Friday, December 28, 2012

Blogging Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula Magazine

Dracula Lives was Marvel’s companion black and white companion title to the award-winning Tomb of Dracula monthly comic. As a magazine, Dracula Lives was exempt from the strictures of the Comic Code Authority allowing for more violence and adult themes than would have been possible in the comic at the time. The Legion of Monsters #1 in 1975 and Marvel Preview #12 in 1977 collected three orphan tales – two originally slated for Dracula Lives and the other for Vampire Tales as both titles had ceased publication by this point. Chapter Seven of Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano’s masterful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic was salvaged from Dracula Lives to appear in the debut issue of The Legion of Monsters. The story advances to the point where Professor Van Helsing is brought in by Dr. Seward in an ill-fated effort to save Lucy Westenra’s life. This would be the last installment to see print until the two legendary comics creators reunited decades later to finish the project for Marvel as previously covered in detail in our earlier article on comic adaptations of the Stoker novel. “Profits are Plunging” was a Steve Gerber solo tale of Lilith, Daughter of Dracula that made its way from Vampire Tales to Marvel Preview. Frank Springer’s artwork is strictly run of the mill, but Gerber’s solid story offers an effective criticism of 1960s idealism giving way to 1970s corporate greed. Martin Gold, the series’ resident Greenwich Village hippie, accepts a PR job to help provide for his pregnant girlfriend, Angel O’Hara. Of course, the conservative capitalists at the chemical company whose compound Martin is supposed to successfully sell to the youth of America are well aware their product will harm both the environment and animal life and are willing to off Martin when he decides to play whistle-blower. This gives Lilith an opportunity to take over her host form of Angel O’Hara to save Martin and take vengeance on the men whose corrupting greed outweighs their respect for life. Doug Moench’s lost Dracula Lives tale, “Picture of Andrea” is an effective variation on the film noir classic Laura aided and abetted by the gorgeous artwork of Sonny Trinidad. His depiction of the Lord of Vampires is the equal of Gene Colan. It is appropriate that a story so concerned with the beauty of the human form be graced with an artist capable of illustrating it to perfection. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Blogging Marvel’s Dracula Lives - Part Two

Dracula Lives was Marvel’s companion black and white companion title to the award-winning Tomb of Dracula monthly comic. As a magazine, Dracula Lives was exempt from the strictures of the Comic Code Authority allowing for more violence and adult themes than would have been possible in the comic at the time. Issue #8 gets underway with Doug Moench’s “Last Walk on the Night Side,” a two-part gritty urban police drama with a cop on the verge of retirement who runs afoul of Dracula. The shock ending where the officer returns home to discover Dracula has taken his revenge on him by attacking his wife is startling. Tony DeZuniga’s artwork is first-rate throughout. Len Wein’s “The Black Hand of Death” continues the gritty urban feel with a Roaring Twenties tale of gangsters in Rome. Gene Colan’s artwork lends immediate authenticity by providing stylistic continuity with the monthly series. Chris Claremont’s “Child of the Storm” is a lengthy text piece. I had forgotten how these were such a fixture of the magazine. Dracula works surprisingly well as a pulp character and these stories prove that the thread between pulps and comics runs deeper than superheroes. The fourth chapter of Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano’s faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic rounds out the issue. This chapter has the infamous portrayal of Dracula as a baby snatcher who feeds the stolen infant to his blood-starved wives with the promise they can have Harker once he is finished with him. Jonathan makes a valiant, but unsuccessful effort to slay Dracula while he sleeps in his coffin during the day. The chapter ends with Harker despairing that he has failed to prevent the plague of the vampire from spreading to England. He knows he will never see his beloved Mina again as he awaits the fall of night not knowing if this is the night he will meet his death at the hands of Dracula’s brides. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Dracula Lives was Marvel’s companion black and white companion title to the award-winning Tomb of Dracula monthly comic. As a magazine, Dracula Lives was exempt from the strictures of the Comic Code Authority allowing for more violence and adult themes than would have been possible in the comic at the time. From the magazine’s launch in 1973 with a stunning Boris Vallejo cover displaying voodoo imagery and undead nudes, readers knew they were in for something decidedly different. Issue #1 gets underway with the excellent “A Poison in the Blood.” Gerry Conway’s contemporary tale of Dracula in New York suffering from withdrawal after drinking the tainted blood of junkies easily measured up to the high standard set by Marv Wolfman in the monthly comic series. Assigning the monthly’s art team of Gene Colan and Tom Palmer the artistic chores for the story only reinforced the fact that what was to follow would be every bit as good as the award-winning parent series. More importantly, “A Poison in the Blood” began the Cagliostro story arc which would weave its way through history in subsequent issues. Roy Thomas’ “Suffer Not a Witch” is the first historical tale and also the first Dracula story to team Thomas with artist Dick Giordano. The pair would later embark on a celebrated adaptation of the original Stoker novel. “Suffer Not a Witch” steers the series into Nathaniel Hawthorne territory with the Lord of Vampires visiting 17th Century America and becoming embroiled in the conflict between hypocritical Puritans and the persecution of witches. The first issue concludes with Steve Gerber’s “To Walk Again in Daylight” illustrated by Pablo Marcos. This 18th Century tale set in Vienna is well done but the central concept (Dracula is seeking a scientific cure from vampirism) contradicts the established continuity for the series and flies in the face of Marvel’s portrayal of the Lord of the Vampires as a truly Satanic unrepentant figure who embraces evil for his own sake. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT HERE.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pro Se Presents – the Eclectic Voice of New Pulp

Pro Se Press is one of several New Pulp specialty small presses that have sprung up over the past few years to give voice to new writers. While Pro Se publishes pulp novels like their peers, they have largely set themselves apart in the field by also publishing a monthly print magazine, Pro Se Presents. Issue 15 was just published and presents five diverse examples of New Pulp from five very talented writers. The periodical is also published as an e-book each month and is affordably priced in keeping with traditional pulp titles of decades past – something most small presses are unable to otherwise do thanks to the economics of print on demand or small print runs. Sean Ali’s striking cover art and moody interior illustrations do an excellent job of capturing the unique feel of each tale. The magazine’s stellar editorial staff [Tommy Hancock, Lee Houston, Jr., Frank Schildiner, Barry Reese, and Don Thomas] has done an excellent job of capturing the mix of genres that were found under the pulp banner in the heyday of the 1920s and 1930s. From a modern standpoint, there is a bias to favor the superhero prototypes (such as Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Spider, etc.) or the more famous offshoots of the pulps, the hardboiled detective and the sword & sorcery barbarian hero. This tends to shortchange the many boxing stories, westerns, romances, and humorous tales that were also staples of the pulp world. Happily, Pro Se Presents restores this balance. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Blogging Austin Briggs’ Flash Gordon, “The Menace of Mysta” / “Home”

“The Menace of Mysta” was the tenth installment of Austin Briggs’ daily Flash Gordon comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between March 27 and April 25, 1944, “The Menace of Mysta” is a very brief episode that starts off with Flash and Dale and their nameless Elvin guide crossing Lost Lake when they pass through a patch of fog and become embroiled in a spider web. A giant spider rises from the lake to attack them. Flash dispatches the creature easily enough and the trio soon comes ashore on a strange beach where they quickly find themselves among the invisible kingdom of Queen Mysta. Mysta’s kingdom appears to function magically with visibility and seemingly inter-dimensional passage under the beautiful but mysterious Queen’s control. Dale and their Elvin guide are taken captive. Flash passes through the invisible portal into the kingdom and eventually fights his way into Mysta’s castle. Once Mysta determines that Flash poses no real threat, but is an honorable man fighting for Dale’s freedom, she pulls aside a curtain to unveil the scientific genius that allows her kingdom to operate on what seems to be magical principles. The genius is none other than Dr. Zarkov. Readers were doubtless as flummoxed as Flash and Dale at this revelation and no sooner are they reunited with their old friend than he is bustling them off into a rocket ship on a secret mission he refuses to tell them anything about which leads this curious and very brief penultimate adventure into the final storyline of Austin Briggs’ daily strip. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Blogging Austin Briggs’ Flash Gordon, Part Nine “The Isle of the Elvins”

