MONSTER ACES edited by Percival Constantine, Pro Se Press, p/b, $15.00/ebook, $2.99, www.prosepulp.com/
Reviewed by David Brzeski
Jim Beard (‘Sgt. Janus, Spirit Breaker’, ‘Captain Action: Riddle of the Glowing Men’) is the brains behind the concept, so it was always going to be pulpy fun.
He contributed two of the stories in the book himself. The first introduces us to his team of “Monster Aces”, led by the enigmatic ‘Cap’n', they include: ‘Joker’, the charming smooth talker of the group, so essential for smoothing their relationship with “civilians”; ‘Digger’, the powerful gentle giant of a man, who strangely also happens to be their stealth expert and ‘Gats’, the weapons expert. If any monster claimed to be immune to mortal weaponry, well Gats was there to put that theory to the test. They travelled and more or less lived on a massive sea vessel called ‘The Whale’, which was piloted by a man known only as ‘Mariner’. Then there’s ‘Trill’, unofficial member of the team. Enigmatic and pretty, almost ethereal in nature. Appearing and disappearing with no warning, she could be a nuisance but was often of immeasurable help. In fact she often as not was responsible for leading the team to wherever they were needed.
They hunted monsters and destroyed them. It was their sole raison d’etre. Cap’n was single-minded in this mission and no monster was looked upon with any sympathy… ever! This could and would lend a certain moral ambiguity to their mission.
In Jim Beard’s first story, ‘The Devil’s Clutch’, the people of the village of Nacht are being hunted. There’s an ancient legend, fearful, uncooperative villagers, a good soul damned and someone who delves into secrets that should have remained buried. It sets the tone for the series, somewhere between 30s pulp fiction and 60s Hammer movies.
Next up is ‘The Swamp People’, by Barry Reese (‘The Rook’, ‘The Adventures of Lazarus Gray’). It involves an innocent teenage girl, her typically stupid boyfriend, a carnival and an ancient race of ‘monsters’, who have been driven to extinction by the spread of humankind. The moral ambiguity of the Aces work is brought into sharper focus in this one.
The next story reminded me somewhat of the classic alien monster stories by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the pre-superhero tales of Marvel-Atlas comics. In, ‘The River of Deceit’, by Van Allen Plexico, our intrepid monster hunters encounter a weird and powerful Alien being on the shores of an uncharted tributary of the Amazon. As the story progresses the question of just who is the monster here is brought into sharp focus once again.
We stay in Kirby territory for Ron Fortier’s ‘The Ghoul’. He has our heroes arrive in an armoured vehicle to take on a Ghoul, which in this world is a demon, who possesses a human victim. When the demon comes forth the hapless host transforms into an eight foot tall rampaging monster with greyish skin. It reminded me of those classic Marvel, or DC war comics, with their squads of misfit soldiers, in this case taking on a creature reminiscent of a certain Marvel Comics monster who has occasionally been portrayed with grey skin. Thankfully, for the Aces, this monster wasn’t quite THAT strong! I’ve read quite a few publications from Ron Fortier’s own Airship 27 productions, but this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure to read any of his own writing. It won’t be the last.
Finally we come to Jim Beard’s second story in the book, ‘Hands of the Monster’, in which the Aces kidnap a famous fictional doctor to help them deal with probably the most infamous monster of them all. It was never going to go according to plan.
There have been many monster hunters in fiction in the past. In fact there are quite a few around now, but these guys are more hardcore than most. They all get seriously injured on a regular basis. I would suggest that the Cap’n look into adding a regular medic to the support team.
This is a very enjoyable book. I look forward to learning more about the Aces in future volumes.