Mike Gold: Our Pulp Roots
One would think that because the roots of comic book heroes are deeply planted in the forest of pulp heroes, adapting such characters to the four-color medium should be a snap. Despite the superlative efforts of such talents as Garth Ennis, Frank Robbins, Eduardo Barreto, ComicMix’s own Denny O’Neil and a handful of others, this is not the case.
Let us politely say that, overall, pulp heroes have enjoyed a mixed reception. Some good, some bad, some wonderful, some insipid. Sturgeon’s Revelation remains in complete control.
In making the transition, some people resort to measures that put these characters in modern times. Usually, that trick doesn’t work: The Shadow, The Spider et al are creatures of their own times. Sometimes they become something different – in the 1960s Archie Comics turned The Shadow into a routine, and boring, costumed superhero. At least the guy who wrote most of it, Jerry Siegel, knew something about capes.
These days most of the pulp hero resurrections are being handled by Dynamite Comics, and by and large they’re doing a fine job. I didn’t care for their approach to The Spider, but I was surprised that their putting Doc Savage in the modern era while maintaining his past actually works. Their Shadow is mostly terrific; there’s a lot of it so some is better than others.
It’s hard to go wrong with Gail Simone, and she fits Red Sonja like it’s her second skin. Probably has something to do with the red hair. Zorro has been in fine hands, particularly the stories by Matt Wagner and then even more particularly those stories drawn by John K. Snyder III. The idea of team-up up Zorro with Django is nothing short of brilliant, and Quentin Tarantino teamed up with Wagner to provide the story.
Because The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Avenger are all owned and licensed by Advance Publications (better known as Condé Nast, which is one of their divisions), it was inevitable that these three would share their own mini-series. Any fan with an appreciation for history felt his spider-sense a-tingling when Dynamite announced they had all three licenses. The concept is akin to skating on thin ice.
Not to worry. This just-completed mini-series, Justice Inc., was written by Michael Uslan, and Michael knows his stuff.
Now, you might be asking “Geez, Mike, what the hell are you talking about?” In fact, you might have been asking this question for several years now, but I’ll just assume you’re referring to Mr. Uslan’s far greater notoriety as a Hollywood producer who specializes in bringing comic book characters to the screen. You know, like all those Batman movies. And the forthcoming Doc Savage movie, the one IMDB says is starring Chris Hemsworth (maybe) and is to be directed by Shane Black. Yep, that’s the guy.
However, he’s also written quite a few comic books. In fact, I regard him as one of our best writers – I will read any comic book with his name on it, and I just might even pay for it. (I heard the phrase “hey, kid, this ain’t a library” so often I salivate at each utterance). And he’s done some truly innovative stuff: he’s the guy who married Archie Andrews off to both Betty and Veronica – sadly, separately – and now he’s got Betty and Veronica out of Riverdale for a year in Europe. He’s written Batman, THUNDER Agents, The Spirit, The Shadow / Green Hornet crossover “Dark Nights,” the revived Terry and the Pirates newspaper strip, Beowulf, and an issue of DC’s original Shadow run. And other stuff.
Joining Uslan on Justice Inc. is artist Giovanni Timpano, who is quite up for the challenge of drawing such a character-heavy story in period. Covers – well, there are a lot of them by a lot of good people. Dynamite tends to approach variant covers the way a 16-year old boy approaches an orgy. But, yes, Alex Ross has one over ever of the six issues.
Since we’ve got at least three heroes and sometimes their associates, I should note the villains are two of the pulp classics: Doc Savage’s arch enemy John Sunshine and The Shadow’s persistent creep Dr. Rodil Mocquino, a/k/a The Voodoo Master. These are choices that might be obvious to the hard-core, but they are so for a good reason: they are solid villains right out of the best pulp traditions.
Even though Michael and I have yet to work together, he avoids violating one of my great many cardinal rules: he keeps the in-jokes accessible to the knowing without getting in the way of those that don’t know. Indeed, in-jokes abound in Justice Inc, ranging from very cute to quite clever. He takes some extremely minor liberties with the characters: Doc Savage is a bit more sarcastic than in the pulps, The Shadow seems a bit more OCD given the fact that he’s hardly a team player (unless it’s his team), and The Avenger’s origin story is bent slightly to accommodate this being set at the very beginning of his career.
You might ask why I’m plugging this mini-series after its conclusion last week. Outside of the fact that I’m absurd, it is possible that your friendly neighborhood comics store has a run left, and you should always support your local friendly neighborhood comics store. Aside from that, the trade paperback collection comes out in mid-May and is available for advance order from Amazon.
I doubt Uslan is going to give up his day job in order to churn out more great comics. That’s just a guess, but, damn, I can hope.