Feb 032014
 
Doomsday Warrior #9: America's Zero Hour, by Ryder Stacy November, 1986  Zebra Books A month after the previous volume and things are still much the same in the Doomsday Warrior series; Century City is rebuilding itself, the Russian army is slowly reoccupying its former posts after Killov’s KGB sadists have been ousted, and Ted “The Ultimate American” Rockson is still stuck in the middle of a
Jan 022014
 
The Last Ranger #1, by Craig Sargent May, 1986  Popular Library I had a blast re-reading this first volume of The Last Ranger. The first time I read it I was 11 years old, it was 1986, and I’d eagerly grabbed a copy of the book from the shelf at WaldenBooks. In fact over the years scenes from this novel have remained with me, so it was sort of strange to read the book again these decades
Dec 232013
 
Doomsday Warrior #8: American Glory, by Ryder Stacy April, 1986  Zebra Books Picking up two weeks after the previous volume, American Glory is mostly a return to form for the Doomsday Warrior series. Rockson and team are still on their journey back to Century City in Colorado, after having rescued President Langford and his daughter Kim from the clutches of Killov in Washington, DC. As
Mar 072013
 

Doomsday Warrior #7: American Defiance, by Ryder Stacy
January, 1986  Zebra Books

The Doomsday Warrior series is becoming increasingly goofy; while the early volumes equally doled out goofiness and psychedelic New Agery, as the series has progressed the latter has been vastly outweighed by the former. In fact the books have become increasingly juvenile in their execution – still heavy in the sex and violence department, mind you, but delivered in a very clunky fashion.

I still appreciate the series for the fact alone that each volume picks up immediately after the preceding one, with little (if any) recap of what came before. This serves to invoke the feeling of an epic, and what with its heroic protagonists and barbaric setting the Doomsday Warrior has all the makings of a post-nuke myth. But damn it’s just the goofy writing that kills it…of the two authors who served as Ryder Stacy, it’s seeming more and more like the one who delivered the quality writing (like the Glowers stuff in #3: The Last American) has pretty much jumped ship and left the series to the other guy.

American Defiance lacks any of the vaguely psychedelic flourishes of previous volumes and dwells soley on goofy action scenes. But all is not lost; Stacy still provides humorous touches of the bizarre and lots of gore in the action scenes, not to mention corny sex scenes. There are also the obligatory nuke-spawned monsters, this volume seeing perhaps the most monstrous yet, these octopus-like behemoths that rise from beneath the earth and eat humans.

Anyway, Century City is still rebuilding itself after the cataclysmic events of #5: America's Last Declaration, and Ted “Doomsday Warrior/Ultimate American” Rockson has finally gotten back to fighting form after returning to his home base in the previous volume. After a bit of purple-prosed sex with his on-again, off-again girlfriend Rona, Rockson gets word that his true love Kim has been captured by the goddamn Reds. Kim as you’ll recall is the nubile young daughter of Langford, the newly-elected President of the (Re)United States. (That’s really how they refer to themselves.)

From here American Defiance becomes mostly a chase sequence, with Rockson and his team blazing out across the ruins of the midwest and then tracking back to Washington, DC, now the Red capitol of the US. Rona’s left pouting in Century City (and the authors finally have Rona getting a bit pissed that Rockson so casually sleeps with her yet still pines for another woman) as Rockson rushes off to save his true love – of course under the rationalization that Kim and her father would be veritable goldmines of information for the Reds, so they must be rescued before all of their Freefighter secrets can be discovered.

The Red-created mind breakers seen in the earliest volumes return here, with Rockson constantly worried that either Kim or her dad will be hooked up to one and their brains pumped dry. Rockson takes out his usual squad as customary from previous volumes, along with a handful of redshirts who meet the expected end. In some outright deus ex machina one of these guys turns out to be an older dude who happens to have experience in operating trains – not that Rockson brings him along for this reason – which turns out to be super-handy when they later have to commandeer a train!

About halfway through American Defiance I was getting a little bored with the same old nature of the plot…I mean, the stuff with insane KGB leader Killov plotting against depraved Russian US President Zhabnov was fun as always, with the authors taking special delight in making Killov into a total freakshow. But otherwise it was just the same old thing, with Rockson and his boys hauling ass on their “hyrbid” horses over the nuke-blasted ruins of the midwest.

But then the authors throw one of their customary curveballs, with yet another dash of deus ex machina; the surprise appearance of a squad of Australian commandos, who have friggin’ flown all the way over to the US just to help out, and coincidentally enough, just happen to parachute out of their plane right in time to drop them in the path of Rockson’s team! You see what I mean about the juvenile style here? But it’s just so damn goofy and unexpected that you have to go with it, and the Australians do bring a lot of life to the tale. (Unfortunately they aren’t decked out Road Warrior style, instead wearing khaki uniforms and big hats, and they ride about on camels instead of tricked-out muscle cars.)

Meanwhile Kim and her dad are themselves moved about the country, unbeknownst to Rockson. Captured near a Soviet base in the midwest, the father and daughter are then flown to DC under the orders of Zhabnov, who realizes that breaking these two will perhaps put him in the lead in his confrontation with Killov. But Killov himself has moved beyond plotting and launches an attack on the regular Russian army, thus initiating the civil war that has been building since Doomsday Warrior #1.

The attack on the Soviet base in the midwest is nonetheless entertaining, with all of the gore you expect from the series. Here too those monsters come into play, Rockson and the Australians luring them out of their homes in the crevices of the earth and leading them toward the fortifications, which the monsters plow right through. But then Rockson discovers that Kim and her dad aren’t even here, so they turn right back around and head for DC.

