The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Ethel Calvert

ethelcalvertCalvert, Ethel. Ethel Calvert was created by Milo Milton Hastings (City of Endless Night) and appeared in “In the Clutch of the War-God” (Physical Culture, July-Sept 1911). Forty years in the future Ethel Calvert is in Japan when war breaks out between Japan and the United States. Calvert is sheltered by the family of Dr. Oshida, a friendly Japanese. Calvert slowly adapts to the Japanese way of life, which includes vegetarianism, eugenics, and exercise, and which has created a people who are physically superior to the meat-eating, sexually repressed Americans. Japan takes the Philippines, and after Calvert and the Oshida family are taught how to fly planes off of a Japanese aircraft carrier, they take part in the Japanese invasion of Beaumont, Texas. The Japanese occupation is relatively kind, and Calvert and the Oshidas begin working in the corn plantations. Eventually the United States is forced to sue for peace, Calvert finds true love, and Americans embrace the Japanese way of life.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Cagayous

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Cagayous. Cagayous was created by “Musette,” the pseudonym of Auguste Robinet, and appeared in over fifteen hundred Algerian and French cartoons, serials, and dime novels from 1895 to 1920, beginning in the Mar. 3, 1895 issue of Le Turco. Cagayous is a working class pieds noir (French colonist in Algeria)–in many ways quintessentially so, from his patois to his behavior. He is “the biggest hustler in Algiers,” and has a wide variety of picaresque adventures, working various lower class jobs and getting fired from them over points of honor or his theft from them. (Cagayous is pieds noir counterpart to Ally Sloper, albeit not influenced by him or modeled on him). A trickster and loud-mouthed braggart, Cagayous has a gang of friends and is often embroiled in fistfights on their behalf, but he never resorts to a knife or other weapon. He is also anti-Semitic, which was one reason for Cagayous’ great popularity with the French and Algerian reading public.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Ethan Burr

ethanburrBurr, Ethan. Ethan Burr was created by “Russell Gray,” the pseudonym of Bruno Fischer (Ben Bryn, Ben Helm, Calvin Kane, Rick Train), and appeared in six stories in Strange Detective Mysteries in 1939 and 1940, beginning with “Butcher’s Holiday” (Strange Detective Mysteries, Mar/Apr. 1939). Ethan Burr is a Killer Vigilante. Burr is a New York City private detective who stacks the bodies around him with great abandon. He’s called “the Practitioner of Death” because of his skill at killing–he’s very quick with his .44–and because trouble always seems to seek him out. He had originally been a “carefree, exceptionally clever, first-grade homicide dick who was set to go far in the department.” Unfortunately, his “charming young wife had died because Burr hadn’t been able to afford the necessary surgical and medical expenses to save her life.” This leaves Burr feeling unhappy, and the smile leaves his “hard, thin mouth” and “steel-gray eyes.” He quits the force and opens a private detective agency, using the money he makes to support his two small children. “His services came high, and if one wanted an utterly ruthless and fearless machine of justice, his fees were worth it.” He does not always come through his cases unscathed–one blackmailer’s knife leaves a scar across his cheek and mouth–but his enemies fare considerably worse. Burr is well-inclined toward Chinese-Americans (despite the cover art his stories were saddled with) and views them without the racism so common to many other characters in the pulps. One of the few men he trusts, in fact, is Sam Ming, the “unofficial mayor of Chinatown.”

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: The Burmese Swordsman.

Burmese Swordsman. The Burmese Swordsman was created by Zayya and appeared in the Burmese novel Mya Lay Shwe Dar Bo (1920). The Burmese Swordsman is a Costumed Avenger modeled on the Scarlet Pimpernel. The Burmese Swordsman is active in Yangon (Rangoon) in the present day.

Zayya (1900-1982) was one of the first Burmese novelists to write in plain prose, free of religious material. It is interesting–to me, at least–that one of his early choices for what to write about was a Burmese version of The Scarlet Pimpernel. It shows the reach of Baroness Orczy’s work (the Scarlet Pimpernel is one of the 20th century’s first superheroes, though by no means the first superhero–the superhero is a product of the 19th century, not the 20th)–The Scarlet Pimpernel, translated around the world, struck a chord with audiences who you might not think would respond to a tale like The Scarlet Pimpernel. (Or perhaps it’s not so strange, at that–The Scarlet Pimpernel is a rebel against an oppressive government, an idea that many oppressed peoples, and writers of those oppressed peoples, responded to; The Scarlet Pimpernel was translated into a number of colonial languages and reinterpreted by colonial subjects for their own uses). And, well, the concept, of a pulp-era Burmese Scarlet Pimpernel, rescuing Burmese prisoners from British colonial authorities, is a pretty neat one, I think.

