Saturday, November 29, 2008

It Couldn't Happen Here...

Well, it looks like I will be returning to the world of Carl Kolchak, The Night Stalker.

We're still working out the details, but apparently the high muckety-mucks at Moonstone Books were pleased with the way the Night Stalker of the Living Dead miniseries worked out, and have asked me to write a new, relaunched Kolchak ongoing series.

The final title is yet to be determined, as is the schedule, so I can't even guess when the book will premiere. I won't even start writing scripts until January. I can tell you that my plan is to shake up Carl's world a bit, with a new job, a new base of operations, a new supporting cast (although I won't be cutting Vincenzo out entirely), and maybe even a new suit. But Kolchak will still be Kolchak, and if you read my miniseries, you already have an idea of the way I handle the character. The plan is to do mostly one and two-issue stories with some ongoing subplots and character arcs, and to take the intrepid reporter to some places he's never been before.

The book is intended as a jumping-on point for new readers; while I'll do my best not to contradict anything in the Moonstone Kolchak continuity, you won't have to be intimately familiar with the previous comics in order to follow the new series.

Now, the publisher has not made a formal announcement of this, and probably won't for some time. But we have come to an agreement, and I'm hopeful that everything will go smoothly. I'm a big fan of the character and had a great time writing the miniseries (despite it being written during probably the worst period of my life), and I'm looking forward to charting his course in a new regular series.

I'll keep you all posted.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Quantum of Solace

I don't recall being so underwhelmed and disappointed in a James Bond film since sitting through A View to A Kill in 1985. And at least then I liked the theme song.

Quantum of Solace isn't quite a disaster, but it's a remarkably inept piece of filmmaking, and a frustrating film to watch. The script clearly needed a few more passes through the word processor, but being rushed to completion just before last year's writer's strike prevented that. Also, the decision to hand arguably the most action-driven Bond film ever to a director whose sole previous credits are art house indie dramas was a major miscalculation. And that theme song! Inane lyrics can be tolerable if they're accompanied by a memorable melody, but Alicia Keyes and Jack White's "Another Way To Die" (a rejected film title?) has no discernible melody at all.

Much has been written comparing Quantum's action scenes to those in the Jason Bourne films, but they really have nothing in common besides frenetic, rapid fire cutting. In the various Bourne films, the action is fast and brutal, but it can be tracked. The action scenes in Quantum are so badly edited that the viewer is uncertain as to how many players are in the scenes (how many cars were chasing Bond in the teaser?), the geography of the sequence (the rooftop chase), or what's actually happening (can anyone tell me exactly what the grappling hook in the Haiti boat chase was actually hooked to?). Coupled with director Marc Forster's arty cut-aways, the action sequences of Quantum have no sense of place, no rhythm, no rise and fall, no cohesion at all.

The plot has tons of potential, but is riddled with subplots and elements that are introduced and then promptly forgotten, non-sequiter dialogue (what exactly was the hood in Haiti supposed to "pay better attention" to?), unmemorable supporting characters (Mr. Greene's henchman, "Elvis"), and tediously repeated exposition (how many times do we need to be told how our governments have to deal with bad guys or how M just isn't sure she can trust 007?). As in Casino Royale, Bond once again comes across as a thug, indiscriminate in his use of violence, and, now in this film, a klutz who can't seem to hang onto his gun. (Surprisingly, though, he's now invisible – able to tail suspects in plain sight and never be noticed!) The script also fails by not giving Bond and villain Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric) any good face-to-face confrontations – they only exchange dialogue twice; the first time Bond has two or three lines, and the second is at the climax.

Oh, and putting the gunbarrel at the end? Yeah, I know what they were going for there, but it was stupid decision. The whole point of that trademark sequence is to kick off the movie on a note of eager anticipation; here it just felt like a rerun of Casino Royale's closing scene. And what was with that horridly tepid title sequence? Daniel Klienman, where did you go?

So, did I like anything? Well, yeah. The cast, almost without exception, rises above the limitations of the script, delivering excellent performances across the board. Forster obviously knows how to work with actors. Daniel Craig, who has to work with probably the least amount of dialogue ever given to Bond, still manages to carry the film on his intense, thoughtful performance. The death of Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) is powerful stuff, well played and directed. Olga Kurylenko's Camille is one of the best and most interesting Bond girls in the series – a marred beauty with a mission and motive of her own, and her climactic scenes with Bond are magnificent. Jeffrey Wright returns to the role of Felix Lieter, even if this time his part mostly consists of silently scowling; his one scene with Bond in the bar shows great chemistry, though, and is a highlight of the film. Judi Dench, as usual, shines.

David Arnold's score was excellent – he seems to actually get stronger with each film.

And I do like the introduction of the Quantum criminal organization; it's almost like having SPECTRE back again, even if the name's not nearly as cool, and Mister White's (Jesper Christensen) a pretty humdrum substitute for Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Now, bear in mind that I've only seen the film once so far, and maybe upon subsequent viewings, my opinions will change. But, I've had mixed feelings about this "Bond: Year One" approach all along, and Quantum of Solace seemed to really emphasize the elements I've had the most misgivings about. All this talk about returning the character to his Ian Fleming roots is just a lovely-sounding PR routine – Fleming's Bond wasn't the near-sociopathic killer/imitation Bourne that Craig has been given to play. And, while I've always preferred the more down-to-Earth Bond films – From Russia With love, Thunderball, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, For Your Eyes Only, Licence To Kill – part of the charm of the Bond franchise has been its slightly bigger than life quality; it's what separates Bond from the other spies. Mister Greene's plot to corner the Bolivian water supply just doesn't seem worthy of 007's attentions.

I hope that they've got this tyro-Bond thing out of their system now, and that the next film opens with the gunbarrel, brings back Moneypenny and Q, and gives Daniel Craig's Bond a chance to save the world – or at least England – from a dire threat.

Bond will truly be back.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wednesday Cover: Happy Thanksgiving!

Here's wishing all my friends here in the States a happy Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow. Even with all the crap I've been through the last few years, I know that I've got a lot to be thankful for – and one of those things is this blog, where I can ramble on about damn near anything that's on my mind... and a few people even read it! So, enjoy this rather disturbing cover, and have a great turkey day, folks!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cereal and Pajamas

The Fox network has just announced that they'll be dropping their Saturday morning block of children's programming in favor of infomercials. With this act, the concept of "Saturday Morning" as I knew it growing up, is officially gone.

Thanks primarily to 24-hour cable channels devoted exclusively to children's shows, there will never be another generation of children to know the sublime pleasure of the classic Saturday morning experience.

When I was a kid, it was a big thing. The networks used to buy ads in the comic books promoting their Saturday AM line-ups, and in the 70's they would usually have a prime time preview of all the new shows the Friday night before the new season began. Monday morning playground discussions would frequently include spirited analysis of the previous weekend's offerings.

