Sunday, May 29, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Double-Action Gang Magazine, May 1936

Here's an odd pulp cover for you, on the first issue of DOUBLE-ACTION GANG MAGAZINE, a short-lived gangster pulp. I have a feeling that they took a Western cover they had in their files (I'd swear I've seen that cowboy somewhere else) and added the guy with the Tommy gun to it. "Killer Lightnin'" by Andor de Soos sounds like a story I'd like to read. "Gangdom Invades the West" has a nice ring to it. Luckily, Adventure House has reprinted this issue, so I can read it. Also on hand in this issue are Margie Harris, a regular contributor to the gang pulps, and Abner J. Sundell, writing under his pseudonym Cliff Campbell, which later on became a house-name, as well as Harold Ward, probably best remembered for writing the Dr. Death stories under the name Zorro.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, May 1946

We already know that it wasn't safe to play poker or go to the barber shop in the Old West, but now we realize that you couldn't even sit down to tickle the ivories without winding up in the middle of a gunfight, thanks to this cover on DIME WESTERN, Popular Publications' leading Western pulp. This issue features a couple of the magazine's most prolific authors, Harry F. Olmsted (twice, once with a Friar Robusto story under his own name and again with a Tensleep Maxon story as by Bart Cassidy) and Walt Coburn. Also on hand are Thomas Thompson (famous for being the story editor on BONANZA for many years), William R. Cox, Harold De Vries, and Charles W. Tyler. The only thing I can play on the piano is "Chopsticks", and I'm not sure I could manage that with bullets whistling around me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Cold as Hell - Rhett C. Bruno and Jaime Castle

The Weird Western is an odd subgenre, and I don’t just mean the subject matter. Robert E. Howard invented what we think of as the Weird Western in stories such as “The Horror From the Mound”, “Old Garfield’s Heart”, “For the Love of Barbara Allan”, and “The Man on the Ground”. Adding horror elements to traditional Western tales can be very appealing to writers. You’re getting to play in two different sandboxes at the same time. However, they’re tough sells to many Western readers, who don’t want even a hint of the supernatural in what they read. That’s why a lot of Westerns that seem to have supernatural elements wind up explaining all that away in Scooby-Doo endings. I’ve done that several times myself. My hunch is that Weird Westerns are more likely, overall, to find their audience among horror and fantasy readers . . . who, in turn, may be put off by the Western stuff.

All that said, it is indeed possible to write a novel that’s both an excellent horror/fantasy story and a solid Western yarn. That’s exactly what Rhett C. Bruno and Jaime Castle have done in COLD AS HELL, the first novel in their new Black Badge series, that mixes truly creepy horror and fantasy elements with a well-done, believable Western setting and characters.

Former outlaw and gunfighter James Crowley is a Black Badge, an undead avenger working for Heaven with an angel who sends him on missions to battle demons and monsters plaguing the frontier. As COLD AS HELL opens, he takes up the trail of a trio of bank robbers who seemingly have supernatural abilities. He runs into plenty of other dangers before he tracks them down, and there’s no Scooby-Doo ending to any of this. Crowley and his enemies and allies are the real deal.

He’s also a very good protagonist, tough and smart and not without flaws even though he’s basically unkillable, already being dead and all. Bruno and Castle aren’t afraid to pile up trouble on him, and then, in the end . . . there’s a very nice twist that sets up the next book in the series, which I’m already looking forward to. If you’re a Weird Western fan, COLD AS HELL is one of the best I’ve read in a long time, and if you’ve never tried one before, I think it would be a fine place to start. It's available in ebook and hardback editions. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 23, 2022

The Spider: Scourge of the Scorpion - Will Murray

Will Murray is back with his third novel featuring the iconic pulp hero character The Spider, following THE DOOM LEGION and FURY IN STEEL. As in those earlier novels, in SCOURGE OF THE SCORPION Murray brings in some heroes and villains used in other Popular Publications pulps, making it clear that all of Popular’s characters existed in the same universe. This time he teams up The Spider with one of most obscure pulp heroes, The Skull Killer. The Skull Killer is obscure for two reasons: he was never the star of his own pulp but rather functioned as the hero in a couple of pulps that spotlighted the villains, THE OCTOPUS and THE SCORPION. There was only one issue of each, and it’s a common belief in pulp fandom that the lead novel in THE SCORPION was a rewritten yarn that was intended for the second issue of THE OCTOPUS, except the first issue sold so badly that the publisher thought a title change might be helpful. In fact, that may well be what happened.

