Of Phibes and Androbots I Sing

Saturday, October 12th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

phibes 5Phibes 4Dr. Phibes is far more than the evocation of the great thriller characters of its creator’s childhood; he is a character that stands proudly alongside Dracula, Moriarty, Nikola, Fu Manchu, Fantomas, and Mabuse as an equal in inventiveness and execution. William Goldstein, as screenwriter and novelist, created an immortal as only the best storytellers do. Phibes is a character who transcends his era, defines his own archetype, and is firmly established in his own mythology to pass from one generation, century, and millenium to the next. The best news for fans is The Master’s work continues with the fifth and latest book in the ongoing series, The Androbots – Book I of The Dr. Phibes Manifest.

Those who have read the first four books in the series or, at the very least, my other Black Gate articles covering these titles, are aware there is a significant tonal difference between the two Vincent Price Dr. Phibes films of the early 1970s and William Goldstein’s novels. The books retain the films’ eccentricities, but are far more tragic than comedic. I do revere the two AIP releases. Director Robert Fuest and his production crew imbued both pictures with a sardonic touch that allowed Vincent Price and several of his co-stars to turn in subdued performance that carefully balance extreme bursts of horror, tragedy, and comedy. One never knows quite what to expect as one scene ends and the next begins when watching the films.

Read More »


A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Duane Spurlock on T.T. Flynn’s Westerns

Monday, October 7th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Flynn_DeepCanonEDITEDAnd we’re back live here at A (Black) Gat in the Hand. And we went big, making our first foray into that venerable pulp genre, The Western. I lobbied author Duane Spurlock to join in during the column’s first run, and he decided it was easier to write a post than have me pestering him again. I discovered T.T. Flynn through his Dime Detective stories about racetrack bookie Joe Maddox. But Flynn would go on to a long, successful career writing Westerns. Read what Duane has to tell us!

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

When we discuss hard-boiled narrative, the default topic typically is crime fiction—usually the pulp-magazine-era tales from Black Mask and its contemporary competitors through the digest era, culminating in the pages of Manhunt and engendering the rise of the paperback original novel. Bob Byrne  has been admirably addressing the earlier realm of hard-boiled narrative in his Black Gat essays.

But hard-boiled writing encompasses more than the works of Carroll John Daly, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and their followers. The western genre is a prime example.

These days, if someone mentions the hard-boiled western, what usually come to mind are the violent Spaghetti Western film genre and the resulting prodigious output from the Piccadilly Cowboys and The Man With No Name novels written by Joe Millard and others. Actually, the western and hard-boiled narrative have a long, intertwined history. It began at least with the novel that launched what we recognize as the literary western romance: the 1902 bestseller by Owen Wister, The Virginian, which includes the famous line, “When you call me that, SMILE!” If that’s not hard boiled, I’m not sure where we’ll go with this discussion.

(1902: Twenty years before Daly published ‘the first hard-boiled story,’ “The False Burton Combs” in Black Mask and before Hammett’s first stories, “Holiday” and “The Parthian Knot,” appeared in Pearson’s Magazine and The Smart Set; twenty-one years before Ernest Hemingway’s first short stories were published in Paris, “Three Stories and Ten Poems“)

Of course, the western and the crime story are closely related: since most involve robbers, rustlers, and murderers, we don’t really need John Cawelti’s The Six-Gun Mystique or Richard Slotkin’s Gunfighter Nation to make those connections. During the pulp era, many writers worked in both western and crime/mystery genres, as a number of contemporary authors continue to do – the late Ed Gorman, Loren Estleman, Bill Pronzini, Robert Randisi, and the late Bill Crider have all created excellent tales in both arenas). Among them was T.T. Flynn, whose writing career began in the 1920s.

Read More »


Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Seven

Friday, September 27th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Deadly_Hands_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_15The continuing success of Warren Publishing’s Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella led Marvel to relaunch its black & white magazine division in 1973. While the best of these Marvel Magazine titles supplemented the color comic line with material that could not easily be published in a monthly Code-approved title (Dracula Lives and Savage Sword of Conan, for instance) or offered unique material not spun-off as a companion title to a monthly (Planet of the Apes and Tales of the Zombie, among others), The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu sought a middle ground as a response to the martial arts craze that had taken America by storm on the silver screen, the small screen, comic books, and even the radio (Enter the Dragon, TV’s Kung Fu, Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, and Carl Douglas’ novelty hit single “Kung Fu Fighting”).