“The Isle of the Elvins” was the ninth installment of Austin Briggs’ daily Flash Gordon comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between April 22, 1943 and March 25, 1944, “The Isle of the Elvins” follows on directly from “The Royal Hunt” with Queen Tigra of Forestia accidentally losing her way back to the capitol and leading Flash and Dale into Lost Lake where a fabled treasure stolen from Forestia long ago is believed to be buried. The trio finds a rowboat and set out to cross the lake when the boat’s owner overtakes them and capsizes their rowboat. Flash is overcome by the stranger and nearly drowned and has to be rescued by Dale and Tigra. The stranger takes possession of Flash’s ray gun and takes the trio captive. He introduces himself as Doron, King of the Elvins who live on an island in Lost Lake. Soon they are joined by the diminutive form of the Elvin General Krom. At long last with the introduction of the Elvins, Austin Briggs steps out of Alex Raymond’s shadow and produces a storyline with characters worthy of the series that are not pale imitations of what has gone before in the Sunday strip. Arriving on the island as slaves, the trio is surrounded by the Elvins who hop up and down excitedly repeatedly shouting, “More girls!” Clearly Briggs was enjoying himself with this strip. General Krom takes a shine to Tigra calling her “curly-top” (one can’t help but think of Shirley Temple's film of the previous decade) while the indignant Queen of Forestia dismisses her captor as “monkey-face.” Flash comes to Tigra’s defense, but is quickly overwhelmed by the little people's sheer number in a scene that recalls the Lilliputians of Gulliver’s Travels. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Blogging Austin Briggs’ Flash Gordon, Part Eight “The Royal Hunt”

“The Royal Hunt” was the eighth installment of Austin Briggs’ daily Flash Gordon comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between November 27, 1942 and April 21, 1943, “The Royal Hunt” follows on directly from “Queen Tigra of Forestia” with the Queen decreeing they all take part in a lion hunt. She makes sure that Dale is given an untamed horse in an effort to injure her rival for Flash’s affections. Meantime, her former consort, Prince Cugar manages to escape from his cell while the others are otherwise occupied. While Briggs is no match for Alex Raymond when it comes to illustrating the splendor and pageantry of Mongo, his scenes of Flash’s bare-handed battle with the lion when he breaks the cat’s back are as exciting as anything found in the contemporaneous Tarzan newspaper strip. The incident itself seems out of character for Flash and more suited to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ celebrated jungle lord as much as Flash’s punching out a horse seems better-suited to a western pulp hero. More troubling for contemporary readers is the continued sexism, unique to Briggs’ take on the character, with the fiercely independent Queen Tigra finding she enjoys having a man give her orders. While Alex Raymond’s dichotomy between virtuous Dale and the exotic, sexually liberated women of Mongo may have been rooted in classical virgin/whore stereotypes, his seminal Sunday strip never demeaned his female characters as Briggs regularly did in the daily strip. This is unfortunate and, coupled with Briggs’ relatively inferior art and plotting, serves to undermine his success as Raymond’s heir once the character's creator departed the Sunday strip. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Blogging Austin Briggs’ Flash Gordon, Part Seven “Queen Tigra of Forestia”

“Queen Tigra of Forestia” was the seventh installment of Austin Briggs’ daily Flash Gordon comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between July 13 and November 26, 1942, “Queen Tigra of Forestia” gets underway with Flash and Dale leaving Zarkov behind at the radium mines of Electra to pay a visit to Mongo’s capitol where President Barin welcomes his old friends. Barin is troubled that three diplomatic missions to the kingdom of Forestia have failed with his ambassadors disappearing each time never to be heard from again. Flash and Dale immediately volunteer to investigate. Flash and Dale’s rocket speeds along the Great River of Forestia until it encounters a hydra. Dispatching the dragon with ease, they discover the abandoned rocketships of Barin’s three missing diplomats. After searching the ships for clues, Flash and Dale are cornered by a giant millipede. They are rescued by a mysterious feline girl who has been watching them from the trees. Flash sends Dale back to their ship for safety and then sets out in pursuit of their rescuer. The feral girl leads Flash on a chase through the forest until he falls prey to an arborial version of a Venus fly-trap. The feral girl reveals herself to be Queen Tigra and offers to free Flash if he agrees to be her slave. Flash refuses and fights his way free, but is left dazed from his efforts. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Return of Dr. Mabuse

Norbert Jacques’ criminal mastermind was immortalized in three classic Fritz Lang films made between 1922 and 1960. As in the original bestselling novel, the title character in Lang’s epic 5-hour silent film, Dr. Mabuse der Speiler served as the incarnation of post-war German decadence. A decade later, Lang returned to the character in the classic The Testament of Dr. Mabuse imbuing the character with an occult influence as Dr. Baum becomes obsessed with the institutionalized Mabuse to the point where he believes he is possessed by his recently-deceased patient’s spirit. Fleeing Germany shortly after the film’s completion, the Jewish Lang proudly noted that in this film Mabuse served as a critique of the Nazi Party that had recently risen to prominence. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Blogging Austin Briggs’ Flash Gordon, Part Six “The Radium Mines of Electra”

“The Radium Mines of Electra” was the sixth installment of Austin Briggs’ daily Flash Gordon comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between April 27 and July 11, 1942, “The Radium Mines of Electra” is the closest the daily strip has yet come to seeming like authentic Flash Gordon. While Briggs has not yet matched his mentor’s illustrative splendor in depicting Mongo, the storyline is one that might have been found in the Sunday strip. The story kicks off with Flash, Dale, Zarkov, and Rodan thrown into prison by Colonel Banto upon returning King Radiol to the Kingdom of Electra. The King intercedes on his friends’ behalf informing the Colonel they are his guests, not his prisoners and ordering their release. Banto remains suspicious of the foreigners for they did take the King hostage originally. A nice bit of romantic intrigue develops with the introduction of Princess Jolia, the King’s daughter, who is immediately smitten with Flash. When Dale spies Flash dancing with the Princess at a ball thrown in honor of the King’s homecoming, she retaliates by making out with Rodan on the balcony. The King takes his guests out on the balcony to view the Electra lights which emanate from the radium mines. Flash realizes the radium mines could power their return to Earth and provide fuel for the weapons needed to combat the Red Sword. There is a nicely provocative scene of the Princess alone in her room admiring herself in a mirror dressed only in bra and panties while she thinks of Flash. Sexuality has always been a key appeal to the series and it is nice to see Briggs finally taking advantage of that fact with the character of Jolia. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Blogging Austin Briggs’ Flash Gordon – “Disaster in Space” / “Shipwrecked”

“Disaster in Space” was the fourth installment of Austin Briggs’ daily Flash Gordon comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between December 15, 1941 and January 17, 1942, “Disaster in Space” follows on directly from “War on Earth” and is a very brief storyline depicting the danger-fraught attempt by Flash, Dale, and Zarkov to return to Mongo to acquire more weapons to combat the Red Sword which has plunged Earth into a Second World War. Several rockets fail on re-entry into Mongo’s atmosphere trapping their ship in perpetual orbit around the planet. Flash bravely ventures outside the ship to attempt to repair the damaged rockets only to discover that no power remains. Despite the glaring omission that this should have been detected by the monitors on the console, there is more real science at work in this strip than has been demonstrated in the series up to this point. The use of the airlock and Flash’s dangerous repair work in space are particularly well done. Dale suggests sending an S.O.S. to Mongo with what power remains as it is only a matter of time before their oxygen is depleted. The message is received by their old ally Prince Barin, now President of Mongo. His chief scientist, Dr. Zolov uses a magnetic ray to pull the rocketship out of orbit but loses control and sends the ship plummeting towards Mongo. Major Rodan pilots a Mongo warship on a seeming suicide mission to intercept the out of control rocketship and alter its trajectory. He succeeds, but at the risk of his own safety as both ships plunge into the sea. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Blogging Austin Briggs’ Flash Gordon, Part Three - “War on Earth”

