Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Men‘s Adventure Quarterly #3


Mens Adventure Quarterly #3, edited by Robert Deis, Bill Cunningham, and Chuck Dixon
September, 2021  Subtropic Productions

It was a definite pleasure to receive this third issue of Men’s Adventure Quarterly; while the first issue featured Westerns and the second issue featured spy stories, this one features ‘70s “man vs the mob” stories, with a particular focus on The Executioner. Indeed Mack Bolan is the star of MAQ #3, with not one but two “book bonuses” which condense the first two Executioner novels. In addition we have more detail on Don Pendleton and his work, as well as an essay by his widow Linda. Bob Deis and Bill Cunningham serve up their usual informative intros to whet our appetite, and guest editor Chuck Dixon also fills us in on how The Executioner connected with the latter-day men’s mags. 

What I really like about this third issue of Men’s Adventure Quarterly is that each story here is from the 1970s; in just about every other men’s adventure mag anthology, the stories are generally from the ‘50s and ‘60s. The last years of the genre are usually swept under the veritable carpet, often minimized as being nothing more than lurid “adult” rags. While this is mostly true, a lot of those later magazines still featured great stories, and I’ve reviewed some of them herehere, and here. Years ago when I was avidly collecting men’s mags I’d try to find ‘70s issues, mostly because the covers promised such lurid crime stories. However the later ‘70s men’s mags are pretty pricey (not that the earlier ones are cheap!), likely because they had lower print runs. I mean, how many horny men in 1976 would buy Men when they could buy Penthouse instead? Not only less “stories” to get in the way of the nude flesh, but more bush! 

The fun begins with “Blood Feud With The Mafia,” by Don Honig and from the August 1970 True Action. The setup follows Honig’s Western yarn “Shoot-Out At Mad Sadie’s Place,” in MAQ #1: a guy’s brother is killed and he goes out for revenge. But the way it plays out here is much different. For one, as Bob points out in his intro, the storyline is similar to The Executioner formula, but per Honig himself he never read that series, and the story was all the product of his own imagination. As it turns out, “Blood Feud” comes off more like a pseudo-Executioner, as the protagonist doesn’t nearly have the same drive for vengeance as Bolan (or any of Bolan’s imitators, for that matter). 

Honig is very good at succinctly setting up his stories, and that’s evident here with fat Don Carlo tasking his “number one gun” Nick Piano with going to Frisco to take out Dick Malloy. Malloy’s brother was killed by the Don years ago, and Malloy swore revenge. Instead he got shipped off to ‘Nam, and now he’s back; the don wants him killed in case he still has plans. But as mentioned Dick Malloy’s much different than Mack Bolan. When we meet him he’s drunk, coming out of a bar, and has no intentions of following through on his vow anytime soon. Honig takes the story in a different direction when Piano, instead of killing Malloy, offers to run cover for Malloy while he sows havoc on Don Carlo’s various operations. So already we see a much different approach to the formula than typical: Malloy has to be talked into his new role as mob-buster, and heck, later in the story he even states, “I don’t cotton to killing.” 

Regardless Honig turns out a fast-moving crime yarn that covers all the bases, from karate-chop kills to heists (a ‘70s men’s adventure mainstay), to even the mandatory willing female. This would be Trix, the “busty” blonde waitress at Malloy’s motel who makes her interests clear – and when Malloy doesn’t respond she shows up in his room one night. By 1970 such scenes were slightly more risque in men’s adventure magazines, but it’s still a mostly fade-to-black affair. The finale features Malloy sneaking into the don’s villa and trying to figure out how many henchmen are there so he can make his kill and safely escape; even here he proves himself to only be a Bolan pretender, as he bumbles through it. Honig delivers some nicely violent setpieces, capping off an entertaining tale; this was a good first story for MAQ #3

“We Wiped Out ‘Brutal Mack’s’ Cyle Killers” by Jack August, from the November 1972 For Men Only, is the longest original piece here; indeed, it seems to just keep going and going. This one’s outside the template of the issue in that the narrator doesn’t go up against the mob per se, but a biker mob. In that regard it’s more of a piece of the glut of biker yarns the men’s mags would publish at this time, as wonderfully documented in Deis and Doyle’s Barbarians On Bikes. The narrator of this one is pulled back into the wild world of biker scum; when word has it that a new gang called The Savages is tearing up other clubs through the midwest, he soon finds himself in a direct confrontation with them. Brual Mack, the herculean ruler of The Savages, gets in the narrator’s crosshairs when he kills his best bud/’Nam pal, and our hero swears revenge. But it’s not a direct action sort of tale; first he infiltrates the gang, gains Brutal Mack’s confidence, and only gradually pulls off his revenge. With its reactionary flavor, “Brutal Mack” has little in common with the true biker tales that would appear around this time in Easyriders; indeed, no makes or models are even mentioned, and the bikes are more of just a prop for the author to hang the story on. 

