Monday, March 10, 2014

Jason Striker #4: Ninja's Revenge

Jason Striker #4: Ninja's Revenge, by Piers Anthony and Roberto Fuentes
May, 1975  Berkley Medallion Books

The fourth installment of Jason Striker takes place “a few months” after the previous volume, but opens a few centuries in the past, with a detailed and entertaining battle between ninjas and samurai in 16th century Japan. The protagonist/villain here is Fu Antos, that immortal ninja master last seen in the final pages of #1: Kiai!; here we learn how Fu Antos eluded death, got vengeance on the shogun, and eventually achieved immortality.

In fact Ninja’s Revenge features more third-person sequences than any previous volume, so that Striker’s traditional first-person sections are greatly reduced. For example from the 16th century prologue we jump to the “modern day” (ie the mid-‘70s) as Hiroshi, kindly old akido sensei who himself was last seen back in that first volume, has journeyed to the US, where he seeks out Striker. Affronted by American rudeness, Hiroshi takes it upon himself to teach several Americans some manners, in what for the most part is a rather arbitrary sequence of Hiroshi politely beating the shit out of various jerks.

Eventually Hiroshi makes it to Striker’s judo dojo, where we see that Ilunga, black kung-fu mistress and former Kill-13 addict, is now co-running the place, an element introduced in the previous volume. But Hiroshi manages to piss off Ilunga as well, culminating in a brief fight in which Hiroshi uses his awesome mastery of ki, which entails Ilunga not only getting knocked on her ass, but also her long-broken nose being magically repaired.

Meanwhile Fu Antos, who now resides in the body of a prepubescent boy (as seen in the bizarre finale of Kiai!) comes upon a pollution-ravaged village somewhere in Japan. Putting on his ninja gi, Fu Antos storms the “dragon” which is polluting the water; in reality it’s an industrial factory with pipes that run into the local water supply, but apparently Fu Antos has been so segregated from the modern world that he’s unable to comprehend its real nature and thus thinks of it as a dragon. Here proceeds a strange scene in which a ninja boy with an immortal soul hacks apart armed thugs and puts a corporate executive under mind control, forcing the man to destroy the building.

From here we get another of those jumps – apparently all this Fu Antos stuff has occurred in the recent past – as we cut back to Hiroshi, who has connected at long last with Striker. Hiroshi works for Fu Antos (and indeed was the man who lead Striker to the immortal ninja back in Kiai!), and informs Striker that Fu Antos has now set up shop in “the wilds of the Amazon forest in South America,” where he plans to build his third Black Castle (the previous two having been in Japan, and destroyed over the centuries in various sieges). Hiroshi has been sent to draft Striker into helping out in the building of this castle, something Striker has no experience in whatsoever.

But before he can refuse, Striker is left with a bag of priceless diamonds, “payment” from Fu Antos, and Hiroshi disappears (that is, after he and Striker have laid to waste a Puerto Rican street gang called the Bastard Bones). Here the novel again goes on a bizarre and unexpected tack, with Striker now on a quest to convert the diamonds to cash. But Striker, our lovable idiot, is picked up by the trashy mother of one of his students, a brazen lady who shows up on his doorstep and asks him out – and Striker, after merely hiding the priceless diamonds beneath his clothes hamper, goes out with her.

With a chapter titled “Nympho” you know Ninja’s Revenge is a product of the ‘70s. And the lady lives up to the title, taking Striker home with her and screwing his brains out. Here the authors for once get slightly explicit in the ensuing sex scenes, rather than instantly fading to black. However none of it is erotic or even entertaining, and the woman is such an actual nympho that she wears Striker out and he escapes the next morning – only to run into the woman’s poor husband, who tells Striker he feels sorry for him, as the lady’s such a maneater.

Of course, Striker returns to find that his diamonds have been stolen. Here the novel descends into stupidity, and stays there for the duration. Hiroshi comes over, and using a friggin’ dowsing rod made out of a wire coathanger, playing it over a map of New York, he figures out where the diamonds have been taken! And he and Striker go there, to a secluded neighborhood of mansions, and infiltrate the place! And Striker gets in a fight with a bunch of thugs who happen to be in there, even though Striker’s not certain the diamonds are even there!