“War on Earth” was the third installment of Austin Briggs’ daily Flash Gordon comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between August 22 and December 13, 1941, “War on Earth” was the third story in the daily companion to Alex Raymond’s celebrated Sunday strip. The storyline is due to be reprinted in 2013 as part of Titan Books’ ambitious Flash Gordon reprint series. “War on Earth” runs on a parallel path to Raymond’s contemporaneous Sunday strip with the story opening with Flash, Dale, and Zarkov traveling from Mongo via rocketship back to Earth to deal with the dictator who has plunged their home into a Second World War. While Alex Raymond dealt with the Red Sword in the Sunday strip, “War on Earth” sees their rocketship touch down in Scandinavia where our heroes quickly befriend refugees from the ruthless unnamed dictator who has invaded their homeland. The refugees are attacked by enemy bombers. Flash perches on the edge of a cliff and easily picks the planes off with a disintegrator rifle they have brought from Ming’s armory. This act of bravery earns Flash the military leadership of the villagers. The Prussian-looking Colonel Ruvich of the Red Sword orders further bombardment by plane and tanks until the mountain pass is cleared. The siege drags out for several days with Flash successfully holding off the bombers with Mongo’s superior military technology. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Evangelizing for Pulp Fiction

David Lee White is an accomplished contemporary playwright in the Tri-State area who is also a man with a fervent mission. Through his publishing imprint, Beltham House he has brought a number of obscure works back into print after many decades. L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace’s The Sorceress of the Strand (1902) and The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings (1899), a pair of obscure yet influential mysteries involving Madame Blavatsky-like female criminal masterminds are two prime examples. However, it is with Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain’s Fantomas crime series that White has truly made the greatest impact. It is unlikely that any American has done more for bringing Fantomas back in the public eye in the United States than Mr. White. Beltham House has been responsible for reissuing six long out-of-print titles in the series for the first time in decades only to have numerous copycat public domain publishers quickly throw together their own knockoff editions. Since Beltham House is published through Lulu Press and not all of their titles are readily available on Amazon.com, it is likely that most of the specialized audience for the series is not even aware that Beltham House is the one-man operation who rediscovered these lost classics of the thriller genre. White also adapted a long-lost 1920 Fantomas serial for a novelization for Black Coat Press a few years back entitled, Fantomas in America. The book was the first new Fantomas novel in nearly fifty years and its historical significance was even greater for preserving a story that was otherwise lost to the ravages of time as no extant print of the serial has yet been recovered. So it was that I approached Beltham House’s contribution to Fantomas’ centennial last year with a degree of skepticism. I already owned the nine original books that were back in print and White’s novelization of the serial so why would I shell out the extra money for The Collected Fantomas, an omnibus edition collecting the first seven books in the series? I already owned the books, it could not possibly be of interest to me, right? Wrong. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Mask of Fu Manchu – Part Four

Sax Rohmer’s The Mask of Fu Manchu was originally serialized in Collier’s from May 7 to July 23, 1932. It was published in book form later that year by Doubleday in the US and the following year by Cassell in the UK. It became the most successful book in the series thanks to MGM’s cult classic film version starring Boris Karloff and Myrna Loy that made it into theaters later that same year. The fourth and final part of the book opens with the voyage from Cairo to London. The Marconi operator brings Shan Greville a telegram from Sir Denis Nayland Smith of British Intelligence warning him that agents of Dr. Fu Manchu will attempt to capture the relics of El Mokanna that Sir Lionel Barton unearthed during his recent expedition in Persia. The irascible parliamentary minister who argued with Sir Lionel before boarding the ship turns out to be the agent of the Si-Fan who breaks into the purser’s safe overnight and absconds with the box he believes contains the priceless relics. He is rescued at sea by a plane which takes him and the contents of the box (concealed inside an inflatable rubber ball) aboard and disappears into the night. This is a curious development on Rohmer’s part for while he is to be applauded for casting an Englishman as the villainous agent rather than an Asian, Greek, or Egyptian, the choice of disguise is a ridiculous one. Sir Denis quickly determines that there is no such parliamentary minister after cross-checking the passenger list. He wires Greville to have the man arrested as a spy. Greville inexplicably decides to ignore these instructions until morning thus allowing the theft to occur. Rohmer had already telegraphed to the reader that the box in the purser’s safe was a decoy and the true relics were hidden in plain sight in Greville’s cabin thus robbing the entire episode of all drama. Regrettably, Rohmer had painted himself into a corner. There was no other character to unmask than the MP if he was to advance the plot quickly enough. He had previously shown Sir Lionel trick Fu Manchu’s agents with decoys earlier in the story. Two such deceptions would clearly try readers’ patience and so Rohmer was forced to cut corners resulting in a sloppy resolution to what should have been a suspenseful passage. As it stands, it is a rare flaw that is found late in an otherwise excellent story. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Mask of Fu Manchu – Part Three

Sax Rohmer’s The Mask of Fu Manchu was originally serialized in Collier’s from May 7 to July 23, 1932. It was published in book form later that year by Doubleday in the US and the following year by Cassell in the UK. It became the most successful book in the series thanks to MGM’s cult classic film version starring Boris Karloff and Myrna Loy that made it into theaters later that same year. The third part of the book sees Sir Denis Nayland Smith, Dr. Petrie, Sir Lionel Barton, and Shan Greville make their way to the Great Pyramid where Sir Lionel will hand over the relics of El Mokanna to Dr. Fu Manchu in exchange for the release of his niece, Rima who is being held hostage. Sixty Egyptian police officers are employed to surround the Great Pyramid in an effort to bring Fu Manchu to justice and to aid the others in the event they are walking into a trap. Sir Denis insists that Petrie and Barton stay behind while he and Greville make their way to the King’s Chamber, the arranged meeting place. Rohmer wrings every last bit of suspense from Smith and Greville’s descent into the King’s Chamber. Having actually made the journey himself prior to writing the book enabled him to perfectly capture the claustrophobic anxiety of his heroes’ predicament. Upon arriving in the King’s Chamber, they find Dr. Fu Manchu awaiting them. The fact that he handles the matter in person without any bodyguards emphasizes the new strength and confidence with which Rohmer has imbued the character now that he has at last perfected the elixir vitae. Of course, the most important quality to Fu Manchu is integrity and, as always, he is a man of his words. He hands over Rima, unharmed and allows them to leave with her while he takes possession of the relics. Sir Lionel is relieved to find his niece safely returned and is elated at the thought of Fu Manchu alone and surrounded, but Sir Denis knows only too well that they have no hope of capturing him. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Mask of Fu Manchu – Part Two

Sax Rohmer’s The Mask of Fu Manchu was originally serialized in Collier’s from May 7 to July 23, 1932. It was published in book form later that year by Doubleday in the US and the following year by Cassell in the UK. It became the most successful book in the series thanks to MGM’s cult classic film version starring Boris Karloff and Myrna Loy that made it into theaters later that same year. The second part of the book sees Sir Denis Nayland Smith of British Intelligence, the renowned archaeologist Sir Lionel Barton, his foreman (and the book’s narrator) Shan Greville, and the expedition’s photographer Rima Barton (Sir Lionel’s niece and Shan’s fiancée) make their way from Ispahan to Cairo where they are reunited with Dr. Petrie, Sir Denis’ oldest friend (and the narrator of the first three books in the series). Learning that Dr. Fu Manchu is behind the El Mokanna uprising that has already spread to Egypt, Petrie is relieved that his wife is safely visiting her in-laws in Surrey at present. While Petrie drives the group into town, an incident occurs where it appears Petrie has struck a pedestrian. An angry mob resentful of the British colonialists soon gathers. While Petrie examines the victim and concludes the man had been dead three hours before his corpse was pushed in front of Petrie’s car, Sir Lionel is nearly abducted. The aim of the accident was to get at the large trunk he carries with him containing the relics of El Mokanna’s tomb from his recent excavation in Persia. The timely arrival of the colonial police is all that saves them from the enraged mob. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Mask of Fu Manchu – Part One



Sax Rohmer’s The Mask of Fu Manchu was originally serialized in Collier’s from May 7 to July 23, 1932. It was published in book form later that year by Doubleday in the US and the following year by Cassell in the UK. It became the most successful book in the series thanks to MGM’s cult classic film version starring Boris Karloff and Myrna Loy that made it into theaters later that same year. Paramount’s option on the character had been exhausted after three pictures and one short starring Warner Oland as the Devil Doctor. The Paramount series had been responsible for Rohmer’s decision to revive the character with Daughter of Fu Manchu. The Mask of Fu Manchu served as a direct sequel and was again narrated by Shan Greville.

