Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Hunger (1992) by William R. Dantz

So my most recent obsession with killer shark novels (there have been others) started last fall, when I reread Jaws and wondered if there were any books out there half as good as Benchley's original novel. No... I guess it actually started just before that. I'd just finished watching all four Jaws movies, and since I already knew there were no shark movies out there as good as Spielberg's Jaws (Deep Blue Sea being the distant second), I started looking for novels.

Anyway, I decided right up front to ignore all the self-published killer shark ebooks that Kindle has brought to light. I've (sadly) read several and they've mostly sucked, with one or two just edging up towards the low end of readable. So I went old school and limited myself to books that actual publishing houses had already vetted for me. I know it's not a complete list, but for starters I came up with (and bought if I didn't already have) these books:
  • Jaws by Peter Benchley (1974)
  • Jaws 2 by Hank Searls (1978)
  • Megalodon by Robin Brown (1981)
  • Rip Tide by Don Cheatham (1984)
  • Jaws: The Revenge by Hank Searls (1987)
  • Hunger by William Dantz (1992)
I also ran across Extinct by Charles Wilson (1997), which I vaguely remember reading once but haven't gotten around to rebuying, and Killer Sharks: The Real Story by Brad Mathews (1976), which I'm not gonna buy 'cause its asking price is currently fifty bucks and that's a little steep. It's got a great Ken Barr cover though. Check this out:

Almost worth fifty bucks for the cover alone....

Oh, and of course there's the Meg series by Steve Alten. I had all four of those at one point, but got rid of 'em during one of my thinning-out-the-books rampages. They're a fun set of novels, so they might end up getting rebought and added to the list, but for now I'm focusing on stuff I've either never read or haven't read in several decades. Using the term "several decades" loosely, since I'm not even five decades old myself, yet. But you get the idea: it hasn't been that many years since I read the Meg series.

Anyway, on the current list I've already reviewed Megalodon, and since we're in the middle of Hunger right now, I think next I'll do all three Jaws novels as a single post. (So much has been written on them already, I don't have much to add except personal notes and a Brain Count.)

Okay, now on to Hunger, which is a fairly solid little killer shark tale written by a guy named Rodman Philbrick, under his pseudonym William R. Dantz (which admittedly sounds more dashing than his real name). Philbrick is actually better known for writing children's books, he's even won a bunch of awards in that arena. So we know the guy's versatile, at the very least.

So first off, Hunger is NOT about a one hundred foot long great white shark, as its cover would have us believe. (I totally expect paperback covers to stretch the truth on what's between their covers, but this one is downright misleading.)

The book is actually about six genetically engineered mako shark-bottlenose dolphin hybrids, all cloned from the same egg. The guys doing the cloning are a private outfit, who have a contract with (you guessed it) the Department of Defense: They've been tasked with creating something mean enough and smart enough to guard Navy submarine outposts.

Well, when these hybrids escape (they're mostly shark, with growth hormones, dolphin intelligence and echolocation thrown in), they set about killing and eating everything/everyone in sight, while the scientist types (led by an incredibly one dimensional character, who's practically got the word villain written in magic marker on his forehead) deny responsibility by day and make secret recapture attempts by night.

There's also a husband/wife team, who own a local charter boat business, as the story's protagonists. The missus of the team has been looking after a couple of dolphins that escaped from the scientists two years prior and we should NOT be surprised if we find out there's a mysterious connection between these two dolphins and the escaped makos. (It's built up as the big reveal towards the end of the book, but it seemed fairly obvious, reading through.) Anyway, there's a good amount of killer sharkness throughout, mixed with a little dolphin drama, and by the end of the book the sharks are dead and all's right with the world.

And that's about the size of it. If I had to sum the book up, I'd say it's a little formulaic but reasonably well written, light on character backstory and development, but what's there is pretty readable. I didn't find myself unable to put the thing down, reading late into the night or anything, but I was always happy to pick it back up and keep going.

And with that in mind I'm giving it THREE MAKO-DOLPHINIC BRAINS. (Glug.)

I don't think it was ever released as a hardcover, and the image above was (as far as I can tell) it's first paperback edition from 1992. Looks like it was reprinted with a slightly altered cover in 1993 and then again as a print on demand paperback in 2012.

Here's those covers, for your viewing pleasure:

Well then. I haven't officially reviewed the Jaws novels yet, but I can tell you neither of these later books so far have measured up to Benchley's work. Hunger was definitely a couple steps up from Megalodon, though. More than a couple, really.

