Monday, July 13, 2015

Men's Mag Roundup: Blood Duels and Death Wish Patrols

Like the previous Male Annual I read, Male Annual 14 (1972) is chock full of stories, most of them retitled reprints of earlier Male, Stag, and For Men Only stories and articles. This particular issue is interesting because most of the material in it is from 1970, when the art/photography in men’s mags had become slightly more risque, but nowhere as exploitative as it would become in just a few short years.

“A Bullet For The Enforcer” by W.J. Saber is the reason I tracked down this issue. The magazine’s misleading cover blurb had me expecting a Godfather ripoff, or at least a lurid Mafia novella; instead, the story turns out to be a retitled reprint of “Hit Man For the Aiport Heist Mob,” which appeared in the September 1970 issue of Stag. Earl Norem’s awesome splash page is retained for this Male Annual reprint, with only the title being changed. Here’s a screengrab of the original version:

With opening dialog of “Come on, spike me harder. Nail me to the mattress,” you know a different era has dawned in the world of men’s adventure mags, and the ensuing sex scene is fairly explicit (though again not as explicit as such tales would be within a year or two). But this is how “A Bullet For The Enforcer” begins, and it follows the same template as every single other men’s adventure mag story I’ve read: we open on a sex or action scene (or both), before cutting back “three months ago” for the looong buildup, before meeting back up with the opening section and then hurrying through the rest of the tale for a rushed finish.

Faber is a new men’s mag writer for me, but his prose is of a piece with everything else I’ve read in this particular genre, with that polished, professional feel. I have to say though the dude isn’t much for scene changes, or maybe that’s just lame editorial work afoot; seriously, we’ll change scenes, locations, and even times without a line space or anything. It gets to be a little confusing at first, but otherwise Faber has that firm command you’d expect of a men’s mag writer, doling out a tale about an antihero who is very much in the Parker mold.

Only this guy, Carl Strand, is a lot meaner than Parker ever was. As noted Strand’s getting busy as the tale begins, boffing a buxom blonde stewardess in a hotel room. But he hears hit men sneaking in, and knows the “stew” has set him up. So the dude punches her out just before she climaxes, gets the jump on the hit men, shoots them point blank in the head…and then shoots the stewardess point blank in the head! This is how our “hero” is introduced to us, and it isn’t for several pages that we learn the girl set him up, and thus “deserved to die.”

Strand is a former ‘Nam Special Forces badass with a penchant for judo. He’s recently been imprisoned for beating to death some dude he loaned money to. Strand’s knack is for heisting the heisters; originally just a regular crook, he moved on to robbing criminals. A team of government officials in some unstated city need a certain specialist; airport cargo in their city is being looted and heisted, and they have no leads. It appears to be an independent syndicate at work. What they need is a professional criminal who can infiltrate the syndicate. They settle upon Strand and offer him the job. But first he has to break out of prison in a belabored sequence.

Strand’s contact is “The Controller,” who answers Strand’s calls from a payphone and hooks him up with cash, clothes, a gun (Strand’s choice of weaponry is a snub nosed .32 revolver), and whatever else he needs. Strand follows leads and ends up in a “swinger’s apartment” that’s filled with, you guessed it, horny stews. That’s just how it goes in the world of men’s mags and I for one am not complaining. Strand gets laid asap by a petite-but-busty brunette named Janice who does him, I’m not kidding, like five seconds after they meet. She just shows up at his door, asks for a drink, and offers herself while she’s reclining on a barstool. Once again, the ensuing sex scene isn’t as vague as it would be in the earlier decades of this particular genre.

Janice is a stewardess and Strand uses her to test out his own heisting scheme, coming away with a bunch of gems. When he tries to make off with them on his own, the Controller gives him a call – eyes are watching Strand from everywhere. So instead he uses the gems to broker a deal with Dryden, a fence who apparently works for the mysterious air cargo heisters. These guys, in the form of a boss named Robinson, eventually make contact with Strand. But when he rubs some of the higher-ups the wrong way, they send some hit men after him – cue the opening sequence, in which Strand’s getting lucky with another stewardess, this one a blonde who is one of the heisters, unlike Janice.