The novel gets underway with the brash Sir Lionel Barton having recently joined a colleague, Dr. Van Berg in completing an excavation of the tomb of the notorious heretical Masked Prophet of Islam, El Mokanna in Persia. Shan Greville, Sir Lionel's foreman, is awakened in the middle of the night by his fiancée Rima Barton, Sir Lionel’s niece, who was disturbed by a strange wailing. Upon investigating, Dr. Van Berg is found dead in his room, his bloodied corpse slung over the jade chest containing the artifacts from the dig. The artifacts, still intact, are El Mokanna’s gold mask that hid his disfigured features, his heretical New Creed of Islam carved on gold tablets, and the bejeweled Sword of God with which the messianic prophet planned to conquer the world.

Sir Lionel and his party are informed by the authorities that El Mokanna still has fanatical followers in Persia and that a new imam has risen to prominence and is seeking the treasures they foolishly recovered in defiling the Masked Prophet’s burial place (something no Moslem would dare to have disturbed). Worse still, this new imam is believed by the cultists to be the resurrected El Mokanna. Soon enough Sir Denis Nayland Smith arrives on the scene. While Greville is relieved to see him, he is puzzled why Scotland Yard is involved. Sir Denis informs him he retired from the Yard six months ago to accept a post with British Intelligence. Smith is concerned that Sir Lionel’s actions will result in an uprising that will threaten the stability of the Near and Far East.

TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sax Rohmer’s The Adventures of Nayland Smith


Sir Denis Nayland Smith is the largely unsung protagonist of all of Sax Rohmer’s novels and stories featuring the notorious Dr. Fu Manchu. The brilliant Chinese criminal genius constantly overshadowed the stalwart British subject who did his best to route his megalomaniacal schemes over the course of thirteen novels and four shorter works published between 1912 and 1959. The legendary villain overshadowed Sir Denis to such a degree that many readers were unaware that the author showcased Smith without his customary nemesis in three short stories published between 1920 and 1932.

When Rohmer created the character a century ago, Smith was depicted as a colonial administrator stationed in Burma granted a roving commission by the Home Office to bring Dr. Fu Manchu to justice. His childhood friend, Dr. Petrie played Watson to Smith’s Holmes chronicling his adventures for posterity and ably assisting him wherever possible. Petrie’s job was made easy in as much as Smith rarely did any actual detecting. The duo generally reacted to Fu Manchu’s latest atrocity and then spent the rest of the book trying to anticipate his next move, check him, be captured, escape, inevitably leading a daring raid that would end in something less than a complete success. Despite it all, Smith and Petrie persevered and when Rohmer ended the initial run of the series in 1917, readers likely expected they had heard the last of Nayland Smith’s exploits. Rohmer, however, was too fond of the character to let him retire peacefully.

TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s Daughter of Fu Manchu, Part Four


Sax Rohmer’s Daughter of Fu Manchu was originally serialized as Fu Manchu’s Daughter in twelve weekly installments of Collier’s from March 8 to May 24, 1930. It was published in book form the following year by Cassell in the UK and Doubleday in the US. Rohmer divides the novel into four sections comprising three chapters each. This week we examine the fourth and final installment.

The novel’s finale gets underway at a breakneck pace. Sir Lionel Barton has retreated to Abbots Hold, his estate in the English countryside. Sir Denis Nayland Smith and Police Superintendant Weymouth are there to oversee Sir Lionel’s safety as well as that of his right hand man, Shan Greville and Sir Lionel’s niece (and Greville’s fiancée), Rima. Dr. Petrie and his wife, Kara are delayed while both Shan and Rima are ill-at-ease locked up in Sir Lionel’s ancient and mysterious home with his requisite menagerie of exotic wildlife (including his pet cheetah).

Rima is rattled by the legends that Abbots Hold is haunted and is convinced she has glimpsed a ghostly cowled figure the night before. Both she and Shan are troubled by the gypsies who have camped just on the border of the estate. Her uncle’s many oriental curios (such as the lacquer cabinet in the sitting room) are also weighing heavily on Rima. She tries losing herself in a book but is bothered by the musty smell of the house and resorts to spraying the room with perfume.

That night, Shan is unable to sleep convinced the tapping he hears is Morse code. Investigating, he spies the ghostly cowled figure of a monk from the East Tower signaling to a figure in Sir Lionel’s room. Attempting to intercept the figure, he stumbles upon Sir Denis who is forced to take him in his confidence. Smith reveals he disguised himself as the ghostly monk and that he was communicating with Weymouth via Morse code. Neither man trusted Sir Lionel or Greville because they had previously been hypnotized by Fah lo Suee and Smith believes Fu Manchu’s daughter has infiltrated Abbots Hold. Sir Denis startles Greville by stating that now Rima can no longer be trusted as well.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s Daughter of Fu Manchu, Part Three


Sax Rohmer’s Daughter of Fu Manchu was originally serialized as Fu Manchu’s Daughter in twelve weekly installments of Collier’s from March 8 to May 24, 1930. It was published in book form the following year by Cassell in the UK and Doubleday in the US. Rohmer divides the novel into four sections comprising three chapters each. This week we examine the third part.

The section begins with Shan Greville’s delirious account of his and Sir Denis Nayland Smith’s foolhardy infiltration of a meeting of the Si-Fan’s Council of Seven while disguised as Mongolian monks. Sir Denis recognizes Ki-Ming among the attendees and fears the mandarin will likewise remember him if he gets a good look at his features beneath the monk’s cowl. Greville sees Madame Ingomar enter the room and recalls her true identity as Fah lo Suee, the daughter of Fu Manchu. Unable to understand the council’s conversation, the truth promptly reaches him when a gong sounds and the two Mongolian monks appear while all eyes turn upon Sir Denis and his companion.

Greville recovers consciousness to find himself in Chinese clothing in a foreign household. A Chinese surgeon attends him and denies any knowledge of Sir Denis or of a location known as el-Kharga. Greville collapses once more. When he recovers a second time, he is in the presence of Fah lo Suee who claims to be able to read his mind. She offers proof that she is aware of his love for Rima Barton. Greville is too weakened to realize he has been drugged and tricked into revealing information to his captor. He collapses again. Upon his next recovery, he finds Fah lo Suee speaking of her desire to rule Russia, the home of her mother and how, as a half-caste herself she is drawn to Greville. She speaks openly of how the Si-Fan is the New World Order that will unite the East under a single power and how she intends to be at the forefront of the New Wave that threatens to sweep the globe.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s Daughter of Fu Manchu, Part Two



Sax Rohmer’s Daughter of Fu Manchu was originally serialized as Fu Manchu’s Daughter in twelve weekly installments of Collier’s from March 8 to May 24, 1930. It was published in book form the following year by Cassell in the UK and Doubleday in the US. Rohmer divides the novel into four sections comprising three chapters each. This week we examine the second part.

Rohmer slows his pace to take time to develop the character of Rima Barton at the outset of the second part. The reader begins to understand her as one of Rohmer’s typically strong female characters in contrast with the shrinking violets one is accustomed to in fiction of the day. The strained relationship between Rima and Shan Greville is revealed to be jealousy over his attraction to Madame Ingomar, the exotic foreign woman who had likewise stirred Sir Lionel’s passions.

The choice of Greville as narrator is refreshing and allows the reader to view Dr. Petrie’s resurrection of Sir Lionel from the dead with a genuine sense of wonder. The Arabs among the team at the dig view Barton’s revivification as black magic while Greville begins to appreciate the genius of Dr. Fu Manchu once he sees proof that Barton was not dead, but only subjected to a drug-induced cataleptic state until he was injected with the antidote.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s Daughter of Fu Manchu


Sax Rohmer’s Daughter of Fu Manchu was originally serialized as Fu Manchu’s Daughter in twelve weekly installments of Collier’s from March 8 to May 24, 1930. It was published in book form the following year by Cassell in the UK and Doubleday in the US. Rohmer divides the novel into four sections comprising three chapters each. This week we examine the first part.

It had been over a dozen years since Rohmer had finished the Fu Manchu series. Since that time, both The Yellow Claw (1915) and his three Fu Manchu titles had been filmed by Stoll. In the late 1920s with the advent of sound, Paramount announced a new series of Fu Manchu films starring Warner Oland as the Devil Doctor. Collier’s was eager to capitalize on the character’s renewed popularity and the author signed a contract to revive the series.

