February 18, 2012

Street Hawk, novelization #2: Cons at Large


As with the pilot episode novelization, which I covered a couple months back, this and the two books I'll be covering were published by Target Books, a division of MCA Publishing known for their breezy film and television tie-ins, most notably adapting nearly every episode of the classic Doctor Who series. Also like the pilot, this novelization was written by Jack Roberts, an author I know nothing else about, with a name generic enough that it may very well have been a pseudonym. Unlike the pilot adaptation, each of the remaining books adapts a pair of episodes. I was curious if they'd keep each adaptation separate, like in the Star Trek books by James Blish, but was pleasantly surprised to find bridges and revisions that attempt to link the two stories into a single whole.

Before we get to them, Roberts, right off the bat, clears up a bit of continuity with a chapter that revisits Sandy McCoy, the Public Relations head from the pilot episode played by Jayne Modean, who was replaced for the remainder of the series by Jeannie Wilson as Rachael Adams. Here, it's revealed McCoy left the department when one of the local news stations offered her a position as news director and anchor of their evening show. She's still close with Jesse, who throws her some tips now and then, but, sadly, is otherwise never seen throughout the story. It's great getting a bit of closure for where her character went, but it feels tagged as it doesn't have anything else to do with the stories on the page. Though it does also give us the revelations that Jesse does, indeed, continue to work in the P.R. department beyond the pilot, with most of his street missions being something Altobelli throws him out of pity. Also, Jesse continues to affect a slight limp while at work, though without a cane or brace.

Then the story moves into an adaptation of "The Adjuster". When a fence gets busted while paying off a pair of jewel thieves, his boss isn't too pleased about the money that's gone missing and hires an enforcer to track him and the cash down. The unnamed enforcer does so by killing an NYPD detective named Cannon and infiltrating the LAPD offices to hunt his prey alongside Jesse, who's been assigned to keep tabs on the visiting cop as a liaison. It's an episode I enjoyed far more than Tony did, and it still works well on paper, with "Cannon" and his shadowy employer, Mr. Girard, being genuine, enigmatic threats that cut their way through both the criminal underworld and the police investigations, while clashing with Jesse over what our hero perceives at first to simply be brutal police tactics.

The big problem with the episode was the finale, where the cold professional killer went crazy over his armfuls of cash, resulting in his death when the abandoned building he's in is demolish on top of him. Here, though, there's a twist. It seems "Cannon"'s behavior was meant to lure Street Hawk into a trap while he had an escape route just a room away out back. It's clumsily handled, and I wish Roberts would have fully rewritten the scene instead of just adding in thoughts beneath the scripted dialogue, but it's followed by the revelation that "Cannon" did indeed survive the explosion, although a piece of debris knocked him out and left him in police custody.

We move onto an adaptation of "The Unsinkable 453", where Simone Prevera, widow of an assassinated South American dictator, springs an old mercenary lover from prison so he can help her steal her late husband's fortunes from within the hull of a ship that's anchored in a Coast Guard dock and which is scheduled to be scrapped as a target practise decoy within a couple days.

The big problem with the episode was Mayf Nutter as mercenary Eric Gault, who, with his paunch, receding hairline, moustache, and head-bobbing swagger, looked more like a tipsy uncle than a cold-blooded mercenary. How does the book solve this? By completely doing away with Gault and replacing him with "Cannon"! I was thrilled to see this twist because, on the show, "Cannon" was every bit the badass genuine threat Gault failed to be, and this is an interesting way of exploring that enigma's past with a backstory that actually makes sense with his character. Aside from revealing his real name is Jake Cannon (really, Roberts just didn't want to lose the awesome last name, despite the awkward attempt to explain it's a complete coincidence he imitated a cop who shared it), all of the action scenes take on a new edge with the mental image of a grit-jawed Marjoe Gortner bounding through them instead of the woefully miscast Nutter. And his increasingly strained relationship with Simone feels much more real than in the episode, where she decided to kill him simply because he was a rude asshole. Here, she intends to use the money to return to her country, raise an army, and rule it as a queen. Cannon is offered the role of her chief lieutenant, but he's not too keen on playing second fiddle to someone of with boobs, and starts openly challenging her for the leadership role, making their escalating conflict and eventual confrontation all the more believable.

My one gripe is that they also fill in some details on Mr. Girard. His first name is revealed to be Stan and we learn the cops have been looking for him and his cocaine racket for quite some time. Cannon's reason for being in South American when he started working for Simone's husband was due to him being sent there to guard Girard's crops. We never see Girard, but adding a first name to him alone kinda ruins the idea of this unknown figure in the shadows. Especially something as generic as "Stan". However, I do like that he's the one responsible for killing the double of Cannon that ends up in prison in the mercenary's place. It adds weight to the idea of him as a force that doesn't like loose ends and will tie them up with whatever brutal means are necessary.

Aside from what I've mentioned, the book otherwise follows the episodes quite closely, with Roberts' prose balancing the dramatic crime drama, gee whiz motorcycle action, and comical banter between Jesse and Norman quite well. Oh, Tony, remember the blond waitress Norman built up the courage to ask out by the end of "The Adjuster"? That thread carries on into the second story, with their eventual night at a symphony going poorly when she fell asleep a couple times, then leaves early with the claim of being sick. Poor Norman.

It's a solid book, and if you're a fan of the show, used copies are easy to find within the realm of a few bucks. It not only captures the finer aspects of the two episodes it was assigned, but many of the little changes strengthen the stories, filling their fumbles with some clever twists and character depth.

I'll be back next Saturday with (hopefully) both of the remaining adaptations.


Strannik said...

An interesting write-up, as usual. I found the bits about the bridging sequences especially interesting. I have to wonder how much leeway the writer had with adapting the plot and whether the Streethawk rights holders even cared. Either way - interesting stuff

NoelCT said...

I'm not sure what the restrictions were, but it's worth pointing out that some of the Doctor Who adaptations Titan put out were reportedly quite different from what aired. I've only read a few and can't attest to those allegations myself. Granted, many of the Who adaptations were written by actual writers from the show, so that maybe gave them more freedom.

As for the original rights holders, most of the adaptations and merchandising (which Tony discussed in the previous article) - which were almost exclusively done in the UK - were done after the show had already been cancelled, so that might also have given them some freedoms to play around with it.