East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Vengeance, Unlimited.

One starts thinking about pulp tv shows, and soon finds himself at the end of a very short list.
But maybe it’s just a matter of looking sharply at old series.

Now, when I think about pulp, I think chiefly about adventure pulpIndiana Jones sort of stuff.
But there was much more, to the pulps, than Indy-style adventures.

What about the great avengers of pulp fiction?
The Shadow, The Spider, the aptly named Avenger, with his Justice Inc.

Well, at the end of the twentieth century, two writers and producers, John McNamara and David Simkins, created a show for ABC, updating those avengers of old.
The show was called Vengeance Unlimited, and it featured Michael Madsen in the role of the deceptively suave, and downright menacing Mr Chapell.

The premise is simple – if you have a problem, and the forces of Law and Order cannot help you, you can hire Mr Chapell.
For one million dollars, your problem will become his problem.
And he will solve it.
If you do not have one million handy, there’s an alternative deal – you agree to owe Mr Chapell a single favor.
He will call you.
He will tell you what to do.
You’ll do it, and you’ll be free of any other obligation.

The show is a tight, unusual crime drama – the stories are ingenious, the set-up is classy, and Mr Chapell, who “once had a very bad Monday” is a wonderful mix of ice-cold logic and of scary madness; and admittedly, few actors out there can do scary-mad-but-nice better than Michael Madsen.
The character has obvious debts with the Shadow (the “I saved you, now you’re mine” premise), with the Spider (the over-the-top gusto with which Mr Chapell hits – phisically and psichologically – his foes) and with the Avenger (the hinted trauma in the main character’s past, the idea of a corporation devoted to justice, or vengeance).

English: Head shot of actress Kathleen YorkThe cast includes a lot of well respected TV stalwarts, and Kathleen York, as the only other recurring character, is an unusual foil for Madsen.
The nocturnal sets, the quiet of suburbia being shattered by crime and violence, the humor and the spirit of the series marked this as an excellent show, one that should have been allowed to find its legs and start running.
But once again, the show did not last long, and after just sixteen one-hour episodes, the series was canceled.

Was it the violence?
Was it the idea of a hero acting outside of the law, to hit those bad guys who could work the system against itself and evade normal justice?
I do not know.
But as someone that once had a very bad Monday myself, I always loved this show, and its intelligent update of a classic pulp standard.


Lazarus Gray and my weekend plans

laz3coverMy plans for the weekend (including the updating of this blog) went belly up when Pro Se Press released, early this week, the third volume in Barry Reese‘s The Adventures of┬áLazarus Gray series.
As soon as I was aware of the book’s availability, I grabbed myself a copy (ebooks are just great – they are cheap and there’s no waiting for the postman!) and shelved every other project for a while.
The fun bit being, after all I can file the hours spent reading this baby as “research” (but more on that later).

For the uninitiated, Lazarus Gray is the central character in Barry Reese’s series of pulp stories set in Sovereign City in the 1930s, and featuring crime-busting, evil-thwarting team, Assistance Unlimited.
An obvious, heartfelt homage to such Lester Dent classics as Doc Savage and The Avenger, Lazarus Gray is a man of mystery and action – his past gone, he swears to bring justice to the city, and assistance to anyone in need.
And so he does.

The Lazarus Gray stories feature all the classic pulp elements – the stalwart, omnicompetent hero, his varied team of quirky assistants, a choice of villains, thrilling locations, superscience, ancient mysteries, the supernatural…
In a proper new pulp twist, Mr Reese approaches his materials with a modern sensibility, sidestepping the trap of political correctedness by providing us with a fresh, modern, intelligent take on “delicate” issues such as gender, race, politics.
This is pulp like in the days of old, but without the outdated and unpleasent biases of our grandfathers.

The third book picks up where the earlier entry in the series (Die Glocke) left off, and shows us that the universe in which the characters move is still evolving – there’s big changes in the air, there’s lots of stuff happening, old enemies are back in the game, new enemies are in, too.
The author’s willingness to let his characters grow, change and mutate is another element of fun and interest in the series. There is a dynamic quality, in Sovereign City and its denizens, that keeps the reader’s attention up.

This is new pulp as it’s meant to be, and to me, the Lazarus Gray stories are an almost perfect template of how it’s done – they are complex, tightly-plotted, hard-hitting, fun.
There’s a lot to learn, here, for someone trying to crack the genre.
That’s why I file ’em not as entertainment, but as research.

The ebook edition of the third volume in the series – which goes by the title of Eidolon, but let’s not spoil the fun by revealing more – also includes a short, gorgeous comic and a selection of black and white illustrations.
Not bad, for something like 3 euros.

There’s too little of it – the Lazarus Gray stories are a fast, fun read, and the new book’s over way too soon.

All in all, a highly entertaining, intelligent, stimulating read.
The whole series is highly recommended.