Tuesday, March 27, 2018
THE BLACK BAT
The Thrilling Group kicked off their second round of pulp hero heavyweights in 1939. In June of that year, the Candid Camera Kid popped up in DETECTIVE NOVELS and in July we found the Black Bat in the pages of BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE. More heroes would follow in 1940 and '41. Standard's wordsmith, Norman Daniels, created many of the new series.
Daniels' original idea was for Tony Quinn to fight crime as The Tiger. Blinded in the courtroom by acid, the damage left scars around his eyes, giving him the moniker. The story was accepted, but Leo Margulies, head editor for Standard at the time, wanted something that would coincide with a magazine they'd recently picked up, BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE. A short story series that ran in a previous title, The Bat, in Popular Detective, may have influenced their final decision. The Tiger was changed to The Black Bat, and became one of the most popular of the late edition heroes for Ned Pines' Thrilling Group. It was merely coincidence that The Black Bat and Batman started during the same period.
Standard slapped their house name, G. Wayman Jones on the stories to let Norman know the character belonged to them, but he became the main author for the series throughout its long run. He told me that Leo wanted the character to have the feel of The Shadow, and that every time Walter Gibson got a raise, so did he. In Markets of Treason, Winter 1944, the Black Bat does drop the ribbed cape, and now merely wears black to blend into the shadows. The stories continued to be top notch. However, the bat regalia was now missed by most readers.
The July 1940 entry, The Black Bat's Flame Trail is the first unknown author assigned to the series. Will Murray believes this author is Whit Elsworth, but I lean more towards Prentice Winchell (most familiar to readers under his pen name, Stewart Sterling). Two more stories, The Black Bat's Dragon Trail, January 1941, and The Black Bat's Summons, July 1941 are also unknowns. Perhaps the three are by the same author. I suspect at least two of them are.
There is no question on the next ghost author. Laurence Donovan writes three non-Daniels' entries, The Murder Prophet, September 1942, Millions For A Murderer, March 1943, and Without Blood They Die, Summer '43. The rest of the stories are by Norman Daniels until the end of the series. Daniels told me that a new editor had been assigned to the series, replacing long-time editorial head, Leo Margulies. Who this new editor was, he couldn't remember, but said it was a woman, and she wanted more adult content to the stories. Norman didn't feel comfortable writing sex scenes, so she brought in another author. The Eyes of Death is promised for Spring '52, but does not appear. Instead, the next novel to appear is Prentice Winchell's Hot, Willing, And Deadly, Winter '53. A little research does turn up an old novel titled, The Eyes of Death by Stewart Sterling. It was a Dan Fowler story published in November 1941, and involved Nazis. My guess is that Sterling planned on rewriting the Fowler story into a Black Bat entry, but was having trouble replacing the Nazis. Or else the new editor rejected the rewritten story, skipping an issue, until Sterling/Winchell could come up with another story. Hot, Willing, And Deadly was probably more in keeping with what the editor wanted. Another story is promised, The Lady of Death by Prentice Winchell. It doesn't appear. The series is ended. Winchell/Sterling rewrites The Lady of Death as The Lady's Out For Blood, and sells it to Triple Detective, Spring '53, Tony Quinn has been replaced. Norman Daniels had written an unpublished Black Bat story, The Celebrity Murders, but it never appeared. Maybe it's out there somewhere also (it’s been discovered, and reviewed elsewhere).
Stewart Sterling was a good writer, and had worked in the pulps for years. I'm sure he was writing Phantom Detectives, early Dan Fowlers, and probably those early Black Bats. I wish we could find his records, as I'm sure we would uncover some interesting facts, as well as possibly some unpublished manuscripts. But those final Black Bat stories were an incredible jump from a good series, to mediocre stories. The sex and rough language the editor wanted just didn't work well on Norman Daniels' 1939 creation. Personally, I think they should have left it alone.
As with all of the single character pulps, the early stories were the best in the series. So it was with the Black Bat. At least up through the end of the World War, we had some exciting stories of Nazis and sabotage, and even some super criminals. After the war years, the stories tended to tone down, becoming more simple crimes, especially the "long ago crimes", where something happens years before that not surfaces into some new crime. Until the end, when we are given drug or juvenile gang-related criminal activity. Or, as with Prentice Winchell, prostitution and crimes of passion. Good stories perhaps, but I missed the super criminals and foreign agents bent on the destruction of America.
I often wonder how the series would have fared had it began in the early Thirties, as a companion to The Phantom Detective. There is a possibility it would have been more popular, and even outlasted the great Phantom. Unfortunately, it would have been created by someone else, and ended up with an even more chaotic authorship. Perhaps it's best the series waited until 1939 after all.
Saturday, March 17, 2018
In 1963 I was stationed in France, with the 202nd MP Company, and working patrol for a black NCO named Foster (I think that was his name). When I stopped by the station, I found Sergeant Foster reading a Tarzan paperback by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This was during my hardboiled period, when I was reading Mickey Spillane and Shell Scott. I remembered the old Tarzan movies with Johnny Weismuller, and asked Foster if the stories weren't a little racially demeaning, and he told me they weren't. After we discussed the Burroughs' Tarzan for a while, he convinced me to read one of the stories. That was my introduction to jungle adventures, and I have been a fan ever since.
