YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW—PART 1
“All right, you maggots! Fall-in! Your physical performances prove evolution is a lie. This is the Army, not the Girl Scouts. Reincarnation must be true because nobody could become this stupid in one lifetime. I’m gonna call every one of you Baskin, cause you’re all 31 flavors of screwed up…”
Oh, sorry…I got a little carried away. It’s the fault all the WWII action I’ve been reading in preparation to share the best war is hell series from the golden age of men’s action/adventure.
Writing these columns featuring men’s action/adventure series of the ‘60s and 70’s deserving of a wider audience, I keep finding more I want to share. However, there are also current books inspired by the same dynamic style of writing, which are also worthy of attention. Since I’m the czar of my 1,000 weekly words for Venture Galleries, I’ve decided to sprinkle a few of these new series into the mix.
This week and next, we’re going to be hitting the beach, charging once more into the breech, and taking out machine gun nests alongside some of the meanest sumbitches to ever spit out of boot camp.
To get into the spirit, I highly recommend A HANDFUL OF HELL, an amazing collection of over the top, emotionally stirring, war stories ripped from the pages of the men’s adventure magazines. Written by the prolific Robert Dorr, the stories in this tense, gritty collection drop readers squarely into the fiery crucible of action, both in the cockpit and on the front lines. In Dorr’s own words, “These stories were being read by men who’d been there, done that. I had to have the personalities and the details right. They wouldn’t tolerate having men like themselves overly glorified, or to have war made glamorous.” One of the toughest bastards with whom I’ve ever had the honor of being acquainted, Door passed away recently after a lifetime of proving he was a match for any of the heroes he wrote about.
Starting in 1980, Len Levinson (affectionately dubbed a trash genius—high praise by the way) wrote the first paperback original in The Sergeant series under the pseudonym Gordon Davis. The nine books in the series did for men’s action/adventure what Sgt. Rock did for comics—getting down and dirty in the mud and blood of WWII.
In an interview on Joe Kennedy’s GLORIOUS TRASH blog, Levinson explains, “During my three-year enlistment, I met many veterans of World War II still on active duty. One of my sergeants had survived the Bataan Death March. After a few beers, or during chow while on maneuvers, sometimes old sergeants told stories. All were very tough guys. Many had killed people. I admired them greatly and still do. The Sergeant series was based on memories of my former sergeants and of Walter Zacharius, President of Zebra Books [publishers of The Sergeant], who'd been a sergeant himself and participated in the liberation of Paris.”
The Sergent—or more correctly, Master Sergeant Clarence J. Mahoney—is a bruising, brawling, hardcore, hardcase—a coarse, hard-drinking brute who specializes in killing and fornicating. Always clever enough to avoid court martial, Mahoney is an amalgam of the Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and John Cassavetes Dirty Dozen characters rolled into one fighting machine—my kind of guy…
THE SERGEANT SERIES
Death Train (1980)
Hell Harbor: The Battle for Cherbourg (1980)
Bloody Bush (1980)
The Liberation of Paris (1981)
Doom River (1981)
Slaughter City (1981)
Bullet Bridge (1981)
Bloody Bastogne (1981)
Due to his prodigious output of paperback original novels, the ubiquitous wordslinger Michael Avallone was often called The Fastest Typewriter In The East. In my estimation, Len Levinson was most likely The Second Fastest Typewriter In The East. After the success of The Sergeant, Levinson switched from the European theatre to the war in the Pacific. Under the pseudonym John Mackie, Levinson wrote sixteen books detailing the harsh travails and harsher antics of The Rat Bastards.
Writing about his numerous war novels, Levinson states, “After The Sergeant, I felt inspired to write The Rat Bastards set during World War Two in the Pacific Theater of Operations. This series became a massive cauldron of jungle fighting, swamps, malaria, snakes and leeches, told from viewpoints of both American and Japanese soldiers and officers, including guest appearances by historical figures such as Major General Alexander Vandegrift and Lieutenant General Harakuchi Hyakatuke."
Whereas, The Sergeant was a one man Dirty Dozen (even though backed by a tough crew), The Rat Bastards’ Recon Platoon is made up of misfits, criminals, and barroom brawlers. As you would expect, they don’t like to follow orders and are tougher than hell in a fight.
Obviously, The Rat Bastards see a lot of action, but Levinson also exposes the flaws in his characters, including the fear and self-doubt experience by all men in combat. This deeper writing extends to Levinson’s treatment of his Japanese characters, showing some understanding and respect for their hardships, bravery, and loyalty, as opposed to stereotypical sadists.
THE RAT BASTARDS SERIES
Hit the Beach (1983)
Death Squad (1983)
River of Blood (1983)
Meat Grinder Hill (1984)
Down and Dirty (1984)
Green Hell (1984)
Too Mean Too Die (1984)
Hot Lead and Cold Steel (1984)
Do or Die (1984)
Kill Crazy (1985)
Nightmare Alley (1985)
Go for Broke (1985)
Tough Guys Die (1985)
Suicide River (1985)
Satan's Cage (1985)
Go Down Fighting (1985)
FOR MORE ABOUT THE RAT BASTARDS CLICK HERE
My ammo supply of words for this week have been shot off faster than rounds fired through the 50 cal. machineguns mounted on the back of The Rat Patrol’s jeeps. Next week we’ll hit the beach again with other WWII action series of note.