Pulp Fiction….Nearly Super….Heroes

pulp hero actors

Let us look back. Now look forward. Now touch your toes. Stand up and pledge allegiance to the Moon Men from Uranus. Oooh with this sort of control over the mind of someone as powerful and intelligent as yourself just think what I could do if I were to use this power for good or, dare I say, for nefarious purposes hehehe HAHAHA MOWAHAHAHAHA….*ahem* sorry, got caught up in the melodrama of it all. Oh and no that’s not how you pronounce Uranus. It’s pronounced Uranus. Notice the subtle difference.

Now as I was saying before I was rudely interrupted by my own power mad cravings.

Yes let’s got back to a time when men were men, women were women, and stereotypes were rife with inaccuracies. I can just hear it now. The commanding voice of the all-knowing narrator announcing to us that yet another thrilling adventure was about to begin. Our immaculately dressed hero with perfect diction, dapper suit and hair so slick it could alert Greenpeace would leap on-screen in dashing fashion. With a biff and a bop he would save the day, win the girl, and send the vile villain off to think again.

Ah the 80’s, what a magical time. Hold on a mo, just have to get the harp ready for that flashback melody.

Yes it was the 80’s when I discovered “King of the Rocketmen”. Daring do’s were a foot every morning during the summer holidays when the BBC hadn’t quite got the hang of children’s telly. Or should I say they had it just right back then and have been failing successfully ever since. When one serial ended another would slot into it’s place. The wonder that is Flash Gordon exploded from the screen. Where “King of the Rocketmen” sowed the desire to one day have my very own Rocketpack Flash Gordon and also Buck Rogers gave me the direction to point it in. To Adve….no no dear God no. This is sounding far too cheesy and earnest with drippings or rose-tinted nostalgia. I watched some stuff in the 80’s, I really quite liked it. I’m being sucked in by the melodrama of it all, the nostalgia is making me feel feelings and that sort of thing is very unnatural to me.

Doc Savage - Ron Ely

Doc Savage – Ron Ely

Oh wait, yes I watched Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze again the other day. It was rather fantastic. The archetypal hero, the blueprint for so many characters who followed. Doc Savage being one of the inspirations for Superman having both a Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic and being called Clark. A brilliant mind, a perfectly formed body, a truly man made hero. There was nothing particularly super about Doc Savage, the possible exception being and uncanny talent of popping out of his shirt during his most adventurous moments. I thought maybe the Doc was buying himself some poor quality, knock off gear but no that can’t be. No man as highly moral as this one would dare buy something produced in a sweatshop by little children. Blind children at that. Orphan blind children. Who’s dog just died. After it ran off with the cat. I feel this could end up a country song. However really all the Doc’s problems could probably be solved if just bought his shirts one size up.

The Shadow - Alex Ross (Artist), Alec Baldwin

The Shadow – Alex Ross (Artist), Alec Baldwin

You have to love it, well love might be too strong a word. Um like? Tolerate? Oooh yes appreciate….no I think envy. Yes, you have to envy a person who is so happy to be working the night shift and The Shadow must be the happiest of all. Just listen to him laugh and laugh as he torments the bad guys into repenting their evil ways. Yeah, there’s no denying that they’ve got it coming but it’s just so refreshing to hear someone enjoying their work so much and wearing such a nice scarf too. I know that some people didn’t like the film adaptation but just look at the style. The magnificence of the Art Deco design, the grandioseness of the surrounding with such opulent elegance. Secret passageways to underground lairs, instant messages being sent across the city, and video calls before video was even invented. The gadgets were ahead of their time. Fiction provides the inspiration that science builds upon.

I nearly forgot. How can we talk about the great and good of this fine genre without mentioning the ladies that were never too far away from the fray. Yes they were generally used as Damsel’s in Distress but I think it’s fair to say that the hero would have perished many times over if it weren’t for the women in their lives saving the day. I do believe that would make them the Don’s in Distress. Without the timely intervention of Margo Lane The Shadow would have been left to a watery doom as well as being the one to uncover the villains lair.

Margo Lane - Barbara Read, Penelope Ann Miller

Margo Lane – Barbara Read, Penelope Ann Miller

The Phantom - Alex Ross (Artist), Billy Zane

The Phantom – Alex Ross (Artist), Billy Zane

No doubt one of the most Swashbuckling of  all, The Phantom. Has the film become a cult sensation yet? No? Oh, well…erm….I’ll just like it because I really do like it. Image the love child of Tarzan, Batman, and a really purple thingy. Not just purple but PURPLE. I’m not one to question the wisdom of the ages but wouldn’t it stand out against all that green in the jungle? But yet again, why care about such a thing. This isn’t the real world. This is a stylised world where myths have the distinct probability of being real. Where the hero  isn’t truly a hero unless he can dispatch his foes with the most perfect of aim so as not to kill but disarm and make them think again. In a world where even Superman can’t resist the urge to snap a neck it’s nice to think it was once different. I don’t mean just the 30’s, any time before Man of Steel would do. Though I sense a bit of rose tinting to my thinking.

