Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Executioner #264: Iron Fist

The Executioner #264: Iron Fist, by Gerald Montgomery
November, 2000  Gold Eagle Books

This is the second volume of Gerald Montgomery’s COMCON trilogy, which began with #262: Trigger Point. To recap that previous volume, Nazis insinuated themselves into the US government after World War II, their ultimate goal the removal of the US constitution and the eventual domination of the country…and then the world! Iron Fist backs down a little from the political conspiracy aspect of that previous volume, but in a good way…rather than being portaryed as crypto-fascits, COMCON is now a friggin’ Chutulu-worshipping cult who breeds Hulk-sized supersoldiers with advanced nanotechnology!

Again, the biggest surprise here is that Gold Eagle even published these books. They have nothing in common with other books in the Executioner line, filled with sci-fi weaponry and Lovecratian references. Hell, there’s even a Hunter Thompson analogue running around. What’s even more surprising is that Montgomery pulls it all off. His writing is strong, with a better focus on action than before – and he hardly delves into any gun-porn, other than a few instances here and there. (The most egregious example is where he goes on for a few pages about the C-5 plane…not technically “gun-porn,” but close.)

The novel opens with a nonstop action scene that goes on for around fifty pages; a tour de force of lurid gore as Splatterpunk, COMCON-created nanotech-powered monster, is dropped into Denver and begins killing women, all in a play to get Bolan’s attention. After busting up COMCON in the previous volume, Bolan is now COMCON's most wanted, and from what little they know about him, they’re certain that the murdering of unprotected, innocent women will draw his attention quick.

The only problem is, this opening scene outdoes the rest of the novel. Bolan is always two steps behind Splatterpunk, who has the strength of a few men and cannot be killed. Or at least it appears so. His super-tough skin deflects most weapons, even bullets, and those that do break free smash apart on his metal-like skeleton. Not only that, but it’s later learned that his body breaks down embedded ammo-bits into his bloodstream. This is all way beyond the normal Executioner ilk, which understandably might be off-putting for some. But for me, it was a wonder to even read such stuff in a Mack Bolan novel.

Splatterpunk leaves a trail of murdered women in his wake, even killing one right in front of a powerless Bolan. Montgomery does a grand job heightening the tension throughout this scene, with Bolan chasing after Splatterpunk, the cops chasing after Bolan, and chaos in general overtaking Denver. Meanwhile Montgomery often hopscotches over to Harlan T. Garrison, the aforementioned Hunter Thompson analogue, who himself is on COMCON’s trail, blasting through Denver in a permanent chemical fog, recording his thoughts into a reel-to-reel recorder for posterity, his gorgeous female assistant Brandee Wine (!) barrelling their vintage muscle car through the streets like a daredevil.

Bolan finally gets the drop on Splatterpunk, and the novel settles down, if only for a bit. Part of the problem with Trigger Point was that so much of it was dedicated to world-building, to setting up Montgomery’s elaborate plot. He does a much better job here, keeping the story moving while still doling out conspiracy-mongering backstory. Again Bolan discovers that COMCON is well beyond current technology; Montgomery even works in alien/UFO stuff, when one of the Stony Man lab assistants, after studying Splatterpunk’s inert form, swears that alien technology is behind this – she even brings up that hoary old rumor that the Nazis supposedly had alien assistance in WWII.

The most memorable character is Harlan T. Ellison, such a spot-on spoof of Hunter Thompson that you almost feel as if you’re reading a Gold Eagle rewrite of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I bet this character in particular truly set off the average Gold Eagle reader, who wondered why he was being given so much attention – for the non-Gold Eagle fan, though, the character is a blast of relief from the typical type you encounter in this imprint’s books. I suspect though that Gold Eagle probably cut out some of Harlan’s proclivities from Montgomery’s orginal manuscript; though Harlan often makes mention of drugs and the like, we suspiciously never see him partaking of anything stronger than a few cans of beer.

Splatterpunk too is a great character, and Montgomery goes the opposite route from the expected confrontation with Bolan, instead delving into a metaphysical bit where Splatterpunk, unconscious after his opening battle with Bolan, meets up with a goddess who reminds him who he once was, before COMCON turned him into the monster known as Splatterpunk. (There’s a lot of subtle goddess-worship at play here, with female deities providing salvation…Harlan’s assistant, Brandee, even makes several references to “Great Goddess” being with her.) The end result being a reborn Splatterpunk offering to lead Bolan to the Spread, the mysterious COMCON-owned place where he was created, so that together they may destroy it.

Montgomery gets even further out with the closing sequence at the Spread. Here, in addition to blazing action, we are treated to a wealth of Lovecraft-inspired stuff, with occultic orgies (black-robed priests there to soak up the “orgone energy”), baby sacrifice, and even a tentacle-headed demon, for crying out loud, though Montgomery has the characters assume it’s just someone in an animatronic mask. The implication however is that the demon is quite real.

Action-wise the novel is strong, with the gun-porn well worked into the narrative. Splatterpunk unleashes hell on Denver, and Montgomery doesn’t shy on the gore, nor does he in the several other action scenes, particularly the climax, where Bolan storms the Spread with members of both Phoenix Force and Able Team in tow. Montgomery even proves himself adept at writing the mandatory Able Team banter. In fact, dialog is pretty strong throughout Iron Fist.

We’re obviously far beyond the world of Don Pendleton here, but Montgomery’s conviction really sells the tale. It would be hard to imagine any other Gold Eagle ghostwriter coming up with such a far-out storyline, that’s for sure; little wonder, then, that other than one other standalone Bolan novel, the COMCON trilogy was all Montgomery ever wrote for Gold Eagle. I’m really looking forward to the next and final installment of the trilogy, though word has it Montgomery’s manuscript was drastically changed before publication. Again, though, it’s a wonder Gold Eagle even published it in the first place.

1 comment:

Bob Milne said...

#264? Really? Wow . . . and we're talking 12 years ago.

I haven't read an Executioner book in a very long time, dating back to Don Pendleton original books. They were fun, throw-away novels for a kid growing up on Rambo, Dirty Harry, and The Equalizer, but I'm not sure they'd stand the test of time.