But regardless of that, Murray comes up with a very clever way to tie together the mystery of The Octopus and The Scorpion and make something totally new out of their history without retconning anything. It’s an audacious approach that succeeds extremely well. I know something about working with other people’s characters and trying to find ways to make sense out of apparent contradictions, and it’s not always an easy thing to do. Murray pulls it off and does a great job.

And of course, he also captures the characters of Richard Wentworth (The Spider), Nita Van Sloan, Ram Singh, and the rest of the supporting cast perfectly. As for the story itself, it races along at a breakneck pace as you’d expect. The Cult of the Purple Eyes, led previously by both The Octopus and The Scorpion, is back, with The Scorpion still in command, and once again he’s turning innocent people into his mindless minions by a method that causes their eyes to change color and become a bright purple. He’s also infecting hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent New Yorkers with a deadly combination of scorpion venom and tetanus that causes them to come down with lockjaw. Wentworth’s faithful assistants Ram Singh and Jackson fall victim to this plague, and Nita Van Sloan is converted into one of The Scorpion’s purple-eyed zombies. Wentworth is left alone to battle against this horrible menace . . .

Oh, wait, he’s not, because The Skull Killer, who defeated The Octopus and The Scorpion the first time, is still around and teams up with The Spider to save New York City. But just when you think they’ve succeeded . . . things get worse.

SCOURGE OF THE SCORPION is a great pulp adventure novel with a very nice blend of shuddery horror and over-the-top action. At one point The Spider, being pursued by bad guys, hides out in a morgue, climbs into an empty drawer, closes it behind him, rolls over, and calmly goes to sleep. You don’t get much more badass than that. As I said, Murray’s plotting is excellent, and everything comes to a very satisfactory conclusion. I had a wonderful time reading this book, and if you’re a pulp fan in general, or a fan of The Spider (I have been for close to sixty years now, since the first paperback reprints), I give it my highest recommendation.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, October 25, 1934

This cover by William Reusswig provides further proof, as if we needed it, that pith helmets just attract trouble. You don't even have to be wearing one. Just having it on your raft is enough. Just as knowing that this is an issue of SHORT STORIES is enough to tell you there are some great authors inside. In this case, H. Bedford-Jones ("Tiger Blood" is a great title!), Jackson Gregory, Bennett Foster, Bob du Soe, and Bertrand W. Sinclair, along with a few lesser-known writers. Any time you see a blood-red sun on the cover of a pulp, you know you're in for excitement.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Short Stories, March 1957

A Western pulp from very late in the pulp era, but judging by the authors inside, this issue of WESTERN SHORT STORIES was still pretty good: H.A. DeRosso, S. Omar Barker, Edwin Booth, Clayton Fox, William Vance, and reprints by Tom W. Blackburn, D.B. Newton, John G. Pearsol, Giles A. Lutz, and Glenn H. Wichman. That's a fine bunch of Western pulpsters no matter what the era.

UPDATE: My friend Bob Deis has identified this cover artist as Jim Bentley and tells us that the cover was used originally on the January 1956 issue of MALE. Thanks, Bob.


Sunday, May 15, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, March 1939

An abundance of work and some real-life issues have caused me to neglect the blog in recent days, but I hope to get that squared away soon. In the meantime, here's a great cover by Raphael DeSoto. The diving suit, the treasure chest, and the revolver all promise us adventure, and I'm sure this issue of, what else, ADVENTURE delivers on that promise. Inside are stories by Erle Stanley Gardner, Frank Gruber, William E. Barrett, Anthony Rud, Gordon MacCreagh, and Robert E. Pinkerton, top pulpsters, every one. The Gruber story is an installment of the serial "Peace Marshal", and I remember reading one of the paperback reprints of that novel when I was in junior high. Little did I dream I'd be writing about its pulp incarnation more than fifty years later. There's a certain appealing continuity that good fiction provides in a person's life . . .

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Mammoth Western, August 1950

That's a dramatic cover on this issue of MAMMOTH WESTERN, painted by Arnold Kohn, an artist I'm not familiar with. I'm very familiar with some of the authors inside this issue, though, which include Harry Whittington, Les Savage Jr., and (here's a name you don't normally associate with Westerns) Robert Bloch. Also on hand are Ziff-Davis regular Berkeley Livingston and house-name Mallory Storm. This issue doesn't seem to be on-line anywhere I can find.

