Friday, January 30, 2009

Master of the Broken Men: Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Trial of Terror
After subduing the Aborigine, Operator 5 captures another bad guy: Oreos Pakas. It seems Mr. Pakas has lately been in the company of the Utopiasts, a subversive organization:

Enemies of all government, more dangerously radical than Communists and Nihilists, they had spread their influence across the shores of the United States, a power utterly antagonistic to the principles of American democracy, an organization sworn to destroy every vestige of centralized government.

After assessing the situation, Z-7, Jimmy Christopher's boss, gives him a defacto hunting licence to take out this group, and its masked leader, with extreme prejudice.
Utopiasts? Where did this group mutate? Could this have something to do with Sir Thomas Moore's ideal 16th society? I guess we'll have to meet the masked man again to find out.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Master of the Broken Men: Chapter 3

Chapter 3: Boomerang Death
Operator 5 visits one of the many secret lair of the United States Intelligence Office. He assists in the interrogation of the only tribesman captured in the assault on the DAR dance. Since they can't get a thing out of him (the order to close down clandestine prisons having not been yet issued), the service sends for a jungle explorer. The explorer, named Kirby Carveth, identifies the assailant as a member of one of the hill tribes from Assam, India. After leaving the building, Operator 5 is attacked by an Australian Aborigine wielding a razor-sharp boomerang.
I don't know what Fred Davis' issue is here, but suddenly "black" savages begin appearing. I think he slacked on his geography, because most of the people from Assam, India, are fair in complexion. Savage tribes? Hardly. Today, it's a big destination for Eco-tourism.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Master of the Broken Men: Chapter two

Chapter 2: Destroyer of Men
Industrialist Martin Evarts and his daughter Eve find themselves prisoner after being kidnapped from the DAR ball. Soon, Evarts is introduced to his captor: a man wearing a steel mask and rubber gloves. He informs Evarts that 1) he will soon be released 2) several of his close friends will die over the next few days. Why? Because it amuses the masked man. Evans and his daughter are freed and find themselves in Washington DC. The police find no trace of the mob which took them. The chapter ends with Evarts learning of the death of the first friend on the list.
Things are starting to heat up again. Always a good sign in a Fred Davis story.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Master of the Broken Men: Chapter 1

Chapter 1: Jungle Jeopardy
I have to give Fred Davis one credit: he knows how to start a good adventure novel. Since the Operator 5 magazines were competing for rack space with countless other hero pulps, he knew his own writings had to grab the reader instantly. Thus, the first chapter of his Operator 5 novels were designed to snatch the attention of the prospective buyer and make them part with a well-earned dime. Since this was the depth of the Great Depression, those dimes were in short supply.
Master of the Broken Men begins with a formal dance in Washington DC sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution, one of the most blue-blood organizations in the USA at the time. Jimmy Christopher slides up to the vice president of the United States, presents his credentials (he reports only to the president at this stage of the series), and warns him about a plot.
No sooner than he's made his entrance than the dance hall is attacked by a mob of knife wielding maniacs. No, this isn't a local branch of The Revolutionary Anarchist Bowling League, but a tribe of jungle savages, complete with war paint. Operator 5 has the VP whisked to safety, while he whips out his trusty belt sword and hacks it out with the invaders. The tribesmen manage to kidnap a steel magnate and his daughter before disappearing.
And now we get into one territory which few 1930's pulp fans ever want to discuss: racism. The marauding jungle fighters are constantly referred to as "blacks" in this chapter. The description of them doesn't exactly win the author any image awards from the NAACP:

"The band of blacks stood motionless, their eyes glinting at the crowd of people who retreated in fright. Their broad nostrils quivered as though they relished the salty odor of the blood on the floor and hungered for more, as though they were seeking the scent of a new victim."

