Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tracker #4: Black Phantom

Tracker #4: Black Phantom, by Ron Stillman
June, 1991  Charter Books

The Tracker series continues to be the most painful read a men’s adventure fan can endure, once again delivering a boring story in which its asshole protagonist blithely overcomes all obstacles, defeats all enemies, and romances all women with the casual ease of a demigod. Plus the writing sucks. It’s almost as if this series was contrived by some anti-men’s adventure league and then fostered upon the reading public to sow disinterest and spite – seriously, that crap this terrible was getting published was almost a sign that anything could get published in the men’s adventure genre.

Like the previous volume, Black Phantom is basically just about Natty “Asshole” Tracker setting his sights on some non-PC villain and then spending the entire narrative fucking with him. In this case it’s Frederick Ebert, a neo-Nazi redneck who has created his own empire in the south and has entire armies of Nazi-like racists at his disposal. Despite these gun-toting goons and the murders they sow, the US government is trying to build a regular case against him instead of just taking him out, so Tracker, after assisting the Feds a bit, decides to take matters into his own hands and kill the bastard. It just takes him the entire novel to do so.

Previous volumes have also had such barebone plots and then padded them up with extraneous detail, but this one goes way overboard – I knew I was in for a shitstorm when in the very first action sequence Ron Stillman (aka Don Bendell) spent several pages providing useless backstories for a group of bikers as they raped a woman alongside the road, and then all of the bikers were blown away by Tracker within the next few pages. It goes like that throughout Black Phantom -- every character introduced into the tale is given pages of backstory filler, sometimes even including how their goddamn parents met!

Oh, and as for the title…the first page excerpt implied that “the Black Phantom” would be this new character, possibly evil, a black-armored scion of sci-fi death, but damn it all the “Phantom” is none other than asshole Tracker himself! Ebert, as we learn via incredibly elongated backstory, sends out teams of goons to kill Mexicans as they attempt to sneak across the US border, and Tracker starts showing up in the nick of time to save them, blowing away goons in his “Robocop”-style armor. Soon he becomes infamous as “the Phantom.”

But that’s just one of Tracker’s disguises here. He is also fond of showing up like an Indian “brave” in warpaint and on a horse, running commando raids on Ebert’s stooges. This is all just so stupid and monotonous, let alone unbelieveable, but Tracker as we’ll recall is a god among men and can do whatever he wants. This especially makes him seem like a dick, as it’s clear he could settle Ebert’s account straight away, but instead he takes his time about it.

Bendell fills pages with abandon, serving up useless backstory and dumbass sequences that have no bearing on anything. Most egregious is an extended sequence where we learn that one of Ebert’s goons is a professional wrestler (complete once again with elaborately detailed backstory on the guy), and Tracker trains to become a wrestler so he can take the guy on…all of it bullshit because it all ends the same as all the other extended sequences where Tracker takes on one of Ebert’s top guys, with Tracker dropping off the wrestler’s corpse as he flies over Ebert’s mansion in a C-10 – a recurring “joke” Bendell graces us with.

In fact there’s all kinds of “comedy” here, or at least the attempt at it. There is nothing more painful than a person who is not funny but thinks he is, and I fear Bendell must be of the type because he graces us with all sorts of “jokes” courtesy Tracker, and each and every one of them falls flat. It seems to me the author was going for a summer blockbuster sort of feel, with one-liners and whatnot, but boy it’s not funny.

And as we’ll recall Tracker isn’t just perfect in warfare, he also can get any woman he wants. He’s still got Dee, who has been with him since #2: Green Lightning, but we learn here that Dee’s really a secret agent and her chance meeting with Tracker in that second volume was actually part of a staged mission. To this I say “bullshit,” and it appears Bendell has merely introduced this concept so he can keep Dee around, and thus goes about majorly transforming her character in the pages of Black Phantom. He does though at least attempt to explain away Dee’s actions in previous volumes, all of which now ring false given the revelation that she is in fact a kick-ass commando herself.

Tracker also scores with Ebony Blanca, a CIA agent who conveniently moves in with Tracker as part of the mission against Ebert; she’s instantly horny as soon as she sees Tracker. And hell, Dee’s such a trouper she just leaves the two of them alone so they can get to know each other better! Of course we learn all about Ebony and etc, etc, all of which implies that she’s going to become Tracker’s “new” girlfriend, but then it just turns out to be another instance of page-filling as Ebony’s removed from the narrative posthaste.

The action scenes are also subpar, with Tracker so inhuman that he could probably take on a few Terminators at once without chipping a fingernail. And of course he’s even better than ever thanks to his continued cybernetic enhancements. But still, when the bullets begin to fly there’s no tension or excitement, mainly due to Tracker’s godlike abilities, but also because the scenes themselves are just so flat and lifeless.  Joseph Rosenberger's action scenes are even more exciting.

Good gravy but this series sucks. I looked up Bendell and it appears he has lived quite a life, serving in the special forces, teaching martial arts, writing poetry, etc. So for all I know he could be a great guy, and he at least deserves some respect for serving his country. But still, I think I’m going to save myself some pain and just skip ahead to the last two volumes, which were written by some unknown person. They have to be better…I mean, even that Twilight shit has to be better than this!!


Peter Brandvold said...

With all the good writers out there, I've always thought it strange Bendell ever got a writing gig at all, much less several. It goes to show, though, that after the heyday of men's adventure, editors were just trying to fill pages. It's too bad. The genre deserved much better than this. But, hey, it made for a great blog, Joe!


Brian Busby said...

Gee, that cover looks familiar.

It wasn't until this book that I realized Charter had fallen to reusing the same image - and even layout - over and over. Lazy and cheap, what makes this all the more shameful is the fact that our hero hasn't needed those special glasses for since book #2. What's more, if I understand correctly, they never looked like that in the first place.

To think what some readers will put up with... aside from bad writing, I mean.