Category Archives: pulps

Men’s mags: ‘Weasels ripped my flesh!”

WeaselsRippedMyFlesh

I’ve got a long-standing appreciation of men’s magazines. I’m not talking about Playboy and such, but those men’s magazines from the 1950s – before my time – and 1960s – barely my time – that featured outlandish stories about men and women in dangerous or war-torn settings and featured¬†even more outlandish covers.

I grew up peeking at these titles at the supermarket magazine rack while my dad shopped for groceries. There was a real allure to these mags. Not just the “torn blouse” women often depicted but the bizarre nature of the situations.

Of course, artist Will Hulsey’s cover illustration for the September 1956 cover of Man’s Life magazine is probably the most famous example, in no small part because rocker Frank Zappa appropriated the name for a 1970 Mothers of Invention album.

I’m far from an expert on the topic, but you can find a lot of info about this genre of magazines at menspulpmags.com and through the Twitter feed @PulpLibrarian.

Fun stuff.

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‘The Secret History of Marvel Comics’

secret history of marvel comics

“The Secret History of Marvel Comics” missed a great opportunity with its title alone.

“The Secret Origin of Marvel Comics” would have been a more accurate title for Blake Bell and Michael J. Vassallo’s book because it looks at the pre-history, in a way, of the artists and writers who shaped Marvel and its earliest incarnations but specifically focuses on publisher Martin Goodman, who published pulp magazines beginning in 1933 before riding the tide of reader interest into comic books in 1939.

You can tell the authors’ premise with the quote that begins the book. “Fans are not interested in quality,” Goodman is quoted as saying, and as much as that can be disputed – even a World War II-era kid knew the difference between a good Captain America comic and a bad one – it was a mantra that served Goodman well as he moved through the New York publishing world.

The book follows Goodman’s publishing enterprises through western and detective pulps and gives us some beautiful illustrations from covers and inside the magazines.

The text emphasizes, again and again, that Goodman was fairly ruthless in his dealings with artists and writers. Some of them were among the men and women who would go on to become the best in the comics field once it kicked into high gear in the 1950s and 1960s.

They’re all here, from Stan Lee (related to Goodman by marriage) and Jack Kirby – who would team to co-create classic comic characters for Goodman’s Marvel Comics – to Kirby’s Captain America co-creator Joe Simon to the likes of Dennis the Menace creator Hank Ketcham.

Everybody worked for Goodman, it seems, even if many of them came away not particularly enjoying the experience.

Although the first half of the book, with its assessment of Goodman’s character, feels repetitive, the second half is eye-opening, with reproductions of art by artist after artist. Here you’ll see Kirby’s art – raw and edgy – for detective pulps like “Detective Short Stories” and fantasy pulps like “Marvel Stories.”

kirbyqueenofvenus

Here’s a two-page spread by Kirby and Simon for “Queen of Venus,” from Marvel Stories 2 in November 1940.

The artists reproduced here gave readers an unending parade of gangsters and molls and tough guys and bad girls and aliens and murderers. That’s the best thing that “The Secret History of Marvel Comics” shows us.

Essential geek library: ‘An Informal History of the Pulp Magazine’

history pulp magazines

By the time Ron Goulart’s “An Informal History of the Pulp Magazine” was published in 1972, the pulp magazine – the art form and industry that gave millions of readers cheap thrills on cheap pulp paper and gave us all such heroes as “The Shadow” and “Doc Savage” – was already more than two decades dead. In the 40 (!) years since the prolific Goulart’s book was published, “Pulp Fiction” has come to mean little more than a Quentin Tarantino film.

But in 1972, when Goulart’s book came out, it was a bible to me, a look back into a colorful world of avenging heroes and penny-per-word writers that had been eclipsed by comic books.

Here in Muncie, a bookstore – long gone now – had shelves and shelves of old pulp magazines, which were so named because of the rough-edged, cheap paper they were printed on. I never bought any, although I wanted to. But I couldn’t even begin to start.

By the 1970s, I was enjoying the paperback reprints of pulp magazine stalwart Doc Savage, with those great James Bama covers, and that helped me appreciate the pulps in general and Goulart’s book.