No cover image of Mya Lay Shwe Dar Boalas, or even image of Zayya. Google fails us on this occasion, as do Western-language scholarly materials on Burmese popular culture and popular literature more generally.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Duke Buckland

dukebucklandBuckland, Duke. Duke Buckland was created by Frederick C. Davis (Donald O’Keefe Adams, Bill Brent, Carter Cole, Dennis Dayle, Murray Gifford, Cyrus Hatch, Mark Hazzard, Jingling Kid, Guy Kerry, Paul Kirk, Show-Me McGee, Moon Man, Operator #5, Radigan, Ravenwood, Peter Trapp II, Peter Van Dyk) and appeared in a number of stories in Western Trails from 1934 to at least 1937, possibly beginning with “Dead Man’s Boots” (Western Trails, Sept 1934). Duke Buckland is a Wanted Man. Duke Buckland, alias “Black Jack Spade,” is wanted in every state west of the Mississippi, and with his sidekick “Kit” McCane is forced to continually wander. McCane, at least, thinks this is unjust: “Gosh, Duke…you’re squarer than the gents who are waitin’ to rope you. I know you’ve never robbed except to help somebody else—and you’ve never gunned anybody who wasn’t a skunk plumb in need of bein’ exterminated.” Buckland leaves a Jack of Spades behind after he Does Good. Buckland rides the snow-white pony White Man and has “blue eyes, sharpened by an eternity of riding the death-haunted owl-hoot.”

A typical cowboy hero of the Western pulps, you might think, and you’d be right, only better written than was the norm (Frederick C. Davis was a skilled professional), and almost archetypal in his Wanted Man, wandering-hero status and almost existential unhappiness at that status.  

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Ivan Brodsky.

IvanBrodskyBrodsky, Ivan. Ivan Brodsky was created by “Victor Rousseau,” the pseudonym of Victor Rousseau Emmanuel (Jim Anthony, Clifford, Ronald Gowan, Phileas Immanuel, Professor MacBeard, Dr. Martinus, Pennell, Shawm, Thorne), and appeared in eleven stories in Weird Tales in 1926 and 1927, beginning with “The Case of the Jailer’s Daughter” (Weird Tales, Sept. 1926). Ivan Brodsky is a Big-Headed Dwarf Genius Occult Detective. Ivan Brodsky, the Polish-born “Surgeon of Souls,” works as a “professor of nervous diseases” at a London hospital. He is a “dark, sinewy, undersized man, with a great head absurdly disproportionate to his body, and flashing eyes that seemed to pierce through you and read your thoughts.” He is “a cross between two races whose blend of shrewdness and mysticism was probably accountable for the production of so remarkable a personality as his own.” He is unassuming and doesn’t socialize, but is “all-dominating” in his hospital, where he performs experiments for treating “obscure brain lesions.” He is an expert hypnotist who receives cases from around the country. His particular cases involve psychic matters of reincarnation and possession, and he believes in an “oversoul” to which individual souls return, so that the execution of a brutal murderer will “be the release of just so much additional force of evil” to the oversoul.

Image above by Richard Pace.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: James Brewster.

ape manBrewster, James. James Brewster was created by Karl Brown and Barney A. Sarecky (Tom Morgan, Three Musketeers (I), Tiger Shark, Wild Boy) and appeared in the film The Ape Man (1943). James Brewster is a Mad Scientist. He and his assistant Dr. Randall believe that the world is in desperate need of the secret to turning human into ape-men, so Brewster fakes his own death and retires to a secret lab to conduct his experiments. Brewster injects the spinal fluid of a gorilla into himself, and the end result is that Brewster becomes the sought-for homo sapiens gorillini. Unfortunately, the life of a hairy, stooped, half-man half-ape is not quite what Brewster thought it would be, and Brewster finds that nights sleeping next to his pet gorilla are no substitute for nights with a woman. So Brewster sets out to find a cure, which regrettably includes spinal fluid freshly drawn from a human body. Randall questionably refuses to harvest specimens, so Brewster and his pet gorilla are forced to do it themselves.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Professor Branestawm

 

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Branestawm, Professor. Professor Branestawm was created by Norman Hunter and W. Heath Robinson and appeared a number of stories, a radio program, and fourteen novels and short story collections from 1932 to 1938. Professor Branestawm is an Unlucky Inventor. In fact, he is the archetypal absent-minded and eccentric inventor. In his “Inventory” he is perpetually inventing unusual, bizarre, and outré creations, from a time machine to a burglar-catcher to non-shine invisible glass to paint-on carpet. His inventions inevitably malfunction and land him in adventurous and occasionally dangerous situations. Branestawm is assisted by his friend Colonel Dedshott of the Catapult Cavaliers.

