Pulp Power by Neil McGinness (book review).

September 16, 2022 | By | Reply More

I need to point out from the start that this is a massive large book but fortunately light enough to take to bed to read. Just.

Pulp Power: The Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Art of the Street & Smith Universe by Neil McGinness, foreword by Frank Miller, contributions by Dan DiDio (Abrams, £45) Out now.

Neil McGinness’ book, ‘Pulp Power’ is looking at the pre-super-heroes like the Shadow and Doc Savage, all matched from art from the period and all from publisher Street & Smith. Frank Miller, in his introduction, explains its own appeal to the Shadow. McGinness doesn’t just focus on the characters but the history of the publishers as they built up to and using them. Considering the success of the Shadow was originally from the radio show, I suspect his crackle laughter echoed into his written fiction.

Page #70: © Condé Nast George Rozen
Pulp Power: The Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Art of the Street & Smith Universe by Neil McGinness, foreword by Frank Miller, contributions by Dan DiDio (Abrams, £45) Out now.

Of course, I know some of the Shadow’s early history but combined with the art and his radio and film history fills in a lot of gaps. Orson Wells and Agnes Moorehead playing him and Margo Lane on the radio will be embellished in your memory or voices. On film, Victor Jory played the Shadow. In the UK, Jory pops up on old films on Channel 82 so will now be paying more attention to his voice as well now.

Backtracking, there are some distinctions between the two versions of the Shadow. In the books, he killed the criminals but not on radio but that didn’t seem to make much difference to his fans. His early comicbook adventures also draws an interesting comparison. Whereas on the pulps covers it was mostly close-ups, the comicbook covers were more dramatic. It was only when world war two came and the measure of true violence that finally put the Shadow to rest for a few decades. Oh, in case you didn’t know his alter ego Lamont Cranston had a normal nose and, yes, I did spot the one cover showing his true appearance. His rationale for working outside the law was more a fear that his techniques would be used by criminals if they knew about it than joining the police force.

Page #152: © Condé Nast Walter Baumhofer
Pulp Power: The Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Art of the Street & Smith Universe by Neil McGinness, foreword by Frank Miller, contributions by Dan DiDio (Abrams, £45) Out now.

Firstly, you must remember the early Doc Savage does not have the look of the James Bama covers as has been inscribed in your memories over the years. Yes, he was a big man with multi-skills but with a more traditional haircut than the widow’s peak he later got. Incidentally, Savage’s look originally was based on a young Clark Gable. Interestingly, his Fabulous Five team stayed pretty much the same look. Reading this with my current day sensibilities and how Doc was and did perform brain surgery on criminals to make them useful citizens did make me wonder on the legal ramifications of these acts. You do have to wonder about due legal process and even criminals have some rights. It isn’t as though one of his team, Theodore Marley ‘Ham’ Brooks wasn’t a top rank lawyer.

Saying that, when we move onto other crimefighters that Street & Smith had in their stable, I didn’t realise how old some of the characters were. I’d always assumed Nick Carter was a spy book series from the 1960s rather than starting in 1886 as a detective and getting his own weekly magazine.

Page #177: © Condé Nast Walter Baumhofer
Pulp Power: The Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Art of the Street & Smith Universe by Neil McGinness, foreword by Frank Miller, contributions by Dan DiDio (Abrams, £45) Out now.

Reading about the Whisperer, his real name was Commissioner James Gordon. No, really. Is there anything that Bob Kane didn’t ‘borrow’ for his Batman comics? I do like his MO a lot though, as he masquerades as an old man to chase down criminals. Then again, in a later chapter it also compares the Shadow to Batman and Doc Savage to Superman. Its common knowledge they share certain elements but that’s probably true of most characters as they find things that would be regarded as successful selling points.

Oddly, Justice Inc. and Supersnipe don’t get as much information. The Avenger from Justice Inc. actually has the text from his appearance. I did think initially this was padding but it does fill in a lot of information and his reason to want to avenge.


Page #282: © Condé Nast James Bama
Pulp Power: The Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Art of the Street & Smith Universe by Neil McGinness, foreword by Frank Miller, contributions by Dan DiDio (Abrams, £45) Out now.

The size of this book meant I couldn’t do a page flick test so I was amazed when I reached chapter 4 and saw the art of James Bama on Doc Savage and Jim Steranko on the Shadow, both brought into update the covers for a re-issue. This didn’t work for Nick Carter, who was totally rewritten as a secret agent and new adventures. Looking subjectively at the Bama art, I hadn’t realised how monotone he painted the Savage paintings in only a couple shades but are extremely effective here.

The latter chapters look at bringing the characters into modern day comics. I was surprised that even Bill Sienkiewicz did a run on the Shadow.

These characters are more effective in their own time period and rise again from time to time. I suspect this book might instil that yet again. The art has always drawn some interesting talent over the years and will no doubt do so again. This book is definitely worth a look as both a period piece and for the love of the art.

GF Willmetts

September 2022

(pub: Abrams, 2022. 349 page illustrated very large hardback. Price: £45.00 (UK), $65.00 (US), $83.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-4197-5616-0)

check out website: www.abramsbooks.com

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Category: Books, Superheroes


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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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