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The In-Between Years

If you’ve been reading this weekly thing of mine for any length of time at all, you know that I am as fond of pulp fiction and the old pulp heroes as I am of comic-book adventure stories and superheroes.

I’ve written before about the hero pulps of the thirties, and the recent wave of ‘new pulp’ revivals that’s come with the advent of the internet and new printing technologies.

Those two factors, along with a lot of the old pulp heroes falling into public domain in the last decade or so, allows both reprints and new adventures to show up in paperback or as ebooks with minimal publishing costs. Today, it’s a golden age for fans of pulp heroes.

But… it’s not my Golden Age of pulp fiction.

The conventional wisdom is that pulp-hero magazines started in the early 1900s with Buffalo Bill and Nick Carter, peaked in the 1930s with characters like the Shadow and Doc Savage and all their various imitators, and then died out in the early 1950s when television and paperbacks came along.

Which is accurate enough, as far as it goes. But if you take a closer look, you see that pulp superheroes never really went away. They just changed addresses, moving from the magazine shelf to the paperback rack in grocery stores and drugstores.

Throughout the sixties and seventies, the great pulp heroes came around again and again in paperback; usually just reprinting the old stuff. The big successes there were Doc Savage and Conan the Barbarian, but the Shadow, the Spider, and others all made respectable showings on the spinner racks of the time as well.


That in-between time, the paperback pulp boom of the late sixties and early seventies– that’s my Golden Age, it’s where I found the stuff. I came in through the pulp-based comics, of course. When Batman met the Shadow, right around that time.

When I realized there were prose books with those characters and not just comics, I was all over that. It was hitting me at exactly the right age– when I was around thirteen– and right when I was getting old enough to earn my own money, so I didn’t have to beg my parents to subsidize my book-and-comics habit. (I already told that story, here, and I covered most of the Golden Age comics revival in the seventies here, if you are interested.)

That particular paperback pulp-revival era was almost as much of a pulp renaissance as the one we’re seeing today. Something I really loved about it, that tends to get forgotten, is that there were many, many original superhero-type adventure paperback series populating the racks along with the various reprints and revivals. New characters done in the old-school spirit.

Probably the most famous of these would be Mack Bolan, the Executioner. A close runner-up would be Remo Williams, the Destroyer.

Both of whom made it to comic books, as it happens. Bolan had a brief mini-series from Innovation and then one from IDW a few years back, and Remo had a short-lived Marvel magazine run in the 1980s and a comic-book miniseries that came after.

The Executioner and the Destroyer were such smash hits that they spawned dozens of knockoffs. Even classic pulp characters like Nick Carter and the Spider got Bolan-style makeovers in order for their respective publishers to cash in on the trend.

The Spider books were just reprints of the old stories with a new cover slapped on, but the Nick Carter: Killmaster stories were brand new paperback originals, and some were quite good. Nick’s Killmaster incarnation was a success that only comes in second to the Executioner himself: there were 261 Nick Carter novels published between 1964 and 1991. These were ghosted by a variety of authors, some of whom went on to bigger and better things. No author is ever credited on the books themselves, but Dennis Lynds did a few, and David Hagberg and Jim Lawrence did as well. And before he hit big with Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith had a couple of Killmasters to his credit.

I have read many of these and enjoyed them, along with the Executioners and Destroyers, but honestly, a little goes a long way. I have no real desire to own all two hundred-fifty plus of the Killmasters, let alone the hundred and fifty Destroyer books and well over eight hundred Executioners.

Anyway, as much fun as those books are, really my heart lies with the more superheroic takes on the pulp hero. I like things a little weirder, a little more fantastic… and I’ve always had a soft spot for the more obscure ones. I thought I’d take some time this week to point out a couple of my favorites.

Here’s a series that won me over just on the strength of its title– Cap Kennedy, Secret Agent of the Spaceways.

Cap was an agent of an interstellar peacekeeping outfit called F.A.T.E. — Free Acting Terran Envoys. The Envoys are empowered to intervene in any situation which threatens the peace of the Terran Sphere, an interplanetary federation based on Earth. Cap is allowed to act as judge, jury, and occasionally executioner. Thanks to his defeat of a planetary despot in Slave Ship from Sergan, Cap is independently wealthy to boot.

Operating from his small scoutship, the Mordain, Kennedy is assisted on his missions by engineer Penza Saratov, veteran scientist Professor Jarl Luden and alien navigator Veem Chemile, a humanoid chameleon who claims to be descended from the Zheltyana, an ancient race that dominated the galaxy long ago, before vanishing without a trace. This was an ongoing mystery throughout the series, and Cap and his crew often stumbled across this or that Zheltyana artifact that served to launch them into their next adventure.

