Black Fedora

Black FedoraAuthors: B.C. Bell / Phillip Drayer Duncan / Kevin Paul Shaw Broden
Publisher: Pro Se Productions
Published: September 2013

Any story, is only as good as its villain. But what happens when the story is twisted a bit, so the villain becomes the star of the show, rather than the hero? I am not talking about the Joker, Darth Vader or Blofeld. They exist as foils for their heroic counterparts, Batman, Luke Skywalker and James Bond. I am talking about the really bad guys who overshadow the goodness and light heroes – such as Fu Manchu, Dr. Mabuse or Fantomas.

Adopting the same approach – where the villain is the hero – comes Black Fedora – a compendium of three tales where the villain is the star attraction. The first tale, Sometimes They Pay in Bullets, written by B.B. Bell, is a noirish crime tale that would appeal to people who like Richard Stark’s (Donald Westlake) Parker series, Terrence McCauley’s Prohibition – or films like High Sierra (with Humphrey Bogart) or Point Blank (with Lee Marvin).

The villain in question is a man named Keller. As the story begins, Keller returns to an un-named gambling town and immediately is caught up in a turf war between two mobsters, Fabian and O’Hannoran. But Keller is not the type to align with anybody for long. He is out for himself. The story features gunfights, corrupt cops, bent politicians and a dame with a hidden agenda.

The second entry is The Warden, written by Phillip Drayer Duncan, and it is extremely different in tone and style to the first. It is a wise-cracking super-hero story. Sorry, let me rephrase that – super villain story.

The Warden, of the title, is a villain whose specialty is capturing super heroes and locking them away in a purpose built prison. This story sees him taking on Mr. Elusive in a smackdown battle in the heart of the city. The Warden is a blast from first word to last.

Rounding out the collection is The Man Who Stole Manhattan by Kevin Paul Shaw Broden, which is a steampunk adventure (with a dash of the Rocketeer thrown in for good measure). The villain is the Maestro Mechanic – who, as the title would imply, steals Manhattan.

If I have a criticism of the book (and other readers may think this is of little consequence – and may in fact be a strength) is that each of the stories are so very different. Aside from the central villainous thread, the book doesn’t feel cohesive to me. Please Note: That is not a criticism of the stories, but the package. I can imagine readers who enjoy the tough noirish thrills in Sometime They Pay in Bullets being slightly perturbed as they roll onto the lighter, wise-cracking story, The Warden. But maybe that is just me? But moving away from my curious peccadilloes, put simply, in Black Fedora, there is crime noir story, a super hero story, and a steampunk story. If you enjoy these genres, then there’s no reason you wouldn’t enjoy the book.

As advertised, the bad guys are front and center and determined to do things their way – and heaven help any lawman who gets in their way.

Here’s the press-release from Pro Se.

Welcome to the dark side. BLACK FEDORA holds stories where the hero is the villain and one person’s crime is another person’s glory. Get ready to step out of the light and take a tour of various underworlds with three tales that give a steely-eyed look at what secrets lurk beneath the BLACK FEDORA.

This exciting anthology consists of tales by B. C. Bell, Phillip Drayer Duncan, and Kevin Paul Shaw Broden and a stunning cover by the best Pulp Artist today, Douglas Klauba! Edited by Brad Mendel and Mark Beaulieu with cover design and print formatting by Sean Ali and Ebook formatting by Russ Anderson, BLACK FEDORA is so good it’s criminal.

“Villains,” Tommy Hancock, Pro Se Productions’ Editor in Chief and Partner in the company, states, “fascinate us. Since the beginning of storytelling, no tale is complete without the bad guy or gal. They capture our imagination so much that we have this almost insatiable need to turn them into the hero, even going as far as justifying the villain’s actions. From penny dreadfuls that made Billy the Kid an upstanding defender of widows and orphans to the almost fanatical fandom for types such as J. R. Ewing, villains speak to all of us.”

“In Pulp, though, the Villain didn’t necessarily ascend to Hero status. From Fu Manchu to Doctor Death (both of them), the villain, though he may have stated reasons his cause was just, was a bad guy. That’s what BLACK FEDORA is all about. Yes, it brings the evildoer to the forefront, but it doesn’t strip the character of its purpose, of its design. The bad guys in these pages are as bad as they come. Fortunately we have their stories told by three of the best writers in Genre Fiction today. This collection at least allows us all to vicariously cheer for the villain and for a little while wear the BLACK FEDORA.”

