Men’s Adventure Quarterly #2, edited by Robert Deis, Bill Cunningham, and Tom Simon
April, 2021 Subtropic Productions
I really enjoyed Men's Adventure Quarterly #1 a lot, but as expected I enjoyed Men’s Adventure Quarterly #2 even more. The first one had great stories and wonderful production quality, but Westerns have never really been my thing, so I knew that this second volume, with its focus on Cold War spy stories from men's adventure magazines, would be more up my alley. Once again the issue comes off like a vintage men’s magazine, only with much higher print quality, complete with risque vintage ads, a gallery of beautiful women, and even letters to the editor to go along with the stories themselves.
As with the first volume we get a series of nice intros from each editor which are broad outlines of men’s mag spy stories and how they intersected with paperbacks. I thought this would’ve been a good opportunity to mention a few vintage paperbacks that actually had their origins as spy fiction in men’s adventure magazines: Spy In Black Lace, Assignment X (an Emille Schurmacher men’s mag spy anthology I keep meaning to read), Our Secret War Against Red China, and Six Graves To Munich. Well, the latter is really more of a post-WWII revenge thriller, but it operates very much like the Cold War tales presented here in MAQ #2, and also is one of the few (only?) men’s mag stories that got expanded into a novel. I still don’t understand why that didn’t happen with more men’s mag stories; I’d give anything to read a full novel of “Blood For The Love Slaves” (and still keep thinking about just writing the damn thing myself).
I’d read some men’s mag spy yarns in the past, but luckily the ones here were all new to me, and I was especially happy to see a few I’d looked for in the past. These stories reminded me of what I’d learned from the previous ones I read: the espionage yarns in the men’s adventure magazines were not really escapist fantasy in the mold of the James Bond movies; they weren’t even similar to the original Ian Fleming novels. For the most part they were much more “realistic” (comparatively speaking), with little in the way of exotic villains or sci-fi gadgets. For that, you’d need to look to the paperbacks of the day, particularly Nick Carter: Killmaster, Mark Hood, or Don Miles.
However that isn’t to say the stories here aren’t enjoyable. And indeed, two of them do have exotic villains and other Bond-esque trappings. But for the most part, the stories in MAQ #2 are similar to those in the vintage anthologies I mentioned above; Cold War thrillers with yank protagonists who go about their assignments with stone-cold professionalism. Speaking of paperbacks, the closest comparison I could think of would be the Sam Durell books; if you like those, you’ll certainly enjoy the spy yarns assembled here. Otherwise the stories follow the same template as most every other men’s adventure story I’ve ever read: a memorable opening (usually depicted on the splash page), followed by a flashback to how the characters got to this moment, followed by a hasty wrap-up. This is the template that the men’s mag editors stuck to, regardless of the genre. I mean seriously, they could’ve done a story on Jesus and it would’ve followed the same format.
As with Men’s Adventure Quarterly #1, the production quality of this issue is first-rate, with eye-popping visuals faithfully reproduced from the original covers and interiors throughout. Also the typeset is much easier to read than those original magazines, but one minor issue I had was that occasionally full-color art would be placed beneath the print on pages that were otherwise comprised solely of copy. This was never done in the original mags, at least none I’ve ever seen, and likely is a concession to our modern “more artsy” approach to printed materials. While it looks great, I personally found it made for difficult reading, like for example the cover of Colonel Sun (by Kingsley Amis) beneath the copy in the example below. But there are only a few instances where this happens; otherwise the print is nice and bold and, as mentioned, much more pleasant to the eyes than the original magazine layouts.
“The Kremlin Agent Will Be Wearing A Pink Nightgown” by Martin Faas starts off the issue; it’s from the October 1961 issue of Male. A fairly low-key opening, this one’s a pseudo “true” tale that occurs in 1957; the titular agent, a “blonde woman of staggering proportions” named Magda Karoli, spies on the US at the behest of a Hungarian communist cell. This one’s identical to the stories in Spy In Black Lace in that Magda isn’t a female agent in the Baroness mold, but instead a shapely blonde who uses her ample charms to get horny men to do her bidding. It’s also an indication of the type of “spy stories” to be found in the men’s mags, in that it literally is a spy story, with no fantastical elements; Magda works as a secretary for a studly dude named Major Mancuso, head of US intelligence in Frankfurt, but she’s secretly a spy for Miklos Tarash, “one of the Soviet Union’s slickest agents.”
