This week I will start a cycle dedicated to the superheroes, I will limited it to 3 sections: Pulp Heroes, Prose Novels Super-Heroes and Comic Books Super-Heroes, this last one divided into two sub-sections: Prose Novels and Graphic Novels. Starting with the topic, this week will be about “Pulp Heroes” who were well known by appearing on thick magazines known as “pulps” publishing text stories creating original heroes, of which many still remain in the memory of fans. The “Pulp Heroes” were distinguished by being the first step towards the era of Super-Heroes. The “Pulp Heroes” had no super-human powers and usually only had a good physical condition but without anything super-human, but in the field of tools to fight crime although some were common as swords or conventional firearms some also had more ambitious weapons like laser guns. But in general were heroes with particular origins but their skills were restricted by the limits of human ability, but of course in some cases they had such combination of human skills, that it was very rare to find someone that could gather all and be the best in each. Not included in the 9 choices that I will comment, but relevant to mention, I want to tell the invaluable influence of characters like “Robin Hood”, dating from the 14th century and that the public is still debating whether he was real or not, but he inserted the concept of a hero with a special nickname, a recognizable costume, representing weapons, a romantic interest, allies and recurring villains. Then in 1903 (play) and 1904 (novel), is created by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, the character known as “The Scarlet Pimpernel” inserting the concept of a hero with a secret identity, which it’s a key point turned in the creation of Super-Heroes. Likewise, introduced other elements like wearing mask, leaving a recognizable mark for their actions, and that their battle names include a reference color. Then, I will comment out of 8 heroes and a villain, all great representatives of “Pulp” was where the stories were totally in prose format with only the support of some casual illustration (sometimes), which was consolidated as the first means of popular entertainment among young people before that comic books were developed.
The prolific author Edgar Rice Burroughs published in 1912 in the pulp magazine entitled “All Story Magazine,” the first story about the character Tarzan and this, together with the publication in 1904 of the novel “The Scarlet Pimpernel”, formalized the 20th century as the era where popular heroes were born. Obviously, the printed fiction has always had heroes, but from the classic stories of the Greek gods, through the legends of “Robin Hood”, is then on the 20th century where heroes with particular origins, emblematic scenarios, recognizable costumes, etc … they saw the light and fiction was never the same … it was better!
Tarzan, after achieving fame and public acceptance has been moved to every conceivable form of presentation: Pulp Magazines, novels, comic books, radio, television, cinema, the latter two both in the flesh and in animation. In the hands of its creator, there are 24 original novels, as well as a guest appearance on another book series by Burroughs.
And on films account easily reaches nearly 90 movies, where many actors have played the character but the most famous for the role was Johnny Weissmuller.
Tarzan has one of the most publicly known origins. It is clear that Edgar Rice Burroughs was inspired by the legend of Romulus and Remus and the novel “The Jungle Book” by author Rudyard Kipling in 1894. A baby who loses his parents during an expedition to Africa and who is raised by apes until reaching adulthood. During their growth, he achieved to maximize all his physical abilities, and learn to travel by lianas and even to communicate with other animals. His battle-cry now iconic consolidate him as “The King of the Jungle”. When he met white men, in the group, there was the beautiful Jane Porter, and he decides to claim his inheritance in the UK where his name was John Clayton III, with the title of Lord Greystoke in Scotland. But soon he returns to Africa along with Jane, where they conceive a son named Korac (in the films they opted to give him an adopted son named Boy).
In the stories of Tarzan, a frequent theme is of lost civilizations, as well as incorporating important factors such as being against the enslavement of the African tribes, the repudiation of hunting animals as a sport and support the environmental protection of the African nature, making a difference to other stories published so far where rampant stories where the “great white hunter” was the hero and the “dangerous and uneducated natives”, the enemies.
The iconic character was created by Johnston McCulley, and first published in the pulp magazine “All-Story Weekly” in 1919. The first story was titled “The Curse of Capistrano” and had some different elements to what is known now as your battle name was Señor Zorro and his secret identity Diego Vega (without the “de la” in the middle). But fate made that Douglas Fairbanks chose this story as the basis for the first film to shoot in the new studio he founded known as United Artists. And they decided to call the film “The Mark of Zorro” filmed in 1920, barely a year after the publication of the story in pulps.
