Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ralph's Rants interviews James Mullaney!

James Mullaney interview!

Ralph’s Rants welcomes James Mullaney! Co-Author of many ‘Destroyer’ novels, ‘The Craig Banyon Mysteries’, as well as his new original series ‘Red Menace’. James, thanks for joining us here at ‘Ralph’s Rants does interviews’ It’s an honor and a pleasure to speak with someone who has written some of my favorite novels!

So let’s jump right in, Jim, when did you start writing? How old were you?

Since I compulsively can’t resist the smart-alecky answer, I started writing in first grade. That’s probably a big surprise for all the kids out there nowadays who don’t learn to read or write until high school (if then) because they’re too busy learning to plant trees, so they don’t know like we did by age six that the round one is O and the one on Superman’s chest is S. As for fiction writing, I always credit Sr. Eileen’s fourth grade English class. She used to give us lists of spelling words to memorize every week. Other teachers made you use each word in a sentence, but she had the brilliant idea to make us incorporate all the words into a weekly story. It forced us -- or at least me -- to be more creative since we had to come up with whole stories. I became a writer wannabe in Sr. Eileen’s class.

What was your first inspiration to write? Was it a certain book or a certain author’s work? Or was it something you just felt you could do as well as anyone else?

Who knows where the weird drive to write comes from? My parents probably deserve the most credit or, if you hate my work, blame. They sacrificed to put us all through Catholic school, so I never would have been in that particular fourth grade class without them. Most important, they were both readers. My dad was a long-haul truck driver, so when he was home his hours were often like Dracula’s. He’d sit up all night at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a book. My mom was always busy all day doing the stuff you don’t appreciate as a kid (how did that clean underwear magically appear in that drawer every day while we were at school?), but after supper, after she got finished mopping up after six ungrateful kids, she’d read the paper front page to back and then move on to a couple of chapters in a book. She also read to me as a kid, which I’m sure helped enormously. I don’t know about most writers, but the greatest influence for me was probably the gift of parents who read and valued reading.

What are some of your favorite fictional characters and how did they hone your interests?

I wrote The Destroyer series for a number of years, which I started reading in sixth grade. You’ve got to love the main characters Remo and Chiun. I was always a huge fan of Harold Smith, their boss, which is why Smith features so prominently in so many of my books. As for early inspiration, I read all the Hardy Boys books by third grade. I remember, because I had to move on to Nancy Drew, which were basically the same books but with skirts (although who knows what Chet Morton paraded around in when Frank and Joe weren’t looking?). The Hardy Boys were all ghostwritten and put out pretty much by the literary equivalent of a Third World sweatshop, but they were quick reads with simple plots and they must have taught me something about structure, characters and plotting.

I’m a big fan of your Destroyer work, as I’ve followed that series since I believe it was 1970, if I remember correctly. I still have first editions of most of the early books my father would buy. I actually lost my first edition of ‘Created the Destroyer’ and had to replace it with a later edition. When did you become aware of that series and how did you become a co-writer on it?

The Destroyer was big with truck drivers. I know this because I got lots of mail over the years from truck drivers who used to find them in racks at truck stops. I don’t know if that’s where my dad initially found them, but he was the one who brought them home and got me started reading them.

When I decided I wanted to write, I wrote a note to Dick Sapir and asked if I could take a shot at writing a Destroyer. I was eighteen or nineteen at the time, and Dick actually called my house. My dad was so thrilled that he came to my job at the supermarket to tell me. Dick and I talked a few times and I’m not sure if he thought my ideas stunk or not because, sadly, he died before we worked something out. I think it was a decade or more before the writing job opened up. It was my brother-in-law who works in magazine publishing who put the call in to the publisher at the time and got that ball rolling.

How many years were you co-writing ‘Destroyer’ novels with Warren Murphy?

I wrote 21 of the books for Gold Eagle. I’m credited in the front, although not on the covers. I’m told that the series kind of hit the skids after I left. I didn’t read any of the books after my last one for Gold Eagle, so I can’t say that from my own experience. I am aware of some of the plot and character choices, and they weren’t where I or any of the other ghostwriters would have gone with the series. When the contract was up with Gold Eagle, Warren brought it to Tor. That’s when I came back as coauthor. We did four books together over the course of a year or two. I’m proud of all of them.

