Friday, March 22, 2013

Story Papers & Six Gun Gorilla

I don't profess to be an expert on the British Story Papers. Existing around the same time as the pulp novels in America and with similar fiction, they were thinner than the pulps. Young fans of Harry Potter might find it interesting that their great grand-parents were also excited about reading about adventurous kids and cads in school, the boys of the Greyfriars school or the girls that formed their own masked group "The Secret Three". It's also interesting just how much of the pages were devoted to the American West or American detectives and gangs. Comic and pulp fans might find it interesting just how many masked men and villains populated these pages as well such as the Green Mask vs the Black Bat!

Under their pulp fiction banner, Comicbook Plus has lately been adding of these books, including Wizard, Magnet and others.

One of the stranger characters and strangest Wild West vigilantes to emerge from this site is the Six-Gun Gorilla. A serial telling the story of a gorilla trained in the use of pistols who goes on a mission of vengeance against the gang that killed its master, an old prospector. To give the writer credit, he manages to tell this story while maintaining a certain level of credibility to it. Intelligent and capable, SGG remains thoroughly an animal in its actions, motivations, and point of view. The whole story is collected here.

Meanwhile, Si Spurrier is revamping Six Gun Gorilla for comics, the interview and details can be found here.

What is Pulp?

Which leads into a whole 'nother discussion. The interview calls Six Gun Gorilla a "pulp" character. CBR interviewers and interviewees use this term indiscriminately. Three different interviews concerning Dynamite's upcoming Miss Fury comic and all three refer to her as being a pulp character. Talking about Captain Midnight, he's referred to as a "pulp" character. Because he fights Nazis, Captain America from the movie is referred to as being "pulp". I feel like I'm constantly repeating myself over there, "Not a Pulp!" Can you imagine the next hot writer of Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman calling the character a pulp character? It is akin to me calling Harry Potter a television character, which at least would have the validity of that being where I first encountered him, in a television airing of the first movie.

None of these characters ever appeared in the pulps. Captain Midnight in particular appeared almost everywhere but: Big Little Books, Radio, Movie Serial, Comicbooks. Miss Fury appeared in comicstrips and was reprinted in the comicbooks. Not to mention, most of your hero pulps... they rarely fought the Nazis. Out of the thousand and more adventures that make up the stories of Doc Savage, the Shadow, Avenger, Secret Agent "X", The Spider, Phantom Detective, Black Bat, Green Ghosts, Operator 5, less than 1% fought Nazis. G-8 fought the Germans, but that was WWI. It's narrowly pigeon-holing pulps while using it to describe things that don't fit.

Of course the interviews then frequently go from talking about the "pulp" character to how this character is NOT that character, and it's more about the changes they are making to the character, keeping just the name and sometimes look but little else.

Pulps were not just hard-boiled detectives as some fans are wont to refer to them nor campy masked Nazi-fighters. Sure, there's the likes of Dan Turner and Doc Savage. But, it's also John Carter, Tarzan, Conan, Solomon Kane. It's H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Dashiell Hammett.

And, I think we are still surrounded by the pulp mind-set today. Not in pastiches and period fiction though and not through their first successors, the comicbook superheroes. Stephen King if he was writing in the 30s and 40s would be in the pulps. And with King, there's Lee Child's Jack Reacher, the works of Preston and Lincoln Child, Clive Cussler and associates, the prolific Dean Koontz, Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden, books of the Forgotten Realms by writers like Mel Odom, R. A. Salvatore. There's television's Monk, Psych, Eureka, NCIS, Person of Interest, White Collar, Arrow (yes, based on the comicbook character, but owing quite a bit more to the likes of pulp era characters Green Hornet, the Green Archer and even older Count of Monte Cristo). It's genre fiction rooted in the realms of possibility and wonder as well as a look at the world around us. Escapist fiction simultaneously acknowledging what we are seeking to escape from or strive against. It speaks to our fears and righteous indignation while providing a light in the darkness. It's where modern comic books and their superheroes have lost their way, they have forgotten that relationship and instead have reversed them. Their backdrops and concerns are less real world and instead canabalistic. Superheroes instead of operating in the real world, operate primarily in worlds of other superheroes. Their supporting casts and love interests are increasingly other superheroes. And, heroes are regularly killed or made into killers or other questionable choices. The heroes themselves are given some kind of "realism", saddled with feet of clay and inadequacies and failures.

Which is why I think we're seeing a resurgence in pulp today. After all, even I who grew up reading Doc Savage, it was all second hand. I didn't read my first Spider, G-8 or Phantom Detective until my twenties. Only a few out there that discovered these characters when new. Part of it is the internet, making the stories and communication between fans easier, quicker, cheaper and more widespread. At no other time would I be able to easily come across a story as wild as the Six-Gun Gorilla. Or in the space of minutes, be able to call up and read Edgar Wallace's "The Green Archer" (an excellent story by the way). I also think that the stories themselves have renewed resonance. Events such as 9/11 make the stories of The Spider and Operator 5 speak to us in ways they wouldn't have before. Wars overseas, job scarcity, government corruption, casual bigotry... the events and characters that flit across those yellowed pages seem more relevant and familiar to us than ever before. It's why the Harry Potter books were such a huge success and Steam Punk is taking off (though having been around quite for some time, all the way back to the time periods these books are set in).