Probably worth a Saturday afternoon or two.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Killer (1979) by Peter Tonkin

This book proudly stands as one of the only two killer whale novels ever written, and if that's not a claim to fame I don't know what is.

Well, there are other novels with killer whales in them (like Megalodon, for instance), so to be more exact, Killer is one of the only two killer-whale-menacing-humans novels out there. (The other one being Orca, of course.)

And apparently it was Peter Tonkin's first novel, too. Which I mention because it's a pretty good read, and first novels aren't always good reads. Can't say I've ever read anything else he's done, but the man has amassed a good-sized backlist over the years and he's still going.

He never did another killer animal book, far as I know, which maybe is why I've never read anything else he's written. But I'd give one of his newer books a try--no slouch to start with and I'm sure he's only gotten better.

Ah. And here we see that I took pictures of my cover before removing the used bookstore stickers, and was too lazy to bother taking new photos after.

I am who I am.

So. The novel's about a killer whale who (trope alert!) has been bred by the military to be large and aggressive. Not as large as he is on that front cover, but large. Anyway, he's also been trained to attack divers and such.

Well one day, this whale mistakes an innocent gesture for an attack command and bites off a visiting general's arm. His trainers are horrified, so they try to kill him, which naturally freaks him out because he thought he was doing a good thing.

At any rate, he escapes, then out at sea he hooks up with a pod of wild killer whales and takes over as their leader.

Well about this time, it happens some marine biologists are heading out for an arctic expedition. When their plane crashes onto an ice floe, this escaped whale and his pod show up and dramatics ensue. Besides killer whales, the expedition members have to deal with melting ice, panicked walruses and even an angry polar bear.

The book's got interesting characterization, decent backstory, explosions and even a few fisticuffs. Overall, it makes for a pretty good balance of whale-menace and human-drama stuff.

I can easily give it THREE BLACKFISH BRAINS.

By the way, I'm pretty sure that signature on the cover up top is Ken Barr's. And speaking of covers, I'm always surprised when I do an image search for a book I've read and find a bunch of alternate covers for it. I should be used to it by now, but instead I'm always like "What?! How does that exist?" At any rate, this book was no exception.

Looks like it was published first in the UK (Tonkin's home turf), then in the US, a bunch of times in Spanish and once in Italian. Not a bad run for a first-timer. I couldn't find any Spanish covers, but take a look at these other ones.

UK Hardcover 1979
American Hardcover 1979
UK Paperback 1980
Italian Paperback 1982

And there you have it. Wonder if I'll ever do a review of the other killer-whale-menacing-humans novel. I read it at least once, but it was years ago....

Friday, February 12, 2016

Doc Savage Covered (1933)

(1933) (1934) (1935) (1936) (1937) (1938) (1939) (1940) (1941) (1942) (1943) (1944) (1945) (1946) (1947) (1948) (1949)

To the world at large, Doc Savage is a strange, mysterious figure of glistening bronze skin and golden eyes. To his amazing co-adventurers--the five greatest brains ever assembled in one group--he is a man of superhuman strength and protean genius, whose life is dedicated to the destruction of evil-doers. To his fans he is the greatest adventure hero of all time, whose fantastic exploits are unequaled for hair-raising thrills, breathtaking escapes and blood-curdling excitement.


William Harper Littlejohn, the bespectacled scientist who was the world's greatest living expert on geology and archaeology.

Colonel John Renwick, "Renny,” the favorite sport was pounding his massive fists through heavy, paneled doors.

Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Blodgett Mayfair, “Monk,” only a few inches over five feet tall, and yet over 260 pounds. His brutish exterior concealed the mind of a great scientist.

Major Thomas J. Roberts, “Long Tom,” was the physical weakling of the crowd, but a wizard at electricity.

Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks, slender and waspy, he was never without his ominous, black sword cane.


I first came across Doc Savage in the late 70s, when I was making that awkward jump from elementary-school-kidness to junior-high-school-what-the-hell-am-I-nowness. Since I was also one of those spindly picked on kids (you remember the ones), it was ridiculously easy for me to lose myself in the adventures of a "physical and mental giant" who's whole life revolved around "righting wrongs and punishing evildoers."

Of course I kept on growing up, and it wasn't too long before all that awkwardness was behind me, but I've carried a fondness for Doc Savage with me to this very day. (And how could I not? Doc is darn cool, awkward-age or no-awkward-age.)

So. Doc was invented by Henry Ralston, vice-president of Street & Smith, along with his editor John Nanovic, in 1933. Pulp magazine author Lester Dent wrote most of his adventures (he did at least 150 out of the 181 novels originally produced), under the pen name Kenneth Robeson, and he was the guy who really fleshed out Doc's character and brought him to life. Doc Savage Magazine went for 17 years straight, before finishing up in 1949.