How many ‘Destroyer’ novels have you co-written?

I had my hand in a total of 26 novels in the regular series. Also the companion guide, The Assassin’s Handbook 2. I’ve got some unpublished Destroyer material lying around as well. I kept writing up material because I never thought the series would end. That’s because I never planned on the interesting approach Tor was going to take with promotion and distribution: namely “throw nothing at the wall and make sure that none of it sticks.” It was pretty much over when I kept getting notes from fans complaining that the brand-new books couldn’t be found anywhere around the country. But by then I already had plots and partial books written up in anticipation of continuing the series. I recently converted an unpublished Destroyer novella into the fourth novel in one of my own series (more on that below). I suppose I’ll do that more as I go along.

Now recently you started your own series entitled ‘The Red Menace’, tell us a little bit about it?

The Red Menace is actually Patrick “Podge” Becket, a wealthy American patriot who travels the globe secretly battling the nation’s enemies. I thought it might be interesting to write a character who is a sort of bridge between the old pulp fiction heroes like Doc Savage and the Shadow and the newer men’s adventure heroes like Remo Williams and Mack Bolan. A lot of the older guys tended to wear masks while the newer guys didn’t. So Podge spends most of the books unmasked, investigating stuff in James Bond mode before having to don the mask and cloak. He’s aided by his friend, genius inventor Dr. Thaddeus Wainwright, who is devoted to keeping Podge alive even though he hates the fact that Podge keeps putting his life at risk. Dr. Wainwright is long-lived and patterned somewhat after my paternal grandmother who, when she got old, didn’t give a crap what she said to or about anyone. It’s a liberating way to live, but the rest of us can’t do it because we’d get punched too often. Wainwright can get away with it.

How different from your previous works is ‘The Red Menace’ in style and approach?

I’d written a novella for inclusion in a third Destroyer companion guide. It was pretty long for a novella, maybe 200 pages. It was called Shattered Records and was basically a “lost” Remo and Chiun adventure that took place in the 1970s. The idea was a good one, and I thought when it came time to write my fourth Red Menace novel that I’d dust off that novella, rewrite it a little, and basically take a vacation. Fat chance. It was only when I started rewriting that novella that I realized how different The Red Menace is from The Destroyer. That’s good, actually. The Destroyer can exist over there, The Executioner somewhere else, and The Red Menace can carve out its own little niche over here. I still use humor and satire in my Menace books, but it’s less broad and exists in a world that’s a little more real. But then things happen that change the real world into something different from what we know. For instance, although the series takes place back in 1972, in the first book there’s an event that might have changed the world greatly and for the better had it taken place in the real world. I’m sort of rewriting history as I go along. And wiping out bad guys.

Is ‘The Red Menace’ set completely in the cold war era? I see part of the first book takes place in 1958 and another part in 1972.

The 1958 stuff in the first book is just to establish the age where the hero came from and was most at home. We flash forward pretty quickly to 1972 and have stayed there since book #1, Red and Buried. Each book takes place not long after the preceding one, so we started in something like August of 1972 but by book #4, A Red Letter Day, have only gotten up to autumn of the same year. I can see using flashbacks as I go along, because there must be stories of baddies or events from the past having an impact on events in the Seventies, but for the most part the series has and will for the foreseeable future be rooted in the early 1970s.

You also have another series out there already called the ‘Crag Banyon Mysteries’ Tell us a little bit about those books?

Ah, Crag Banyon. If I had a heart and I weren’t a cold, calculating robot created by the combined efforts of Dow Chemical and the Rand Corporation, of all my work thus far Banyon would be nearest and dearest to my human heart. The first Banyon was supposed to be a quickie little lark. I’d written up a short story many years ago that I thought was a good idea but was poorly executed. It was about a newspaperman who goes to Santa’s workshop and uncovers a murder plot. I found it a couple of months before Christmas two years ago, and while the writing was terrible I thought the story was pretty solid. So I sat down and chucked the whole thing, but kept the same basic story structure. My reporter didn’t work as a character so I made him a typical P.I. Banyon’s got all the same problems every private eye always has in fiction, but in his world there can be monsters and demons and Santa Claus. I was very happy with the first one, which I thought would be a one-off, but I couldn’t leave the world I’d created alone. I’m now up to four Crag Banyon Mysteries and I love every one of them.