Master of Kung Fu may have been the lead feature at the start of the magazine’s run, but the title was never built solely around the continuing adventures of Shang-Chi alone. Articles, interviews, reviews, back-up strips, and reprints were just as important for a magazine that wanted not only to exploit the martial arts fad but also be taken seriously by martial arts students. For the purpose of our continuing series on Shang-Chi, we shall only be considering the black & white Master of Kung Fu strip that featured in most issues with passing reference to other material only where appropriate.

Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 launched in April 1974 with Master of Kung Fu as the lead feature written and illustrated by Shang-Chi’s creators Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin. Following just a few months after the character’s color comics debut in Special Marvel Edition #15, the story returned us to Shang-Chi’s early years in Honan, China when he trained as an assassin in service of his father. We see that as early as age fourteen, the seeds of doubt were sown in Shang-Chi as he questions the deadly violence of his martial arts training after learning from his mentor, Cho Lin that the assassins he dispatched who infiltrated the temple for the sole purpose of murdering the son of Fu Manchu were actually hired by his father as a lethal training exercise. The largest flaw here is that Starlin clearly drew Shang-Chi without knowledge that Englehart wanted him depicted as a fourteen year old. It is a nice touch to see that the deliberate manipulation of Shang-Chi by Cho Lin is intended as a slow fuse rebellion on his part. The monk recognizes that Shang-Chi will eventually reject his father’s doctrine and the deadly force that is Shang-Chi will be turned upon his maker.

Read More »


That Buck Rogers Stuff

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Carper

1930-11-02 Buck Rogers header
1930-11-23 Buck Rogers header

Those of us on the inside, the fans steeped in the history of science fiction and fantasy, mark the beginning of modern science fiction with Hugo Gernsback’s launching of Amazing Stories in August 1926. A thousand historians, critics, and commentators use that date as a dividing line between the proto-fictions of Verne and Wells and the lesser-known William Wallace Cook and George England and the Frank Reade Jr. series of boy’s adventures and Gernsback’s own favorite, Clement Fezandié.

The outside world didn’t see it that way. They didn’t see Amazing Stories at all or its first competitor, Astounding Stories of Super-Science, or the various Wonder magazines Gernsback started in 1929 when he lost control of Amazing. They were invisible, no matter how we today look back at Doc Smith or Murray Leinster or Edmond Hamilton. Or a first story by Philip Francis Nowlan, “Armageddon—2419 A.D.,” a fairly silly and racist Yellow Peril yarn starring one Anthony Rogers, or a sequel, “The Airlords of Han,” in which Nowlan tries to excuse the racism by postulating that the evil Han were not Chinese but alien interlopers who “mated forcibly with the Tibetans.” Disintegrator rays and anti-gravity flying belts and an “electrono plant operating from atomic energy” impinged not a bit on the public consciousness.

Yet by 1935, that “Buck Rogers stuff” was a national catchphrase, in high culture and low. Malcolm W. Bingay criticized Sir Arthur Eddington’s book, New Pathways in Science, as “Buck Rogers stuff panoplied in jargon that passes for scientific terminology.” And talking about new children’s toys, an article reported that “the Buck Rogers stuff backs ‘em all off the sales map, nearly tying Mickey Mouse, who had a head start.”

Read More »


Vintage Treasures: The Opener of the Way by Robert Bloch

Monday, September 23rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Robert Bloch Panther editions-small

Panther edition paperbacks (1976). Covers by Anthony Roberts.

The Opener of the Way was Robert Bloch’s very first collection, published by Arkham House way back in 1945, when he was all of 28 years old. It contained 21 stories, all but two of which originally appeared in Weird Tales, including classics such as “Waxworks,” “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” and the Cthulhu Mythos tale “The Shambler from the Stars,” which inspired Lovecraft to write “The Haunter of the Dark,” his last work.

The Opener of the Way was to be Bloch’s only fantasy collection until Pleasant Dreams—Nightmares was published by Arkham fifteen long years later. Like most early Arkham House collections, it is a very expensive book these days. It has never been reprinted in the US, which hasn’t hurt its collectability any. Fortunately Panther reprinted it in the UK in 1976, splitting it into two paperback volumes: The Opener of the Way and House of the Hatchet.

Of course, those two paperbacks are now highly sought after as well (the set pictured above sold on eBay this summer for $72.51). Which figures. I only learned about the Panther reprints recently, and after a brief search tracked down a copy of The Opener of the Way paperback for $9.95, which made me happy. Here’s a look at the contents.