I haunted the Stars & Stripes bookstore on base, until the lady that ran the establishment got to know me like a son. Whenever I would walk into the store, she would grab me by the arm and say, "Look what just came in!" And take me to a paperback with a jungle scene or dinosaur on the cover. This was how I discovered Doc Savage in 1964, when she led me to The Thousand-Headed Man, which had Doc fighting with a giant snake while a witch doctor looked on. So by then I was hooked on Edgar Rice Burroughs and Kenneth Robeson. I probably shouldn't tell this story, but in 1964, during the Cypress Crisis, I was among a group of Army soldiers sent to an Air Base in Turkey, in case we had to deploy to Cypress. Well, being Army on an Air Force base wasn't conducive to good treatment. We were stuck away from the more civilized air force personnel, and didn't get much sent our way. Being Army, we quickly learned our way around, and one of the first places I discovered was where the special services stored books that was to be distributed to the Air Force personnel. A few nightly raids, and our Army unit had reading material. Of course, I had first choice of any Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks! Or anything with a jungle scene or dinosaur on the cover.
Tarzan, of course, was the inspiration for many imitations in the pulps. I think that over the years I have found any and everything that remotely resembles the original Jungle Lord. One of those imitators appeared in JUNGLE STORIES, a FICTION HOUSE PUBLICATION, beginning with the Winter 1939 issue, and running until Spring 1954, and 59 issues (although some titles were repeats). The hero was Ki-Gor, a bronzed-skin muscular giant, wearing a loincloth with a knife in a sheath at his side, and bow and quiver of arrows over his broad shoulders. Standing six foot tall, he has blue eyes, and shoulder-length hair bleached white by the sun. Unfortunately, the novels were very uneven. His blue eyes would often turn gray, and his white hair would become yellow.
However, it was the stories that counted. Fantastic jungle stories of lost lands, lost civilizations, prehistoric monsters, giant snakes, elephants running amok, and talking gorillas. Everything a good jungle adventure should be. Ki-Gor was in reality the surviving son of a missionary named Robert Kilgour, who lived among the beast of the jungle after his father was killed. He eventually met - and married - Helene Vaughn. She is quite competent, but is constantly getting in trouble. Two other aides are in all the stories. Timbu George, who was once George Spelvin, an American Pullman porter and ship's cook, and eventually became a Masai chief; And little N'Geeso, chief of the Kamazila pygmy tribe.
As most pulp fiction of the period, the Ki-Gor stories were formula at best, but highly imaginative, and were probably the most successful and popular of the Tarzan imitators. The titles alone were enough to whet the appetite of young readers perusing the newsstands: The Empire of Doom, The Cannibal Horde, Caravan of Terror, Where Man-Beasts Prowl. And those are the milder titles! The action within the pages of JUNGLE STORIES brought us the adventure we craved. Ki-Gor, the White Jungle Lord deserves his niche on the shelf beside Tarzan The Ape Man. The jungle belonged to them!
I can just imagine that old lady from the Stars & Stripes grabbing my arm once more, and saying, "Look what just came in!"
Tuesday, March 6, 2018
FREDERICK C. DAVIS
Frederick C. Davis was a prolific short story writer. Though most pulp enthusiasts remember him as the author of the first twenty Operator #5 stories over at POPULAR PUBLICATIONS, perhaps his best known creation was the Moon Man for TEN DETECTIVE ACES; the Moon Man was actually Stephen Thatcher, a detective-sergeant on the police force, who donned a type of fish bowl helmet and black robe to fight crime. He was considered a criminal, and there was a standing order for the police to shoot the Moon Man on sight. The stories were pretty standard pulp fare that worked from a formula. Sue McEwen was the love interest, and she was the daughter of Detective Gil McEwen, who was constantly trying to catch the Moon Man. Ned “Angel” Dargan also assisted the Moon Man.
In 1935, Fred Davis introduced fighting D.A., Mark Hazzard to the back pages of the SECRET AGENT X magazine, running simultaneously with his Moon Man stories over at TEN DETECTIVE ACES. An easy enough task because the Mark Hazzard and Moon Man stories were carbon copies of each other, except Hazzard didn’t wear any kind of costume. Hazzard wasn’t his real name, either. Falsely convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, young Dennis Grant had changed his name and took on a new identity. The fighting D.A. was always looking over his shoulder as a hunted criminal. Even the supporting characters from the two series were almost identical, and one story could have been switched to either character as the need arose – or recycled with minor touches of the typewriter.
There were 38 Moon Man adventures, from June 1933 through January 1937. Unfortunately, Mark Hazzard didn’t do as well, ending after only six stories in six months. Davis must have tired of the Hazzard/Moon Man formula, or someone at ACE wanted him to do something different. Just a few months after the Hazzard series ended, Frederick C. Davis had a brand new series in the back of SECRET AGENT X. Ravenwood was completely different from either Hazzard or the Moon Man, and would have actually made a nice full length novel adventure series. However, it only lasted for five issues during 1936, and then ended. Sadly, the Moon Man would cease in only a few months too.
Regardless of its short run, the Mark Hazzard stories were quality writing and good story telling. It may have suffered from the fact that the hero didn’t have a gimmick like Ravenwood, or wear a neat costume like the Moon Man. Personally I’ve always felt that the series should have been added to any Moon Man collection because of its similarity to that character, but for some reason it has been overlooked over the years, and publishers have missed a golden opportunity.
(ALTUS PRESS has recently released a complete volume of the Mark Hazzard stories.)
If the reader is not familiar with Frederick C. Davis, the Moon Man, or Mark Hazzard, then it’s time you were introduced to them.
Saturday, March 3, 2018
The D.C. Man #3: “Your Daughter Will Die” by James P. Cody. Brian Peterson is brought in when Senator Lester Rankin’s daughter is kidnapped. The group responsible is the National Federation Army (NFA); their leader goes by the name of General Camillo, but his voice is that of a North American Caucasian, not a South American. This third novel is slightly better than the first novel, and I think the author is getting his writing skills down. For a priest, the author’s writing is starting to sound like that of a true men’s action novelist. A shame the series only lasted for four issues. The stories were improving with each novel.