MAD MAX meets YOJIMBO is the best…hell, the only way to describe this 1984 Dell paperback original. After THE ROAD WARRIOR was an enormous international box office hit, movie screens and book shelves were flooded with post-apocalyptic rip-offs that usually detailed one man's struggle to survive in a world without law, fashion sense, and air conditioning. FIRST, YOU FIGHT by D.B. Drumm kicked off a series of quickie novels about the mysterious Traveler and his various desert adventures.
Drumm is said to have been either John Shirley, Ed Naha, or both. Naha is credited with the book's copyright, and the writing seems consistent with his work, though I haven't read any Shirley. Naha's film reference books confirm that he certainly must have seen the Mad Max movies and, if not YOJIMBO, then certainly A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, the Italian Clint Eastwood western that cribs its storyline.
Traveler, who roams what's left of the American West nearly two decades after an atomic war that devastated the world, drives his customized and booby-trapped minivan (nicknamed the Meat Wagon) into a small town ruled by rivaling bosses, Milland and Aikens. Both men, who were probably dull middle-management types before the explosions, have managed to recruit private armies and strike a balance of power that gives each an equal share of the raping, pillaging, and looting of the town. Local business owners live in fear. Most of the town's young women, including the daughter of the alcoholic ex-mayor, are captives.
Traveler is recruited by each ruler to join his empire, and in turn uses his combat-sharpened wiles to turn both sides against each other and help the innocent townspeople fight for their freedom. It's a simple story told with precision if not grace. The 175 pages trot along rapidly, and although Drumm isn't one for lengthy descriptors or detailed character pieces, your familiarity with the stock characters and plot helps keep the story clear. Violence is rapid, but not graphic, and one suspects FIRST, YOU FIGHT could have been an entertaining low-budget film, if there hadn't already been dozens just like it.
Little is known about Traveler, except that he lost his wife and child in the holocaust, but Drumm develops an ongoing subplot that one assumes is paid off later in the Dell series. While serving in combat in Central America, he and his three buddies were dosed with a chemical that heightens his senses somewhat. Part of what keeps Traveler going is his search for his war pals and an explanation for what happened to them. Here, he learns that one of his friends had passed through the town some months earlier, motivating Traveler to keep going.