Friday, June 18, 2010

Forgotten Books: Brand of the Black Bat - G. Wayman Jones (Norman A. Daniels)

Like the Secret Agent X novels, it’s hard to consider the Black Bat novels truly forgotten because they’re being reprinted, but since they’re probably not very prominent on the public’s radar, we’re going to fudge a little.


The pulp BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE existed for several years before 1939, but with the July issue of that year, it became what’s known as a character pulp, rather than a general detective pulp. The lead novel in that issue, “Brand of the Black Bat”, introduced Tony Quinn, the District Attorney in an unnamed city that seems to be patterned after New York. During the trial of mobster Oliver Snate (what a great name!), Quinn is attacked by hired thugs who wind up throwing acid in his face, blinding him. Snate is acquitted, and because of Quinn’s injuries, he has to retire as the DA. He plunges for a time into despair, helped only by his butler, the reformed con man and small-time crook Norton “Silk” Kirby.


Then a beautiful, mysterious woman shows up and tells Quinn she knows of a doctor who can perform a delicate operation that will cure his blindness. Willing to take any chance to restore his sight, Quinn submits to the operation, and sure enough, he can see again. Actually, his sight is even better than before, because now he can even see in almost total darkness. So what does he do?


Well, this is a pulp magazine from 1939, after all. He decides to pretend to still be blind, so he can don a hood and cape, call himself the Black Bat, and fight crime, of course. And the first criminal he goes after is none other than Oliver Snate, as well as the mysterious mastermind who is pulling Snate’s strings.


I don’t believe I’ve ever read a Black Bat novel before, and if they’re all as good as this origin story, I’ve been missing something. “Brand of the Black Bat” is a lot of fun, with colorful writing, plenty of action, and a few plot twists, though no real jaw-droppers. Originally published under the house-name G. Wayman Jones, the character is actually the creation of veteran pulp author (and later prolific paperbacker) Norman A. Daniels. Daniels’ style is fast-paced and straight-forward, without the wordiness that afflicted some pulp authors, and his plots are usually inventive without being too bizarre.


“Brand of the Black Bat” has been reprinted recently by Altus Press in THE BLACK BAT OMNIBUS, VOLUME 1, the initial entry in a project intended to reprint the entire series. It features a fine introduction by pulp expert (and long-time friend of mine) Tom Johnson. Some people have tried to draw a parallel between the Black Bat and Batman, claiming that one was influenced by the other, but Tom’s introduction proves this not to be the case. The Black Bat was intended to be similar to The Shadow, but he also reminds me considerably of The Spider, with the way he pastes a cutout of a black bat on the foreheads of the crooks he guns down.


I really enjoyed this novel, and if you’re a fan of good pulp yarns and haven’t met the Black Bat yet, you owe it to yourself to pick up this volume and give it a try. Highly recommended.

10 comments:

Brian Drake said...

Who's reprinting them and where are they being sold? This is good news indeed. I have one Black Bat story on my shelf and it was fine indeed. He and Batman, you know, co-existed for quite some time; Bob Kane even tried to sue the Black Bat people because of the similarity, but it came to naught. It was one of those cases where two camps were doing the same thing at the same time. They had their significant differences, though. Batman never shot anybody with a pair of .45 automatics!

Deka Black said...

I love pulp heroes, and never know beefore about the Black Bat. I know if he's a bit similar to the Spider (my favourite) i gonna like he a lot.

James Reasoner said...

Altus Press is doing these. They just came out with a volume reprinting the first three books in the series, which is where I read this one and will soon be reading the other two. There's a trade paperback edition available through Amazon (you can follow the link in the post) or there's a deluxe hardback available through Lulu.

Bill Crider said...

Now you're making me want to re-read one of the "Man from A. P. E." books.

James Reasoner said...

Daniels is one of those guys who wrote everything. Not at the level of, say, Harry Whittington, but still pretty darned good most of the time. I suspect but don't know for sure that he had a large hand in all those Gothics published under his wife Dorothy's name.

beb said...

Recently I converted a bunch of back-up stories from Secret Agernt X and sent them to Pulpgen.com where they will eventually be posted. I read a bunch of Emile C. Tepperman and Norman A. Daniels's stories. Tepperman's stories were colorful but full of plot contrivancies. Daniels' stories were rather more mundane but every part of the plot fitted together. I prefered the Daniels stories but it is a tough call, colorful but silly plots for dull but solid stories.

As for the Black Bat: oddly, I also read this just recently and, ;ile you, found it a very satisfying book. In addition to the Altus press books, John Gunnison has reprinted a few in his High Adventure series. 'Brand of The Bat" was reprinted a few years ago but may still be in print. As I recall a recent announcement that an up-coming issue of High Adventure will reprint a pair of Black Bat stories. High Adventure retails for around $10 and can be ordered from Adventurehouse.com

Mark Justice said...

I discovered The Black Bat long ago in a batch of Hanos reprints that I bought from Bob Weinberg. Anybody else remember those tiny books? I'm not sure even my bifocals could carry me through one novel now.

Richard R. said...

Looks great! I just may have to spring for this one.

Evan Lewis said...

I have a few issues of that mag, plus a few reprints, but can't swear I've ever read one. One of the Hanos reprints, "The Murder Prophet", was written by Laurence Donovan, and I may try squinting at it soon. If I wait much longer I doubt my eyes will be able to handle it.

James Reasoner said...

I read a bunch of those Hanos reprints about fifteen years ago. My eyes would get used to them after a little while. Not sure I'd try to read one now, though.