Here they commandeer that train, Rockson and his men attacking one Wild West style and taking control of it from the corpulent Red officers who are relaxing onboard. This sequence packs a quite unexpected emotional punch with the appearance of black porters who speak in Uncle Jim-style subservient tones to their Russian masters; when Detroit, the black member of Rock’s team, takes one of them aside to yell at him for his spinelessness, he finds out that there are more to these porters than meets the eye. The dialog the authors provide the head porter here is leagues above anything else in the novel and seems at odds from the narrative because of it.

As expected, it all ends with another action sequence, this time Rockson and team attacking the compound in DC in which Kim and her father are imprisoned. Here we have the first meeting between Rockson and Killov since #2: Red America, as Killov has now taken over DC, Zhabnov fleeing to parts unknown. This culminates though in one of those ultra-lame bits where Rockson could easily waste Killov, but instead just knocks him out and runs away. (True, Rockson later hurls a bomb into the room Killov’s inside, but of course the bastard’s able to get clear before it explodes.)

I almost forgot to mention the second goofy sex scene the authors provide here, almost a straight-up copy of the one back in the second volume, where Rockson is briefly captured in the building with Kim, and the KGB guards for absolutely no reason bring Kim in and fling her inside the cell with Rockson. The two of course immediately go at it, just a they did back in Red America. Kim also implies that she’s been “mistreated” by these Red soldiers, one definite difference from that second volume, where she’d remained untouched, giving herself to Rockson.

Maybe the most promising development of American Defiance is that it ends with Kim heading back to Century City with Rockson; she has never been there and thus has never met Rona, and I’m really looking forward to some sparks flying between these two characters. Meanwhile Langford has been reduced to a vegetable thanks to some mind breaker brain-frying, but then who cares? Everyone knows Ted Rockson’s the star of the show in post-nuke America.
Oct 222012
 

Doomsday Warrior #6: American Rebellion, by Ryder Stacy
September, 1985 Zebra Books

The Doomsday Warrior series storms on, picking up immediately after the events in #5: America's Last Declaration, with Rockson and Rona barely alive after a massive assault by 21st Century Nazis on the Freefighters’ home base of Century City. American Rebellion opens with Rockson knocked out cold, having been tossed like a ragdoll by a falling bomb – that imminent “Death itself” he must have felt, reaching out for him, on the last page of the previous installment.

So with American Rebellion authors Ryder Stacy finally deliver on that hoary old action-pulp cliché: the hero who suffers from amnesia. Yes, the bomb blast not only knocks Rockson unconscious (and Rona too), but when he wakes up he has no idea who he is. This makes him easy pickings for the roving bands of slavemasters who like vultures hunt and peck through the carnage of the just-ended battle; Rockson is pounced on as perfect material for the labor force being sold to newly-built Nazi city Goerringrad.

Rona meanwhile was knocked several yards away by the blast, and when she comes to Rockson is already gone, taken by the slavers. Not that Rona knows this. She has her own issues, though, captured by another group of slavers who know she’ll earn them quite a profit due to her beauty; Rona too is taken to Goerringrad, where she will be put on the auction block as a pleasure slave.

The back cover has it that this amnesia storyline will be the meat of the tale, and to tell the truth such stories have never done much for me. Luckily though Rockson has his memory back around a hundred pages into the tale. Before that though we must endure long stretches of Rockson being put in a squalid existence with the other slaves in Goerringrad, trying to foster their patriotic spirit while shovelling up corpses all day and tossing them into a toxic marshland along the outskirts of the Nazi-run city.

The action focus of previous books is lost here; Ryder Stacy focus more on Rockson’s inherent ability to lead and inspire. In a way the plot of this one’s sort of original because from the start we’ve been told that Rockson is regarded as “the Ultimate American;” here we see him still having the same charismatic effect on others, even when he just thinks he’s some anonymous slave.

Also, American Rebellion further plays out an element that has been featured in every novel in the series yet – namely, a group of American slaves “becoming men again” and turning on their Red captors. In previous books these have usually been little bits, usually having nothing to do with the larger storyline, and usually ending with the slaves dying as a result…that is, after killing a bunch of Russians. So then this novel pretty much plays out like one of those incidents, only in full, going on and on, with Rockson always on the cusp of remembering who he is.

Rona’s storyline is more entertaining. She’s sold to a high-ranking Nazi who takes her into Goerringrad’s Nazi palace. In a chuckle-inducing and bizarre scene the commandant of Goerringrad falls at Rona’s feet and begins licking them…turns out Rona is a dead ringer for the Nazi-worshipped Eva Braun!

Not the real Eva Braun, that is; in a goofy turn of the narrative Ryder Stacy explain that Rona looks like an idealized portrait of Eva…one where Eva has been given red hair and a killer bod…! Anyway the Nazis now worship Rona as Eva reborn, a goddess in flesh, and put her up in an ivory tower where no one may touch her or even look at her.

But guess what – Rockson has a perfect view of her while on his daily rounds of corpse-dumping. Of course, he can only see the gorgeous redhead gawking down at him, waving her arms frantically as if she recognizes him. Rockson can only suspect that he must know the woman, but meanwhile he has other issues, like the endless ringing of alien voices in his brain (turns out to be psychic messages being sent out to him but going unanswered) as well as the dark shape he sees skimming beneath the surface in that toxic marshland.