There were seventeen of these in all; even though “Gregory Kern” was really just one guy, E.C. Tubb, the quality is all over the place. Sometimes they’re serious-minded SF and sometimes they’re straight-up space opera with running laser gunfights against evil lizard warriors. There is little of actual literary merit to be found here. But I like them.

Europeans did too, especially England and Germany. In England, the series was repackaged as “F.A.T.E.”

After Tubb quit, the series was picked up by a German publisher and slightly revamped, and other writers did another forty books for the German market. For these, Kennedy was changed to “Captain Scott.”

Another series I was very fond of was an oddball adventure entry called The Aquanauts. (I was a big Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea kid back in the day, so anything with submarines at least got a look.)

There were eleven of these in all, by Manning Lee Stokes under the pen name “Ken Stanton.” Very tough and cool books, about equal parts James Bond and Sea Hunt. These are the stories of the United States’ elite Secret Underwater Service, whose existence is known to only a handful of men including the President. I’m particularly fond of Ten Seconds to Zero, in which Aquanaut “Tiger Shark” Martin kicks serious Commie ass. Tiger and his one-man sub KRAB are sent deep behind the Iron Curtain to find out how the Soviets are destroying American nuclear submarines. It turns out the only man who can really stop the attacks is a Russian scientist who wishes to defect to the West, but only if Tiger can break into the palace where the scientist’s wife is being held and bring her to safety! Tell me that doesn’t sound awesome.

Speaking of awesome, say hello to Black Samurai.

This series by Marc Olden was an amazing confection of blaxploitation, martial-arts movie tropes, and old-school weird-menace pulp fiction. Here’s the setup, from the back cover of #1: On leave in Tokyo, American GI Robert Sand is shot trying to protect an old man from a quartet of drunk American soldiers. As Sand passes out, the old man springs on his tormenters, beating them senseless with frail, wrinkled fists. He is Master Konuma, keeper of the ancient secrets of the samurai, and Sand is about to become his newest pupil. Over the next seven years, the American learns martial arts, swordplay, and stealth, becoming not just the first black man to ever take the oath of the samurai, but the strongest fighter Konuma has ever trained. One night, two dozen terrorists ambush the dojo, slaughtering Konuma and his students as the first step in a terrifying assault on world peace. Though he cannot save his sensei, Sand escapes with his life and a gnawing hunger for vengeance. All he has is his sword, but his sword is all he needs.

Man, you can just feel the Fuck Yeah! built into that, can’t you? But it gets better and better.

What I love about these is the sheer audacity of the plotting; it’s all such seventies Marvel superhero stuff. Lest you think I exaggerate, here’s the blurb from #6, The Warlock:

When a voodoo priest bewitches Sand’s beloved, the samurai goes on the warpath!

Black magic orgies. Human sacrifices. Necrophilia. These are just a few of Augustus Janicot’s special skills. This charismatic sadist has built a formidable following, convincing politicians across Europe that his voodoo ritual can win them office. When they consent to his bloody rites, he films them, and uses the footage for blackmail. On the verge of obtaining unlimited power, the Warlock is about to make a fatal mistake. Janicot’s next target is in Vietnam, and for Robert Sand, this is too close to home. An American trained in the ways of the samurai, Sand fears for the safety of Toki Jakata, the granddaughter of his late samurai master and the only woman he has ever loved. Sand has never been able to win Toki’s heart, but he will do anything to keep Janicot from pulling it out of her chest.

They’re superhero stories in everything but name. Amazingly–well, maybe not, it was the seventies–Black Samurai was even a movie, adapting (very loosely) my beloved volume six in the series.

Jim Kelly starred as Robert Sand, Bill Roy was the evil Janicot, and Essie Lin Chia was Toki. You’ll notice the movie poster pretty much shamelessly cribs from the original book cover, even including the cross-dressing S&M dwarves. I’ve been trying to see this for years, but in my heart I’m certain it can’t possibly match the wonders of the original novels.

I could go on and on. Big Brain, The Baroness, Agent of TERRA, Captain Shark… there were lots of these schlocky neo-pulp paperback series out there.

They are largely forgotten today, and most of them deservedly so– as much as I adore, say, The Baroness or Black Samurai, I’m not such a fool as to claim any lasting artistic merit for them. But I’m firmly convinced that without these books and the reprint pulp adventure series they were imitating, we wouldn’t have the “New Pulp” movement that exists today.

Because, well… when you grow up on this kind of gonzo awesome adventure fiction and then people stop making it, you find out that you miss it so much that you eventually have to make more of it yourself.