That, at the top, is Branestawm’s potato peeler, as illustrated by the glorious W. Heath Robinson, the British Rube Goldberg (or perhaps Goldberg is the American Heath Robinson). There were a fair number of what I’ve called Unlucky Inventors in the magazines of the pulp era–absent-minded creators and their whacky inventions. But Branestawm is perhaps the greatest of them all.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Heinz Brandt

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Brandt, Heinz. Heinz Brandt appeared in the German dime novel Heinz Brandt der Fremdenlegionär #1-332 (1913-1921). Heinz Brandt der Fremdenlegionär was the most popular of the Foreign Legion heftromanes (German dime novels/pulps). Heinz Brandt is a Legionnaire. Heinz and his brother Fritz are a pair of patriotic Germans who join the French Foreign Legion for undisclosed reasons. They enjoy the adventures that serving in the Legion brings them, and because they are good, decent men they try to help the indigenous peoples they travel among. But the French commanders of the Legion are brutal sadists, to the point where one of them is willing to use Heinz Brandt as a living target in order to test out a new weapon. With the Legion the Brandts travel across North Africa, go to Asia, and then to Southern Africa, in stories with titles like “Battle of the Elephants,” “The Secret of the Sunken City,” “The Amazons of Dahomey,” and “The Gluttons of Kitumbo.” When World War One began the focus of the stories shifted, and the Brandts travel to Belgium to fight the evil, cruel, barbarous, atrocity-loving French Army. The Brandts are made Corporals in the German Army and win the Iron Cross, fighting in every famous battle in France, Russia and the Balkans. When the war ends the Brandts re-enlist in the Legion and resume service in North Africa. In 1956 a sequel to Heinz Brandt der Fremdenlegionär appeared: Fremdenlegionär Brandt #1-5, about Rolf Brandt, the son of Heinz Brandt and a Legionnaire just like his father.

French Foreign Legion stories were popular in the American pulps, but even more popular and long-lasting in the German heftromane, with several Legionnaire characters having good long runs. None as long as Heinz Brandt, however, who really was the archetypal German Legionnaire character, enough so that over thirty years later a sequel could be published.

And of course, as a World War One-era pulp, there’s a lot of good, interesting political material in here, not only before WW1 but during and even after the war itself–Heinz Brandt, post-WW1, is an attempt to redeem German manhood by making the titular character the most manly and accomplished of that most manly of groups, the Foreign Legion.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Anna Brandt.

missbrandtBrandt, Anna. Anna Brandt was created by Margery Lawrence (Miles Pennoyer) and appeared in three novellas which were collected in Miss Brandt: Adventuress (1923). Anna Brandt is a Lupin (master thief). She is a tall, slim, beautiful European adventuress and thief known as “Fly-By-Night.” But Brandt is no ordinary thief. She is, of course, cool, composed, humorous with a touch of maliciousness, and capable of violence and mercilessness when necessary (she shoots a helpless man in the shoulder just to ensure her escape). But she is daring enough, and sportswoman enough, to let the world know her real name, and let her victims know who she is, without regard for any consequences. Brandt is clever enough, and skillful enough, that her reputation is not a hindrance to her. She has a mysterious past, but it is obvious that she is from the upper classes–she speaks several languages, rides like a trooper, and “knows the world and all the little finesses that go to complete the polishing of a very exquisitely finished woman of the world.” It’s said that she was socially disgraced by her faithless lover, and in revenge robbed first him and then turned to robbing Society. Brandt is assisted by the mute Zach, himself of unknown background, but although sinister and even repellant is faithful to Brandt, a good chauffeur and cook, and excellent sidekick in crime. Brandt is hunted by Jack Dering of Scotland Yard, a persistent admirer and Loving Enemy. Unfortunately, she eventually throws over a life of adventure and crime to be Dering’s wife.

Miss Brandt, Adventuress is the flip side of the dime novel/pulp trend (which really began in the 1890s) toward female detectives. By the 1920s there were enough lone female detectives to fill a good anthology, so authors (many of them women) had begun writing about their criminal counterparts, many of whom were more distinctive than similar male characters. Miss Brandt is a cracking good read, and Anna Brandt (despite the unfortunately cliched ending) is a memorable character.

Sadly, the book is not available online, but any publisher interested in a nice slice of female crime from the 1920s could do a lot worse than to reprint Miss Brandt, Adventuress.

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