“The Amputee Vengeance Squad’s Mafia Wipeout” is by Jack Tyler and from the August 1975 Men. This I felt was the highlight of the issue, even better than the Executioner yarns. First of all though, kudos to the editors for showing the uncensored cover of the original issue of Men, with no black bars or other digitization blocking out the nudity. I also appreciated Bob’s intro, which discusses how these latter-day men’s mags were mostly Playboy and Penthouse imitators, with much less focus on pulp stories – but at least they featured full-color artwork for the pulp stories they did run. Bob rightly puts a lot of focus on Earl Norem’s fantastic artwork for the story (Norem handles the art for many of the stories here, and he’s always been one of my favorites), but he doesn’t tell us much about author Jack Tyler. No idea if Tyler was real or a house name, but he turns in a very entertaining slice of pulp crime. I rank this with “Blood For The Love Slaves” as another men’s adventure magazine story that I wish had been fleshed out into paperback length. 

As the title would suggest, this story entails a trio of ‘Nam vets who band together to take on the Mafia. Nothing unique about that particular plot, but the difference here is that each of the men lost various limbs in the war…but their army-supplied prosthetics have only made them even more badass. So we have a dude with artificial legs, another with a false arm and mechanical hand (“a thing of wizadry”), and another with a pair of hooks replacing his lost hands. Norem faithfully captures the look of each man, even the “walrus moustache” one of them sports: 


Tyler serves up succinct backgrounds for each of the three men, vividly capturing how they lost their limbs in the war and how they learned to live on without them when they returned home to East Michigan. But when one of their own, one who has served as an “idol” because he was determined to “live normally,” is killed by the mob, the three decide to get revenge. The action never falters, with lots of violent shootouts. Norem’s splashpage illustration also comes into play when a hapless stooge blows off the legless guy’s artificial limbs. Tyler writes the tale in flat, declarative sentences, so that it almost comes off more like a piece of reporting than fiction. He doesn’t get into the thoughts of his protagonists very much, and ultimately he doesn’t make much use of their prosthetics in some novel way, ie an artificial hand that hides a gun or etc. But the idea itself is super cool and Tyler does a great job of playing it straight and delivering a fast-moving and memorable piece of pulpy crime. 

Tyler easily could’ve hussled this into a paperback series to go on the racks along with the other men’s adventure paperbacks in the ‘70s – Pinnacle, Leisure, Manor, even book packager Lyle Kenyon Engel might’ve seen the potential here for a hit. But then, by late ’75 the men’s adventure paperback genre was already dying down, with most series getting cancelled and not many new ones hitting the market at all. Per Michael Newton in his How To Write Action-Adventure Fiction, men’s adventure paperbacks disappeared around this time due to the oil crisis; publishers had to throttle back on their publications, and the low-circulation men’s adventure series were often the first to go. Whatever the reason, perhaps the world is a poorer place for never having had an “Amputee Vengeance Squad” series. 

Next we get into the main portion of the book, which is devoted to two lengthy Executioner reprints; the first, originally published in the October 1969 issue of For Men Only, is a condensed version of #1: War Against The Mafia, and the second, originally published in the September 1971 issue of Men, is a condensed version of #2: Death Squad. As Bob and Linda Pendleton note, these “true booklength” versions might’ve been edited by Pendleton himself, or perhaps by Executioner series editor Andy Ettinger. Their appearance here is nice, but they’re mostly more of a novelty nature, as the actual books themselves are quite common, with about a zillion editions each. But it’s cool to see how they were molded into the template of a men’s adventure magazine, at least, and in this regard War Against The Mafia really stands out as different from the rest of the series with its focus on sex. Per my overly-comprehensive notes in my review of that first volume, these sex scenes were specifically added per Pinnacle’s request. How wonderful it must’ve been to live in an era where “add more graphic sex and violence” was an actual publisher request! 

The Executioner theme continues with an insightful essay from Linda Pendleton, a piece on the mysterious The Executioner Mystery Magazine, and a focus on Gil Cohen’s art for the Pinnacle and Gold Eagle books. Bob Deis and Wyatt Doyle did an entire book devoted to this, One Man Army, and that one’s highly recommended. There’s also a study of Cohen’s art in William H. Young’s A Study Of Action-Adventure Fiction; there Young describes the cover of every Executioner and tie-in novel from the first volume all the way through the mid-1990s. The one thing I recall from this piece is Young’s note that Bolan on Cohen’s covers becomes increasingly weapons-bound as the novels progress; whereas the earliest volumes have him with a single gun and garbed in his blacksuit, by the latter volumes of the series he’s encumbered by grenades, ammo, and other accessories that dangle from his suit. 