Between these two series of yours you seem to have a lot on your plate, what new editions can we expect to see forthcoming from those series and when?

We should have the newest Banyon out soon. That one is titled Sea No Evil. Banyon has two types of clients he won’t take: no ghosts, no gods. He reluctantly breaks the latter rule in this one. After that, I’ve got to start working on the fifth Red Menace. I’ve got an idea I’ve been massaging in my head, which I’ll have to turn into an outline soon. Only when I have an outline can I write the book, so I’m going to have to hurry up and get cracking. I also have another idea for Menace #6 as well as four or five more Banyons. I’ve got two full-length novels written up that are different from my usual stuff, and I’ll have to rewrite them one of these days. At some point I’ve got to maybe work on that screenplay I’ve been thinking about for the past five years. It’s a great premise so I want to get that done someday. There isn’t enough time.

Is there anything else you’d like to add or plug about your writing? Any upcoming projects or even a push for ones that were released already that you feel people may have missed out on?

I’d encourage folks to just read the Amazon excerpts. That “look inside” function is a great help to readers. They’ll tell you pretty much if the Menace and Banyon are for you. But, hey, what’s $2.99? Forgo that gallon of generic ice cream and download a copy of Royal Flush, the Banyon mystery that was released in January. It’s great fun, and so far I’m very happy that no one online has blabbed the big shocking surprise.

Do you have a web site that has information about your upcoming projects or a twitter or facebook page that you want readers to know about?

The Web site is I’m on Facebook here
and Twitter here . I’m probably a million other places online. How can anyone but Skynet and Colonel Sanders keep track of all this stuff anymore?

Jim, thank you very much for taking this time to join us here at ‘Ralph’s Rants does Interviews’. It was great hearing from you and learning just a bit about your writing and your projects.

Thanks for the chance. Anything that keeps me from working is A-okay with me.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

“I want my Twenty Dollars back!”

“I want my Twenty Dollars back!”

In response to popular demand (No lie, people HAVE been asking me about this!)

My Review of Iron Man 3!


So a week ago I go on opening night to see the most anticipated movie of the year for me, Iron Man 3. I’ve been awaiting this one for a year. I was psyched, the previews looked fantastic! The action sequences looked awesome! This was going to be the BIG Movie of the year for me!

And the first half hour or 45 minutes of the flick lived up to that excitement, right up until Stark’s house got blown up. See, when that happened I fully expected Iron Man to swing into action and wreck helicopters with repulser rays, uni-beam blasts, and mighty fists. Instead I got a half functional suit of armor that after wrecking a couple of helicopters by hurling things at them, Iron Man/Stark flies off and disappears. I could even excuse and live with that, if it led to a great battle later.

He lands in Tennessee; somehow out of power, but wait, I thought the suit was powered by the arc reactor in his chest also keeping him alive? Huh? What? So how can the suit have run out of juice? That hasn’t happened in the comics since I think 1968!

Anyway Stark literally drags the armor to a garage that he breaks into, and then starts tinkering. Some kid shows up (Someone just explain to me why this kid with a sad story was important to the film, I’m trying to figure that out yet and Stark was basically a prick to him throughout the movie anyway.)  So Stark, sans armor is now doing this pseudo James Bond thing investigating a site where a bomb went off but it was really an extremis powered terrorist who blew himself up. Stark goes through another episode of shortness of breath and anxiety (PTSD supposedly dating back to the alien invasion of the Avengers movie.)

Meanwhile, Rhodey as ‘Iron Patriot’ (A douche name when compared with the mighty ‘War Machine’.) is running around the middle east looking for the Mandarin who has been making terrorist strikes in the U.S. as well as blowing up Tony’s house when Tony threatened him over another bombing he had caused that put Happy Hogan, Tony’s former chauffeur and now head of security in the hospital. Which brings us back to why Tony’s house was bombed in the first place by the helicopters sent by the Mandarin.