Oh well, that's my rant for today.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The White Moll

Of the Frank Packard books I have, The White Moll is unique in that the lead character and focus is that of a woman. Otherwise, it follows a similar formula of the other novels. It has about the most convoluted of all set-ups and backdrops of any of them though, which is saying something.

Miss Rhoda Gray was raised by her father, a mining engineer, down in South America. He gets ill and comes to New York to see a specialist. He's wealthy enough for the trip and treatment, but it doesn't leave alot left over for niceties and they settle in the poorest and crime-ridden section of town. Through an act of charity towards a crook she earns her nickname the "White Moll". "White" as being slang for being honest, trustworthy, and above board. "Moll" as that for a young woman (this is the first I've heard it used as being generic for a young woman and not one specifically a girl-friend to a crook or crook herself). When her father dies, she is left with just enough of a stipend to live on, but not to move or better her situation. She uses her money then to engage in acts of charity amongst crookdom. By these acts of kindness and known not to be be a stool pigeon or preacher, she earns the goodwill and protection of both crooks and cops.

Her life significantly changes when she comes across the old beggar woman Gypsy Nan close to death. Gypsy Nan refuses to be taken to a cop or hospital, at least not until taken first to her room at the flop house. In the candle-lit room, she reveals to Rhoda a small hiding place with clothes and loot, it turns out that Gypsy Nan is in reality a much younger woman! Shorn of her disguise as an old woman that would've exposed her at the hospital, they leave the flop house so that no link between her and Nan can be made. Then Rhoda is able to summon a cop and ambulance to take her to the hospital.

However, for Gypsy Nan it's too late and knowing she is dying, she manages to get a promise from Rhoda. She knows of an impending crime but she won't squeal on her mates. Instead she implores from Rhoda that she commit the robbery beforehand and then return the loot afterwards. Thus, forestalling the crime but not getting anyone arrested. Rhoda agrees and Gypsy Nan passes from this world.

Rhoda commits the act of robbery but is seen and pursued by the police. Only through the seeming innocent intervention of a good looking young man is she able to make her escape. With only a little lead, she finds herself near Nan's apartment. She enters and quickly dashes her clothes and loot in the hideaway and disguises herself as Gypsy Nan! Thus, Miss Rhoda Gray aka the White Moll becomes wanted by the police!

The next day, still in the Gypsy Nan disguise, she is visited by the good looking young man. He identifies himself as The Adventurer, a gentleman thief and he's looking for the White Moll in order to team up with her. However, their conversation is cut short as with his phenomenally good hearing he hears other feet on the stairs, Gypsy Nan gets a second visitor. The second is Parson Dangler, crook and gang-leader. More than that, he knows that Nan is a false identity as he's the husband to the dead woman that wore it earlier! However, through low lighting and subterfuge, Rhoda is able to keep secret that she's not the original woman. Through him, she learns that the gang's carefully laid plans had been forestalled often of late. Until last night, they had no clue as to whom, but now Dangler is sure it's the White Moll that's been the source of all their troubles! Thus, the White Moll is also wanted by the crooks!

That is the set-up. Rhoda Gray aka the White Moll is wanted by police and the crooks for a bunch of crimes she didn't commit and the one she technically did. She maintains the Gypsy Nan identity as both a safe haven and to gain information on future crimes that she then stymies in her compromised identity of the White Moll, all the while trying to find evidence that will clear her name. She also fights the growing attraction she feels for that self-professed crook The Adventurer whose path she continually crosses and matches wits against. And, with the deceased woman who was Gypsy Nan being secretly married to the crook who heads the gang that Gypsy Nan runs with, it's not that safe an identity.

The book is only disappointing in that despite the colorful name, the White Moll moniker is simply a nickname based on slang. It's not a separate identity, she doesn't wear all white and a mask. Also, despite her tomboy upbringings in the wilds of South America, Rhoda is not capable of being able to out-run, out-fight, or out-shoot a reasonably fit man. She only has her daring and wits. She's a colorful and sympathetic heroine, but she doesn't take those extra steps to make her fully a mystery-woman. With a female protagonist, Packard saddles her with more conflicts with her emotions, fears and doubts than he does his male heroes. However, it ultimately works in her favor. She suffers from much of the same emotions that most of us, man or woman, would feel in such situations, as unmanly as it would seem to acknowledge that in heroic fiction. Yet, it doesn't paralyze Rhoda to inaction. She feels those feelings, acknowledges them, then gets up and does what needs doing.

There's a thrilling car chase near the climax of the book, the only such scene in any of these books. Again, it takes a little reminding, that a car going 35-45 mph was really booking in those days (1919) and almost all cars were convertibles!