Me, I'd get up early and stumble downstairs in my Mr. Spock PJs, turning the television set on en route to the kitchen, where I'd fix myself a bowl of Cocoa Puffs or Count Chocula, before sitting on the floor in front of the set. I had the schedule of my favorite shows memorized, and knew which of the three channels(!) I needed to turn to in order to see them. Personally, I really dug the live-action stuff from Sid & Marty Krofft and Filmation, and the adventure cartoons: The Land of the Lost, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, The Super Friends, The New Adventures of Batman, the animated Star Trek, the animated Godzilla and Tarzan. Shazam! and Isis. The Bugaloos and Electrawoman & Dynagirl. The Kids from C.A.P.E.R. The Lost Saucer. Space Ghost. Lidsville. Blue Falcon & Dynomutt. Space Academy and Jason of Star Command. Thundarr the Barbarian. The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show. The Groovie Goolies. Ark II. Return to the Planet of the Apes...

But now, thanks to those aforementioned cable television networks and home video, the institution has faded away. It's a shame. Saturday mornings were something to be eagerly anticipated when I was a kid, something that belonged to me and not to my parents. For those four hours or so, I controlled the TV... and that was special, back then.

Oh well. Network television itself is a dinosaur lumbering towards inevitable extinction, and home entertainment is rapidly evolving into something radically different. We're no longer slaves to rigid network schedules; TV Guide is no longer our bible. We have hundreds of cable channels at our fingertips; video games, the internet (and it'll all be internet soon)... but I still wanted to take a moment to note the passing of an institution – and be grateful that the same home video revolution that helped killed it off has enabled me to collect and own a fair number of the childhood favorites listed above.

DVD Review: The Starlost

Like many other things in my life, I first discovered the existence of The Starlost through the pages of Starlog magazine in the mid-70's. I learned there that it had been a short-lived 1973 television series created by Harlan Ellison, who, dissatisfied by the final product, had chosen to use his pen name of "Cordwainer Bird" in the credits.

I also knew that Keir Dullea, of 2001: A Space Odyssey, played the lead role of Devon, a young Amish man who discovers that his small world of Cypress Corners is actually an artificial biosphere, one of many that make up the Earthship Ark – a vast multi-generation spacecraft. Venturing beyond his own artificial world, he discovers that a cataclysmic accident several hundred years before killed the command crew of the Ark, and it is now crippled and off-course, heading directly toward a star. With his friends Rachel and Garth, Devon searches the Ark for some way to correct the ship's course, or for someone knowledgeable enough save it and the millions of people isolated in their own biospheres – most of whom are unaware that they are on a spaceship at all.

And that was about it.

In the late 80's I came across a paperback copy of Phoenix Without Ashes, Edward Bryant's novelization of Ellison's original pilot script for the series. The introduction to the book – by Ellison himself – detailed the series' troubled production and the reasons for the acclaimed author's unhappiness with the show. The novel was pretty good, and piqued my interest, but as the series had only run for 16 episodes and was virtually unseen in syndication, I figured I'd never see the show. Which disappointed me, because I love 70's sci-fi television, no matter how bad its reputation.

Well, considering all the obscurities that have been dug up and released on DVD in the last decade, I should have guessed that somebody would put it on digital disc eventually, and sure enough, the folks at VCI Entertainment have done just that. All 16 episodes of the Canadian-produced show are now available on a compact, 4-disc set.

Produced on a very small budget, the show was shot on videotape and featured modular sets that could be disassembled and reassembled in different configurations to suggest new sections of the vast Earthship Ark. There was also extensive use of chromakey (bluescreen), which enabled the production team to drop the actors "into" miniature sets, which saved even more money. Too bad most of the miniatures were pretty unconvincing.

The videotape filming, sets and costumes give the series a look similar to Doctor Who episodes of the same vintage, but The Starlost doesn't have the same charismatic characters or ambitious storylines and unbridled imagination of Who. In fact, it's pretty mundane all around.

The stories started out okay – if overly cliched – but soon devolved into silliness, with the sort of ludicrous faux science that was common in the era's sci-fi TV. And that's a real shame since some decent guest stars appeared on the show, including familiar genre faces John Colicos (the original Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek), Barry Morse (Space: 1999), Simon Oakland (Kolchak: The Night Stalker), and Walter Koenig (Star Trek, Babylon 5).

Still, I found myself growing somewhat fond of Devon, Garth (Robin Ward) and Rachel (Gay Rowan), and I thought that some of the episodes were pretty entertaining.

Nonetheless, I can completely understand why Ellison disowned the show, and why noted science fiction writer Ben Bova was embarrassed to be credited as the series' "science advisor" – he was completely ignored by the producers, but they kept his name in the credits for the publicity value. Same with special effects ace Douglas Trumball (2001, Silent Running, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), who quit the show before the first episode was shot, but remained credited as a producer for the entire run.

VCI's DVD set includes all 16 episodes on 4 discs, packed into one standard-sized case. The transfers are sharp and clean, but as noted above, the show was shot on videotape, so the picture quality is far from perfect, with some minor video "noise" and some bleeding colors. It's probably better than it looked on TV in '73, though. The only extra is a presentation reel used to pitch the syndicated series to independent stations before production, hosted by Dullea and Trumball. In this short film, the series is verbally described by Dullea, accompanied by stock effects shots from Trumball's then-recent feature, Silent Running.

The Starlost is a classic missed opportunity – with Ellison, Bova and Trumball aboard, it should have been something remarkable, and revolutionary. Unfortunately, the realities of independent television production, and the bad judgment of the producers resulted instead in an artistic and commercial misfire, interesting only to die hard fans of 70's genre television like myself.

If you consider yourself such a fan, then VCI's set is worth checking out.

Monday, November 24, 2008

DVD PReview: Merlin & The War of the Dragons

The Asylum is a film production company that specializes in quick, cheap knock-offs of large studio films, designed to catch some of the "buzz" of the blockbusters and catch unwary video renters off guard. Some of their titles include I Am Omega, Transmorphers, Death Racers, Sunday School Musical and The Day The Earth Stopped.... as well as their own "takes" on public domain titles like War of the Worlds and Journey to the Center of the Earth. In the trade, their products are often referred to as "mockbusters."

As you might expect, their movies generally are not very good. Oh, some are watchable and even somewhat entertaining, with SciFi Channel-level CGI special effects and some familiar actors whose careers are on the wane (C. Thomas Howell, Judd Nelson, Greg Evigan, Chris Atkins, etc.), but most are tedious, poorly conceived and full of questionable performances.

But I've now seen the exception. An Asylum film that's actually pretty good.

