Monday, June 24, 2024

Cuba: Sugar, Sex, And Slaughter

Cuba: Sugar, Sex, And Slaughter, edited by Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle
No month stated, 2018  New Texture

I’ve been meaning to read this installment of the Men’s Adventure Library Journal for a few years now. Bob Deis and his co-editor Wyatt Doyle consistently turn out high-quality hardcover volumes with excellent production standards, and Cuba: Sugar, Sex, And Slaughter is no exception. And as usual with these two, the theme of the book is very original: men’s mag stories dealing with Cuba, from the days of the Batista dictaroship to the days of the Castro dictatorship. 

In some ways the book is similar to a vintage men’s adventure anthology: Our Secret War Against Red China, but as ever Deis and Doyle are not limited to one “line” of men’s adventure magazines. The stories collected here run the gamut from “straight reporting” to the “sweats.” One thing I was surprised that was not featured was the story featured on the cover of the book, or at least a story with a similar setup: namely, a sadistic Cuban torture-babe, ie the jackbooted Cuban equivalent of a Nazi She-Devil. Rather, the female characters who appear in Cuba: Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter are either hapless hotstuffs who have somehow gotten caught up in the various revolutions of Cuba, or are hotstuff revolutioniaries who fight against Castro. So, there is no story here with a, uh, Commie She-Devil. But then maybe Deis and Doyle will do a Volume 2 someday. 

As I was reading the book I chuckled at the lofty treatment these stories and art were given by Bob and Wyatt. Not that I’m complaining, or “taking the piss” as the British would say (or once said). It’s just that…these old men’s adventure magazines were the epitome of disposable entertainment. They were read and thrown away, which no doubt is one of the reasons copies are so pricey today; more were destroyed than stored. Ruggedly virile vets of the mid 20th century weren’t concerned with plastic archival bags to store pristine-quality copies of their magazines in; they read the mags while enjoying a few drinks and smokes and then threw them in the garbage like real men. But here those once-disposable stories are, printed on high-quality paper and bound in hardcover and given a deluxe presentation that is well beyond their grubby roots. 

In the Men’s Adventure Library Journal books, Bob Deis gives a sole intro at the start of the book, rather than an intro before each story. Once again his intro is informative and gives succinct detail on the origins of the men’s mags and how these particular yarns were concerned with, first, the Batista regime and its sadism, and then later the Castro regime and its sadism. Bob astutely notes how Castro and his men were the “good guys” in some of the earliest stories, until he began his own progroms upon attaining power, after which he and his jackbooted minions were essentially the Nazis of the ‘60s in the men’s mags. 

First up we have “Havana’s Amazing Flesh Market,” by JL Pimsleur and from the June 1958 Sir. This one is an informative, “straight” reporting piece on…the various hookers of Batista-era Cuba! We get a thorough rundown, complete with costs and where to find them, of the lowly street whores on up to the deluxe “hotel” girls who cost a bunch. The author names names and places and one wonders if they are fictional or real; regardless, this one is written like a standard report with none of the pulp conceits more typical of men’s adventure mag stories. 

The story that gave this collection its title is next: “Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter,” by Joseph Hazlett and from the September 1959 Male. Despite being from one of the Diamond line men’s magazines, this one too is a mostly-factual piece done in a straight reporting style, and details the five centuries of revolution and dictatorship that has plagued Cuba since it was “discovered” by Spaniards. 

We get a bit of factual reporting mixed with the lurid escapism the men’s mags were known for next, with, “Bayamo’s Night Of Terror,” by Don Hogan and from the May 1958 Man’s Magazine. This is one of those stories where Castro is the good guy. We’re told he’s in the Sierra Maestra Mountains with his army, two thousand strong, and the story concerns the titular town of Bayamo which is wholly aligned with Castro. A sadistic Batista officer named Lt. Cowley wages a war on the town after he loses a few soldiers to the rabble – soldiers who were killed for murdering one of the townspeople. This one is also mostly factual-style reporting, but brings the plight of the characters to life by putting the reader there in the action. 

The next story in particular is very good, if overly grim. “Brotherhood of the Scar,” by Jim Greaves as told to Jack Barrows, is from the July 1959 Adventures For Men and is a long tale that is more brutal survival epic than escapist pulp fun. “Greaves” takes us through his harrowing tale of torture and eventual freedom; he’s an expat carpenter, a WWII vet per men’s mag tradition, and he falls in with a local gal who agrees to go in-country with him, despite the government’s stipulation that foreigners are not allowed to venture outside of Havana. For reasons not properly explored, Greaves goes anyway, and of course is captured and thrown in a prison by the sadistic Batista enforcers. But man this one is indeed grueling and just keeps going and going. It takes up pages 64-96 in Cuba: Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter, and the majority of those pages are dedicated to the various depredations Greaves endures in his imprisonment, up to and including losing some fingers and even getting the US flag branded on his back. But it’s no Russian epic or anything; it’s still the expected macho stylings of the men’s mag genre, to the extent that Greaves endures his torture with a grim fatality. That said, author Jack Barrows seems to know a bit too much about what it’s like to be tortured in captivity, to the extent that you hope the guy isn’t talking from direct experience. 