The film helped make the character known only as “El Zorro”, but it was his creator Johnston McCulley who, in his stories, changed the name of his true identity should become formally known as Diego de la Vega, but also it says that McCulley much contradicted in his stories such as that in the first story the villain died and the identity of Zorro was revealed, but in the second story the villain was still alive and the identity of Zorro remained as secret, although personally I think this is normal when a story with no expectation of continuity encounters an amazing opportunity to become a series, and obviously it has to make changes to work for a series.
Zorro was adapted to multiple formats such as novels, comic books, theater, radio, television and film. Where one of the most memorable performances is the one of Guy Williams in the Zorro TV series produced by Disney Studios between 1957 and 1959.
Zorro is actually Diego de la Vega, son of the wealthy Don Alejandro de la Vega and having a prosperous farm in California at the time when Spain controlled the area. The Governor and his troops oppress the people with unjust taxes and other evil acts, so Diego de la Vega decides to adopt the secret identity of Zorro and defend the oppressed and the needy, where only Bernardo, his servant who is mute, knows the secret of his true identity.
Along with “The Shadow”, Zorro is one of the two most relevant inspiration for the eventual creation of the Super-hero, The Batman.
This character was created by Walter B. Gibson, initially in 1930 for a radio program in which he was best remembered due Orson Wells gave his voice for the character, a year later, in 1931, Gibson created the pulp magazine “The Shadow Magazine ” which debuted in print “The Shadow” as the star character of the magazine which also published stories of other characters.
“The Shadow” is easily one of the best examples of the transition between the pulp heroes without powers and super-heroes of comic books, as “The Shadow” had certain psychic abilities.
In his classic origin, “The Shadow” is Kent Allard, a pilot who fought alongside the French in the First World War, then it decides to fight crime, for which fakes his death in the jungles of South America, and then returns the United States where he threatens the millionaire Lamont Cranston and forces him to “share” his identity as the real Cranston travels the world, in New York, The Shadow assumes the identity of Lamont Cranston, but then this is not the only identity that he uses but multiple identities to move around the social circles of New York, including “Fritz” a janitor working at the Police Headquarters and so can keep informed about criminals.
The Shadow also uses a group of associates, who often were people who previously he helped them in some cases and are indebted to The Shadow, and so he collects the favor when he needs it. His romantic interest is Margo Lane.
His rogues gallery was the precursor to the galleries of supervillains in the era of comics books. Among his enemies included Shiwan Khan, The Voodoo Master, The Prince of Evil, The Wasp, Silver Skull, The Hydra, The Cobra, Five-Face, The Gray Ghost, The Hand, The Silent Seven, etc …
In the pulp age, they were written 336 stories about The Shadow, which have been collected in different editions of novels and anthologies.
The Shadow has been the biggest influence on many later characters like Batman, too many elements of his stories were “adopted” by the house of DC Comics and Marvel, and even Alan Moore said that was his inspiration to design “V” from his graphic novel “V for Vendetta”.
The famous Conan the Barbarian was created by Robert E. Howard and first published in 1932 in the pulp magazine called Weird Tales Magazine.
Robert E. Howard had written earlier in 1931, a short story entitled “People of the Dark” published in 1932 in the pulp magazine called “Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror” in which the protagonist of the story refers to “past lives” of him, and one of them was called Conan, a barbarian hero swearing about a deity called Crom.
When Howard was looking for a new character, focused on the dark reference character mentioned and began to develop him from a poem of his own titled “Cimmeria” (besides Conan the Barbarian, he is also known as Conan the Cimmerian) and also design all the Hyborian Age, which is the age where the mythical adventures of Conan happen.
I think it relevant to note that all of this came in 1932, while “The Hobbit” was published in 1937 and the trilogy “Lord of the Rings” between 1954 and 1955. Something relevant considering that almost all the literature of the genre of epic fantasy are based on the work of JRR Tolkien, but since 1932, Robert E. Howard had built a solid series in the same genre, although technically located as “sword and sorcery”, this is basically like a sub-genre of what is considered epic fantasy. At no time have I implied that there copying or plagiarism. Not at all. I just think relevant give credit to whom deserves merit. Since when Bilbo Baggins was just deciding whether or not to go along with Gandalf and the Dwarves, Conan had already made and broken in their own adventures.