Their upcoming release, Merlin and The War of the Dragons, tells the tale of young Merlin and his first "adventure," as he must defend the Normans from a Saxon warlord and a rogue wizard who controls a flock of fire-breathing dragons... and ultimately help Uther Pendragon become king.

Filmed entirely on location in Wales by director/cinematographer/editor Mark Atkins, with an almost entirely unknown Welsh cast, the film borrows a bit from 80's fantasy films like Excalibur and Dragonslayer, but manages to work as a solid fantasy story in its own right. Veteran German actor Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot, The DaVinci Code) anchors the film as Merlin's teacher, while newcomer Simon Lloyd Roberts makes a credible young wizard's apprentice on the verge of becoming a legend. The rest of the cast – mostly stage-trained, I assume – is more than competent as well, which makes Merlin far superior to most Asylum films in the acting catagory.

Costumes, props and art direction are all of surprisingly high quality, and the CGI effects are somewhat better than usual for a direct-to-DVD fantasy film, with some very striking bits of computer animation, well-edited by director Atkins. Nothing looks particularly cheesy. Even the music is remarkably good; a rich, sweeping score well-suited to a fantasy epic.

Don't get me wrong – this is no Lord of the Rings and Atkins is no Peter Jackson... but he might be, someday. The microscopic budget is sorely evident in the battle scenes, where a handful of extras valiantly attempt to pass as a much larger force, and in the filmmaker's reliance on shooting almost exclusively outdoors among (admittedly picturesque) ruins and caves, rather than on costly interior sets. Still... those outdoor locations are beautiful, and do much to enhance the film's overall "production value"...

I liked it.

For fans of fantasy films, I recommend giving Merlin and the War of the Dragons a rental spin in your DVD player when it hits Hollywood Video in the next month or so. It's not a masterpiece of the genre, but it's a lot better than it has any right to be, considering it was shot in less than two weeks for virtually no money. And its definitely better than the low budget sword and sorcery "epics" of my youth, like the Deathstalker series or Hundra!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Black Dynamite!

I'm a huge fan of 70's "blaxploitation" films and their stars. Richard Roundtree, Jim Brown, Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, and especially Isaac Hayes in Truck Turner. Well, this is a new film in the genre, and the trailer is fantastic – it should be, as it's inspired by Rudy Ray Moore's Dolemite trailer. Check this muthafucka out!

Here's the official Black Dynamite website.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Digger and the Dame

Here are four recent pages of pencils by Rick Burchett for our upcoming Gravedigger graphic novel, The Predators. These have been shipped off to artist Fred Harper (who drew my Nightmark feature in the old Shadow House comic I used to publish) for inking.

You may notice something familiar about the hot babe in these pages – yeah, that's right, she's modeled after Angie Dickinson. I figured that since Digger was obviously based on the late, great Lee Marvin, it was time for him to run up against one of his more frequent co-stars (Point Blank, The Killers, Death Hunt).

It's going slow – Rick and Fred are both insanely busy with other work – but we're shooting to have this out next year.

Click on the images for larger views.

To Boldly Go... Again!

I'm sure that pretty much anyone who's interested has already seen this, but here's the new trailer for J.J. Abrams' re-imagining of the Star Trek franchise:

While the old school Trekkie in me is annoyed by the various and sundry changes to the classic Trek mythos – from Kirk knowing how to drive a car (although he didn't in "A Piece Of the Action,"), the shot of the Enterprise being constructed on the surface of the Earth in a desert instead of in orbit over San Francisco, the new iMac-inspired Enterprise interiors, etc. – the slightly more reasonable and marginally more mature side of my Trekkie-dom is starting to get excited.

Sure, it looks different, and it sounds like they're crafting a new continuity and giving the whole franchise a reboot, but maybe, just maybe... if they can keep the heart and soul of the characters and Gene Roddenberry's concept.... maybe it will work.

I guess we'll find out next Summer.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Back @ Home

I'm back from my trip, and back to work, trying to get a couple of scripts written before the end of the month, and starting to ramp up a few new projects.

I'm finally getting around to the Captain Midnight project that's been gestating for several years now. I think Moonstone and I have finally gotten our heads together on a format and a plan, and I'm shooting to get my end of it done by the end of the year. I'm also talking to them about some other interesting projects including possible returns to the worlds of Kolchak and The Spider. Keep your fingers crossed.

Progress continues to be made, albeit slowly, on Perils on Planet X and the new Gravedigger graphic novel, both for Ape Entertainment. I'm hopeful that both projects will finally see the light of day in 2009. I'm also working on further adventures of Femme Noir, beginning with a double-sized Annual, Supernatural Crime, tentatively planned for next Summer.

Speaking of Femme Noir, I'm told that Issue #4 of The Dark City Diaries will be out in about a month.

Another project I'm excited about is "The Name On The Poster," an 8-page Western story that I've written, which will appear in next year's Outlaw Territory anthology from Image Comics. The story is being drawn by my Femme Noir co-creator, Joe Staton, and will be inked by my Gravedigger accomplice, Rick Burchett. I've included the first page of pencils here. It's my first pro work in the Western genre, and it's a real joy having my two favorite collaborators team up on the art.

I finally saw Hellboy II on DVD and thought it was great.. Guillermo Del Toro is just an astounding visual stylist, and I truly hope he returns to the property to finish up a trilogy. Of course, he's got The Hobbit film(s) to do first, and at least a half-dozen other projects on his plate, so we'll have to see how it works out.

I also saw Get Smart, which I didn't hate, but I wish it had hewed closer to the tone of the old television show and that Steve Carrell and the scriptwriters had made Maxwell Smart at least slightly resemble Don Adams' character. The cast was good, for the most part, and Anne Hathaway was gorgeous, but it was ultimately a bit disappointing.

Hoping to see Quantum Of Solace before the end of the week, probably Thursday. So far, I'm hearing very mixed reports, so i'm trying to keep my expectations low. I had very mixed feelings about Casino Royale, and although I liked it overall, there were things about it that I didn't care for... and it sounds like Quantum is made up primarily of those same things.

Oh well, I'll know for sure in a few days.

Hope you guys enjoyed the "Joe Walker" stories. There wasn't much feedback, so I don't think I'll be posting any more fiction pieces here – unless I go out of town again, anyway!

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Walker Files: The Scroll of Solomon, Part 2

And here's the conclusion of "The Scroll of Solomon," a "Joe Walker" adventure:
Four burly tribesmen, wearing robes and turbans, worked in silence to remove the fallen stonework that barred the entrance to the chamber where my friend Doctor Richard Brendon and his young colleague, the lovely Egyptian Talia Khari, believed an ancient artifact, the Scroll of Solomon, was interred.

