This page will take a look at old pulp heroes. As I’ve stated on my About page I won’t be covering the obvious heroes like the Shadow, Doc Savage, etc. In keeping with my blog’s theme I’ll be looking at those forgotten pulp heroes and heroines that I feel deserve to be better known.
THE NYCTALOPE – Science fiction legend Jean de la Hire created this cyborg Pulp Hero and proto-superhero in 1908. After a violent attack by Nihilists this neglected character survived when he was given yellow bionic eyes which let him see in the dark and for long distances.
In addition his damaged heart was replaced by a cybernetic one, endowing him with superhuman stamina since that artificial organ slowed the buildup of lactic acid in his system. With these bionic powers the Nyctalope fought the forces of evil on Earth, Mars and the Earth’s secret moon Rhea. CLICK HERE
G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES – Writer Robert J Hogan created the heroic American World War One pilot G-8 in 1933 when that conflict was still being called simply The World War or The Great War. G-8 and his wingmen/ Battle Aces Nippy Weston and Bull Martin battled all the supernatural and super-scientific menaces thrown at the Allied Powers by the Central Powers of Germany, Austria- Hungary and the Ottoman Muslim Turks. Giant robots, invisible planes, Panther-Men and even aliens were all in a day’s work for G-8 and his Battle Aces.
NORTHWEST SMITH – In the 1930’s female author C.L. Moore created this character – a swashbuckling smuggler and mercenary of the spaceways decades before Han Solo came along. Armed with a blaster and with his Venusian partner Yarol at his side Smith roamed our solar system in his deceptively fast spaceship The Maid plying his criminal trade and often winding up in the role of reluctant hero.
PROFILE OF NORTHWEST SMITH – https://glitternight.com/2014/04/11/pulp-hero-northwest-smith/
NORTHWEST SMITH STORIES 1 and 2 – https://glitternight.com/2014/04/19/pulp-hero-northwest-smith-stories-1-and-2/
NW SMITH STORIES 3 and 4 – https://glitternight.com/2014/04/26/pulp-hero-northwest-smith-stories-three-and-four/
NW SMITH STORIES 5 and 6 – https://glitternight.com/2014/05/03/pulp-hero-northwest-smith-stories-five-and-six/
NW SMITH STORIES 7 and 8 – https://glitternight.com/2014/05/10/pulp-hero-northwest-smith-stories-seven-and-eight/
NW SMITH STORIES 9 and 10 – https://glitternight.com/2014/05/17/pulp-hero-northwest-smith-stories-nine-and-ten/
NW SMITH STORIES 11 and 12 – https://glitternight.com/2014/05/24/pulp-hero-northwest-smith-stories-eleven-and-twelve/
THE FINAL NW SMITH STORY – https://glitternight.com/2014/05/31/pulp-hero-northwest-smith-his-final-story/
THE MOON MAN – Created by Frederick C Davis, the Moon Man is, to me, the epitome of the campy but fascinating heroes the old pulp publications used to treat readers to, issue after issue. Operating in fictional Great City, the Moon Man not only waged war on the ruthless representatives of the criminal element, he also plundered their ill-gotten wealth from them and distributed it to the Great Depression-ravaged poor of the 1930’s. This not only made the hero a combination of the best elements of the Shadow and Robin Hood, but it also gave him a healthy dose of “Green Hornet appeal”, too, because, like the Hornet, the Moon Man was hunted by both the crooks AND the cops, doubling the danger for the daring and resourceful figure every time he donned his costume and stalked the night-darkened streets.
That costume, by the way, is beloved by some fans for its hammy, campy, “pulpish” quality, but is just barely tolerated by others for the same reason. The automatic-toting Moon Man dressed all in black, usually including a black cloak, and hid his face behind a round glass globe that covered his entire head (think Spider-Man’s foe Mysterio for a comparison). The globe was made of one-way Argus glass, the glass Speakeasies used to use during Prohibition, so the customers inside could see anyone approaching the illegal boozery but cops approaching it would see only their reflection in the glass. Similarly the Moon Man could see out of the globe but people looking at him would see just the mirrored surface of the globe. The globe-headed aspect of the Moon Man’s outfit often annoys people who take pulps a little too seriously, but to me it adds to the old-fashioned fun.