And if 1949 had been the end of it, I'd have never discovered Doc myself. But in the mid 60s, Bantam Books decided to reprint his entire run of pulp novels as paperbacks. It took 'em 30 years, but they got it done, and it was those reprints I found and got so hooked on.

So what I'm doing with this series of posts, is showing off cover art for both the pulps and paperback reprints. They both featured amazing artwork, and I think it's cool to look at 'em side-by-side, to see how the stories were visually represented with such a big time gap. Emery Clarke and Walter Baumhofer did the lion's share of the original covers, and James Bama and Bob Larkin did most of the paperbacks.

What I'll do is go through each novel by year of pulp publication and compare the pulp's cover to the reprint's. Since Bantam didn't reprint the stories in order, those dates will jump around a bit. I'm also including the plot blurbs from the reprints, the pulps didn't feature any to speak of. I don't think I'll do a ton of commentary once I get into the covers themselves, except when something really catches my eye or if I just can't help myself.

And as usual, you can click through images for larger versions, using your browser's back button or keyboard shortcut to get back to the full post.

Now let's get into it.

The Man of Bronze (March 1933 and October 1964) by Lester Dent

High above the skyscrapers of New York, Doc Savage engages in deadly combat with the red-fingered survivors of an ancient, lost civilization. Then, with his amazing crew, he journeys to the mysterious "lost valley" to search for a fabulous treasure and to destroy the mysterious Red Death. 

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: James Bama

Right off the bat you can see how differently Doc is portrayed between the pulps and reprints.

The original stories put Doc at over six-five and very muscular, but proportioned so his size wasn't apparent unless he was next to someone. And I don't think his exact age is ever mentioned, but Philip José Farmer said he was 29 during this first adventure. And he would know, right?

Anyway, the pulp cover here more or less goes along with Doc's print description. The reprint, though, gives us a more obviously muscled and older looking Doc.

And just for fun, here's a look at the 1975 Golden Press cover for Man of Bronze. Golden Press put out a set of six Doc Savage reprints, around the time that God-awful George Pal movie was hitting theaters. The set was marketed to younger readers, and as far as I can tell, all six covers were painted by a fellow named Ben Otero. Anyway, I happened across this set's covers while researching the series' main content, and since they offer a nice contrast I'm throwing them in as we go along.

Artist: Ben Otero

I also happened across Otero's original artwork for this cover. It's almost startling to me, how alive his canvas seems compared to the book's cover, and I like seeing the entire piece as he originally envisioned it.

The Land of Terror (April 1933 and August 1965) by Lester Dent

A vile greenish vapor was all that remained of the first victim of the monstrous Smoke of Eternity. There would be thousands more if Kar, master fiend, had his evil way. Only Doc Savage and his mighty five could stop him. But the corpse-laden trail led to mortal combat with the fiercest killing machines ever invented by nature.

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: Douglas Rosa

This Bantam cover is notable for being the first of only two done by Douglas Rosa.

Quest of the Spider (May 1933 and May 1972) by Lester Dent

Inside the grim, swamp-surrounded "Castle of the Moccasin," the Man of Bronze and his faithful, fearless band are trapped -- perhaps forever -- in an insidious web of evil by a master devil known only as the Gray Spider!

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: Fred Pfeiffer

Fred Pfeiffer did fourteen covers for Bantam. As far as I remember, there are no actual spiders (let alone giant ones) in the story, but you gotta admit that Bantam cover is more exciting than the pulp's is.

Overall, the pulps tended to actually pair covers with story content, while the reprints either took inspiration from the corresponding pulp cover, or just created a purely title-inspired image that had little or nothing to do with the story (like this one).

The Polar Treasure (June 1933 and April 1965) by Lester Dent

Menaced by "the strange clicking danger," Doc Savage and his fabulous five-man army take a desperate journey on a polar submarine in search of a missing ocean liner and a dazzling treasure. Their only clue is a map tattooed on the back of a blind violinist. Awaiting them at their destination is the most terrible killer the Arctic has ever known. 

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: unknown, possibly Lou Feck

Here's another Bantam cover that's more visually exciting than the pulp version. Couldn't track down this Bantam artist, the closest I got was either Lou Feck or James Avati. A couple of fairly authoritative sources said it wasn't Avati, so I'm going with Lou for now (who by the way also did that iconic cover for Jaws 2).