I had come to Northern Yemen to witness the excavation of the ancient city of Marib, believed by archaeologists to be the long-lost capital of the Queen of Sheba. More than 3,000 years ago, the Queen of Sheba had ruled a vast Empire that encompassed much of what is now Ethiopia and Somalia. For several years now, an international team of scientists had been using radar to map the city buried beneath the constantly shifting, sun-baked sands of the Arabian Desert. Using the radar data, they’d been slowly unearthing Marib’s secrets.

Now we stood literally on the threshold of possibly the greatest archaeological find since the Dead Sea Scrolls. Around 940 BC, the Queen of Sheba had traveled to meet King Solomon of Israel to seek the benefit of his wisdom. Talia, the beautiful young archaeologist from Cairo, had found inscriptions, which led Dick Brendon to believe that the chamber before us, deep in the bowels of the Maharam Biquis – or Temple of the Moon God – contained a scroll, penned by Solomon himself.

The tribesmen cleared the last of the fallen stonework from the heavy sandstone door. Dick inspected the seal carefully as Talia stood nearby, a camera around her neck and thick, leather-bound notebook in hand, ready to record whatever waited beyond the portal. Her eyes gleamed in the light of the bare electric bulbs strung along the ancient corridor.
I desperately wanted a cigarette, and absently scratched at the nicotine patch on my shoulder.

The look on Dick’s face was one of pure joy – this is what the old bonedigger lived for. "All right, men," he said to the robed workers. "Let’s give it a push. Carefully, now."

Two of the tribesmen stepped forward and put their weight against the sandstone.

After a moment, there was a slight rumble as the heavy stone slowly shifted. "Careful," Dick whispered as the burly laborers slowly pushed open the 3,000-year-old door. Once it was open, Dick, flashlight in his hand, ducked and entered the room. Talia and I followed, and the tribesmen were a few steps behind us.

The room was large and oval shaped, the ceiling coming to a dome above us. Six limestone columns ringed the room, and at least a dozen beautiful bronze statues, each a couple of feet tall, were set into alcoves even spaced around the room. In the center of the room was a raised dais, and upon the dais was a large bronze chest.

"It’s incredible," Dick said. "This chamber hasn’t been disturbed in thirty centuries."

Talia stepped forward toward the bronze chest. "Wait!" Dick cried. "We have to document this find. I need pictures, and we have to…"

Talia turned to him, her dark eyes shining. "I don’t think so, Dr. Brendon," she said. "I don’t have time for such foolishness." Suddenly there was a gun in her hand; a small revolver.

I started to step toward her when I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder. It was one of the tribesmen. In his other hand he held a long, curved dagger.

"What is the meaning of this?" Dick demanded, as another of the laborers stepped up to grab him.

Talia laughed. "Ever since I found the inscriptions, I knew that the Scroll, if it existed, would be priceless," she paused. "But rest assured, I intend to put a price on it, Doctor. A very high price."

"But you’re a scientist, Talia!"

"You should have checked my credentials more carefully, Doctor." She turned to the dais, and reached for the shining casket.

I watched helplessly as the beautiful Egyptian girl placed her hands on the lid of the bronze chest, and wished I had my Glock. I tried to think of a way to stop her, but the long knife pressed against my side was making it difficult to come up with a plan.

Talia opened the chest and reached inside. Dick gasped at the careless handling of the ancient treasure. "Careful! You’ll damage it!"

Talia lifted a tightly rolled scroll from the case. Her brilliant smile glowed in the beam from Dick’s flashlight. "Don’t worry, Doctor," she said. "I won’t let anything happen to the Scroll. It is my fortune, after all."

Suddenly, I felt a cool breeze across my neck, and the centuries of dust and sand in the chamber began to stir and lift into the air. The tribesmen began to mutter to themselves as the wind began to pick up. I looked around, but I couldn’t see where it came from.

Dick’s flashlight beam began to flicker. "What’s going on?" Talia demanded.

"I don’t know," Dick said, his voice cracking with fear.

"Put the scroll back, Talia," I said.


Suddenly, Dick’s flashlight beam went out and the room was plunged into darkness. The unexplained wind picked up, and it was cold; arctic cold. My sweat-soaked shirt stiffened against my skin. My stomach tightened in a familiar way, and I knew that old fear.

When the ground began to tremble, the tribesmen started yelling in Arabic. I twisted away from my captor and dived to the stone floor. I rolled a few feet and came to a stop against a limestone column.

And then, without warning, the wind stopped. A warm, golden light filled the room, and I could make out the ghostly image of a woman’s face, beautiful, oval-shaped with large dark eyes and full red lips, in the air above the dais. Dick could see it too, and he stared in mute terror.

Talia looked up at the face and screamed. She fell to the floor, and the scroll rolled from her hand.

And then it was over.

The room was dark again, except for Dick’s flashlight beam, which had miraculously returned to life. The tribesmen fled down the long stone corridor. I rushed to Talia’s side as Dick gingerly scooped up the scroll and placed it back in the bronze casket. I checked for a pulse.

Talia Khari was dead.

"What was that, Walker?" Dick asked.

I thought about it for a moment before answering. Had we seen the shade of the Queen of Sheba, still watching over her treasures after 3,000 years? Or had it been some ancient Arabian deity, some guardian goddess?

I turned to Dick and replied: "What was what?"

"That… apparition –"

"Sorry, Dick," I cut him off.
"I didn't see a goddamn thing."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wednesday Cover: Doomsday +1

Here's an early piece by the nigh-legendary John Byrne: the cover of the pos-Apocalyptic science fiction series Doomsday +1, published by Charlton Comics in the mid-Seventies. Written by prolific Charlton head writer, Joe Gill, Doomsday +1 was a surprisingly smart adventure series, and one of the best books ever published by the Derby, CT company.

Byrne's art on the title was remarkably accomplished, considering his inexperience at the time, and his work on this title, as well as the latter issues of the company's Space: 1999 comic, still ranks as some of my favorite comic art, ever. In fact, I prefer it to much of his later work for Marvel and other companies.

Another cool thing about this cover – aside from the trademark Byrne robot and the great composition – are the colors, which, when looked at closely, have clearly been rendered in magic marker! Great stuff.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Walker Files: The Scroll of Solomon, Part 1

Here's one last "Joe Walker" adventure from my tabloid days. The second part of this story will post on Friday. Hope you folks have been finding these entertaining, at least.
The shifting sands of northern Yemen’s Rub al-Khali desert and the robed and turbaned local tribesman at my side were my only companions as I made my way to the excavation of the ancient city of Marib. I was perched uncomfortably on the back of a rank-smelling camel I’d named Otis, and I was exhausted from my travels. The incredible heat had sweat pouring down my back in rivers and my bones ached from the camel’s heavy, loping gait.