Anyway, before you can’t take much more Rockson has regained his memory (in true cliched fashion it’s only after some ruffian slave, jealous of Rockson’s power over the others, bashes him on the head during a sneak attack) and is leading the slaves in a riot. They manage to free Rona but Rockson and Rona are pulled away by an escape rocket sled or something, leaving the just-freed slaves to their fate.

Rockson wants to go back, but they’re pursued by Nazis and end up in the marshland, where Ryder Stacy get to unleash another family of monsters into their unfolding epic. Each volume of the series has had some new monster in it, and American Rebellion doesn’t disappoint. This time we have the Narga, Swamp Thing-like monsters who once were human but were killed by the Nazis and dumped into that toxic dump, which brought them back to life; Rockson is only able to keep them from eating him and Rona with his psychic skills. Soon enough he is friends with the leader.

The Narga are basically like the monsters in Where the Wild Things Are, only they like to eat people, even “smoking” their corpses over campfires to save for later. Ryder Stacy published a book on movie monsters in 1984 and you can tell that here they were indulging in all of their horror movie joys; the Narga are probably the most frightening and gorge-inducing creatures the authors have yet presented us. Plus their names are damn awesome: there’s the leader, Nitrogen Carnivore, and others like Sulphuric Death, Monoxide Blood, and even Methane Death. It’s surprising some ‘80s speed metal band didn’t lift one of these for an album title, or even a group name.

The novel’s only halfway through and Rockson has already launched a raid on Goerringrad, the Narga at his side; here the authors delight in giving us all sorts of gruesome detail about the monsters biting off heads and eating guts, all delivered in their patented clunky style. If I’m right in my estimation of who wrote what, then I’m betting Jan Stacy wrote the majority of American Rebellion, as it has little of the psychedelic/New Age flourish I suspect was the work of Ryder Syvertsen. (Though there is a cool scene where we see the bizarre cult rituals of the Narga, who, to quote the old Sho Kosugi film, pray for death – if there’s any scene in American Rebellion written by Syvertsen, this would be it.)

Unfortunately the novel sort of plods on after this. Having freed the slaves and bid farewell to the Narga, Rockson and Rona and a young slave Rockson has taking a liking to make their way to Century City, which when we last saw it in the previous book had been hit by an indirect thermonuclear blast. They arrive to find the place in a total shambles, a mere shadow of the underground paradise of previous books.

The novel takes on a Jules Verne feel as Rockson, back together with his pals “the Rock squad,” ventures into the pits of the earth, trying to discover and fix whatever has ruined Century City’s power supply. This section just kind of goes on and on, with the team in their asbestos suits making their way down into 200+ degree heat.

But what’s weird is that the authors seemingly tack on a finale that has nothing to do with anything; like a jump cut in a film, a missing frame or something, immediately after fixing the power supply Rockson is squared off by himself by some hidden explosives and suddenly must fight an entire team of martial arts masters! This goes on for about fifty pages, just one kung-fu fighter after another introducing himself to Rockson and then engaging him in a fight to the death. There are even a few ninjas.

I’ve always felt that martial arts fights don’t translate as well to fiction as gun-fights do…it gets very repetitive to read about someone throwing a punch or a kick. And here it gets very repetitive, just going on and on and on…not helped by Rockson’s sudden knack for delivering bad one-liners to his opponents, something even the assassins make note of. My assumption is the killers were sent by the Reds – in a brief scene earlier in the tale we witnessed the first meeting of Premier Vassily, President Zhabnov, and Colonel Killov, who united in their determination to kill Rockson, agreeing to send out “the best of the best” to assassinate him.

But our authors sort of leave this vague; only after the endless battle has ended does Rockson stop to ponder how the assassins got there, beneath the guts of Century City, and if they relayed its location back to the Reds. I mean, it’s pretty admirable that these dudes were able to so easily find the place that Killov has been fruitlessly searching for since before the series began!

We get another attempted assassination scene, this one better than all the others combined, as another ninja-type materializes in Rockson’s room and uses mental trickery on him, not to mention a flaming sword. But still, American Rebellion has lost steam long before, the entire last half coming off like padded wheel-spinning and padded endless fighting.

Interestingly though this volume does not end on a cliffhanger – unless, that is, you want to count the sex scene that’s brewing between Rockson and Rona on the very last sentence of the book. And speaking of which, this is the only book yet in the series that doesn’t feature one of Ryder Stacy’s trademark goofy-but-graphic sex scenes…dammit!!
Jul 052012
 
Doomsday Warrior #5: America's Last Declaration, by Ryder Stacy
June, 1985 Zebra Books

The Doomsday Warrior series continues to ecschew the episodic nature of other men's adventure series, once again picking up immediately after the events in the previous volume, with hardly any background information provided for those new to the story. Rockson and his pal Archer, as we'll recall, have just flown a commandeered jet all the way from Russia to the Great Lakes region of north America, bailing out as the jet spirals to the ground, out of fuel. America's Last Declaration opens the very next moment, as the duo splash into the icy waters below and immediately must test themselves against the mutated flora and fauna of "the world of 2089 AD" (that recurring phrase back once again).

Previous volumes of this series have generally started off "normal," with Rockson and his fellow freefighters engaged in some sort of adventure or skirmish against the Reds, before freefalling into a sort of psychedelic vibe in the final half of the novel. America's Last Declaration reverses that. It starts off weird, gets goofy, and then finishes off with an otherwise "normal" action sequence as Rockson must defend Century City against an invading army of Russian-backed Nazis. But then, this is why I put "normal" in quotes...I mean, the Nazis, despite being removed from the original issue by a century-plus, talk and act just like their damned WWII brethren, with jackboots and swastikas and the works.

