Friday, December 23, 2011

UNDERCOVER REVIEWS - Mystery Men (& Women) II

Review by Nick Ahlhelm



A few months ago, I reviewed Mystery Men (& Women) Volume One and enjoyed it greatly. So it is with some delight that I take a look at its sequel, the rather unsurprisingly titled Mystery Men (&Women) Volume Two.

Just like the previous volume in the series, this book breaks its contents up in to four stories of four original creations by a variety of new pulp writers of various skill levels and popularity.

The book opens with Mark Halegua & Andrew Salmon’s “The Red Badge”. This book has nothing to do with a Stephen Crane novel but instead focuses on a truly mysterious New York vigilante. In a city run rampant with crime and where the police have been bought and sold long ago, the Red Badge uses strange technologies to fight crime his own way. The writers use a multiple viewpoint narrative to present the Red Badge as a true mystery. They give us many suspects for the vigilante, but never answer exactly who the masked avenger actually is. While the crime fighting angle is rather run of the mill, the mystery angle gives the character a bit more to make him interesting in stories to come.

Greg Bastianelli’s “Lair of the Mole People” is a very different yarn. It takes a cop and “Ace Crime Reporter” Jack Minch under the ground in search of the very location from the title. They are on the hunt for a lost reporter, Lavonne Valliere, who disappeared over a week ago in search of the mole people. This leads Minch and his erstwhile ally Mike in to battles with giant monsters, mad killers, and not one but two secret societies under the earth. It’s a rip roaring pulp tale, but I’m not sure it fits the overall structure of the book. The title tells me this is a book filled with “Mystery Men” and Jack Minch fails to meet that criteria in my mind. He’s a classic style pulp lead, but he’s far from a costumed hero or even the pinnacle of human perfection. I can’t help but feel this story was included in the anthology simply because there wasn’t anywhere better to put it.

“Dock Doyle & The Wandering City” by Adam Lance Garcia can best be described as meta-pulp. The narrative takes the form of the real life adventures of a pulp fiction hero and serial star. In real life, Dock is just a former baseball idol that gained fame in a gunfight. He’s stuck dealing with the difference between his on screen action hero persona and his real life. Of course this leads him on a larger than life adventure, only that adventure also proves to be more than it seems. The narrative is far darker and violent than any other Airship 27 fare I’ve read and the protagonist far more ambiguous. It’s still pulp, but more akin to the darker crime pulp than the heroic pulp of many New Pulp authors and publishers. It is definitely the kind of tale that could prove divisive in any conversation about what New Pulp is and where it should go in the future.

Derrick Ferguson is a name synonymous with New Pulp and just as Barry Reese anchored the first volume of Mystery Men, Ferguson anchors this one. His tale “A Man Called Mongrel” moves things to the modern day, but makes his setting the third of the four tales to be set in New York. His story comes straight out of the Doc Savage vein, but with an interesting twist. Mongrel isn’t the everyman adventurer with an empire of technology and genius achievements. That guy is his brother. Mongrel is instead a world-class adventurer willing to put his life on the line at a moment’s notice. He ends up embroiled in a case that involves a cyborg killer and a mysterious doctor, all of which sets up nicely…

…but doesn’t finish. Ferguson closes his tale with a cliffhanger that seems like a letdown after the large exciting build of the rest of the novella. Of all the characters introduced in this book though, it seems clear that Mongrel will definitely be returning.

Overall, Mystery Men (& Women) Volume 2 starts strong and finishes strong, but the middle of the book seems to bog down with heroes that may not be the best fit for the book’s concept. While the book as a whole isn’t as strong as the original, it is still offers exciting pieces of narrative fiction that I highly recommend to anyone that enjoys original pulp characters.

Recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the fair and well thought out review, Nick. The reporter tale was an odd duck piece for sure, and you're right, it just didn't fit anywhere else...at the same time was do damn good, demanded to see print. The lot of an editor isn't always an easy one. Ha. Still, glad you enjoyed the book over all. Fingers crossed a new volume three will be out next year.

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