Sunday, July 31, 2016


A suspenseful cover draws you into this 1937 Detective Fiction Weekly, in which Richard Sale's cameraman detective Candid Jones apparently faces a criminal counterpart. I think Sale's title is a little unfair, however, since we all know that cameras don't kill people, people do! This promising-looking number also boasts stories by hard-boiled heavyweights Cornell Woolrich and Norbert Davis, along with contributions from J. A. L. Chambliss, Thomas W. Duncan, Cyril Plunket, Will Sandman and Roger Torrey, as well as the latest installment of B. B. Fowler's Graduation in Red. It definitely looks good.

Saturday, July 30, 2016


This July 30 issue is part of a nice run of 1925 issues of Adventure that have been scanned and made available online. The nicest thing about this particular run of issues is that it includes a complete serial by Leonard H. Nason, The Bold Dragoon. Nason made his name, I believe, as a World War I writer, but he stretches here to write a kind of picaresque novel set in the early 18th century about an English soldier left for dead on a battlefield making his way slowly back toward home with dwindling resources and dubious assistance. It's a cynical mock-epic told with gusto by the hero himself and taken as a whole it's one of the best things I've read in Adventure. Even if you didn't have the other installments near to hand (this one is part three of four), a massive Georges Surdez novel, Knaves of Spades, is reason enough to recommend this issue. And in case you can't track down the whole issue, the Mon Legionnaire blog has made Knaves of Spades available as a downloadable .pdf. There's also Thomson Burtis, whom I can take or leave, as well as Alan LeMay and six other short stories, plus the always entertaining Camp Fire letters section. I don't recall whether the great Julius Caesar debate provoked by Talbot Mundy's Tros of Samothrace stories was resumed this issue, but consider it a bonus if it was.

Friday, July 29, 2016


Here's another beauty of a 1939 Western Story cover, this one painted by Richard Case.  Again, the painting probably has nothing to do with Bennett Foster's Blackleg or any of the stories inside; it seems meant simply to grab the eye and be attractive in its own right. I've read a Foster serial in contemporary issues of Argosy and he seems to be a pretty good western writer. Pete Dawson, who wrote my next Vintage Paperback of the Week, has a short story in here, as do the familiar Harry F. Olmsted and the less familiar R. Edgar Moore, while Kenneth Gilbert wraps up a serial and Tom Road rounds out the lineup with a novelette. Here's hoping that pulp browsers weren't trampled in this cover's manner trying to find the issue on the newstand.

Thursday, July 28, 2016


Ray Cummings wrote one of the silliest stories I've read in a pulp magazine, but the stuff I find silly now probably helped make him popular enough to merit a 1934 Argosy cover for his latest serial, Flood. I know it's unfair to judge a writer with as long a career as Cummings' by one story, but he wouldn't exactly encourage me to buy an issue he's in. Cummings aside, this number doesn't really have a top-flight lineup. Hulbert Footner continues his Mme. Story serial The Hated Man while William McLeod Raine concludes The Trail of Danger. Gordon Young, a writer long identified with Adventure, made his Argosy debut earlier in 1934; his novelette "Cap'n Jack" in this issue was his second and last appearance. Western and rodeo specialist Arthur Hawthorne Carhart contributes the novelette Rodeo Roper, while Douglas Leach, whose other Argosy stories I've read and liked, offers "Ananias and the Sorcerer" and William Merriam Rouse presents "Bub Gets Set." It does look like a subpar issue at first glance, but that's mainly because of the very high standard Argosy set in the early-mid Thirties.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Another boffo 1935 Argosy, featuring Eustace L. Adams's novelette "The Winged Jinx," the conclusion of F. V. W. Mason's Lysander of Chios, and the start of a Robert Carse two-parter, Glory Road, about the Foreign Legion in Africa. "Winged Jinx" is great hard-boiled fun. The hero, a test pilot and sometimes mercenary airman, survives a plane crash but has one of those deadly pieces of metal slowly moving toward his heart, which only makes him slightly more fatalistic than normal. Most of his old buddies are already dead, after all. The crash ruins his company's chances of landing a plane contract with a Latin American banana republic, not to mention the U.S. military. In short order, he makes a sentimental visit to the repaired plane, bashes a stranger over the head with a fire extinguisher only to find that it's his business partner and best pal, resolves to fly himself and friend (presumed dead) into the ocean, and then gets hijacked by a stowaway who reveals that she sabotaged the plane and caused the crash to prevent that banana republic from gaining air supremacy over her small nation, but now wants the plane so she can bomb the enemy's invading army. Oh, and by this time our hero's buddy has awakened -- he mistook his pal for an intruder -- and it looks like a love triangle is in the works in the middle of what Adams calls a "banana war." In other words, if (like me) you thought Adams's Anywhere But Here was cool, you should enjoy this smaller dose of Adams, which is conveniently available, along with the entire July 27 issue, at  There are also serials by H. Bedford-Jones and Dennis (Frederick Faust) Lawton, along with another adventure in the Aluetians by H. H. Matteson and a comic piece by Kevin Johnson. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


That Inca dude offers readers a proper welcome to a 1930 pulp, heralding the start of Fred MacIsaac's latest serial. The most promising name on the cover for me is Ralph R. Perry, and while his Arctic story "Rescue" probably has nothing to do with Bellow Bill Williams, Perry was at the peak of his powers in the early Thirties and I'd have faith in him here. The other serials in this number star George F. Worts' Gillian Hazeltine (Murder! Murder!) and Rasputin (Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson's The Czarina's Pearls). How I passed up a Rasputin cover a week ago when Pearls premiered is a mystery to me now. There's also a serial by Edgar Franklin and stories by Allan Vaughan Elston, H. Thompson Rich and Jack Woodford, the last two being strangers to me. They might be good!