I'm pointing this out because it's not talked about enough. You can argue "Oh, the times..." all you want and harp on about how things are different now, but exactly what are we celebrating?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Corroding Death

Been busy lately, but I do plan to return to documenting Operator 5 soon enough. I've managed to read "The Corroding Death" from the one-shot Scorpion pulp and found it to be a good novelette, even if it had a too-pat ending. But how can you say anything bad about a story which features a former Hollywood stuntman, a man dying of TB, an epileptic prophet youngster, and a mysterious killer who dissolves his victims? And it all takes place in an isolated castle!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Book Review: THE PURPLE WARS (2008, Altus Press)

Those who have read the epic "Purple Wars" series in the Operator 5 pulp magazine will know that it is filled with foot notes and references to The History of the Purple Wars by Harrison Stievers. This "history" was a brilliant tool used by Operator 5 author Emile C. Tepperman. The series make up 13 separate novels about a foreign invasion of the United States by a foreign power, the Purple Empire of Balkeria. Loosely modeled on Imperial Germany, the Purple Empire pillages and rapes its way through the US and Canada with Jimmy Christopher as the only one standing in the path of destruction.
Tom Johnson has channeled "Harrison Stievers" to write this small book. It's a summary of each of the Purple Invasion novels with commentary. Since the separate books of the series have been out of print for some time, this little book is an excellent guide to them. He even does the reader a service by indicating some of the lapses in the story arc. Hopefully, Vintage Library will start reprinting the Purple series as it has done with other Operator 5 novels.
History
is also richly illustrated with many of the lurid covers to the original pulps. I just wish Altus had been able to reproduce them in color, but I'm sure cost considerations came into play. The book even has some of the smaller character illustrations, although these tend to be less artistic. I suppose there was only so much an under-paid artist could churn out on a tight schdule for a dime magazine printed by letterpress.
One of my questions has always been whether or not Tepperman had a "game plan" when he started writing the series. It is the opinion of some pulp aficionados that he didn't have an over-all plan, but once the series was a big seller, he had to continue it. In the afterword to the book, Tom Johnson draws the same conclusion.
This is an excellent little book. Anyone interested in Operator 5 should purchase it. It can be ordered here.

Cavern of the Damned: Wrap-up

Ok, another adventure with Jimmy Christopher, AKA Operator Five. No where near as over-the-top as Blood Reign of the Dictator, but fun just the same. I must assume the series took a while to get moving. You can't expect author Fred Davis would've hit his stride so early in the series.
The good points: the eyes in the sky we saw in chapter one. The leper attack at the conclusion. Zaavist jumping into the fire. Loved those man traps in the Zaavist temple.
This one had a lot of questions which never were answered. Just what the hell was that idol supposed to look like? We never did get a description. Why is the cult leader know as "The Nameless One" in the last few chapters after his name was given out freely at the beginning of the book? What happened to the girl who was whipped at the meeting of the cultists?
It was painfully obvious the author hadn't a clue about Tibetan culture. However, I write this from a time when "Free Tibet" bumper stickers are everywhere. Plus I can do quicker research on exotic countries than Fred Davis could even dream. Bhang hashish as a crowd control agent? I dunno about that one.
I'm already looking forward to the next adventure.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cavern of the Damned: Chapter 18

Chapter 18: Zaava Destroys!
The final chapter has Jimmy Christopher battling the mindless Zaavists in the underground cavern. He also manages to save Diane from her cell in the bowels of the earth. Operator 5 kicks into more action as he fights a horde of lepers who are in the service of the Dark God. There's a climatic scene where the cavern is flooded by an explosion, killing most of the followers of Zaava. We also get to witness a horde of Zaavists leaping into a fire.
And in the last few pages, all's well that ends well. Operator 5 makes his report and it's assumed the remaining cultists will be hunted down.
But I guess they didn't find all the bhang and maybe this explains the 60's.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cavern of the Damned: Chapter 17

Chapter 17-Cavern of the Damned
As the novel nears it's conclusion, the plot becomes increasingly weird. Operator 5, in the captivity of the Zaavists, is hauled in front of the golden-robed leader of the cult. Their supreme leader is merely known as "The Namless One". Which is strange, because I'd thought he was the Tibetan Prince Horpa Tal. Guess this was'nt the Nameless One's real name. Accompaning N.O is the distinguished US Senator Crotton, the latest drug-fueled convert to the new religion.
But wait, there's more!
Operator 5 gets to meet The Venerable Oracle who:

“Long before the memory of any living man he was born, high on the plateau of Tibet. More than a hundred years before the Crusades he began to live. He was dwelling upon this earth when the Vikings roamed the seas. The eternal Power of Zaava still gave him life when this continent was discovered. He has seen centuries pass like hours to an ordinary man. In his span of life the settlement of America has been only a brief incident. More than a thousand years he has lived in the Peace of Timelessness.”

