Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Men’s Adventure Quarterly #1

Mens Adventure Quarterly #1, edited by Robert Deis, Bill Cunningham, and Paul Bishop
January, 2021  Subtropic Productions

All fans of mens adventure magazines owe a debt of gratitude to Bob Deis and Bill Cunningham, who have done what I thought no one else would do: brought men’s adventure magazines back into print for the modern day. Mens Adventure Quarterly #1 reprints vintage men’s mag stories and art, with a new theme each issue. Under the “Men’s Adventure Library” Bob and Wyatt Doyle have published several books over the past few years, but Men’s Adventure Quarterly is special because it actually comes off like a vintage men’s mag – only a lot slicker and more professionally put together, and without that strange stink that most old men’s mags have! 

For make no mistake, Men’s Adventure Quarterly #1 is a work of art. The presentation is flawless, with eye-popping reproduction of cover art and a layout more in-tune with today’s readers – no dual columns of blurry typescript copy here. Also, Bob and Bill do something that the old men’s magazine editors apparently never thought to do: they group each issue around a theme. So as you can see, this first issue is devoted to Westerns. I should admit right at the start that I am not and have never been an avid fan of Westerns – I think there was a brief tangent as a preteen in the ‘80s that I was into Spaghetti Westerns and mabye read a Longarm or two – but regardless I really enjoyed all the stories here. 

I’ve collected about 50 or so men’s adventure mags over the years, but the majority of them feature Nazi She-Devils (here’s hoping that will be the theme of an upcoming issue!!) or other WWII stories. I’d never read any Western men’s mag stories, nor gone out of my way to collect any of them. What I found interesting is that they turn out to be of a piece with the other men’s mag stories of the era: most all of them open with the incident depicted on the cover or the story frontispiece, then flash back to show how the characters got to this moment, and then quickly wrap up by returning to that opening incident. Honestly I think there was like a DeVry school for men’s mag writers; practically every single story I’ve ever read follows this same template. 

Another nice thing the editors do here is provide an intro for each story, which I much appreciated; I’m going to assume Bob wrote most of them, as they read very much like his posts over at his blog. In each case we get an overview of the author, the artist, and maybe some background context on the story – even photos of the real-life personalities (for the stories that don’t feature completely fictional characters). As I say, the publication is clearly a labor of love. The three editors (Paul Bishop serves as guest editor this issue) did a good job of selecting the tales; there’s a fair bit of variety, and all of them are memorable. They also selected from a wide range of men’s mags, from higher-quality lines like Male and more sweaty ones like Man’s Life. However none of the stories are very long; there are no “true book bonus”-type novellas here along the lines of the type collected in vintage anthologies like Our Secret War Against Red China or Women With Guns

The first story is “The Old Shell Game,” by John Concannon, and it’s from the February 1953 issue of Male. The editorial intro says that this one’s unique in that it offers a “female empowerment” storyline, what with it’s buckskin-garbed blonde beauty of a gunslinger. But man, as it turns out, “female empowerment” is offered a resounding slap to the face by story’s end. The story is also unique in that it’s narrated by a guy in his sixties, one who even looks upon the buckskin beauty as a daughter or somesuch; what I mean to say is, the story doesn’t burn with that horny fire typical of men’s mag yarns. 

So anyway, the narrator (whose name is Bill, though we don’t learn that until the final few paragraphs) tells us how he was sitting in a saloon one day and this gorgeous blonde gunslinger in buckskin strutted in; she’s referred to throughout as “Buckskin,” and as with Bill it isn’t even until the final paragraphs that we learn her real name. Anyway the intro is memorable; she’s here looking for a certain scumbag, obviously intent to blow him away with her six-gun. But instead she – and the story – gets taken in an entirely different direction as Buckskin is almost suckered in the titular shell game, courtesy a thug named Frenchie. Once all that’s sorted out, narrator Bill implores Buckskin to spend the night in town, where she later informs him she’s searching for the man who killed her husband. Then Bill tells us in a humorously hasty conclusion that he’s able to talk her out of her blood vendetta! 

