Balladeer’s Blog examines another Pulp Hero who doesn’t get as much love as he deserves. Science Fiction pioneer Jean de la Hire from France created the Nyctalope (“Nightwalker”) in 1908 but since many of de la Hire’s works were not translated into English for decades this fascinating cyborg Pulp Hero and proto-superhero languished in obscurity.
This French figure survived a violent incident with the help of scientists who “had the technology” to give him yellow bionic eyes which could see in the dark and for long distances. In addition his saviors replaced his damaged heart with a cybernetic one, endowing him with superhuman stamina since that artificial organ slowed the buildup of lactic acid in his system.
The Nyctalope’s serialized adventures were collected into novel form after each story ended.
THE MAN WHO COULD LIVE UNDERWATER (1908) In the story which introduced the Nyctalope he was a supporting character to one of Jean de la Hire’s other fictional figures, in this case Charles Severac. That man invented and captained the Torpedo, a super-scientific submarine that would make Captain Nemo AND Mighty Jack green with envy.
The Nyctalope helped Severac battle a mad scientist named Oxus and his associates Fulbert the monk and Balsan the surgeon. The villains had created a hybrid shark-man called the Ichtaner, meant to be the start of an amphibious army. Needless to say our heroes emerged triumphant and the Ichtaner was returned to normal.
In this debut appearance the Nyctalope’s secret identity was given as Jean de Sainte Clair, but de la Hire would absent-mindedly alternate between that and Leo Saint-Clair in future adventures before finally settling on the latter name.
(NOTE: Various fan-created histories of the Nyctalope resolve the difference by claiming that Jean de Sainte Clair was the father of Leo Saint-Clair. As fun as those fan works are they are not official. I am dealing with the Nyctalope as the original stories presented him.)
THE MYSTERY OF THE FIFTEEN (1911) aka THE NYCTALOPE ON MARS – Oxus the Mad returned as a villain in this first solo adventure of the Nyctalope. Oxus (renamed Arkhus in some later translations) was the leader of a group called The Fifteen – a secret organization of megalomaniacal madmen.
The Fifteen had formed an alliance with a race on Mars, and through that alliance they had access to interplanetary spacecraft and additional advanced technology. Oxus, Koynos and their co-conspirators were spiriting women away to the Red Planet to marry some of them and planning on cross-breeding Martians and humans to create perfect beings and an unstoppable warrior race in order to conquer both worlds.
Even more fun came in the fact that – several decades before crossovers between fictional characters from different creators became commonplace – the Martians that the Fifteen were allied with were foes of THE Martians from H.G. Wells’ novel War of the Worlds. And in a later Nyctalope adventure Jean de la Hire incorporated Cavorite, Wells’ fictional substance from The First Men in the Moon.
In this tale the Nyctalope traced the Fifteen to their base in the Congo and from there to Mars, where our hero managed to foil their plans for conquest.
LUCIFER (1921) aka THE NYCTALOPE VS LUCIFER – This milestone Nyctalope saga further set the mold for future Pulp Heroes around the world, from Doc Savage on down. Our protagonist faced Baron Von Wartek, a suave international supervillain who had earned the nom de guerre Lucifer.
Lucifer had a secret headquarters in the Bermuda Triangle, making Jean de la Hire ahead of his time on yet another count when it came to fictional tropes. From a subterranean base there the Baron was plotting to take over the world with diabolical inventions like his Teledyname and his mind-controlling Omega Rays.
Action also took place in France – whose economy Lucifer tried to destroy – and at Baron Von Wartek’s Fortress Schwarzrock in Germany plus the villain’s North Pole base, site of the final confrontation between our hero and the Baron.
The Nyctalope’s epic battle with Lucifer saw him gathering around him a band of dedicated operatives like so many later Pulp Heroes would assemble. Saint-Clair called his outfit the Committee of Information and Defense Against Evil. Premier members included Soca and Vitto, two towering Italian fighters plus Ambassador Mitang from Japan.
THE KING OF THE NIGHT (1923) aka PLANET WITHOUT FIRE – The Nyctalope once again crosses over with the H.G. Wells fictional universe in this story. Professor Cavor had copyrighted a spacecraft which employed the substance he had named Cavorite.
Our hero used the vessel to fly to Rhea, the heretofore unknown second moon of the Earth. On Rhea Leo Saint-Clair got caught in the middle of a conflict between that moon’s two warring races. One race lived on the side of Rhea which was in constant daylight and were winged batlike humanoids. The other race were apelike beings and lived on the side of Rhea which was in constant darkness, hence “The King of the Night.”
(Some readers have asked if I have the two races of Rhea backwards. No, I don’t.
As odd as it may seem Jean de la Hire put the batlike race on the dayside and the apelike race on the nightside.)
In the end the Nyctalope established peace between the daysiders and nightsiders, prevented Rhea from colliding with the Earth and went on to marry Veronique d’Olbans, the beautiful woman he had shared this adventure with.
THE AMAZON OF MOUNT EVEREST (1925) aka THE MYSTERY OF EVEREST – Wife, shmife, Veronique d’Olbans disappeared between adventures just like James Bond’s girlfriends would do.
The mountains around Tibet may seem like a very unlikely place to find a hidden civilization of Amazon women, but that is precisely where the Nyctalope and some of his loyal assistants discover them.
You know the drill in these stories: there are good Amazons, there are evil Amazons, the entire kingdom is at risk when the evil Amazons attempt a revolution, etc.
When all of the dust settled our hero headed back to the outside world with the Amazons’ former Queen Mizzeia Khali as his new temporary romantic interest.
THE ANTICHRIST (1927) aka CAPTIVE OF THE DEMON – No, Leo Saint-Clair does not take on the Antichrist from Christian mythology. He battles a villain named Leonid Zattan, a sinister figure involved in every form of nefarious activity imaginable. This figurative Antichrist plans to take over the world.
