TIPPIN’ HANCOCK’S HAT-Reviews of All Things Pulp by Tommy Hancock

by Thomas McNulty
Linford Western Library, 2009
270 Pages

It’s always interesting to me to look at genres of fiction that were and still are staples within the realm of Pulp, but have somehow drifted away from those roots.  None of these is more apparent than the Western.  What once was fast paced, dead aimed storytelling full of heroes, villains, guns, horses, shootouts and standoffs has, at least in the hands of some authors, become more about exposition, analysis, and the human condition.   Many authors, well known ones even, have simply adapted a post modern take on literature to the western and by virtue of that have watered down an almost distinctly American form of storytelling.  Fortunately, there are some notable exceptions, men and women who still wear their six guns proudly and know that all a good man needs in the Old West is a woman better than he is and a villain badder than he is.

Add author Thomas McNulty to that latter group.

TRAIL OF THE BURNED MAN is definitely a New Pulp western written with the distinct flavor of the classics as well as liberally laced with the bravado and rapidity of a modern tale.  The characters are full and rich, complete portraits on a canvas of hard living, hair trigger decisions, and six gun action and adventure!  The story opens with Rafe Morgan, a man with a reputation, riding into a Wyoming town looking to make a new start for himself.  Almost immediately that gets complicated when Morgan gets into a fight with known badman Dutch Williams.  Scarred horribly by fire during the fight with Morgan, Williams vows revenge.  Morgan ends up staying on, working on Amy O’Hara’s ranch, even after her father, Ethan, also a Deputy U.S. Marshall, encourages Morgan to move on.   Soon, Williams enacts his plan for vengeance and involves Amy, Ethan, Rafe, an African American blacksmith, a Shoshone Indian, a young orphan, and an old ranch hand!  Oh, and did I mention the Sioux war party and a- no, I’ll let you find that one out yourself.

McNulty fires characters off like bullets from a hogleg.  This story is flowing with fully realized images of men and women, good and bad, lost and found.   The villain is grotesque and insane as any good Pulp villain would and should be.  What stands out for me most, however, are three characters.   I say three, but like many classic trios in the past, these men function as one, a sort of Trinity within McNulty’s story.  There’s Ethan O’Hara, the Marshall, Adam Washington, the blacksmith, and Black Wolf. the Shoshone Indian.  These three men have a connection that goes back beyond the start of this book and one that resonates loudly throughout the whole tale.  I’m not sure if McNulty plans to or not, but I would highly encourage him to consider more stories with these three larger than life heroically inspiring characters as the focus.

The only part of TRAIL OF THE BURNED MAN that bothered me in the slightest initially was some of the phrasing.  It just didn’t flow like most modern westerns I’d read in the last few years.  Then, about page six or so, it hit me.  It didn’t flow like most modern westerns because it’s not written like a modern western!  This is true old wild west Pulp at its best, full of descriptive phrasing, interesting, tight, concise exposition, and imagery and scene setting that doesn’t get in the way of the blockbuster narrative being told.   This is truly a New Pulp classic.

FIVE OF FIVE TIPS OF HANCOCK’S HAT-You won’t find a better New Pulp Western than McNulty’s TRAIL OF THE BURNED MAN.  Some will equal it for sure, but there aren’t any better.


TIPPIN’ HANCOCK’S HAT-Reviews of Things Pulp by Tommy Hancock
Created, Written, and Illustrated by Jay Piscopo
Cover by Joe Zierman
Nemo Publishing, 2008

The first issue/appearance/episode of anything is the best, right?  It’s a law, someone surely has said, that sequels and/or continuations cannot stand up to the first time whatever great awesome concept it is we’re encountering again made itself known.  It’s just not possible, right?

Well, maybe so…but that was all before Jay Piscopo released the second volume of THE UNDERSEA ADVENTURES OF CAPT’N ELI!

CAPT’N ELI is a story centered around a boy orphaned from one set of parents and found in the sea by a second set of parents and reared and raised with great values and a penchant for finding danger and adventure.  Along the way he picked up a dog he taught to tie knots, a parrot able to speak in complete sentences in around 70 languages, a mentor who was once a golden age hero turned villain, but is he?, a team of sea based researchers, some time travel, and an encounter with an undersea world made up of warring factions of seadwellers…oh…and dinosaurs….and robots, big and little, and…and…yeah, there’s lots more…

Just as in the previous volume, Jay Piscopo deftly captures a feel for old cartoons and comic books while at the same time crafting the images and the story in such a way that any modern reader would thoroughly enjoy the romp they were being taken on.    The art is fantastic and evocative of great Saturday morning adventures.  You can see the influence of Alex Toth especially throughout this volume, which continues THE MYSTERY OF THE SARGASSO SEA’ adventure started in the first volume.   I found myself seeing hints of all sorts of cartoon heroes I grew up with hidden..and sometimes not so hidden…in the faces of Eli and those around him.  

The pacing of this tale never lets up, but you don’t get lost in it.  The edutainment factor I found in the first volume is handled just as well in this story, teaching enough to move to the story along as buildings crumble and ships explode.  Something that is easier to say in a second volume than with a first can be said here as well.  The characters, good, bad, and otherwise, are likable and make the reader want to learn more about them, to see what happens to them.  And Jay gives hints and origins and background in a teasing sort of ‘here’s just enough for you to come back’ way, but it works…it makes the reader want to know more, yet still leaves the reader feeling like they know enough to like (or dislike) the character.