The V.O. shows him images of Operator 5's men fighting against the Zaavists in the underground tunnels, only to be thrown back by the Zaava militia.
And, that's not all!
There's even a leper colony in the underground Zaavist compound. These are men who have willingly contracted Hansen's Disease just to "serve Zaava".

Cavern of the Damned: Chapter 16

Chapter 16: Perilous Paths
Operator 5 and Tim Donovan discover agent S-5, who's escaped from the lair of the Black Temple. Having taken a bullet, he's dying fast and is unable to tell them whether or not Diane Elliot is being held in the temple. They discover a hidden entrance to the temple, but Operator 5 is kidnapped by the Zaavists as they penetrate the underground tunnel leading into it. Tim Donovan flees to the surface and tries to contact an approaching plane with a heliograph light signal.
We also learn about Operator 5's watch chain ornament:

He knew, too, that inside the tiny golden skull rested a pellet. A touch on a hidden spring would release the lid and disclose it, a capsule of fragile glass, containing a liquid which turned at once to vapor on contact with air—one of the deadliest poisons known to man, diphenolchlorasine. One pinch of Operator 5’s fingers would crush it and release the lethal fumes. Tim Donovan knew that Operator 5 carried it to use only as a final extremity. The use of it would instantly kill anyone near; and it would also kill Operator 5. “My bad-luck piece,” Jimmy Christopher called it; and at times when danger threatened, his fingers strayed to it unconsciously.

However, diphenolchlorasine, is not so fatal. Used as a substitute for mustard gas by the German army in WW1, it was seldom lethal. Classified as a blistering agent, it is a nasty irritant and exists in powdered form at room temperature. I'm sure the chronic effects on the upper respiratory system would be horrible. Fred Davis was a little too hyperbolic on this material, but nerve gas hadn't been invented when the story was written.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cavern of the Damned: Chapter 15

Chapter 15: Terror in the Night
Having dispatched the secret agent band of wolves, Operator 5 locates his twin sister Nan, now in the throws of bhang hashish addiction. He has a talk with her, scares Nan straight, and discovers the Zaavist got her hooked on the demon weed by putting it in her lip rouge. Efficient man, this Operator 5.
Back on the trail of the turbaned terrors, Jimmy Christopher, his dad, and Tim Donovan head north to the last known location of agent J-8, who was close to locating the hideout of the Zaavists. The trail leads to a house on an island in a reservoir. They locate J-8 in the basement of the house: hanging from a meat hook. Too late. But they also discover a hidden trap door in the basement which leads to the Great Black Temple of the Zaavists.

Cavern of the Damned: Chapter 14

Chapter 14: Secret Summons
Operator 5 finally hooks up with Tim Donovan who tells him how he observed Z-7 in complete obedience to the Zaavist prince. After examining Z-7's belongings, he discovers Z-7 has been hooked on bhang hashish from casual, but intentional, contact with the dreaded weed. He summons some of his secret service colleges to a hidden location and urges them to cooperate with him against the infiltrated agency. As he explains it:

“You will not be false to your oath of service,” said Jimmy Christopher. “You will be false only to the influence of Zaava—because Z-7’s orders came not from his own mind, but from the minds of the cultists who have taken control of him.”

The other secret agents rally to Operator 5 and pledge to rid the country of the nefarious druggie cultists.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cavern of the Damned: Chapter 13

Chapter 13: Doomed to Destruction!
Now things are really picking up. Operator 5 shows up at mission control after his assault on the Zaavist temple with burned clothes. However, he does'nt know that Z-12 has fallen under the hypnotic spell of the leader of the Zaavists. His father, John Christopher, and twin sister Nan are there to greet him.
Now we learn the Zaavist cult is smuggling large amounts of bhang hashish across the border into the country in order to get Americans hooked on some bad drugs. Countless US intelligence agents are dying in the line of duty. And what does Z-12 do? Order Operator 5 off the case!
Jimmy Christopher is in a bind. He is loyal to his oaths, but what happens when your immediant superior has been mindwarped over to the other side?