Friday, May 06, 2022

Wolf Dog Range - Will Watson (Lee Floren)

First of all, there are no wolf dogs in this book. There’s a town called Wolf Dog, as well as a river and a mountain range, but no actual wolf dogs. The novel was published originally in hardback by lending library publisher Phoenix Press in 1946. Then it appeared in the October 1947 issue of COMPLETE COWBOY NOVELS MAGAZINE with a great cover that I posted here on the blog a while back. I liked that cover enough that it inspired me to seek out a copy of the book. What I wound up with is the 1951 Lion Books paperback edition. That's my copy in the scan above. But like the pulp version, this cover is misleading, too, as no fight between a hatchet-wielding hombre and a fella shooting at him ever takes place in the book’s pages.

Now that we’ve covered that, what’s WOLF DOG RANGE actually about? It’s a range war story, as tough cowboy Pete Manly travels from Texas to Montana to answer a summons for help from Jeff Ring, the old-timer who raised him. Ring has relocated his ranch to Montana, and now the owner of the neighboring spread is trying to force him out. Ring is in financial trouble, too, because the local banker absconded with the deposits and left the old rancher almost broke. Pete figures something shady is going on, especially when some badmen hold up the train he’s coming in on, for the express purpose of murdering him. He survives that attempt, of course, and also makes the acquaintance of a beautiful young woman who’s also traveling to the town of Wolf Dog. (Why is everything in the area called Wolf Dog? Unfortunately, the author never tells us.) When he arrives, Pete sets out to get to the bottom of several suspicious happenings and prevent his old friend’s ranch from being taken over.

You can tell from that brief description that WOLF DOG RANGE is a very traditional Western novel. That’s not surprising, because the author, “Will Watson”, was really Lee Floren, who made a living for several decades by writing very traditional Western yarns for the pulps and for a variety of paperback publishers. Floren is a maddeningly inconsister writer. I don’t know much about his background, but when he’s writing about cattle and ranch life, his work has a ring of authenticity that at times rivals Walt Coburn. The long sequence in this book about a roundup carried out during an unexpectedly early snowstorm is excellent, as is the aftermath of a chinook wind that melts the snow. Floren’s action scenes are generally good to very good, too. Where his writing gets clunky is in dialogue and in the scenes were the characters are interacting without any gunplay or fisticuffs. Some of that is so perfunctory that it reads like scenes he outlined but forgot to flesh out. There’s too much of that in WOLF DOG RANGE.

And yet . . . there are some great characters in this book, including the old rancher’s Apache sidekick and a Chinese range cook who reminded me of Connie from Milton Caniff’s classic TERRY AND THE PIRATES. There are also some poignant moments that work really well. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been a fan of Floren’s work and so I haven’t read that much by him, but without a doubt, WOLF DOG RANGE is the best of his novels that I’ve read so far, and I’m not saying that to damn with faint praise. It’s not without its flaws, but I found it to be a solidly entertaining traditional Western.

It could’ve used some wolf dogs, though.

Monday, May 02, 2022

The Deathly Island - H. Bedford-Jones

This action-packed novelette by H. Bedford-Jones, originally published in the October 20, 1934 issue of ARGOSY might just be the perfect mental palette-cleanser between novels. “The Deathly Island” refers to an island off the tip of Madagascar where a beautiful young woman is being held prisoner at her late father’s palatial estate. Sea captain Charles Stuart, our stalwart hero, discovers not only her plight but also the fact that his estranged brother is mixed up in the scheme that’s caught the girl in its snare. What’s a pulp hero to do but set out to put things right?

Not content to leave it at that, Bedford-Jones also mixes into the plot a truly despicable villain, a fortune in rare pearls, and a looming hurricane. The result is five chapters of action, suspense, and excitement rendered in the author’s usual clean prose with a cool, tough, hardboiled tone. The novelette length of “The Deathly Island” keeps Bedford-Jones from bringing in too many complications or going into too much depth with his characters, but the whole thing races along with such zest that it’s pure fun to read. If you’ve never sampled HB-J’s work, it wouldn’t be a bad place to start. And if you’re already a fan, I can almost guarantee that you’ll enjoy it. You can find it on-line, and I give it a high recommendation.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, March 26, 1938

That's a nice circus cover by Emmett Watson on this issue of ARGOSY. The story it illustrates is a serial called "You're in the Circus Now" by Richard Wormser, a fine author who also wrote at least one serial for ARGOSY about a traveling carnival. The Tarzan story mentioned on the cover is a serial installment of "The Red Star of Tarzan", published in book form as TARZAN AND THE FORBIDDEN CITY. There's also an installment of a Horatio Hornblower novel by C.S. Forester, "Ship of the Line", and that didn't even make the cover. Plus stories by Frank Richardson Pierce and Bennett Foster. I know the serials make ARGOSY daunting for collectors, but man, there was a lot of great fiction published in its pages!