EDIT: Here's a new opinion on the Bantam cover. James Nobel had the following to say (see the comment section all the way at the bottom for more details):
The Polar Treasure is still somewhat of a mystery. What I can say, with some confidence, is that it is not Lou Feck. Lou Feck never painted in that style. My best guess would have to be Frank McCarthy, who was both a friend of Bama's and a Bantam regular. McCarthy had a style of painting that is easy to recognize, and I see that style in the Polar Treasure. The cover reproduction of The Polar Treasure book is pretty bad, and that makes it harder to be sure of anything. Still, Frank McCarthy is the best guess.
So Frank McCarthy, a fantastic artist in his own right, joins the list of possible painters for this one.

Pirate of the Pacific (July 1933 and September 1967) by Lester Dent

Not ships but nations are the prey of the sinister Oriental mastermind, Tom Too. Only Doc Savage and his daring crew stand a chance of saving the world from this figure of evil and his lethal legions. On land and sea, in the weirdest corners of the wide world, Doc and his friends plunge into their wildest adventure -- against their most dangerous foe! 

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: James Bama
In spite of all the action going on with the pulp here, I think I prefer the reprint. That's a classic-looking Doc pose, Bama's got going on there.

The Red Skull (August 1933 and May 1967) by Lester Dent

Into a subterranean world of red-hot lava, Doc Savage and his fantastic five descend -- to face the most fiendish foe of his career. Awaiting Doc is an irresistible power that can level mountains... that can enslave the world... and that threatens to make Doc's most dangerous adventure his very last... 

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: James Bama

I'd guess Bama used the pulp cover for inspiration on this one.

The Lost Oasis (September 1933 and April 1965) by Lester Dent

While seeking to solve the mystery of " the trained vampire murders," Doc Savage and his amazing crew suddenly find themselves prisoners of Sol Yuttal and Hadi-Mot aboard a hijacked Zeppelin. Their deadly destination is a fabulous lost diamond mine guarded by carnivorous plants and monstrous, bloodsucking bats. 

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: Douglas Rosa

And here's the second of Rosa's two Bantam covers. The guy was a talented artist, but neither of his Doc covers do a lot for me.

EDIT: Also a different take on this Bantam cover's artist. (See comments for details.) I'd initially checked a couple of different sources (here and here, if you're interested) before listing Rosa as the artist, but more recently commenter James offered the following:
The French edition of The Lost Oasis has a less cropped version of the painting were you can see [Stanley] Meltzoff's distinctive signature. Meltzoff and Jim Avati were life-long friends. Avati was a regular Bantam artist during the 1960's. My guess is that Avati recommended Stanley Meltzoff to Len Leone to fill in for a honeymooning Bama.
I'm by no means a cover artist expert, so I can't add an opinion to the mix. I do know that multiple sources pointing to the same information don't always mean the information's accurate, and James' statement would be easily verifiable with a French copy, so I'm inclined to go with it myself....

The Sargasso Ogre (October 1933 and July 1967) by Lester Dent

A ruthless attempt on the life of one of Doc's crew thrusts the Man of Bronze and his incomparable companions into a chilling new adventure. From the ancient, skull-lined catacombs of Alexandria to a fantastic sea of floating primitive life where they unravel the centuries-old mystery of the Sargasso, Doc Savage and his men once more pursue the perverse agents of evil! 

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: James Bama

Here's one where I think the pulp is actually more dynamic than the reprint. But what the reprint cover lacks in dynamism, it makes up for in mood, which is something a lot of the Bantams tend to have going for them.

This was also one of the six Golden Press titles, with Ben Otero doing it's cover as well. Looks like Otero might have used Bama's cover for inspiration....

Artist: Ben Otero

The Czar of Fear (November 1933 and March 1968) by Lester Dent

DOC SAVAGE IS ACCUSED OF MURDER! The bronze giant battles police, thugs, and a macabre foe in a spectacular struggle to save a city from total desolation. The Arch Enemy of Evil pits his tremendous resources against the grisly and mysterious Green Bell -- the sinister hooded figure whose deadly genius threatens to destroy Doc and drive thousands of innocent people mad! 

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: James Bama

Wow, looks like Bama almost reproduced this pulp cover stroke for stroke. Okay, not quite, but these two are pretty damn similar. amiright?

The Phantom City (December 1933 and March 1966) by Lester Dent

Arabian thieves led by the diabolically clever Molallet set one fiendish trap after another for Doc Savage and his mighty five. Only "Doc," with his superhuman mental and physical powers, could have withstood this incredible ordeal of endurance which led from the cavern of the crying rock through the pitiless desert of Rub' Al Khali and its Phantom City to a fight to the death against the last of a savage prehistoric race of white-haired beasts. 

