During the 1970s, you couldn't pass through a drug store, grocery store, gas station, or truck stop without encountering a rack of trashy paperback novels. Most of them were written quickly with little regard for literary value and aimed at undiscerning male readers looking for titillation in the form of sex and violence.
Jumping briefly on the men's adventure bandwagon were Pocket Books and Marvel Comics, who teamed to create a series of novels based on Marvel's collection of costumed heroes and villains. Pocket approached Marv Wolfman and Len Wein, who were not only among the most prolific and popular comic book writers of the era, but had also each served a stint as Marvel's editor-in-chief, to write them.
After finishing the first, a Spider-Man novel, in a month, the duo realized they couldn't possibly write a dozen of them. They massaged the deal with Pocket, so that they would just package the novels, which meant they would hire and supervise the various authors.
One of the writers Wein and Wolfman approached was Ron Goulart, a science fiction author and historian who ended up publishing the fourth in the Marvel Novel Series (as Pocket had categorized it) under the name Joseph Silva. Packed behind a stunning painted cover by Dave Cockrum, Goulart's 1979 Captain America novel, HOLOCAUST FOR HIRE, must stand as one of the series' highlights.
Goulart wastes little time with characterization as he jumps right into the story, which finds Captain America's old foe, the Red Skull, masterminding another plot to conquer the world. The Skull has kidnapped an American scientist, Dr. Crandall, and his daughter Caroline, and forced Crandall to build a powerful earthquake-causing sonic ray. Captain America and his ally, S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury, follow Skull's path of destruction to Texas, Vermont, and eventually to an elaborate base on a remote South Pacific island.
Also along on the adventure are a pair of bickering journalists, Jake Sheridan and Amanda Twain, whose subplot seems superfluous, as neither affects the main story at all or meets the main characters until everyone reaches Skull's island. They don't even exist as someone for the heroes to rescue, as the doctor and his daughter already have that position filled. Perhaps Goulart was testing the romantic duo as possible spinoff characters.
HOLOCAUST FOR HIRE pauses between the many fights, tortures, and rescues to provide well-drawn flashbacks to the origins of Captain America and the Red Skull, which help fill in the blanks for uninitiated readers. Anyone looking for sleazy thrills will be disappointed, but I don't think it's the place of a Captain America novel to deliver sadism or sex. Goulart's dialogue sounds too comic-book-y, even for this, but HOLOCAUST FOR HIRE is a brisk, entertaining read that remains true to its characters.
And if you don't like the book, you can just stare at Cockrum's blisteringly badass cover.