Both the hit men as well as the blonde stew dead, Strand moves in for the big score. He talks Robinson into hitting the airport bank. Meanwhile the Controller will be sending in cops in gas masks, to compensate for the knockout gas Strand will be using on the bank. All of this, as you can see, as shown in Earl Norem’s splash page, which actually turns out to illustrate the final few paragraphs of the story. And true to the men’s mag template, the finale is rushed, with the crooks hitting the bank and the cops hitting the crooks, and Strand himself gets blown away by Robinson, living only long enough to tell the Controller that it’s better this way – he doesn’t want to go back to prison.

“Traitors Die Slow” by Grant Freeling is not only another “smash book bonus,” but it’s also another retitled reprint. It was originally published as “They Crippled Hitler’s D-Day Defenses” and appeared in the September 1970 For Men Only, and I reviewed it here.

The longest story in the book is “My Blood Duel with the Texas Cycle Brutes,” which is “as told to Mark Petersen,” aka the guy who wrote it. Labelled as a “true extralength,” it really is a novella, and follows the same template as “Bullet For The Enforcer;” opening en media res, to a long flashback, to a hurried-off finale. The story is officially credited to Quint Lake, who relays the story in first person, however the majority of the story is courtesy another character: Virginia Carley, a smokin’-hot blonde who shows up nude on Quint’s Arizona ranch one afternoon, having driven there on a stolen Harley chopper.

After recuperating for a few days, Virginia is well enough to tell Quint her story, which makes up for most of the narrative. She’s in her early 20s and was born and raised in some nowhere section of Texas. Bored with life, she was happy one day when the Devil’s Disciples showed up, “the most vicious cycle gang ever to roar down the highways of the Southwest.” Led by Killer Joe, an “All-American type” who wears a WWI German helmet with a spike and leads a group of leather-clad psychopaths, the gang offers Virginia a chance to escape her humdrum life.

Becoming Killer Joe’s woman, she aids and abetts them in their theivery; they like to steal wallets from motorists and knock over gas stations. But in some town in Arizona Killer Joe finds a place that fixes up and sells hot cars, and he decides to knock it off. So they send in Virginia as the honeytrap; she goes home with the owner and Killer Joe busts in just before the naughtiness begins, threatening the dude for the twenty thousand Joe knows he has. But the owner swears the money’s gone and says Virginia stole it. So the Devil’s Disciples string her up and begin beating her, Killer Joe using a belt and another dude stabbing out cigarettes on her skin.

This is where we came in, as Virginia manages to escape, beaten and fully nude. She slices the tires of all the bikes save for Killer Joe’s and takes off on it, eventually ending up in the home of our hero, a young ‘Nam vet with a fondness for guns who has, would you believe it, managed to fall in love with Virginia over these few days he’s tended to her. Cue a super-vague sex scene that is very much like those in earlier men’s mag stories, just immediately cutting to black. Dammit! But anyway our narrator is a dolt. Virginia has begged him to tell no one of her presence. So what does he do after she’s been with him for a month? He decides to surprise her by fixing up that wrecked chopper of hers…you know, the one she stole from Killer Joe.

Sure enough, our dumbass hero is out smoking his “last cigarette of the day” one evening when he’s knocked out by a biker. He wakes up to find himself tied up and Virginia, once again, nude and being tortured. Killer Joe and pals are back and they want that twenty thousand. Our hero manages to free his bonds through sheer strength and takes out Killer Joe and a few henchmen in the strangest way possible: putting bullets in small holes in his wooden firing range and slamming rocks into them, which causes the cartridges to explode and hit the bikers!

The strangest thing about “Blood Duel” is that Virginia’s role in the theft of the twenty thousand is never explained. After killing off Killer Joe et al and rounding up the other bikers, Quint discovers that the blonde is gone, running away without even bothering to see if he’s okay. A month or so later he receives a letter from her, saying that she misses him, loves him, and if he wants her she’s waiting for him at some hotel – she knows she has a lot of explaining to do. And Quint figures to himself, well, if she does actually have that twenty thousand bucks, then he’ll suggest she invest it in some steers for an old rancher he knows…! The end!