My guide led me to the base camp of the international archaeological expedition that was currently toiling in this desert hell to uncover the ancient secrets and treasures of Marib, the city of the legendary Queen of Sheba, long-buried here along the ancient trade routes to Oman.

I remembered from my school days that the Queen of Sheba had ruled a vast empire of wealth and power in this part of Arabia, encompassing land on both sides of the Red Sea, including much of what’s now Ethiopia and Somalia. It was an empire built on the spice trade in frankincense and myrrh.

Now that vast empire was buried beneath the ever-changing white sand, and all that showed of it were a few giant limestone columns and crumbling walls poking up from below the ground amid the tent city of the archaeological expedition.

Doctor Richard Brendon, one of the team leaders at the Marib dig, greeted me. He and I went way back – and I owed him a favor or three. About five-foot-eleven, with dirty blond hair and a frame that implied long and physical labor, Dick looked at least fifteen years younger than his true 67. I wish I’d aged as well.

At his side was a beautiful young woman in her late twenties. She wore khaki shorts and an olive-green tank top. Her skin was dark and dusky, and black sunglasses hid her eyes. A brightly-colored scarf was tied up on her head around her dark hair like a turban.

"Walker," Dick said. "You made it!"

"No thanks to this damned camel," I spat as I clumsily dismounted the kneeling beast. "I think he was trying to shake my tired old body apart."

"Worth their weight in gold, Joe," Dick said, a broad smile creasing his rugged face. "Even after thousands of years, there’s no better way to travel the sand."

I shook his hand. "Damn, but it’s good to see you," I said.

"You too, Walker." Dick turned his attention to the young woman at his side. "Allow me to introduce Doctor Talia Khari, an assistant curator from the Cairo Museum. She’s part of the international team, and she’s been a great help in our work."

"Thank you, Doctor," she said softly. Even though I couldn't see them but I was pretty sure she had her eyes fixed on me behind the dark glasses. For some reason, that made me nervous.

We retired to Brendon’s tent, where a makeshift field office greeted me. Wooden tables were covered with tools and old pottery. A few bronze statues shined amid the rubble. A couple of old Army cots and a small, portable refrigerator made the tent seem almost homey. Dick showed me to a battered folding chair and offered me a beer. "It’s cold, Walker. That’s the real reason we haul gas generators out here, you know: to keep our beer cold."

I took a deep pull on the green bottle. The brand was unfamiliar to me; the label unreadable. The cold liquid rushed down my paper-dry throat, washing away a day’s worth of sand and grit. It was the best beer I’d ever tasted.

"I’m glad you could come, Walker," Dick repeated. "I think we have something here that would be of great interest to your readers. You know the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba?"

"Only what I saw in the movies. Yul Brynner and Gina Lollobrigida, right?"

He grinned. "Forget Hollywood, old friend. Around 940 BC, the Queen traveled to meet with King Solomon of Israel. The Bible tells us it was to seek the King’s wisdom. But it’s all pretty vague what that wisdom actually was.

"For two years, teams have been using radar to map the ruins under the sand. We use the radar data to help determine where we’ll dig next. Just now, we've been concentrating on excavating the Mahram Biquis – the Temple of the Moon God. It’s a magnificent structure, still mostly intact, and full of new discoveries." He turned to Dr. Khari, who sat nearby; hands folded in her lap. There was an odd tension in her posture, but Dick seemed unaware of it.

"A week ago, Talia found references to a previously unheard-of document. If we can actually uncover it, it will be the greatest archaeological discovery since the Dead Sea Scrolls!"

"What is it?" I asked.

Talia Khari spoke up. She’d removed her sunglasses in the tent and her eyes were black and bottomless. "The Scroll of Solomon. The actual wisdom and word of Solomon, passed to the Queen of Sheba, who he regarded as a righteous woman. If it still exists, it would be priceless."

"And you think it’s buried out there somewhere?"

"We’re sure of it, " said Dick. "We’ve been working for the last five days to uncover the chamber said to be the reliquary of the scroll. It’s a small antechamber deep in the heart of the Temple."

He went to the small refrigerator and pulled out two more beers, untwisting the caps with a massive hand. "Your arrival is particularly well-timed, old friend," he said as he offered me one.

"Tomorrow we open the Chamber of the Scroll of Solomon."
To Be Continued

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Femme Noir #3 Review

I guess issue #3 of Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries did indeed go on sale last Wednesday, as I stumbled across a nice review of it over at Comixtreme's "Done-In-One Reviews:"
As if Port Nocturne didn’t have enough problems with crime there is a new menace prowling the street. During one of the many gangland shootings, a local hood gets mortally wounded, but manages to stumble into a lab that is owned by the US Government and you wouldn’t believe what they are trying to create inside. And it will take all the skills and tenacity of the mysterious Blonde Justice to stop this rampaging metal monster from taking over the entire city. This is certainly a unique mob-story; it has plenty of action with a Sci-fi twist, but it still retains its seedy style. If you like hard boiled action and ladies packing plenty of heat than this title is for you.Rating: 3.5/5—Terry Verticchio

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Blogging from the Road

Here I am in Little Rock, Arkansas, at my in-laws' place.

I'm told that Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries #3 went on sale this past Wednesday. I haven't been able to personally confirm that, but I'm hoping that it is true. The issue is probably the best one so far, and it's way overdue. I'm hoping that people will find that it was worth the wait and be forgiving.

Anyway -- I'll be on the road for another few days. When I get home, I'll have a lot to do, and it may take me a while to catch up with all my mail and my various assignments, so if you don't hear from me for a while, that's why. In the meantime, I hope you're enjoying these old "Joe Walker" tabloid pulp adventures, and that you'll drop me a note in the comments and let me know what you think.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Walker Files: Chupacabra, Part 2

And now, the exciting conclusion...
I was cold and sleepy, and I wished I were somewhere else. Anywhere other than here, downwind from a herd of sheep. A few feet away, his back against a large boulder, Miguel Martinez sat with an old Remington rifle across his knees, a stubby, hand-rolled cigarette dangling from his lips. I craved a Marlboro, but, since I’m trying to quit, I resisted the urge.

The sky was cloudless, black as velvet and casually strewn with stars. There was no moon. My butt was sore from sitting on the hard ground, and I stood to stretch my legs.

"Here, senor," Miguel whispered as he tossed me a thermos. "Have some coffee."

I had to admit my opinion of Miguel had improved a bit. I’d first met him in the local cantina, where he’d polished off a bottle of mescal all by himself. He’d been surly and not just a little scared, thoroughly shaken by his previous encounter with the night beast. But this evening he was sober and steady. He might still be scared, but he was determined to bag himself a goat-sucker, no matter what.

I poured myself a cup of strong, black Mexican brew, and leaned against a boulder to drink it. I checked my watch, and the softly-lit face of my Timex told me it was almost one in the morning.