As with the spy-babes in Spy In Black Lace, Magda sleeps with Mancuso while stealing info from him; we watch her in action as she snaps some photos in his office while he’s out. From there we have a recap of how Magda, a Hungarian, was drafted into the commie spy game by Miklos, who poses in Frankfurt as a famous businessman. Mancuso starts to suspect something is amiss, and Magda nearly blows it when she slips out one night and hooks up with some random guy. Otherwise this one’s kind of a mess in that Mancuso seems a little easily fooled for a top intelligence guy, and only comes to the conclusion that Magda is the mole a little late. But there’s no bloody action to be found in this particular story, nor any deaths, though Miklos does fall in a vat of hot chocolate at one point. We have a goofy finale in which we learn the prison terms these various characters were given, complete with “this writer,” ie Faas himself, visiting Magda in prison…to discover she’s still super hot.
“How Would You Do As A CIA Spy?” is by David Norman and from the September 1961 Male. The longest piece in MAQ #2, this is a nonfiction account of what one might expect in the spy game…at least as it existed at the time. Being a Korea vet and having various military abilities would be a bonus, Norman advises, with also pointers on how your undercover life might conflict with your everyday life. The most interesting thing about this one was how it compares to the CIA of today.
“The Deadly Spy Mystery Of The Formosa Joy Girls” is by Brand Hollister and from the March, 1963 issue of Man’s Action. “Brand Hollister is the pen-name of a counter-espionage agent,” an intro informs us; something Bob Deis rightfully pokes fun at in his own intro to the story. Told in first-person, this one starts with the action as Brand blows away a Chinese agent who is strangling his “best friend.” We’re in Formosa, now known as Taiwan, and after the expected flashback we learn that intel has been leaking from Formosa into “Red China” and Brand and his best bud have been tasked with finding out how. But now his buddy’s dead, as is the Chinese agent who killed him. Brand searches the Chinese dude’s eyes and suddenly the “mystery” is revealed to him – it has to do with “Fu-Ming’s night club” with its “naked girls.”
Here the story gets wild as Brand goes back to Fu-Ming’s and checks out the naked dancing girls – you can of course take ‘em upstairs for a fee – but this time he gets a whole ‘nother view thanks to the “infra-red contacts” he’s put on. Contacts that belong to someone else. Sounds uncomfortable! This bit, with secret messages uncovered on the babes, is so crazy it could come out of a Eurospy flick. Otherwise this yarn didn’t do much for me; like most other Man’s Action stories I’ve read it was just too short and too rushed to make much of an impact.
“Belly Dancer Raid To Spring Russia’s Top Rocket Man” is by Roger Tetzel and from the May 1964 issue of For Men Only. This is another that follows the men’s mag template with the “faux-true” approach (as Bob so aptly describes it in his editorial intro); we’re to understand that protagonist Whitney Trumbull is a real person, as are the other characters in the story. This one’s in third person, and per tradition opens with the incident that really takes place toward the end – Trumbull and a group of Turkish actors, one of whom is a “girl,” enter a whorehouse in Batumi, Georgia, looking for a place to hide from the KGB. But just as they get to hide – with the girl posing, naturally, as one of the hookers – the KGB come in, with the officer in charge immediately deducing that “the new girl” doesn’t belong here, as she’s too hot for the typical hookers. He kicks over a chair and uncovers Trumbull, who is hiding there; Trumbull darts out and begins to strangle the officer.
And, per usual, we flash back to how we got here…Trumbull was a Navy Intelligence guy in Korea, then retired, then got re-hired again six months ago; we’re informed this tale occurs in 1961. Trumbull’s assignment had him going to Istanbul, where he establishes himself as a professor of English and drama. After doing this for half a year he’s given his assignment – naturally, by a hotstuff belly dancer named Yasmin. Trumbull’s job is to put together a touring drama company, go through the Black Sea area and finally into Russia, and there smuggle out a Russian rocket scientist who wants to defect. Part of the drama group includes a sexy student of Trumbull’s, Inci. Tetzel injects some suspense into the tale with Trumbull, who is of course engaged in some off-page sex with both Inci and Yasmin, suspecting that one of them is a traitor.