The only drawback to this volume may be that TOO much happens.  Pacing is excellent, but the inclusion of so many characters and events might boggle a reader not prepared for the sensory overload that this fantastically told tale is.

FIVE OUT FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT-No doubt.  This middle chapter of this great adventure had everything the first part had and more.   If this were a movie, I’d be in line for VOLUME THREE now.

Hancock Tips His Hat to a few Tales from Back in the Day!

TIPPIN’ HANCOCK’S HAT-Pulp Reviews by Tommy Hancock

This is a bit of a different column than my usual.   Normally, I tip my hat to the newest members and denizens of what many of us are referring to as “The Pulp Renaissance”, looking at new authors and works.  But I also am a reader, student, and mostly a fan of the true blue classics from the golden era of Pulps.  Which means I read those missives and from time to time will share my thoughts with some of them with you…like these for instance…

by Arthur J. Burks
http://www.blackmask.com/, http://www.pulpgen.com/

Two cops work as partners and work from two different philosophies, one by the book, the other by the gun.    When it finally gets too much for the law and order type, he walks off from his more violent partner who ends up taking on a whole mob on his own.   Quickly he learns how even with a fast gun, he can’t do it all alone.  Will he have to?

This is a fast paced story that does a good job of throwing bullets on every page as well as giving you a one two punch on characterization.  The two main characters are just barely more dimensional than the cardboard cutout criminals they fight, but it’s just enough to make the story interesting.   Burks does a good job of not only showing personality traits, but also of showing how characters evolve and grow.  This is definitely a shining example of what pulp tales could be when done right.

FOUR OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT-Cops, robbers, bullets, and character growth.  Wow.

from the Lone Ranger Magazine
by Fran Striker
August, 1937

I’ve read enough western pulp and read, seen, and heard enough Lone Ranger to know what to expect when I read a tale starring the Masked Man and his Indian companion.   OK, so even I can be wrong!  CAVE OF TERROR on its surface is a tale of the Lone Ranger and Tonto going after bad guys who are holed up in a labyrinthine cave led by a criminal mastermind who might also be an once well respected judge.  This leads to all the stereotypical western conceits, confrontations, and cliches and Striker deftly nails every single one of those. 

But CAVE OF TERROR exceeds the typical western pulp limitations.  This is a thriller bar none and I will honestly tell you that The Ranger in this tale is not a super heroic man in a mask, but a hero who gets in way over his cowboy hat more than once and knows it!  Striker amps up the danger and intrigue, setting a very good stage for the ‘Who is the Boss’ mystery and puts the Ranger in situations that test even his abilities and does it in a very believable way.  CAVE OF TERROR is a fantastically wild, pulse pounding well paced mystery adventure!

FIVE OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT!-Hi yo, Silver!! For sure.

by Richard Sale
Detective Fiction Weekly
January 9, 1937

This is the first story to star Candid Jones, one of Richard Sale’s most used pulp heroes.  Jones, along with another creation, Daffy Dill, established Sale as an author skilled at writing off kilter, yet consistently well paced hard boiled detective stories.  Although LONG SHOT does have the qualities that made Sale the legend he became, it isn’t really a top of the line tale.  The storyline concerns attempts to manipulate races at a racetrack with a good dose of murder thrown in.  Sale’s characterizations are extremely entertaining and the wrap up of the case is fairly decent, but the build up lags in parts and in other parts simply lacks cohesiveness.  The connections that have to be made to discover the killer’s identity aren’t really as strong as they could have been.  But overall a fine debut for a neat character.

THREE OUT OF FIVE TIPS OF HANCOCK’S HAT-Less racing, more Candid would have been nice.


TIPPIN’ HANCOCK’S HAT-Pulp Reviews by Tommy Hancock

by Barry Reese
Wild Cat Books

For those of you who have read my reviews since starting ALL PULP, you know that I tend to like to say a little something in the opening and even though I’m usually very positive, I’m not full of accolades and purple prose…until now. Get ready…

This is the best work by Barry Reese I have ever read.  Simply.  Period.

Reese has shown through his various works, including 5 volumes of THE ROOK, a book about Ki-Gor, the LAZARUS GRAY stories for Pro Se Productions, RABBIT HEART, his novel from 2010, and other stories and tales, that he can handle multiple genres and knows how to build characters and tell a story.   After reading THE DAMNED THING, I now know that those other books and tales were just wonderful steps to the masterpiece this book is.

The story of THE DAMNED THING centers around Violet Cambridge, a Private Detective in the late 1930s who runs an office with her dead husband’s former partner.  The story starts like many detective tales, a comely young woman walks in and wants her sister found.  Of course there’s twists right from the beginning, the case becomes focused on a relic, and Violet ends up having to avenge her partner’s death.  If you think I’ve spoiled anything, I’ve only given away information in the first twenty or so pages.  

Reese seamlessly blends good old fashioned mystery, private eyes, supernatural hoodoo, mafiosos, asylums, and even Alistair Crowley.   The action does not let up, every aspect of this story, from violence to sex to exposition, is used just enough and is dead on at every turn.   It’s a short read which is good in that you can’t put it down anyway but is bad in that you want more, even though the story is tied up pretty well.  Throw in a fan favorite character from Reese’s THE ROOK and you have a pulp burner here that cannot miss.

And I didn’t even go into the fact that this is possibly one of the best tributes to THE MALTESE FALCON I have ever seen that didn’t drift into parody, but maintained its own identity while still nodding respectfully to that classic.

FIVE OUT FIVE TIPS OF THE HAT-The best Reese and one of the best Pulps I’ve read in a while.