The Moon Man was really police detective Stephen Thatcher, son of Great City’s police chief. His lady love, who eventually shared the secret of his dual identity, was Sue McEwen, daughter of Lieutenant Gil McEwen, the Great City lawman most obsessed with bringing in the Moon Man. You can well imagine the type of secret identity/soap opera fun that results in each adventure because of these tangled relationships, especially in the early stories when not even Sue knows the identity of the romantic figure capturing and robbing Great City’s most dangerous criminals.
The Moon Man’s supporting cast of regulars is rounded out by reformed thug Ned Dargan, better known as “Angel” (you Rockford Files fans can insert your own “I got Angelo to think of” joke here). Angel was our hero’s agent in charge of distributing the money that the Moon Man relieved his criminal opponents of and the narrative often filled the reader in on the tragic background of the recipients of this largesse, so they weren’t just anonymous “poor people” but seemed actual flesh and blood. Angel was kept ignorant of the Moon Man’s secret identity, adding another layer of deception to Stephen Thatcher’s identity-juggling.
The Moon Man stories often featured a hard-boiled cynicism that pre-dated Film Noir. That cynicism manifested itself in the way the characters in the stories took it as a given that Great City’s white collar criminals had their hooks in various shady politicians and even had members of the police force and District Attorney’s office in their pockets. This accentuated the need for a vigilante like the Moon Man to bring such villains down.
In all, Frederick C Davis (his real name, by the way, not a house pseudonym), penned thirty-eight Moon Man stories in the pages of Ten Detective Aces Magazine. The stories ran from 1933 to 1937 and are available in a huge two-volume set. Those tales are full of action, suspense and colorful villains as well as the usual plot twists centering around the Moon Man’s efforts to keep his true identity a secret and the expected story elements where his role as a policeman means he’s kept informed of some of the traps the cops are planning for him.
In recent years, some tribute stories (as opposed to fan fiction) have been written by pulp afficianadoes in which the Moon Man battles Doctor Satan, the star of one of the short-lived Villain Pulps and another in which he teams up with fellow neglected pulp hero Agent X. The time-traveling hero called the Rook also shares an adventure with Davis’ unjustly forgotten hero. I’ll be offering a synopsis of each of the Moon Man stories like I did for Silver John, the previous neglected pulp hero I examined.
MOON MAN STORIES 1-3 – https://glitternight.com/2011/08/24/pulp-heroes-the-moon-man-stories-1-3/
MOON MAN STORIES 4-6 – https://glitternight.com/2011/09/03/pulp-heroes-the-moon-man-stories-4-6/
MOON MAN STORIES 7-9 – https://glitternight.com/2011/09/10/pulp-heroes-the-moon-man-stories-7-9/
MM STORIES 10-12 – https://glitternight.com/2011/09/16/pulp-heroes-the-moon-man-stories-10-12/
MM STORIES 13-15 – https://glitternight.com/2013/01/23/pulp-heroes-the-moon-man-stories-13-15/
MM STORIES 16-18 – https://glitternight.com/2013/02/02/pulp-heroes-the-moon-man-stories-16-18/
MM STORIES 19-21 – https://glitternight.com/2013/02/23/pulp-heroes-the-moon-man-stories-19-21/
MM STORIES 22-24 – https://glitternight.com/2013/03/02/pulp-heroes-the-moon-man-stories-22-24/
MM STORIES 28-30 – https://glitternight.com/2014/03/15/pulp-hero-the-moon-man-stories-28-30/
MM STORIES 31-33 – https://glitternight.com/2014/03/21/the-moon-man-stories-31-33/
MM STORIES 34-36 – https://glitternight.com/2014/03/29/the-moon-man-stories-34-36/
SILVER JOHN – Created by fantasy and horror writer Manly Wade Wellman, Silver John heroically fought supernatural forces in the Appalachian Mountain communities of long ago. He was an itinerant musician and ballad singer who wandered on foot among towns isolated from each other by mountains and forests as riddled with unearthly menaces as Lovecraft’s Miskatonic River Valley. Silver John (no last name was ever given) was so-named because of the silver strings on his instrument of choice, a guitar, and because of the pure silver coins he carried in his pockets: in the universe of Silver John stories silver was a potent weapon against all unholy forces, not just werewolves.
