Category Archives: Pulp Heroes

ROBERT E. HOWARD’S REAL RED SONYA (NOT SONJA)

red sonyaTHE SHADOW OF THE VULTURE – This story by Robert E. Howard, the ONLY Howard story to actually feature Red Sonya, was first published in the January 1934 issue of Magic Carpet Magazine. As I’ve mentioned in many other reviews of old pulp characters, Howard’s REAL Red Sonya was indeed a warrior woman, but not one from his fictional Hyborian Age.

It was Marvel Comics who distorted Red Sonya into “Red Sonja” and placed her as a guest star in assorted Conan stories as well as her own series. That Red Sonja has more in common with female author C.L. Moore’s warrior woman Jirel of Joiry than she does with Robert E. Howard’s Red Sonya.

red sonya picThe Shadow of the Vulture is one of Howard’s historical adventures and it’s set during the 1520s, largely at the Siege of Vienna from September 27th to October 15th in 1529. Red Sonya of Rogatino is a Polish-Ukrainian woman who is more skilled than most men with swords and guns.

The storied red-haired woman has a personal grudge against Muslim Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who was besieging Vienna with over 100,000 soldiers against Vienna’s 21,000. Red Sonya was glad to serve against Suleiman’s armies whenever she could.  Continue reading

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EL BORAK: NEGLECTED ROBERT E. HOWARD CHARACTER

base x betterRecently Balladeer’s Blog covered Robert E. Howard’s stories about his overlooked characters James Allison and Turlogh Dubh. This time around I’m taking a look at another neglected creation of Howard, best known for his Conan, Kull and Solomon Kane stories.

el borakEL BORAK – This character’s real name was Francis Xavier Gordon, an old west gunfighter from El Paso, Texas, who wound up traveling much of the world outside of the United States. Gordon settled in Afghanistan where his prowess with swords and pistols made him a tolerated outsider and earned him the nickname El Borak.

That epithet means “The Swift” and was a reference to Muhammad’s mythical flying horse the Buraq. F.X. Gordon was renowned for his fast draw, swiftness with a scimitar and quick-wittedness. Robert E. Howard seems to have patterned El Borak along the lines of real-life figures like Lawrence of Arabia or Nicholson of India, but with the distinctly American touch of the character’s gunslinger past.

Let’s dive into these action-packed sword and pistol adventures.

daughter of erlik khanTHE DAUGHTER OF ERLIK KHAN – First published in the pulp magazine Top-Notch in December, 1934. El Borak was hired by a pair of scurvy Britishers to guide them to a nonexistent captive friend of theirs. They secretly plan to loot the treasure of Mount Erlik Khan in the city of Yolgan.

That city was avoided by even the most daring Afghani tribes because its pre-Islamic origins lay in outright devil worship and the Satanic priests were still the ruling caste of Yolgan. When the treacherous Brits lay a trap for El Borak after they no longer need him, then leave him for dead, he sets out for revenge.

The former wild west gunfighter infiltrates Yolgan and comes across a former lady love named Yasmeena. In the years since their last meeting, she had married a Kashmir prince, but when he proved abusive, she fled him. That prince has offered a fortune to any who will return Yasmeena to him so that he may torture her to death. Continue reading

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TURLOGH DUBH: ANOTHER NEGLECTED ROBERT E. HOWARD CHARACTER

Recently, Balladeer’s Blog examined Robert E. Howard’s trilogy of tales featuring one of his neglected characters, James Allison. This time around we’ll take a look at another overlooked creation of Howard – the Irish warrior Turlogh Dubh of Clan O’Brien. 

grey god passesTHE GREY GOD PASSES – This was technically the first appearance of Turlogh Dubh but the story was not published until long after Robert E. Howard’s suicide in 1936. That publication came in 1962’s Dark Mind, Dark Heart. The other two Turlogh stories were published in 1931. 

Turlogh is just one of many characters – both real and fictional – in this historical adventure about the real-life Battle of Clontarf on April 23rd, 1014 – Good Friday. The battle supposedly lasted from sunrise to sunset.

Robert E. Howard’s approach in this tale could be likened to those big-budget, all-star war movies like The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, Midway, etc. Like the other characters, the fictional Turlogh comes in and out of the narrative as we read the lead-up, the battle and a bit of the aftermath. He is, however, the main character of the next two tales in which he appears.  Continue reading

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THE JAMES ALLISON TRILOGY: ROBERT E HOWARD’S NEGLECTED CHARACTER

base x betterJAMES ALLISON – American author Robert E. Howard is, of course, best known for his Big Three pulp heroes – Conan (debut year 1930), Kull (debut year 1929) and Solomon Kane (debut year 1928). Among his many overlooked creations was James Allison, whose trio of short stories serve as a perfect analogy for readers who long for adventures that the modern world denies them.

marchers 2MARCHERS OF VALHALLA – Ironically, this tale which introduces James Allison was never published during Robert E. Howard’s lifetime, even though the two follow-up stories were. We meet James Allison, a man living in early 1930s Texas.