It takes a while to build up to that action finale, though. First we roam the wilds of the north with Rockson and Archer, who encounter everything from sea monsters to metallic, magnetic balls that seems to be alive. Those who read #3: The Last American will remember that awesomely out-of-left-field sequence where Rockson was briefly captured by the Amazonian tribe of men-haters, who nonetheless wanted to keep Rockson around for a little lovin'. Ryder Stacy must have felt they didn't fully explore the potential of this scenario, as they basically reenact it over the first half of America's Last Declaration; Rockson and Archer are captured by the Kreega, a group of French Canadian Amazons (of course, every single one of them are beautiful) who capture wayward men, use them for their seed, and then kill them when they are no longer potent.

Rockson and Archer are in no hurry to escape. Stacy deliver one of their patented sex scenes between Rockson and the leader of the Kreega, and once she's had her fill she gives Rockson to the rest of the tribe. I forgot to mention that these Amazons are protected by panthers, who are only controlled via psychic means by a pair of Kreega virgins. The whole sequence is like something out of a fantasy novel. Once Rockson's finally gotten sick of serving as a stud, he acts upon his plan of escape -- which of course entails seducing those two virgins, who easily fall into Rockson's manly-man arms.

Believe it or not, the novel only proceeds to get goofier. After escaping the Kreega, Rockson and Archer trek on down into the midwest, where they come upon a bona fide '50s diner, still up and running, complete with a flickering sign and checkered floor and everything. Vintage cars ring the parking lot and a gum-smacking waitress takes their order, serving up burgers and fries and shakes. Throughout this series Ryder Stacy have tread the line between spoof and outright comedy, and here they stomp right over the line -- the joke, in fact, is on anyone who takes all of this seriously.

Using his psychic skills to win big at poker, Rockson takes off in an alcohol-fueled '83 Buick Roadmaster (!), tearing out of town just as the locals start shooting at him. Here Ryder Stacy display their lyric-writing talents, as Rockson flips on a tape and a late '80s rock hit streams from the speakers. (By the way, I checked Graphic Audio's adaptation of America's Last Declaration, curious to hear how they would present this song -- only to find they outright cut the entire segment. So then, now you know: the Graphic Audio productions of Doomsday Warrior are edited.) But even though they've escaped the townfolk, Rockson and Archer are still waylaid by a motorized caravan of cannibals, a full-on Road Warrior-esque battle ensuing.

During this time, Premier Vassily is plotting his vengeance back in Russia, still smarting over the embarrassment he suffered at Rockson's hands in the previous volume. Rather than call in his own troops, Vassily goes to Germany, where the country has once again taken up fascism, endorsed by the Reds. Despite that he fears this "Third Reich" force might eventually turn upon the Reds, Vassily still decides to send them over to the US, using them as stormtroopers to finally root out and destroy both Rockson and his homebase of Century City.

Back in Century City for the first time since the fourth volume, Rockson hooks up with yet another Amazonian -- his redheaded on-again, off-again galpal Rona, who is as ever nuts about Rockson and instantly throws herself at him. Yet another Stacy-patented sex scene ensues, Rockson once again casting aside thoughts of his "true love" Kim, who doesn't make an appearance this time out. But soon enough Century City learns of the invading Nazis, and Rockson, as head of the armed services, must concoct battle plans. The situation is grim, as the Century City freefighters are outnumbered a whopping fifty to one.

Stacy, still building on their epic theme, weave in several plotlines that have gone unmentioned in the past volumes; for one, Lang, the young mutant freefighter who reminds everyone of Rockson, is finally returning to Century City, which he left all the way back in the first volume, scouting out for the diminutive Technicians and their particle beam weaponry. Now Lang is on his way back, all of the Technicians in tow, with tons of particle beam cannons and whatnot. Also, the psychedelic Glowers, who back in the third volume promised to finally help America, are also converging upon Century City in their solar-powered ships.

So, after Rockson and the Century City forces have given their all against the Nazis in a long and well-done battle sequence, using commandeered Red gunships, employing commando tactics and boobytraps, the cavalry arrives in the nick of time, and the Glowers use their omnipotence to basically destroy all of the Nazis. It's a scene almost straight out of Ralph Bakshi's Wizards, as the Glowers invoke their psychic powers and make the Nazis see their worst fears. The bastards end up blasting each other apart, and once they've decimated the majority of the Nazis the Glowers depart, leaving Rockson et al to mop up.

Meanwhile Killov, who has really been AWOL these past volumes, sees the battle in progress from his KGB headquarters (which is like twenty friggin' miles from Century City, despite which Killov's never been able to find the place!), and orders a bombing run. But Stacy weave those threads and the Technicians, with their awesome particle beam weaponry, have arrived on the scene...

So, as expected, this volume is all over the place, but still enjoyable. And again it ends on a cliffhanger, with Rona seriously hurt and Rockson going to her, again employing his psychic skills to put a sort of protective bubble around her as death itself comes for her soul. Rona by the way is a much better character than the bland Kim, whom Rockson loves; we're reminded that he and Rona came to Century City together as teenagers, and have been inseperable since, but despite this -- and despite Rona's dedication to him -- Rockson still considers Kim his "true love."