In a relatively slim volume, Goulart gives an overview of pulps but concentrates on the best and brightest, the pulps featuring Doc Savage – precursor to Superman – and the Shadow, one of Batman’s contemporaries and inspirations.

Goulart gives us Tarzan and cowboys and detectives and jingoistic Yellow Peril villains and, best of all, a glimpse of the (mostly) men who created all those characters, working anonymously under pen names and turning out literally hundreds of novel-length yarns that were eagerly consumed by adventure-seeking readers.

Goulart interviewed many of the surviving writers and artists and even devotes the last chapter to their unfiltered memories.

Goulart’s topic has no doubt been covered by others since then, but even 40 years later, his book remains my favorite look back to that time and the pulpy art of storytelling.

An odd note: An inside page notes that the original title of Goulart’s book was “Cheap Thrills.” Although the cover doesn’t include that title, folios throughout the book refer to it as such. Did publisher Ace take the cheap way out, slapping a new cover on the interior text of Goulart’s book?

Considering the on-a-shoestring nature of pulp magazines, it would be appropriate if they did.

‘The Avenger’ is coming – the one you haven’t heard of

the avenger 1 justice inc

When the adventures of the 1930s pulp magazine hero The Avenger were reprinted in paperback in the early 1970s, they were right up my alley. I had already become a fan of the Doc Savage paperback reprints and the Avenger books were labeled as being by Kenneth Robeson, creator of Doc Savage.

I later found out that the stories – which originally appeared in Street and Smith pulp magazines from 1939 to 1942 – had actually been written, all those decades earlier, by Paul Ernst. Robeson was a Street and Smith “house name” that several action hero writers used. The Doc Savage books had been written by Lester Dent, to a great extent.

But the stories of The Avenger were so cool and so dire that it didn’t matter.

Like Doc Savage, the Avenger – originally a normal guy (if you call a wealthy world-traveler and adventurer normal) named Richard Henry Benson – fought crime with the help of a band of comrades and a healthy bank account.

But Benson/The Avenger drew his crime-fighting inspiration from the same dark well as Batman. Benson’s wife and daughter were brutally killed by gangsters.

Benson didn’t just take up the mantle of crimefighter. The shock of his family’s slaying was literally a shock to Benson’s system. His hair turned white. His eyes – somehow – turned pale. And Benson’s face froze. No longer could he voluntarily change his expression. His bleached face was described as like something out of a graveyard.

But Benson could suddenly mold his face, moving his jaw and nose and cheekbones and brow to resemble other people. With the help of makeup, colored contact lenses and wigs, Benson could now go undercover, infiltrating crime rings and mobs.

the avenger 2 the yellow hoard

Armed with his ghoulish visage and high-tech weapons – including a streamlined gun and knife set he called “Mike and Ike” – Benson brought criminals to justice.

I was fascinated by all this. By the time i was reading the Avenger stories in the early 70s I was familiar with Batman’s tragic backstory, of course. Richard Henry Benson’s was perhaps even stranger and more tragic in that it also left him disfigured ‚Ķ but he turned the handicap into a crimefighting tool.

justice inc comic

The Avenger had a couple of changes at revival after the paperback stories were published. DC Comics – which in the early 1970s had revived another great pulp hero, The Shadow – published an Avenger comic book in 1975. No doubt because DC competitor Marvel had been publishing “The Avengers” for more than a decade, DC called its Avenger book “Justice Inc. featuring The Avenger.”

justice inc kirby cover

Jack Kirby even did some work on the comic.

Besides the nostalgia factor, I’m noting all this now because of the recent news that producers are developing, for The CW network, a new TV series version of The Avenger, with several changes, of course. Instead of Richard Henry Benson, the heroine is Alice Benson. The new Avenger has the same malleable features and the same undercover missions as she investigates the deaths of her parents (rather than spouse and child).

I’m guessing in light of Marvel’s big-screen “The Avengers” movie, the TV series will be called something else.

It’ll be interesting to see if the new series can capture the same feeling of an adventurer – an avenger – with nothing left to lose in a hell-bent pursuit of evildoers.