Artist: Walter BaumhoferArtist: James Bama

And we end Doc's first year of publication with another set of covers that really show the difference in Doc's physicality between the two eras. Since I grew up with the Bantam covers, and it was years before I even saw any of the pulp art, Pulp Doc has always come across as a bit anemic looking to me. (Even if he does fit the descriptions printed in the stories better than Bantam Doc ever did.)

And there you have it. One year down, sixteen to go...

...this is gonna take awhile, isn't it?

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Norliss Tapes (1973)

So, The Norliss Tapes was a 1973 TV movie developed and directed by Dan Curtis, same guy who did The Night Stalker telefilm the year before. This movie took the same premise (paranormal-investigating journalist) and tried to give it a slightly different flavor. (A blander one, in my opinion.)

Don't get me wrong, it was more than competently done, for a 70s TV movie, and kept me watching into the end credits. But I am gonna say Roy Thinnes portrayed a painfully dull David Norliss. And while I know it's bad form, I couldn't help comparing him to Darren McGavin in The Night Stalker, and I'm afraid he didn't compare very well.

I know, it seems everyone wants to compare this film unfavorably to The Night Stalker, and it's not particularly fair to this movie or to Dan Curtis. But let's face it, when you create something as amazing as The Night Stalker, everything else you do tends to get held up next to it.

And I confess I was doing some of that as I watched this. Anyway, enough TNS-meandering. Let me give you a rundown of this little movie. It basically goes like this:

San Francisco investigative journalist David Norliss gets a call from his publisher, Sanford Evans, who wants to know how his new book is coming along. Norliss acts all weird over the phone, saying he doesn't think he can write the book (it's basically on how various supernatural phenomena are faked). He asks to meet with Evans, so they arrange that, but Norliss never shows up.

So then Evans heads over to Norliss' house and finds it empty. He knows Norliss always records his notes on cassette tapes (hence the movie's title), so he sticks a tape marked "1" in the player and sits down to have a listen, and the rest of the movie is in flashback.

Seems Norliss has been asked by Marsha Sterns to talk to her sister, Ellen Cort. Ellen says she just saw her recently deceased husband, sculptor Jim Cort, in his studio last night. She says he killed the family German Shepard right before Ellen let him have it with her shotgun, after which she ran like hell.

Norliss takes the case. He and Ellen go back to the studio that afternoon to check things out. There's lots of blood (the dog's), but when they check the family crypt, Jim is right there where he should be, looking quite dead. We get a close up of this ancient Egyptian ring, that Ellen says Jim got from a shop owner in town not too long before he died. He insisted he be buried with it on his finger. Norliss pays a visit to the shop owner, Mme. Jeckiel, who acts all cagey, telling him she has no idea what he's talking about but warning him to stay away from the studio anyway. (Suspicious.)

Meanwhile, other deaths are occurring in the area where victims are being drained of blood, and local Sheriff Tom Hartley is trying to keep that weirdness away from the press. So he's not too happy when Norliss comes snooping around, and he stonewalls him. Norliss finds out everything anyway, and decides there must be a connection between these other deaths and Dead Jim. (And he's right.)

The next time Norliss and Ellen visit the studio, it's night and they find an almost finished life-size statue of a demon, sculpted in a weird reddish clay. It's so weird, Norliss decides to take a sample for analysis. About this time Dead Jim shows up and tries to kill them, but Norliss runs over him in his car--twice--and they get away. When they bring the cops back, there's no sign of Jim in or out of his coffin. Well, it turns out that clay is 40% comprised of human blood, and now we know why there are blood drained corpses showing up all over.

About this time, Ellen's sister Marsha shows up long enough to get killed by Dead Jim, in what is easily the best scene in the movie. It's storming hard, and Marsha hears something outside her motel window. She walks slooowly toward it, draws back the curtain, and [GAHHH!] there's rain-streaked Dead Jim, who proceeds to jump through the window and kill her. (He must still need a little more blood for his statue.)

Anyway, Mme. Jeckiel finally spills the beans and confesses she helped Jim set himself up to become immortal. That ring he was buried with allows his corpse to rise from the grave by night, and said corpse is sculpting a body for this demon named Sargoth to possess and inhabit. Once Sargoth is loose and wreaking havoc on our physical plane, Dead Jim will lose the corpse-look and get to be Alive Forever Jim as his reward. (I'm guessing at this point Ellen is thinking something along the lines of it's the people you think you know the best that you actually don't know at all.)

Not to worry, Mme. Jeckiel says, all they have to do is remove that ring from Dead Jim's finger before he awakens at sundown and everything'll be okay.

