Thursday, September 29, 2011

Staffel of Beasts

G-8 and his Battle Aces: v6n4, September 1935.
 Author: Robert Hogan

After looking at some of Robert Hogan's other pulp works (Secret 6, Wu Fang), it's a joy to return to his longest lasting and best series: G-8. G-8 was an otherwise anonymous flying spy during the days of World War One and his Battle Aces were Bull Martin and Nippy Weston. Rounding out the group was the make-up whiz and cook extraordinaire but otherwise slow on the uptake servant Battle.

I don't know which came first, Hogan's ingenious plots or the covers, but one of the joys of the books that reprint the original covers is seeing the outlandish cover with it's purplish prose title and wondering just how Hogan is going to work it into the story. For unlike many pulps, the covers were illustrative and not merely symbolic if they applied at all. I wish I had a better scan of this one to share, but my scanner is out of whack. It features a tiger with a snarling but human looking face jumping from an enemy's plane onto presumably one piloted by G-8.

The storyline is long into getting to that point though. It mainly features G-8 going behind enemy lines investigating a mysterious hospital and why the Germans are requiring all cripples to report there for duty. Like many stories, the common people and the effects of war that makes enemies of brothers and the dehumanizing aspects of it are never too far from the surface. Hogan treats the average German and the various cripples with sympathy without losing the action and sense of high adventure. In the end, the story does deliver on the cover, but the title is misleading. While a tiger does make its appearance, one does not a staffel make.

Hogan got a lot of mileage out of G-8. While the lead is never given another name, he is humanized. He is capable but not superhuman so. Unlike other heroes, he needs help for his really convincing disguises. Each story often features at least one scene of the main characters sharing a meal or about to and joking and teasing each other. Against the horrors of War, we see them as normal people as well. While he is ostensibly an aviation hero in WWI, G-8 spends much of his adventures on the ground. Along with dogfights in the skies, there are often harrowing crossings back and forth through No Man's Land on the ground in various disguises, him infiltrating camps, secret labs, etc.  More often than not, the plots themselves are pure pulp science fiction featuring lost races, super weapons and devices, seeming supernatural plots. This one is more prosaic than most but still one that almost could only happen within the pulp pages. Under Hogan's pen, one wouldn't have been surprised to see a whole staffel of beasts with human faces though.

All in all, a fun read from beginning to end.

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