See you next week.

28 Comments

I have seen ‘Black Samurai’ and it is TOTALLY worth it. Kung Fu, Black Magic, Gratuitous Nudity, Killer Dwarves and a Jetpack. It’s solid gold!

Richard Gordon

March 8, 2014 at 8:50 pm

Sounds like your (early) teen years were similar to my own.
If I can ask, what do you like/read within the current New Pulp movement?

When I was in college back in the 70s, my local comic shop got a bunch of old pulp magazines. They were in rough shape, so they were cheap, but readable. The Shadow, Doc Savage, G-8 and his Battle Aces…

When I came home with the G-8 and his Battle Aces pulps my Dad went nuts. It had been his favorite thing when he was a kid. We really bonded over those pulps and those stories.

I love the pulps!

If I recall correctly, those Killmasters were really, really spicy compared to the other men’s paperback series. Young me borrowed a few from my school library (It was a small rural school, I think they took what they could get!), only to have my mom find them, read enough to know they may not be appropriate, and then go to the school library and ask them if they knew what sort of books they were lending. Thanks to my mom, I will never know if that hot lady Nick Carter banged pool-side was secretly evil, and if they ever had the opportunity to bang again before she was killed, either to punish the Killmaster or by his own hand for betraying him. Thanks a lot, mom!

If I can ask, what do you like/read within the current New Pulp movement?

Win Eckert, Adam Garcia, Bobby Nash. I will be doing a column on Adam Garcia and his new Green Lama projects pretty soon, in fact. I really like a lot of what Andrew Salmon is doing, particularly the Sherlock Holmes Fightcard novel. The Moonstone anthologies, especially the Avenger, the Domino Lady and the Spider. The usual suspects.

Wow, never heard of Cap Kennedy until this moment. I’ll take your word for it that those books are nothing special, but just see the old Daw logo on them makes me misty with nostalgia – and I find myself tempted to hunt those down.
Also, I had heard of Kelly’s Black Samurai movie (and now I REALLY want to see it), but I never knew there was a series of pulp novels. In fact, I didn’t know there were any black pulp heroes, until quite recently.
This new pulp stuff is really cool, but man, there’s just so much of it. It’s a bit overwhelming to be honest…

“Another series I was very fond of was an oddball adventure entry called The Aquanauts”.

This would seem to predate Dirk Pitt.

===================================================================================

http://www.spyguysandgals.com covers some of these series.

Author Brad Mengel profiled many in his book Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction.

http://www.goodsearch.com/search-web?utf8=%E2%9C%93&keywords=%22Brad+Mengel%22+AND+%22Serial+Vigilantes%22

On the Destroyer comics, there was also a one-off.
But, more-interestingly, they were mostly written by Will Murray (creator of Squirrel Girl) who was writing the books at the time. While some stories in the comics are based on early books, others later appeared, in the books in a longer form,
(The stories not written by Murray were by original co-creator Warren Murphy)

(I remember buying that Agent of TERRA book)

“Because, well… when you grow up on this kind of gonzo awesome adventure fiction and then people stop making it, you find out that you miss it so much that you eventually have to make more of it yourself.”

I sense you’re building to an imminent announcement!

Great column as usual, Greg. I keep meaning to track down some Mack Bolans.

If you’ll excuse the self-promotion, I’ve started my own pulp-influenced action series, the first instalment of which is about to be published next month under the pseudonym Mason Cross – it’s being marketed as a mainstream thriller, but I really hope aficionados of the old-school paperback action heroes like yourself would enjoy it even more.

http://www.amazon.com/Killing-Season-Mason-Cross/dp/1409145700/ref=sr_1_1_title_2_har?ie=UTF8&qid=1394366155&sr=8-1&keywords=mason+cross+the+killing+season

Sorry, my regular non-promotional commenting will resume next week.

I’ll see Gavin’s promotion and raise it– because he sent me his Halfway to Hell a while back and I enjoyed it a lot. You all should check that one out too.

The men’s adventure novels of the 69s and 70s are definitely the peak of pulp for me. I love Doc Savage, Tarzan, etc but something about the Bond-twist on pulp just made them better. I hope that as New Pulp grows we’ll see more work of this type and not just more and more additions to the jazz-loving Fedora army.

Andrew Collins

March 9, 2014 at 9:15 am

I love your pulp adventure posts! The only problem is that almost everything you posted here looks right up my alley, but then I realize I barely have the time to read what I already own, much less any new series I would have to track down! (Though to be fair, this is one of the problems you almost want to have…)

I never read any real pulp fiction, but I had a phase in which I read a lot of Philip José Farmer and Roger Zelazny and there was a lot of homage/pastiche/deconstruction of pulp. I loved it.

