Pulp Never Dies: The Superhero ConnectionA column article by: Tommy Hancock
A Column Explaining, Discussing and Exploring New Pulp
By Tommy Hancock
Questions are interesting things, aren't they? Much like kisses of fair maidens and bruised egos of virile warriors, questions have launched a thousand ships, plunged entire countries into wars, obliterated generation after generation. They've also, however, been much like the Holy Grail or the Golden Fleece-- reasons for human beings to quest, to explore, to reach beyond the mundane and get their figurative and literal hands dirty in the future and the fantastic. Questions have inspired, invigorated, confused, convinced, dared, defied, depressed and a million other descriptive words since the first one was asked. Queries have dogged politicians in and out of offices and marriages, have uncovered great goods and evils around the world, and have perplexed school students of all ages ad infinitum. Questions also do one other thing, some would it call it their most valuable service, others see it as their interminable curse.
Just like pesky poltergeists, questions that go unchallenged stalk those they're aimed at like invisible snipers, waiting to be answered. But when they're not, they're hovering and lingering, always leaving an opening for someone to attack the veracity of what you're working on or to weaken your strongest argument. It's especially true when those questions center around a concept or a movement that very few have been privy to until someone brings it out into the light, turns the sign from 'For Your Eyes Only' to 'Open to the Public.' Sounds like this column and New Pulp, you say? You got it, Dagwood.
If you missed the epic opening arc of PULP NEVER DIES, go back to the archives here at Comics Bulletin and catch up. There you'll find me facing my fears, calling questions on the carpet and answering them with a barrage of quotes, concepts, and even samples. And with all the cataclysmic solving of conundrums and statements quelling interrogatories, one question remains open and festering, left unresolved, at least in whole, by those probably never-to-be-classic first four columns. And yet it's probably the most obvious question, so obvious I think I even referenced it previously. But I provided no solution, no response, no final statement that would forever transform that question into Fact and Fiction to be much debated if anyone ever had extra time on their hands.
Until now. Of course to answer a question properly, the first step is it must be asked. So…-
Why is there a column about New Pulp on a Comics website?
I'm glad…I asked that! In the previous columns, I tried to answer this in a general way, to show the connections that exist between Pulp fiction and comic books that still permeate both mediums today. I even drew comparisons early on, hinting at least at the roots of comic characters being planted deeply in the fertile soil of their Pulp predecessors. This is probably the point I could very well roll into recitation after recitation about the influence Doc Savage had on a certain caped marvel. Or how Daredevil and Batman owe a debt of eternal gratitude to their thematic father, The Black Bat. Or even how latent memories of a particular Pulp character firing automatics from the covers of magazines likely at least in part influenced a well-known creator when he brought the world's foremost teen angst ridden super hero into existence. This is, I have determined by now, most decidedly that point. But I'm not going there. Others have ridden that road much farther and better than I.
No, I'm going to keep up my inimitable, probably irritating style of answering a question over several columns, citing examples of New Pulp work and invoking the names and stories of creators of New Pulp material to form links that bind Comics and New Pulp together, sometimes in obvious in your face ways, other times in more subtle gun barrel pressed into your back ways. And we'll be kicking that off with this statement that will likely irritate a few Comics followers right off the bat.
To answer this question, we're going to look at masks and capes. That's right-- super heroes.
I know, I know. There's so much more to comic books than the brightly colored adventures of tight wearing, philosophy spouting, fist throwing mutant and masked types. Comics have always had more than Heroes and villains flying through the skies of unsafe cities. From Funny Animals to Romance to literally some of the best postmodern literature ever written, comic books are more than simply the latest adventures of 'Some Hero and his/her sidekick, Abandoned Kid!' But as that statement leaves my typing fingers, it can also not be denied in any sense of the word that comic books exist today as the powerhouse (at least as a medium if not as a product) they are because of…yeah, I'm gonna say it…super heroes.
Many of you are probably willing to let me by with that, I'd figure. You might groan and begrudge me, but you'll allow me that Supers are the reason comic books still exist. Thanks, I appreciate that. Now my next statement may not be so easy for you to swallow, but it doesn't make it any less true.
There is such a thing as non-comic book super hero stories. Yup, I said it. And I'm not talking about movies or cartoons. But in prose. Yeah, and I'll even go it one better.
Super heroes are alive and well in New Pulp.
What? Prose tales of men who fly and women who fire beams out their eyes can't be considered Pulp? Don't they have to be called names like 'comic prose' or 'comic book inspired tales'? Nope, not true. And understand, I know that this concept rubs some die hard Pulpsters just as far the wrong way as it does die hard Comicsters. Many Pulp fans like their heroes to be maybe teetering at the edge of super herodom, but never quite crossing the line. And even when examples such as The Black Bat or The Shadow-- or, going even more obscure, Captain Zero and The Green Ghost-- are brought up, many Pulp supporters still err on the side of them being tried and true Pulp Heroes, ignoring the qualities they share with four color types.