James feels profound disappointment over his mundane existence and the era in which he lives. Most of all, he feels inferior to his brothers, who were slain in the World War, and his father, who was wounded while charging up San Juan Hill with Theodore Roosevelt.

Even if the drab, stifling modern era DID serve up an adventure, Allison feels he is in no condition to pursue it because he has lost one of his legs in a riding accident. One day James limps his way up a hill to take in the scenery when a beautiful (of course) woman approaches him. Continue reading

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CONAN THE BARBARIAN: QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST AND AMRA

queen of the black coast smallerWell, after last week’s Curse of the Conjurer some of you wanted more of the 1970s Marvel Comics adaptations of Conan stories and some of you REALLY didn’t. As a compromise I’ll do just one more before moving on to another topic next Saturday.

conan 58CONAN THE BARBARIAN Vol 1 #58 (January 1976)

Title: Queen of the Black Coast

Villains: The Black Corsairs

NOTE: Yes, with this issue Marvel finally got around to adapting one of Robert E. Howard’s greatest Conan stories. At last, Belit (bay-LEET), the pirate queen and the great love of Conan’s life, was introduced in this tale.

           Marvel fairly faithfully adapted the opening of the story in this issue, then, rather than just refer to the years that Conan and Belit sailed the seas together, their writers did dozens of stories depicting their adventures together. All of that culminated with Conan the Barbarian issue #100 when Marvel adapted the tragic conclusion of Queen of the Black Coast, a small part of which was ripped off in the 1982 Conan movie.

        queen of the black coastThis blog post will review the first meeting of Conan and Belit, then Marvel’s depiction of their first shared adventure (featuring an imaginative “fan theory” regarding why Conan was also called Amra) and finally, the sorrowful finale of the longest romance of our Cimmerian’s life.

Synopsis: Just like the original story Queen of the Black Coast from 1934, Marvel’s adaptation opens up with Conan being pursued by the authorities through the streets of the port city of Messantia, the capital of Argos. Conan’s latest clash with the law saw him kill a powerful man, leading to his current plight. Continue reading

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CONAN THE BARBARIAN: CURSE OF THE CONJURER

conan jason momoaThe Marvel Comics run of stories based on Robert E. Howard’s Conan character from 1970-1993 helped maintain the character’s place in the public consciousness after the end of the Pulp Magazine era.

Here is a multi-part 1970s Marvel Conan story that was adapted from the Gardner Fox novel Kothar and the Conjurer’s Curse.

conan 46CONAN THE BARBARIAN Vol 1 #46 (January 1975)

Title: The Curse of the Conjurer

Villain: Shokkoth of the Many Stones

Synopsis: While riding through the Border Kingdoms, Conan meets a wizard named Merdoramon. This figure, knowing that a Cimmerian’s word is their bond, pays Conan a pouch of gold to deliver a mystic amulet to Themas Herklar, the Regent of the kingdom called Phalkar. The enchanted item is called the Amulet of Blue Fire.

Conan accepts the gold and gives his word to deliver the amulet to Themas Herklar. Putting the amulet around his own neck for the journey, the barbarian rides west toward Phalkar.

conan meets stefanyaBefore long he passes through the village of Sfanol, where he sees the inhabitants about to burn at the stake a beautiful young woman named Stefanya. She cries out to Conan for help, and he decides it is time for him to take action. 

shokkothOur hero saves Stefanya from this fate and learns she was being burned for her service to the late sorcerer Zoqquanor now that he is no longer alive to protect her. The panicked woman tells Conan that they must retrieve Zoqquanor’s body from the ruins of his castle, which was leveled by the same superstitious villagers who tried to burn her alive.

Stefanya insists that a spell cast by the sorcerer when he was alive binds her fate to his, and if his body is destroyed so will she be. In the ruins of Zoqquanor’s castle, Conan and Stefanya find the premises now being guarded by Shokkoth of the Many Stones, a monstrous creation of the late wizard. Continue reading

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JIREL OF JOIRY: CHAPTER LINKS

Jirel of JoiryAn alert reader reminded me that I did not remember to put up a blog post with links to all my reviews of female author C.L. Moore’s six Jirel of Joiry pulp stories from the 1930s. Here is that collection of links in one convenient blog post.

BLACK GOD’S KISS (1934) – The first story featuring Jirel of Joiry, a sword-wielding woman warrior from late Medieval France. From Castle Joiry she leads her army in frequent raids on rival domains while often battling mind-boggling supernatural menaces. Jirel really was the kind of red-haired action heroine that people think of Red Sonja as being, but Robert E Howard’s character Red Sonya (not Sonja) was from the 1520s, not the Hyborean Age, and used guns as well as swords.  

This debut tale introduces Jirel, Father Gervase and the Jason Momoa-esque Guillaume the Conqueror. Our heroine enters a vile netherworld to secure a supernatural weapon. Click HERE. Continue reading

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MONDO MIKE HAMMER MOVIES

i the jury novel 1947Mickey Spillane’s hard-boiled private “detective” Mike Hammer first appeared in the writer’s debut novel I, The Jury in 1947. Spillane filled the Hammer stories with scandalous – for the time period – violence and sex. Critics frowned on the hundreds of millions in book sales that followed but readers continue to make the many Mike Hammer novels a success to this very day. 

