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Author Mike Baron rose to fame in the 1980s as half of the duo (artist Steve Rude) that created the indie comic book superheroes NEXUS and THE BADGER. The comics were popular for their time both in sales and recognition, with both men winning the coveted Eisner Award.
After the eventual folding of those two comics, Mike went onto other projects, other titles: he stayed busy. But at the same time, he never repeated the kind of hot success he'd found with NEXUS and BADGER.
Now he's out to change all of that. In late 2012, Mike released two new novels, WHACK JOB and HELMET HEAD.
HELMET HEAD begins with a biker named Larry "Red Rocket" Rodell. Larry* is running methamphetamines to the Kongo Klub, a current biker bar for The Road Dogs, for a sale. He's also high as a kite himself. To avoid attention, Larry took a new and unfamiliar route.
We all know what that means. Sure enough, Larry attracts the attention of a highway cop, goes barreling onto a dirt road and then into the woods to avoid capture, and while hiding in the rural wilderness, Merry Mishaps occur.
Three chapters later HELMET HEAD becomes a Larry-less novel. The cop he ran from, Peter Fagan, comes across the remains of Larry's adventure and it is here that the story shifts its lead focus from Larry to Peter Fagan^.
Fagan comes face to face with the deadly, seemingly unstoppable force of a seven foot towering biker who rides a massive black motorcycle, wears a helmet with a dark tinted face-plate, and wields a samurai sword. Fagan names him Helmet Head.
Helmet Head appears unstoppable, but not inescapable, and Peter nearly gets himself killed in his attempt to flee, when he quickly discovers that fighting in an unwin-able option.
Peter's successful escape only throws him from the frying pan and into the fire as, battered and bike-less, he lands near the front door of the Kongo Klub. The Road Dogs are waiting for their meth delivery, they are all packing, and a weakened, limping cop covered in road rash isn't welcome. Peter is outnumbered and everyone knows it. But only Fagan saw the giant Helmet Head.
In the Klub we meet the denizens of the Road Dogs. The physically massive MC President, Wild Bill. Members Chainsaw, a young pledge named Mad Dog, and the two oldesters, Doc and Curtis. Behind the bar are the corpulent Fred the bartender and the lovely Macy the waitress (and Wild Bill's current girlfriend).
Things get ugly as Peter incorrectly assesses the situation he's in. A cracked rib or two later and the bikers are fighting amongst themselves over the very idea of the beaten cop's story. A murderous, sword slinging biker creature called Helmet Head? Fred fully believes it and Wild Bill furiously does not. Then the monster enters the Kongo Klub and settles the argument.
HELMET HEAD is not without its problems and they all have to do with poor editing. There are an awkward amount of typos but the worst is continuity.
For example, the name of the motorcycle club is The Road Dogs. Which inexplicably becomes The Road Hogs. Then back to The Road Dogs. Later, Baron refers to them as The Mad Dogs (confusing their title with the name of their pledge), then back to Road Hogs or Road Dogs.
At one point, Macy's name suddenly becomes Janet, then it's back to Macy.
Mike Baron originally wrote HELMET HEAD as a slasher movie script, so in novel form, there is the strong air of pulp fiction ethos swirling in the horror. Backstory is added in ungainly chunks at inappropriate moments, busting the pace of the action. Some of the backstory makes HELMET HEAD a discordant mash of science fiction and supernatural fiction. It's not like the two cannot be paired: Bram Stoker and H.P. Lovecraft excelled at blending them both.
All said, however, HELMET HEAD is way more fascinating than it needs to be. Iconic Slashers like Helmet Head don't require a history, so rarely do they have so much depth* , a keen history, and such a chilling secret life. Slashers, like zombies, tend to kill and that is that. But Helmet Head is an insane genius who doesn't simply behead people, but actually has a horrifically twisted use for both the separated head and body.
* Kids made fun of him so he kills kids! He saw his parents have sex so he kills parents! A gopher bit him so he kills high school mascots!
HELMET HEAD feels like it came out of an all night, booze-guzzling think tank consisting of Georges Arnaud, Richard S. Prather, Richard Laymon, Mike Mignola, George Miller, and Byron Kennedy.
In the right hands, HELMET HEAD could be the long anticipated action-packed road movie that hasn't existed since MAD MAX - plus stark staring Horror.
More than science fiction, supernatural or even slasher, HELMET HEAD is an intrinsically American, high-octane, hard-core 1960s style pulp novel set to modern times.
This review copyright 2013 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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