Monday, July 25, 2016


I'd pick up this 1941 Short Stories if I had a chance because it boasts novelettes by Robert Carse and Frederick C. Painton. The other novelette is a western by George Armin Shaftel, while it's hard to tell what genre William R. Cox's "A Time and a Place" belongs to. Cox was just beginning to get western stories published but he was already established as a detective and sports-story writer and would continue writing sports stories for as long as sports pulps were published. Frank Gruber continues his serial The Navy Colt while Edward Daly contributes the tantalizing "Valley of the Devil Worshippers." You can add B. E. Cook (a sea story), Clay Perry and Lawrence Treat into the mix. With Carse and Painton up front I'd be willing to take a chance on the rest.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


Is this Detective Fiction Weekly or Tragic Romance Weekly? Max Brand seems unsure, but what editor is going to question the great man? At least the cover artist assures us with prison bars and a policeman's shadow that the cover story will have something to do with crime. This 1937 number actually shapes up as a decent issue, giving Brand the benefit of the doubt, when you include a novelette by George Harmon Coxe and a Sarah Watson story by D. B. McCandless, along with short stories by Charles Molyneux Brown, George Armin Shaftel and Lawrence Treat, though giving Ray Cummings a science fiction series might not be the greatest idea. The editors may have realized that, since Cummings' "The Case of the Frightened Death" is the first story in his "Crimes of the Year 2000" series to appear in nearly two years, and would be the last. Meanwhile, B. B. Fowler is in the middle of his serial Graduation in Red, introducing "the World's Most Unusual Detective," who is either Barry Chase or Indian Joe, since the FictionMags Index lists them as co-stars. Graduation presumably was successful enough to justify giving Barry and Joe the cover for their next serial in December 1937, but they had just one more outing after that, a two-parter in 1938. In any event, if the cover doesn't inspire despair the contents may be worth a look.

Saturday, July 23, 2016


To my knowledge, this 1938 Argosy is the only cover appearance of Frank Richardson Pierce's No-Shirt McGee, presuming that he's the man selling tickets. The Yukon sourdough, created in 1937, became a popular character who continued into World War II in Short Stories after Argosy's collapse and transformation, but as an old-timer who was more a fount of wisdom than anything else in present-day stories he wasn't really the ideal cover subject. He's supported here by Murray Leinster's story "Board Fence," Allan Vaughan Elston's "Trade Winds" and the second installment of Frederick C. Painton's The Invasion of America. Serials by Norbert Davis and Eric North continue, while one Robert L. Blake makes his sole Argosy appearance with "Romance on Rye." Blake may have been one of the other contributors in the customary disguise for a second story, however.

Friday, July 22, 2016


Complete Stories was another Street & Smith general-interest pulp whose gimmick was self-explanatory. There were no serials in it, which makes any issue safe to buy at random for modern collectors. It was launched as a twice-a-month in 1924, slipped to monthly in 1926, but was restored to its original frequency in the fall of 1928. By the summer of 1934 it had slipped back slightly, appearing once every three weeks. As is often the case when I encounter Street & Smith pulps from the Thirties, I see plenty of names I don't recognize, whose works I haven't read, the exceptions in this issue being Richard Howells Watkins and William Merriam Rouse, though I've heard of C. S. Montanye. William Archer Sayre, the credited cover author, was a house name, while Hal Dunning, the next most prominent name, was a dead man whose stories of The White Wolf were being ghosted at this time by Frederick C. Davis. Knowing these details does not inspire confidence in the product. Complete would add some more familiar authors later in the decade, most notably publishing one of Robert E. Howard's El Borak stories in 1936. For some reason, however, Street & Smith had a hard time a sustaining a general adventure pulp along the lines of Adventure, Argosy, Short Stories or Blue Book. Complete Stories slipped back to monthly in 1935 and would go bimonthly before expiring late in 1937.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


Here's proof that crime is an unhealthy lifestyle. This pathetic specimen, as rendered by C. Calvert for Detective Fiction Weekly, is looking particularly green about the gills as he tries to peek at your newspaper to see what story he's appearing in. "The Eye in the Wall" is the last appearance of Frederick C. Davis's Show-Me McGee, who managed eight stories in less than a year but clearly lacked staying power. Meanwhile, a new series character, Charles Alexander's Sergeant McChesney, is making his debut, according to the FictionMags Index. According to that reference, McChesney returned on October 27, but did not appear again until February 1936, and then not again until January 1938. But as I know from my study of Bellow Bill Williams, the Index remains a work in progress and there may be as-yet unindexed McChesney stories in the intervening months. In any event, Alexander kept at it until at least April 1939. Max Brand continues his serial Cross Over Nine this issue, while Laurence Donovan, Foster Drake, George Alden Edson, Leslie McFarlane and Ernest M. Poate contribute short stories. It's not the most elite selection, but on the other hand I don't know most of these writers to judge them, so who knows?

Serial Pulp: THE SPIDER'S WEB (1938) Chapter Four: SURRENDER OR DIE!

A co-production with the Mondo 70 movie blog...
At the end of Chapter Three of this Columbia Pictures adaptation of Norvell Page's pulp hero, Richard Wentworth was knocked into a mean looking power-plant thingy that turned explosive on impact. At the opening of this chapter, after the narrator's usual long-winded recap -- he has to talk over all the footage from last week's climax -- Wentworth, aka The Spider, simply gets better and gets out of Dodge when the cops show to disrupt The Octopus's plan to black out the city. By now, Wentworth has figured out that The Octopus is no common gangster, but represents "organized crime with more than money as a goal. He wants control." He specifically wants control of utilities, having first muscled into transportation and more recently targeted electrical power. That The Octopus is engaged in "terrorism" rather than mere crime is in keeping with the apocalyptic tone of the Popular Publications pulps, though whether the villain can keep escalating his attacks like his print counterparts remains to be seen.

Out of nowhere Wentworth gets a potentially important lead from a young friend of his, the gas station operator and ham radio enthusiast Charlie Dennis. In The Spider's day a ham radio operator was as close as you could get to a computer hacker today, and Charlie has inadvertently hacked into the Herzen Band, a frequency outside the range of most radios on which the gas jockey is picking up inscrutable, apparently coded transmissions. Wentworth transcribes a typical broadcast and has his old war buddy Jackson set about deciphering the code. Charlie has instantly become an important asset for the good guys, but The Octopus's men have detected the hack somehow, and their master orders Charlie eliminated. So we have this episode's plot wrapped up: The Spider will have to save Charlie from the bad guys....except that he doesn't. In fact, Wentworth and his pals are completely clueless about Charlie's imminent doom and make no effort to protect what could have been a crucial source of intelligence on The Octopus's activities. In a flawless victory for the villain, Charlie is murdered and his gas station (and all-important radio) blown up with Wentworth none the wiser.

