Derrick, Lionel- The Penetrator #9: Dodge City Bombers (New York, Pinnacle Books, 1975, 184pp)
Following in the grand tradition of series such as The Executioner, The Destroyer and The Butcher, The Penetrator offers few twists on what was by 1975 the somewhat fixed and jaded formula of vigilante series. Following in the stomp and grind tradition of Mickey Spillane’s misanthropic and brutal hero Mike Hammer these deeply American novels updated the hard boiled vendetta tale for the 1970s.
In a time of economic breakdown and unprecedented challenges to the authority of straight white males such series were to prove immensely popular amongst law and order types yearning for a past that never was. Confused by the collapse of authority under Nixonian corruption this section of society was desperately praying for a strong man to rise up and wipe away the hippies, blacks, Arabs and others who had disrupted their cosy world. By the 1980s Reagan would ride these desires and anxieties to power setting a trend that politicians have been following ever since.
Gun crazy and generally obsessed with the finer points of killing there were also no lack of hack writer’s and paper back publishing houses willing to cash in with revenge fantasies tailored for those seeking the simplest of solutions and plot lines. Knocked out at a rapid fire pace and often regurgitating dialogue and scenes from earlier novels many of these series have enjoyed surprisingly long lives despite the changing times and collapse of the "dime store" book market.
In terms of the genre The Penetrator series is somewhat sedate although it does contain most of the standard features. Despite having been dubbed The Penetrator the hero Mark Hardin is somewhat chaste with women, his nom de plume instead arising from his ability (naturally earned in Vietnam) to enter and leave buildings undetected. Specialising in the "neutralisation" of the kind of ne’er do wells the law can’t touch Hardin fits the Vigilante Novel bill right down to having begun working for a shadowy "cut-out" government organisation after losing his wife in a horrible mafia attack.
This time around Hardin is sent out from his desert stronghold by the mysterious Professor Willard to take on a bunch of hippy brigands posing as revolutionaries in the Mid West. Dubbed "The Shadowmen" this SLA type are destroying much of America’s breadbasket in an attempt to destroy the nation’s food supplies. Naturally there is more to the attacks than meets the eye, but you can be sure that Hardin, the Professor and their visionary Native American sidekick David Red Eagle will save the day and America’s stomachs.
" ‘It seems that some of these Shasowmen tried to join at Wounded Knee back in Seventy-three’ the old Indian’s voice rumbled in slow, measured words. ‘They weren’ty of the blood so they weren’t accepted. From what I have been able to gather, they claimed to be seriously concerned with Indian rights. They weren’t politically motivated, though, as so many of our young people are today.’
‘That tallies up with what I found out’ Professor Haskins took up ‘They seem to be an indpendent group… or groups. They have their own thing about violence and anarchy… and inevitably drugs. They aren’t Maoists like The Weatermen or the SDS, planning the glorious revolution- nor are they on the extreme right, militant patriots like the old Minutemen organisation. Unfortunately my sources likewise had neither names nor descriptions.’ He rose from his chair and collected glasses for a refill.
Mark Hardin lit one of his rare cigars and puffed thoughtfully while the professor was occupied at the bar. He accepted his glass and sat in deep concentration. Red Eagle broke the silence.
‘My sources however did provide some help along that line. Those who saw them at Wounded Knee described them as sort of a younger Hell’s Angels without the bikes, unsavoury clothing and bizarre rituals. But every bit as violent and ambitious for anything that could make them money.’" (pp 22)