The Mike Hammer movies, on the other hand, have always been a very mixed bunch of projects. The expression “from the ridiculous to the sublime” has never been more fitting than it is for those films, from the 1950s onward, from the U.S. to Japan. Here are some standouts, in no particular order.  

brian keith as mike hammerMICKEY SPILLANE’S MIKE HAMMER (1954) – This was a failed pilot for what would have been the first Mike Hammer television series. Brian Keith starred as the title dick (as it were) while Blake Edwards wrote and directed, years before his Peter Gunn series.

In my opinion, trying to do Mike Hammer on television was as bad an idea as Spillane’s own novels which set the P.I. in any decade later than the 1950s. This 1954 effort is an exception to my tv rule because it was deemed TOO VIOLENT FOR TELEVISION and was never aired!

Now that’s more like it! The raw violence and lurid sex of Spillane’s novels were what made Mike Hammer stand out. Anything less than Quentin Tarantino levels of sex and violence has been what doomed most Hammer productions on the big screen, let alone the small.

Spillane didn’t exactly concoct ground-breaking mysteries, so the adult elements were what fueled sales of his novels. Stripped of those elements, any story is just a pale imitation of Mike Hammer. As much as I like Darren McGavin, his 1958-1960 Mike Hammer series is way too tame and plays like any other bland detective series of the era. 

Brian Keith is great as the title character in this pilot and I’d love to see how he’d have done in a cinematic depiction of Spillane’s hero. Robert Bice is adequate in the thankless role of police captain Pat Chambers, but the absence of Hammer’s secretary Velda is a serious blow to the production.

Typical of so many Mike Hammer stories, there’s no client. The misanthrope is filled with personal rage and decides to take down a gangster when he sees the man’s gunsels kill a paper boy as collateral damage when they mow down a potential mob witness.

most terrible time in my lifeTHE MOST TERRIBLE TIME IN MY LIFE (1993 in Japan, 1994 in the U.S.) – Masatoshi Nagase IS Maiku Hama, the Japanese rendering of the name Mike Hammer. This unusual film, directed and co-written by Kaizo Hayashi, is in black & white for all but the final 20 minutes. 

The Most Terrible Time in My Life starts out so slavishly derivative of Mickey Spillane, Film Noir and Seijun Suzuki that a viewer finds themselves wondering if this is supposed to be a comedy, but it’s not. Hama comes to the aid of a Taiwanese waiter living in Yokohama, Japan. The waiter wants Maiku to find his missing brother, which investigation leads Hama to over the top violence, the Yakuza, gangster warfare and a secret vendetta between the Taiwanese brothers.

Our title detective gets a finger cut off and reattached at one point in the midst of the routine severe beatings that Mike Hammer usually suffers. Some of the beatings come from his old, revered detective sensei, Jo Shishido, the “cheeky” Japanese star of gritty crime cinema. (He’s sort of the Eddie Constantine of Japan, so his appearance as Hama’s mentor is an iconic moment.) Continue reading

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JIREL OF JOIRY: STORY SIX

Balladeer’s Blog concludes its examination of the stories of pulp heroine Jirel of Joiry, the Medieval French woman-warrior created by female author C.L. Moore in 1934. For the first story click HERE.

jirel in armorHELLSGARDE (1939) – Sadly, this is the last of C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry adventures, but the character gets to go out on a high note. The handsome but treacherous Guy of Garlot ambushes twenty of Jirel’s soldiers and imprisons them in the dungeons of Castle Garlot.

Guy demands ransom, so Jirel meets with him to negotiate since Castle Garlot is impregnable to assault and sieges as it sits atop a high, steep mountain with underground springs supplying it with endless water. The only payment Guy will accept to free Jirel’s men unharmed is the treasure from the remote and damned castle of Hellsgarde. Continue reading

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JIREL OF JOIRY: STORY FIVE

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of the stories of pulp heroine Jirel of Joiry, the Medieval French woman-warrior created by female author C.L. Moore in 1934. For the first story click HERE.

jirel picQUEST OF THE STAR STONE (1937) – It’s crossover time! C.L. Moore decided to do a story in which her two most famous pulp creations – Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry – meet each other. Trouble is Jirel’s adventures take place in Medieval times while Northwest Smith’s stories are set around 2500 A.D. Any reader of pulp fiction knows that’s no real obstacle so let’s dive in.

The story opens in Jirel’s time. She is leading her obedient soldiers in an assault on the castle of a sorceror named Franga. Our sword-wielding heroine battles her way through to Franga’s chamber where she seizes a mystic gem called the Star Stone. That jewel is so powerful but so unfathomable that even Franga was still trying to discover how to harness its arcane energies.

Jirel defeats Franga and forces him to flee between dimensions, but as he leaves he promises Jirel that he’ll return to get revenge on her and get the Star Stone back – just as soon as he finds a champion capable of matching Jirel’s courage, cunning and force of will. “No matter what world or what time I find them in” he adds, letting the reader know what’s coming up.  Continue reading

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