Superman and Wonder Woman have been saving the world with a combination of laser eyes, invisible planes, and colorful costumes for decades, but their predecessors -- the pulp magazine
heroes of the early 20th century -- practiced crime-fighting that involved a combination of brains, brawn, and an avalanche of bullets. They were a little more Indiana Jones than Clark Kent
, and appeared in novels that cost a single dime rather than a four-color comic book.
"Doc Savage Magazine" was the home of -- wait for it -- Doc Savage. This hero sported bronze skin, lived on the 86th floor of an unnamed but familiar New York City skyscraper, and had a team of five experts in various disciplines, including chemistry and law, to help him fight crime. The twist is that his five sidekicks, though useful, paled in comparison to Doc's own areas of expertise.
Doc was an expert scientist (pick an area, he knows it), just this side of superhuman due to extensive physical training, a genius-level thinker, and extraordinarily talented at a number of other skills. When you consider that his father trained him from birth specifically to fight evil, you could pretty fairly say Tiger Woods has nothing on Doc Savage. Neither does Superman, actually; Doc Savage had a Fortress of Solitude in the arctic years before Superman set up shop in the snow.
Doc Savage appeared in 181 issues of "Doc Savage Magazine" from 1933 to 1949, but he wasn't the only pulp hero to hit the streets. The Shadow, notable for his distinct nose, black coat, wide-brimmed hat, and awesome catchphrase. "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"
The Shadow began life as an announcer for a radio show that played adaptations of pulp stories, but when the announcer proved to be more interesting to than the stories he was telling, a hero was born. He appeared in three hundred and twenty-five stories over 20 years, often using his psychic power to "cloud men's minds" so that he could hide in plain sight before gunning them down.
Brian Azzarello and Phil Noto's "Batman/Doc Savage Special #1," which hit stands yesterday, bridges the gap between the pulps and superheroes with a crossover comic from two of the biggest names in both. While heroes like Doc Savage, The Spirit, and The Avenger are already active and somewhat respected, the arrival of a Batman that uses his twin semi-automatic pistols with wild abandon tilts the balance of power in a new direction.
Feel free to call it a comeback for the pulps. "Batman/Doc Savage Special #1
" is the launching point for DC Comics's "First Wave," a new miniseries that integrates the pulp heroes and select superheroes from DC's stable into a brand new tale. In this new world, cellphones exist beside dirigibles and computers are used just as often as Luger pistols by bristly war vets
. The only rule is "no superpowers," but beyond that, anything goes.
If you want to get a head start on the pulpy fun, Wikipedia has rundowns on Doc Savage
, The Avenger
, and The Shadow
that'll get you started. After that, it's just a matter of tracking down reprints of the old stories, or just picking up "Batman/Doc Savage Special #1" on shelves now.