The main characters never even acknowledge that anything has happened to poor Charlie, though I have to imagine that the Herzen Band will become important again later. To be fair, our heroes have their own security to think about, since The Octopus's goons are still stalking Wentworth. Two of them jump Richard outside his hotel suite. He fights them off but finds that Nita and Jackson, whom he'd left in the suite, have been snatched, the snatchers leaving behind a note telling Richard to expect a message from The Octopus.

The mystery villain has several balls in the air. While trying to outmaneuver Wentworth, he's also plotting to take out all the city's radio stations so he can monopolize the airwaves when making his demands. The broadcast gives Wentworth and Ram Singh a chance to use their triangulation machines to pinpoint the source of the transmission, which they expect to be The Octopus's lair and their friends' prison. Finding the likely spot, they break through an electrified fence and prepare for a two-pronged attack on the building. Despite being warned to be careful, the mighty Ram Singh promptly gets KOd while skulking in the bushes and joins Nita and Jackson in chains in a cell.

This place proves to be some kind of torture house. The cell is rigged to fill with water in order to drown its prisoners.While they thrash about in vain and the water rises, The Spider enters another end of the house and surprises a bunch of gangsters. For some reason he surrenders his advantage of surprise to hunker behind a toppled table, content to trade shots with the surviving goons until one quick-thinking, courageous bad guy closes a door to trap The Spider in a room with a gas bomb. As if that wasn't bad enough, this room is rigged to release a lethal volume of steam. A double cliffhanger closes an episode that has not gone well for the good guys. It's good at holding our interest, however, since it shows The Octopus and his men as more effective serial villains than we typically see. We'll see how long that lasts....

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


This 1935 Argosy is near the top of my want-to-buy list, mainly because it has the one installment of F. V. W. Mason's Lysander of Chios currently unavailable to me. Also on the serial front, it concludes John Wilstach's High Treason, continues H. Bedford-Jones' Riley Dillon, Masquerader, and introduces a new name to pulp readers with Dennis Lawton's The Blackbirds Sing. Note that I wrote "new name" and not "new writer." That's because the authorities say that Dennis Lawton was yet another pen name for the multipseudonymous Frederick S. Faust, best known to history as Max Brand. "Lawton" appears to have fronted only two stories, this one and the serial Perique, begun at the end of 1935. As these were both South Seas stories, I don't know whether Faust was trying to develop a genre brand name or if he knew that his other aliases would be busy in Argosy for the rest of the year. George Challis would have the last two Firebrand stories in print during this serial's run, while Max Brand would launch a serial of his own, The Sacred Valley, within that same time frame. Whatever his motives, this tale of a displaced cowboy involved in South Seas slave trading looks promising. There's also what may be a rare standalone novelette by George F. Worts; at least neither Gillian Hazeltine nor Singapore Sammy is mentioned on the cover. In addition, there's a novelette by Tom Curry, which adds to this issue's attraction, and a comic western short story by W. C. Tuttle, which doesn't. Overall it looks like much more good than bad.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Vintage Paperback of the Week: Barnaby Ross, THE SCROLLS OF LYSIS (1962)

See if you can follow me here. Once upon a time, cousins Daniel Nathan and Emanual Lepofsky decided to write detective stories together. As individual writers they had taken the pen names of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, but when they joined forces to create a new character, they decided to credit this fictional detective and narrator as the author of the book. This was Ellery Queen, whose name survives on one of the very last fiction mags in print today. As character and author, Queen was an instant sensation, but when Dannay and Lee created another detective, the actor Drury Lane, they decided not to exploit Queen's fame, perhaps because it would disrupt the Queen meta-narrative to have Ellery write stories about a different hero. Thus was invented Barnaby Ross, who is credited with four Drury Lane novels. In time, these books were credited to the more bankable Queen, yet there remained life in old Barnaby Ross. In the 1960s, Ross published six historical novels, non-mysteries. These were written by Don Tracy, who under his own name had written the source novel for the film noir masterpiece Criss Cross. So at last we come to The Scrolls of Lysis, written by a ghost using the pseudonym of a pseudonym of two pseudonyms. Thirty years past Drury Lane's heyday, was Barnaby Ross's past forgotten, or did people read these later novels believing them (while believing themselves clever) to be the disguised work of the famous Ellery Queen? That mystery I leave to some other detective to solve. It's enough here to say that The Scrolls of Lysis is a hoot on its own unpretentious terms.

Does anyone write this sort of novel today? The sort of novel I mean might best be described as a scoundrel's process, in which a thoroughly unprincipled, arguably unlikable hero keeps us interested in his fate because his exploits are so exotic and his author invests him with some roguish charisma. Such a hero is Thamus, son of a Spartan refugee woman who serves the exiled Theban philosopher Lysis on the backwater isle of Gyarus. Cursed with a deformed foot and the low status of his mother, Thamus is despised by all his peers and despises them and the aged Lysis in return. He's bored by the old man's efforts to teach him how to read the scrolls intended for Epaminondas, the famous Boeotarch of Thebes who broke the power of Sparta and made military history at the Battle of Leuctra. Lysis once was the great man's teacher but was exiled when he (or his advisers) turned against the old man. Thamus regards him as little better than a lunatic, but Lysis prophecies a great career for the youth, whose ankle-cracking escape from a rocky shoreline deathtrap allows him to grow into a handsome, agile man. When Lysis and Thamus's mother are murdered by a Spartan raiding party -- led, we learn, by Thamus's father -- our hero sees it as his chance to escape the hopeless island. Escape becomes imperative when the local headman threatens to burn Lysis's scrolls. Thamus, along with bully-turned-buddy Limon and the lovely, shallow Myrrha, once Thamus's idol and now Limon's wife, sail away with the scrolls and Lysis's small collection of precious stones, but not before Thamus has to kill Limon's sister and her boyfriend, unbeknownst to Limon himself but witnessed by Myrrha, who will use her damning knowledge against our hero for the rest of the story.