Well, I make no apologies for what you're about to read, both in the following paragraphs and in the next few installments to come. Super Hero Pulp, although probably not yet a major piece of the volume of New Pulp being produced, is a very active and living aspect of the whole Movement. Ranging from the gray area type characters-- such as Barry Reese's Rook-- those who are grounded in Pulp, but have hairs and hints of comic hero mixed in, to the flat out nonstop Super hero action that explodes from every single page of Van Allen Plexico's Sentinels books, (Yes, there'll be more on these and other examples coming soon, true believers!) Super Heroes have claimed their own corner of New Pulp and won't be going anywhere anytime soon.
In order to kick off this exploration of connections, links, inspirations, influences and stories, I'm going to do something that I normally don't do, usually abstain from, often feel guilty and horrified when I even think about it: I'm going to present to you the reader your first example of Super Hero Pulp and…it's going to be a book written by me. Yep, modesty takes a break and accusations of lack of objectivity may fly, but I am not simply a Columnist or a New Pulp Supporter or even a fan. I am a writer of Super Hero Pulp (among other Pulp genres) and as proud of that fact as I am of that Superman shirt that makes my wife cringe every time I wear it.
Yesteryear-- my debut novel published by Pro Se Press-- is a story not simply about Pulp type characters or about Super heroes and villains: it's a story, a study really, of how Heroes, both in my fictional equivalent of the real world and as a conceptual construct, transition from street level men and women with interesting names and better than average abilities and even masks and capes in some cases to superhuman powerhouses laden with…well, powers.
The book, the first of a trilogy, is really two stories running simultaneously. One story is a modern day tale of a publisher who, once sort of a celebrity crime fighter himself of the kid sleuth variety, ends up with his hands on a supposed urban legend, a book written by a Hero from this world's version of the Golden Age. The book contains both grand and revealing stories about the cast of colorful characters who first donned masks and became vigilantes and villains beginning in 1929. With this book now proven to be real, multiple individuals and agencies-- including the government, secret groups, and even modern super types, of which there is an overabundance-- want to know what it says, what secrets it hides, what history it threatens to reveal. So the chase is on and the man who now has this tome has decisions to make-- about his own life and the lives of others, about what he's always believed and what the real truth might be and about whether or not he can be a hero if necessary.
The second story that is a part of Yesteryear consists of actual printed excerpts from the book in question. The author, Ramsey Long, disappeared in 1955 and took with him this fight and tell manuscript. To give the reader a sense of what all the hubbub is about, the included parts from Long's book establish the world as it was when the concept of 'Hero and Villain' leapt off the printed page into this world's reality and serve as a foundation for the tense unbalanced powers situation taking place in the modern era.
I, as many New Pulp creators were, was a fan of comics before I even knew what Pulp was. I grew up steeped in Superman, Batman and all DC had to offer. And although Marvel didn't often seduce money from my little hands, there was enough exposure via television and friends who didn't have as good a taste in comics as I did that I was fairly well voiced on that corner of comics as well. That influence fed both storylines within Yesteryear, the modern being impacted heavily by the chaotic world of the X-Men while the earlier era was influenced by All Star Squadron. And, thanks to comic creators utilizing old characters and making new ones legacy types, the concept of connecting the two eras with costumes and conflicts was also firmly planted in my fertile mind at a young age.
Flip through the pages of Yesteryear and you'll find archetypes-- characters you'll recognize not as rip-offs, but as homages-- creations inspired by the floppy funny books of my youth. Hero, the first of his type in Yesteryear clearly resembles Superman or Captain Marvel. The Night is one of those that owes an equal three way debt to The Shadow, Batman, and The Spirit. The GI, a soldier who awakens with powers he didn't always have, is my tip of the fedora to Captain America and other patriotic types. The comparisons can go on and on.
The same is true of the heroes and villains that populate, or more truthfully overpopulate the modern era in Yesteryear. Some have direct ties to historic predecessors, while others are simply products of their universe. And yes, most of them, even those legacies with links to the past, are corrupted in some fashion, made weaker by their powers mingling with their humanity. Many are throw away characters, not because I won't use them again, but more because they were invented to serve a purpose and that purpose is one and done. Much like the way some would say comic creators have done multiple times in the last twenty years.
Yesteryear is about more than the differences in Heroes then and now. It's about hope. It's about the opportunity to return to a day when good guys were good, bad guys were bad and everyone knew who to cheer for. What, that's not like comic books, you say? Hmmm….then I've been reading press releases and wide eyed optimistic statements from comic book companies and creators from another universe then.
Which, of course, is entirely likely.
Yesteryear is set in a world where heroes started out relying more on their own skills and maybe on the incidental extranormal power, but evolved into beings that many, even some within their own ranks, considered gods. And it's about how gods can fall and from the rubble humanity can rise once again to be its own hero. Even when the whole world is saying it can't.
So, there are the connections of my novel to comic books. But why is Yesteryear Super Hero Pulp? Because it's a fast paced action based story that….well you'll have to go back and read the four columns before this one for all the definitions of New Pulp. Then maybe even read the novel for yourself, its available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, among others. But trust me, it's pure New Pulp…just like all the other Super Hero tales I'll be bringing to you in the next few weeks. Until then-
Know the next time that you need a masked marvel- PULP NEVER DIES.
Chapter V of Darkness, Spreading Its Wings of Black continues here.
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