Black Fedora

The Bodyguard (1973 / 1976)

bodyguard_1976_poster_01Country: Japan
Starring: Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, Aaron Banks, Judy Lee, Bill Louie
Director: Tatsuichi Takamori (1973)
Director: Simon Nuchtern (1976)
Cinematographer: Joel Shapiro
Music: Maurice Sarli
Producer: Susumu Yoshikawa (1973)
Producer: Terry Levene (1976)
AKA: Chiba The Bodyguard, Viva Chiba
Original Title: Karate Kiba

Sometimes in this day and age it is easy to forget how videotapes, DVD and Blu-ray have changed the way we watch movies, especially coupled with the search and buying options available through the internet. As a young boy growing up in rural Australia, I had no inkling of the films of Sonny Chiba. The were certainly not given a drive-in release in my home town, and were never going to turn up on commercial television at that time.

The interesting thing here, is that if Chiba had been available to me, it most likely would not be in the format I am used to today. Now this is not intended as a product endorsement — more to illustrate the way I am used to seeing Chiba film — down under there is a company called Madman, that has an off-shoot called Eastern Eye which specialises in Asian cinema. There films are gorgeously presented in widescreen and they often plum for the original language audio, with English subtitles for their releases. There are exceptions, such as the Godzilla films where they give you the option of subs or dub. But generally they serve up pretty authentic releases, served up the way the films were originally meant to be seen. Some of their Chiba releases have included Bullet Train, Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment, The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge and two of the Yakuza Deka films. All these films look great; are hip and funky in a ’70s kind of way, and suggested a certain style in a Chiba movie — that being tough crime films with a serve of high impact martial arts.

Bodyguard8Of course there is more to the story of Chiba, and these films only whetted my appetite for more of Chiba’s unique kind of thrills. Next I tracked down a film called Satomi Hakken Den (Legend of the Eight Samurai) directed by the chameleon Kinji Fukasaku. As much as I enjoyed Satomi Hakken Den – especially the giant Muppet centipede – what intrigued me more on the disk were the trailers for other Chiba features. One of these features was G.I. Samurai and the trailer suggests it is the story of a band of modern combat soldiers, led by Chiba, who slip through a crack in time and land in the middle of a turf war between two warring clans in feudal times. My jaw dropped, and I audibly exclaimed “Hell, yeah!” This is a film I need in my life.

Next, independently, Keith at Teleport City reviewed Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope. Once again, that little voice in my head shouted “Hell, yeah — this is a film that I need in my life.” And at that point, I sadly realised I knew nothing about Chiba, and I had to dig deeper. Those pristine, widescreen prints were going to be a thing of the past. All I knew was my viewing was going to consist of murky second generation dupes, and it was going to get bloody. First stop…The Bodyguard (well almost!)

Bodyguard7Before I started watching The Bodyguard there was a not-so-subtle hint that my world of Chiba was going to change. Firstly I went to ‘special features’ on the disk and there was a teaser for Street Fighter’s Last Revenge. As I alluded to earlier, Street Fighter’s Last Revenge was a film that I had already seen on an Eastern Eye disk. I thought that it was a great little action film with an impossibly funky score. But I chose to watch the teaser, and the first thing that struck me was that it was a dub (rather than subbed, as I know the film). The smooth, modulated dialogue was no longer there. Instead Chiba was angry and shouting “Don’t anybody move or I’ll rip this motherf*cker’s head off!” I knew Terry, The Streetfighter as a tough, man-of-action, but here, he was presented as one crazy, wild-eyed, bad-ass motherf*cker. This was a man who makes Maurizio Merli, Steven Segal and Michael Dudikoff or anyone who specialised in ‘revenge flicks’ look like boy scouts.

Next I moved on to The Bodyguard and it appears to be a film released in Japan in 1973, and then reissued in America in 1976 with some extra footage and atrocious dubbing. But first things first. I know it’s no longer cool to like Quentin Tarrantino any more. I know his films are a bunch of stolen moments from other films. But I like his films – I thought Inglourious Basterds was brilliant – and I must admit it still gives me a thrill when I discover the source of another of his in-jokes. The Bodyguard provides a clue to a moment in Pulp Fiction, when Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) explains to Tim Roth, that his is the wallet that says ‘Bad Mother F*cker’. But now I see that maybe Jules wasn’t the aforementioned ‘Bad Mother F*cker’, but Sonny Chiba is. How so? The speech that Jules says to scare his intended victims, Ezekiel 17:25, is presented in the opening credits of The Bodyguard, however where Jules quotes it correctly, The Bodyguard has the cheek to modify the words.