America's Last Declaration ends though with a possible questioning of this, as Rockson tells Rona he does love her, so I'm curious if we will see the development of a love triangle or something. But then, given that Rockson has sex with about a hundred women in this novel, it's not like it really matters who is his "true love."
Jun 212012
 

Doomsday Warrior #4: Bloody America, by Ryder Stacy
March, 1985 Zebra Books

The Doomsday Warrior series continues to build into an epic, with this volume picking up immediately after the previous one. Little explanation is given in regards to what's going on; we meet Ted "Doomsday Warrior" Rockson as he's still making his way back to Century City with Kim, Mt. Ed, and the newly-elected president of the "Re-United States of America." Stacy doesn't bother much with setting up the backstory, which might be frustrating for someone new to the series, but works very well for those who have been in from the ground floor.

The previous volume went more into a New Age/psychedelic territory with the appearance of the Glowers, which leads me to believe that Ryder Syvertsen did the majority of the writing for that one. This volume however is mostly action, goofy action at that, and rendered in the clunky tones that are the hallmark of Jan Stacy. In fact I have the feeling Jan Stacy wrote this installment solo as, save for one or two brief instances, it lacks all of the psychedelic flourishes of Syvertsen. Whereas the first half of previous volumes was usually composed of goofy action scenes and clunky writing (Jan Stacy) before veering off into psychedelia and good writing (Ryder Syvertsen), Bloody America is pretty much goofy action and clunky writing from first page to last.

The title is also misleading, as the majority of the novel takes place in Russia! First though we have Rockson and crew up against a tidal wave of acidic spew which destroys all the flora and fauna in its wake, culminating in a clifftop battle with a hulking lizard thing that beheads Mt. Ed with one fell swoop (goodbye, Ed, we hardly knew ye). After getting back to the neutron-bombed site of the re-election committee from the previous novel, Rockson et al reunite with the "Rock squad," ie Rockson's regular team of Detroit, Chen, Archer, and McLaughlin, who of course survived the nuke attack unharmed.

When a Red recon patrol comes in, Rockson and Archer break off from the pack to serve as decoys so that the all-important president may continue on to safety. Rockson and Archer are prompty captured. Meanwhile Premiere Vassily, who as we'll recall is locked in war with insane KGB Colonel Killov, gets wind that the "Ultimate American" has actually been caught. Vassily believes that if he can get Rockson on his side, the two would prove to be an unbeatable force, and so defeat Killov. Rockson's saved from torture by the fortuitous call of the premiere himself, and posthaste he and Archer are flown in a stratosphere-climbing jet all the way to Russia.

Here we have what might be the only sequence written by Ryder Syvertsen; while on the cozy plane, Rockson mediates and has an out of body experience, taking an astral voyage down to the earth far below. Here he feels the calming vibes of the Glowers and the earth itself. After which the novel gets right back on track, with Rockson going through the motions of working out a treaty with Vassily, just waiting for the moment when he can break free.

Rockson wants to destroy the massive dome which sets outside of Moscow, from which Red technicians control killer satellites that can both fire ICBM warheads and also knock any opposing ones out of the sky (not that any other nation has any nukes left to fire). Rockson knows that the Russians now lack the technical skills to repair it, if it were to be destroyed; the Reds basically just work off of stuff made a century before, becoming lax in their dominance. So upon freeing themselves (of course, not before they can enjoy, in Ryder Stacy-patented explicit detail, the charms of some pleasure-girls), Rockson and Archer head for the dome, hoping to find a way to blast it.

Instead they meet "the dissidents," white haired Russian jazz-lovers who speak in jive (one of them claims to have learned English from jazz album covers!). The dissidents cary clarinets and tubas which are sound-based weapons capable of much destruction. Luckily they too are opposed to the Reds and become instant allies with Rockson. Once again though Rockson is captured and here Bloody America delivers on its back-cover promise: Rockson becomes a gladiator in Moscow's games.

The reason is skirted over; apparently an enraged Vassily wants to use Rockson as an example, forcing him to fight with other slaves against professional gladiators. Rockson gets two weeks of training, though, the weapon given him a "duo-blade" (that's it on the cover). Rockson even sees the opponent that has been arranged for him, a hulking three-armed African mutant who towers over even Rockson and who has a few hundred kills to his credit.

The ensuing games sequence, which comes straight out of Danniel Mannix's Way of the Gladiator, takes up a goodly portion of the novel, complete with maidens ravished by animals, mallet-carrying dwarves braining their opponents, and standard gladiator-on-gladiator combat. Rockson's battle with the African giant is well rendered, and leads to a finale that would've made Spartacus envious. After which Rockson again escapes, and again runs right into the dissidents.

Stacy keeps the ball rolling with more goofy action scenes as Rockson blows the dome, the dissidents blow up the Moscow prison, and then Rockson and Archer escape in a Red fighter jet. Somehow the thing's able to fly all the way over to America, before running out of fuel right over the Great Lakes. Rockson and Archer bail, the Glowers in a brief interlude realize Rockson is back in the US and again state that he's the only person able to hold off the coming darkness (another indication of Stacy's intent that this be seen as an epic, not just another action series), and we leave Rockson as he's parachuting to the soil, happy to be back in the US.

This installment was a lot of fun, and the gladiator stuff is a hallmark of the post-nuke genre, so it was about time Rockson got to fight in the arena. But for me the psychedelic aspects are the best part of Doomsday Warrior, and they were lacking here. To be sure, Bloody America still has the frenetic, oddball charm of the series, but the goofy action scenes just don't work for me...the battle scenes have zero realism, and I'm a guy who doesn't even want much realism in my action scenes. The ones here though are just too unbelieveable, which gives the novel a juvenile tone.