The Hyborian Age is set just after the destruction of Atlantis, but before the emergence of the so-called “ancient civilizations”. Conan is different from other “heroes” and certainly one of the archetypes for “ambivalent” characters that are way popular these days. Conan is from the Cimmerian village, born in the middle of a battlefield, the son of a blacksmith, had to mature quickly and as an adolescent was already a respected warrior. When he reached adulthood he was wandering the Hyborian Age nations playing different roles and seen very differently in each nation, in roles such as a thief, outlaw, mercenary and even pirate. When he reached forty years old he took the crown from the tyrannical king of Aquilonia (the most powerful kingdom of the Hyborian Age) then killing him with his own hands. In many cases, their adventures show him performing heroic feats but his motivations usually fall on his own survival instincts or seeking personal gain.
After the first stories written by the original creator Robert E. Howard, were commissioned several other writers to increase the adventures of Conan, the most prominent are: L. Sprague de Camp, Robert Jordan, Steve Perry, Harry Turtledove, Leonard Carpenter, etc …
The stories of Conan, both initially printed in pulp magazines, then reprinted in novel format as other later stories which were books from the beginning, amounting to a total of 68 novels.
The character of Conan and his barbaric world have been adapted into novels, comic books, TV and movies where the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger achieved international fame due to embody the iconic warrior.
The famous Lone Ranger is not technically a “pulp hero” as it appeared on radio and while even has written novels, it was never published in pulp magazines, but I wanted to include it for its relevance as a heroic icon before the age of Super-heroes and also is a character that would fit perfectly in the pulp magazines.
The origin in real life is a bit dark and it is unknown for sure if its creator was George W. Trendle, owner of the radio station where they first aired the program, or if it was Fran Striker, the writer of the program. One would assume that it is more logical to think that was the writer of the program, but it is questionable who suggested the initial premise of the concept of the character. The radio program of the “Lone Ranger” began in 1933.
During the first radio transmissions, the appearance of the Lone Ranger while he had his iconic mask but he didn’t wore any recognizable attire in special, that’s why in the early novels is printed on the cover wearing cowboy clothes but no specific look. It’s until when the TV show started that his look of light blue suit and white hat basically became the “uniform” of the hero.
The Lone Ranger is named after being the only survivor of a group of six Texas Rangers who were ambushed, his older brother was the captain who commanded the group. Therefore, even while he has the help of his Indian companion “Tonto” does not affect to call him “Lone” to the main character.
The Lone Ranger was designed to represent and support a rigid ethical code to send a positive message to children that were his primary audience in radio and then television. Therefore, the Lone Ranger never shot to kill, never smoked or drank liquor, was never put into a situation where he woud villains of other ethnicity who was not American, using always perfect grammar while speaking without using contractions, etc. …
Already in other details, he never was looked without his mask to preserve the mystery of his face, and he was shown only without the mask but when wearing a disguise that also hid his true face. Also be prevented to be captured by villains or imprisoned for a sheriff for too long to prevent it from being unmasked.
His real name was John Reid, and a detail little known is that The Green Hornet is a “spin-off” series of the Lone Ranger, as the Green Hornet was Britt Reid, son of the nephew of the Lone Ranger. Both characters had their radio shows on the same station, but since then the copyrights of each character have usually been purchased by different companies, this connection is rarely mentioned.
The Lone Ranger has been featured on radio, TV, movies, comic books and in book format in its original run had 19 novels.
The iconic character was created by publisher Henry W. Ralston and editor John L. Nanovic with additional material contributed by the head writer of the series, Lester Dent, debuting in his own pulp magazine entitled “Doc Savage Magazine” in 1933.
During its original run in pulp magazines it was published 181 original stories which were later re-printed by Bantam Books taking the task of re-publishing all 181 stories in novel format.
Funny how the success of “The Shadow” in his own pulp magazine generated interest to create a Doc Savage in his own pulp magazine, and unlike The Shadow possessed certain special abilities, Doc Savage has no powers but has managed to bring to perfection all human physical and mental faculties. Doc Savage is physically similar to the idea of Superman, but without powers, while The Shadow is an obvious predecessor Batman but with special abilities.