I was getting too old for this kind of stuff.

I heard the scrape of boots on rock and heard gravel roll downhill. I turned, my hand reaching toward the .38 revolver I’d borrowed from Jim Gunn. I pulled it from my belt as lovely, raven-haired Consuela appeared from the shadows. Miguel’s sister held a basket in one hand.
"Damn it, Consuela," I growled. "I might have shot you."

"Sorry, Senor Walker," she replied. "I thought you and my brother may be hungry."

Miguel rose, a smile on his face. "Si," he agreed. "I am starving."

Suddenly, we heard a commotion amid the herd of goats. "Consuela, stay here." I whispered urgently, and then Miguel and I scrambled across the rocks to get a look at his livestock.

The herd was moving down the narrow valley, away from the spot they’d been grazing. We pushed our way through the panicked animals and there, in the glare of my flashlight beam, we saw something that froze my blood in my veins.

It was about five feet tall, with an oversized skull and giant, glowing eyes. Long spikes, like porcupine quills, lined its back and it had two vicious claws. Its mouth was filled with razor-like teeth, and it crouched on the body of one of Miguel’s goats, blood dripping from its chin.

It was the Chupacabra.

And it was real.

Miguel raised his rifle, but the creature sprang at the scrawny youth, knocking him to the ground with its body. Miguel screamed, and the rifle went off, sending a bullet harmlessly into the sky.

The creature made no sound of its own, but it tore at Miguel with its claws. I pulled the feeble .38 from my belt and fired off a shot that buried itself in the ground a few feet from the struggling forms. The creature stopped its attack then, and turned those giant eyes on me.
It came at me then, covering ground at an incredible rate, and as it leapt, I fired again. This time the bullet caught it in the right shoulder, and the hideous beast twisted in midair and plummeted to the ground.

It let out a blood-curdling hiss and scrambled off into the shadows.

For several moments I stood there, unmoving, arm and gun extended in front of me, breathing hard, my heart pounding in my chest. The entire encounter had taken but seconds.

"Miguel!" I heard Consuela cry and it snapped me out of spell. I found my flashlight and rushed to her brother’s side as she came scrambling down from the rocks. He was a mess. His shirt was torn to shreds, and there were long gashes in his chest and arms. He was breathing, thank God.

Suddenly Consuela was at my side. "Walker, is he…?"

"He’s alive. But we’ve got to get him to a doctor."

It took over an hour to carry Miguel back to his family’s farm, and it was nearly dawn before we were able to get a doctor from the village to come out and treat the kid. But by the time I finally gave in and lit up my first cigarette of the day, it looked like he was going to pull through. Jim Gunn picked me up at the Martinez house around seven.

As we drove through town back to his lakeside villa, I noticed a bearded peasant beside the road, watching intently as Jim’s dusty car drove past. His eyes were hidden beneath the brim of a straw sombrero, and there was a dirty burlap sling on his arm. His right arm.

As I watched the peasant recede into the distance, Jim said: "So, tell me the truth, old pal. Did you see it, Walker?"

"Yeah, Jim," I said. "I saw it."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Walker Files: Chupacabra, Part 1

Here's another "Joe Walker" adventure. Hope you enjoy it.
James Mason Gunn looked at me across the table, bottle in hand, the cool breeze off the lake blowing his thin white hair. "This should be right up your alley, Walker, old pal. Tequila?"

"No thanks," I said. We were sitting on the porch of Jim’s villa in the beautiful village of Lake Chalapa, Mexico, an hour or so from Guadalajara. A former newspaper reporter from New York, Jim Gunn was an old-school newsman: hard working, hard drinking, and, frankly, hard to take. He and I had known each other for almost thirty years, but I wouldn’t really call us friends. Upon his retirement, Jim had moved to this quiet Mexican town, where there was already a small American community, to relax, drink Tequila, and write a novel. That was five years ago, and he seemed to have two of the three down. "So your letter said. What’s your interest?"

"Miguel is a friend of mine." He poured himself another shot of amber fire. "He does some handyman work around town, but his real livelihood comes from his family farm in the hills north of here. Lately, something’s been killing off his livestock."

"A mountain lion?"

"No," Jim said. "Mountain lions don’t drink goat blood and leave the carcasses to rot in the sun. Miguel – and the local villagers – believe it’s a chupacabra."

"Chupacabra? I thought that was a Puerto Rican folk tale."

"No. The chupacabras are real, old pal. And they’ve been reported all through South and Central America. Even north of the border."

"Anybody actually see one of these beasts?" I asked as I touched the flame from my Bic to the tip of a Marlboro, promising myself it would be the last of the day.

"Yes. Two witnesses. Miguel and his sister."

"I’d like to talk to them," I said.

"That’s no problem," Jim said. "Consuela works at the cantina, and this time of day, we’ll probably find Miguel there, too."

The cantina was a one-story adobe-and-wood structure at one end of a dusty street, away from the nice shops and white villas of the expatriate Americanos. This was a local watering hole, and while Jim seemed at home there, I felt a lot of wary eyes on me as we walked through the beaded curtain over the door. It was dark inside, and it took my eyes a few minutes to adjust, but when they did, I saw Jim heading for a long wooden bar. I followed.

I took the stool beside Jim and was pleasantly surprised by the bartender. She was about eighteen, tall and shapely, with long black hair that fell to the middle of her back. It was tied back, but not braided. Her skin was dark and smooth, her lips full, and her eyes were black obsidian. She was lovely.

"Walker, old pal," Jim said. "This is Consuela Martinez, Miguel’s brother."

"Pleased to meet you, senorita."

"Thank you, senor. Can I get you a drink?"

"I’ll take a cold Corona, if you have one."


"Is your brother here, Consuela?" Jim asked.

She nodded and pointed towards the back of the room. "Si. He’s waiting for you, Senor Gunn."

She placed an ice-cold bottle of beer on the bar in front of me, beads of condensation running down the glass. "Go on back. I’ll get Maria to watch the bar, and I’ll join you in a minute."

I took my bottle and followed Jim to a dark booth in the rear of the cantina. I still felt like the other patrons were staring at me suspiciously. Miguel was about twenty-five, skinny, with dark circles under his eyes. He looked exhausted. He had a nearly-empty bottle of mescal in front of him. He hardly looked up as Jim and I slid into the booth across from him.

"Miguel," said Jim. "This is my friend Walker. Remember, I told you about him?"

Miguel muttered something in slurred Spanish. All I caught was "gringo."

"You must forgive my brother," Consuela said as she appeared suddenly at my elbow. "He hasn’t slept for three days and he’s been drinking far too much." She sat down beside him and put a hand on his arm.

"What happened?" I asked.