“Madams Of The Old West” is by Richard Carter and Glen Kittler and from the July 1955 Male. This is one of the stories that’s more nonfiction than fiction; the editors include a very insightful intro with real-world background info as well as photos of some of the madams discussed in the story. And of course they look a whole lot different than the smokin’ hot babes depicted in the story’s illustrations! Here we learn about such infamous Old West brothel owners as Poker Alice and the like, the authors doling out their histories and some of their more notorious affairs. Interesting, but too tame given the subject matter. 

“Trigger-Happy Marshall” is by Dean W. Ballenger and from the November 1956 issue of Stag. A big thanks to the editors for the shoutout they gave my review of Gannon #1! Their discussion of Ballenger was much welcomed, particularly their revelation that he wrote a countless number of men’s mag stories. Years ago I reviewed some of them. In particular I’d love to read the Nazi She-Devil yarn from ’63 that’s briefly excerpted in the intro – again, here’s hoping that will be a forthcoming MAQ theme. The editors state that “Trigger-Happy Marshall” isn’t as extreme as Gannon, but I thought it was a definite indication of the brutal vibe of that later series, given that the titular marshall is a psychopath who enjoys killing. Not to mention the dark humor that runs throughout. 

Sam Krell is that marshall, a short-statured lawman in Colorado who is known for his brutality. We’re told of how he has often killed crooks in cold blood – even gunned down newsmen who published critical stories of him – but the townspeople look away given how he keeps the place safe. But Krell has other goals: when a gang escapes with bank loot, Krell hunts them down, kills their leader…and takes over the gang. Here we’re told of the various sadistic campaigns they unleashed, including even brutal fights against Indians. Krell is a definite bastard; he would hire buddies to join his gang, and as a test of loyalty to be accepted one buddy would have to kill the other. After a few years of success Krell retires to a large cattle ranch, but when it’s destroyed by marauding Indians he returns to the town he started off in…and asks for his job as marshall back! I really enjoyed this one, and it had more action and violence than the typical men’s mag yarn – but not much in the way of sex. Indeed, Krell seems curiously disinterested in women, and his one depicted incident with a hooker is very odd indeed. 

“The Gunman Who Killed The Critics” is by Richard Gehman and from the February 1959 issue of Argosy. This one’s just straight-up reporting and is focused on the TV show Gunsmoke. Which I’ve never watched, thus I must admit I glossed over this story, given my lack of interest in the subject matter. 

“The Cowboy And The Dance Hall Floozy” by Bill Houseman is more along the lines of what I’m interested in; it’s from the April 1959 issue of Untamed. Here we have a strange revenge story: Crazylegs Moosberg, a half-Indian outlaw, is the last survivor of a gang and escapes to a small town in Colorado until the heat wears off. He comes into a saloon, one he finds deserted save for an attractive woman at the card table. She pulls a gun on him, saying she always knew he’d return. Here we have a strange flashback in which Crazylegs abruptly remembers how he got drunk in this very saloon, a year before, and murdered the girl’s husband after a game of cards. Something he’d plumb just forgotten about until this moment! The girl takes her revenge after an overlong but tense game of poker. 

“Say ‘No” To Laurie Lee…And Wish You Were Dead” is by Lou Cameron and from the September 1959 issue of All Man. This was my favorite in the issue; Cameron’s story is like a proto-Spaghetti Western with its tough nature and oddball assortment of characters. It’s also one I wish had been expanded into paperback length. I’d definitely read it! A Texas Ranger named Ben Harvey rides into a ghost town in Utah; he’s been tracking an outlaw, only to find him strung up with several others overtop a dry riverbed. Cameron effectively captures the eerie setting of the hanged corpses, their skin stretched taut by the desert sun. From here the story gets weirder; Harvey encounters an “idiot” girl in a “potato sack” dress that barely hides her shapely figure; she warns him to get out of town. But it’s too late, as Harvey meets the “law” of the town, a crazy old man who has discovered uranium and decided to stay here, the only other occupants being a slim gunfighter named Lee and two disfigured women: one with a hunchback and one with a scarred face. 

