Friday, May 25, 2012

BLOOD AND JUICE: It's What's for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Dean Ballenger, an effective and reliable pulp writer with decades of experience in men's adventure magazines and books, was engaged by Manor Books to write the Gannon series, the first of which, "Blood For Breakfast", was published in 1973. The series lasted only three books, but it is one of the most over-the-top and hyper-violent in the genre that is classified as Men's Adventure. Filled with gory killings of bad guys and hyperbolic descriptions of the crimes that make their deaths not just necessary but righteous. Most books that fall into this general category are militaristic in nature but the Gannon series is more akin to a Lee Child book than a Tom Clancy one. However, that's a bit like saying gore-meister director Lucio Fulci's "Contraband" is more like "The Godfather" than "Platoon". It is really not like either one. Mike Gannon is a tough guy from Seattle who comes back home to Cleveland after his sister is brutally raped by a gang of rich kids out for kicks. Gannon basically comes back to town with the expressed purpose of dealing out violent retribution to the vile perpetrators of the crime. Along the way, he also finds several other people deserving of his vengeance and their own bloody demise. There are a few distinguishing features in the book that stand out to me. First, is Ballenger's use of slang. Gannon doesn't beat guys up, he scrags them. I had to look that one up to be sure, though the meaning is clear in context. There's plenty of scragging going on, usually with the assistance of his trusty spiked brass knuckles. Blood is just as often called juice. Money is called cake. The sex scenes seem completely obligatory and Ballenger writes them as if in protest, they are so meaningless. But violence is the reason the reader has his eyes in the pages of the book, and Ballenger is adept at delivering the vicious goods in that department. Most surprising to me, though, was the generally left-wing nature of the book. Men's Adventure, as a genre, is almost always right-wing if politics are involved. But in "Blood For Breakfast", the reader is constantly reminded that the reason the bad guys are getting away with their crimes if because of their wealth and political connections. Mike Gannon lectures rich guys on the ease with which they step on the working man. Right before he beats them to a pulp and/or kills their sorry asses. At one point, Gannon reminisces about how valuable the G.I. Bill was for his father. Books like these rarely take time to expound on the value of government social programs, you can be sure! There actually is potential in "Blood For Breakfast" for a more substantial story. There is a hint of real conflict between Gannon and his father. Also, there may have been something interesting if Ballenger had done more with Mike and his sister, who is traumatized by her rape. However, none of these roads are traveled in favor of Gannon quickly moving from one violent conflict to another. Though it may seem repetitive, Ballenger is giving the crowd that likes this stuff plenty to feast on.