His first attempt was to write a contemporary thriller involving American protagonists opposing a self-styled Emperor of Crime to be revealed at the story’s conclusion as Fu Manchu’s daughter. After several installments of the serialized adventure for Collier’s, Rohmer’s editor determined that the author had failed to capture the flavor of the original series and both parties reluctantly agreed to let him alter the story’s conclusion to remove all trace of Fu Manchu. The delayed serial, The Emperor of America resumed after a hiatus of several months in 1928 and published in book form the following year. A minor work, it is most notable for serving as the template for the Sumuru series, another ersatz Fu Manchu, many years later.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Re-Discovering Sax Rohmer


Regular readers of my articles will be aware of my fascination with the works of British thriller writer, Sax Rohmer. Along with penning several series of articles, I was fortunate enough to be authorized by Rohmer’s Estate to write two new Fu Manchu thrillers for Black Coat Press in an effort to bring new readers back to the originals. For several decades Rohmer’s work has been largely out of print and much of it has fallen into obscurity. Happily, this has recently started to change.

Last year, Titan Books licensed Rohmer’s catalog and began an ambitious reprint series at the start of this year beginning with Rohmer’s fourteen Fu Manchu titles. All of the books are being printed in affordable trade paperback editions. The first three titles are available at present and the next two may be pre-ordered from Amazon. These attractive uniform editions recall the lurid retro cover art on Penguin’s recent trade paperback editions of Ian Fleming’s fourteen James Bond thrillers.

Of course, while the Devil Doctor may have been Rohmer’s most famous work, it doesn’t even come close to scraping the surface of this prolific author’s voluminous output. While Titan is committed to bringing his many novels back into print, Rohmer has several dozen uncollected stories that were published exclusively in magazines and newspapers in the first half of the last century. Tom Roberts’ Black Dog Books have made an indelible mark by launching their Sax Rohmer Library series. Rohmer scholar Gene Christie has begun compiling several collections of rare early material much of which is otherwise unavailable and would have likely remained lost without his efforts.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Return to the Golden Age with Tales from the Hanging Monkey

Tales of the Gold Monkey only lasted one season in the early 1980s, but the series has developed a steady cult following in the years since its brief network run. Dismissed as nothing more than an inferior small screen knockoff of the contemporaneous Raiders of the Lost Ark, the series has finally started to earn the recognition denied it at the time. While it took a Hollywood blockbuster to convince network executives to green-light the series, the proposal had been around since the 1970s and the show was conceived, like Raiders, in homage to the serials and classic adventure stories of the past. As much as Republic Pictures cliffhangers were an inspiration and the tall shadow cast by Humphrey Bogart in the classic Treasure of the Sierra Madre undeniably fell upon both properties, the longstanding tradition of South Seas adventures from James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific to the fondly-remembered Adventures in Paradise series from the Golden Age of Television left an even more indelible mark on Tales of the Gold Monkey. The concept of a bar in an exotic location which serves as a literal and moral crossroads for travelers, expatriates, and fugitives had its roots in Casablanca and Old Time Radio’s nearly forgotten Rocky Jordan series. Tales of the Gold Monkey’s pedigree and neo-pulp credentials establish it as far more than just another Indiana Jones clone as the short-sighted and uninformed wags of the day insisted. Similarly 30 years later, the newly published South Seas adventures anthology, Tales from the Hanging Monkey is more than just an imitation of the 1980s cult series whose title it recalls. The exotic South Seas bar serving as the nexus for the adventures of strangers whose paths would never otherwise cross is present here as much as it was in numerous Golden Age scripts, but Bill Craig has created something enchanting that is at once familiar and pleasingly fresh. The delights of New Pulp works such as this one are similar to discovering an OTR series you’ve never heard of and wondering why it isn’t better known. Craig’s anthology and the stories he and his fellow authors have crafted here are a perfect evocation of the simpler, cleaner, thrilling, unambiguous world of the first half of the last century. There’s an unmistakable sense of innocence and fun about the book that puts you in mind of what your parents or grandparents must have felt when they were young and whiling away a Saturday afternoon in a crowded movie house or sitting before the crackling radio speaker in the front room with the whole family gathered around on a quiet evening. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Coming of Dorgo the Dowser


Growing up in the 1970s, the Ballantine editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan series and the Ace Conan series were part of my steady diet. Seminal pulp fiction graced with stunning cover art by the likes of Neal Adams, Boris Vallejo, and Frank Frazetta. The cover art for the Conan books perfectly captured a bygone savage world that never existed in mankind’s past, but should have. While most Robert E. Howard fans have long since rejected these editions because of the sometimes gratuitous changes made to the original text, the impact of the Conan paperback series on the proliferation of the fantasy subgenre cannot be underestimated.

My own passion for sword & sorcery waned somewhere around the time that Robert Jordan took up his pen to tell bolder and ever more sweeping tales of the Hyborian Age for Tor Books that dwarfed the originals without ever capturing the same sense of wonder. I closed the book on that chapter of my life not long after starting junior high and never expected to revisit it. Flash forward to 2012 when I discovered Mad Shadows: the Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser by Joe Bonadonna and found that sometimes you can go home again.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Blogging Charlton Comics’ Adventures of the Man-God, Hercules – Part Two



Joe Gill modified Denny O’Neil’s take on the Labors of Hercules when he succeeded him as scriptwriter on Charlton Comics’ Adventures of the Man-God, Hercules in 1968. Gill took the character of Eurystheus that O’Neil referred to as a judiciary member of the pantheon of gods on Mount Olympus and developed the character as a mortal king who is Hercules’ cousin on his mother’s side (Gill actually referred to him as Hercules’ uncle in his first appearance). By Issue #8 it was established that Hercules turns to King Eurystheus to receive each assignment in the remaining five labors he must complete before he is accepted among the gods of Olympus. Eurystheus is portrayed as a mortal puppet of Hercules’ vindictive stepmother Hera, the queen of the gods.

Issue #8, “The Boar” sees Eurystheus set Hercules the seemingly impossible task of capturing the Great Boar of Eurymanthus without injuring the beast. Upon scaling Mount Eurymanthus, Hercules is set upon by yet another pteranodon (a favorite of artist Sam Glanzman, apparently). Perhaps cognizant of the winged reptile’s repetition, Joe Gill provides the explanation that the pteranodons are conjured up from Earth’s prehistoric past by Hera. Zeus berates his wife for this unnecessary persecution of his son. Hercules is warned off his quest by the nearby villagers, but ignores their caution and scales to the top of the mountain and encounters the great boar itself. The man-god tames the beast with relative ease and rides it down the mountain (admittedly, a great visual) to present it to King Eurystheus. The storyline is very slight compared to the previous labors (clocking in at only 12 pages).

The rest of the issue is taken up with a supporting feature, “The Legend of Hercules” which depicts the man-god’s childhood in the home of his mortal mother, Alcmena. The story opens on the domestic life of the infant Hercules and his mortal half-brother, Iphicles. The child Hercules first shows his incredible strength when he slays a pair of serpents that crawl into the toddlers’ crib one night. The script reveals that the serpents were sent by Hera in her jealousy. While closer to the mythological depiction of Hercules’ origin, the incident contradicts the code-approved storyline from previous issues that Alcmena and Zeus were married before Zeus and Hera wed. This was not, of course, Denny O’Neil’s original intent, but Dick Giordano enforced the Charlton Comics editorial policy which prevented dealing with out of wedlock pregnancy as much as it limited any sexual suggestion. This certainly made the depiction of a title capitalizing on the booming sword & sorcery market difficult to say the least.

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Blogging Charlton Comics’ Adventures of the Man-God, Hercules – Part One



Charlton Comics’ Adventures of the Man-God, Hercules is unique in actually making a credible stab at being faithful to Greek mythology. The Twelve Labors of Hercules form the backbone of the thirteen issues published between October 1967 and September 1969. Denny O’Neil scripted the first five issues under the unlikely pseudonym of Sergius O’Shaugnessy with Dick Giordano editing the first four issues. When Giordano left Charlton Comics for DC, he took O’Neil with him. Giordano’s successor, Sal Gentile replaced O’Neil with Joe Gill who scripted the final eight issues. The entire run was illustrated by Sam Glanzman, a house regular at Charlton. I first discovered the series via Charlton’s reprint series of the early 1980s. Sadly, the entire run was never reprinted and all thirteen issues can be rather difficult to track down.