Nothing compares to the feel of the Silver John stories. They are told in the first person from John’s perspective in dialect that is authentic for the region but that is never difficult to follow. It makes for a lyrical, almost poetic narrative that eventually takes on its own internal logic the more stories you read. Silver John faces a wild and unique assembly of monsters drawn from the Appalachian folklore that Wellman was steeped in. (The song The Devil Went Down To Georgia is based on the same type of Mountain Folk Tales) Oh, there is the occassional run-of-the mill ghost or werewolf thrown in, but largely our backwoods Kolchak faces creatures you will likely never have encountered before, and even when he confronts witches and warlocks, they are presented in off-kilter ways that make them seem fresh.
There are several Silver John short stories and vignettes, with the vignettes reading like written word equivalents of those pre-credit sequences from the Indiana Jones and James Bond movies. There were also five Silver John novels, but personally I think the nature of the tales works best in a short format.
The only thing I think Wellman did wrong in these stories was to specify a time period. In some later stories it is firmly established to be the 1950’s which I don’t like for two reasons: 1. Having it be the 1950’s makes the mannered way the characters speak seem incredibly outdated instead of quaint. (Trust me, the citizens of Mayberry seem like sophisticated members of the Algonquin Roundtable compared to the characters who populate the Silver John tales.) Until one story specifically set the era in stone I was assuming it was sometime in the first two decades of the 20th Century.
2. More importantly, I think the stories work best when you can lose yourself in an indeterminate time period, like you can with Max Brand’s pulp westerns. Prior to it being fixed as the 1950’s I was admiring what I thought was Wellman’s clever way of obscuring the exact decade, with only the occassional reference to cars giving you a vague sense of period. Even John’s remarks about having fought “in that war overseas” could have been referring to any conflict from the Spanish American War, the Philippine War that followed, World War One, or (I thought) at the latest, World War Two.
When we are at last told point-blank that John fought in the Korean War it shatters that illusion and his mannerisms and speech patterns suddenly seem hickish, not charming. That’s a minor quibble, though, since we readers always take liberties with reading material in our own minds.
Though I’m an ardent skeptic I often recommend the Silver John stories to religious-minded co-workers who ask me for suggestions on stories that might be okay for their children to read. I do this with one warning: John’s adventures pit him against some very ghoulish creatures, and though his pure nature, native courage and simple faith always see him triumphant, there are some hair raising moments along the way. People whose religious beliefs are offended by ANY mention of monsters and witchcraft, even when those dark forces are defeated, should stay away.
I have long been disappointed that NPR never did a series based on the Silver John stories. They cry out for audio presentation, with our imagination filling in the gaps that Wellman artfully leaves in his descriptions. The short stories are SO short, in fact, that even the longest of them could be polished off in a half hour, with many (especially the vignettes) being short enough that you could package two of them in a half hour slot. Barring NPR, though, I can’t believe these stories aren’t available in books-on- tape format.
***O, UGLY BIRD! – The Silver John short stories debuted with this eerie tale that nicely establishes the whys and wherefores of John and his part of the world. In this inaugural tale Silver John saves a mountain community from the reign of terror of the evil Osmer, a man whose dark soul can go forth in the shape of a giant, hideous bird to kill anyone foolish enough to oppose him. At first people are puzzled because Osmer and the bird are never in the same vicinity but naturally Silver John gets to the bottom of things and his eponymous metal helps him save the day. The story features a young girl named Winnie who is the first in a long line of ladies who unsuccessfully attempt to convince John to settle down and stop his wandering ways (at least until his beloved Evadare comes along).
***THE DESRICK ON YANDRO – A desrick is a very old-fashioned cabin that was constructed specifically to offer maximum protection from attacks by Native Americans or wild animals. Yandro is a remote mountain, named after a monied family whose patriarchs have been evilly lording it over one of the backwoods communities for decades. A witch lives in the desrick on Yandro; a witch who was jilted by the grandfather of the current head of the corrupt Yandro clan when she wouldn’t reveal to him where a fortune in gold could be found.
Itching for the gold that eluded his ancestor Mr Yandro has Silver John accompany him on a dangerous journey to the desrick. This wonderful story features a veritable menagerie of monsters, including the Bammat, which is the last of the Woolly Mammoths, the Toller, a huge winged creature whose cry tolls the hearer’s doom, the Culverin, which shoots pebbles from its mouth like buckshot, the Flat, which is like a blanket-sized (and shaped) worm that wraps itself around its prey, the Skim, which glides through the air like a frisbee and the Behinder, which no one can describe because it strikes from behind and leaves no survivors. A very awkward, monsterless version of this tale was featured in the horrendous movie that was made about Silver John’s adventures.