“My Body For The Taking” by Michael Sarris is labelled as “Daring Fiction” but it’s about as tepid as you can get – it’s a short tale about a dude on a bus ride to Connecticut who meets up with some hot chick who offers him a job at her uncle’s amusement park. He fixes a few lights and whatnot and then one night she’s waiting for him on one of the rides – cue a vague sex scene. The end.

“Captured by Assam’s Amazon She Devils” harkens back to the glory days of men’s adventure mag pulps, most likely because it’s by an old master of the craft: Emile Schurmacher. This tale isn’t as long as those in editor Noah Sarlat’s days of the early ‘60s, but it packs an entertaining adventure tale in its otherwise brief length. Even though it sports a not-fooling-anyone “as told to” credit, the tale is straight-up fiction, written in third person. Schurmacher has a sure hand of the genre and indeed makes you realize how the older men’s mags stories were generally better, particularly in the Diamond line of publications.

Anyway, it’s 1970 and ruggedly virile anthropologist Bill Kudner is on the Assam-Burma border, searching for the wreckage of a DC-3 that crashed in this area back in 1949. There were nine “white women” on board, nurses all, and no one knows if anyone survived the crash. However tales have leaked out of savage-looking white women running around in the jungle; in other words amazons. So Kudner’s looking for them, only for his sherpa guide to get killed by his cowardly followers, none of whom want to go into the supposedly-haunted valley in which the amazons, referred to by the natives as “Miguri,” apparently reside.

Kudner is captured posthaste by a group of white jungle women, all of them of course smoking hot, in particular a “lithe blonde” named Nadja. Their leader is a bit older and thus evil, per the reasoning of men’s mag logic; her name is Temeh, and she orders Kudner put in a cage. But Nadja has the hots for Kudner and comes to his cage that night, after giving him a meal for his virility. Cue an off-page sex scene which apparently goes on all night. Nadja has limited English and informs Kudner that she is the daughter of one of the nurses on that crashed plane, the wreckage of which sits nearby. Her mother and the other nurses are dead, as are the men of the village, all of them killed in a war with a rival tribe.

The usual stuff happens; Kudner is left alone during the day, only to receive nightly conjugal visits courtesy Nadja. But his presence sows dissent in the tribe and Nadja and another hot amazon named Pantho get in mortal combat over him. Temeh breaks up the fun and orders the two women to kill Kudner; with him out of the picture harmony can return to the camp. But Nadja breaks Kudner out and the two make their escape into Burma, where we are informed they eventually get married in a Buddhist temple. This was a fun story, filled with that adventure-fiction vibe of the old pulps, with very good writing.  I have a few Schurmacher books and look forward to reading them.  

Speaking of the later years of the men’s mags, this August 1976 issue of For Men Only is a sterling example. The sleaze runs rampant, with full-color, full-frontal shots of a variety of ‘70s chicks with feathered hair. The letters to the editor and various features are all about sex and foreplay and how to pick up chicks and etc. The stories are greatly reduced, with none of the “true extralength” yarns you would get in the earlier days, and even those few stories which are here are more so presented as actual articles like you’d read in Playboy.

“Sex Lives of Female Private Eyes” by Sam Phillips is one of those “factual” articles which, instead of being a narrative, is instead quick interviews with a few ladies who are willing to go all the way for a case. There’s hardly any explicit detail at all, and it’s basically just a bunch of dialog from (fictional?) women. However, the artwork this baby is graced with is phenomenal. Someone should’ve colored it and put it on the cover of some paperback novel about a female private eye; it would’ve been perfect for HatchettFernanda, or better yet one of the Jana Blake books:

“Mercenaries – Soldiers of Fortune or Hired Killers?” by Robert Joe Stout also goes for the pseudo-factual approach, coming off as a sort of interview with Gregory Lyday, an Irish mercenary who recounts his tale of going from the army to working as a soldier of fortune in Greece and Tel Aviv. But our fictional mercenary is more focused on sex, telling us about the awesome blowjobs he’d get from a whore in Tel Aviv. Again, nothing overly graphic, but the focus on sex is an indication of the changing times in the genre. As for the action material, it’s threadbare, with “Lyday” more intent on telling us about how he’d blow up stuff.