Zattan has his own organization of like-minded evildoers and they clash with the Nyctalope’s Committee of Information and Defense Against Evil. Personally I think that means that a better title for this story would have been Armageddon instead of Antichrist, but what can you do?
At any rate the religious overtones in the adventure came courtesy of Mathias Lumen, a Holy Man who enlists the Nyctalope in very high-flown terms: “God sometimes allows His infallible justice and rightful wrath to manifest themselves upon the face of this Earth … And YOU are that manifestation! … You, the Nyctalope!” (I guess he threw in that last bit because Leo Saint-Clair was looking behind him to see who Lumen was talking about.)
Naturally the good guys won, and the Nyctalope hooked up with Ambassador Mitang’s ward, Sylvie MacDhul. Sylvie became our hero’s second wife. (The unofficial fan stories call her his fourth wife but, again, I’m going by what the Nyctalope’s creator actually wrote.)
TITANIA (1929) – The title villainess of this story was part of Leonid Zattan’s army of evildoers in the previous Nyctalope adventure. Titania was an alias for Diana Ivanovna Krasnoview aka the Red Princess aka the Queen of the Hashishins.
The Red Princess had a new man in her life now – Korrides the Viper – who joined her in her new attempt at world conquest. Leo Saint-Clair and Sylvie, meanwhile, had had a son that they named Pierre.
Once again Titania lost to the Nyctalope and this time got killed by a Gypsy girl to boot. Korrides was so distraught by that turn of events that he took his own life.
BELZEBUTH (1930) – More fallout from the Nyctalope’s war with Leonid Zattan washed ashore in this tale. It turned out that during the period when Diana/ Titania had been Zattan’s lover they had a son named Hughe Mezarek, who was now an adult villain going by the name Belzebuth.
As part of his planned revenge against the man who destroyed his father, the time-traveling Belzebuth kidnapped the Nyctalope’s wife and son. Even worse, he used his vile inventions to exile them to the future, stranding them in the year 2100.
Our hero managed to defeat Belzebuth and his array of super-scientific weaponry plundered from the 22nd Century. Plus he returned with Sylvie and Pierre from the future with the help of “good” descendants of some of his Rogue’s Gallery of foes.
GORILLARD (1932) aka THE YELLOW MYSTERY – The title villain of this adventure also went by the aliases the Mastodon, Ourga and Dan Arlem. His real name was Dominique de Soto and his family had long been bitter enemies of the Saint-Clairs going back generations.
De Soto managed to ally himself with the Seven Living Buddhas and – in a plan that must have had Fu Manchu suing for theft of intellectual property – the villain worked with those Seven Buddhas to try to subjugate the Western World.
The Nyctalope did his best imitation of Sir Denis Nayland-Smith and thwarted de Soto’s combination of Far Eastern sorcery and super-science. Obviously this is all a variation of “Yellow Peril” stories. Even the alternate title makes that clear.
THE ASSASSINATION OF THE NYCTALOPE (1933) aka ENTER THE NYCTALOPE – This flashback tale is the fully fleshed-out origin story of the Nyctalope, better late than never I guess. Readers are treated to the saga of our hero’s violent mishaps in the middle of a battle near Lake Geneva against Nihilist agents from an organization called the Red Circle.
As we all know, Leo Saint-Clair survived the attempt to kill him thanks to the bionic replacements that were provided for his eyes and heart. Thus empowered he then proceeded to bring down the Nihilists, who were after Radiant Z, his father’s latest invention.
The Nyctalope’s attack on the Red Circle was complicated by the fact that the attending nurse at the operation that gave him his bionic powers was secretly an agent for the Nihilists and was able to tip them off.
We are told that all this happened way back when our hero was only 20 years old. And from then on, using his new handle the Nyctalope, Leo began his adventures in earnest!
THE MYSTERIES OF LYONS (1933) aka THE BLOOD WORSHIPPERS – Back to Yellow Peril-themed action in this story. The Nyctalope battled a Chinese cult dedicated to stealing the life-force of young victims by way of blood rituals.
The leader of the cult was the beautiful Chinese woman Alouh T’Ho, a fictional daughter of the notorious Dowager Empress of China. Though Alouh T’Ho was born in 1852 she still appeared to be in her twenties because of the blood-soaked activities of her devotees.
This saga took our hero from Lyons to Alouh T’Ho’s palace in Southern China. It should go without saying that the Nyctalope got to the bottom of what was going on, defeated the cultists and resisted the seductive charms of Alouh T’Ho, who could have given Fu Manchu’s daughter Fah Lo Suee a few pointers on how to handle men.
THE MOROCCAN SPHINX (1935) – I have yet to be able to find and buy either French or English versions of this Nyctalope adventure set in French Morocco. If anyone knows where I can buy them please let me know.
THE NYCTALOPE’S CRUISE (1936) aka WANDA – I can’t find French or English versions of this story either. This adventure found the Nyctalope squaring off against a spy ring led by the sultry and seductive Wanda Stielman, a German agent.
Wanda – on behalf of the Fatherland – is trying to steal the fortune of the White Russian Princess Irena Zahidof.
THE CROSS OF BLOOD (1941) – This story, too, has escaped me so far in either English or French versions. Leo Saint-Claire’s friend the Comte d’Harmont recruited the Nyctalope to save his family from a curse which had already killed his wife.
The entire fortune and legacy of the Comte d’Harmont’s family is on the line as well. The main villain in this Gothic Horror meets Sci Fi version of a Nyctalope story was Armand Logreux d’Albury, a dark magician called the Master of the Seven Lights. **UPDATE: I just found and ordered the French version. More to come …
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