Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Wanted: Dead Only

The Butcher is one of my favorite men's adventure heroes to come along in the wake of the Executioner's amazing success for Pinnacle Books. The Butcher is a real hardass named Bucher, whose twinge of conscience spurred him to step down from his post as the Mafia's head of East Coast operations and spend the rest of his life atoning for his past evils by joining a super-secret government organization called White Hat and fighting the Mob. Since nobody, but nobody, leaves the Mafia and lives, the Syndicate places a $100,000 bounty on Bucher's head, which somebody in each book tries to earn, but fails hard.

Pinnacle's first Butcher adventure, 1971's KILL QUICK OR DIE, is nicely summarized by James Reasoner on his blog, which you can read here for a second opinion (or a first, since I agree with everything he says about it). White Hat sends the Butcher (sometimes derogatorily called "Butchy-roo" or "Butchy-boy" by the baddies, just before they hear the "koosh" of Bucher's silenced Walther…) to Egypt to find a Red Chinese scientist named Dr. Fong, who has fallen into the hands of Mafioso Frankie Lobertini, who is also smuggling wealthy Arabs into the United States by selling them false American citizenship papers. It's kind of a weird plot—actually, it's about three weird plots in one—like author Stuart Jason was switching from one to the other after getting bored every fifty pages.

It's interesting how few of these men's adventure series gave anything more to lip service to the hero's origin. You would expect the first book of a series to go into great detail about the star's backstory, his home life, the violent tragedy that led him to dedicate his life to exterminating evil. That's what would happen if these books were written today. Since earlier publishers understood that origin stories are inherently dull, series like the Executioner, the Butcher, the Penetrator, the Sharpshooter, etc. open with the hero already on his life's mission. The hows and whys are generally dealt with in a few pages, sometimes as a brief prologue, which is for the best. I don't really need to know why Bucher is fighting the Mafia or the intricacies of his recruitment into White Hat. He does, he was, and let's get on with the bloodshed.

Speaking of, KILL QUICK OR DIE is the most gruesome Butcher novel I've read so far. Jason goes into great detail describing the mutilated bodies and the sadism Lobertini leaves behind, and one gunsel's encounter with a 5-year-old boy is a shocker. The point is to accentuate the sick nature of the Mafia, and every bad guy featured in KILL QUICK OR DIE is not only a pervert or a sadist, but is also physically described as homely or deformed in some way.

It looks as though Stuart Jason may have been James Dockery, who used the Jason pseudonym on a series of lurid plantation novels for Lancer just before the Butcher series started in 1971. Apparently, Dockery wrote most of the first couple dozen Butchers with Lee Floren, who wrote tons of westerns and some softcore porn, contributing a couple and Michael Avallone writing the last nine.

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