This issue’s “Gall-ery” is devoted to the famous Betty Page, and we get a teaser that MAQ #4 will feature work from a female men’s mag author. There aren’t any reader letters this time, but overall Men’s Adventure Quarterly #3 looks as great as the first two – this is clearly a labor of love from Bob Deis and Bill Cunningham – and it’s highly recommended for anyone into men’s adventure novels or magazines. Also, this issue inspired me to finally get around to posting an Executioner curio I acquired some time ago; it will be up on Monday.

6 comments:

Unknown said...

(Zwolf)

Cool deal, I've been waiting for this one. I'm glad to hear it's not all just Executioner stuff, which I kind of worried it would be. I'm always happy to read about good ol' "That Bastard Bolan" but I mostly buy these things for the vintage story reprints, so it's good to know there are several of those, including some biker stuff, which I'm always up for. Hoping for a future volume (maybe triple sized) that'll be nothing but biker stories. I figure that'll be inevitable, considering how much those sweats focused on 'em.

In related news, if you want more Western stories like in issue one, I found a full-on reprint of three old Western pulps, pretty cheap. Just run ISBN 9798588166256 through the book-seller of your choice. Or poke around online and you can probably find 'em free, but since I'm anti-e-book to the bone, I go ahead and stick with print, even if it costs a few bucks.

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

Many thanks for that great, insightful review, Joe. Bill Cunningham and I really appreciate your support for what is, as you say, a labor of love. Here's a bit of trivia about the woke times we live in you may appreciate. I had a number of people tell me they did a search on Amazon for MEN'S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY but no issue showed up in the search results. I tried it and they were right. I asked the Amazon "Help" staff why. The answer was news to me. We tag the MAQ as being "For Adults" when we list issues. Under Amazon's current rules for a PC world, any book listed as being for adults will not normally show up in an Amazon search unless the person clicks on the Books section in the list of categories before doing the search. I didn't know that, and I expect a lot of other people didn't. We're still going to keep the MAQ tagged as an "Adult" publication, since it has occasional nudity in images and some sex scenes, as you noted. But it makes reviews like your and Amazon reviews from readers even more important to our ability to keep publishing the MAQ. So, thanks again for your review of MAQ #3 and for its mention of some of the books I co-edited with Wyatt Doyle! And, thanks also for the mention of the book "How to Write Action-Adventure Fiction." I think I need that one in my library. Finally, a general thanks for all of your insightful, amazingly well-researched reviews. Write on, Brother!

Cunningham said...

Joe -

Just to echo Bob's comments, and say "thanks" for the thorough and insightful review of our work. I appreciate it.

Regarding the amputee veteran story and that initial period in the '70s when the soldiers were returning home from Viet Nam. There is a whole slew of movies, books, comics, and yes, toys that brought the battle-hardened hero template to audiences - either for good or bad. I think we could probably do a whole book on this iconic hero template that gave careers to guys like Chuck Norris and inspired so much vigilante fiction.

I'm sort of surprised we're not seeing a resurgence of the "veteran hero." At least not in our mainstream fiction media. Who knows when - or if - they'll catch up.

Thanks again!

Bill

dfordoom said...

Robert, the censorship climate really is getting grim. We're going back to the 50s, but worse in some ways.

The most depressing thing is that the censoring is being done by private corporations rather than the government, and those private corporations are answerable to no-one. There isn't anything the ordinary person can do about it.

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

Dfordoom - I was born in 1950 and clearly see the difference between mid-20th Century censorship and censorship today. To an old fart like me, today’s brand of censorship seems worse, broader and often totally absurd.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! Sorry for the delay...my wife's birthday is on 9/29 and mine is on 10/6 (literally one of the few things we have in common is how close our birthdays are), so we usually take vacation this time of year and the blog's been running on its own. Bob and Bill, glad you enjoyed the review -- keep the MAQs coming!

Dfordoom, totally agree with you...in my opinion the difference between earlier censorship and censorship today is that back then there was common agreement on morality and normalcy, and this was mostly from a shared Christian foundation. I've been watching and reading these space race docs, and it's shocking to modern ears how often the scientists and astronauts will quote scripture, talk about God, or even pray -- stuff you wouldn't hear at all today. But with all that phased out in our modern era we no longer have a moral compass, and now censorship is based on ideology, and as you say it's mostly done via private corps and big tech. Take a look at the recent ad campaign for dating site OK Cupid, which wears its ideology on its sleeve. What once was considered wrong is not only right but championed. Pretty much the only perversion not normalized here is pedophilia, but give 'em another ten years of "progress." A campaign like that wouldn't fly decades ago...some of the photos in the campaign are the stuff that would get publishers arrested. And yet Bob and Bill's MAQ magazines are filtered out of Amazon search results!