The Best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Colette

coletteColette. Colette was created by Gilles Brodeur and appeared Les Dangereux Exploits du Sergent Colette, UZ-16, L’As Femme Détective Canadienne-Française #1-240+ (1945?-?). Colette is a Québécois private detective. She owns her own bureau, but she also doubles as Agent UZ-16 of the Canadian intelligence agency. In this dual role she takes on a wide variety of enemies, from ordinary murderers to Communist spies to “devil Doctors.”

That’s Canada for you: a lack of memory of past popular culture (seriously, nobody knows how many issues of Sergent Colette there were, just that there were over 240, or how many years it lasted, or when it started), but more advanced and progressive, whenever it appeared, than its USian counterparts (there’s no one like Colette in the USian pulps, and certainly no one like Colette who lasted for over 240 issues–which at one issue a week comes out to at least six years).

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The Best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: The Cobra (I)

cobraCobra (I). The Cobra (I) was created by Richard B. Sale (Daffy Dill, Candid Jones, Captain McGrail, Penny Packer, Calamity Quade, Daniel Webster) and appeared in three stories in Ten Detective Aces in 1934, beginning with “Terror Towers” (Ten Detective Aces, Jan. 1934). (In at least one later story the Cobra is referred to as the “Asp”). The Cobra (I) is Deen Bradley, an Indian detective who works for British Intelligence. Bradley is a good detective, capable of operating and solving crimes in America and Britain as well as India, but it is as the Cobra, his alternate identity, that he is feared. Crooks are known to flee India when they hear the Cobra is coming after them. The Cobra is so effective that he successfully puts down a “Persian uprising” in Bombay. He is good with his fists and his guns, but his special weapon is a cigarette holder which can shoot poison darts tipped with cobra venom, a weapon that the enemies of truth and justice never expect or guard against.

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The Best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes

clubfootClubfoot. Clubfoot was created by “Douglas Valentine,” the pseudonym of Valentine Williams (Trevor Dene, Detective-Inspector Manderton, Mister Treadgold), and appeared in nine novels from 1918 to 1944, beginning with The Man With the Clubfoot. Desmond Okewood is the nominal hero of the series. Okewood is a World War One vet who was retired from the trenches after being wounded on the Somme–he received a “gunshot wound in head and cerebral concussion” as well as shell shock. Okewood is drawn into espionage because his brother Francis has disappeared and so he, Desmond, has to go into Europe and behind enemy lines to rescue Francis. From there it’s a long series of jousts with much the more interesting character of the series, Clubfoot, a.k.a. Dr. Adolph Grundt, who repeatedly survives what seems like a certain death to return and plague the Allies. Clubfoot is big, ugly, lame from birth, a stereotypical Prussian, quite ruthless, quite brave, and responsible for countless infamies and wrecked lives. During the war he is the head of the Kaiser’s spy service, but after the war Clubfoot becomes the leader of an international espionage ring.

The Clubfoot novels are fun, with a great villain in Clubfoot. Well worth searching out.

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The Best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Leon Clifton

cliftonClifton, Leon. Leon Clifton was created by Jaroslav Pulda and appeared in the Czech pulp Z Pam?tí Amerického Detektiva Léona Cliftona #1-275 (1906-1910); the series was reprinted in 1926 and 1936. Leon Clifton is a Great Detective modeled on Nick Carter (I). Clifton is famous, capable, and welcome wherever he goes, America and Europe, for he solves crimes and defeats the most evil wrongdoers everywhere. A Czech-American, Clifton was orphaned at a young age and found abandoned in Nebraska, where he grew up. Some of Clifton’s cases verge on the fantastic, as when he discovers the cursed belt buckle of Cagliostro lying in the street, or in the appropriately-titled “Gorilla ex Machina.” Clifton appears in stories with titles like “Torn Apart By Wolves,” “The Shadow Without a Head,” and “The Lady of the Death’s Head.”

I’m including Leon Clifton in part because, well, I’m a completist, that’s how I roll, but also because he’s a good representative of a number of similar characters who flared briefly, had a few years of intense popularity, and then vanished. You don’t get to 275 issues without a significant number of fans at one point, and you don’t get reprinted twice without those fans still being around. Clifton, like so many other characters of the pulp era, is forgotten today, but had an intense (if short-lived) heyday, and deserves to be remembered somewhere, if only for “Gorilla ex Machina.”

