Many, many years ago I worked at a used bookstore called Bookmans in Tucson. Everybody from Arizona knows Bookmans. They have several stores around the state and they’re all as big as supermarkets, filled with used books, music, and games. Most books are half cover price, and employees got a 50% discount. Sometimes the manager would be like, “You did a good job today, Sean, take a book.”
I realized that I would never get another opportunity like that in my life and took full advantage. My library exploded with books on every topic imaginable. I also learned the joy of collecting vintage paperbacks, with the added joy of getting them for next to nothing.
So when I came across Ted Mark’s I Was A Teeny-Bopper For The CIA I just had to get it. I’d never heard of the title or author before (I wasn’t about to forget that title!) and figured this would be something I’d never see again. I was right, I’ve never seen that book again, and now, 20 years later, I finally got around to reading it.
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When we last left our intrepid blogger (me) two weeks ago, he was blogging (very roughly) about the superhero genre, pre- and post-Watchmen, and the kind of light that Alan Moore’s Watchmen shone onto superhero comics. I did this because I think Moore did something very special and I wondered if it could be done to other fields, especially planetary romance.
I ended on a cliffhanger. And now, Part II….
I said last time that most of the traditions of the superhero genre were born in a very brief period between 1938 and 1945. In fact, the elements of the superhero tradition come part and parcel from the larger pulp tradition, which contained westerns; gritty and occasionally lurid detective stories; and planetary romances like Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, John Carter of Mars, and Carson Napier of Venus.
The planetary romance tradition was powerfully tailored to its key market: white male American teens and men. If you were an under-appreciated teen with hero or power fantasies, pulp was your thing.
The heroes were young, white, smart, good looking, physically able, self-deprecating, and commanding. They confronted immediate perils (like a monster) or vast dangers (like an invasion), often single-handedly, or from a position of inspiring leadership.
And the opponents the hero fought were most often one-dimensional, morally-destitute cardboard placeholders for savage (non-whites) in our world, a view consistent with racial views of the late 19th century.
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