Last week, I talked about superhero webcomics, and there was some fun discussion in the comments about superheroes and fantasy and where those genres meet. Fritz Freiheit also pointed me in the direction of his slightly out of date “A Brief Overview of Superhero Fiction,” which means I’m going to have a bunch of novels to add to my TBR pile. But prose and comics aren’t the only homes of superheroes: there are a handful of interactive fiction games that let you become a super yourself. Lest you think I play a vast majority of my interactive fiction games from Choice of Games (disclosure: actually, that’s true, but I do try to diversify for this column), in this spotlight, we have two superhero games to compare and only one is from Choice of Games.
Heroes Rise: The Prodigy is the first Heroes Rise game by Zachary Sergei. (The second, Heroes Rise: The Hero Project, I have yet to play.) In it, you are a beginning hero, just on the verge of getting your license to be an official hero in Millennia City. You live with your grandmother, who has a Power with plants, because your superhero parents were arrested for the accidental killing (the court said “murder”) of a supervillain. Your family relationships are fraught, but you’re getting ready to take Millennia City by storm.
The Shadow (1994) Directed by Russell Mulcahy. Starring Alec Baldwin, John Lone, Penelope Ann Miller, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters, Tim Curry.
The global whirlwind success of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 triggered a flurry of retro-hero movies. Eight years later, the gaudy nipple-suited failure of Batman and Robin brought an end to the cycle, and it wasn’t until the double-hit of X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002) that our current comic book flood started. But we got a few interesting films during the retro-hero phase, such as Dick Tracy, the well-loved The Rocketeer … and the semi-forgotten The Shadow, which came out on Blu-ray this week to offer its mixture of elegance and error for a new audience.
A film about the pulp hero the Shadow was in development since 1982 under the auspices of producer Martin Bregman. Originally, Robert Zemeckis was slated for the director’s chair, but the film dwelled in limbo until Batman blew up the box-office. When Bregman was at last able to get the project going, Russell Mulcahy (Highlander) had replaced Zemeckis, and writer David Koepp (Jurassic Park) was on screenplay duty.
Universal Pictures had The Shadow pegged as a blockbuster in the summer of 1994: it received a heavy marketing push, with numerous merchandizing tie-ins and the announcement of an SNES video game. Universal even planned for a Shadow stunt show at their Hollywood theme park. But after a decent opening weekend, where it came in at #2 under The Lion King’s second monumental weekend and beat the awful Blown Away, The Shadow plummeted to become one of the summer’s disappointments. Plans for a franchise vanished into the darkness with the same skill as the Shadow himself.
Pro Se Press is one of several New Pulp specialty small presses that have sprung up over the past few years to give voice to new writers. While Pro Se publishes pulp novels like their peers, they have largely set themselves apart in the field by also publishing a monthly print magazine, Pro Se Presents. Issue 15 was just published and presents five diverse examples of New Pulp from five very talented writers. The periodical is also published as an e-book each month and is affordably priced in keeping with traditional pulp titles of decades past – something most small presses are unable to otherwise do thanks to the economics of print on demand or small print runs.
Sean Ali’s striking cover art and moody interior illustrations do an excellent job of capturing the unique feel of each tale. The magazine’s stellar editorial staff [Tommy Hancock, Lee Houston, Jr., Frank Schildiner, Barry Reese, and Don Thomas] has done an excellent job of capturing the mix of genres that were found under the pulp banner in the heyday of the 1920s and 1930s. From a modern standpoint, there is a bias to favor the superhero prototypes (such as Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Spider, etc.) or the more famous offshoots of the pulps, the hardboiled detective and the sword & sorcery barbarian hero. This tends to shortchange the many boxing stories, westerns, romances, and humorous tales that were also staples of the pulp world. Happily, Pro Se Presents restores this balance.
Issue 15 gets underway with David White’s “Doc Panic.” While the title may recall Doc Savage, White has crafted more than the simple knock-off it might suggest in this clever blend of pulp archetypes and Japanese martial arts. Phineas Montgomery is the man behind the mask. An heir to a fortune, Montgomery grew up scarred as a witness to his Satanist parents’ murderous rituals involving the human sacrifice of abducted children and derelicts. A Japanese servant stole young Montgomery away from his parents’ house of madness and smuggled him to Japan, where the boy was trained in the arts of Ninjitsu and Akido. Along the way, the young man also picked up an addiction to certain illegal powders that help him manage his pain. White has achieved an interesting balance between the masked vigilantes of the Golden Age and the Men’s Adventures paperback originals of the 1970s with their mix of martial arts and gritty urban crime. There is little doubt that this is only the first of many appearances for the character. White has stumbled upon a winning formula here that makes Doc Panic a character worthy of commanding the cover slot for his debut.