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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pulp Heroes Annuals - DC Comics

(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

Some weeks ago, I raised the question of whether DC Comics could equal its first "Pulp Heroes" series of annuals, in particularly the Superman/Doc Savage story. I have now seen several more of the series, and I have to admit that not one has yet surpassed that one.

There are some excellent new entries, but that one is still far ahead of its competitors.

Several involve members of the Batman "family". They vary widely in style.

Hard-boiled detectives were a staple of Black Mask and other pulps. The Azrael annual follows that tradition with a fairly clever adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon" but the John Huston film is the true source of this adaptation. Catwoman replaces Bridget O'Shaughessy and Azrael mimics Sam Spade. Those unfamiliar with the novel or film may miss some of the humor. The story ends with an awful pun.

The Robin annual is a parody of spaghetti westerns but is set in modern Gotham City and it’s environs. The Huntress, Pow-Wow Smith (a character not seen In decades), and Nighthawk help Robin defeat the Trigger Twins (or is it Trigger Triplets?). How can a classic Western shootout take place in Gotham? The western and mystery genres don't gel completely, but give this a B anyway.

The Catwoman annual involves the felonious feline in grave robbing and the awakening of a very angry Egyptian mummy who decides Catwoman can best atone for her crimes by marrying him. The mummy has evidently studied English in his spare time since he seemingly comprehends Catwoman's American slang. (Pulp stories usually took for granted that everyone spoke English or had a polylinguist in the cast.) We never know who the mummy is, but the story works as a blend of spoof and suspense. I like stories about mummies, so I give this an A.

The best of this quartet is the Batman annual. The art alone justifies an A. The story involves yet another semi-mystical, semi-scientific menace from Tibet but is refreshingly free of the worst excesses of the Fu Manchu genre. Be sure to buy this one.

-- Dr. Jon Suter

Click here for a "Pulp Heroes" cover gallery.