"We’ve been losing goats for almost a month. One, two a week. Three nights ago, Miguel took our father’s rifle and decided to watch the herd and see if anything attacked them. About midnight, I decided to take him some food and coffee. When I arrived, he was asleep."

"I was not asleep," Miguel muttered.

"Suddenly, there was a disturbance among the goats, and most of the herd broke and ran away. I took my flashlight and Miguel and I went to investigate. What we found chilled my blood, senor."

"What did you see?"

"It was a monster, senor. It had one of our goats down on the ground and was sucking the blood from it. I swear, senor. It was El Chupacabara."

She was completely serious. "Can you describe it, Consuela?"

"It was about the size of a child, but it had large eyes that glowed white in the dark. It had a row of spikes running down its back and a short tail. When we shined our light on it, it whipped its head around and stared at us with those terrible devil’s eyes. Its mouth was filled with sharp teeth."

"So, what do you say, old pal?" Gunn asked me.

"I don’t follow.’

"You’re a hunter, Walker. You want to help us kill this evil little goat-sucker?"

"I don’t hunt anymore, Gunn. Did anyone call the authorities?"

"The official line is that these little monsters don’t exist," Gunn said with a smile. "Even though I know the local cops believe in it. But there’s nothing they can do."

"So you want me to go out into this hills with a rifle and shoot the thing."

"No," said Miguel suddenly. "I will shoot the chupacabra. Tonight. And I will go alone."

"Miguel," his sister whispered. "Mr. Walker is a famous American reporter. Maybe he could go with you, so he can tell the story to his readers."

Miguel thought about it for a second. "Then I will be famous, too?"

"Sure," I said.

"Then he can come."

It was soon agreed that Jim Gunn would drive me out to the Martinez farm after dinner, and come nightfall, I would go with Miguel in search of the legendary goat-sucker. Before leaving the cantina, Consuela took me aside.

"Please, Senor Walker. Take care of my brother. He hasn’t been well since we saw the monster that night."

I looked into those dark eyes. What a damned fool I am for a pretty girl.

"I will, Consuela.

"And we’ll get the damned Chupacabra, too."

To Be Continued

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Wednesday Cover: Detective Comics

Here's the cover to one of my favorite comics ever – Detective 443, which wrapped up Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson's legendary Manhunter run of back-up adventures with an explosive team-up with the title's lead hero, Batman. Best of all, my favorite Bat-artist of the era, Jim Aparo, drew the cover. Man, I love his lithe, dangerous-looking Batman!

The rest of the 100-page issue was filled out with awesome Golden Age reprints and new Robin and Creeper tales. Damn, comics used to be so cool!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Walker Files: Hunting Bigfoot, Part 2

Here's the second part of my first "Joe Walker" tabloid adventure. For an explanation of this series of stories, scroll down and check out the previous post.
We set out before dawn the next morning, Mike Grayle’s gigantic black Hummer packed with camping supplies and hunting gear. We headed for the hills where the Bigfoot tracks had been found by his construction crew, the military-style vehicle climbing the muddy dirt roads like a mountain cat.

I rode shotgun as we drove in silence; each of us lost in our own thoughts. I guessed the old big game hunter was dreaming about the glory, fame and financial rewards that would come to him if he actually bagged himself one of the legendary man-beasts. Me, I was thinking what a damned fool I was for coming along on this insane hunt, and wondering how I could stop Grayle from killing a legend – if it existed at all.

We set up camp a mile or two up the mountain from the construction site where Grayle’s crew was building a hotel. It was there that the Sasquatch’s footprints had been found, but Mike figured that the creatures had to live in the caves that riddled the mountain higher up. Once we had a base camp established, we set out to hunt for Bigfoot. Mike carried his weathered and beaten Holland & Holland, while I carried a Nikon camera and my trusty Glock in a Bianchi holster, worn low on my hip.

The terrain was rocky and wet; water dripped from the trees and the rocks were slick with soggy moss. It was slow going. Every once in a while Mike would stop and inspect the ground searching for spoor, but he never found a trace of his quarry. Not so much as a footprint or clump of hair.

For three days we found nothing. We’d hiked what seemed like a couple hundred miles up and down that mountain, forged frigid streams, and poked our noses into countless dark caves. It had rained from dawn to dusk each day. By evening on the third, Grayle was getting ugly and short-tempered, and truth be told, so was I.

"How much longer are we going to traipse around out here, Mike? My feet are cold, my ass is wet, and I’ve had just about enough of this foolishness." We paused to rest beneath a massive outcropping of granite, our backs against the stone as we tried vainly to get out of the rain.

"They’re here, Walker. I know it. Just shut up and come on."

"I’m not kidding, Mike. I’m not going to spend the rest of my life on this mountain looking for a figment of some hoaxer’s imagination. If there are such things as Bigfoot, they’re not on this mountain.

"Face it, pal. You’ve been had."

I let that sink in. Grayle’s face, already pink from exertion, turned bright red with rage. "What’s happened to you, Walker? We used to hunt lions together, for chrissake.

"Maybe you’ve gone all lily-livered on me. What’s the matter, old man? Yellow?"

"Shut up, Mike," I warned. "We’re both tired and wet and miserable. Let’s just head back to camp – it’ll be dark soon. We can get out of these wet clothes and get something to eat. We can talk about it there."

"I’m not ready to go back yet, Walker," he said menacingly. I didn’t like the look in his eyes or the way he held his iron. I tickled the butt of my Glock with my fingertips.

"I’m going," I said, and took a step toward the trees.

He raised the massive Holland & Holland, and I stared down two gaping barrels. "You’re not going anywhere. I’m going to bag myself a Bigfoot, and you’re going to be there to document it, understand?"

"This is nuts, Mike."

"Hand over that fancy shooter of yours, Walker."

I stared into his face and wondered if he really was crazy enough to kill me. As if reading my mind, he thumbed back the hammers on his rifle. "Give me your gun."

I slowly pulled the Glock from its holster with two fingers and tossed it into the mud at Grayle’s feet. He crouched to pick it up, but the H&H was too heavy to handle with one hand. When the barrels dipped, I took my chance. I acted without thinking; if I’d given it any thought at all, I never would have been so reckless.

I dived for the old hunter and grabbed at the rifle, pushing it away from me. He lost his balance and fell in the mud. Thank God the gun didn’t go off. It would have cut me in two.

I stepped on it, burying it in the mud. "You crazy S.O. B!" I yelled, adrenaline surging through my body, my hands clenched into fists and shaking. "You tried to kill me!"

He shook his head. "No… I…"

Then he stopped.

His eyes were wide and fixed on some point behind me, back among the trees. "Walker..." he whispered. "Behind you."

"I’m not falling for that old trick, Mike." Did he think I was as crazy as he was?

"Walker, old man, I’m sorry. You really have to look. He’s there."