Not that it matters. I'm so caught up in this series that I'll be getting to the next installment soon; in fact I hope to read through the next 15 volumes within the year.
May 302012
 

C.A.D.S. #1, by John Sievert
November, 1985 Zebra books

Here's another series I was familiar with as a kid in the '80s, but given the uniform cover design of the books -- each with some sort of high-tech gun floating against a blank background -- I assumed it was a military sci-fi series. Little did I know that it was actually a post-nuke pulp, let alone that author "John Sievert" was a psuedonym for Ryder Stacy, aka Ryder Syvertsen and Jan Stacy...the creators/authors of Doomsday Warrior! Indeed, this series ran at the same time, and was nearly as successful, lasting an impressive 12 volumes.

It's my understanding that Ryder Stacy collaborated on this first volume, just as they did on each volume of Doomsday Warrior. So then there's the same dichotomy in C.A.D.S. #1, going from goofy action scenes with clunky writing (Jan Stacy) to New Age-esque character instrospection with great writing (Ryder Syvertsen). I've read that future volumes were written by Syvertsen alone, who handled the series up until volume #9, when it was taken over by none other than David Alexander! So then with C.A.D.S. we have a post-nuke series written by the three best writers in the post-nuke biz; what more could you ask for?

This first volume is very similar to Doomsday Warrior #1. It takes its time setting up the scene, introducing the characters, and getting the ball rolling, but once it does, it veers directly into the madness and the insanity. And, like that first Doomsday Warrior, C.A.D.S. #1 is just too damn long for its own good. The book is 400 pages, which is much too long for an action-series novel in my opinion. As a result the novel is chaotic, all over the place, jumping from characters to incidents with little rhyme or reason. In fact the central plot of the tale -- the untried C.A.D.S. team rescuing the President, who may or may not be alive -- is lost for the duration of the novel, while Ryder Stacy instead entertain us with their patented lurid thrills.

The book opens in the "future" of 1997, one in which the USSR is still around, and still engaged in peace talks with the US. However we learn that the Soviets, of course, are planning a surprise attack on the gullible Americans. While the US President and Soviet Premiere plan a new era of peace, the Premiere meanwhile backs the total destruction of the US, sending out legions of nuclear subs while swearing to the Americans that nothing untoward is going on. However in their secret Air Force base in New Mexico, the members of the top-secret C.A.D.S. project suspect otherwise, in particular their leader, Colonel Dean Sturgis, who is certain that nuclear war is imminent.

C.A.D.S. stands for Computerized Attack/Defense Systems, and basically they're seven foot-tall armored suits that fire "E-balls" (ie explosives), machine guns, flamethrowers, etc. Description is vague but apparently the suits look like those worn by astronauts, only black instead of white, complete with the same visored dome, only the C.A.D.S. ones are red. The suits can't fly, but they can take to the air in very high leaps, which we're told eventually runs out the gas supply.

In point of fact these suits, as described, are impossible constructions; we're informed that each suit-wearer has at his command enough power to destroy an entire army, with a nigh-endless supply of ammunition and explosives, not to mention fuel and etc. There's just no way a suit could hold all of that stuff and still afford the maneuverability and aerodynamic qualities Ryder Stacy detail here. But then, I'm overthinking. Like everything else I've read by these authors, C.A.D.S. #1 is basically an R-rated Saturday morning cartoon.

The suits come complete with a computerized interface which provides a plethora of intel, scanning and tracking realtime and reporting it back to the wearer. Also there's a sort of AI setup which, when activated, can provide the wearer with realtime battle strategy. But the main point of the suits is that they can weather the atmosphere of radioactive wastelands. Given the military-wide opinion that a nuclear war with Russia is forthcoming, the Air Force brass sees the C.A.D.S. as having the potential of acting as first-line defense in a post-nuke battle arena. However as the series opens the suits are still in prototype stage.

Around 200 soldiers make up the C.A.D.S. force, racking up practice hours but having zero actual combat experience. Dean Sturgis heads them up and acts as the protagonist, but as with the Doomsday Warrior books there are a lot of characters in play. Sturgis though is your typical men's adventure hero, a grizzled veteran who constantly runs afoul of authority and knows that the only correct way to do things is his own. He lives on the base in a perpetual bad mood, mostly because he knows that the world is about to end, but also because he's worried about his ex-wife, Robin, whom Sturgis still loves, and indeed has reconnected with. Sturgis has constantly put his career ahead of his personal life, but now, in his mid-30s, he's getting second thoughts, and wonders if he should say the hell with the Air Force life and just go be with Robin.

The nuclear war of course changes all this, but as mentioned it takes a long time to happen. The missiles don't hit until around page 100, and before that we have lots of character and scene-building, in particular lots of stuff with the President and his staff worrying over the possibility that "the Reds" might have something up their sleeves. The authors hopscotch among a huge cast of characters, playing it all up like a suspense thriller, with the occasional interlude of Sturgis and his comrades field-testing their suits. Then the Russians launch their attack, successfully blocking retaliatory strikes from the US while blasting the majority of the country to radioactive bits with a hundred or so nuclear hits.

But once nuclear war has been waged Ryder Stacy kick in with the OTT insanity we know and love from Doomsday Warrior. Seriously, we go from a novel about politicians fretting over possible war to scenes of mental patients shackling up their former doctors and "curing" them with sadistic methods of torture. The book, while enjoyable crazy, actually suffers from this, given the somewhat serious tone of the opening hundred pages -- the ensuing chaos seems to come from a different novel.