All of this sounds pretty good right? Except…THERE IS NO MANDARIN!!! The so-called Mandarin in this movie, Iron Man’s biggest and most powerful nemesis, a man who has almost conquered the world on several occasions throughout Iron Man’s fifty year history is, in this movie at least, an out of work British actor playing a role for a guy named Aldrich Killian, who is also the head of AIM, a villainous group of super-scientists in the comics who wear yellow bee-keeper-like suits. Here they just wore suits and ties and looked and acted like common thugs, unless they were Extremis powered, then they acted like super-powered thugs.

But wait, it gets better! So Rhodey somehow is captured, (Someone explain to me how his suit was depowered and him taken captive within it?) and Tony himself gets captured in a convoluted scene involving Maya Hansen an old flame of his who also happened to create the extremis formula or virus or whatever the hell it really is where we find out she’s really a bad girl and was working for AIM all along (Sorta paralleling recent events in the real Iron Man title.) Tony is taken captive along with Rhodey again, after they had broken out doing the pseudo James Bond thing once again, and we get a supposedly humorous and action packed moment with Tony flying around with one boot on and one glove that flew through the air at his mental command from the garage he had them stored in, in Tennessee. But again it is a half assed scene with Tony NOT in an Iron Man suit, just a couple of pieces of it.

After he is done here the rest of the suit arrives and he takes off in pursuit of the Iron Patriot suit which is now housing Aldrich Killian (I think) which is going after Air Force One and the President. Iron Man gets there in time to start battling extremis powered terrorists who were placed on the plane in disguise ( I think, again it was a week ago, so I just remember a mess of a scene.) Tony kills the main extremis terrorist who we’ve been watching this entire movie blow people up. Meanwhile the War Ma- Wait I mean Iron Patriot armor disappears as does the President. There is a huge hole blown in the side of the plane and people are flying out of it to their deaths. Tony flies out after them, and catches them all, making them all lock hands, before he releases them gently into a harbor somewhere. Why he couldn’t just fly to a nearby dock and let them down is beyond me. He’s Iron Man, he should have been able to catch the plane and fly it safely to the ground, if it hadn’t exploded already.

Now he lands on a bridge and is promptly hit by a truck, exploding into pieces. The camera pulls back from Stark’s view and it’s revealed he was controlling the armor with his telepresence unit remotely. Why? Why wasn’t he inside the armor flying it? There is no good reason given for this? And what kind of a piece of crap was it that a truck hitting it blows it apart?

Let’s step back and look at this, in the Avengers, Iron Man stood toe to toe with Thor, God of Thunder and traded blows with him. The armor did not fall apart then at all. But a truck hitting it turns it into scrap metal. Okay…

Stark and Rhodey make their way to a huge shipping dock where they fight to free Pepper who has now been infected with the extremis formula (Virus? Whatever?) and along the way Stark calls on all his suits of armor to come to his aid. They all fly in remotely, but all seem to be made of tinfoil as they continually fall apart when battling the extremis powered villains. Pepper supposedly falls to her death from about 200’ up, Stark dons suit after suit that is then wrecked by Killian who is the most powerful of the extremis enhanced terrorists in a pitched battle. Rhodey gets his ‘Iron Patriot Machine’ suit back and flies off with the president who they have succeeded in rescuing. Stark encases Killian in one of his armors and forces it to blow up, but Killian survives, seemingly with little damage and closes in for the kill against a totally defenseless Stark, but then… SUPRRISE! Pepper appears totally unscathed from her 200’ fall and punches out the bad guy, saving Stark’s life, Thank God for extremis girl! Oh wait that’s not politically correct, I have to call her extremis woman, or is it person? Then the big moment of the movie! Stark destroys all his armor at once in a fireworks display that would do the Grucci’s proud! Huh? What?

The wrap up is Stark figures out a way to remove the extremis bug from Pepper; the drunken ass of an actor who portrayed the Mandarin to the world is taken into custody. Tony finally figures out a way to remove the arc reactor from his own chest as well as the shrapnel threatening his heart. The final scene is him driving away from his destroyed home with one of his robotic helpers on a trailer as he throws the arc reactor that formally resided in his chest into the sea, proclaiming that he is Iron Man.