‘Thor’ trading Asgard for Fortress of Solitude?

Doc-1-cover-400

So director Shane Black is making a Doc Savage movie, based on the pulp magazine hero, as his follow-up to “Iron Man 3.”

That’s enough to have old fans of Clark Savage pretty happy. And we already knew that.

But who could conceivably play the bred-from-birth-to-be-perfect Savage, a towering man of action and intellect?

doc savage pulp cover

It’s all over the web already, but an interviewer asked Black about “Thor” and “Avengers” and “Rush” actor Chris Hemsworth.

“Not a bad idea,” Black replied.

chris hemsworth rush doc savage

Really not a bad idea at all.

Hemsworth is already about as tall as Doc. He’s got the physique and the features. He can pull off the longish hair if Black decides to go with something other than the James Bama skullcap look for Doc.

And I think he’d be totally suitable as the prototype for later comic book characters like Superman.

It probably won’t happen … but maybe it should.

 

Shane Black to make ‘Doc Savage’ movie

doc savage james bama

So news broke today – a couple of days after director Shane Black’s “Iron Man 3” set some pretty impressive box office records – that Black would make a “Doc Savage” movie, perhaps as his next feature.

Readers of this blog know that “Doc Savage” – a pulp magazine and comic book adventurer – is a favorite character of mine. That’s in part because he’s so impossibly cool – a super-smart, super-strong crime fighter who got that way because, like Batman, he worked hard to become what he became – and in part because Doc established so many pop culture touchstones.

He was named Clark before that Kent guy. He had a Fortress of Solitude before Superman. He was a scientific detective who tried to not kill before Batman.

doc savage fabulous five

And he had the Fabulous Five, a cool group of associates that were sidekicks before anybody knew what sidekicks were.

I grew to know Doc from the reissued stories that came out in paperback in the 1960s and 1970s, featuring great James Bama cover art.

There’s lots about Doc out there, including plenty of entries – including some on my blog – about the character, the pulps and the awful first “Doc Savage” movie released in the 1970s.

I hope you get to know Doc and are ready when Black brings him back onto the big screen. I’m already ready.

 

Classic heroes: The Green Hornet

I became aware of the Green Hornet, masked crimefighter with a cool car and an even cooler sidekick, at the time of the 1966 TV series featuring Van Williams and Bruce Lee. The show ran only a season but the two also appeared in a high-profile, two-part guest-starring shot on ABC’s campy hit “Batman” series.

While they’re enjoyable to watch to this day, the two “Batman” episodes featuring the Green Hornet and Kato squaring off against and pairing up with Batman and Robin (Adam West and Burt Ward, of course) seem like an odd fit. “Batman” was goofy but the “Green Hornet” series was played absolutely straight.

That’s because the series, with Williams playing crime-busting newspaper publisher Britt Reid and Lee as his valet/sidekick Kato, followed the custom of the radio show that introduced the character in 1936.

Reid and Kato, while conducting normal, upstanding lives during the daylight hours, put on masks, arm themselves with Hornet “stings” and other non-lethal weapons and cruise through big-city back alleys at night, fighting crime and righting wrongs.

Not unlike some versions of Batman, the Green Hornet and Kato are considered criminals themselves. Their status as lawbreakers lets them fit right into the criminal underworld in their efforts to destroy it.

The 1960s “Green Hornet” series was played for drama and some ironic humor, particularly when Reid’s newspaper staff vowed to expose the Hornet’s crimes. But unlike the “Batman” series, the “Green Hornet” series featured gritty settings, straightforward stories and criminals who were less flamboyant and more murderous.

I didn’t see the Seth Rogen “Green Hornet” movie and I’m not sure I will. The reviews were pretty awful and I don’t think there was much to gain by turning “The Green Hornet” into a comedy at this point in the character’s history.

Fun fact: The Green Hornet is related to another great radio/serial/TV/comic book hero, the Lone Ranger. The producers of the radio show also produced the popular “Lone Ranger” series and noted that Britt Reid was the great-nephew of John Reid, the Texas Ranger who became the Lone Ranger after the rest of his posse were ambushed by outlaws.