Doc Savage’s real name is Clark Savage Jr., but his friends call him “Doc”. His father and a group of scientists raised him from birth to achieve perfection and reaching maximum range of strenght, physical agility and mental capacity that a human being is capable of, becoming a martial artist, as well as developing photographic memory and to mimic voices perfectly. In addition to accumulate the knowledge needed to be a physician/surgeon, scientist, inventor and researcher, disguise artist and spend time as explorer and adventurer.
Doc Savage set as his base of operations the 86th floor of a famous skyscraper in New York (which is never referenced by name but is obviously the Empire State Building). There devotes his life to fight evil with the assistance of the “Fabulous Five” (which is a group of experts in various fields). In addition to a fleet of vehicles of all types: land, air and sea. Also has an arsenal of weapons and special gadgets of his own devising, which highlights his gun with “mercy bullets” to put to sleep instead of killing, as Doc Savage has a firm code of not taking any lives. It also has a secret base in the Arctic called Fortress of Solitude (which was invented many years before appearing in Superman comics). All of this is funded through a gold mine that was given as thanks for descendants of the Mayans who appeared in his first adventure.
Doc Savage is also sometimes assisted by his cousin, Patricia “Pat” Savage.
In 181 of his adventures, just one villain re-appeared for a second time, John Sunlight, which is more or less like an evil version of Doc Savage, matching of physical and mental abilities.
In many of his early adventures is mentioned that Doc Savage performs “delicate brain operations” to his beaten enemies to “eliminate their criminal tendencies” and to re-incorporate them into the society.
OK, here I made another variation of the topic, as in the proper field of pulp heroes, were more suitable “Buck Rogers” first published in 1928 in the pulp magazine, Amazing Stories Magazine, or even “Captain Future” first published in 1940 in the pulp magazine “Captain Future magazine” (while a little late since the era of comic books was emerging at that time), but eventually I chose the character of Flash Gordon. First to avoid to deal with more than 9 options without need, and then as though each of them has its own particular idiosyncrasies, the three characters fall into a very similar scheme is the space hero, and from the three of them, this is the one with the most remembered and iconic villain. Plus Flash Gordon almost could have been the most popular science fiction franchise ever in history, because George Lucas wanted to make a film about the character but since the copyrights were in power of Dino de Laurentis, as George Lucas did not had another choice but to invent something that you may heard about called “Star Wars.”
Flash Gordon was created by Alex Raymond, and first published in the format of comic strips in newspapers in 1934, under the seal of the famous company King Features Syndicate (owner of other popular series such as “The Phantom” and “Mandrake the Magician”). Flash Gordon was created to compete against the comic strips of “Buck Rogers” who by that time had already passed from the format of pulp magazines to comic strips.
Flash Gordon was a polo player, who along with his girlfriend, Dale Arden are forcibly recruited by scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov, to travel in a spaceship from his own invention to the planet Mongo, that that time was attacking with meteorites to Earth. There, they face the dreaded Ming the Merciless, Mongo’s tyrannical ruler. In their adventures they join forces with several partners such as Prince Thun of The Lion Men, Prince Barin of the wooded kingdom of Arboria, and Prince Vultan from the Hawkmen.
Flash Gordon apart from his famous run in comic strips has also been adapted to comic books, radio, TV (mainly in animation where also it was on an iconic grouping with The Phantom and Mandrake and founding the Defenders of the Earth and facing Ming the Merciless), and finally it is relevant to mention the Dino de Laurentis’ film which although it failed at the box office, after many years has become a cult film.
In the field of novels, was published in 1936 the first book that failed to achieve to create a series, but then in 1973 it was managed to publish a series of 6 novels aimed at adult audiences and had good reception, although it is attributed to Alex Raymond (the original creator), were actually written by the author Ron Goulart.
Again I chose a character emerged from comic strips and not of pulp magazines, but it’s because of their relevance as a hero predecessor to the Super-heroes that I considered it important to mention. (I don’t included in the post to Mandrake, basically to not dwell over 9 options on the post without need but also because Mandrake didn’t count with novels on its own).
The Phantom was created by Lee Falk, and first published in newspaper comic strips in 1936 under the seal of King Features Syndicate.