On the mainland the little group soon becomes embroiled in Theban intrigue, since the Scrolls of Lysis are deemed strategically important for all Greece. The Spartans who killed Lysis wanted the scrolls because they thought they'd show them how to defeat Epaminondas, while Theban notables either want them or want them destroyed. It turns out that Lysis had written them in a kind of code that only Thamus can read, making him a hugely important person in Thebes once he gets there. Epaminondas adopts him as a son, inspiring him to get ideas about the Boeotarch's natural daughter, though that makes Myrrha, who wants only to be rid of the lunkish Limon, dangerously jealous. When Epaminondas matches his daughter with an officer Thamus hates, the son of his original Theban sponsor, he begins out of resentment to plot the Boeotarch's downfall through deliberate misreading of the scrolls. He also begins to set in motion his own downfall, fulfilling an almost-forgotten prophetic warning of Lysis.

I doubt whether any substantial character in The Scrolls of Lysis could be considered sympathetic, though the ultimately amiable Limon, who finds his level as a soldier only to set many dooms in motion inadvertently, comes close once his early cruelty toward Thamus is forgotten. For the most part, the cast is exuberantly unpleasant, Thamus himself and Myrrha taking the lead in incorrigible selfishness and spite. There's something playfully thrilling in discovering that nobody in a story is going to be the good guy or the good girl; it makes everything possible and every wicked act or thought guiltlessly entertaining. Not that the action in Lysis is that wicked; there's not as much sex as the covers suggest and there's not even a hint of the reputed homosexual orientation of the Sacred Band of Thebes, which might have added to Thamus's discomfort to the reader's amusement. Instead, Tracy/Ross has written a cynical adventure with plenty of battles, chases and intrigue of the sort we'd more likely find in a fantasy-world novel today. I like Tracy's writing overall, but his habit of having narrator Thamus tell us that he doesn't know how he came up with so many clever and pragmatic ploys and tricks -- they just happened -- did grow tiresome after a while. That complaint aside, it looks like Barnaby Ross was left in good hands, and I'd give the other Ross novels by Tracy a try if they ever cross my path.


This 1941 Western Story marks the pulp debut of a great genre writer. Harold A. DeRosso had just turned 24. As our occasional correspondent Sai S. of Pulpflakes notes in a biographical sketch, "Six Gun Saddlemates" was his first sale after he'd written eighty stories. Whether it anticipates the H. A. DeRosso known to genre fans for his often bleak, regretful tone I can't say. I have a few DeRosso stories in the western pulps in my collection, and those I've read I've liked. By comparison, cover author Tom Roan had been at the game since 1923. A western specialist by this point, though he did occasional detective stories, he started out as a sea story writer.He endured to the end of the pulp era, publishing frequently in Bluebook in the 1950s. Philip Ketchum and L. P. Holmes, both decent writers, are here also, as is Seth (Frank Richardson Pierce) Ranger with a serial chapter. It looks like a pretty solid lineup for this magazine.

Monday, July 18, 2016


Here's a candidate for "write your own caption" if I ever saw one. The title of the cover story, Steuart M. Emery's "In The White Sedan" isn't at all helpful. Emery's career began with a 1919 poem in The Saturday Evening Post, and he landed a short story in Collier's in 1924, but by the end of the Twenties he was a pulp regular. His greatest success in pulpdom may have been the series of comic westerns set in the town of Jezebel, which appeared in Short Stories in the late 1940s. Emery's pulp career falls into near halves, war stories predominating in the first half (along with detective tales like the cover story above), westerns predominating after World War II, as that became one of the relatively safe genres for pulp writers. He has a story in the final issue of the Thrilling group's Popular Western (November 1953, in my collection) and continued to place stories in Thrilling's surviving western titles (Ranch Romances, Texas Rangers and Triple Western) until 1957. A final listing in the FictionMags Index is for a 1970 issue of the revived Zane Grey's Western Magazine. That may be a retitled reprint and it may be posthumous, but no one seems to know when Emery died -- not even Princeton University, which maintains his papers.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


A beautiful Rudolph Belarski cover fronts this 1937 Argosy, advertising a good Fisher-Savoy story by Donald Barr Chidsey. The popular globetrotting team of detective and reformed thief were a safer bet for the cover than this issue's new serial, John Hawkins' Strike, an attempt at social realism by pulp standards. Theodore Roscoe offers one of his small-town gothic stories in his Five Corners series, while Luke Short continues King Colt and Judson P. Philips wraps up his harness-racing two-parter County Fair. Frank Richardson Pierce, William Chamberlain and Alexander Key -- later known for the Witch Mountain series -- contribute short stories. I read this one a few years ago thanks to the scanners who've made much of 1937 available online, and I remember it being pretty good overall.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


Now there's a Yellow Peril! Frederick C. Painton was another pulp author who found it more interesting (or simply more lucrative) to imagine the main threat to America coming from the Orient (if not Japan specifically) rather than from Europe and Germany specifically. Painton's a pretty good writer overall -- the one story of his I haven't liked was the most overtly comic one -- so I'd be interested in checking out The Invasion of America at some point. I actually have the final chapter in my collection, as you'll see next month. The FictionMags Index doesn't have a table of contents for this 1938 issue, but an eBay entrepreneur has scanned the relevant page. We thus learn that the July 16 number sports a boxing novelette by Richard Sale and an Oriental novelette by Sinclair Gluck. If the latter is part of Gluck's Dan Brice series it's probably good stuff. After leaving Bellow Bill Williams at sea two years earlier, Ralph R. Perry contributes a western short story, and given the title "Shorty Builds a Cow" it's most likely an attempted comedy. There are also short stories by two relatively unknown quantities, William K. Hubbell and Edwin Dial Torgerson, while Eric North and Norbert Davis continue their serials. The Painton and Gluck stories, plus that outrageous Emmett Watson cover, make this an issue I'd consider owning some day.

