When it comes to the enjoyable old Pulp Heroes of the past the big names like the Shadow, Doc Savage, Zorro, the Spider and Conan the Barbarian get the most attention. Balladeer’s Blog presents four Pulp figures who are unjustly overlooked but who appear in stories every bit as exciting and memorable as the more well-known heroes. Each of the following characters were written by the same writer for their entire series of stories, not by people using House Pseudonyms owned by the big publishers like with many other Pulp figures.
4. NORTHWEST SMITH
THE HERO: Space traveling anti-hero Smith was created by the female writer C.L. Moore in the 1930s. Four decades before Han Solo, Northwest Smith was a ruthless swashbuckling smuggler, thief and all-around mercenary. Smith’s less than sterling character made him a refreshing change from the usually wholesome pulp heroes of the time.
THE STORIES: Northwest Smith’s adventures take place in the far future, when regular trade exists between Earth and the native inhabitants of Mars and Venus. The other planets in the solar system have been colonized by those Big Three worlds, providing a backdrop that combines elements of westerns, seagoing adventures and colonial-era war stories.
Wielding a blaster like a six-gun and piloting his deceptively fast and maneuverable spaceship The Maid Smith and his Venusian partner
Chewie Yarol roam the solar system making a living by plying various illegal trades. Though Northwest and Yarol are career criminals they often find themselves forced by circumstances into taking actions similar to those of traditional heroes. Their motive is usually their own survival rather than altruism.
Martian women called Shambleaus lure Smith into perverse erotic addiction, Venusian pimps run a flesh trade featuring genetically altered women and tomb raiders throughout the solar system involve Smith and Yarol in activities that threaten to unleash cosmos-destroying forces from the distant past. One adventure even finds Northwest stranded in a different dimension that features winged abominations, carnivorous trees and red grass that sucks blood. West’s sultry female acquaintances in the tales often go the way of James Bond’s women unfortunately.
CL Moore’s style was sort of a science fiction version of Anne Rice and provided the Northwest Smith stories with a lurid sensuousness that made them stand out from other science fiction tales. A glib way to summarize this hero’s adventures would be “picture Han Solo functioning in the universe of the Alien series of films.”
THE HERO: G-8 was the codename of an American flying ace of World War One. The character was created by Robert J Hogan in 1933 and over the next 11 years Hogan wrote 110 stories featuring the daring figure. G-8, whose real name was never revealed, was a master of disguise in addition to his piloting and hand-to-hand combat skills. Hogan’s hero (see what I did there) was unswervingly patriotic and fiercely dedicated to the defeat of the Central Powers.
THE STORIES: With his two fellow operatives “The Battle Aces” G-8 conducted aerial commando raids, carried out special forces missions and even undertook espionage missions against the Germans, Austro-Hungarians and the Ottoman Muslim Turks. In true Pulp Story fashion the Central Powers threw a vast array of mad scientists, monstrous creatures and alien super-science against our heroes, who always prevailed in the end.
G-8’s 2 wingmen were Bull Martin, a brawny, less-than-brainy man who was very superstitious and flew a plane numbered 7; and Nippy Weston, a short, wisecracking iconoclast who was anything BUT superstitious and defiantly flew a plane numbered 13 to advertise the fact. G-8 had an English manservant named Battle who saw to his comfort in between missions. The supporting cast was rounded out with our hero’s girlfriend, an American spy/ nurse code-named R-1, whose real name, like G-8’s, was never revealed but who aided the three flying aces in several stories.
G-8’s archenemy was Doktor Krueger, the German mad scientist whose deadly inventions would have won the war for the Germans and their allies if not for our hero’s efforts. Another frequent foe was Steel Mask, also a German. Long before Doctor Doom and Darth Vader Steel Mask was a stylish villain who hid his disfigured face behind a metal mask. His face was disfigured when G-8 shot down a German blimp which fell burning from the skies. Other foes were the Raven, Grun the Primeval, a mad Muslim alchemist plus legions of revived Vikings, animated skeletons, flying tanks, vampires, werewolves, tiger-men, mummies, giant bats, headless zombies and every other conceivable menace – even Martians.
For World War One geeks like me an especially noteworthy G-8 villain was Chu Lung. Though this deadly Chinese genius was basically just a variation of Fu Manchu, his presence in so many stories serves to draw attention to the often-forgotten fact that China entered World War One on the side of the Central Powers just four months after the U.S. entered the war on the side of the Allied Powers. In real life China was going through so much internal chaos that they had no real impact on the war but their mad scientist Chu Lung picked up the slack.
