Pulp Never Dies: New Superhero PulpA column article by: Tommy Hancock
By Tommy Hancock
Mediums are funny things. Not just the odd size of anything that falls awkwardly between small and large, although there is always humor in being just a bit too oversized to be little and never big enough, I guess. No, in this case, intrepid readers, I refer to mediums of entertainment and/or literature. I only make the distinction because unfortunately there are those in our society today, enlightened as it may be in things such as politics and exactly where the beef really is, that still believe that forms of entertainment, be it comic books or pulp, cannot also be considered forms of readable literature. But I digress, although into a topic I promise I will revisit at some point.
What makes mediums curious categories is how they often seem so unilateral, how they appear to be the only road their particular genus of tale can function in, how no other resource could relate the store in just the same way. That is until a great mind or, in the case of New Pulp, a great many great minds individually and/or collectively decide that mediums, like rules and those cheap neon glow sticks kids buy at county fairs, are made simply for one things. Breaking.
I will not renew agitation or outright boredom by engaging once more in my treatise and manifesto on why superhero tales can fly beyond word balloons and restrictive four-color panels and explode violently and electrically to life on the printed page, a stampede of words and punctuation screaming to life in the imagination of New Pulp readers. Indeed, I have already rolled that wino, so to speak, and lashed the subject with blackjacks and very special brass knuckles, those being my own expression of the genre, my debut novel. No, as a matter of fact, my soul purpose in the column this month and especially next is to keep the promise I made to you, dear Pulp Never Diers! That's right, get out your capes, buckle on your power gauntlets, and settle into your own special private Fortresses of Solitude while I rain down upon you torrential examples of Superhero New Pulp!
Green Lama Umbound by Adam L. Garcia
Published by Airship 27 Productions/Cornerstone Book Publishers
A character that found life first in the Pulps, but has been in nearly every other medium known to American Pop Culture, The Green Lama, regardless of his incarnation, has always had a pretty steady foot in the superhero realm. A man who finds peace and training in Tibet, who gains marvelous abilities of all sorts, again depending on which scribing is detailing his latest adventures, and who returns to our world enlightened enough to crush evil and kick butt in many creative ways.
New Pulp Writer Adam L. Garcia lays his hands on the Lama legacy and stamps his name all over it with this novel from Airship 27 Productions. When one of the Lama's trusted assistants vanishes on a Mediterranean island, Lama and Company set off to rescue her and jump in with both fists to a plot involving rituals, Nazis and certain Ancient Ones. Garcia, assisted wonderfully by the fantastic art stylings of Mike Fyles, crafts a fine superhero tale here, adding in hints and glimmers of the Lama's past as well as putting some meat on the bones of the relationships a lead hero like The Green Lama would have with his stalwart cast of supporting characters.
The Impostor by Richard Lee Byers
Horror and Fantasy author Richard Lee Byers brings his years of writing experience and storytelling to the tale of a man left behind in a world where superheroes no longer live. Matt Brown is one of many who live in a world forever changed after an alien invasion in which all superheroes were lost trying to defend the planet. While the remaining super villains battle with the alien overlords for dominion, everyman Matt Brown trips and stumbles into a vast array of powers, sort of a legacy unintentionally left behind by the fallen heroes. What unfolds is the story of how a man playing at being a hero actually becomes not only what he pretends to be, but also how he might just save the world where real heroes couldn't. Peopled with wild creatures, life and death situations, and a spoonful of "Hey, I could do that" reality, Byers' Impostor series definitely adds a dose of New Pulp to the Superhero genre.
The Rook Volume 5 by Barry Reese
Published by Wild Cat Books
Even though Reese's seminal New Pulp creation fairly much wears the trappings of a whole passel of Pulp icons and such, Max Davies' alter ego also tiptoes into the arena of spandex and capes on occasion, especially as he makes new friends. The Rook Volume 5 introduces readers to The Claws of the Rook, a cadre of crime fighters brought together by The Rook to lance the boil of Evil that still threatens the world in the late 1940s. The cover alone sets up what is most definitely a superheroic romp through Reese's universe, setting up not only some of Reese's own superhero type creations against such menaces as a vampire Hitler (Yep, I said it), but it also breathes New Pulp life into a couple of comic book concepts that have entered that creative cornucopia known as The Public Domain. It's a thrill to see Reese's takes on such classics as The Black Terror, The Flame, and others and puts a definite New Pulp spin on superheroes with The Rook Volume 5.
The Secret World Chronicles by Mercedes Lackey, et al.
Published by Baen Books
One of the great things about the resurgence of interest in Pulp and the expansion of New Pulp is that it corresponds in time with the advent of another great advance, that being the internet in general and the community feeling formed by various podcasts in specific. The Secret World Chronicles is a child of podcasts, this concept of superheroes of various countries fighting each other and banding together to fight new threats first came to life as various discussions and then as actual fiction via podcast. Fantasy legend Mercedes Lackey leads the crew in the first three books of this series, entitled Invasion, mashing up comics, history, mysticism, and more. Bringing in top writers, Lackey kicks of the series by havig the world invaded with robots with high-powered weapons. Not just any robots, but Nazi Robots in the modern day. And the action, adventure, and tangled plot twists bolt forward from there. Superhero Pulp is alive and well, both within the well defined trenches of the small presses, but also out in the mainstream. Booyah.
Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy by Joe Sergi
A true test for how well a Superhero prose story is for some readers is just how much said story reads as if it is a comic book. For me, that's a plus, but it also has to meet that "Is this just a story of words or is there a vein of pacing, character, and clever command of the language that runs through this?" Well, Joe Sergi's first in a trilogy of Superhero novels meets both requirements. Sky Girl is about a young teenager's coming of age and finding out that her reality is largely artificial and instead of being focused on dates, homework, and bonding with her mother, it's more tied to super villains, monsters and delaying the end of the world. Sergi pulls off masterfully the balance between a rites of passage type story and a good ol' fashioned serial like chapter book, cliffhangers and surprises abounding. Mix in colorful, crazy characters and all sorts of tangled storylines and it's a Silver age-esque romp like I've not ever read! Sky Girl flies high as Superhero New Pulp and does just as well as a comic book of the mind!
Chicks in Capes by Various Authors
Published by Moonstone Books
As I've said more times in this column than I've taken breaths in my life, just because a story is written in prose and has masked types and crime and various other sundry things people like me like to read, that doesn't always mean that its Pulp. There's pacing, plot, turns of phrase -- you know the drill. So, when you take a collection of stories and look at it, labeling it all as Pulp, especially when its also wearing that 'Super' tag as well, could be difficult. Not in the case of Chicks in Capes. Set aside the fact that this work is all about female heroes and is put together by female creators from the editor of the project all the way through the writers and artists (And that fact is one that is difficult to set aside, this work being a pioneering project in many ways in the world of New Pulp). Look at Chicks in Capes simply as the collection of stories it is and you'll find pulse-pounding Pulp nearly on every page. Is there characterization? Yup. Are things such as daily life and emotional reactions dealt with? You bet. But it's all done between the one-two punches and laser blasts that make any New Pulp fan ready for more!
Psi-Man by Peter David
Published by Diamond Books (first run under the name David Peters) and Ace Books (second run under real name)
Espionage and Superhero antics clash in this six-book series and the resultant experience is pure New Pulp. David, best known for his comics work, turns out a six book series focused on a teacher, Chuck Simon, who ends up developing powers of the mind and comes very quickly to the attention of a group who wants to put his skills to use as a weapon. Unwilling to be a part of this, Simon runs away and plunges himself into a future version of America complete with other mutants, powered folk, and terrains and settlements replete with horror, adventure, and action. Throw in a telepathic dog about halfway through the series and Peter David's Psi-Man books takes on a slightly quirky comic book feel. Even with that (the dog's name is Rommel, by the way) as well as some inconsistent writing in individual books, Psi-Man as a whole is exactly what the plot says it is. It's a chase book replete with super powers and people who aren't what they seem to be.
Were there infinite numbers of pages this column could go... or perhaps were I better about meeting deadlines than I am, a promising plethora of more Superhero Pulp tales exist that we could peruse, review, and comment on. It is definitely a mash up of mediums that not only has great legs to carry it even farther in the literary race it's engaged in with the rest of New Pulp, but it's one with truly infinite possibilities. In a land of imagination where a young man can get whacked in the head with an iPhone and get super powers (Yep, the book's called iBoy) or where a winged mammal flying through a depressed millionaire's library window and forever alter the course of Popular Culture, anything can happen. And don't think there aren't any original ideas left because that's one of the hallmarks of Superhero Pulp. Taking what the reader expects, dressing up in a new mask and unitard, and giving the same reader a totally new trip on the Excitement Express.
Don't think the ride's over yet, though, kiddies. We still have yet to explore possibly the greatest saga in modern New type Superhero Pulp today, an epic many of you may not even be aware of and are living sadder lives due to that unhappy fact. Next month, you'll get the last chapter in my campaign for Superhero Pulp and it will be the best yet.
Oh, and before we go, check out our latest New Pulp Fiction offering on Comics Bulletin. This one is a story from yours truly, the debut tale of an all new masked heroine, the spokesperson for New Pulp herself -- THE PULPTRESS!
But do make a note! The most fantastic example of Superhero Pulp is yet to come and, if all the various deities that we've turned into Superheroes over the last several decades for lack of better ideas are with us, there might even be a "visit" from the creator of this wonderful Super Saga. Assemble here in a month, won't you?
Until then, when the bald egomaniacal would be despot knocks on your door recruiting henchmen, remember -- PULP NEVER DIES.
Tommy Hancock is a New Pulp author, publisher, podcaster, convention organizer, and all around New Pulp supporter. A Partner in Pro Se Productions, Tommy has been published by various New Pulp Publishers and is currently at work on projects for Moonstone, Airship 27 and other companies. Tommy is the organizer of the New Pulp Movement and also is the Editor-in-Chief of All Pulp and the creator and one of the co-hosts on PULPED! The Official New Pulp Podcast.