October, 2023 Subtropic Productions
I had no idea what to expect with this latest installment of the highly-recommended Men’s Adventure Quarterly, what with the theme of “Croc Attack.” I mean I’m a little old fashioned with my men’s adventure yarns, usually preferring the tried and true WWII commando or Nazi sadist stories. But leave it to editors Bob Deis and Bill Cunningham to once again prove how wide-ranging the original men’s magazines were in their efforts to titilate a male readership – I mean who would’ve thought there’d be enough men’s mag stories about attacking crocodiles to fill an entire trade paperback, let alone one so entertaining?
So then “Croc Attack!” is more on the “adventure fiction” tip of the men’s adventure mag realm, more along the lines of the material in Cryptozoology, or in contemporary men’s mag anthologies like Underwater. It turned out to be more entertaining than I thought it would be; Bob and Bill have provided us with a variety of stories here, so that it doesn’t come off as repetitive at all. This I guess is what I’d initially feared, assuming that if you’d read one “croc attack” yarn you’d read them all, but once again we are pleasantly reminded of how creative those men’s mag writers of yore could be. The latter stories collected here, from the late ‘60s on, are in particular unusual and inventive.
First of all, a big thanks to Bob and Bill for mentioning Glorious Trash along with the other sites/podcasts that have reviewed previous installments of MAQ. It is always a thrill when a new volume arrives in the mail, and I find myself immediately flipping through the book to see what’s in store. Speaking of which, Croc Attack has a nice feature: “How The Sausage Is Made,” in which Bill takes us through his process of touching up and refining the original men’s magazine artwork and layouts. This was especially revelatory, because I have to admit I’d never even noticed that the interior art reproductions in MAQ are in color, whereas the interior art in the original men’s magazines was almost always black and white; this is because Bill has added color, and as shown in the comparisons here he’s done a damn fine job of it.
The special features this time are mostly themed around croc and alligator pulp, both in print and in film, and also there’s a feature on the Australian versions of men’s adventure magazines. These are all informative and engaging essays. There’s also a cool photo feature on “The Women Of The Astounding She-Monster,” with lots of cleavage-baring ‘60s models. I love how Bob and Bill have kept alive the “don’t let your wives see it” aesthetic of the original men’s adventure magazines.
First up is “The Avenging Crocodile, by Brian O’Brien, from the June 1953 Man’s Day. Great intro from Bob to this one about how he hunted down info on this once-popular author. O’Brien writes in a more “factual” style than the typical men’s mag pulpster, but still this tale has an unintentionally humorous angle. Purportedly narrated by a British government official in Rhodesia, it documents a poor native fisherman who has had a few horrifying run-ins with a particular croc…one year it bit off his arm, then some time later it came back to bite off the other arm! It takes on an Edgar Allen Poe vibe as the fatalistic fisherman goes off to his doom.
Continuing this strange theme is “Give Me Back My Arm!,” by Roy Baker and from the January 1957 Man’s Life. Bob delivers another great intro here detailing how he tried and tried to convince the artist to talk with him about his men’s adventure work, before losing the chance forever when the artist, Wilbur Halsey, died in 2015. This one, another first-person yarn, is a sort of men’s adventure morality tale, documenting as it does this moronically hard-headed narrator’s insistence on fishing in croc-infested waters in Montego Bay…with arm-losing results.
We venture way outside the typical realm of men’s adventure magazines with “Gator Ground,” by author Robert Edmond Alter, whose Swamp Sister I picked up several years ago but still haven’t read. This one is from the June 1958 issue of Adventure. Alter’s prose is downright literary when compared to the genre norm, a Hemingway-esque tale about a teen in the Bayou who is determined to go out and kill “Old Dent-Head,” a mean old croc that is notorious in the area. But instead Old Dent-Head gets in a fight with another croc…and just might be trying to save the boy. This one’s certainly atmospheric, but just doesn’t seem at all like a men’s adventure yarn – but then, it’s a nice example of how these mags published such a broad variety of material.
“My Bloody Battle With A Croc” is by Bill Gentry and from the February 1958 Escape To Adventure; it’s a short narrated by a “professional gator hunter” who makes his living in Africa, and tells us about the time he fought a big-ass croc with only a knife.
I was surprised to see that even the “sweats” got on the croc bandwagon; next up is “Curse Of The Crocodile,” by Doug Stock and from the June 1961 Man’s Action. Another first-person yarn, this one is the first in the collection to get spicy, with the narrator hearing a story from a colleague about a “nasty bit of work” in Guyana who offers a stable of women “naked from the waist up.” But when the dude starts whipping the girls, the narrator’s colleague beats him up and runs off…and soon finds himself in the possession of a miniature crocodile. Bizarrely, the tale becomes a “were-crocodile” piece. This was a fun one and again proved out how unusual these stories could get.
“Blood For The Crocodile” is by Alan Goodall-Smith and from the June 1961 Man’s Look. The narrator is in Nigeria and we open on some of the more lurid material in the book, with description on how “a white woman’s body had been found…badly mauled by a crocodile.” (“The face was an unrecognizeable hunk of raw meat.”) This one takes the expected sweats detour into the unpredictable, with a crocodile-worshipping cult soon entering the fray.
My favorite story follows: “My Hand-To-Jaw Death-Duel With A Croc,” by Leon Lazarus and from the November 1970 For Men Only. This is sort of a proto-Shark Fighter; the narrator is a professional hunter who is offered ten thousand dollars to fight a croc on film. But the filmmaker, a South African named Schorn, is just as interested in getting film of an animal killing a man. Veteran writer Lazarus also brings a female presence into the tale – female characters are few in this volume of MAQ, by the way – in the presence of Schorn’s hotstuff wife Karen, who quickly develops a thing for the virile narrator. This one is very good, with the narrator fighting not one but two crocs, and Lazarus handles the action scenes well. The sex material however is so threadbare as to be humorous; when the narrator has the expected shenanigans with Karen, all we’re told is, “It went very well.”
“The Worst Horror Story Of World War 2” is by Sol Principe and from the November 1971 Stag. This one merges croc-sploitation with horror, factually – almost dryly – telling of escaping Japanese soldiers running from the Allies…and straight into a croc-infested swamp.
We jump back to ‘60s men’s mags with the final tale, “We Fought Monster Crocodiles,” by Frank S. Forrest and from the November 1963 Man’s Exploits. This one is also unintentionally humorous, as the majority of it is more focused on the narrator, a mining expert, telling us about his “sex-boat” girlfriend in San Francisco. We get a very long opening about how he likes to hit it and quit it (all vaguely relayed, of course)…but he keeps her around the next day because she serves up some nice scrambled eggs for breakfast! Finally we get to the croc stuff, which is almost breathlessly rushed through – basically, the narrator runs into some giant crocs, but his native guide saves the day.
Overall this was a fun, inventive issue of Men’s Adventure Quarterly, and highly recommended…as all of them have been. The next issue also looks good, with its focus on the Vietnam War!