Friday, July 15, 2016


From Street & Smith in 1939, here's another beauty of an H. W. Scott cover for Western Story, presumably illustrating Walt Coburn's lead novelette "Riders of the Ghost Trail." A "complete novel" in this case adds up to 32 double-column pages. I just read a Coburn novelette from a 1938 Action Stories that was pretty good, so this roughly contemporary piece has a chance. Meanwhile, Kenneth Gilbert continues his serial Tamanawos Gold, Glenn H. Wichman offers another Hep Gallagher story, and Norman A. Fox, B. Bistrow Green, Dave Logan and Gunnison Steele contribute short stories. Of these, Logan (if this is a real person and not a pseudonym) was in the middle of a very short career. He first appeared in Western Story back on April 29 and made his second appearance the week before this issue. Another story would show up in November, and one more in March 9, 1940 number was his last. Maybe he had better things to do.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Serial Pulp: THE SPIDER'S WEB (1938), Chapter Three: HIGH VOLTAGE

A co-production with the Mondo 70 movie blog.

The resolution of last episode's cliffhanger was set up when we saw Richard Wentworth's henchman Ram Singh monitoring the situation in the Adams office as Wentworth, The Spider, prepared to rescue his girlfriend Nita Van Sloan. Once the faithful Sikh saw that The Octopus's men had set a deathtrap for The Spider, he rushed to the building. After the recap, this episode opens with Ram arriving just in time to help fellow flunky Jackson get the mechanical hoist back in control so Nita and The Spider have an easy last leg of their trip to the ground. After seeing Nita off, The Spider re-enters the building to fetch Adams from a vault in order to interrogate him about The Octopus. As he drives away, more minions take up the pursuit. The Spider exhorts Adams to jump from the car before it goes over a cliff, but Adams is no Spider and burns with the vehicle.

Some of Richard Wentworth's victims bear "the mark of The Spider."

Inevitably, The Spider is blamed for the neophyte traction magnate's murder, provoking a hissy fit from Wentworth."All because a few thugs are killed, the cry goes up: Get the Spider!" he complains, "Every time The Spider strikes, all they see is the act. Never a thought for the real reason behind it." Wentworth is more thin-skinned a crimefighter than The Green Hornet, for instance, who wants to be thought of as a criminal, since that makes it easier for him to move through the underworld. But pity party over, it's back to work. "I've got to find the Octopus, and destroy him," our hero resolves.

Civilian life is no shelter for Richard Wentworth as it is for other costumed crimefighters. Since Wentworth himself is known as a criminologist who gets involved in prominent cases, he is just as much a target out of costume as The Spider is. The Octopus has known since the last chapter that Wentworth is an enemy, so he has the Wentworth house staked out, with gunsels waiting to blast Wentworth the moment he steps outside. Fortunately for our team, The Octopus's minions are idiots. Richard dodges them by ordering a bouquet of "special flowers" for Nita from a friendly, confidential florist. The delivery made, Wentworth swaps clothes with the delivery man and marches out to the delivery truck, a leftover bouquet obscuring his face as the bored gunsels watch. "This is a useless job," one reflects, but if this serial teaches us anything it's that there are no useless jobs, only useless people.

Wentworth puts on his Blinky McQuade disguise to seek out a gangster he'd recognized among the men in Adams' office. Blinky, the one-eyed safecracker, will be hard up and looking for any kind of job Frank Martin can give him. McQuade is perhaps the most likable gangster you'll ever meet, and Martin gladly lets him in on a warehouse job his gang is pulling on their own. If that goes well, Martin may use him on an Octopus job. Martin says Blinky can be trusted not to blab about things, but you'd think he'd wonder after the cops show up in the middle of the warehouse job. To be fair, it isn't clear if Wentworth called in a tip once Blinky found out where the job was, and in any event a wounded Martin is too grateful to think too much about things after Blinky rescues him from arrest by sticking up a cop with his finger.

Once Martin tells him what the Octopus has lined up -- a raid on a power plant in an effort to black out the city -- Blinky arranges to have Jackson show up at his hideout in a cop costume  to take him in for questioning. "The Octopus ordered this job done so there wouldn't be a light left on in the city," a gangster helpfully explains to the audience and the men gathered not at all conspicuously or suspiciously outside the Power & Light company. The Spider shows up, guns blazing, to break up the sabotage, but has the bad luck to get socked into a great big spark-emitting machine to end the episode. Of course, Columbia spoils the cliffhanger by telling us immediately what Wentworth will be up to next time, but I suppose if you knew going in that there would be fifteen chapters you could guess that the hero wouldn't get whacked in Episode Three. It makes you wonder why serial studios bothered with cliffhangers. If you think about it, take away the cliffhangers and instead of Saturday afternoon serials you have the modern short-form TV season -- except now you can watch any episode of some shows and really believe a hero might die.

To be continued...


This 1934 Argosy is on my to-buy list thanks to "The Jungle Master," a Bellow Bill Williams novelette by Ralph R. Perry. You'll notice, however, that Bellow Bill doesn't get a lot of love from the editors, since neither he nor his author are hyped on the cover. It's understandable, however, that pride of place goes to Hulbert Footner's Mme Rosika Storey, one of pulp fiction's most popular heroines. Argosy had been publishing her detective exploits since 1923, sharing her during the Thirties with Woolworth's Mystery magazine. I'm not so thrilled about Albert Payson Terhune's latest dog story, but Terhune, an Argosy contributor since 1905, was probably this issue's most famous writer by virtue of his 1919 bestseller Lad, a Dog. Animal stories in general are a hard enough sell for me, but at least they have going for them, at their best, the suspense of hunt and pursuit in the wild. What dog stories offer to anyone other than dog lovers I simply can't say. The variety of the general-interest adventure pulps always comes with the risk that one or more stories might not interest you. Speaking of variety, this number also includes another old-timer, Ellis Parker Butler, as well as Foster-Harris's "The Wild Ones," another installment of Giesy & Smith's Semi-Dual serial and another of William McLeod Raine's western The Trail of Danger. Bellow Bill and Mme. Storey are enough to make this issue worth having for me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Here's the last of my run of four consecutive 1935 Argosy issues in my personal collection. The main attractions for me were the Tizzo the Firebrand cover story, by George (Frederick "Max Brand" Faust) Challis and another installment of F. V. W. Mason's serial Lysander of Chios. This issue also concludes Kevin Johnson's three-parter The Marines Having Landed and continues John Wilstach's Revolutionary War serial High Treason.