Problem is, it's nearly sundown now....

Of course, they're too late and Mme. Jeckiel gets killed for her trouble.

Norliss arrives about this time and, having figured things out on his own, has a big vial of blood he uses to make a blood circle around Dead Jim and Sargoth, just as Sargoth is coming to life. Due to magic-blood-circle-mumbo-jumbo, both Dead Jim and Sargoth are trapped inside it. Chaos ensues and both supernatural bad guys are destroyed as the studio burns down.

We (the audience) return to Evans listening at the tape machine, and as he picks up tape #2, he ponders what tale of terror might be recorded on it. (A question we'll never know the answer to because NBC never greenlit the movie into a series.)

And that's it. Credits roll.

Not a bad little movie by any stretch. And as for Norliss being a dull lead character, it seems to me Dan Curtis must have looked at his Kolchak from the year before, and gone polar opposite for Norliss. Kolchak was seedy, usually destitute, with fairly questionable morals; Norliss was successful, affluent, and a straight arrow. Trouble for me was, Kolchak was more fun to watch.

Which reminds me, this movie was chock full of people I'd "seen somewhere before," and IMDB was kind enough to let me know just where (when I didn't already remember):

Roy The Invaders Thinnes as David Norliss
Don Gidget Porter as Sanford T. Evans
Angie Police Woman Dickinson as Ellen Sterns Cort
Nick Futureworld (best I could come up with) Dimitri as James Raymond Cort
Claude Sheriff Lobo Akins as Sheriff Tom Hartley
Michele Six Million Dollar Man Carey as Marsha Sterns
Vonetta Blacula McGee as Mme. Jeckiel
Bob Gymkata Schott as Sargoth

As for the Brain Count, maybe this film isn't quite The Night Stalker, but it's a fun little ride all on it's own. I'm giving it THREE 40%-HUMAN-BLOOD BRAINS.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Marvel Novel Series Covered

I actually wrote a little about these books back in 2008, which you're welcome to read (especially if you've always wondered what a Sampasumb is).

But just the other day I had the books out again, waxing nostalgic, and thought "Man, some of these covers are pretty good." And then I thought "How many people remember these things were even around, back in the day?"

And so here we are.

Now... I know I say this almost every time and it's almost always a lie, but I think this post really will be shorter on the word count. I'm mostly just looking at covers, so any 70s kids out there who might have been fond of the series can take a quick tour down memory lane.

So, the series was put out by Pocket Books. At least, all the books have "A Kangaroo Book - Published by Pocket Books New York" on the title page, and a little capital "P" with a kangaroo next to it as a logo. As far as I know, Pocket Books is/was a Simon and Schuster imprint, even though their website doesn't list it as one. And Wikipedia lists as its official website, but the link is currently dead. So I guess I'm not sure. I did an image search for the logo itself, but couldn't even find an exact version of that.

Well, here's a camera phone picture, in case you're interested:

I know, you were burning with curiosity.

Anyway, there were eleven books in the series, and they were published between March 1978 and October 1979. This was right in the middle of Marvel's late 70s television heyday, with Spider-Man and The Hulk having series in full swing, and both Captain America and Dr. Strange at least hoping for series as well. And several of these books have the privilege of being the very first novel ever written for a particular character, so that's noteworthy right there.

Okay, enough chit-chat. My plan is to put each front and back cover up, then offer whatever comes to mind about the cover or book as a whole. Which for most of these probably won't be much. It's been twenty or thirty years since I've read most of 'em, and there's not a lot rattling around in my brain at this point, certainly not enough to give each book a Brain Count. (Well, plenty rattling around my brain, just not much about these books specifically.)

So here we go.

First in the series was Mayhem in Manhattan, and it featured Spider-Man. Good choice for a first book: even if his TV series was struggling (with good reason), Spider-Man has always been one of Marvel's bread and butter characters, and he was huge in the 70s.

Most of these books have artist-signed covers, and this one does, too. But it was signed in dark blue over an almost-as-dark background, and it's teeny-tiny to boot. But me and my trusty magnifying glass are pretty sure the signature on it is Bob Larkin's: He did a lot of the other covers, this one fits his style, and the tiny little blurry signature here is the same general shape as his more discernible signatures on the other books. So I'm giving it to him.

Of special note to me: Bob Larkin is one of the artists who worked on the Bantam Doc Savage covers. And I'm pretty sure you'll be seeing some Doc Savage around here soon, if the old rumor mill is at all accurate. (And it is.)

Anyway, feast your eyes on this cover. And feel free to click through (on all of these) for a super-big-gigantic image with more detail.