The path of the righteous man and defender is beset on all sides by the iniquity of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper, and the father of lost children. And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious anger, who poison and destroy my brothers; and they shall know that I am Chiba the Bodyguard when I shall lay my vengeance upon them!

So Jules’ speech in Pulp Fiction is a homage to the Baddest Mother F*cker of them all — Sonny Chiba! Can ya dig it!

BodyguardTCThe film opens in New York, with a scene that could be ripped off from The Godfather. An underworld Don, Salvatore Rocco and his family are gunned down on the steps outside a large church. The newspaper reports suggest the police are now searching for the Rocco’s Japanese mistress who is said to have disappeared.

Then we cut to a far to obvious, new scene that has been shoehorned into the film. It features two martial artists,Aaron Banks and Bill Louie, two real life martial arts champions, who are debating the strengths and weaknesses of Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba’s fighting styles, including a demonstration of Bruce’s double nung-chuck technique. They round out the conversation by informing the audience that Chiba is on his way back to Tokyo.

The movie skips forward to the flight and a bunch of badasses hijack the flight. They hijack it for one reason, and that’s because Sonny Chiba is on the flight. Sonny, not only is the world’s number one martial artist, but he is also a fierce opponent of drugs and drug trafficking. These goons who have taken control of the flight, want to kill Chiba because of his interference with their drug trade. But even though there are five hijackers with guns, Chiba still kills each one of them with a series of power punches that have the bad guys spitting blood and teeth – that is before they die.

Upon arrival in Japan, Chiba appears on television vowing to stop the flow of drugs into the country, and furthermore offers himself up as a bodyguard to anybody who has information that can put the drug cartels out of action. One girl, Ricoh comes forward and asks for Chiba’s assistance. Before he will help her, he needs to see some proof. She says she has some evidence in the glove box of her car. Chiba sends his sister, Maggie down stairs to collect it, but the bad guys are waiting for her. As Chiba’s sister, Maggie has some fight skills of her own, but up against four men, she is outmatched. They knock her unconscious and strip her naked and lay her out. The shadow from the cross at the top of a church steeple covers her body. It’s actually quite a good visual moment – possibly better than this film deserves. After a while, when Maggie hasn’t returned, Chiba heads down to investigate. He finds her with the words ‘Cosa Nostra’ carved into her arm. Chiba now knows for sure he is up against the mafia.

Bodyguard4Convinced that Ricoh is in danger, Chiba agrees to protect her. They go back to her apartment, and Chiba does a sweep to check that everything is okay. The apartment appears clean and free from danger. Later that night, however, a gang of assassins cut their way out of the furniture (couches and armchairs) where they have been hiding. I guess when you think about it, it is pretty goofy, but this scene represents one of the highlights of the whole movie, so I recommend basking in the ‘goofiness’. Chiba, of course, then fights with the bad guys in his usual rib shattering and arm snapping way.

Of course, as most people would have guessed, Ricoh is the ‘missing’ mistress of Salvatore Rocco (the underworld figure shot down at the start of the film). Therefore she is not really interested in stemming the flow of narcotics into Japan. She simply wants Chiba to protect her form the various gangs — the Mafia and the Yakuza — who are after her and the drug shipment she has arranged to be brought into the country.

Essentially this makes Chiba a stupid dupe and he follows her around Tokyo while she makes arrangements to unload the drugs. When he finally wakes up to what is going on, for some strange reason he still agrees to help her. It is all very silly, sloppy and contrived. Some of this may be due to the American re-editing and dubbing of the film, but I think even the original Japanese version of the film would be low hanging fruit.

Bodyguard3The amazing thing about Chiba, is no matter where he hits an opponent, you can be sure that the guy spits blood. He could punch a Yakuza gang member in the knee cap, and sure enough, the Yakuza would keel over and a bubble of thick, bright red blood would dribble over his lips. It is a unique talent that Chiba has, and a talent that generally makes his films so entertaining. Not so, The Bodyguard. Sure there’s plenty of blood spitting, even a few teeth flying, but on the whole this film is pretty muddled and uninspiring.