Joining the serial lineup is "king of the pulps" H. Bedford-Jones with Riley Dillon, Masquerader. Riley Dillon may be a rarity for Bedford-Jones, in that he created the gentleman thief under the pseudonym Rodney Blake -- a new one for the protean author --  for Mystery, a slick genre magazine sold exclusively at Woolworth's. When he brought the character to the Munsey mags (mainly Detective Fiction Weekly), Bedford-Jones took credit under his real name. He eventually brought Rodney Blake back to life as an author of westerns. Masquerader is Dillon's only appearance in Argosy; HBJ returned him to DFW and apparently grew tired of him early in 1936.As for the rest, Hapsburg Leibe's "Jaybird" is a hillbilly disaster story while Anthony M. Rud's "Monster of the Mud-Line" is another animal story. Somebody liked those, I guess. My to-read pile is becoming a to-read tower with these and the other pulps I'm continuing to accumulate. At some point, definitely during the second year of this blog when the Pulp Calendar is finished, I look forward to describing these stories in more detail. For now, this issue of Argosy was sponsored by:

And ...

Erle Stanley Gardner's experiment with a costumed crimefighter lasted for three stories, according to the Fiction Mags Index. Given that Perry Mason had just hit big, it's nice to see that Gardner wasn't resting on his laurels.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Thomson Burtis had been writing for just about a decade and had become a star of the aviation genre by the time he made his Argosy debut in this 1930 issue. The venerable weekly was never one of his primary markets; he'd appear six more times, including one serial, over the next two years and then stayed away until 1938. Of the "big four" adventure pulps, Burtis appeared most often in Adventure and Short Stories, and only once in Blue Book. The editorial policies and personalities behind that uneven distribution of output are a mystery to me. Argosy seems happy to have him here, but this issue's real attraction for regular readers probably was the start of a new Gillian Hazeltine serial by George F. Worts. The pulp defense attorney, reputed precursor to Perry Mason, had been an Argosy staple since 1926. Edgar Franklin, continuing his serial Moving Day, had seniority on all the fiction contributors this issue; he'd been publishing in Argosy since 1903.His serial stablemates, along with Worts, are W.C. Tuttle, continuing The Trail of Deceit, and Ralph Milne Farley, concluding The Radio Menace. Theodore Roscoe is the best-known of the short-story contributors, offering "The Ruby of Suratan Singh." He's joined by John H. Thompson, presumably with a Bill and Jim story, as well as less-known George Tibbitts, who's credited with less than a dozen stories in a career of little more than four years, including this one and only appearance in Argosy. Strange that he didn't have to wait as long as Burtis, but then again Burtis might have been holding out all this time.

Monday, July 11, 2016


Speaking of pulp publishers reusing covers (see July 10 below), since the whole point of the July/August 1942 "United We Stand" magazine project was to show the flag on every cover, Street & Smith figured it was fine to use the exact same flag cover on all their pulps. The July 11 Western Story thus has the exact same cover as the July 4 Wild West Weekly. It also ran on the July 4 Love Story, the July issues of Doc Savage and Astounding Science Fiction, the August issue of Detective Story, and the August 1 issue of the twice-a-month The Shadow. Of Street & Smith's fiction mags, only the plus sized bimonthly Unknown Worlds failed to fly the flag to my knowledge. Meanwhile, Munsey's moribund magazines, Argosy and Flynn's Detective, couldn't be bothered, while Herbert Morton Stoops painted a whole bunch of allied flags for the August Blue Book. E. Franklin Whitlock's cover for the August Adventure has a flag in it but not the "United We Stand" slogan. It's still more than most Popular Publications magazines and most pulp publishers apart from Street & Smith did.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


For today, a double entry, not because I couldn't choose between two beautiful covers or promising lineups of offers, but to teach a lesson about pulp economics. A few times on the Calendar I've mentioned how the publishers of Short Stories took a gamble by spending extra money in 1932, during some of the worst days of the Depression, to jack the magazine's twice-a-month page count from 176 to 224, presumably in an attempt to overtake the 192 page twice-a-month Adventure. Doubleday, Doran weren't always so extravagant. To illustrate, here's the July 10, 1931 issue of Short Stories.

Exactly two years later, well after Short Stories settled back to 176 pages an issue, here's the July 10, 1933 issue.

Short Stories reused covers often in its long history. During the last years of its original run -- it sputtered in and out of existence throughout the 1950s -- the publishers cannibalized old covers for every issue. I've made a quick check of the Fiction Mags Index and it looks like Duncan McMillan's art wasn't used a third time, but that's probably because the car and fashion went out of date quicker than more exotic imagery. Of the two issues, I'd go with the 1931 because of stories by Robert Carse, H. Bedford-Jones and T. T. Flynn, but readers probably got their quarter's worth -- when a quarter really meant something, with either issue.

Serial Pulp: THE SPIDER'S WEB (1938), Chapter Two: DEATH BELOW

A co-production with the Mondo 70 movie blog.
We left Richard Wentworth, aka The Spider, attempting to drive a truck loaded with explosives away from a bus depot. The first chapter of the Columbia Pictures serial based on Popular Publications' pulp crimefighter ended with the truck blowing up, but chapter two opens (after the obligatory recap, heavy with narration) with an easy cheat: our hero simply dived out the opposite door of the truck before it blew. After dealing with The Octopus's men, The Spider now has to dodge the police who consider him a criminal. He carjacks someone and hops from the moving vehicle into Ram Singh's getaway car some safe distance from the cops.