His whole manner had changed. His face was pale. All the rage and insanity had disappeared from his face.

I took a chance.

I slowly turned my head.

There, only thirty feet away, among the wet pines and half-hidden by the undergrowth, stood a tall, dark figure.

It had to be seven feet tall, massively muscled and covered with black, matted hair. It stared at us as we stared at it, and in the shadows of twilight I can’t be sure, but it seemed to me that there was sadness in its dark eyes. We watched it and it watched us for several minutes, and Grayle seemed to have completely forgotten about killing it.

After a while it moved, and I heard Grayle gasp. It turned and headed off into the trees. "Walker, your camera!" Mike hissed.

I had completely forgotten it. Quickly I pulled it from my jacket pocket and snapped off a shot.

We made our way back to camp and neither of us said a word about our encounter with a legend. I know the experience changed me, and I suspect it changed Grayle, too.

He left his gun on the mountain.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Walker Files: Hunting Bigfoot, Part 1

Back when I worked on the Sun tabloid some years ago, we ran a series of short "true adventure" stories ostensibly written by one of our reporters. Needless to say, that reporter was a figment of someone's imagination, as were his adventures. Well, for a couple months, the editor responsible for actually writing these tales – which, from the mail, a surprising number of our readers thought were real – was unable to fit the weekly feature into his schedule, so I was asked to take it over for a while. As I'm off on my two week road trip with my wife, I thought I'd schedule a few of these to post here, for the amusement of this blog's handful of readers.

I've changed the main character's name and added a line or two, here and there, but here's my first two-part adventure.

It's not all that great, frankly, but considering the the super short word count, very short schedule and the limitations of working with the character as established, I think it's it turned out okay....
"Iron" Mike Grayle was a world-renowned big game hunter. Over six feet tall and built like a linebacker, he had to be at least sixty years old, but not a single gray hair showed in his jet black, slightly Satanic goatee. His craggy face was the color and texture of sandstone, and his grip was still a bone crusher.

"Walker, old boy! Glad you could make it," he said, shaking my hand.

"Well, your letter was intriguing, to say the least. What’s this all about, Mike?"

"It’s a story, Walker! The biggest of your career." He grabbed one of my suitcases and led me out of the Portland, Oregon airport towards the short-term parking lot. There, he tossed my bag into the back of a gigantic, black Hummer.

My name is Joe Walker, and I'm a reporter for the Weekly Eclipse, a national supermarket tabloid. Our offices are in Miami, Florida, but I'm rarely there. At my paper's expense – and my editor's disgust – I spend most of my time on planes, boats, horses, donkeys and camels, travelling to the world's most remote and unappealing tourist spots, pursuing stories about the bizarre and unusual. I find both with surprising frequency.

Two hours after Grayle picked me up in Portland, we were sitting in front of a fire at his twenty-room "hunting lodge" sixty miles to the North, drinking coffee after a huge steak dinner. I lit up a Marlboro and said, "Okay, Mike. It’s a nice place you’ve got here and the meal was great. But I haven’t seen or spoke to you since Kenya, back in '82, when we had that run-in with the ivory poachers. Your letter was vague and you’ve been avoiding my questions all night. If you want me to hang around, you’re going to have to give me something."

"You still hunt, Walker?" he asked, a glint in his eye, as he put a match to an elaborately carved Meerschaum pipe.

"No, lost my stomach for it."

"Too bad. But I can understand it. It’s a different world now; the days of the ‘Great White Hunter’ have passed. The true game animals have been over-hunted by amateurs and poachers, and there are damned few places in the world left to really get out in the wild and pit yourself against nature."

"Right," I agreed, but he didn’t understand at all. It was the killing I’d lost my taste for. At one time, I’d been caught up in the excitement of the hunt, too; but after that trip to Kenya and witnessing the savage butchery of the great elephants simply for profit, I’d had enough. Clearly Mike hadn’t. "So, is that what this is about? You want me to join you on a hunt?"

"Exactly! But a hunt unlike any you’ve ever experienced. Follow me." He led me down the hall to huge, high-ceilinged room. It was his trophy room. The room was an impressive tribute to the taxidermist’s art: the heads of nearly every variety of antelope, deer, and buffalo lined the walls. A lion, tiger and a black panther had given their lives to become rugs, and a grizzly towered over a chair of horn and leather, frozen forever in a pose of attack. Glass gun cabinets circled the room, filled with virtually every firearm known to man.

Mike led me to a large wooden table in the middle of the room. A sheet covered something on top of it. "Look around, Walker. I’ve hunted virtually every game animal in the world. I’ve stood down charging elephants and stalked jungle cats. If it runs, flies or swims, I’ve made a trophy of it. After almost thirty years, the challenge was gone. I retired here to the Pacific Northwest, made a few investments, and started work on my memoirs.

"But now I’ve found a new challenge… and right in my own back yard!"

He pulled away the sheet to reveal six plaster casts. Each was nearly two feet long and they were all almost exactly the same. They were footprints. Huge footprints.

"You’re going to hunt Bigfoot?"

"No, " he said. "We’re going to hunt Bigfoot. These casts come from up in the mountains near here. I’m a partner in a new mountain lodge and restaurant – it’s one of those investments I mentioned. Construction started two months ago, and one morning the crew found some prints. They thought it was a hoax, but new prints have shown up almost every night."

"It probably is a hoax, Mike. Has anybody actually spotted a Sasquatch?"

"A couple of the crew claim to have seen things moving in the woods. Maybe it is a hoax, but if it’s not, it’s got to be the greatest challenge yet. Will you join me, Walker? Your readers will eat it up, and we’ll both be famous."

"I don’t know, Mike…" I picked up one of the casts. "If these are real, the creature’s going to be gigantic."

"I’ve had experts look at these casts, and they say we’re looking for a humanoid creature over eight feet tall, weighing around six hundred pounds."

"Something that big is going to be tough."

"It’s not so big. Besides, I have just the gun for the job." He walked to the nearest cabinet and pulled out a battered rifle. It had seen a lot of use. It was a Holland and Holland Royal Ejector model, made in the Fifties, its two twenty-six inch barrels chambered for the Holland and Holland .375 Magnum cartridge. The .375 Magnum delivers a 300-grain slug with over two tons of stopping power.

Yeah, he had the gun for the job, all right. I remembered that gun from Kenya."When do you plan to start this hunt?"

"Tonight. The Hummer’s been loaded with gear. We’ll set up camp along a lumber road a mile or so up the mountain from the construction site. Most of the prints seem to go in that direction. There’s a lot of caves up there, maybe that’s where they live. It’s a place to start, anyway.

"So, are you with me, Walker?"

"I’m with you. Let’s go find ourselves a Sasquatch."
To Be Continued