Monday, November 29, 2010

64. Tales of the Red Panda - The Crime Cabal by Gregg Taylor

The Red Panda is a wonderful podcast series from Decoder Ring Theatre, a toronto-based group of performers, led by Gregg Taylor, who love all things pulp and noir. They have two main series, The Red Panda about a pulp superhero and his sidekick The Flying Squirrel; and Blackjack Justice, a hardboiled detective and his even more hardboiled sidekick. Both are quite good, but The Red Panda is really their signature show. If you like old-time radio, great characters and pulp action, you should definitely check out the Red Panda series. It's really well done. A bonus is that it all takes place in a pulp Toronto during and after the Depression.

There are also three Red Panda novels out and I bought this first one when it first came out, but haven't gotten around to reading it, mainly because the shows keep coming out and are so fulfilling. I think I was a bit hesitant, thinking the book would be just like the shows, but more work for me because I'm reading it instead of passively listening. What I didn't realize is that the book is a real addition to the series, because in the written form, Gregg Taylor can expand in many ways that can't be done on radio. The Red Panda and his super hot and ass-kicking sidekick (and chauffeur) have a real romantic tension. It's great in the show, but it is even more fun when you get to read about each of their thoughts. There is also a lot more depth about The Red Panda's awesome equipment and set-up (including an underground system of human-size pneumatic tubes to help him get quickly from place to place).

Taken on its own, it is a thoroughly entertaining, slam-bang pulp novel, with great dialogue and some nice character development. The main plot isn't the most creative. The rackets, now quite weakened by the Red Panda's constant attacks, are united by two super-villains. But it is sufficient to bring lots of great action, bravado dialogue and a bit of humour. There is also a hard edge to the Red Panda (I know that sentence must sound a bit odd if you haven't heard the show before), especially when he is talking about the poor and the downtrodden and how crime is a parasite sucking away at the limited funds those people have worked so hard for. Another neat touch is how Taylor brings a modern perspective without undermining the pulp tropes. One of the badguy's allies is a Chinese laundromat owner, who allows the mob to use his building as a meeting place (with the laundry being a good front). The prejudice the Chinese faced at that time is made very explicit in the book, but fits in with the character's motivations. I found it enriched the book.

I do have a complaint about the layout. I know these books are self-published and Gregg Taylor and the good people at Decoder Ring Theatre give a lot more than they get, so it's totally excusable. Also, this is the first book and maybe the next two have improved. Chapter headings, page numbers, space between paragraphs, they all look like a word document basically. The whole thing needs a proper designer to give it a quick run-through and fix-up.

Other than that, though, I'm definitely going to pick up and read the next two in the series. Their catchline doesn't exaggerate: Decoder Ring Theatre really is Your Ticket to Adventure!

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