Karen: Today we have a guest book review from our pal Edo Bosnar looking at comic writer Steve Englehart's science fiction novel, The Point Man. Take it away, Edo.
When comics guys write “real” books: Stephen Englehart’s The Point Man
It’s always interesting to see a “normal” book written by a comics writer, especially when it’s not just a merchandising tie-in featuring superheroes or other characters from the comics. Some efforts like this can be found in the Weird Heroes books (that I wrote a post about not long ago), with, say, Archie Goodwin, Elliot Maggin and Stephen Englehart writing short stories featuring original characters.
In The Point Man, Englehart introduces Max August, a Vietnam vet who works as a popular radio DJ in San Francisco. His on-air persona – he goes under a pseudonym, Barnaby Wilde – is sort of outsized and outgoing, while in real life he’s more subdued, and, except for a friend or two, keeps mostly to himself. It’s in the sanctuary of his home that he discovers his distinctive lion statue is stolen and replaced by a virtually identical replica. It’s one of his most beloved possessions as it was given to him when he was still a boy by his uncle; unbeknownst to him, it’s also a magical talisman, which is why it was stolen.
Rather quickly, August gets drawn into a tangled situation in which an attempt is made on his life (a mind-controlled out-of-towner shoots at him while he’s working his DJ gig in one of those street-view radio studios), the FBI questions him because it’s investigating the sexy yet mysterious new manager of his station, he meets an apparently centenarian wizard (who’s also the manager of a popular singer, who in turn eventually becomes his love interest) and he learns that it’s all part of a plot to usher in a reign of chaos by another wizard named Wolf Messing (who was actually a real person (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_Messing), although, obviously, not really a wizard – more like a charlatan – and already dead for about 6 years when this novel was published). Max soon decides that he has to become a wizard-in-training to best deal with the entire conundrum (and just to pique everyone’s interest, I should note that part of the preparations for the big showdown with the bad guy involves tantric sex).
The Point Man is a pretty solid read all in all. It combines elements of suspense/espionage thrillers with horror, and at a few places the story even evokes the X-files a bit, because one of the FBI agents specializes in “weird cases” (although unlike Mulder and Scully he’s rather unlikeable). Also, the magic, wizards and August’s decision to learn the supernatural arts out of necessity are all quite reminiscent of Dr. Strange. On a 5-star scale, I’d give it about a 3.5, mainly because there are a few points at which the story drags a bit (mainly due to overly lengthy exposition). Also, the use of US/Russian Cold War politics as a plot device was a nice touch, but it also dates the story quite a bit, and may throw some readers out of it … although just the fact that the protagonist is a popular rock radio DJ sort of dates the story as well, I suppose.
I think fans of Englehart and/or Dr. Strange and other magic-based heroes might get a kick out of this book. Englehart fans might also be interested in knowing that more recently (starting in 2009), he wrote several sequels: The Long Man, The Plain Man and The Arena Man – which I have not read. (The Point Man was also reprinted, but I snagged a copy of the original 1980 paperback, which has the awesome cover art by Richard Corben).
I actually wanted to open the discussion up to other, similar efforts by comics guys: I know that, for example, Don McGregor, Mike Barr, John Byrne, Alan Moore, and, quite recently, Irene Vartanoff, as well as comics writers who became well-known mostly after the Bronze Age, like Chuck Dixon and Greg Rucka, wrote prose books. Has anyone read any of these, and what are your thoughts?