The Russians hit Washington, DC with a few neutron bombs; we're told these will kill people but leave real estate undamaged. This is the same thing the Russians did in Doomsday Warrior, and for the same reason -- they plan to take over the country, using DC as their own capitol. The President happened to be in the bunker beneath the White House when the bombs hit, and word is that he might still be alive, trapped down there. Communication of course is sketchy in the post-nuke US, and only the one message got through. Nevertheless it's enough for what remains of the US government to order in a team to find and rescue the President.

No better job could be suited for the C.A.D.S. force. Having survived the war unscathed, their base in the middle of nowhere, the soldiers put on their suits and break up into three large squads, each taking a different route through the blasted US, to reconvene in DC at an appointed time, where they will unite and take on any Russian defenses as they save the President. Sturgis heads up the main team; that is, after he's let out of the brig.

In a stirring scene, Sturgis, being informed that war is finally occurring, calls Robin (who lives in the middle of a city), and tells her to get out of there asap. Sturgis has fashioned a bomb shelter/cabin in the middle of the upstate woods, and he tells Robin that he will meet her there. But as he's flying away in a commandeered plane, going AWOL, Sturgis sees a nuclear blast on the horizon and knows the time has come, that war is here. He cannot abandon his soldiers. He turns the plane around, turns himself in to the guards, and as mentioned is put in the brig.

When Sturgis and his team set out across the US, the novel takes on more of an episodic feel. On the long journey to DC they encounter militias, mental patients, Cuban soldiers who pose as American GIs, bikers, Russian soldiers, and even the Soviet models of the C.A.D.S. suits. That's not to mention the scenes from the perspectives of the Russian invaders, who deal with the patriotic fervor of the unbeaten American survivors; as in Doomsday Warrior, there are many scenes where downtrodden American masses rise up and kill their better-equiped Soviet enemies.

The action scenes are frequent and fun, if (as expected with these authors) ungrounded in any kind of reality. Sturgis and his squad are wholly dependent upon their C.A.D.S. suits, which admittedly is the point of the novel but ultimately detracts from it. Sturgis, I'm betting, couldn't hold his own against most men's adventure protagonists, and indeed is rendered powerless without his suit. However those fearing a military sci-fi sort of thing need not be concerned -- the focus here is on OTT action, with Sturgis and his soldiers only using their suits to decimate less-equiped enemies, most of whom are drug-addled bikers or whatnot. In other words, there isn't much focus on high-tech nonsense or what-have-you. It's all as believeable as the old GI Joe cartoon, only with a lot more violence.

A definite lurid vibe runs through the novel. In particular with the opressors who arise in the wake of the nukes; there's a bit early on where a gang kidnaps the children of a small town and starts torturing them. The already-mentioned mental patients stuff is especially wacky and sick. And it wouldn't be a Ryder Stacy novel if there wasn't a goofy but explicit sex scene. After freeing a West Virginia town from Cuban invaders (!), Sturgis and his crew are treated to a barn dance. The local women throw themselves at the men; one of the local women, an 18 year-old virgin (of course), takes hold of Sturgis and forces herself upon him. Though he puts up a bit of a moral struggle, thinking about Robin, he of course gives in, and the purple prose ensues.

Robin also has her share of the narrative. Making it to the bomb shelter after all (Sturgis spends the novel not knowing if she survived or not), she deals with her sudden solitude as well as the drastically-changed world she now lives in. It seems clear that this is being set up as the running storyline in the series: Will Sturgis and Robin find one another? What makes it annoying though is that, toward the very end of the novel, Sturgis finally gets to that bomb shelter, he's not even a mile from Robin, and then he receives a distress call from his squad and has to leave! It's a total cop-out of a scene, and reminded me of the similarly-annoying stuff from the Last Ranger series (also apparently written by Ryder Stacy) where the main character kept looking for (and then losing) his damn sister.

Finally, the authors get to work in their trademark irreverent spirit, with lots of dark humor and subtle parodies of the jingoistic fervor common in men's adventure novels (ie, the jingoism that caused the nuclear war in the first place). In particular they demonstrate this in the finale when, to save the President, the C.A.D.S. team actually destroys the White House! The authors also as expected make the invading Russians appropriately despotic and decadent, hating the Americans so much that they're dedicated to killing every single one of them.

So then, another fun but overlong Ryder Stacy excursion into insanity. It wasn't as great as any of the Doomsday Warrior novels I've read, but then, not many books are.
Apr 122012
 

Doomsday Warrior #3: The Last American, by Ryder Stacy
December, 1984 Zebra Books

I can see how the Doomsday Warrior series could lead readers down the rabbit hole of obsession. Despite the goofy characters, the comic book vibe, the clunky writing, with this volume the series already elevates itself above others of its ilk, with a definite attempt at creating a sort of mythos. Embracing a spirit that is positively Nietzschean, author duo Ryder Stacy put their protagonist Ted Rockson through the paces in The Last American; whatever doesn't kill Rockson literally makes him stronger, and by the end of the novel he is a very different character from the one we first met two volumes ago. In other words, the authors aren't content to stay in the rigid "nothing ever changes" confines of the genre.