The old man, goaded on by Lee, accuses Harvey of stealing a horse and throws him in jail, for a “trial” the following morning. That night in his cell Harvey is visited by a mysterious woman in the darkness who begs, “Want me, cowboy.” After some undescribed all-night shenanigans, the mysterious girl takes off…and later Harvey is visited by another girl looking for love: Zenobia, the “idiot” with the killer bod. (Or as Cameron puts it, “The lovely young creature was obviously a hopeless idiot.”) More off-page fireworks ensue. Harvey manages to get out of the jail before his kangaroo court can commence, and the story climaxes with the memorable image of Harvey squaring off against a female gunfighter – one who is naked save for her pistol holster. Cameron skillfully moves the story along; it only runs a few pages but definitely makes an impression, and I can’t believe I’ve done reviews here for 11 years now and have yet to review a book by Lou Cameron! 

“Terror Of The All Girl Posse” is by Thomas Halloran (possibly a house name, per the intro) and from the January 1960 issue of Man’s Life. I’d seen the cover of this one before, with the cleavage-baring beauties rounding up some guy while another shapely female hangs in the foreground. And as ever the story opens depicting this very scene; a killer named Rivers has been captured by some “lovely executioners,” ie the female posse of the title. They’ve already killed Rivers’s woman, Maria; she’s been strung up, per the artwork, and now it’s Rivers’s turn. And par for the course we flash back to explain how we got to this moment. 

We learn of Sheriff Sally Wilcox, smokin’ hot 23 year-old leader of an all-female posse, how she got the posse together and the various crooks they brought to bear. But when we come back to the opening with Rivers we learn that Sheriff Sally, for all her bravado, isn’t that smart. For Rivers, as his “last request,” asks for a roll in the hay with Sally…and she complies! After the undescribed hay-rollin’, Rivers as expected takes Sally hostage and threatens to kill her, or else. But Sheriff Sally is willing to die for justice, as Rivers will soon learn. A fun story, but definitely could’ve been fleshed out more. But then, Man’s Life stories in general are too quick and underdeveloped. 

“Bloodiest Mass Murderer Of The Old West” is by Grayson Peters and from the October 1962 issue of A-OK For Men; this one returns to the pseudo-nonfictional vibe of “Madams Of The Old West.” This one’s about real-life personality Charles Stanton, who per the editorial intro was a businessman who was plagued with stories of being a sadistic murderer. It sounds like this isn’t known for sure – I’d never heard of the guy before, personally – but the story obviously doesn’t leave it a mystery. It opens with Stanton and gang brutally killing a family, Stanton wiping out the dad and teen sons and then personally seeing to the raping of the preteen girls. We go on to learn of his “gore-spattered career,” from killing prospectors to more raping. This one’s very much in the realm of the sweats, almost coldly documenting the various transgressions with no real verve to the narrative. The finale is memorable enough, with Stanton getting his balls shot off by a Mexican bandit he’s upset! 

“Saga Of Buckskin Frank Leslie: Slick-Shooting Dude From Tombstone” is by Jack Pearl and from the February 1964 issue of Man’s World. Pearl is another author I’m surprised I’ve yet to get around to reviewing; I actually have the two sleaze paperbacks of his the editors mention in their typically-insightful intro. Frank Leslie is another real-life Old West personality, one who made a name for himself – now forgotten by most – in the infamous town of Tombstone. We have appearances from lots of those personalities, like Wyatt Earp, but for the most part this fast-moving story focuses on Leslie, a guy from the mountains who still wears his buckskin proudly and who quickly makes a name for himself in town. This I believe is the longest story in the collection, and comes off more like a character piece, documenting his time in Tombstone. 

“Shoot-Out At Mad Sadie’s Place” is by Donald Honig and from the June 1967 For Men Only. This one has a great editorial intro: when compiling the stories for the book, the editors discovered that Honig was still alive, and also that he was happy to discuss his men’s mag work. He claims that High Plains Drifter was more than likely inspired by this particular tale. That was in fact one of the few Westerns I watched as a kid in the ‘80s during my brief Westerns interest, so I can see what Honig meant, as both this story and that film concern a gunslinger enterting a town hellbent on revenge. But wasn’t it implied that Eastwood’s character was a ghost? Or am I confusing High Plains Drifter with Pale Rider

This is a very entertaining yarn, one that certainly could’ve benefitted from more fleshing out. Indeed, the finale is so rushed as to be humorous. Pod Luken, a gunslinger who often has found himself on the wrong side of the law, has a brother who acts as sheriff in a small town, and the brother’s going to help Pod start a new life on the right side of the law in California. But then Pod gets a letter that his brother is dead – shot down by six gunmen from Texas. Pod heads in to town and scopes the place out; there’s a great part where he decides he doesn’t like anyone in it, given that none of them stood up to help his brother. To prove his point Pod goes around to various places and challenges the owners – ie, “What would you do if I didn’t pay for this beer?” and etc, to which of course the owners reply they’d grab their gun and demand he pay. Yet none of them were willing to do the same to help Pod’s brother. 