Hi Greg! Speaking of The Shadow, any thoughts on Orson Welles’ radio series? I quite like Welles, but I really only know the show through impressions my grandpa used to do!

It’s not correct that the Pocket Book versions of The Spider that you cite were just reprints of old stories with new covers — infamously, they were edited/updated versions of old stories, which tried to make Spider seem like a contemporary action hero guy, much to the horror of fans of the original texts.

Richard Gordon

March 9, 2014 at 12:07 pm

If you haven’t tried them, The Black Centipede and Hugh Monn, Private Detective are both good series you might enjoy.

what are the best of the Hard Case Crimes books?

nice article. there for a lot of forgottten gems. that are just now waiting for some one to discover. including those black samuri books.

I was born too late to buy these when they were released, but they were favorites of mine from around age 8 to today, and I always kept an eye out for them at garage sales and used bookstores. I still have a pretty sizeable collection. Great, schlocky stuff.

I’ll also second Pol Rua on the “Black Samurai” movie. I haven’t read that specific volume of the series, but it captures the feel of the character pretty well. It’s wonderfully trashy and over-the-top.

Greg, your column inspired me to pick up a couple Executioner paperbacks a few weeks back. Now I’ve scoured the local second hand book stores and I’ve found #17-38 (the end of the original author’s run).

Yeah, no real point to this message other than letting you know you’ve given me yet another obsession to hunt down.

[…] I was pleased to come across this appreciation of the paperback adventure series of the 1960s and 1970s by Greg Hatcher at Comics Shou…. It’s a great post and – since it’s a comic site – one that is illustrated […]

Another ubiquitous paperback series in the 60s and 70s was Perry Rhodan. I never read any; my paperbacks were almost entirely ERB and REH, and Perry was considered harder SF than that. I don’t know if he’s a superhero, though. What do you think?

Another ubiquitous paperback series in the 60s and 70s was Perry Rhodan. I never read any; my paperbacks were almost entirely ERB and REH, and Perry was considered harder SF than that. I don’t know if he’s a superhero, though. What do you think?

Perry’s kind of an odd case. Those books were actually translated reprints of a German pulp magazine that I believe is still going. I’ve picked up a few here and there over the years, usually on impulse– never spending more than a dime or so on one, it’s out of a quarter bin somewhere like a library sale. But I never can get into them; the serialized structure of the things makes them kind of new-reader unfriendly and the story’s not interesting enough to put the work in to catch up. Even the Wikipedia entry is a bit of a slog. The George Wilson covers are amazing though.

I picked up on Perry Rhodan in the 70s, because I was “sorta” dating a German foreign exchange student who devoured the English translations. Even trying to read the series from the beginning, it’s true the most exciting part of the book was Forrest Ackerman’s cover blurbs and editorials.

The Black Samurai books are apparently available for the Kindle, so I’ll be downloading these babies tonight!

When I was a teenager in the early 1990s, I picked up quite a few of the Doc Savage paperbacks at second-hand bookstores. I never became a huge fan of the character, but I thought they were pretty good. I know a lot of people love the James Bama covers, but they always seemed a bit too artificial to me. When I later saw some of the earlier cover art used on the original magazines I thought Doc looked a lot more natural & human to me. That said, Doc Savage was definitely “Batman before there was a Batman,” trained to the peak of human physical ability since childhood, master of numerous armed & unarmed forms of combat, coupled with a brilliant scientific & deductive mind. It’s no wonder that when Chuck Dixon created Bane, the idea was to make him “an evil Doc Savage.”

As for Mack Bolan, as is sometimes observed, he was “the Punisher before there was a Punisher.” Unfortunately, I only ever found copies of the later books in the series, by which time Bolan had become a government operative fighting spies, terrorrists, and drug dealers around the globe. I’ve never read the early ones by Don pendleton himself where Bolan was a gritty urban vigilante waging war with the Mafia.

By the way, speaking of Perry Rhodan (no relation to either the Japanese giant monster Rodan or the French sculpter Rodin, by the way) As I understand it that series is insanely popular in Germany and has been going non-stop for decades. When some of those books were translated into English and published in the States, providing the incredibly beautiful cover paintings for them was the late, great Gray Morrow.

Hi Nice article. If anyone is interested my blog here http://suspenseandmystery.blogspot.com/. Has some nice older styles themes from way back in the day. Featuring a lot of the Nick Carter “Killmaster” series.

Love seeing all those cool covers, Greg. Great article.

Bobby

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