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Of Horizons and Common Sense Lost

Of Horizons and Common Sense Lost

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.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Four

Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Four

61Wi5uAwkoL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu #3 continues the run of excellent issues from writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy. While the early cycle of stories suffer from an over-reliance on Fu Manchu as the villain (to levels that rival Baron Mordo in the early Lee-Diko Dr. Strange stories), there was a method to their madness. The blowback from Sax Rohmer fans (which started in the pages of The Rohmer Review fanzine) was followed by the author’s widow filing a complaint with The Society of Authors over Marvel’s mismanagement of her husband’s property.

Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin had no way of knowing that killing off an old character in Shang-Chi’s debut would constitute not keeping to the tone and content of the originals. They were a writer and artist assigned to a property and were more interested in creating a Marvel variation on the successful Kung Fu television series than they were in reviving Fu Manchu. Moench and Gulacy were determined to avoid further legal hassles by showing something approaching fidelity to Rohmer while carefully positioning the storyline to more closely model Ian Fleming and Len Deighton spy thrillers than Rohmer.

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Mourning the Loss of a Way of Life

Mourning the Loss of a Way of Life

REHfrazetta barsoomIt may seem a bit peculiar to write an article about the decline in reading for a site that has done so much to promote the works of writers past and present. Most assuredly, regular visitors to this site are readers. Unfortunately, they are the exception and not the rule in the present day.

During the pulp era, writers were sometimes referred to disparagingly as the Penny-a-Word Brigade. Flash forward to the end of the second decade of the 21st Century and you’ll find far too many pulp writers who would salivate at the thought of earning a penny a word for their efforts. Far too many receive no financial compensation at all, some do not even receive comp copies of their own titles.

The purpose of this article isn’t to disparage small presses that are labors of love for publishers who regularly soldier on year after year failing to turn a profit. When you are a small operation, economies of scale aren’t even a concern. You could publish two dozen titles a year and still lose money. Paying writers or artists is not always possible for those who are in it for something other than financial return.

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The Triumphant Return of Fantomas

The Triumphant Return of Fantomas

The Wrath Of Fantomas-smallThe Wrath of Fantomas is a book I approached with extreme prejudice. It’s a graphic novel that seeks to present a new version of Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain’s Fantomas series, which proved so successful when it was introduced a scant 108 years ago. As a rule, I dislike the concept of rebooting a series.

When first discovering a book series as a kid, continuity was key. It made a property more meaningful if there were numerous volumes to find and devour. Scouring used bookstores for dogeared copies of the missing pieces in the narrative puzzle made such books far more valuable to me. It seemed there were always a half dozen series I was working on completing in those decades long before the internet. They form some of the happiest memories of my formative years.

The entire concept of rebooting a series as a jumping-on point for new readers (or viewers, in the case of films) is distasteful to me. It devalues the worth of the original works. It suggests a series can be boiled down to its lowest common denominator and elements juggled so that a name and basic concept are enough to move forward with renewed sense of purpose.

Generally, in these overly sensitive times of ours, it also means elements that are no longer fashionable or politically acceptable will be whitewashed, bowdlerized, and otherwise made acceptable for Stalin, Mao, or whomever else has the clout to say censorship is required when the past inconveniently reminds us people were always flawed, unfair, uncouth, or sometimes just bluntly honest.

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Hither Came Conan: Dave Hardy on “Vale of Lost Women”

Hither Came Conan: Dave Hardy on “Vale of Lost Women”

Hither_ValeMarvelCoverEDITEDWelcome back to the latest installment of Hither Came Conan, where a leading Robert E. Howard expert (and me) examine one of the original Conan stories each week, highlighting what’s best. Dave Hardy is the leading El Borak scholar around, and today he weighs in with a fresh perspective on what is pretty much regarded as one of Howard’s worst Conan tales.

PAIN CRYSTALLIZED AND MANIFESTED IN FLESH: THE VALE OF LOST WOMEN

“She was drowned in a great gulf of pain—was herself but pain crystallized and manifested in flesh. So she lay without conscious thought or motion, while outside the drums bellowed, the horns clamored, and barbaric voices lifted hideous chants, keeping time to naked feet slapping the heard earth and open palms smiting one another softly.”

“The Vale of Lost Women” is a neglected part of the Conan canon, scorned even. It was not particularly loved in Howard’s time. Howard wrote “Vale of Lost Women” probably around February 1933. Howard was unable to sell “Vale.” If he submitted it to Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales, Wright didn’t buy it. The story was first published in The Magazine of Horror in the Spring, 1967 issue. Compared with such gems as “Queen of the Black Coast,” “Red Nails,” “Black Colossus,” or “Tower of the Elephant,” “Vale” might seem a very slight tale indeed.