The story is a bit longer than some of the others in the issue, and some of it per tradition is padded; there’s a random digression where Trumbull’s group runs afoul of a mountain tribe while on the tour. This entails a lot of strongman stuff from Trumbull to prove his worth. We finally get back to the opening sequence, which occurs almost immediately after the group springs the Russian scientist; the KGB was aware of the plot all along, thanks to a traitor in Trumbull’s group, and have allowed it to proceed so as to catch them all in the act. But Trumbull’s able to get him and his people loose, thanks to a KBG guy who is so eager to defect that it comes off as humorous. After this we get a quick finale with the group rushing into Turkey in a Rolls Royce, followed with a b.s. “where are they now?” wrapup. All told, a pretty fun tale, and very much along the lines of the stuff you’ll find in Our Secret War Against Red China and the like.
“Detective Willian Clive: Is He The Real James Bond?” is by Walter Kaylin in his “Roland Empey” pseudonym, and from the January 1966 issue of Male. I was already familiar with this one, given that it appeared a few years ago in Deis and Doyle’s He-Men, Bag Men & Nymphos anthology, which was dedicated to Kaylin’s men’s adventure magazine work. I read that anthology right when it came out, but for some reason never got around to reviewing it. Re-reading the story again now these years later, I still think “Detective William Clive” is basically a piss-take on the Bond novels…not to mention an almost lazy rewrite of them.
Kaylin borders on plagiarism by riffing on the various Fleming novels, with the aspect that the titular Clive is the character Bond was based on – and each of his assignments in the “real world” were ones Fleming lifted for his novels. So everything is an inversion on the novels and movies: Clive hangs out in Trinidad, not Jamaica, and instead of a hulking Korean who tried to kill him on one caper (ie Oddjob in Goldfinger), it was a hulking Fillipino. A fun tale, framed as an interview with the fictional Clive, but still I found it a little irritating, as I would’ve preferred a legit spy pulp tale from the always-entertaining Kaylin.
“Operation Maneater” is by Don Honig, and from the February 1969 issue of For Men Only. This is one I’d thought about picking up in the past but just never got around to it; the Mort Kunstler cover, of a guy and a buxom blonde dangling over a pool full of pirhana, promised a fun read. And Honig delivers, though same as with his story in MAQ #1, “Shoot-Out At Mad Sadie’s Place,” it seems a bit rushed. This though I’ve found is common for latter-day men’s adventure stories; whereas the ones from the ‘50s and ‘60s had a bit more narrative meat to them, the later ones were shorter, likely due to lower page counts and/or the need to show more nudie photos to drive sales. Anyway, this, along with Kaylin’s yarn, is the only other story in the issue that approaches the vibe of a Bond flick.
Narrated by a character who proclaims himself a “freelance” agent named Brackett, “Operation Maneater” concerns a plot to sow chaos in Europe with counterfeit currency. Brackett’s called away from the poolside in Palm Beach for the assignment, and he spends a humorous amount of time turning down the job; in fact, this stuff gets more narrative space than the actual climax, which per men’s mag tradition is rushed to the point of anticlimax. The government’s traced the scheme to an ex-Fascist named Luigi Brunetti who has a compound in Brazil, guarded by some ex-Nazis. Brackett heads over to “High Street Weaponry” where he’s hooked up with grenades that look like guavas and a belt that shoots “flat, deadly rockets.”
The middle part of the story is a Brazilian jungle travelogue along the lines of the stuff in another vintage men’s adventure mag anthology, Adventure In Paradise. Things pick up when Brackett scopes out Brunetti’s compound – and instantly runs into his blonde mistress, a Canadian girl named Ariel who has “the lushest body [Brackett had] ever seen.” After some skinny dipping the two enjoy some off-page lovin,’ and here we see that the men’s mags were slightly more risque at this point, with Brackett copping a feel. Brunetti isn’t as memorable as a Bond villain, but he’ll do; there’s a fun part where he shows Brackett – who’s posing as a travel writer – all his exotic and dangerous pets. The climax features the cover sequence, of Brackett and Ariel dangling over a pool of pirhana, but Brackett’s able to get out with some bluffing, leading to the memorable use of that rocket belt. The finale’s a bit rushed, but features the cool bit of Ariel wielding a flamethrower on the counterfeit currency. Despite being a little underdeveloped, “Operation Maneater” was definitely the highlight of the issue for me.