The Spider then calls in a tip telling Police Commissioner Kirk to raid the Octopus hideout where Wentworth had been imprisoned briefly last episode. Wentworth himself shows up just before the raid and manages to lead his friend Kirk into a deathtrap. The doors and windows lock just after someone tosses in a gas bomb to kill the crimefighters. Wentworth figures that short-circuiting the room by shooting a light-switch will unlock the window, and he and Kirk take the fire escape out.

After things have calmed down, Wentworth checks in at the commissioner's office, where he's meeting with an impatient committee of businessmen who want results from the hunt for the mastermind terrorizing transportation, whose name remains unknown to the good guys. While all these people are big businessmen, they missed one detail in the business news section of the newspaper that Wentworth reads: J. R. Adams, an unknown in the business world, has been named the new head of the Roberts Bus Line, Roberts having been murdered last chapter. Wentworth figures that Adams is either the head terrorist himself or one of his stooges. After asking the businessmen to leave the office, Wentworth discusses his plans for dealing with Adams in detail with the commissioner. Right away, we see The Octopus tell his hooded minions that he expects Wentworth to make a move on Adams and will make plans to deal with Wentworth. This seems like a tip-off that The Octopus -- as you'll recall, we see him as a bulky, limping figure in white robes, hood and mask and hear him through a distorting speaker system -- is one of the big businessmen, or else in cahoots with one of them.

Wentworth isn't satisfied with bugging Adams' office. He and his minion Jackson infiltrate the place as telephone men, and while Wentworth attempts to distract the secretary -- on screen it looks like he's doing a poor job -- Jackson inconspicuously installs a television camera hidden inside a book. By "inconspicuously," I mean that Jackson shows the movie camera the camera embedded in the book, then opens the book to show us all the machinery inside, while we take it on faith that the secretary hasn't noticed any of this.

Back at chez Wentworth, Richard, Jackson and Ram Singh turn out the lights in their TV room to watch the J. R. Adams show, after the set takes a minute to warm up. Right away someone asks Adams what the latest orders are, but he doesn't know apart. However, Wentworth now knows he's dealing with The Octopus, who checks in via intercom soon enough to explain conveniently that he intends to take over "certain industries," warn Adams about Wentworth, and provide some protection in the form of a hostage: Nita Van Sloan fresh from the hospital and still in her aviatrix outfit from chapter one. Wentworth and the boys freak out at the sight and Ram Singh is ready to kill, but you'll notice that Nita takes it all like a trouper, showing neither fear nor any other emotion, very much like an actress who's been given no direction whatsoever in the scene.

Jackson delivers The Spider to the Adams building, where our hero hops on a mechanical hoist so Jackson can send him straight up to the villain's floor. There's a hint of pulp flair to the shot of The Spider poised on the chain outside a window, his cape billowing more dramatically (if not necessarily more manageably) than Batman's in the same studio's infamous 1943 serial. Entering through the window, he kills a guard by knocking him into an electrified doorknob and prepares to enter Adams's office. Inside, Adams's goons are prepared to blast whoever comes through the door, or else blast the still-impassive Nita. The Spider enters, using the dead guard as a human shield. The goons are so shocked by this atrocity that Nita nimbly steps out of the kill box while her enemies stare helplessly. The Spider forces the bad guys to lock themselves in a vault, but he and Nita still have to dodge goons coming upstairs. Out the window they go so they can ride earthward on the hoist, but when Jackson has to fight another goon the hoist slips out of control and Spita (to make a ship of it) begin to plunge at deadly speed, and now Nita screams....

This episode left me wondering what purpose poor Adams was supposed to serve. Obviously he was only going to be a front for The Octopus, but was he appointed only to get Wentworth's attention with his obvious lack of credentials? As for The Octopus, what exactly was his plan to deal with Wentworth? Was it simply to retain Nita as a hostage in case Wentworth showed up, or did he know about the hidden camera after all and had her paraded in front of the camera to draw Wentworth back to the building and its feeble trap? Whatever you make of it, it seems like a waste of his time to focus on Wentworth when he should be consolidating his gains from last episode, but that's serial logic for you. Maybe our villain will have something better to do in chapter three, "High Voltage," coming soon to this blog.

Saturday, July 9, 2016


This is a 1930 issue of West, another twice-a-month publication from the publisher that brought you Short Stories. Star author Ernest Haycox had been writing almost exclusively for the Doubleday, Doran company since 1928, dividing his efforts between the two pulps. Less than a year from this issue Haycox made his breakthrough in Collier's, and from that point he continued to publish in pulps until the end of 1935, now working with a wider range of publishers, presumably since he was now more in demand. By the 1940s he was probably the most popular western author in the country. He might have remained so longer had he not died prematurely in 1950. The other featured author, Jay Lucas, is better known in some quarters as Jason Lucas, who after his pulp days became an expert on bass fishing, the author of a popular guide to the sport, and a longtime fishing editor for Sports Afield magazine. Of the names on top, (William) Colt McDonald and Stephen Payne probably are familiar to genre fans, while Ladd Haystead had a fairly brief pulp career -- his "Hell's Going to Pop" was only his third story in four years -- before becoming "the country's No. 1 farm journalist" according to Popular Science magazine. Future New York Journal-American editor (Sam) Houston Day and Gladwell Richardson are the other fiction contributors, while Griff Crawford contributes a poem and "Soogum Sam" does his regular "Ask Me an Old One!" column. You'll note that pulp fiction was a springboard to bigger things for a lot of people, at least in this issue.