“Those are orders, Z-7,” Operator 5 declared again, his voice ringing cold, “that I cannot accept. As for my oath, I swore to serve my country, to devote my life to the preservation of the nation—that above all else. I am obeying that supreme command, Chief, when I tell you that I refuse to accept your orders.”

Under the control of the Zaavists, Z-7 orders the arrest of the only person who can stop them.
Operator 5 is a wanted man.

Cavern of the Damned: Chapter 12

CHAPTER TWELVE - Tool of the Black Power!
Horrors! The elderly spymaster Z-12 has been enslaved by the mental powers of the evil faux-Tibetan Prince. We know this since Tim Donovan has wittnessed it through the window:

“Zaava is strong… Zaava is the strength of the Universe. It is futile to combat his Dark Power. This you believe… believe with all your soul. Zaava destroys even himself, only to rise from the ashes of destruction more powerful than before. You have attempted to wage war against Zaava, yet now you know the hopelessness of it...."

At last the prince is starting to show some traits of an evil genius.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Cavern of the Damned: Chapter 11

Chapter 11:Man-Trap
The book kicks into overdrive as Operator 5 and his crack assault team of SuperSpies attack the urban temple headquarters of the Zaavists. But the bad guys have anticipated them and many death traps are sprung. Agent F-6 gets deep-frozen by a hidden gas jet in front of a door he's trying to open. The team finds an entire room with boxes of venomous snakes, arachnids and insects just waiting to be used against unsuspecting victims. But before they can slap the cuffs on the perpetrators, the entire temple is ablaze and the good guys are fleeing for their lives.Unfortunately, Jimmy Christopher's love interest, Diane, still cannot be located.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Cavern of the Damned: Chapter 10

Chapter 10: The Destroying God
OK, ten chapters into the book and still no underground cavern. I hope one turns up. It might even improve the tempo.
Operator 5 and his cohorts track the hidden city cell of the Zaavists to a building in the fashionable side of town. The take control of the private elevator which gives access to the hidden temple, but neglect to remove the private elevator operator. Must be a work rule. Anyway, to no one's surprise the elevator operator springs a hidden wire trap loose on the secret agents which nearly kills them all. Wounded, but surviving, the agents plan their next assault on the hidden temple.
The identity of the Zaavist is becoming real confusing. One instance we're told they're from Tibet, another that a "Hindu", which implies someone from India, was driving a car to the elevator. What? All Asians look alike to writer Fred Davis?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Cavern of the Damned: Chapter 9

Chapter 9: Tim Takes the Trail
Now that Jimmy Christopher and Tim Donovan are safely away from the Zaavist compound, they question the minister they rescued from it. Seems the entire congregation was buzzed on hashish fumes which the Zaavists used to flood the church. In the midst of the prayer meeting, the golden-turbaned man entered the church, sat down an graven image in the midst, and preached about the power of Zaava. Everyone in the church was abducted, save the reluctant minister.
Hmmm. Are these Zaavists or Rastafarians?
At times this book shifts into Jack Chick county. I almost expect to see an book illustration with "Holy Bible" written on it.
By the end of the chapter we are introduced to Operator 5's sister, Nan. Jimmy Christopher rescues her from the clutches of drug-laced roses before the Zaavists strike.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Cavern of the Damned: Chapter 8

Chapter 8: Zaava Strikes Again!
Having penetrated into the inner cell of the Zaavaists, Operator 5 encounters:
  1. Drugged out slaves mixing up hashish.
  2. A minister of the gospel being inducted into the cult of Zaava.
With the help of Tim Donovan, he's able to break free of the hypnotic spell of the high priest of Zaava and escape the hideout. Naturally, the Zaavists blow the whole place to kingdom come so it won't be discovered.
I don't know if I just hit the series on a high note with Blood Reign, or if this novel is typical of the average. I'm defiantly losing my enthusiasm for Operator Five with Cavern. I'm hoping things will pick-up considerably.
Even Lester Dent had bad days.



Friday, January 2, 2009

Cavern of the Damned: Chapter 7

Chapter 7: Into the Inferno
Z-7's back from the holidays, having done his best to stimulate the US economy and world markets by purchasing funky products made overseas.
Not a whole lot in this chapter. Operator 5 discovers the hidden cell of Zaaavists in the town of Beacon and manages to penetrate their headquarters.