The self-titled first issue features an amusing error in which the gods of Mount Olympus set Hercules with nine, rather than twelve labors to prove his worth so that he may take his rightful place among them. This mistake was quickly corrected with the second issue. As the series begins, Hercules’ mortal mother Alcmene has died and her son is frustrated he cannot join his divine father on Mount Olympus. Eurystheus decrees the man-god must perform nine labors before he will be recognized by his fellow gods. The first labor he is assigned is to slay the Nemean Lion. There is a nice twist where his fellow Spartans do not believe Hercules’ claims of being the son of Zeus. King Philip of Sparta puts a price on the man-god’s head for deserting the Olympics to go off on his quest.

When Hercules’ arrives in Nemea, he rescues Princess Helen from Argive invaders who sought to hold her hostage to force Alexander the Great to abdicate. Princess Helen falls for Hercules. Despite their rivalry for Helen’s love, Hercules and her betrothed Alexander fight side-by-side during the dual invasion of the Argive and Corinthian armies and force them to retreat. Helen is prepared to leave Alexander for Hercules until she learns the secret of his divine heritage when she witnesses a conversation between him and Zeus. Hercules sends her back to Alexander choosing eternity over mortal love. He battles and defeats the Nemean Lion barehanded and takes to dressing in its skin. He forms a strong bond with Alexander the Great as he prepares to return home to Sparta.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Blogging Dell Comics’ Hercules and Hercules Unchained



When bodybuilder turned actor Arnold Schwarzenegger brought Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian to the big screen in a pair of stylish costume dramas in the early 1980s, it ushered in a Sword and Sorcery craze with scores of imitators on the big and small screen eager to recapture the first film’s runaway success. For many, it was as if history was repeating itself for in the 1950s, bodybuilder turned actor Steve Reeves had starred in a pair of Sand and Sandal epics, Hercules and Hercules Unchained that created a similar sensation. The Italian sword and sandal craze (or peplum, to use their proper title) dominated the European box office in the late 1950s until the advent of the so-called Spaghetti western in 1964. The film that started it all was Pietro Francisi’s The Labors of Hercules (1957) which was dubbed in English by Joseph Levine’s fledgling Embassy Pictures and released as Hercules by Warner Bros. in the US in 1958. Its success led to a Dell Comics adaptation by the legendary John Buscema in 1959.

The plot of this first film was a reworking of the Greek myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece with Heracles (going by his Roman name, Hercules) promoted from a supporting player to the lead role. Of course within a few years, Charles Schneer and Ray Harryhausen would cover much of the same territory with Jason and the Argonauts (1963) creating a lasting classic which would quickly supplant the movie that started it all. The latter film’s longevity is largely due to Harryhausen’s superb stop motion effects work which continues to influence film-makers after half a century.

Hercules and its sequel suffer from a low budget and poor dubbing, not necessarily a stumbling block for matinee audiences as Toho’s Godzilla franchise quickly proved, but enough to make the Sand and Sandal pictures fade to near obscurity thanks to the rapidly changing expectations of a more sophisticated audience. Happily, Dell’s comic adaptations are unhindered by such shortcomings and give the reader a sense of how these films must have been perceived by a young and impressionable audience upon their initial theatrical release.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sgt. Janus, Spirit-Breaker Carries on the Tradition



There is a longstanding tradition of occult detectives. Sheridan Le Fanu is generally considered the originator of the sub-genre with his chronicles of Dr. Martin Hesselius. Together with William Hodgson Hope’s Carnacki, Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin, and Manly Wade Wellman’s John Thunstone, Dr. Hesselius’ cases are generally regarded as the finest examples of a continuing occult detective hero in the supernatural realm of mystery fiction.

Willie Meikle, Jim Butcher, and Simon R. Green are among the outstanding contemporary practitioners of the form. Now one may add Jim Beard and his creation of Sgt. Roman Janus to the list of occult detectives whose exploits are worthy of a larger audience. Beard is among the select group whose work is exclusively aimed at the niche market for New Pulp. Sgt. Janus, both as an original creation and as a literary work itself, raises the bar for Beard’s fellow authors to match the same exacting standard achieved here.

Janus, in Roman mythology, is the god of the gateway to the past and the future. So it is with Sgt. Janus, a character who provides the essential link between the astral plane and our own reality. The eight stories in this collection depict the character through the eyes of his clients. The device works brilliantly in giving the reader differing perspectives on the detective and his methods.

Consequently, one wonders why the conceit is not more commonly employed in genre fiction. One suspects that as appreciation of Beard’s talent grows, the device may become more common in certain quarters at least. As a testament to Beard’s plotting and characterization, I was unable to rank the stories in the collection as I found them to be uniformly excellent.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Golden Scorpion, Part Four – “The Lair of the Scorpion”



Sax Rohmer’s The Golden Scorpion was first printed in its entirety in The Illustrated London News Christmas Number in December 1918. It was published in book form in the UK the following year by Methuen and in the US in 1920 by McBride & Nast. Rohmer divided the novel into four sections. This week we shall examine the fourth part of the book, “The Lair of the Scorpion” which comprises the final seven chapters.

Rohmer gradually segued from following the model of his first Gaston Max mystery, The Yellow Claw (1915) in the first half of the book to more closely adhering to the blueprint provided by his Fu Manchu thrillers for the second half. Readers familiar with the Devil Doctor could not help to recognize this fact as the final part of the novel opens with Keppel Stuart recovering consciousness as a captive in Fo-Hi’s laboratory. Among the exotic Oriental furnishings are the familiar form of caged lizards and insects. Behind the advanced scientific apparatus stands the figure of the Scorpion himself. Fo-Hi at last takes center stage in the novel and there is no mistaking when he says he has tried to follow in the footsteps of the great scientist who preceded him in serving their organization’s mission in England. His speech and bearing instantly recall Dr. Fu Manchu.

Fo-Hi reveals that Van Rembold, Sir Frank Narcombe, Henrik Ericksen, and Grand Duke Ivan only appeared to have been assassinated. These great men were victims of the cataleptic drug familiar from the Fu Manchu books and have been revived to serve the secret society whose ambitions Fo-Hi now leads in the West. The Scorpion has also reserved a place of honor for Dr. Stuart, if he desires, or else he can submit to persuasion from the Six Gates of Wisdom (another direct reference to the Fu Manchu series) or the Feast of a Thousand Ants. Fo-Hi reveals that the Ericksen Ray is the prize of the inventions he has brought to the Sublime Order with Keppel realizing that this was the disintegration ray that nearly ended his own life. Fo-Hi prepares for their imminent departure for China believing that Scotland Yard will not hinder their passage.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Golden Scorpion, Part Three – “At the House of Ah-Fang-Fu”



Sax Rohmer’s The Golden Scorpion was first printed in its entirety in The Illustrated London News Christmas Number in December 1918. It was published in book form in the UK the following year by Methuen and in the US in 1920 by McBride & Nast. Rohmer divided the novel into four sections. This week we shall examine the third part of the book, “At the House of Ah-Fang-Fu” which comprises eight chapters.

The story picks up at Scotland Yard where Gaston Max, Inspector Dunbar, and Dr. Keppel Stuart have gathered in the Assistant Commissioner’s office. Max suggests that the veiled figure known as the Scorpion that Dr. Stuart glimpsed in China five years earlier is likely the same criminal known as the Scorpion currently operating out of Limehouse. The Frenchman also believes that Mademoiselle Dorian aka Zara el-Khala aka Miska is likewise an essential key to unravelling the mystery.

Max suggests a connection exists between Mr. King (from Rohmer’s 1915 novel, The Yellow Claw) and the Scorpion. Specifically, the Frenchman theorizes that the two criminals belong to the same Chinese or Tibetan organization whose tentacles have seemingly enveloped the globe. Having named the secret criminal society in the third and, at the time, final Fu Manchu thriller, The Hand of Fu Manchu published the previous year; Rohmer now desired to link his two Gaston Max Limehouse mysteries to the earlier series’ continuity. This is an interesting change of direction as Rohmer had originally taken great pains to separate the more realistic Yellow Claw from the outlandish mayhem of his Fu Manchu thrillers. This reversal not only signalled the fact that he wasn’t entirely ready to be done with the character, but was seeking creative ways of continuing the series without resorting to a purely formulaic approach.