Friday, July 8, 2016


How's this for an all-star issue of Adventure? Harold Lamb and Talbot Mundy are back from the previous issue (June 23, 1926) and while Arthur D. Howden-Smith doesn't join them we do get Georges Surdez, W. C. Tuttle with a Hashknife Hartley story, Ernest Haycox and Thomson Burtis. Burtis isn't a big deal to me but he was clearly one of Adventure's more popular writers, given how often he turned up. He specialized in aerial crimefighting stories, featuring Slim X. Evans, Tex MacDowell and other recurring characters. I've read a few of them and haven't really liked them; perhaps they're a little too goody-goody for my taste. Additional stories are contributed by Bill Adams, Lewis J. Rendel, Edward Shenton and Raymond W. Thorp. "Words" was Thorp's only work of fiction in Adventure after a handful of nonfiction pieces. Leonard H. Nason and Eugene Cunningham have nonfiction pieces this issue, which may strike you as wastes of talent. No matter: there are enough big guns firing in this one to make it an issue worth having if you can get it.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Serial Pulp: THE SPIDER'S WEB (1938), Chapter One: NIGHT OF TERROR

For those readers who don't follow my movie blog Mondo 70, I'm sharing this first post in a very relevant series reviewing a well-regarded adaptation of one of the great hero pulps. I plan to follow The Spider's Web with more pulp-based serials, including Call of the Savage, based (apparently very loosely) on Otis Adelbert Kline's Jan of the Jungle, and more to be announced. For now, here's my favorite hero-pulp character, presented under the stewardship of Columbia Pictures. They never did right by Batman, but Richard Wentworth may fare better....

For some people, pulp fiction is embodied by crimefighting heroes like Doc Savage and The Shadow. They're the two best known of a generation of pulp heroes that flourished in the 1930s, before and during the advent of comic book superheroes. One of their peers was The Spider, "Master of Men," who was published by Popular Publications, while the big two were put out by Street & Smith. Among the most popular hero pulps, The Spider was the first to be made into a movie serial, not long after The Shadow had made his unsuccessful feature-film debut. In pulp, The Spider's adventures were written mostly by Norvell W. Page, using the Grant Stockbridge pseudonym. I find Page the best of the hero-pulp writers, the master of the often overwrought Walter Gibson (who wrote The Shadow as Maxwell Grant) and the often clumsy Lester Dent (who wrote Doc Savage as Kenneth Roberson). Page could paint a word picture of dramatic if not fantastic action better than his rivals, and his apocalyptic imagination makes The Spider resonate with modern readers in ways his rivals can't match. Of course, what Page wrote might be called "destruction porn" today, because The Spider's enemies don't play around. They're usually terrorists of some sort rather than mere gangsters, for whom mass destruction is the way to power or the way to wealth through mass extortion. Cities were devastated and civilians slaughtered before the Spider meted out justice to the guilty; like comic-book heroes today, The Spider wasn't very good at preventing mayhem. He was better at assuring that people didn't get away with it. Richard Wentworth was The Spider, but unlike the Zorro-Batman archetype, Wentworth also fought crime in his civilian identity as an amateur criminologist and often spent large portions of Spider stories doing so out of disguise. Wentworth had a modest support team consisting of his chauffeur Jackson, his butler Jenkins, his all-around man friday Ram Singh and his fiancee Nita Van Sloan. No relation to Edward the actor, Nita often bemoans the apparent fact that Richard's costumed career prevents them from marrying -- presumably since it would be impracticable for them to have children -- but for all intents and purposes she embraces his lifestyle to the point of pinch-hitting as The Spider on occasion. She may not have the same sort of training Richard and his other helpers have, but a machine gun is often a great equalizer and she can use one with relish. Rounding out the regular cast is Police Commissioner Kirkpatrick, a friend of Wentworth who suspects him of being The Spider, whom he'd have to arrest as a killer vigilante, but never can prove the dual identity.

Serials notoriously wrought havoc on comic-book heroes, altering origins and other details to suit often unclear purposes. By comparison, at least on the evidence of Chapter One, The Spider's Web is fairly faithful to its pulp source. Its major innovation is the costume The Spider (Warren Hull) wears. While the pulp character often scurried through the city in a fright wig and makeup to scarify criminals, he was shown on the magazine covers in more debonair garb and a modest domino mask. The cinematic Spider wears a full face mask with a spiderweb pattern matching that of his cape. He has his full supporting cast, though the police commish's name has been shortened arbitrarily to Kirk. Nita (Iris Meredith) makes a good first impression as co-pilot of Wentworth's private plane as they're returning home from some vacation. She actually expects to be married, since Richard has resolved to give up being The Spider. An attempt to sabotage their landing soon changes his mind, and Nita takes the disappointment like a good sport.

The sabotage was perpetrated by minions of The Octopus (??? in Chapter One), who sees Wentworth the criminologist as an obstacle to his plan to control all transportation and thus apply a stranglehold to the entire national economy. The Octopus is a classic serial mystery villain, someone whose identity under his white hood we'll be invited to guess over the remaining chapters. He walks with a limp, afflicted with a shriveled leg that's almost certainly a bit of misdirection. He speaks into a microphone and his voice is amplified (and distorted, no doubt) by speakers in his office, where black-hooded minions report and await orders.

Like the typical Spider villain, The Octopus takes no prisoners; at the climax of Chapter One he plots to blow up a bus depot, but The Spider manages to evacuate the place simply by showing up and terrorizing commuters with his presence. In case that didn't suffice, he and Ram Singh (future Ed Wood collaborator Kenne "Kenneth" Duncan, playing the man from India with no hint of an accent) have a gunfight with the Octopus's gang, including -- it's my guess since he isn't credited -- a very young John Dehner. The bomb is on a bus that The Spider tries to drive a safe distance from the building and any civilians, but he doesn't get the thing a safe distance from himself. Of course, then as now, the teaser for the next episode assures us, as if serial audiences needed such assurance, that Richard Wentworth will survive to face new crises next week.

The Spider's Web intends to highlight Richard Wentworth as a master of disguise. In the opening credits Warren Hull is introduced thrice over, as Wentworth, The Spider, and his one-eyed underworld alias Blinky McQuade. Wentworth also briefly amuses Nita with a vaudevillian Chinaman bit. While Wentworth is shown to be a quick-change artist, Hull will depend on his vocal versatility to put over his different guises. He has a charming moment in this chapter while changing into Blinky when he has a little conversation between two of his personalities. If people thought the Spider one of the nuttier pulp heroes, that moment won't dissuade them, but it does give the hero more character than the typical serial protagonist. Hull may not have the authentic Spider's cold fury, but he makes a likable action hero and, to be fair, this story is just getting started. Stay tuned for more chapters through the month of July, or get ahead of the game by watching the serial yourself at the Internet Archive.