I’ll come right out and admit I have mixed feelings about ebooks. I travel considerably for my day job and don’t mind having portable versions of books I own for quick reference, but the idea of owning books that cannot be found in print editions on my shelves at home irks me. That said, I recognize the market for digital-only titles is steadily growing, particularly among small press publishers. This, of course, is having its impact on the “New Pulp” community. Witness Pro Se Press’s decision earlier this year to discontinue their pulp magazine, Pro Se Presents and replace it with their Single Shot Signatures line of short stories available exclusively as ebooks.
My first sampling of the above is the newly published Magee, Volume One – “Knight from Hell” by David White. At first glance, I was struck by the apparent illustration of publisher Tommy Hancock on the cover, but on second glance I determined it was actually author David White wearing one of Tommy’s trademark hats. Of course, I was wrong on both counts since the illustration actually depicts the anti-hero of the piece, Magee.
Magee, it transpires, is actually the fallen angel Malachi who was exiled from Heaven after a fight over a woman with the archangel Michael. We’ll pause right here and note that David White is not a theologian and plays fast and loose with Christian tradition on such celestial matters. Following that disclaimer, we’ll make mention of the fact that Michael likewise banished the archangel Lucifer from Heaven following a similar fight. It seems that God is an absentee deity in these proceedings as He has abandoned Heaven to putter around in the Garden of Eden for several thousand years now.
We’ll pause for a moment and reiterate the fact that David White is not a theologian.
Those familiar with the New Pulp movement will note that while some of it consists of new stories about public domain or licensed properties from the Golden Age, much of it consists of original fiction that shows a greater influence from the world of comics and graphic novels than traditional pulp fiction. Magee recalls Marvel Comics’ line of horror and occult titles of the 1970s. I have covered Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula and The Monster of Frankenstein in previous articles, Magee has more in common with Son of Satan and Satana and even Dark Horse Comics’ Hellboy than traditional monster titles.
Magee is a bit of a curmudgeon who learns to like human vices like cigars and booze while brooding over the unfair hand dealt him in the afterlife. This is Magee’s second shot at life. He died five hundred years earlier on a battlefield and became an angel in Heaven. White’s vision of Heaven is far from perfect with Saint Michael portrayed as a virtual despot who has been left the Keys to the Kingdom by a world-weary God. How bad an Archangel is Michael? Well, he stole Malachi’s angelic girlfriend and kept her in captivity as a sex slave. Yes, it appears in White’s vision of Heaven, there is sex after death. Heck, archangels are referred to as Firstborn and Purebred in contrast to angels who earn their wings after their mortal death.
Now admittedly, this is not, generally speaking, my cup of tea. I can enjoy satirical treatment of such matters (see actor Peter Ustinov’s woefully unappreciated 1991 novel, The Old Man and Mr. Smith) and it’s not so much a case of me being offended by White’s irreverence, it is more that I prefer to play by the rules. If an author is going to fictionalize religious tradition of the East or West, I prefer it to be more faithful to the source material. That said, it is evident that White is drawing on his own misgivings over religion to some extent and such fiction can be equally cathartic for both creator and reader.
Of course, all of that is gravy since the point of pulp is the entertaining ride and in that respect, White as a storyteller delivers. The Earthbound Magee quickly teams up with an erudite changeling who controls his transformations with a cane carved from the Staff of Moses. Together, they team up to fight supernatural threats with some unlikely spiritual guidance from Lucifer along the way. See above disclaimer about David White not being a theologian.
In White’s version of events, Lucifer, while not completely trustworthy, is also a victim of Saint Michael’s injustice and gives Magee a pep talk about having faith in himself (which, I suppose, is appropriately Satanic in some sense) in order to go head-to-head against the inaugural supernatural villain of the nascent series. Now, most readers will question why Lucifer would help Magee fight against supernatural threats. Be assured that White plants lingering doubts in Magee’s head that Lucifer is self-serving at all times and his motivation is to be questioned.
The crux of the story is Magee as a disillusioned Christian whose soul is hanging in the balance as he decides whether to fight evil or join it. This, in White’s literary universe, is the question that hangs over all fallen angels. The supernatural threat, in this first adventure, is the titular Knight from Hell (White’s phrase for the demonic equivalent of an archangel). The demon knight is behaving like a serial killer and the demon’s identity is a nice surprise that does much to solidify Magee’s character transformation.
David White has packed a novel (or screenplay) amount of story into a mere 16 pages. More than any other New Pulp short story I have read, this one seems better suited to a visual medium, but there is no denying White’s story packs an emotional punch by the finish. It will be interesting to see where White takes the character. Just keep your religious disclaimer handy. Magee is available from Smashwords and Amazon.com or direct from the Pro Se Press website.
William Patrick Maynard was authorized to continue Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu thrillers beginning with The Terror of Fu Manchu (2009; Black Coat Press) and The Destiny of Fu Manchu (2012; Black Coat Press). The Triumph of Fu Manchu is coming soon from Black Coat Press.