At this point the editors take a page from Chris Stodder’s Swingin’ Chicks Of The ‘60s (2000), with a “Gal-lery” of beautiful babes who starred in ‘60s spy movies and TV shows. So for example we have Ursula Andress from Dr. No and The Tenth Victim, and also Diana Rigg from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and of course The Avengers. Great photos, but I was bummed that there was no mention of Minikillers!
Up next is “Castro’s Bacterial Warfare Chief Wants To Defect – My Job, ‘Get Him,’” by Hal Gorby as told to Robert F. Dorr, from the April 1971 issue of Man’s Illustrated. Another story told in first-person, not to mention another of those “faux-true” yarns, this one concerns a marine bacteriologist who gets special passage into Cuba to take part in a conference. Before leaving some mysterious dude from the US government hassles our narrator to look into a particular Cuban scientist who wants to defect. Hal makes for an unusual men’s mag protagonist in that he’s not only a scientist, but he’s also married – indeed, promptly upon arrival in Cuba he’s set up with a hotstuff babe named Celia, from the “government visitor’s bureau,” and he will ultimately turn down the opportunity for some shenanigans with her.
This is another yarn that of course opens at the ending before flashing back for the setup, so we already know that Hal ends up holding a .38 on Celia and heading for an awaiting hydrofoil with her. We learn when we get back to this point that Celia wants to defect – a recurring theme in the stories collected here, and a nice reminder of when the US was the place you’d go to escape socialist tyrannies – and there follows a sequence in which MIG fighter jets come after the hydrofoil. A fast moving yarn, one that would feel at home in Deis and Doyle’s Cuba: Sugar, Sex, And Slaughter anthology…which I will certainly be reading one of these days.
The cover gallery is great and features some spy-themed stories I’ve been meaning to find for years now, in particular the March 1967 For Men Only with its “Jet-Sled Raid On Russia’s Ice Cap Pleasure Stockade,” and the “Book Bonus” novella “Strangekill” by W.J. Saber, from the October 1969 Male. Here’s hoping either (or both!) of these stories will appear if there’s ever another spy-themed issue of Men’s Adventure Quarterly.
The final story is “She Knew Too Much To Live,” by H. Horace, from the October 1973 Man’s Life. Bob spends a bit of time in his intro talking about the artist who handled the cover and interior art for the story, Vic Prezio, with the cool tidbit that Prezio handled the covers of the early ‘60s comic Brain Boy. This comic was actually written by none other than Herbert Kastle; an anthology of it came out a few years ago and I read it (and enjoyed it), but for whatever reason never got around to reviewing it. Anyway, H. Horace’s story seems more of a hardboiled yarn than a spy one, mostly due to the tone of its narrator, a tough intelligence agent operating in Cairo. We meet him as he is in the process of killing a rival agent, but a hot blonde happens to see it and runs off screaming murder.
Next day the narrator’s chief orders him to round up the chick, who has appeared in all the papers telling about the “murder” she saw, and to get her to take back her story – or kill her if necessary. Turns out her name’s Nadine and she’s a college student here from the US. The narrator gets her and holes her up in a villa, trying to talk her out of what she saw; we have more concessions to the “modern age” when the narrator says he thinks about sleeping with her, but she’d probably consider it rape! This wouldn’t even be a concern in the earlier examples of the genre. Indeed nothing happens between the two save for a promise from Nadine that they’ll go out sometime! Otherwise the short tale has a hasty wrapup in which a pair of “commie” agents try to abduct Nadine from the villa and the narrator gets in a shootout with them…not even killing either of them.
And that’s it for Men's Adventure Quarterly #2, save for a brief preview of the next installment, which will focus on lone wolf justice and feature the condensed men’s mag version of The Executioner #1. I’m definitely looking forward to it. This was another fun and expertly-produced trip back to the days of the men’s mags, and I hope Bob Deis, Bill Cunningham, and their revolving cast of guest editors continue to publish Men’s Adventure Quarterly for many years to come. Buy a copy for any millennials you know!