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Monday, June 26, 2006

Book Review: The Justice Riders

Mostly, I talk about comics here on the ISB, but that's more of a product of my obsessive nature than an actual rule for the website. After all, every now and then, something comes along in some other medium that is so ludicrously awesome that I have to talk about it.

Chuck Norris's new novel, The Justice Riders is one of them.

Admittedly, the internet reached critical mass for Chuck Norris jokes about three months ago, but trust me: This thing is mind-blowing. It is, however unintentional, the most hilariously over-the-top book I have ever read, thus making it the prose equivalent of Skateman. So bear with me through the groans, won't you?

Anyway, if you've ever been watching The Octagon and wished there was a little more reading involved, this is the book for you. And no, your eyes do not decieve you: It took Chuck Norris and three other people to write this book, presumably because seeing more than a third of Chuck's original manuscript would leave any other man blind and possibly deaf.

It is, of course, not to be confused with the Chuck Dixon/J.H. Williams III 1997 Elseworlds one-shot of the same name. It is, in fact, not a comic book at all, which means my usual technique of scanning panels and writing jokes to go along with them isn't going to work this time.

I'm going to have to go back to the crayons.

[Note: Again, all apologies to Rich Burlew. And for the record, Ezra Justice does not actually roll around 1865 with twin uzis. But really, he might as well.]

The Cast

Chuck Norris is Ezra Justice! Or at least, that's how it happened in my head while I was reading. Justice--or as I like to call him, Champ Goodguy--is your typical Chuck Norris honorable badass character, this time set against the backdrop of the Civil War, where he's tapped by General Sherman to lead an elite strike team of his own special forces operatives on covert missions.

Let's run through that one more time: An elite strike team of special forces operatives. During the Civil War.

Still with me? Good.

Said strike team is made up of the following archetypes soldiers:

Nathaniel "Big Nate" Yorke, a devout Christian and former slave who was once owned by Justice's family. But since Ezra's such a swell guy, they're actually best friends, and there's even a part where upon seeing Ezra show up, Nate runs out to give his "best friend and former owner" a big hug.

Wow. I'm pretty sure David Sedaris put it best when he said, "I think history has proven that something usually comes between slavery and friendship, a period of time marked not by cookies and quiet times beside the fire but by bloodshed and mutual hostility."

Next up, Carlos and Roberto Hawkins, Gypsy twin brothers making their way through the world as conmen and pickpockets who also happen to be explosive experts. They are, in fact, so skilled that in addition to inventing the Satchel Charge in 1863, they are able to sneak into enemy camps and rig it with landmines and sundry explosives that result in no casualties, just a demoralizing annoyance.

Harry Whitecloud, half-Sioux tracking expert who, despite being educated as a doctor at Princeton, "occasionally made a mess of his adopted language" (page 19!). He's ridiculously stereotyped, and the book's just long enough that by the time the climax rolls around, you've forgotten that he uses a bow and arrow instead of a rifle.

And if you don't think his arrows get sticks of the twins' dynamite tied to them at some point, you clearly have not been paying attention.

Handling sniping duties and bass guitar is Reginald Bonesteel, British sharpshooter, expatriate (having been kicked out of the Queen's personal bodyguard for his curious indiscretions), and six-time winner of the North American Manliest Name Competition (1859-1866).

And finally, rounding out the cast is Shaun O'Banyon, recovering alcoholic Irishman who, despite being a tough as nails boxer, has a sensitive heart of gold and talks about going home to his wife all the time. So it really comes as no surprise whatsoever when he's stabbed through the heart by Ezra's nemesis, Mordecai Slate.

Yes, Mordecai Slate. Because apparently, "Evil McStone" is slated to appear in the sequel.

Regardless, Voldemordecai over here is the leader of a ruthless band of Confederate renegades known as The Death Raiders, and as you might expect, this leads him into quite a conflict with Our Hero. Especially when he tries to shoot Justice in the opening chapter, completely unaware that by law, all Men of Action must keep a pocketwatch, bible, cigarette case, flask, or other small object capable of deflecting bullets in their breast pocket at all times.

He ends up having a showdown with Justice at the end, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I'll let you figure out who wins that one yourself.

The Plot

The book essentially reads exactly like you'd expect from something with the name "Chuck Norris" on the cover, up to and including the multiple explosions that kick off the first chapter, only with a weirdly pervasive proselytizing at every opportunity. It's an odd, rambling story wherein the heroes wisecrack their way through actual pieces of history--like the laugh riot that was Andersonville--often to the tune of excruciating detail. There is, for example, a detailed history of Clinton, Missouri crammed in there, and a lengthy chapter on riverboat boilers that I really could've done without.

All you need to know? Chuck Norris--sorry, Ezra Justice roundhouse kicks a Confederate soldier to death on page twelve.

[Note: This, on the other hand, totally happens exactly as I've drawn it.]

