alive.

Kill City features the return of everyone's favorite clone, Alex Jason, who once again has been given a new body which will last for 90 days. But at this point Jason is used to the constant changing of bodies. Given that his mind stays the same with each new body, he's now focused upon honing his ESP skills. He's also focused upon his relationship with Janet, the attractive doctor he met in the previous volume. Janet is a non-clone but also works for the Institute, and now lives with Jason in their HQ in downtown New York City.

Out for a beer, taking a break from his writing (the world at large doesn't know that famous author Alex Jason was dying of cancer a year ago), Jason is mugged on his way back to the Institue. Like a true man of action, he takes the opportunity to test his martial arts skills. He nearly gets his ass kicked. He's saved by two guys in tan uniforms who show up in an Impala(!) and shine a light on both the hood and Jason. Suddenly Jason wants to kill himself. Using his sharp mental skills he defeats the raging impulse. The hood meanwhile takes his revolver and shoots himself.

The rescuers identify themselves as members of "The Patrol," a sort of unofficial citizen's police force. They admired Jason's fighting skills and ask him to consider joining. Jason however can't shake his suspicions and investigates. As in the previous volume, Jason goes undercover. And once again he discovers a plot to undermine the country, with the Patrol really a sort of strike force commanded by Lochner, Jason's arch-enemy. Lochner's method of destruction is "The Suzy," that beam which "saved" Jason in the opening pages; it zaps the mind and triggers the brain's self-destruct mechanisms. Only 1 in 10 people can withstand it, Jason of course being one of them.

Whereas the previous volume was a padded-out bore, Kill City is much more entertaining. Sure, there's lots of stuff that could've been cut, but Sugar keeps the action at a nice pace with occasional shootouts, fights, and sex scenes between Jason and Janet. The thing is though that the Enforcer series is just so much better-written than the average men's adventure novel. Sugar remains locked in Jason's POV through the entire book, really fleshing out the character. The most incredible thing is that there's actual character development here: Jason is a much different character than he was a mere two volumes ago. This in itself is a novelty in the genre.

Regardless, one must be ready to slog through many scenes of Jason and his comrades sitting around and talking. There are many, many scenes of one character unloading theories or beliefs upon another character. Kill City is much more plot and dialog heavy than the average men's adventure book. But then, I realized something with this installment: Sugar really isn't writing a men's adventure sort of series at all.

It's my contention that instead Sugar used this series as a forum from which he could advance his political and philosophical beliefs. This is the same thing Ayn Rand did with Atlas Shrugged, only Sugar has done it in the wild and wooly world of men's adventure novels. The characters Jason meets -- politicians, self-styled police, scientists -- rail against the government, the sheeplike mentality of the common man, the growing corruption and how it could all easily be avoided. And Jason acts as the bellwether, agreeing with certain things but arguing against those that fall outside the rubric of Libertarianism. Not that the Party is ever mentioned; it's all more of a subtext sort of thing. To be sure, it makes for some slow reading at spots, but at the very least I can respect it as it's something different than the genre norm.

Another thing I like about this series is how Sugar encapsulates the lost art of being a guy: Jason and his pals sit around and discuss big issues while drinking brandy and smoking cigarettes. And unlike the usual men's adventure protagonist, Jason's a more sensitive sort (Sugar insinuates that this is because Jason is a writer, and so more open-minded), and he's careful to shelter Janet from "male chauvinism." And Jason truly does love her, which again is different from the genre standard: Janet is the only woman Jason's with in the course of the novel...but that doesn't stop Sugar from again delivering graphic sex scenes between the two.

In 1975 Sugar took the series over to Manor Books, who reprinted Kill City along with the other three Lancer originals. Here's the cover:

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