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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Golden Scorpion, Part Two – “The Statement of M. Gaston Max”



Sax Rohmer’s The Golden Scorpion was first printed in its entirety in The Illustrated London News Christmas Number in December 1918. It was published in book form in the UK the following year by Methuen and in the US in 1920 by McBride & Nast. Rohmer divided the novel into four sections. This week we shall examine the second part of the book, “The Statement of M. Gaston Max” which comprises nine chapters.

Rohmer chose to follow the formula he utilized successfully with The Yellow Claw (1915) by starting the narrative at a crucial early stage before revealing the principal character’s earlier involvement in the plot and then unexpectedly bringing Gaston Max into the proceedings and having him relate, over the course of several chapters, a lengthy background story that helps connect the dots for both reader and protagonist.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Golden Scorpion, Part One – “The Cowled Man”



Sax Rohmer’s The Golden Scorpion was first printed in its entirety in The Illustrated London News Christmas Number in December 1918. It was published in book form in the UK the following year by Methuen and in the US in 1920 by McBride & Nast. Rohmer divided the novel into four sections which is how we shall examine the book over the next four weeks. “The Cowled Man” is the title Rohmer selected for the first part of the book and comprises the first eleven chapters.

Despite featuring several characters from Rohmer’s 1915 novel, The Yellow Claw, The Golden Scorpion marked a return to the style and feel of Rohmer’s Fu-Manchu thrillers which had concluded the previous year with the publication of The Si-Fan Mysteries (1917). Rohmer maintained the more realistic Limehouse crime novel approach of The Yellow Claw for his contemporaneous Red Kerry detective series which started with Dope (1919), but chose to fashion The Golden Scorpion from the same Yellow Peril weird menace cloth that made his reputation as an author. The key difference from the Fu-Manchu thrillers is that Rohmer maintains a third person narrative voice (as he had in The Yellow Claw) rather than recreating the frantic paranoia that marked Dr. Petrie’s first person narratives.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Blogging Austin Briggs’ Flash Gordon, Part Two – “Freeland”



“Freeland” was the second installment of Austin Briggs’ Flash Gordon daily comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between February 24 and August 21, 1941, “Freeland” was the second story in the daily companion to Alex Raymond’s celebrated Sunday strip. It is the second of two Briggs strips available in a reprint collection from Kitchen Sink Press.

“Freeland” gets underway with the ship bearing our motley crew making its way toward the Promised Land free from Ming. Flash and Dale set out in a rocketship to scout for a safe harbor and encounter a hostile tribe of what appear to be Native Americans. Once more, Austin Briggs demonstrates his version of Mongo is more attuned to contemporary American experience or American history than the prehistoric or Medieval Europe model chosen by Alex Raymond. Briggs may also be borrowing a page from Edgar Rice Burroughs (one of Raymond’s primary inspirations) in transplanting Native Americans to another world.

Having settled in their new home, the crew of the ship Freedom begins exploring the forest and constructing makeshift shelters. While hunting for food, Fierro inadvertently kills one of the natives. Regon, a warrior betrothed to Princess Adora urges the Princess’ father, King Sagam to retaliate. Flash is furious with Fierro because he realizes this has doomed their chance of making peace with the natives.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Blogging Austin Briggs’ Flash Gordon, Part One – “Princess Lita”



“Princess Lita” was the first installment of Austin Briggs’ Flash Gordon daily comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between May 27, 1940 and February 22, 1941, “Princess Lita” was the story that launched the daily companion to Alex Raymond’s celebrated Sunday strip. It is one of two Briggs strips available in a reprint collection from Kitchen Sink Press. We shall examine the second strip in next week’s column.

The most rewarding part of delving into Austin Briggs’ first two Flash Gordon storylines has been the discovery that the sloppiness of the first few Austin Briggs’ Sunday strips printed a few years after the daily debuted were likely more the result of the artist being overworked than they were an adequate representation of Briggs’ work on the property. “Princess Lita” shows the artist in full command of the material drawing the characters as well as their creator, albeit without the benefit of the Sunday page to showcase the exotic flora and fauna of Mongo to full advantage. The transition from Sunday continuities to a daily strip is jarring at first and the smoothness of Don Moore’s scripting and Alex Raymond’s plotting is sorely missed, but Briggs does an admirable job of staying true to the source material.

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lost Classics of Pulp: Judex



Pioneering silent film director, Louis Feuillade rose to prominence with his stylish 1913 serial, Fantomas which faithfully adapted five of Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain’s bestselling pulp thrillers. Feuillade next succeeded in fashioning an enthralling original story based around the Apache street gang which figured prominently in the Fantomas series. Les Vampires are led by the vampish Irma Vep, played by the exotic Musidora (France’s answer to Theda Bara). The 1915 serial was hugely successful and was a highly influential work in its day. Feuillade was tasked with the challenge of trying to follow up these two successes with a third commercial property.

Responding to the criticism that his films glorified crime and violence, Feuillade turned to author and playwright Arthur Bernede for help. Together they crafted a pulp vigilante dressed in a dark cloak with his face partially obscured by a slouch hat. Judex, Latin for “judge,” fought crime with his loyal brother, Roger and a menagerie of amazing beasts and an assortment of colorful companions by his side. These and Judex’s gadget-filled secret lair and private plane had a tremendous influence on the burgeoning pulp fiction market in England and America.

The influence on The Shadow is obvious, but the band of strangely gifted companions likely inspired both Bulldog Drummond and Doc Savage as well. Rene Creste (France’s answer to Rudolph Valentino) essayed the memorable title role in the serial. Irma Vep of Les Vampires is the clear inspiration for Judex’s vampish enemy, Diana Monti and quite likely inspired Bulldog Drummond's vampish enemy, Irma Peterson. Musidora played both Irma Vep and Diana Monti in the Feuillade serials. Miss Monti is the fiancée of Judex’s archenemy, Favraux while Irma Peterson is the wife of Bulldog Drummond’s archenemy, Carl Peterson. As always, half the fun of pulp fiction of the first half of the last century is spotting the influences that thread their way through the narratives.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Yellow Claw – Part Four



Sax Rohmer’s The Yellow Claw was originally serialized in five installments in Lippincott’s from February through June 1915. The serial was subsequently published in book form later that same year by Methuen Press in the UK and McBride & Nast in the US. The novel chooses to divide the story into four sections. This week, we examine the fourth and final part.

Rohmer really delivers with the final section of the novel with the development of the Eurasian femme fatale, Mahara who was previously referred to only under the mysterious moniker of Our Lady of the Poppies. Mahara becomes a flesh and blood character fiercely jealous to think that her lover, Gianopolis has been thinking of leaving her for another. The object of his affections is Helen Cumberley, Henry Leroux’s neighbor who despises Gianapolis as much as she pines for the unhappy thriller writer. Such a tangled web of unrequited love is uncommon for Rohmer, but it added to the novel’s appeal in its day and is surely one of the reasons that Stoll chose it to be the first of his works to bring to the silver screen.

The narrative then switches to Gaston Max in the observation chamber of the opium den. The famous French detective feigns smoking opium, but only exhales through the pipe. Faking a drug-induced stupor, Max waits while Ho-Pin enters the room to check on him and is then startled to discover that upon his exit, Mahara has entered. Rohmer relished creating memorable femme fatales and Mahara seems to have been his first notable accomplishment with such a character. The Eurasian temptress passionately kisses the supposedly unconscious Max while lying upon him and cooing to him how she is going to enter his dreams. The image of a man forced to feign unconsciousness while a seductive female grinds into him is certainly powerful and far from the norm for fiction in 1915.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Yellow Claw – Part Three


Sax Rohmer’s The Yellow Claw was originally serialized in five installments in Lippincott’s from February through June 1915. The serial was subsequently published in book form later that same year by Methuen Press in the UK and McBride & Nast in the US. The novel chooses to divide the story into four sections. This week, we examine the third part.

