Thursday, March 17, 2016

Mutants Amok #4: Holocaust Horror

Mutants Amok #4: Holocaust Horror, by Mark Grant
September, 1991  Avon Books

David Bischoff turns in his final installment of Mutants Amok, though the series would last for one more volume after his departure. Bischoff goes out the same way he came in, delivering a goofy splatterfest that comes off like a sci-fi Looney Tunes with sex and gore. However, Holocaust Horror displays the signs of an author who is getting burned out with his series.

Just a day or two after the third volume, our heroes are still in California, wondering what to do next. Having lost the former love of his life (who went off to live happily ever after with a dapper mutant), Jack Bender is now “stuck” with Jill Morningstar, the American Indian beauty he first hooked up with in the second volume. For just as Bischoff got sick of Jenny, Jack’s first girlfriend, he’s also gotten sick of Jill; cue lots of whining on Jack’s part of how Jill is a “bitch” and how she constantly disagrees with him. Even oafish “rebel leader” Max Turkel is sick of Jill.

This is pretty sad, as Jill Morningstar previously was a fun character, a self-proclaimed post-apocalypse babe. But it’s clear Bischoff has gotten tired of her, and you can see poor Jill’s fate coming a mile away; it’s practically announced from her first appearance in Holocaust Horror. Perhaps this is why there were seldom recurring female characters in men’s adventure series; maybe the whole appeal of these books is a new lay each volume. Duh, what the hell am I saying? Of course that’s part of the appeal! But anyway, I have to admit I felt a little bad for the narrative short-shrift Jill was given.

Meanwhile the novel opens with the appearance of a new female character: Captain Martha “Marty” Abrahams, a hot-stuff brunette who leads an army of human rebels in the Arizona desert. They’re busy getting their asses kicked by some new-type cyborg mutants when we meet them, and also there’s word of certain a-doin’s transpirin’ in the nearby mountains. Later we’ll learn this is courtesy human freak Dr. Edward Wilkens, great-grandson of a man who helped invent the atomic bomb. Wilkens, confined to a wheelchair due to various diseases that have deformed him, is even more maniacal than the mutants and serves them due to his hatred of his own kind; he was mocked by fellow humans as a child given his warped appearance.

Bischoff delivers more of his patented freakish mutants this time, mostly through human baby-rat hybrids who plague the hell out of our heroes through the first half of the novel. While Holocaust Horror does occasionally get as gory as its predecessors, there is on the whole a sort of subdued or perhaps even defeated air to the whole thing, and Bischoff clearly page-fills throughout. He’s very fond of the single-line paragraph, for example. But also there is a lot of stalling and repetition and precious little of the whacked-out, gory insanity of the previous three books.

The borderline comedy material is still here, though, maybe not to the outrageous slapstick level of the third volume, but close. Wilkens and his “halfsie” assistant for example provide a lot of this; the halfsie is an “igor” class halfsie, which means that it looks identical to the Igor of the Frankenstein films, with a hunchback and everything – and the hunchback even has an extra brain. This recalls the goofy “hobbit” halfsies of the first volume and is just another indication of the Looney Tunes vibe of this entire series. (At one point Jack even watches a bunch of Looney Tunes cartoons in this volume, thus bringing it all together.)

Action is mostly sporadic. Turkel et al get out of one tough situation only to land in another; escaping a mutant squad they come to a complex built beneath the California desert, where they’re attacked that very night by those rat-babies. While Jack is graphically humping Jill, I should mention. As ever Bischoff gets down and dirty with the sex scenes; Jack might be getting sick of Jill’s temper and how she argues with everyone all the time, but he sure can’t complain about her skills in the sack.

After escaping the rat-babies our heroes end up joining forces with Marty Abrahams and her army. It’s instant hate between her and Turkel, but any idiot can see that these two will of course soon be jumping in bed themselves. Before we get there though we have another action sequence, where a stubborn Marty insists that they can easily defeat the nearby mutant base, which they’ve just discovered is the home of Dr. Wilkens and his atom bomb research. Wilkens by the way is here because his great-grandfather apparently hid some actual A-bombs in these mountains, and he’s searching for them.

Jack and Turkel and geek Phil Potts all say this attack will be suicide, and vote against it; you guessed it, Jill votes for the attack, mostly so as just to disagree with them and be contrary. And guess who gets killed in a major way the next morning? Yep, poor Jill is torn apart by a massive robot in the aftermath of the “attack,” which turns out to be a total rout. It’s a trap, Wilkens and his mutant leaders knowing the humans were planning an attack and having lots of nasty stuff waiting for them. All of the main heroes except for Jill manage to escape, of course.

A depressed Jack spends the next two weeks watching cartoons while Phil heads down to a local bar and meets some halfies(?). One of them he’s certain is working with Wilkens; he’s right, and it turns out to be the igor, who is named Trevor. Also Phil meanwhile manages to get his own babe, a bodacious blonde who first tries to hop in bed with Jack. Our teenaged hero gets her all worked up in another explicit scene, asks her “Do you want to fuck?”, and then sends her off to Phil’s room!

And also meanwhile Turkel and Marty Abrahams get it on, doing the deed on a pool table no less, but in a recurring theme they are interrupted right as Turkel has reached the climactic moment – by the robotic spleen in Turkel’s guts popping out and saying hello. Bischoff appears to have been remolding the series as a mission-based sort of thing, as rather than the free-form nature of the first books, this one has BrainGeneral Harten, Turkel’s for-now colleague, issuing orders through the robotic spleen. Harten and the other BrainGenerals want Wilkens stoped, as atomic power could be the end of the world, but insane Emperor Charlegmane is all for it and kills any BrainGenerals who disagree with him.

But it’s all a lot of padding. There’s a part where Wilkens discovers the cavern where his ancestor stored the atomic bombs, and it just goes on and on. There is on the whole just a feeling of boredom to the whole thing. More focus is placed on Trevor the igor’s fear of atomic armageddon, and after a few misadventures he ends up assisting our heroes – that is, his hump does, which has been sliced off by one of Wilkens’s new super-robots, advanced versions of the one that almost ripped Turkel apart in the second volume.

The finale sees a staged assault on Wilkens’s cavern complex, the rebels using high-tech “Reagan” tanks. They prove ineffective against the titanic robots, and Turkel goes running around with a LAW rocket launcher. It all has the feel of the future scenes in The Terminator. I thought maybe one of the main characters would get killed, like a big sendoff from Bischoff, but nope – Jack and Phil manage to escape while Trevor’s hump reattaches itself to the rest of his body and he tortures Wilkens before the atomic bomb explodes, Wilkens having set it to blow up in case his forces were overrun.

Lacking overall the gory, bizarre charm of the first three books, Holocaust Horror comes off as kind of limp and uninvolving. It’s also a little clumsy, with many subplots and characters brought up and then abruptly dropped. It does get back on the course of the storyline developing in the first two books – and here we are told again that early series villain BrainGeneral Torx really is dead – but unfortunately it just lacks the spark of those earlier volumes.

Only one more book was to follow, though, courtesy Bruce King: Christmas Slaughter, which is also the most scarce volume of the series. My guess is sales were low and thus it had a low print run. Anyway I’ll get to it eventually.


Tom Johnson said...

I really enjoy all of your in-depth reviews. Although I've read a lot of the men's adventure paperbacks, I missed many - such as this series. I must not have seen these on the rack (lol). Keep up the good work. I know some of us don't say that enough. But your reviews are terrific. I especially like your Two For Tuesday posts, BTW.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks, Tom, I really appreciate it!