***WHY THEY’RE NAMED THAT – This Silver John vignette features a Gardinel, another monstrous creature plucked from Appalachian lore. A Gardinel is a supernatural being able to appear as a rough shelter in order to attract weary travelers in lonely, secluded places. Once the wayfarer is inside and asleep the Gardinel devours them. It’s sort of like a large- scale Venus Flytrap in concept.
***VANDY, VANDY – Silver John journeys to an isolated mountain community to learn an obscure folk song to add to his repertoire. Naturally all is not as it seems there and John must save a family from a man named Loder who is really a witch. Not only has Loder been alive since the days of the Salem witch trials, but it turns out the witch also was an ally of Benedict Arnold in his traitorous intrigues. John’s silver coins help save the day with a little help from Loder’s fear of George Washington.
***ONE OTHER – A beautiful young woman who is bitter over Silver John resisting her charms lures him to a remote mountain top. Once there, she plans to sacrifice him to a monstrous creature dwelling in a seemingly bottomless pond that is really a portal to another dimension. Silver John must withstand an attack by this other- dimensional being known as “One Other”, a struggle complicated by the young woman’s greed for the material riches the alternate dimension has to offer. This story has an ending that is more sci-fi than horror, but that actually provides a nice change of pace and makes the story feel fresh.
***THEN I WASN’T ALONE – click here- https://glitternight.com/2011/04/30/pulp-heroes-three-from-silver-john/
***CALL ME FROM THE VALLEY – click here – https://glitternight.com/2011/04/30/pulp-heroes-three-from-silver-john/
***THE LITTLE BLACK TRAIN – click here – https://glitternight.com/2011/04/30/pulp-heroes-three-from-silver-john/
***YOU KNOW THE TALE OF HOPH – click here – https://glitternight.com/2011/05/14/pulp-heroes-silver-john-hoph-and-shiver-in-the-pines/
***A SHIVER IN THE PINES – click here – https://glitternight.com/2011/05/14/pulp-heroes-silver-john-hoph-and-shiver-in-the-pines/
***FIND THE PLACE YOURSELF – https://glitternight.com/2011/05/22/pulp-heroes-silver-john-find-the-place-yourself-and-walk-like-a-mountain/
***OLD DEVLINS WAS A-WAITING – https://glitternight.com/2011/05/28/pulp-heroes-silver-john-devlins-and-the-stars-down-there/
***THE STARS DOWN THERE – https://glitternight.com/2011/05/28/pulp-heroes-silver-john-devlins-and-the-stars-down-there/
***ON THE HILLS AND EVERYWHERE – https://glitternight.com/2011/06/03/pulp-heroes-silver-john-four-for-friday/
***NINE YARDS OF OTHER CLOTH – (the story introducing John’s eventual wife Evadare) – https://glitternight.com/2011/06/03/pulp-heroes-silver-john-four-for-friday/
***TRILL COSTER’S BURDEN – https://glitternight.com/2011/06/03/pulp-heroes-silver-john-four-for-friday/
***WHO ELSE COULD I COUNT ON? – https://glitternight.com/2011/06/17/pulp-heroes-silver-john-who-else-could-i-count-on-and-owls-hoot-in-the-daytime/
***OWLS HOOT IN THE DAYTIME – https://glitternight.com/2011/06/17/pulp-heroes-silver-john-who-else-could-i-count-on-and-owls-hoot-in-the-daytime/
***NOBODY EVER GOES THERE – https://glitternight.com/2011/06/23/pulp-heroes-silver-john-a-trio-of-tales/
*** NONE WISER FOR THE TRIP – https://glitternight.com/2011/06/23/pulp-heroes-silver-john-a-trio-of-tales/
***CAN THESE BONES LIVE? – https://glitternight.com/2011/06/23/pulp-heroes-silver-john-a-trio-of-tales/
THAT’S ALL THE SILVER JOHN SHORT STORIES, I’LL REVIEW THE FIVE SILVER JOHN NOVELS IN THE NEAR FUTURE!