It’s 2015 and names like Batman and Spider-man are as well known as Homer Simpson or Santa Claus. The names that are becoming harder and harder to remember are those of the pulpy characters that helped shaped these modern day superheroes. i’m not that old, but it seems that unless you’re over the age of 45 to 50 you’ve never heard of the Shadow or Doc Savage. Hell, even if you are of that age you still might not have heard of them! I have always had a particular fondness for Pulp characters. I’m not really sure why. It’s not as if there are many groundbreaking stories that I can go back to time and time again. It’s not even that they present fascinating character studies. Perhaps part of their appeal was the fact that they looked great and very much of their time. Perhaps it’s more the latter. They are old fashioned and maybe a bit outdated but there is something remarkably idealistic and mysterious to them that has always captivated me.
I can appreciate almost any Pulp character from one degree to another but my favorites were and still are The Shadow, The Phantom & Zorro. Throw in a little love for The Lone Ranger and we’re good. I discovered Zorro and the Lone Ranger very early on when I was a toddler growing up in South America. I came to know The Shadow and The Phantom much later in the mid nineties thanks to their, less than well received movies. I loved those movies so much at the time that I wanted to see more of them. TO my surprise it was exceedingly difficult to find much out there, even in the nineties.
Eventually I did find older issues here with The Shadow. I even came to learn that Bob Kane, ( The creator of Batman) Had heavily based our favorite Dark Knight on The Shadow with a big dash of Zorro. There’s even a comic where Batman meets his inspiration. A very cool moment in comic history.
Thanks to two wonderful Biographies on The Phantom and Zorro I became more intrigued with the rich history of theses characters. The world building on The Phantom was so interesting! I’m still scouring Youtube trying to find them so I can watch them again. The Phantom was even more of a challenge in terms of comics or novels. I could only find a few but I did thoroughly enjoy those few. I wondered why there was so few of these cool characters out there.
I remember I had an eye opening moment when my Mother, Father , brother and I went to watch The Phantom in theaters in the summer of 1996. My brother and I were so excited and eager with anticipation but I didn’t see much of a lineup outside for the movie. When I went into the theater it was practically empty. No more than 10 or 15 people at most. It was the first time in my short life at that point that I was ever in an empty theater watching a movie I thought everyone would love. I asked my Dad, ” Where is everyone?” and he simply said ” I guess no one remembers The Phantom”.
A bit sad for me at the time but a true shame that people today don’t know or remember that The Phantom was the first costumed crime fighter! Talk about obscurity. Along the years I got to know more characters like Doc Savage, Flash Gordon, Mandrake and The Spider. All the while thinking these characters will come back at some point, but they never did. The question is why? What they al have in common is that they come from roughly the same time period and it can be said that they work best in those time periods. The funny thing is that Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman were created in the 1930’s much like the Phantom and countless others. The difference is that Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the lot continued to grow with the times. They did it so seamlessly that it’s often forgotten that they, in some ways, started out as Pulp characters themselves.
However when there are attempts to modernize Pulp characters like John Carter From Mars, it still doesn’t work. Perhaps you could say that that was a lackluster movie but still. Modernization of these characters is often met with skepticism and scorn. I can see their point. I mean how can you really do a modernization of someone like Zorro? The period is sort of a key point to the whole story I think. Other characters do have a chance at this but it’s going to take the right take on it. Change it too much and you loss the initial appeal of the character. Change too little and no one will care.
One of the recent delights for a Pulp fan like myself was the 12 issues Dynamite comics run called ” Masks”. It presented a handful of iconic pulp heroes teaming up for one story. Add art work from Alex Ross and I was back to my 11 year old self.
Gorgeous cover isn’t it? I had heard that Sam Rami ( Director of Evil Dead and Spider-man) was dying to do his own film adaptation of The Shadow. I hope he does because I don’t think we’re any closer to bringing him or any of those characters back.
I’ll end with one last story. Just last year I decided to dress up as The Shadow for Halloween. I went to work all decked out and ready to go. That was an interesting experience. Most of the day people kept calling me Zorro, The Spirit, Ghouly man to even The Grim Reaper?? It wasn’t until the end of the day that someone finally recognized me and even quoted the famous line ” Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.”
That was a nice treat. Do yourself a favor or at the very least do ME a favor and give Pulp a chance!