So let’s recap, Tony is having PTSD episodes throughout the movie, his armor is now made of foil as it keeps getting destroyed, he needs some twelve year olds help for the most annoying part of the film, his armor now needs to be charged on car batteries (No lie that’s what was hooked up to in in the garage he left it in.) Mandarin, his most powerful enemy, a guy who is on par with Dr. Doom or Lex Luthor is reduced to a joke, and Tony is almost killed if not for the intervention of his girlfriend who, oh thank God, saved his ass at the last minute, wearing a sports bra. Then in response to her mewling about his crazy life, he blows up every suit he had just to make her happy. So a guy who could save thousands of lives at any given moment because of his mighty suits of armor (Not in this movie, but, you know, previously) decides to give it all up to live happily ever after with his girlfriend.

I don’t know what this movie was. To me, it was a crap fest. There was two thirds of the movie with him as Stark, and the few scenes he had as Iron Man were shitty, hampered scenes with either weakened armor or were him just running around carrying people to safety. The mess at the end was ridiculous. If he had called the other suits there to fight alongside him against the extremis powered army I could have lived with that, but instead he kept getting the crap kicked out of him and had to change suits repeatedly.

But remember according to Shane Black, director of this disaster, we can’t have a Chinese person playing the Mandarin because it’s not politically correct and someone might get insulted. Really??? How about the millions of comic fans who were insulted by this poor excuse for an Iron Man film?

One star out of as many as you’d like, minimum five. As I said before, I want my $20 back.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Review of "Doc Savage: Skull Island"

Doc Savage: Skull Island
By Will Murray

Will Murray’s newest Doc Savage book is a different take on one of the world’s first superheroes. This book is more of an never before seen origin story for Doc, and it includes three generations of his family as well as Doc’s first post WWI adventure where he actually met the Mighty King Kong!
Yes, THAT King Kong. This story takes place mere months after Doc and friends begin to take up residence in the Empire State Building in 1933. Doc’s father has already passed away at this point, so this takes place after ‘The Man of Bronze’. Doc returns to the Empire State Building and finds Kong’s corpse at his door step. Sadly he recounts to Monk and Ham how he knew the creature and then he aids New York in removing the body back to the island it came from for burial.
At this point Doc begins recounting his first adventure with Kong in a flashback sequence that lasts the rest of the book up until the last few pages.
What follows is perhaps Will Murrays BEST Doc Savage novel to date (Though his ‘Forgotten Realm’ MAY still hold that distinction for me) this is a rousing adventure wherein Doc and his father actually have some bloody conflicts with not only headhunters but prehistoric monsters as well. Doc is barely twenty in this tale and freshly back from WWI. We learn a lot about him within these pages, including his rather strange relationship with his father. We even get to meet his grandfather, the towering ‘Stormalong’ Savage, a sort of ancient mariner type who pines for the days of tall ships with a great love of the sea.
Without giving too much more away I can wholeheartedly endorse reading this great adventure novel. It’s a Doc we’ve never really seen before, one who is fresh out of his training and a war and is only now beginning to seek and understand his place in the world. Also we get the unique perspective of Doc having to follow another man’s lead, his fathers. And then there is the mighty King Kong. Will conveys all the sympathy and empathy movie goers have had for the great ape over the years masterfully in this tale. Kong, the lonely creature who despite his great size is less monster than those who hunt him for a trophy. The last of his kind creature who is master of his domain, and all who live on that island know this and bow to his sovereignty.
This Doc Savage story is a welcome addition to the collection of all things ‘Doc’. Will Murray knows the character well, and reading his novels always leaves me with a feeling that I am reading a TRUE Doc Savage story as opposed to one that could be considered simple fanfiction, as most properties that have fallen out of the original creators hands and into another’s have.
I only hope that now that there is talk of a Doc Savage movie again that they consult Will Murray and hopefully have him write the story.
Five stars out of five. I absolutely liked this novel! It was great!