“The Man with the 10-Inch Magic Wand” purports to be an interview with Dave Gregory, a well-endowed commercial artist in New York; the “interview” is credited to T.J. Roberts. Mr. Gregory tells us about his various sexual exploits, from appearing in a porno “for the fun of it” to taking bets to heat up notoriously-frosty women.

“Death Wish Patrol That Nailed A Rapist” is the reason I sought this mag out; it’s written by Roland Empey, which is a pseudonym for well-regarded veteran men’s mag writer Walter Kaylin. Tapping into the Death Wish craze, this one’s summed up entirely in its title. A dude named George Wheeler, who lives an idyllic life with his family in Pleasant Valley, goes to some unnamed “big city” once a month for work. There he stays in a sleazy hotel, gets drunk, and then goes out and savagely rapes a woman. He’s raped seven women in just as many months, and the locals have had enough of this shit.

Kaylin doesn’t go for the exploitation, really, with the assaults obviously focusing more on the horrors perpetrated on the unfortunate women. One thing that holds “Death Wish” back is its too-short length. It’s several pages long but could stand to be fleshed out more, as the street toughs who band together to take down the mystery rapist are a bit vague to the reader. I’ve often wondered why guys like Kaylin didn’t expand their stories into novel length; the ‘70s were the time for paperback fiction, the more lurid the better, and something like “Death Wish Patrol” could’ve made for easy paperback fodder.

The locals use their smarts to figure out that these rapes are happening once a month, and decide an out-of-towner is behind them. The cops meanwhile have more pressing concerns, given that the rapes are occurring in a sleazy part of “the big city.” So it’s up to the local toughs, who band together and eventually get the lockdown on Wheeler. There’s no action, really, no Charles Bronson-style fighting or violence; the patrol just finds Wheeler after his latest assault and chases him down, capturing him on a rooftop and beating him, then tying him up and briefly lowering him over the building as a sign to all potential rapists. After which Wheeler is arrested and hauled away.

Here’s Bruce Minney’s art for the story, which illustrates the final scene:


larry said...

I remember gazing in awe at the men's mags during the sixties. I was a preteen in Chicago and the shop where I bought my comics had these low enough on the magazine rack for kids to flip through quick before the owner would tell you to put it down. When one of them (True, Argosy?) ran the James Bond novel COLONEL SUN, I was a senior in high school and managed to buy those issues.

Marty McKee said...

More of these, please!

Zwolf said...

The dude stole that "hammering bullets through holes in his firing range" trick from an old episode of The Avengers (the British one, with Diana Rigg?) - John Steed killed a supervillian by pulling that trick in one episode. I love any old biker stories. I used to buy Easyriders, back when they were a real "biker" mag instead of a "motorcycle enthusiast" thing, and they had some crazy stories in 'em. So did Outlaw Biker, on the rare occasions that I could find one of those. You'd get stories with titles like "The Great Pimp Hunt of 1973" that were supposedly true but you knew they weren't because the statute of limitations never runs out on a few things the author was "confessing" to... lots of stabbing and slabbing in those. You could still scare up paperbacks of Easyrider's Best Biker Fiction pretty cheap up to a few years ago... now things I paid a nickel for off a cut-out table are going for $50.

Gotta love these old sweat mags. Another compilation of 'em just came out -- Soft Brides For The Beast Of Blood -- so snag that if you haven't already. I hope they keep putting those out, but I haven't seen any more on the release schedule just yet.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Larry, that's cool to hear that these mags were available at comic book stores. Marty, I'll have more of these men's mag reviews coming up. And speaking of which, Zwolf, I'm halfway through "Soft Brides For the Beast Of Blood" and I'm friggin' loving it. I have the other two Pep Pentangeli-edited anthologies but started with this newest one because of the amount of Nazi She-Devil stories in it. Thanks for the note on those Easyrider stories, not familiar with any of them. But speaking of biker fiction I am about to read the Fawcett Gold Medal book "The Blood Circus," by Thomas Fitzpatrick, which I learned about via your review.

Stephen Mertz said...

Don't know who he really was or what happened to him, but back when these magazines were new, I always picked up a copy if it had a WJ Saber story (altho this one doesn't sound all that hot!). Think I saw his name on one 70s paperback.