Pod sets his sights on the six Texans, taking out one of them in a whorehouse – a great part where Pod gets his own girl, goes upstairs with her, and starts snooping around for the room the Texan is in. But this will be the most elaborately-depicted revenge in the story. For as mentioned it’s way too short for its own good. Evidence of this is the female character, Molly; she’s the one who wrote Pod the letter, and as it turns out she was engaged to Pod’s brother. She’s a pretty young blonde, but the expected fireworks between her and Pod don’t ensue…likely because Honig didn’t have the space. Instead, she shows Pod who the Texans are, and Pod starts thinking over his careful revenge…and then it’s all rushed through as he gets in a running gunfight with them, one that climaxes in the titular bar owned by Mad Sadie. A great, fast-moving story, but one tarnished by an apparent restriction on the word count. 

“The West’s Wildest Hell Raiser” is by Jules Archer and from the January 1957 issue of Stag. The frontispiece for this one is unusual in that it’s a naked dude who is exploited: an otherwise-stunning depiction of the titular hell raiser, riding naked into town. Another novelty is that this incident doesn’t open the story, par for the men’s mag template, but is instead relayed in an off-hand line midway through the yarn. The opening is actually a brutal knife-fight the hell-raiser, Clay Allison, gets in with another guy for the rights to a watering hole in Texas. Clay wins the fight, but is left with a permanent limp. This one’s similar to the Frank Leslie story, documenting the various tussles this hotheaded guy gets into, but I found it pretty tame – even stuff like a blonde and a brunette getting in “a hair-pulling match” over Clay isn’t exploited nearly as much as it should’ve been. 

After this we get some wonderfully-reproduced covers, and I found it interesting that the Western-themed men’s mags usually had men on the cover, whereas of course most men’s mags covers were known for their cleavage-baring women. That said, the editors do include a risque photo shoot in the issue, with an early 1960s lady posing in various states of undress; as I say, they do a wonderful job of recreating an actual vintage men’s mag, only with much higher production values. 

Again, a big thanks to Bob, Bill, and Paul for Mens Adventure Quarterly #1. I really enjoyed it…and I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy the second issue, which focuses on ‘60s spy stories, even more!


Fred Blosser said...

Lou Cameron's World War II novels -- THE BIG RED BALL, THE FIRST BLOOD (no relation to Rambo), THE BLACK CAMP, THE GREEN FIELDS OF HELL, THE DIRTY WAR OF SGT SLADE, DROP INTO HELL, etc, are in sad need of rediscovery. Great stuff.

Robert Deis (aka "SubtropicBob") said...

Many thanks for that thoughtful, in-depth review, Joe! I think you'll like our second issue of the MEN'S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY, too. As you noted, it features spy stories and artwork from vintage men's adventure magazines. Cheers!
- Bob Deis
Editor of the MEN'S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY, the Men's Adventure Library series and

TrueAim said...

Man, I'm definitely going to buy both the Western (#1) and Spy (#2) issues! Thanks, Joe, for the heads up on these killer 150+ page tomes! I'm a big fan of all the rah-rah, gung-ho guns-girls-and-guts mags of the late 50s, 60s, and early 70s. In every sense, they mirrored the men's action-adventure paperbacks of that era--with the added bonus of usually lots of fantastic artwork to go along with their stories. So its really great that guys like Robert Deis, Bill Cunningham and Paul Bishop are paying homage to 'em and reviving interest in 'em for new and old generations alike. And to echo Fred's comment above, a future issue dedicated to WWII would be fantastic--including WWII stories written by Lou Cameron (who was a men's mag illustrator, too). Gotta love Lou! He's a legend!

dfordoom said...

That upcoming spy issue sounds pretty tempting.