Cover by Bob Larkin. I think.

Marvel is making sure we know this is Spidey's very first novel by calling that out on both front and back covers. And the book's back cover sets a tone for the whole series, being filled with that cheesy 70s Marvel copy we all love to hate (I do, anyway).

The book was written by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, both big names in the 1970s Marvel world. And I know I've read it, but it was a long time ago and I can't even comment on what lies between the covers at this point.

Snappy 70s Marvel Patter.

The series' second book wisely featured Marvels other big name at the time (as far as non-comic book aficionados were concerned): The Incredible Hulk. Like Spider-Man, this was Hulk's first novel. I can't for the life of me see any kind of signature on the cover, so nothing to share on that. I will say the person who did this cover probably wasn't the same person doing the next one, on account of The Hulk looking so different between the two. This cover has a cool look, though.

[Edit: For what it's worth, SFE has Bob Larkin down as the cover artist. I didn't find anything to back that up anywhere else, but....]

Mystery Artist, going for a slightly less muscular, slightly more
realistic Hulk than you tended to see in comics of the day.

Anyway, this one was also written by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, with the addition of Joseph Silva as a third author.

I was just about to tell you I couldn't find anything on Silva, when I chanced upon a reader's comment from another blog: Turns out Joseph Silva was one of Ron Goulart's (many) pseudonyms. I don't know Goulart from Adam, and it looks like he published most of his work under pen names, but there you go. Mystery solved.

My vague recollections of this book are mostly around the idea they tried to take 70s Comic-Hulk and directly transfer him to prose, which didn't really work that well. 70s-Comic-Hulk was great on the comics page, but all that "Hulk Smash!" stuff fell a little flat with no visuals to back it up.

An instant collector's item: The Hulk's first full-length novel!

Cry of the Beast was the third book in the series, and it was my favorite by far. Part of that, of course, was due to Hulk being my favorite Marvel character, period. But since I didn't care as much for the other Hulk books in this series, it can't have been the only reason. Ric Meyers was this book's sole author, so I'm giving all the credit to him. What he really did was melded 70s-Comic-Hulk and 70s-TV-Hulk into a more original creation that worked better in a prose format.

Meyers' Hulk was taller and lighter than in the comics, standing eight feet high and weighing 800 pounds (versus the comic's seven feet and 1000 pounds). He never spoke, except once to repeat his name. He didn't jump miles into the air or leap across continents--a twenty or thirty foot hop was more in line for this Hulk. He even ended up sustaining a few (admittedly minor) injuries as the story moved along, and that never seemed to happen to Comic-Hulk in the 70s. The book's overall storyline was toned down, too: No aliens or super-powered villains running around, just Banner/Hulk getting caught up in various human affairs. They were global-scaled human affairs, but still just human affairs.

...his fingers burst through the cool marble tiles. 
He came up directly in the middle of the guards.

This is the only book that held up really well for me when I went back and reread the series as an adult. Truth be known, I still pull this out every every few years for a quick reread. As far as the cover is concerned, I don't have a clue on the artist; there's no signature on it I can see. That's some great art though, huh? I wonder if Larkin did this one, after all.

This was the first book in the series that was numbered and given the little "Marvel Novel Series" blurb in the upper left corner, and also the first with the diagonal banner going across the top with the book's title in it. All the other books would have this, but later books would also incorporate the author into the banner, instead of having it at the bottom like this one.

And, in this book, you get to see The Hulk take on a rhinoceros.
No way to turn that down.

So book four featured Captain America in his second novel (the first being this one, in 1968). This book was also written by Joseph Silva, aka Ron Goulart, but all on his own this time. Although the title page does say the book was "packaged and edited" by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. (Actually, most of the books say this, but I'm not sure what all it entailed.) At any rate, cover art was by Dave Cockrum, best known for work he did on The X-Men.

I am running from a giant floating head! Aieee!!!
Unlike Cap, I am not a living legend of World War Two.
Or any kind of legend, really....

Book number 5 featured The Fantastic Four, who were my brother's favorites back in the day, if not mine. I did always like Ben Grimm because he could (try to) take on The Hulk. In fact, I'm pretty sure if you had a time machine, and went back far enough, you might see a couple of brothers playing Hulk versus Thing in their back yard. Pretty sure.

A pretty standard grouping for these folks.
70s Thing always looked a little 2-D to me....

This one is also the FFs very first novel, with Marv Wolfman as its author. Who the cover artists are isn't quite as clear, though. There are two signatures, the first one I can read as being "Buscema." Now, there were two Buscema brothers who worked for Marvel back in the day, John and Sal.

