Tag Archives: pulp stories

THE HAN SOLO OF THE 1930s: NORTHWEST SMITH

Northwest Smith

Northwest Smith

With the movie Solo: A Star Wars Story in theaters now what better time for my profile of the Han Solo of the 1930s. Female author C.L. Moore wrote a series of pulp adventures about her often neglected science fiction figure 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 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. Continue reading

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REMEMBERING THE MOON MAN

The Moon Man

The Moon Man

THE MOON MAN – Created by Frederick C Davis, the Moon Man is, to me, the epitome of the campy but fascinating heroes the old 1930s 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 1930s.

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 Moon Man was armed with an automatic and dressed all in black, usually including a black cloak, and hid his face behind a round glass globe that covered his entire head.

The globe was made of one-way Argus glass, the glass Speakeasies used to use for their windows 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. Continue reading

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ROBERT LUDLUM’S TOP SEVEN NOVELS: NUMBER FIVE

FOR BALLADEER’S BLOG’S SEVENTH PLACE LUDLUM NOVEL CLICK HERE 

Scarlatti Inheritance big5. THE SCARLATTI INHERITANCE (1971)

TIME PERIOD: Pre-World War One Era on up through the start of the Great Depression with an epilogue set during World War Two.

This was Robert Ludlum’s very first novel and it’s a shame that the planned movie starring Ingrid Bergman never panned out. In my opinion there has never been a very good screen adaptation of a Ludlum novel. Or at least not when it comes to adaptations that are actually like their source material.

The successful Jason Bourne movies bear virtually no resemblance to the trilogy of novels that inspired them. Other films or mini-series’ adapted from Ludlum’s writings have tended to be so far off the mark that some of them qualify as classically bad, for instance The Osterman Weekend.  

HEROINE: (This novel has a female and a male protagonist) Elizabeth Wyckham Scarlatti, an 1890s adventuress from American Old Money who – in her youth – spurned plenty of bloated rich pigs for not being as high-spirited and daring as she was.

Scarlatti InheritanceHer heart and loins are finally stolen away by Italian-American Giovanni Scarlatti, a laborer in her father’s factory. Though he speaks broken English, Scarlatti’s mechanical genius is first-rate. The rebellious Elizabeth combines her own business acumen with Giovanni’s aptitude for inventions and before long the two lovers are married and have taken over the companies run by her father and plenty of his friends. 

The Scarlattis continue to thrive financially through the expected hardball methods and after having three children they change the family name to Scarlett. Eventually Giovanni dies of natural causes and eldest son Roland is killed during World War One.

Making her own version of Sophie’s Choice, Elizabeth allows her brawling, bullying wastrel of a son Ulster to enlist in the Army to romantically take Roland’s place in the World War while keeping third son Chancellor in America with her to prep him to take over Scarlett Industries when she dies.

HERO: Matthew Canfield, an accountant and investigative agent for the American government – specifically Group Twenty, Ludlum’s fictional agency. Group Twenty was operative during the 1920s, when the bulk of this story takes place. Their agents specialized in uncovering financial hanky-panky in that gray area where dishonest business practices and outright criminality mingle.     Continue reading

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IN SEARCH OF THE UNKNOWN (1904): IF INDIANA JONES WAS A ZOOLOGIST

bruce-boxleitner-as-frank-buckIN SEARCH OF THE UNKNOWN (1904) by Robert W Chambers. Previously Balladeer’s Blog examined Chambers’ underrated horror classic The King in Yellow. The work we’re looking at this time around is a collection of short stories about Gilland the Zoologist. Gilland was a forerunner of the real-life Frank “Bring ’em Back Alive” Buck and the fictional Indiana Jones.

Our daring hero worked for the Bronx Zoological Gardens and was frequently dispatched by Professor Farrago to try to bring in dangerous crypto-zoological specimens or disprove their existence if they were hoaxes. The stories in this volume:

bruce-boxleitner-as-frank-buck-2I. THE HARBOR MASTER – Gilland is sent north to Hudson Bay where a Harbor Master has reported capturing a pair of Great Auks, flightless birds which went extinct in the mid-1800s. The two-fisted scholar finds the Great Auks are for real but the Harbor Master harbors (see what I did there) a sinister secret.

This story also features the Harbor Master’s beautiful secretary, who naturally catches Gilland’s eye, and a gilled merman (shades of Creature From The Black Lagoon), who wants to mate with the lovely lady himself. Gilland’s not having it, of course, and must do battle with the creature.  

bruce-boxleitner-as-frank-buck-3II. IN QUEST OF THE DINGUE – The Graham Glacier melts, unleashing a number of animals from species that were long thought extinct. Among the crowd of academics converging on the unexplored area are Gilland and Professor Smawl. The Professor is a sexy, strong-willed female scholar that our hero has been forced to accompany into the region.

The battle of the sexes bickering flies like shrapnel as the pair encounter Woolly Mammoths and other creatures, find a primitive bell called a dingue and run afoul of a gigantic super-powered woman who calls herself the Spirit of the North. Continue reading

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THE NYCTALOPE: NEGLECTED PULP HERO

nyctalope-1Balladeer’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.

nyctalope-2This 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.

man-who-could-live-underwaterTHE 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 always official.)

nyctalope-on-marsTHE 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 a member 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. They were planning to use the rest on a project cross-breeding Martians and humans to create perfect beings and an unstoppable warrior race in order to conquer both worlds. Continue reading

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G-8: A WORLD WAR ONE PULP HERO FOR VETERANS DAY

G8 and the vultures of the white deathFor a light-hearted Veterans Day post how about a Balladeer’s Blog shoutout to the fictional American World War One pilot code-named G8. 

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.   Continue reading

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PULP HERO G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES: THE FINAL TWO STORIES

THIS IS IT! G-8's FINAL BATTLE WITH STEEL MASK!

THIS IS IT! G-8’s FINAL BATTLE WITH STEEL MASK!

Balladeer’s Blog concludes its look at the neglected Pulp Hero G-8. This has been a story-by- story look at the adventures of this World War One American fighter pilot who – along with his two wingmen the Battle Aces – took on various super-natural and super- scientific menaces thrown at the Allied Powers by the Central Powers of Germany, Austria- Hungary and the Ottoman Muslim Turks.

G-8 was created by Robert J Hogan in 1933 when World War One was still being called simply the World War or the Great War. Over the next eleven years Hogan wrote 110 stories featuring the adventures of G-8, the street-smart pug Nippy Weston and the brawny giant Bull Martin, his two Battle Aces. Here are my reviews of the 109th and 110th issues of this massively underappreciated Pulp magazine.

wings of the death monster109. WINGS OF THE DEATH MONSTER (April 1944) – G-8’s FINAL BATTLE WITH STEEL MASK, the German supervillain who hid his disfigured face behind a metal mask decades before Dr Doom and Darth Vader came along.

Just like our hero’s final encounter with his arch-enemy Doktor Krueger a few issues back this already exciting story gets an extra boost from pure nostalgia, marking as it does the last meeting between G-8 and his second-most memorable foe.

Steel Mask still boasts a talent for weapons design that would shame even the 1960’s-era Tony Stark in Iron Man comic books. The German madman’s Death Monster is a new and improved version of the 100 feet high super-tank that he used a while back. For this new model wings and the element of flight threaten to make it the ultimate super-weapon for the Central Powers. Continue reading

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