Read More »


Of Horizons and Common Sense Lost

Friday, September 13th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

51G8TVzla+L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_I recently got around to reading Gerry Conway’s introduction to Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Omnibus, Volume One for a forthcoming article. If there was a retroactive Astounding Award for Best Self-Loathing Writer of 2016, Mr. Conway would surely be a contender. There is nothing wrong with a writer looking back in some embarrassment over past work or even admitting their good intentions now seem naive from the vantage point of the present, but Mr. Conway apologizes so profusely for several thousand words one would be forgiven for thinking he committed a capital crime.

Truth be told, Mr. Conway’s unforgivable sin was his cultural appropriation in daring to cast people of color as heroes in his fiction of the 1970s. For you see, by some cruel twist of fate, he had the misfortune to be born to a white family and raised in a white neighborhood in the 1950s. Personally, I thought his having created diverse characters to appeal to minority readers and encourage tolerance among all readers in the decade following the Civil Rights movement is something he should be proud of, but apparently not so.

What’s more, all of his wailing and grinding of teeth is in the form of an introduction to a volume reprinting the work he is so ashamed of. One wonders what the purpose is of writers telling readers who just spent money buying reprints of their work how truly offensive those same works are. Given that Mr. Conway spent much of his career at Marvel Comics channeling Stan Lee’s voice, one wonders why Stan Lee isn’t likewise condemned for cultural appropriation for creating Black Panther and the Utopian nation of Wakanda. Of course, logical thinking isn’t advisable in a society that feeds off emotional reactions to maintain a constant state of division.

Read More »


A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Hugh B. Cave’s Peter Kane

Monday, August 26th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Cave_KaneCoverEDITED“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Matt Moring of Steeger Books (and Altus Press, and Black Mask, and…) allowed me to write the introduction to Hugh B. Cave’s The Complete Cases of Peter Kane. Matt has kindly let me reproduce that intro as an entry here for A (Black) Gat in the Hand.

Hugh B. Cave was the last of the great pulpsters. From hundreds of short stories in the pulp magazines of the thirties, to his final novel in 2004, Cave wrote over a thousand shorts and over three dozen novels. He was also a war reporter and later even owned and managed a coffee plantation in Jamaica.

While H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth and Robert E. Howard are better remembered for weird menace/horror stories, Cave is worthy of standing alongside them. But early in his career, Cave also wrote extensively in the mystery field.

He was one of the few to write for the last three (named) editors of the king of mystery pulps, Black Mask: the legendary Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw, Fanny Ellsworth and Kenneth S. White.

Black Mask’s major competition came in the form of Dime Detective Magazine, which touted itself as “twice as good – for half the price” (Black Mask cost 20 cents at the time; though the price would shortly drop to 15 cents, in part due to Dime Detective’s success at the cheaper cost).

Editor Kenneth White (the same mentioned above) was instructed to lure as many writers from Black Mask as he could, paying an extra penny a word as enticement. And with a going rate of one to two cents for pulp writers (Black Mask’s three cents a word was indicative of its standing and quality in the field), the four cent rate made a significant difference to writers. As the prolific Erle Stanley Gardner supposedly replied to observations that he always seemed to use his hero’s last bullet to knock off the story’s antagonist:

“At three cents a word, every time I say ‘Bang’ in the story I get three cents. If you think I’m going to finish the gun battle while my hero still has fifteen cents worth of unexploded ammunition in his gun, you’re nuts.”

Writers were forbidden from doing novel serializations (The Maltese Falcon was first a serial) and were also instructed to create their own characters, which could not appear elsewhere, for the magazine. The onslaught was successful, with many of the era’s most popular writers switching to Dime Detective. Carroll John Daly (who brought the iconic Race Williams with him), Erle Stanley Gardner, Frederick Nebel and Norbert Davis (whose humorous stories were frequently rejected by Shaw but who flourished at his new home) were among those lured to Dime Detective.

Read More »


Davey Jones, Alien Spores, and Riding on a Comet: The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun

Saturday, August 24th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun-small The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun-back-small

The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun (1978) was the seventeenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. J. J. Pierce returns to give the introduction to this volume. H. R. Van Dongen (1920–2010) does his fifth cover of the series (tying with Dean Ellis at this point). Raymond Z. Gallun (1911–1994), still living at the time, did the Afterword.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database reports that Gallun (rhymes with “balloon,” not pronounced “gallon”) wrote five novels, including The Planets Strappers (1961, see Rich Horton’s review here), The Eden Cycle (1974) and Skyclimber (1981), but these were written later in his life. Most of Gallun’s writing career is comprised of dozens of short stories and serials. Like so many of the authors in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series, Gallun had been a prolific writer in the pre-WWII heyday of the pulp magazines. But unlike many pulp authors, including many in this series, Gallun seems to have stayed mostly within the sci-fi genre instead of branching out to fantasy, horror, detective, etc. And we’re talking “old school” science fiction!