Rohmer shifts the action back to Inspector Dunbar and Gaston Max’s investigation into the murder at the Leroux residence. Despite the press fingering Soames, the Leroux butler, as chief suspect, the detectives are sure that finding Soames will lead them to the mysterious Mr. King, the real culprit. Gaston Max suggests that Mr. King is a Chinaman with the reasoning that since the deceased was an opium addict, the murder is likely tied to Limehouse.

The French detective adopts the false identities of both Abraham Levinsky and Monsieur Gaston of Paris to infiltrate the bohemian circle that frequents the opium den. Max had stumbled onto the trail of Mr. King in Paris where the opium dealer was operating in an apartment next to the historical residence of the late Joseph Balsamo, alias the infamous Count Cagliostro. From here, Rohmer is on familiar territory at last as Max’s description of his raid on the Paris opium den is decidedly more typical of Rohmer’s Fu Manchu thrillers.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Yellow Claw – Part Two



Sax Rohmer’s The Yellow Claw was originally serialized in five installments in Lippincott’s from February through June 1915. The serial was subsequently published in book form later that same year by Methuen Press in the UK and McBride & Nast in the US. The novel chooses to divide the story into four sections. This week, we examine the second part.

Rohmer shifts gears unexpectedly by focusing Part Two of the novel on Soames, the Leroux butler who skipped out when Inspector Dunbar arrived at his employer’s home to investigate a murder. We learn Luke Soames fled because of his chequered past (he was dismissed by his previous employer for theft) that led him to falling prey to the sinister Mr. Gianapolis who arranged for Soames’ employment in the Leroux household. Soames is aware that Mr. Gianapolis works for a mysterious Mr. King who has some secret connection to Mrs. Leroux, but for awhile Soames is content to question little and perform the few curious extra duties that Gianapolis requests of him.

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Yellow Claw – Part One



Sax Rohmer’s The Yellow Claw was originally serialized in five installments in Lippincott’s from February through June 1915. The serial was subsequently published in book form later that same year by Methuen Press in the UK and McBride & Nast in the US. The novel chooses to divide the story into four sections which is how we shall examine the title over the next four weeks.

Rohmer’s first Yellow Peril thriller outside the Fu Manchu series is chiefly remembered today for having introduced the character of his dapper French detective, Gaston Max of the Surete. Max went on to feature in three other novels [The Golden Scorpion (1918), The Day the World Ended (1929), and Seven Sins (1943)] as well as the BBC radio series, Myself and Gaston Max adapted from a series of short stories about an entirely different Rohmer character known as The Crime Magnet.

Gaston Max was highly influenced by Edgar Allan Poe’s Auguste Dupin, the series detective who did much to direct the development of the mystery genre and was a primary source of inspiration for both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Max was not Rohmer’s first attempt at fashioning his own French detective after Dupin’s example. His very first novel, The Sins of Severac Bablon (1912) featured Gaston Max’s prototype, Victor Lemage. The interesting feature is that while elements of Yellow Peril thrillers will surface in the book, Rohmer was trying hard to write a more conventional and realistic detective story in a direct break from the thrillers that made his name.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lyndsay Faye’s The Gods of Gotham is a Modern Classic


Lyndsay Faye made quite a splash a couple years ago with her excellent Sherlock Holmes novel, Dust and Shadow. It was an impressive debut for a first-time novelist not only for taking on the world’s most famous sleuth but in choosing to have him investigate the most notorious criminal case of Victorian London. Holmes had, of course, already tackled Jack the Ripper in A Study in Terror which came off as an exceptionally good Holmes film and novelization (by Ellery Queen, no less) in the mid-sixties. What could this ambitious young woman bring to the Ripper case that Alan Moore or Nicholas Meyer had not already covered in From Hell and Time After Time, respectively? Quite a lot, it turned out. Ms. Faye delivered a cracking good mystery and an excellent piece of historical fiction in one turn. The question was how to follow her success.

Another Holmes story for an anthology that was published hot on the heels of her first book was taken as proof of her intent to join the ranks of the multitude of successors continuing the exploits of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal consulting detective. In a sense, Ms. Faye has done just that with her newly-published and wholly original sophomore effort, The Gods of Gotham. Her new series hero, Timothy Wilde, is a character Conan Doyle would have been proud to call his own and is not without his parallels to the famous resident of London’s Baker Street.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lost Classics of Pulp: Guy Boothby’s Dr. Nikola and Pharos the Egyptian


One doesn’t have to dig very far to discover my devotion to the works of Sax Rohmer. Peter Haining was, I believe, the first commentator to propose that Australian writer Guy Boothby’s works were a likely influence on Rohmer in the excellent survey, The Art of Mystery and Detective Stories. I first stumbled upon Boothby’s name and that of his most famous creation, Dr. Nikola courtesy of Larry Knapp’s brilliant Page of Fu Manchu website. Finally, it was a very informative piece written by that eminent Sherlockian, Charles Prepolec that convinced me I had to read the Nikola series for myself.

Five Nikola books were published between 1895 and 1901. The best editions available today are in the two-volume The Complete Dr. Nikola published by Leonaur Press. Dr. Nikola is a criminal mastermind with an occult twist. Think Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty (introduced only one year before Nikola) eerily anticipating Aleister Crowley and you have a pretty good idea of Boothby’s ambitions.

Like much fantastic fiction of the Victorian era, the books are more about how others fall into Nikola’s web than they are about the sinister doctor himself. This was the same approach taken by Bram Stoker with Dracula and Rohmer with his Fu Manchu series. The Nikola books are also globe-trotting adventures that move rapidly from Australia to Europe to Egypt to London to Africa to Tibet. The sense of mystery that pervades these exotic settings in those imperialist days of empire-building is part of the books’ nostalgic appeal today.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Other Dracula the Undead



Continued health-related issues again delayed the planned entry on Guy Boothby’s Pharos the Egyptian. I hope readers will enjoy my revisiting (and rewriting of)the second entry in this blog from January 2010 as it predates the greater exposure my work has received since my former association with The Cimmerian or my current work for The Black Gate. I hope to be back up to full speed and health next week. Thank you for your patience.

I belong firmly to the camp of Bram Stoker fan that approached Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt’s Dracula the Un-Dead with great anticipation and left disappointed. Well, actually appalled might be a more apt description of the reading experience. Had I not had my jaws wired shut at the time I read the book, I would have described myself as speechless. Severn House, a small press that has been kicking around for at least forty years when they took over Tom Stacey’s imprint, decided to capitalize on the attendant hoopla of a Stoker descendant co-writing a sequel to reprint an earlier literary sequel with very nearly the same title.

Freda Warrington’s Dracula the Undead was originally published to mark the centennial of Stoker’s classic original in 1997. I was aware of the book prior to its reprinting, but avoided it like the plague at the time believing incorrectly it was comparable to Elaine Bergstrom aka Marie Kiraly romanticized and anemic sequels, Mina and Blood to Blood. There is an element of romance found in Warrington’s book that does not ring true for the Stoker purist, but Ms. Warrington is a gifted British fantasy and horror author who accomplished something few writers can claim – she authored a sequel to a literary classic that doesn’t pale in comparison.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bram Stoker’s Dracula Reconsidered



Circumstances of health and chance caused me to delay the planned entry on Guy Boothby's Pharos the Egyptian until next week. I choose instead to revisit the very first entry in this blog back in January 2010 in the hopes that I can offer something fresh to a work that continues to fascinate me and direct my ambitions.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) has gradually won acceptance in literary circles over the past few decades as a legitimate work of literature after years of being dismissed as an influential work in a genre unworthy of serious consideration. Horror, much like mystery and fantasy, has always been dismissed as lowbrow entertainment. If mass acceptance is any measure of success, the book’s place has long since been secured. It is the only one of Stoker’s titles that has never fallen out of print at any point in the past 115 years. Public domain copies abound alongside dozens of editions from popular presses.

Most readers who happen upon this article are likely familiar with the book. Enthusiasts can be divided into two camps, although this division is rarely spoken of in polite company. The deciding factor that divides the two elitist camps is based solely on the matter of whether or not one chooses to accept “Dracula’s Guest,” the posthumously published excised chapter of an earlier draft of the novel, as an integral part of the story.

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