The future Mrs Phantom was not really the classic damsel being that she held a black belt in Karate but was also a trained nurse. I take it this means that she could beat back a horse of henchmen then fixed what she broke afterwards. That’s something the 90’s film missed out on but how much high kicking could one do when dressed in a skirt though she was very adept with the cutlass.

Diana Palmer - Jeanne Bates, Kirsty Swanson

Diana Palmer – Jeanne Bates, Kirsty Swanson

Buck Rogers - Gil Gerard

Buck Rogers – Gil Gerard

Buck Rogers. That’s all I really need to say. Everyone of a certain age will know what I’m thinking. Yes…Spandex. A Pulp SciFi Hero he may be but once the 70’s grabbed hold and encased him in a constricting shell of man-made fibres he was reborn as a disco dancing, judo chopping, all round good guy. Beautiful Princesses, Space battles, pantomime villains who you can’t help want to be judo throw into oblivion. It was just so much fun, I don’t think we’ll ever see the like of it again. And the spandex. I keep picturing these costumes hanging in the wardrobe being only 6 inches long but due to it’s inherent stretchiness it’ll fit any frame.

Yes I’m sure I heard a few dreamy sighs when the subject of Buck Rogers comes up, especially the 70’s version we all know and love. While the outfits were less that..than…um well they were just less. But when you think of all the incarnations of Wilma Deering there’s a good chance she could have kicked any and all arses if she wasn’t shooting them down in the depths of space.

Wilma Deering - Constance Moore, Erin Gray

Wilma Deering – Constance Moore, Erin Gray

Flash Gordon - Al Williamson (Artist), Sam J. Jones

Flash Gordon – Al Williamson (Artist), Sam J. Jones

Dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun FLASH AAAAAAH! He’ll save every one of us. I can sense what you’re thinking and yes while Buster Crabbe will always be both the classic Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers I’m afraid my heart belongs to a different Flash Gordon. I don’t know if it’s the hypnotic colours, the imaginative designs or the outfits that left little to the imagination but I just feel that this is my Flash Gordon. Like Buck Rogers he was the fish-out-of-water dropped into the frying pan with nowhere but the fire to jump to. There’s that never wavering optimism too. Right up to the last moment where certain doom is looking inevitable there is still the somewhat naive belief it will all work out in the end. And fortunately it always does.

I do believe that comic strip and serial Dale Arden was mostly there to scream, be captured, and end up being Flash’s one true love. There was a bit of that in the 80’s film but put a laser in her hand and slip into a sparkly palace slave outfit and she’s ready to take out half the guards. Well she is a New York City girl so we could expect no less.

Dale Arden - Jean Rogers, Melody Anderson

Dale Arden – Jean Rogers, Melody Anderson

I feel it would be remiss of me not to include Princess Aura. The Bore Worms would be unleashed upon my poor wee body if I left her out. Aura may not have had any Jedi Mind Tricks at her disposal but the weak-minded around her found her impossible to resist.

Princess Aura - Priscilla Lawson, Ornella Muti

Princess Aura – Priscilla Lawson, Ornella Muti

The Rocketeer - Alex Ross (Artist), Billy Campbell

The Rocketeer – Alex Ross (Artist), Billy Campbell

The Rocketeer. Possibly my favourite. A relatively new addition to the Pulp Heroes having been created in 1982 by Dave Stevens.  Unlike the others his life wasn’t improved by being thrust into the role of the rocket powered hero. Not only did it attract the attention of the most devious of dastardly devils but it repelled his best and only girl, see I picked up the 30’s lingo there. But just imagine it,  strapping a rocket pack to your back, full of incredibly flammable and explosive fuel and…and…yeeeeah…um no you go ahead first. I don’t mind waiting. What? No I’m not using you as a Guinea Pig, nothing could be further from the truth. You’re more of a test monkey. Ever since seeing The Rocketeer I have loved that visual style that accompanies the Pulp Heroes. Be it the architecture, the clothes, the lack of cynicism and the hope that it would all work out in the end and not with the flaming fireball of doom that my imagination conjures up.

Yes WOW Betty…I mean Jenny…Bettie? While the film’s leading lady, Jenny, exuded an undeniable elegance the original comic relished in the fact that their Betty was based upon Bettie Page. Why the name change? I couldn’t say but being Disney the character was not going to end up as a nude pin up, so perhaps they were uncomfortable with the connection but that’s only completely conjecture. Not that we needed any implied nude pin uppery. It would have gotten in the way of all the Rocketeering.

Betty/Jenny - Bettie Page, Jennifer Connolly

Betty/Jenny – Bettie Page, Jennifer Connolly

If you look as all of these characters there really isn’t anything super about them. The Shadow does have a few mystical powers but still they weren’t bestowed upon him by some freak accident. Impressive gadgets and even more impressive natural abilities is what separate them from the modern superhero. Yes there are many characters, Batman for instance, that have Pulp leanings but they all lack that, that, I don’t know how to explain it but there’s something about the world in which they live in that have a more hopeful outlook. It’s simpler but more difficult. It’s libraries rather than Google. Watch Walkie Talkies are far more desirable than any mobile phone. Just gadgets, so many, many gadgets.

And Rocketpacks.

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