Friday, June 24, 2011

A Study in Pulp

Unfortunately for my dad and his father, my brother and I never took to all the sportsman experiences presented to us. Fishing and hunting were fine, just not something we pursued on our own. Instead we deeply enjoyed role-playing games and comics and creating a mashup of each along with our action figures. Never playing strait G.I. Joe or Star Wars, but rather mixing them all together for some interesting sci-fi settings.

Indiana Jones
One of my gateway drug into pulp fiction was probably Indiana Jones. I remember very well sitting around a smaller TV at Alexander's Pizza in Eagle River, WI trying to make sense of wondrous film The Raiders of the Lost Ark. Because my dad enjoyed the film so much kind of gave me license to really get into it. Temple of Doom was one of my earlier favorable movie theater experiences and of course The Last Crusade film was rather special as the boys all went to see it- my brother and I and my father his father. Extra special having shared the experience with Indiana Jone's father, as well. I have to admit I even enjoyed the latest Jones film. Don't get me wrong, I recognize it was pretty bad, but I really liked it anyways.

Another inroad to this obsession with the pulp genre was comic books. My brother and I deeply enjoyed our action figures as mentioned above. A majority of them were from the Hasbro G.I. Joe 3 3/4 inch line produced throughout the mid '80s to the early '90s. These were highly articulate characters from a series of animated programs as well as a Marvel comic book that enjoyed a nice long run as well as a few spin-off titles. Growing up in the North Woods of Northern Wisconsin at that time left our area without cable TV and therefore without the G.I. Joe cartoons. It was through the local book store that we discovered the G.I. Joe Comic and this became our preferred medium to enjoy the franchise. It was through this comic title that we eventually started to expand into other comics- The Uncanny X-Men, a few of the Batman and Superman titles, etc. After we discovered that our peer was selling comics out of his father's hardware store we were completely addicted.

I was pleased to recently rediscover the good old Larry Hama G.I. Joe comics as IDW has continued right where Marvel left off.

I had a long healthy run enjoying modern comics with their superheroes and costumes and such, but over the last few years it's wore on me. My suspension of disbelief is able to be suspended quite a bit given my choices of entertainment. But sometimes the typical comic books ask for too much... all the time. I realized I started to seek comics featuring heroes with less fantastic powers and little to no costumes. This is difficult to find in Marvel or DC. Needless to show how the industry is completely dominated by supers. That hasn't always been the case. Growing up with it, this isn't obvious. When you look back at the older Silver Age and Golden Age comics the heroes were mainly characters that were remarkable, but not super powered. This is what I consider the pulp genre. And it has been, for a while, my latest obsession.

Tom Strong
One non-superhero comic that caught my eye was Alan Moore's Tom Strong. Tom Strong is a super hero of sorts, but not the costume and cape type you usually find in comics. He calls himself a Science Hero which is more accurate. I jumped on board long after the issues were out and discovered them through the trade paperbacks. Like most of Moore's writing, these are fine stories and they're very clearly his love letter to little bits of all the characters from the pulp era. Through the wonderful stories and fantastic art of the Tom Strong books, I fully discovered the wonderful pulp era.

Tom Strong is a strange title/character. Sometimes the comic feels extremely silly, yet there is always a seriousness to it. No matter how ridiculous the story may seem we always return to the high quality writing that the series holds. It's almost too childish for adults and almost too serious and dark for kids. I don't exactly know what the formula is, but it works very well.

There were even some stories that featured many Tom Strongs all in the same place from alternate realities and they reflected many of the actual pulp characters that served as influence for the regular Tom Strong.

Later, I did find some fitting titles under the two main companies. Mostly these are older back issues that I've been fortunate to find rather cheaply, such as: Mike Grell's Warlord (after Edgar Rice Burrough's Pellucidar series). Jack Kirby's Kamandi, and Tarzan from Marvel, DC, and especially Dark Horse's take on it. Most recently I've found a lot of Doc Savage comics. Doc Savage is enjoying a currently produced title, actually...

First Wave
I suspect I'm in tune with some sort of trend. DC Comics has a series of titles re-introducing many of the pulp era characters that are currently under their license. I have heard, however, that this line of comics will not be lasting long.
The First Wave fictional universe is designed to stand separate to the DC Multiverse[1] and was introduced in a Batman/Doc Savage prestige-format one-shot, written by Brian Azzarellowith art by Phil Noto.[2] As well as the eponymous characters it also introduced others likeBlack CanaryThe AvengerRima the Jungle GirlThe BlackhawksThe Spirit,[3] and Doc Savage's The Fabulous Five.[4]
This was then followed by a First Wave limited series with art by Rags Morales.[1][2]
The First Wave line was then expanded to include two ongoing seriesDoc Savage , written by Paul Malmont with art by Howard Porter,[5] and The Spirit, written by Mark Schultz and drawn by Moritat.[6]
Both of these titles also include back-up stories further showcasing the First Wave universe.Justice Inc., starring The Avenger, runs in Doc Savage while The Spirit features short black-and-white tales of the lead character written and drawn by various creators.

The pulp genre really appeals to me. But, why?

Roots of the Pulp Obsession
Further solidifying this, over the last few years I've been enjoying the original Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan novels. I was pleased to discover the typical assumptions about the character are probably based on the more popular films from the last several decades are not accurate to the portrayal of the character at all. Most comics follow Burrough's original concept- Lord John Greystoke (Tarzan) is very well spoken and civilized as opposed to three or four word sentences "Me Tarzan, you Jane". Helping to fuel this passion for the Tarzan novels was the discovery that my Grandfather (my mother's father) was very much into Tarzan, collecting most, if not all, of them. He also methodically collected the newspaper clippings of Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon. I was thrilled to discover this and the more I thought about it, I attributed my own obsessive collective habits to my Grandfather. There was always similarities in his stamp collecting to my comic book collecting, but stamps never caught on with my brother and me. I do recall giving it a good try early in life- even before comics became so prevalent in my hobby life.

My Grandfather was a geek! And this is why my brother and I never really got into hunting and fishing. At least that's the story I'm sticking with.

There isn't a lot of Terry & The Pirates or Steve Canyon available AND affordable these days, so there are some areas still awaiting my exploration. But I did uncover that the guy behind both, Milton Caniff was very involved with the development of the animated television series Jonny Quest. The DVD set of Jonny Quest is still occasionally enjoyed by my son and me. And in turn, the old Jonny Quest comics were highly enjoyable.

I've gotten into Doc Savage as the reprinted Pulp magazines are easily available for very little money. This is one of the heavier influences for the Tom Strong character. Doc Savage, himself, is sort of a mix of earlier characters of fiction and real history.

A recent discovery are the very first original Buck Rogers comics online. Very pleased and surprised with the quality of them. I'll be digging into those in days to come.
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