It turns out though that Hiroshi might’ve had the diamonds all along, and this whole encounter was engineered so he and Striker could play out Fu Antos’s enemies and show them who they’re messing with. Or something. Hiroshi disappears and now the novel sprawls fully into chaos. After another very, very long chapter about Fu Antos’s ninja past (a chapter which randomly drops in and out of Antos’s first-person perspective), Striker finds out that Luis, a Cuban gunrunning contact from the previous volume, has gone missing, possibly in Miami, and after receiving a garbled telegram about “monk’s treasure,” Striker deduces that he must go to Miami and look for a boat of that name!

This whole sequence is mind-boggingly arbitrary, beyond practically anything I’ve yet read in men’s adventure. My friends, Striker just takes off for Miami, walks around on the piers looking for a boat named Monk’s Treasure; an attractive young girl named Gloria hits on him, deduces he’s a “judoka,” and then asks him to go on a yacht cruise with her! And Striker complies! And on the yacht he starts teaching her and the skipper judo moves! And then friggin pirates attack the yacht and Striker fights them off, but the yacht is destroyed, and they all jump ship! And then sharks attack! And after the skipper dies Striker and Gloria make it to an island, where they build a makeshift hut! And then Gloria asks Striker to sleep with her, to help her get over the memory of her dead-of-a-disease fiance, who was a karate expert! And Striker takes her virginity in a somewhat explicit sequence! And then the girl tells him that “monk’s treasure” might refer to a famous temple in Miami! And then the coast guard or whatever happens by and saves them!

This entire stupid sequence goes on for a long, long time, and is so incredibly, jaw-droppingly unrelated to anything that it ranges from hilarious to rage-inducing and back to hilarious again. Seriously, Striker just goes to Miami on nothing more than a hunch, meets some random girl, goes on a yacht ride with her, gets capsized and stranded on an island, and takes her virginity! Then finally we return to the plot, with Striker now on the proper course for this mysterious “monk’s treasure.” To say the entire section is page-filler would be an understatement.

And it just gets dumber, and more coincidental. Striker happens upon some random dojo in Miami, and there he is challenged by practically the entire class, all of whom disrespect him for no reason. After trouncing them, including their muscle-bound leader, Loco, Striker is informed that these guys are all compatriots of Luis, Striker’s missing friend, and they suspected Striker of being his kidnapper! Yes, Striker just happened to walk right into a martial arts school run by companions of the man he’s seeking! Anyway he teams up now with a few of them and heads for the much-belated Monk’s Treasure, a stone castle erected at the turn of the century and now filled with various monks and kung-fu fighters.

After freeing Luis from his chains in a cellar, the group is making an easy escape…when coincidence rears its head again, and Striker spots Kan-Sen, the Demon Cult leader Striker thought he killed back in #2: Mistress Of Death! Kan-Sen as we’ll recall was the murderer of Striker’s fiance, and Striker’s still boiling at the memory. The authors skirt over Kan-Sen’s death by having Striker realize that he never confirmed his kill, that he merely assumed Kan-Sen was dead. This is easily bought due to Striker’s general stupidity, so no big deal.

Striker launches an attack, despite the fact that Kan-Sen’s surrounded by like a hundred kung-fu followers, as they’re all standing about the open grounds of the Monk’s Treasure castle. This fight goes on and on and isn’t very entertaining. It ends with Striker’s two companions perhaps dead, and Striker himself face-to-face with Kan-Sen, who reveals that they are now on the same side – Kan-Sen was freed of his Kill-13 addiction by Fu Antos, and it was Fu Antos who sent Kan-Sen here, to oversee the development of Fu Antos’s new Black Castle down in the Amazon. Also, Fu Antos apparently wanted Striker and Kan-Sen to meet, and engineered it thusly, for some unstated but no doubt nefarious purpose.

So Ninja’s Revenge ends on a cliffhanger, with Striker aghast at the thought of working with the man who killed his fiance. Unfortunately the reader doesn’t feel very compelled to instantly read the next volume, as this book was practically a joke, randomly jumping from one goofy plot to the next. All of the soap opera aspects of the previous books (Ilunga’s growing love for Striker, the various squabbles among Thera Drummond, Ilunga, Amalita, etc) have been removed, and Striker himself has been brushed to the side, so the authors can focus on arbitrary backstory about Fu Antos’s days in fuedal Japan.

But here’s hoping the next installment (which was the last to be published by Berkley) is an improvement.

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