But then, the book's still pretty stupid at times. Ryder Syvertsen and Jan Stacy must've really traded off on the writing, because again there's that terrible dichotomy: one half of the book is clunky and addle-headed, with sometimes-lame writing and a hell of a lot of misspellings. The other half is pretty great, though, veering into psychedelic territory in a big way. From what little is known about the authors, they both were college students in the late '60s, so I think it's safe to say they were involved in the psychedelic scene. The first two books in the series got pretty far-out, but The Last American gets way out there, which is a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

We meet back up with Rockson -- aka "The Ultimate American," aka "The Doomsday Warrior," aka "Rock" -- as he's out on a research mission with some scientists. The party is attacked by big mutant spider-type things and Rockson's hurt in the attack. Injected with venom, Rockson's near death and must be carried back to home base of Cenutry City. There he is asked by the doctors to use his own mind to fight the infection. This is just the first of the psychedelic touches in the novel, as we journey into Rockson's own mind as he heals himself. This is also the first touch of the Nietzschean spirit of the tale, as Rockson emerges stronger than before.

Meanwhile, the far-strung rabble of the American collective is planning to meet together for the first time, each city and village sending representatives to vote on a new president and constitution. Rockson of course is elected to represent Century City, and takes with him Chen, the Chinese ninja martial arts master. Also elected to go are an elderly professor and a middle-aged lady who is highly ranked in Century City's civic arena. So again we have another section where Rockson must test himself against the mutated environs of post-nuke 2089 America. The series is very repetitive in a way, with each book sort of following the same template.

And to further the repetition of previous volumes, we still cut back and forth between Colonel Killov, KGB master, plotting against his Soviet fellows, among them Premiere Vassily and President Zhabnov. Killov has become a full-on monster, a sort of post-nuke Howard Hughes; he doesn't bathe, doesn't eat, doesn't do anything but sit around and plot his vengeance as he pops various pills. Last volume Killov attempted to assassinate Vassily; this time Zhabnov sends assassins of his own after Killov. But the man has become death itself, and makes the reader anticipate the day when we finally have a face-to-face confrontation between Killov and Rockson.

Also appearing from the previous volume is Kim, daughter of the man who hopes to become the first elected president of post-nuke America. Kim as you'll recall was the captured beauty who gave her virginity to Rockson while the two were locked up in twin cages. They're in love and Rockson can't wait to see her again. However the only purple-prosed sex scene in The Last American comes from an awesomely unrelated-to-anything development where Rockson, on the trip to the presidential committee meeting, scouts ahead and comes upon a village of Amazon beauties.

The women hate men -- their bible is a pre-war feminist tract titled Man, The Enemy -- but they use them long enough to impregnate each of the women before killing them. Rockson comes upon a pile of (male) skulls and escapes, but not before one of the beauties catches hold of his hybrid animal as it charges away. Rockson fights her off and takes her to a remote spot, where of course they soon get busy. After which Rockson heads back for the rest of his party, the whole Amazon incident just sort of brushed off. Like I say, it had nothing to do with anything, but damn it was fun.

An unusual thing about The Last American is there isn't much action for the duration. Rockson doesn't even fight "the Reds" until toward the very end of the book -- as expected, the presidential committee is attacked by the Russians and a megaton warhead is dropped on the place. Rockson's hit by the blast -- again, it doesn't kill him -- and he awakens in the hut of a towering mountain man who calls himself Mount Ed. Rockson is burning to find out what happened to Kim; eventually he discovers that she and her father, both nearly dead from radiation poisoning due to the blast, were taken away by the mysterious Glowers.

Here the novel goes full-tilt into the realm of psychedelia. The Glowers are mutants who speak telepathically, meaning that their dialog IS ALL IN CAPS. Their glowing bodies are twisted so that the internal organs are on the outside. Their powers are cosmic, to such an extent that they can change reality and even suck the radiation out of infected humans. They travel about on land ships, the sails apparently driven by cosmic winds. When the Glowers first rescue Kim and her father, there's a frankly awesome scene where the Glowers power their ship on through the night, and their bodies glow against the vibrant hues of the post-nuke starscape; of anything I've ever read, this scene comes the closest to capturing the feel of a blacklight poster in print.

It's while tracking after the Glowers that Rockson has his only fight with the Reds in the novel. Cornered in a desolate patch of land, they're attacked by around 40 Soviet troops in these glider-type contraptions. One thing about the Doomsday Warrior series is it definitely won't appeal to those who like their men's adventure grounded in reality or accurate weapons detail. Ryder Stacy can't even get their own created weaponry correct; early in the book it's drilled into us that the Century City-created "Liberator assault rifles" only fire clips of 15 rounds, but during this scene it's repeatedly stated that Rockson is firing a clip of 50 rounds. Regardless, it's a fun scene, with the patented gore of this series's action scenes -- lots of guts exploding and showering to the ground as the various Reds are blasted apart.

The novel finishes on another psychedelic scene; the Glowers arrive and pick up Rockson and Ed. Due to their omniscience they not only know who Rockson is but also where they could find him. Kim, still in a coma, refuses to heal for some reason, and the Glowers know that Rockson can save her with his love. This entails an elaborate scene where Rockson mentally joins up with the Glowers's collective entity and they all journey into the pits of Kim's soul. We are far beyond the limits of the men's adventure genre here.

After saving Kim -- her soul was imprisoned in a time warp, it turns out -- Rockson comes out of the collective mind entity feeling more powerful, more in tune with the cosmos. The Glowers inform him that he is capable of telepathic powers, and advise him to cultivate his talents. Again, the authors are building toward something, with the series coming off like a post-nuke Dune, Rockson its Maud'dib. Another nice change of pace with this series is its heavy continuity; there are many references to the previous two volumes, which gives it all the feeling of an epic.

Anyway, I really enjoyed The Last American, and I'm happy that as of now I finally have all 19 volumes of the series -- and they weren't easy to find.

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