Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More Pulps - Prototype - A 'Slight' History of Golden Age Comic Books: Super Heroes: What is a 'Super Hero'?

By this point in history (the 1930's) it was well understood that there was a market for this new breed of hero. This mysterious vigilante that answered to no one's rules but his own and let true blind justice be his guide.

The medium still didn't seem quite right. Radio, with all it's infectious drama and the rapt listeners almost got it was just missing something. So we return to the dime pulp magazines of the time.

The Shadow (again):

The Shadow had worked so well as a detective show narrator and then as a full fledged crime fighting character in radio, the creators at Smith and Street Publishing gave him his own pulp magazine. For 10 cents, 1/10th of a dollar, one thin dime, you could hold in your hands EVERY TWO WEEKS thrilling adventures of every one's favorite creepy crime-stopper!

Sleazy, tawdry, gritty...everything you wanted! And this time you could hold it in your hands and smell the musty pulp newsprint. It was visceral. And to bombard the senses more, a 4 color picture of our hero, beautifully painted by some great talented illustrators of the day, leering back at you from the cover.

They were ON to something!

Street & Smith continued exploring this formula. They had discovered there was magic in this. By adding to their gritty crime novel with the hard bitten detective on the job. By making the hero something more than this. By making him dynamic and maybe with a touch of mystery or exoticism to him...there was something there. Instead of a detective the reader could relate to and put himself in his shoes, something instead that the reader could look up to. Admire. To aspire to.

Doc Savage:

Clark "Doc" Savage, Jr. was a physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher and musician. His father assembled a team of scientists who trained young Clark's mind and body almost from birth, if not in utero, to almost super-human abilities.

His body had great strength and endurance, and he had a photographic memory, a mastery of the martial arts, a master of disguise and imitator of voices. The author of the series described Doc as a mix of "Sherlock Holmes' deductive abilities, Tarzan's physical abilities and Abraham Lincoln's goodness!".

Doc Savage's personal oath: "Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it. Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage. Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens and my associates in everything I say and do. Let me do right to all, and wrong no man."

WOW! How's THAT for super hero shit!

Doc Savage came to you every month for 181 issues.

Again...we almost have it!


There were plenty of other pulp heroes of the 1930's from Smith & Street and others. Most were just variations on the themes of "The Shadow" or even "The Green Hornet" from radio.

Fun, adventuresome, colorful...but still lacking that little combination of magic that the comic book super hero would bring.

Next up...The Daily Newspaper brings heroes to the doorstep!

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