And yet there is something primal about “Vale” that defies one to forget it. Despite its crudities and glibness, it taps into dark recesses of fundamental fears and dream logic.

The setting is a village in Kush, the fictional equivalent of Africa. Livia is a young woman from Ophir, one of the civilized countries of Hyboria, in Howard’s setting for the Conan stories. It is a pseudo-European country, inhabited by a fair-skinned folk. She had journeyed with her brother, Theteles, who sought to learn sorcerous wisdom in a remote Stygian city. Instead they were captured by Kushite raiders and came to be captives of Bajujh, king of Bakalah.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Erle Stanley Gardner’s “The Shrieking Skeleton”

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Erle Stanley Gardner’s “The Shrieking Skeleton”

Gat_GardnerSkeletonEven the best-selling Erle Stanley Gardner struggled to break into the better markets early in his career. Of these early days, Gardner said, “I wrote the worst stories that ever hit New York City. I have the word of an editor for that, and he hadn’t seen the worst stories because the worst ones I wrote under a pen name.”

Gardner sold his first two stories to Breezy Stories and they were published in 1921. Then we have this bit of fun…

In 1923, under the name of Charles M. Green, he submitted a novelette, “The Shrieking Skeleton” to The Black Mask (‘The’ was dropped for the May, 1927 issue). Gardner said that “It was a major opus as far as I was concerned, and looking back on it, I guess it must have been a dilly.” George Sutton was the editor at this time. While Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw is given credit for making Black Mask the leading institution of the hardboiled school, Sutton published the first detective stories of Carroll John Daly and Dashiell Hammett and was at the helm when Race Williams and The Continental Op debuted. He played a big part in the development of the genre.

Upon receipt of the story, somebody thought it was so bad, they sent it on to circulation editor Phil Cody (who would succeed Sutton as editor). They told him it was to be the lead story and they wanted a publicity campaign to promote it. Oh, those scamps!

Cody blew his top and sent it back to the editorial department. He wrote that the story gave him a pain in his neck and it was pretty near the last word in childishness. The characters talked like dictionaries and the so-called plot had whiskers on it like unto Spanish moss hanging from a live oak in a Louisiana bayou (???). He foresaw the end from the beginning and the story was puerile, trite, obvious and unnatural. He begged that the story not be used.

The joke having succeeded, the story was sent back to Gardner with the usual rejection slip (which Gardner was receiving by the dozens). The slip stated that just because the story was returned, it did not necessarily imply that there was any lack of literary merit, it simply did not fit in the schedule. Gardner (who later became good friends with Cody) knows this because Cody’s note was inadvertently included with the returned manuscript.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — Spring, 2017

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — Spring, 2017

BlackMask_Spring2017“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)

In the Fall of 2016, Altus Press revived the legendary Black Mask magazine, reprinting stories from the old pulps with a mix of new hardboiled tales; including a cover story from my talented friend Paul Bishop. Altus also relaunched two other classic pulps: Argosy (which only lasted one issue) and Famous Fantastic Mysteries (just two issues). However, the fifth issue of Black Mask will be out this Fall (with an essay from yours truly).

Today in A (Black) Gat in the Hand, we’re going to look at each of the entries in the second issue of the new Black Mask, from the Spring of 2017. And this issue starts big!

Carroll John Daly’s “Murder for a Stuffed Shirt” is a previously unpublished tale!

Carroll John Daly was the biggest star at Black Mask in the twenties and thirties. Putting Race Williams on the cover guaranteed increased sales. When he fell out of favor at Black Mask, Daly took Williams to Dime Detective, where he also created Vee Brown (I have a tough time buying into Brown, a hardboiled special DA operative and also a wealthy composer of hit sentimental songs. I wrote about Daly’s creation of the hardboiled genre with “Three Gun Terry Mack” here.

But this issue of Black Mask contains a never-before-seen Daly story, uncovered by his grandson. It feels very much like a pre-hardboiled piece and not one person is shot! It’s different than any other Daly story I’ve read and I liked it.

“Mr. Detective is Annoyed” by William Robert Cox originally appeared in the March, 1938 issue of Captain Satan. Cox had over 130 stories published in the pulps under his own name, plus more using various pseudonyms. He wrote eighty novels, many westerns and was the creator of Cemetery Jones and the Maverick Kid.