Overall, I’ve liked the majority of the authors that I’ve read thus far in the Del Rey series. But there have been some that I liked better than others. I found Frederik Pohl and John Campbell both a little hard to get into, and I found Cordwainer Smith very difficult to sync with, though there were stories in all of these collections I enjoyed. But I have to say that I really, really struggled reading The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun, more than any other book in this series so far.

Read More »


A (Black) Gat in the Hand – II: Will Murray on Doc Savage

Monday, August 19th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Savage_Magazine1EDITED“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Back in June, I posted that A (Black) Gat in the Hand was returning this summer. Last year, from May 14th through December 31st, every Monday morning featured a new hardboiled/pulp-related post – mostly by me, but with several friends who wrote some great stuff. I love hardboiled/PI stories and I’m as proud of that series as I am of the two Robert E. Howard ones I’ve helped coordinate here at Black Gate.

So, I called on some more friends this year, and I sought out some wider-ranging topics – the pulp magazines were FAR more than just mystery and detective-based. The Adventure Pulps were the dominant ones for years, with exciting tales of derring do and discovery. Even today, Doc Savage remains the best-known name among adventure heroes. And Will Murray, who is currently writing authorized Doc Savage novels (plus a LOT more), kicks off our series with a look at the Man of Bronze.

DOC FRANKENSTEIN

Doc Savage was not created so much as he was assembled in much the way Victor Frankenstein stitched together his infamous monster from unconnected charnel parts.

The year was 1932. At the Street & Smith publishing company, they had a surprise runaway success in a magazine called The Shadow. Inspired by a creepy radio voice used to promote their Detective Story Magazine, the mockingly laughing Shadow captured America’s imagination in that dark Depression year. The magazine kept selling out. S&S pushed author Walter B. Gibson into producing two novels a month so they could release the pulp periodical every other week. The Shadow Magazine kept selling.

Read More »


Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Five

Friday, August 16th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Master_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_29Master of Kung Fu #29 was the beginning of the much-promised new direction the series would take. Having carefully established warring factions of the Si-Fan with loyalties divided between Fu Manchu or Fah lo Suee, writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy now set aside this key storyline they had developed and expanded since replacing Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin on the book and took Shang-Chi in a decidedly different direction, albeit one that would guarantee the series’ longevity.

While Moench had taken pains to ensure a greater fidelity to Sax Rohmer’s work, he would still deviate from it at key points. Part of this was in shaving twenty-some years off the back continuity inherited from Rohmer to make elderly characters like Sir Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie a bit more viable in the 1970s than they would be as men who should have been in their nineties. More importanly, Moench chooses to make Petrie an MI5 agent the same as Smith rather than simply Sir Denis’ lifelong friend and amanuensis.

Shang-Chi is summoned to Sir Denis’ New York estate where Black Jack Tarr and Clive Reston have already gathered along with Dr. Petrie. Smith offers Shang-Chi a place among his operatives in taking down heroin dealer Carlton Velcro. Reston is the key man in the operation as he has taken the identity of Mr. Blue, the New York connection in Velcro’s heroin pipeline. Reston’s personality has been softened to make the character more mature and more of a team player with Tarr, Smith, and Petrie.

Shang-Chi is torn between his pacifist philosophy and his trust in Sir Denis as a good man who desires to eradicate evil from the world. A visit to a Manhattan rehab clinic is enough to convince Shang-Chi that stopping the powerful heroin dealer is justification enough to use violence against the greater social ill. Of course, this Machiavellian decision is one that will bring Shang-Chi much grief. It is to Moench’s credit that the reader immediately understands that choosing to be a hero brings Shang-Chi closer to the the philosophy his father has embraced – a philosophy Shang-Chi has sworn to reject. Choosing Sir Denis as a father figure illustrates that Shang-Chi, like the traditional reader of Rohmer’s Fu Manchu series,  fails to perceive just how much of a mirror image Sir Denis is to his venerable foe.

Read More »


  Earlier Entries »

This site © 2019 by New Epoch Press. All rights reserved.