The Phantom presented at the beginning of the comic strip is the number 21 offspring from Christopher Walker, whose father was murdered by pirates of the Singh Brotherhood and thus vowed to dedicate his life to fighting piracy but also all forms of criminals. Each offspring has been trained to succeed the Phantom in turn if he dies, usually due to violent causes, but as The Phantom always uses the same uniform of purple color including a hood and mask (which meant being the first hero using a uniform and whose mask was drawn with an effect of “eyes on white”, something already implicit when entering the era of superheroes), everyone believes he has always being the same “Phantom” and has earned the reputation of being “immortal”, also known as “The Ghost who Walks”, which generates fear in their enemies.
The Phantom really does not have any special powers, but each offspring is trained from young to get one day the next Phantom, for which they must recite an oath to accept the role.
The twenty-first Phantom is Kit Walker, who in one of his adventures he meets and falls in love with Diana Palmer, with whom he subsequently marries and has two children, Kit and Heloise. They all live in the Skull Cave, Phantom’s secret sanctuary, located in the jungles of Bangalla, Africa, and also has the help of his trained wolf, Devil, and his horse Hero.
From 1936 to today, The Phantom continues publishing new comic strips in newspapers, where Lee Falk, the creator remained at the post of writer until his death in 1999, only to be succeeded by writers assigned by King Features Syndicate.
The Phantom apart from its run on comic strips, has also been adapted to comic books, TV series (including the animated Defenders of the Earth and Phantom 2040, which they used other descendants than the initial incarnation of Kit Walker (Descending # 21) ) and a film with Billy Zane as the legendary character, that although it was an acceptable adaptation failed in box office.
In the field of books, The Phantom has a series of 15 novels written by Lee Falk himself.
I want to end with a villain, and although many people ignore, Fu Manchu is a villain of the early 20th century that made such an impact that is the basis of where others were inspired to create more recent villains.
Fu Manchu was created by British author Sax Rohmer, whose real name was Arthur Henry Ward. Where his first book was published in 1913 and eventually it was published 14 novels.
Also, Fu Manchu was adapted to other media such as radio, TV, movies and comic books.
Fu Manchu is a man of mystery, but in the midst of their criminal activities, has built some details as it is very possible that he was a member of the Imperial Family who fled China during the Boxing Rebellion, which explained that between its many operations, although it has been involved in the murder of many Western industrialists, also has endeavored to prevent the spread of communism. It has four doctorates from famous Western universities. And come to perfect a liquid called “Elixir Vitae” which has spread his own lifespan. Fu Manchu starts as a senior officer in a criminal secret society called Si-Fan, which is funded primarily from drug trafficking and slavery rings, but gradually ascending more and more to achieve his goal of fully controlling the Si-Fan.
The character has had problems to re-emerge because contemporary critics claiming it is a means to show Asians as evil beings. Curious that when appears an American villain no one objects or mentioned as something politically incorrect.
The great merit of Fu Manchu and his impact as a character is that he is actually one of the few villains who is the real protagonist of his stories, and heroes are the antagonists without even achieve any notoriety.
The villains who have been inspired from Fu Manchu, are such as Ming the Merciless, Ra’s al Ghul (DC Comics), The Mandarin (Marvel), Dr. No (James Bond), Lo-Pan (Big Trouble in Little China), The Celestial Toymaker (Doctor Who), Wo Fat (Hawaii 5-0, original series), Hark (Planetary), Dr. Zin (Jonny Quest), to name some of the villains sculpted under the same precise style of Fu Manchu, but also, any type of contemporary villain mastermind with ambitions to control the world, it’s clear that he/she owes much to the original creation of Fu Manchu.
Similarly, Fu Manchu had a daughter, Fah lo Suee, and has served as inspiration for the daughters of some of the villains above as Talia al Ghul (daughter of Ra’s al Ghul), Sasha Hammer (daughter of The Mandarin), Princess Aura (daughter of Ming the Merciless), Anna Hark (Hark daughter (Planetary)).
Additionally, from the pages of Fu Manchu novels, Sumuru emerged, a wicked ally with her own criminal organization that spawned six novels and even 3 films.
UNTIL NEXT WEEK HAPPY READING!