The story is one of four to feature Donny Jordine, who doesn’t like to sit around and wait for the machinery of justice to creak along. He makes things happen on his own. “Mr Detective is Annoyed” isn’t a bad story, but it didn’t leave me wanting more Jordine.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #2

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #2

“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 Chandlers’ The Big SleepGat_NebelCardigan

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

Over on Facebook, I frequently post tidbits related to my research for this column. There’s usually a picture included, and all of this happens on my back deck. So, I call it Back Deck Pulp! Well, there’s a lot of stuff coming out of Back Deck Pulp. So, last month, I collected a bunch of those FB posts and Back Deck Pulp #1 appeared here at Black Gate. Well, there have been a LOT more of them, so here’s Back Deck Pulp #2. I’ve already got #3 ready to go! Friend me on Facebook and see the posts as they go up. This is a collection of posts over time, so it doesn’t necessarily flow perfectly. Live with it…

FREDERICK NEBEL – CARDIGAN

And it’s another Office Desk Pulp. Last week, A (Black) Gat in the Hand was about Donahue of the Interstate Agency. That series was written by Frederick Nebel for Black Mask.

Nebel is one of my favorite pulpsters and I’m a huge fan of his Cardigan of the Cosmos Agency stories.

Cardigan appeared 44 times in Dime Detective – more than any other character.

Altus Press has issued the whole series in four volumes. And only $4.99 per ebook! With a great intro by Will Murray. I’ll be doing a post on this series. Highly recommended!

HORACE MCCOY

This Saturday’s back deck pulpster is Horace McCoy, best known for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

A WW I pilot, he wrote a series of air adventures featuring Jerry Frost of The Texas Air Rangers. The group, known as Hell’s Stepsons, were a Texas Rangers special ops aerial team. And Frost was hard boiled.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — October, 1933

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — October, 1933

BlackMask_October1933

“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)

October of 1933 featured yet another solid issue of Black Mask under Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw’s direction. The cover art was by J.W. Schlaiker, who had about fifty covers from 1929 to 1934. I don’t know why he abruptly stopped drawing for Black Mask. He served in France during World War I and was the War Department artist during World War II. He did portraits of Eisenhower, MacArthur and Patton.

With “Murder in the Open,” Race Williams made his forty-second appearance in Black Mask, dating back to June 1, 1923. For several years, Williams on the cover had guaranteed increased sales, but Carroll John Daly would be gone from Black Mask in just over a year and he was already regularly appearing in Dime Detective.

Daly was the first author to write in what became the hardboiled style with “Three Gun Terry” (which, of course, you read about here…) in the May 15, 1923 issue of Black Mask. Williams would follow in “Knights of the Open Palm in June, with Dashiell Hammett introducing his famous Continental Op in “Arson Plus” in October of that year. Daly’s writing style was far less polished and developed than Hammett’s, though I feel that it did improve over the years.

W(illiam) T(odhunter) Ballard was Nero Wolfe creator Rex Stout’s first cousin (which would explain why they shared such an unusual middle name). Ballard, who went on to become a very successful western author, wrote extensively for the detective pulps in the thirties and forties. He explained that he was struggling to sell to the lesser pulps when he saw The Maltese Falcon starring Ricardo Cortez. Hammett’s terse prose spoke to him and he bought an issue of Black Mask. He stayed up all night, wrote a story and sold it to the magazine. He would go on to a long career in the pulps and as a novelist.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Day Keene

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Day Keene

Gat_KeeneGander“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)

“The Bloody Tide” appeared in the June, 1950 issue of Dime Detective. John D. MacDonald (my favorite writer) also appeared that month. Both men had stories in the May issue as well, with JDM scoring the cover.

The story opens with Charlie White being released from a Florida prison after serving three years for smuggling. He’s given some advice by another inmate on Death Row to go straight and stay on the outside. Get back to working on the water, even if it’s a menial job. Wouldn’t be much of a story if that’s how things go, though, would it?

White’s lover (not his wife) is waiting outside for him and drives him to a secluded beach cabin. He’s going to get back into that fast life again. While he was in jail, $1,000 had been deposited monthly into his bank account, presumably by the ‘big man,’ who he felt had cast him to the wolves.

‘The Devil came up behind me and pushed. To hell with Beth [his wife]. To hell with everything, I thought. To hell with trying to kill Senor Peso. In his way the guy had played square with me. Why should I try to goose into his grave an egg who laid so many golden pesos?’

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