The G-8 stories were a clear influence on the Timely Comics (later Marvel Comics) adventures featuring their superhero Captain America.
2. SILVER JOHN
THE HERO: Silver John came along in the 1950s, the tail end of the traditional Pulp Era and his adventures were written by his creator Manly Wade Williams for a few decades after. The hero was a wandering guitar player in the Appalachian Mountain communities and fought a variety of supernatural menaces. Silver John used his courage, pureness of spirit and simple faith in God to overcome the forces of evil wherever they reared their ugly heads. The veteran of an overseas war, John had a more worldly mind than many of the rural denizens of the isolated mountain regions he traversed but loved the simplicity of mountain life.
THE STORIES: Silver John’s name came from the silver guitar strings on his instrument and the silver coins he carried in his pockets. In the stories silver was a strong weapon against evil. The Silver John short stories were followed by a series of novels. The short stories jumped around in time, mostly set during his bachelor days but periodically shifting to his married years or even a time when the hero is in his 50’s.
Two stories also show John’s very first encounter with the supernatural when he was 15 years old and his first adventure after leaving the army – a time before he had his silver implements for protection. Evadare, the courageous and resourceful woman who becomes Silver John’s wife, was introduced in the classic story Nine Yards of Other Cloth. That unforgettable tale features a monster from the pre-Columbian era at large in a densely-wooded forest where all the trees are made of black wood. Another menace in that story is an evil fiddler who performs Black Magic through his instrument, made out of the dark wood from the enchanted forest.
Silver John fought witches, warlocks and ghosts but mostly battled supernatural threats unique to Appalachian Mountain folklore or Native American beliefs. Creatures called Bammats, Behinders, the Toller and the Culverin made appearances as did more human menaces like a woman with a pair of Hell-Hounds, evil monied families and even a vile country preacher who might well have been the AntiChrist. Lovecraftian entities from Earth’s ancient past showed up on occassion too, as did Biblical menaces descended from the Watchers.
Think “Kolchak meets Orpheus” and you’ve got the feel of the Silver John stories.
For a detailed synopsis of each of the Silver John stories click here: https://glitternight.com/2011/03/17/sneak-preview-of-my-pulp-hero-page-first-up-silver-john/
1. THE MOON MAN
THE HERO: Police Detective Stephen Thatcher was in reality the costumed hero called the Moon Man. From 1933 to 1937 Frederick C Davis wrote 38 stories featuring this Pulp figure. The Moon Man was a foe of both the cops and the crooks in fictional Great City, where he captured and killed the metropolis’ greatest criminals, white collar AND blue collar. He also confiscated the bad guys’ ill-gotten gains and distributed those funds to the city’s Great Depression-ravaged poor.
THE STORIES: The Moon Man combined the best qualities of the Shadow, Robin Hood and the Green Hornet. With his sidekick Angel our hero battled crime lords, corrupt politicians, amoral rich pigs and even some proto-supervillains like the Skeleton. Angel – real name Ned Dargan, a former boxer – would hit the streets to disburse the thousands upon thousands of dollars the Moon Man and he stole. The narrative would fill readers in on the details of the recipients of the Moon Man’s largesse, making them more than just anonymous “poor people”.
Stephen Thatcher’s father was Great City’s Police Chief but knew nothing of his son’s costumed identity. Stephen’s lady love was Sue McEwen, the daughter of Lieutenant Gil McEwen, the Great City policeman most determined to capture the Moon Man. Eventually Sue learned about Stephen’s double life during his epic clash with a group of masked criminals called the Red Six. She became an active helper in the Moon Man’s adventures after that.
The Moon Man’s round helmet made out of one-way Argus glass strikes some readers as overly silly but to me it’s one of the qualities of the Moon Man that really captures the fun and campy thrills of the old Pulps. The hero’s other accoutrements included his all-black outfit including a cloak, two automatic pistols and a variety of burglary tools for some of his more daring raids. Stephen Thatcher’s constant struggle to keep his dual identity a secret set the pattern for countless superheroes of the years that followed.
On top of that the cynical world of the Moon Man tales anticipated Film Noir, especially in the casual acceptance of the notion that many police and politicians are dishonest or even outrightly owned by organized crime. The way that Batman stories paralleled the Moon Man’s adventures needs no elaboration.
For a synopsis of each Moon Man story click here: https://glitternight.com/2011/07/18/pulp-heroes-the-moon-man/
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