THE CAVERN OF FIRE (1888) – Written by Francis W Doughty. This novel was originally serialized in The Boys of New York from September 15th to November 3rd of 1888. The main character is Professor Hardcastle, head of Merton College in Illinois. Hardcastle’s pet theory over the years has been that America’s mound builders were really from ancient Greece.
At long last he gets some proof of his belief when a tornado not only slams Merton College but also tears open one of the aged mounds in question. Hardcastle, his student Jack Merton and their Chinese aide John Foo discover an iron chest in the opened mound. The chest contains leather pages which, when translated by the professor, are revealed to feature the account of an ancient Greek adventurer named Polyxaphanes.
Polyxaphanes explored far northern caverns leading deep into the Earth, past the realm of the Hyperboreans and ultimately surfacing amid the Toltecs of what is now Mexico. From there the resourceful Greek eventually found his way to America. Hardcastle, Merton and Foo set off in a lighter than air balloon to search for the Mexican end of the vast subterranean cavern system described by Polyxaphanes. Continue reading
THE MAN IN THE BLACK CLOAK (1886) by P.T. Raymond (Francis W Doughty). Before Batman there was the Shadow. Before the Shadow there was Judex. And before Judex there was the Man in the Black Cloak, or simply the Black Cloak as I’ll call him for short. And ironically, four years before The Man in the Black Cloak was published there was simply The Man in Black, a story I will examine another time.
Our present tale first appeared in serialized form in Boys of New York in July and August of 1886. The title figure is a neglected forerunner of dark-attired vigilantes like Judex and the Shadow, plus his paranormal abilities mark him as a very early proto-superhero.
I need to start right at the top with a certain amount of spoilers to make it clear the kind of place the Black Cloak should occupy when tracing early influences on Pulps and superhero stories.
Our title character at first appears to be a somewhat sinister figure as he effortlessly makes his furtive way around 1880s New York City, often glimpsed by young salesman Bob Leeming. Bob is increasingly disturbed, both by the way this man follows him around and by the man’s bright, burning eyes and chalky-white complexion, glimpsed just above his pulled-up coat collar and bandit kerchief. Continue reading