Saturday, September 25, 2010


Picking up right where he left off... if you missed Peter's first installment of The Sharpshooter, you can read it here.

#5: Night of the Assassins (March 1974)

Johnny Rock heads to Florida to straighten out the Miami Mafia. There’s really no plotline to this, so I won’t try to fake it: Rock kills lots of people. He’s dispensed with make-up and resorts to simply barging in on crowds of bad guys and mowing them all down without drawing any of his own blood. Obligatory “not such a bad guy” death scene: Two hookers who hang with the mob are brutally gunned down by a Rock in a motel room. The girls are unarmed and Rock bears no guilty conscience for the act. Could Bruce Willis pull this off?


#6: Muzzle Blast (April 1974)

I picture Dr. Phil taking over as Men’s Adventure Series editor at Leisure Books in early 1974, reading the first five books in the "Sharpshooter" saga, crying, and then proclaiming that this violence must come to an end…or at least has to become a “happier kind of bloodshed.” That’s the only reasoning I can conjure up for the relatively bloodless Muzzle Blast.

In the opening chapter, Rock finds himself involved with the New England Mafia. Posing as a drug dealer, he infiltrates the second-hand store run by O yi-Po, a heroin importer helped along in his trade by the beautiful but deadly Mai-Lin. We know she’s Rock’s kind of girl because she never wears undergarments (“Many eyes at the bar followed the attractive Chinese girl’s cute wiggle, admiring the saucy bouncing of her ripe breasts naked under a soft white sweater.”) and because she can handle herself in a fight (“…Mai-Lin wasn’t at all unaccustomed to sexual attack or rape itself… probably she welcomed it.”). Rock finds himself doing something he’s not done in his previous five adventures: getting to know someone without killing them. That’s not necessarily a good thing, we come to find out. Long, tedious expository scenes lead to… even longer, more tedious expository scenes until the reader looks up from his copy of Muzzle Blast and screeches: “HOLY CHRIST, I’M A DEMOCRAT AND LOVING FATHER OF TWO, BUT I WANT TO SEE SOMEONE DIE ALREADY!!”

There’s not a lot going for this particular entry. The violence is fairly tame until the obligatory “climactic showdown.” If you’re looking for sex, you’re out of luck. What you’re left with is the unique writing style of “Bruno Rossi” (this particular Rossi has to be the same ghost who penned Blood Oath as he continually makes the same mistake of calling Rock “Magellan”):
And now, as Rock planned the next skirmish in his most sacred and private crusade against the unholy New England Mafia, 73 men, all dues-paying members of the conventioneering North American Alliance For Explorative Computer Ideology (NAAECI) were feasting their pop eyes on an extravaganza of debauchery, so wanton, so bawdy, so vulgar, obscene, perverse, corrupt and depraved that the riotous and licentious carryings-on of the sex circus on the wide stage was embarrassing to even Nick Kang’s wife who produced and directed the wicked spectacle.
I didn’t miss any periods in that sentence, by the way.

Try this one on:
Quite close by and puncturing the ear drums of all assembled, came an excructiating, reverberating blast! As if pandemonium meant a cage of angry lions and famished jungle panthers sprung lose (sic), the above described participants were literally lifted out of their seats and some flung bodily across the table they surrounded. A second ferocious, even colossal explosion followed the first. Men were lurching, staggering, pitching forward, gasping for air, tipping over and rolling on the carpeted floor. All the lights blew out. The brute force of the second bellowing detonation sounded like two thousand tons of TNT earthquaking in a vacuum!
Both passages are perfect examples of what I call the “Mad-Lib style of 1970s Executioner-style Series Writing” (or M-LSo1E-SSW for short). Writer has hit a brick wall, and presents his wife with a manuscript chock-full of “fill-it-ins” and asks her for help. Example:

Rock hit the man with a large __________(noun), after which his nose ___________(verb). Seeing four other Mafia hit men approaching, Rock fed his _____________(weapon) with lots of ____________(pl. noun). The men died a _____________(adjective) death. Rock smiled a(n) __________________(adjective) smile.

#7: Headcrusher (June 1974)

Johnny Rock heads back to New York, where he receives info on Don Salvatore, who contracted the hit on Rock’s family. Going undercover as “Mafia bastard hitman” Burt Laganello, Rock infiltrates and gains the trust of the family and does what he does best. With glee, he takes on assignments to murder rival gangmen, killing two birds with one stone” gaining trust and killing “Mafia bastards” at the same time. The man, literally, is a pig rolling in shit.

Where to begin? I’m not an optimist, so I don’t picture a behind-the-scenes board meeting at Leisure where the CEO demands a marked increase in the quality of “The Sharpshooter” series, and yet that’s exactly what we get. Headcrusher is so obviously better than any of its predecessors that I have to believe it was penned by a new ghost-writer. Sure, there are the usual lapses in logic (Rock, sprayed with machine-gun fire, lives to tell the tale) and editing (at one point, one of the Don’s henchmen addresses the undercover hitman as “Rock” rather than Burt), but the gripping narrative more than makes up for it.

But for the final chapter, Rock’s tale this time almost seems to be a wrap-up, as though the series would be winding down. At one point, Rock contacts his lawyer and draws up a will, believing that he may not survive the final hit. When Rock undergoes his transformation into “Mafia scum,” he realizes, not without some remorse, that he’s beginning to like these guys. This plot twist would show up years later in Stephen Cannell’s excellent TV series, Wise Guy, in which undercover cop Ken Wahl would ease himself into a Mob family and befriend a vicious mobster.

The evidence that this is indeed still our old friend Johnny Rock comes at the climactic showdown with Don Salvatore. Believing “Burt Laganello” to be a dedicated (and very productive) henchman, Salvatore invites him to dinner. There, Rock is introduced to the Don’s wife and beautiful granddaughter (who makes no bones about her affection for Rock). The four sit down to a pre-dinner chat when, abruptly, Rock stands and emptied his clip into the Don and his wife. He then turns to the petrified girl, proclaims that she’s about the age of Rock’s sister when Gramps sanctioned her kill and pops her in cold blood. A nasty scene even for this nasty series.


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