But I'm giving this credit to John, just because his "notable works" included a long run on The Fantastic Four and his brother's didn't. I'm only guessing. The other signature here looks like "Lebger," or something like it, but I couldn't find anything searching that name or permutations of it. So I guess this second artist will have to remain a mystery for now.

I would've killed to see a Hulk versus Thing novel in this series....
"Killed" is a strong word for it, I guess....

The sixth book featured Iron Man in his first full-length novel. It was written by William Rotsler, who had the distinction of being a Hugo Award winning science fiction author, as well as a noted pornographer. You learn something new every day. Cover art here is by Bob Larkin.

That Hugo belongs to me!
No! It's mine and you can't have it!
We A.I.M to please!
(Did I really just write that?)

The seventh book was also by Rotsler, and featured Doctor Strange. I'm not a huge fan of the whole mystical thing, in general. (Although I will happily go see the upcoming movie with Benedict Cumberbatch. I'm a big fan of both Cumberbatch and the MCU.) Anyway, the novel had him going up against Nightmare, a demon who influences people's dreams and psychically feeds on their terror. Oh, this book is also Dr. Strange's first ever novel. And once more, Bob Larkin did the cover.

Am I a bad man if this cover reminds me of Rarity from My Little Pony?
Am I a bad man because I even know who Rarity is?
That's awesome: "A soul-chilling tale of terror... terror that could be YOURS!"
Right out of the pulps--makes me think of The Spider, in particular.

Next on the list is Crime Campaign, another Spidey novel by Paul Kupperberg. Kupperberg has written, well, gazillions of things, and he spent fifteen years editing over at DC Comics. This book has Spider-Man matching wits (and fists) with The Kingpin, one of his big comic book nemeses, and I remember it being pretty decent. Cover artist? You guessed it: Bob Larkin. (Another great cover.)

Taking on Spider-Man whilst keeping cigar lit and suit coat unruffled.
(And this cover features our second giant-floaty-head of the series....)
Spidey being hunted for a crime he didn't commit? Shocking!

Marvel broke tradition with this next book, by doing a short story anthology versus a novel. The Marvel Superheroes featured The Hulk, The Avengers, The X-Men and Daredevil, and each story clocked in around 50 pages or so. Here's the breakdown:
The Avengers go up against Ultron, Daredevil takes on The Owl, The X-Men match wits with Magneto, and The Hulk (and Man-Thing) deal with The Collector. (Yes, it was hard coming up with four different ways of saying "X battles Y" in one sentence. In case you were wondering.)

Hulk looks stoned. Am I right?
These stories might be the first time Daredevil and The X-Men were ever presented in prose.
I couldn't find anything that said otherwise.

Book 10 in the series was actually the third time The Avengers were part of a prose tale. (That short story in the last book was their second outing.)

The very first Avengers novel was published way back in 1967 (same year I was born--now that's old). I happened to stumble across the novel in a used bookstore several years back, but haven't actually read it yet. Apparently it wasn't just the first Avengers novel, it was also the first novel featuring any Marvel character. Quite a claim to fame, huh?

Anyway. Since this post isn't really about that earlier book, I'm adding an image (it was published by Bantam Books, same folks who would do Doc Savage) but keeping it small and to the side. You can click to enlarge the image and see the cover in all its glory. (And it is glorious.)

So this particular novel was written by David Michelinie, who's best known for his work on Iron Man (apparently he was the one who gave Stark his alcohol problem). He also did long stints writing for Spider-Man and Superman comics. Dave Cockrum is the cover artist. The novel itself is has The Avengers taking on Kang the Conqueror.

Kang the Conqueror is all about time travel, and this book has plenty of that.
I finished this book like there was no tomorrow! (Get it?)

And here we are: last book of the series. It's only fitting, with the first two books featuring Spider-Man and Hulk, we should finish things up with the two of them as well. The story here has Hulk being mind controlled by some non-canonical bad guys, Spidey figuring out what's going on, having a skirmish or two with mind controlled Hulk, freeing him of said control and the two of them cleaning up on the bad guys. It was written by Paul Kupperberg, who also did Crime Campaign, with Bob Larkin doing the cover art.

Pretty sure Spider-Man would be dead, with Hulk's hand around his neck like that.
Even if Hulk didn't actually mean to, strong as he is, bones would be cracking.
Space station thinly disguised with fictional name: Skylab.

And we're done! (Yay!) That was a little shorter word count than I've done in the past. Wasn't it? Come on, it was eleven full length novels, for crying out loud. I did good.

Till next time.