Posts Tagged ‘pulp novels’

We went to a presentation the other day featuring cast members and show runners from the CW‘s four superhero shows: Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow. We had a fine time; all of the panelists were entertaining and the whole thing was moderated by Kevin Smith, who had the audience in stitches. Kevin’s introduction described how as a kid, he had read comic books to be transported, and how they always made him feel like a better person because they were all about the good guys and their triumphs.

This made me think: Literature is virtually always about the good guys winning. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, for example George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman (no relation to The Flash), but you’d really be hard-pressed to find a book or comic where in the end you weren’t supposed to root for the good guys. Oftimes, the good guys are bad guys, but those are anti-heroes, bad guys you root for because their adversaries are even worse. Are with you with me so far? Of course you are, this isn’t controversial.

So why is it, then, that comic books are blamed for the decline of Western Civilization?* These are highly moralistic stories. The good guys virtually always win. They put their lives on the line, without pay, issue after issue for decades, sometimes (in the case of Marvel heroes) in the face of public ridicule, scorn, and even persecution. Who doesn’t want to live in a society where everyone is ready and willing to take on evil and stand up to oppression? How can a medium which produced Superman be bad?

I know a lot of the knocks against comic books are the same as are leveled against science fiction: it’s juvenile, it’s poorly written, it’s unbelievable. And I ask each of those the same thing: Have you read this stuff lately? Have you ever read this stuff?

Granted, comic books have a tendency to make you believe that violence (no matter how reluctantly practiced) solves every problem. But I would argue that being a “force” is less important than being a “force for good,” or at least it was when I was reading.

When I was a kid, reading comic books was not viewed by my parents as an optimal use of my time. I would argue though, that comic books (and later pulp novels) did as much to form my moral outlook as religious education, or upbringing. I’m not saying I’m going to stand in front of a runaway truck or face down bank robbers–but I am saying that if I had a little influx of cosmic energy, you might hear…

“Who is that masked man, anyway? He’s straight out of a comic book!”


*Yes, there were the EC comics of the 1950s. But really, it was the 1950s!


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Smashwords is sponsoring “Read an Ebook Week” in an attempt to promote ebooks to readers with discount coupons, and my Depression-era pulp thriller The Choking Rain is participating with a 50% coupon.

Los Angeles, 1932. Six months before the Olympic Games are to bring relief to a Depression-battered city, men are falling dead in the rain-swept streets, their necks broken as if by an invisible noose. Pulled into a shadowy, rain-slick storm of murder and kidnapping, an ex-fighter pilot, a cop, a couple of football players-turned scientist, and a Kewpie-doll blonde with a black belt join forces to track down the terror plotters and stop their deadly spree. But when tragedy strikes the group, the survivors must brave one of the last untamed places on Earth to learn the secret of the Invisible Death–a secret designed to destroy America’s greatest cities, one by one…

The promotion ends on March 11.


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You might have heard that they made a movie out of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter” novels. It only took them 100 years. Actually, they made the movie three years ago, but due to circumstances (including its horrendous reviews), I only watch it recently, on cable.

As so often happens, the movie is not so bad as the reviews. It has some good points, mostly in the visual effects. I am told by people who understand these things better than I that the direction is wooden and good actors are wasted. My problem with it, though, is with the script. Specifically, they took a 100-year-old classic and tried to update it for modern audiences. I understand why they did it–Dejah Thoris is not exactly an paragon of agency in the original novel–but I don’t understand why they couldn’t leave it at that.

When I say they adapted the “‘John Carter’ novels,” I mean just that–because instead of adapting “A Princess of Mars,” they combined elements of the first two books, and then added in a bunch of stuff on their own. Fellas, if the story has been around for a century, and it’s still popular enough that you want to make a movie about it, don’t you think the author knew what he was doing? Give the princess more to do (and make the cavalry shoot first if you must), but leave the main story alone.

The movie, like the book, deals largely with Carter’s advent on Barsoom and his adventures with the Tharks. There’s a hell of a lot of material there, and they just tossed it aside for their own mish-mash of shapeshifting priests (huh?) and energy weapons (energy weapons and they still fight with swords? You know, the book explained all that…) There were no shapeshifters or energy weapons in the original, and the first three books are still one of the most entertaining trilogies ever written. What made you geniuses think you knew better than one of the best-selling authors in the history of the human race?

Of course, the whole endeavor failed miserably, a movie I had anticipated since I was 13 years old tanked, and the possibility of opening Burroughs to a new generation (not to mention adapting some of his other dozens of books) collapsed. All because somebody forgot why he was adapting that book into a movie in the first place.

It’s not the first time this has happened, and won’t be the last. But hey, please remember, just because you can make something newer doesn’t mean you make it better. I mean, in 1912, Mars was still largely unknown. Now we can see firsthand the canals aren’t canals and there are no hordes of green men. But if a story 1912 is still worth telling despite all that, then maybe you should stick with the story from 1912. When your story is 100 years old, then it will be your turn.

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Chapter 3 of The Choking Rain, “An Invader Repelled,” and Chapter 4, “A Doctor Sees Death” are now available for free at http://www.wattpad.com/story/23272878-the-choking-rain.

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