Defining Moment

At one point, the Justice Riders find themselves aboard the Sultana, a historical riverboat, when the boilers go kaboom. In any other book a massive explosion and the ensuing tragedy would be the highlight of the night, but in The Justice Riders, that's just how we get things started. Because once he's off the boat, Lone Wolf McQuade--sorry, Ezra Justice comes face-to-face with the ship's mascot, Chops.

That's right.

This is a book where Chuck Norris punches out an alligator in the middle of the Mississippi River.

Beat that, Ken Burns.


Blogger Unknown said...

I give you credit for reading that all the way through. I mean, comics don't take all that long but a book...

Why that's whole hours from your life!

6/27/2006 4:19 AM

Blogger Earth-2 Leigh said...

"Yeah, well let me summon my dragon, my beloved friend and slave."
"Sounds like a complicated relationship."
"Not for me! Dragon!"

-- Home Movies Ep. 213: "The Wedding"

6/27/2006 4:57 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's unfortunate he ran out of underprivileged ethnic groups. Could have had a whole battalion if that exercise equipment he hawks would have paid for another writer. Where's Punjabi, the giant Indian man-servant? A boomerang-savat of an Aborigine? The sullen Maori warrior basically cribbed from Queequeg?

6/27/2006 7:38 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Savant", so "savat". Maybe the fifth writer could have added a savat.

6/27/2006 7:38 AM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

"It's unfortunate he ran out of underprivileged ethnic groups."

I myself was hoping for a wily Chinaman.

6/27/2006 9:15 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Chinaman would have been an opium adict who replaced all his r's with l's, and that would be way too stereotypical. "Velly Solly, Chuck Nollis...."

6/27/2006 9:21 AM

Blogger CalvinPitt said...

I demand to know who's name beat Reginald Bonesteel for Manliest Name in 1867.

And I pray it won't be so manly I run screaming into the night.

6/27/2006 11:11 AM

Blogger Jim said...

Just when I was starting to get into The DaVinci Code, along come The Justice Riders to roundhouse Dan Brown right out of town.

On a related note, the editor of the paper I work at had a phone interview with Chuck a few weeks ago. I left the office when the interview started, and when I came back paramedics were working on the editor.

6/27/2006 11:14 AM

Blogger Matthew E said...

I demand to know who's name beat Reginald Bonesteel for Manliest Name in 1867.

Well, up in Canada, Sam Steele had already started his police/military career by then... You've got to admit that 'Sam' > 'Reginald'.

6/27/2006 12:36 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of Elseworlds, I think we need a GIANT SIZED BONESTEEL right now!

Wherein he fights MANTHRAX!

6/27/2006 1:52 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't Chuck Norris alienating about 90% of his fan base by making the Confederates the bad guys in this novel?

That is, the 90% that don't enjoy him "ironically."

6/27/2006 2:41 PM

Blogger Filthy McMonkey said...

Funniest post in a while, Chris.

You commenters, too. While I appreciate what a goldmine Chuck Norris is in terms of comedic value, it never fails to give me the Chuck-les.


PS: 'So solly, Chuck Nollis...' HAHAHAHA...awesome.

6/27/2006 4:22 PM

Blogger Edward Liu said...

An elite strike team of special forces operatives. During the Civil War.

You laugh, but Col. John Mosby's Rangers probably fits that description. Maybe without the "elite" bit, since I believe Mosby would take just about anybody who could ride a horse and wanted to join the unit.

However, seeing as he fought for the Confederacy, I will bet at least a nickel that Mosby didn't have a former slave, an Indian, or any Mexicans on his Rangers.

Perhaps Chuck will deliver a boot to Mosby's head in the sequel.

6/27/2006 4:37 PM

Blogger Brandon Bragg said...

Thanks dude. Now I know exactly what I'm buying all my friends for X-Mas.

6/27/2006 10:40 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chuck Norris. wisecracking his way through ANDERSONVILLE.

Pure 100% GENIUS.

6/28/2006 12:16 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What would Chuck Norris do now?"

6/28/2006 12:39 AM

Blogger evildm said...

The most amazing thing about Chuck Norris is that he laughs all the way to the bank! Ya gotta give the guy some credit, he markets himself well. He basically goes up to a publisher and says "I wanna write a book. but I need some help." the publisher says "ok. here's an advance and some guys to help you write your book".
easy as pie.

And how come he didnt have a Mexican Knife-guy on his team? every team needs a knife-guy.

6/29/2006 3:56 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think he needed a smooth-talking italian guy with a little moustache who is hell on the ladies--always wooin' them with guitars and such--and also spends a lot of time lounging around the fire ostentatiously cleaning his nails with a stiletto. one of a pair, which he can throw into a target 90 yard away with deadly accuracy, because he grew up in a sicilian circus family.

7/01/2006 9:49 AM

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