We’re back to the more factual vibe with “Castro’s Commie Blueprint To Take Over Latin America,” from the October 1961 Cavalcade and by George Vedder Jones. This one’s an interesting “What if?” sort of scenario about Castro taking over the Dominican Republic – and then the rest of South America, uniting the various countries into a Latin America USSR. 

My favorite yarn is next: “Terror! Cuban Hell-Cats Scare Castro’s Cutthroats,” by Miguel Gonzales and from the September 1964 Man’s Peril. This was one of the “sweats,” so the concern here isn’t so much relaying “fact” as it is delivering a fast-moving tale filled with t&a and sadism. Told in third person, this one’s unique though in that the titular hell-cats are the heroines of the piece; the short, fast-moving story is essentially devoted to the rebel women hitting a ship filled with Castro men and blasting the shit out of them. There’s no sex, but we are informed that the gals are “magnificently proportioned” and that they are led by a former high-class hooker who calls herself The Avenger. Also I got a kick out of the term “glamazon” being used to describe these gun-toting beauties. Gonzales also delivers some nice gore: “[The Castro soldier’s] brains spilled out in a jelly-like glob on the sand.” 

More sweat-mag sadism continues in the next story, “Squirm In Hell, My Lovely Muchacha,” by sweat vet Jim McDonald and from the June 1964 Man’s Story. Like the previous yarn, this one’s also in third-person perspective, and comes off like a hardboiled private eye story for the first half. It concerns lovely Roberta Trent, with her “high, impudent breasts,” who comes into fellow American Carmody’s place and begs him to escort her out of Cuba in his boat. McDonald really lays on the hardboiled stylistic touches, with Carmody immediately knowing the beauty is nothing but trouble, but ultimately deciding to help her – after a little off-page sex, of course. But then the story detours into sweat mag territory when Roberta is captured by a Castro sadist and is tortured with a cigar to her naked limbs, captured due to the preposterous premise that she managed to take a photo of herself and some Castro flunky with top-secret jets behind them, and she wants to get this photo to the American government. Who took this photo is curiously left unstated, unless that is Roberta was taking a selfie in 1964…which is about as believable as the premise of the story itself, what with how bulky those cameras were back then. 

Jim McDonald returns with “Kiss The Skull Of Death, My Beautiful Muchacha,” from the September 1965 New Man. Wait, technically it’s by “Linda Rogers,” this being another of those bullshit “as told to” yarns. Well, “Linda” tells us about her hot affair with some Castro supporter during the Batista years (“Our hips ground together in an expression of mutual need”), but upon Castro attaining power she finds herself on the wrong side, and is captured by a sadist called El Toro. This one has the most baffling WTF copout ending I’ve yet read in one of these stories; while torturing Linda and about to rape her, El Toro conveniently collapses from a drug overdose, dies, and Linda escapes in his car! 

“Castro’s Bacterial Warfare Chief Wants To Defect – My Job: Get Him” is by Robert F. Dorr and from the April 1971 Man’s Illustrated. It’s another “as told to” yarn, the person supposedly telling this fictional tale being a marine biologist named Hal Gorby. He’s heading to Cuba for some marine bioligy symposium, when he’s stopped by a CIA agent who tells him the top marine scientist there – who also happens to be Castro’s chief bacterial warfare expert – wants to defect, and Gorby’s to help if possible. This one’s more of a Cold War yarn and just as easily could’ve been set in East Germany. Gorby is unusual for a men’s mag protagonist in that he’s married, and indeed turns down the advances of the sexy native babe he’s set up with by the Cuban government – there to keep tabs on him, of course. The finale is also on the suspense angle, with Gorby being set up as a propaganda scapegoat by the Cubans and eventually making his escape on a hydrofoil. 

Overall I really enjoyed Cuba: Sugar, Sex, And Slaughter, and it left me wanting more; as ever Wyatt Doyle fills the pages with related men’s mag covers and interior art, and a lot of the stories sound really good – in particular, of course, the ones with the Commie She-Devils. So maybe one of these days we’ll have a volume 2. Otherwise, I’m happy with this one, and heartily recommend it, as I do everything else Bob Deis and his co-editors Wyatt Doyle and Bill Cunningham publish.

1 comment:

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

Hi Joe - Thanks for that thoughtful, in-depth review! Much appreciated. I may get that "Commie She-Devils" story into some future Men's Adventure Library book I do with Wyatt Doyle or some future issue of the MEN'S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY I co-edit with Bill Cunningham. Stay tuned. ;-)
- Bob Deis