Visually, the camera shots are tightly focused and there is an over abundance of hand held cinematography.Some of the fight scenes are so dimly lit and jerkily edited, it is hard to tell if they are well choreographed or not. Which is what you really watch a Chiba picture for – the stylised fight scenes. But when they are stylised and filmed in such a fashioned, it renders the film physically impotent.
Co-starring with Chiba is Etsuko Shihomi, who also starred with Chiba in a whole swag of films including; The Legend of the Eight Samurai, Shogun Ninja, Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment, Bullet Train, The Streetfighter, The Streetfighter’s Last Revenge, Sister Streetfighter and many others.

The Bodyguard is not great Chiba, and I think I’ll keep searching for a copy of G.I. Samurai to slake my thirst for Chiba’s unique style of mayhem, and I’d suggest that other Chibafiles look elsewhere too.

The Bodyguard (1973 / 1976)

Biker: An Interview with Mike Baron

Bat HoundToday, I welcome Mike Baron to Permission to Kill to talk about one of his latest books, Biker. For comic book readers, Mike needs little introduction having written for DC – The Flash, Marvel – The Punisher, and several Star Wars adaptations for Dark Horse. Lately he has turned to novel writing.

P2K: Firstly, Mike, welcome to Permission to Kill, and congratulations on the publication of your hard boiled thriller, Biker. Before we talk about the novel, who are the authors that inspired you to write a novel?

Mike: As a wee tyke in Mitchell, South Dakota, I remember clutching my John D. MacDonald Travis McGee thriller and realizing, Hey! This guy writes books for a living! I filed it away. I’ve always loved MacDonald’s writing–the way he gets in your head and summons darkness from the corners. I also learned a lot from Philip Jose Farmer and Carl Barks, whose Uncle Scrooge comics are models of pacing and dialogue.

P2K: Briefly, tell us about Biker. Give the readers an overview of the story.

BikerMike: Biker is about Josh Pratt, a former motorcycle hoodlum who found God in prison and takes on a missing persons case. A baby abducted by his insane father who subjects him to terrible abuse. The father’s a deranged white supremacist, meth cook, and kung fu master who views vengeance as a sacred duty. A lot of cycle gang action and major sequence at Sturgis. I grew up in South Dakota, got my first motorcycle at age sixteen.

P2K: Tell us about the main character, Josh Pratt. What kind of man is he? What drives him?

Mike: Like the child he seeks Josh is the victim of abuse. His father imparted a warped world view and abandoned him at a truck stop when he was fourteen. Josh had trouble with the law, fell in with the Bedouins, an outlaw group that became his de facto family. Went to prison, found God and turned his life around. A lawyer helped Josh get a PI license. Now Josh works for that lawyer delivering summons. The missing persons case falls in his lap because Josh agrees to search for his neighbor’s missing dogs. They were dognapped by creeps to use as bait in dog fights.

P2K: You’ve had a long career in publishing, would you like to share a little bit about a few of your other projects?

NexusMike: I’ve been active in comics since ’82, when Steve Rude and I began publishing Nexus through Capital Comics. I’ve written Nexus continuously ever since and it is appearing now in Dark Horse Presents. I also created the Badger which will be out early next year form a resurgent First Comics. I’ve written Punisher, Flash, and Star Wars and have won two Eisners and an Inkpot. My wife insists I put that in. About four years ago I FINALLY figured out how to write novels. I’m a slow learner but Katy bar the door. I’ve also published WHACK JOB, about spontaneous human combustion and terrorism, and HELMET HEAD about Nazi Biker Zombies. Wordfire Press just published SKORPIO, about a ghost who only appears under a blazing sun. I’m doing horror much to my surprise, but I don’t choose these stories. They choose me.

P2K: And finally, what’s in the pipeline? Are there any future projects that you’re at liberty to discuss?

Whack JobMike: American Fantasy will publish BANSHEES this winter. Its about a satanic rock band that returns from the dead. I’m working on a haunted house book, and a comic series called HOWL! for First. HOWL! is about a werewolf detective in sixties Kansas City and jazz. Shane Oakley is the artist.

P2K: Thank you for your time, Mike, and I wish you continued success with your writing career.

You can find out more about Mike and his work at his website Bloody Red Baron.

Biker is available from Amazon and other outlets.

Biker: An Interview with Mike Baron