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Sir Ralf Clifford

RalfCliffordClifford, Sir Ralf. Sir Ralf Clifford was created by Martin Winfried and appeared in the German pulp Sir Ralf Clifford, Der Unsichtbare Mensch oder Das Geheimnisvolle Vermächtnis des fakirs #1-192 (1921-1925); the series was reprinted in Italy as Sir Ralf Clifford #1-192 (1929-1930). Ralf Clifford, an American, had studied under a fakir in India and, when the fakir was dying, received from him the mummified head of a cobra. When Clifford presses the cobra head against his breast, he is injected with a poisonous fluid which scars him but also leaves him invisible for seven minutes. If Clifford should be dosed 217 times, he will die. (Fortunately, the series was cancelled before the 217th dose was applied). Clifford uses the mummified cobra head to fight for good. His adventures are on the fantastic side; he takes on secret cults, vampires, subterranean masterminds, werewolves, and living Buddhas, both in Italy and around the world. Clifford’s arch-enemy is Pitt Potter, a notorious murderer who is continually trying to steal the secret of invisibility from Clifford. Clifford appears in stories with titles like “The Secrets of the Temple of Lhasa,” “The Black Priest of Notre Dame,” and “In the Empire of the Black Diamonds.”

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Hamilton Cleek

cleek

Cleek, Hamilton. Hamilton Cleek was created by Thomas W. Hanshew and appeared in over forty short stories and twelve novels and short story collections from 1910 to 1932, beginning with “The Affair of the Man Who Called Himself Hamilton Cleek” (People’s Ideal Fiction Magazine, Aug. 1910); he also appeared in the film serial The Chronicles of Cleek (1913-1914). Hamilton Cleek is a Superhuman Lupin. Hanshew described Cleek in this way:

“The biggest and boldest criminal the police had ever had to cope with, the almost supernatural genius of crime…who for sheer deviltry, for diabolical ingenuity and for colossal impudence…had not met his match in all the universe.

“Who or what he really was…no man knew…in his many encounters with the police he had assumed the speech, the characteristics, and, indeed, the facial attributes of various nationalities…with an ease and a perfection that…had gained him the sobriquet of “Forty Faces” among the police, and of “The Vanishing Cracksman” from newspaperdom.”

Cleek is actually of royal descent, “Hamilton Cleek” being only an assumed name. He is the titled King of Maurevania, “that dear land of desolated hopes, dear grave of murdered joys.” His mother, Queen Karma, was exiled and died penniless. Cleek’s daughter died young, and his other brother disappeared into Persia. Cleek himself simply vanished, and there is no record of what he did after leaving Maurevania and before beginning his life of crime in Europe.

Cleek being high-minded, he carried out his crimes with style. He always warned the police when and where he would strike next, giving them twelve hours’ warning. They are never successful in stopping him, and the morning after each exploit Superintendent Maverick Narkom of Scotland Yard would receive a small item from the theft, always contained in a small pink box tied with a rose ribbon, and accompanied by a card which reads “With the compliments of the man who calls himself Hamilton Cleek.” Eventually Cleek falls in love and decides to reform. He offers his services to Narkom, who gladly accepts the, and Cleek becomes a consulting detective. Cleek is assisted by his Cockney servant Dollops.

Cleek, around 30 years of age, is “faultlessly dress, faultlessly mannered, with the slim-loined form, the slim-walled nose, and the clear-cut features of the born aristocrat…there was something about him, in look, in speech, in bearing, that mutely stood sponsor for the thing called `birth.’” His most distinguishing feature is his face. While pregnant Cleek’s mother played with a rubber-faced toy, and this somehow affected Cleek, giving him the ability to rearrange the features of his face, somehow making the bone and cartilage go as flexible as putty.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Ciclón

ciclon

Ciclón. Ciclón was created by “Avilés Balaguer,” the pseudonym of Manuel Vallvé López (Hércules), and appeared in the Spanish pulp Ciclón #1-6 (1942-1943). Ciclón is an air ace modeled on Bill Barnes. “Ciclón” is Fernando Aguirre, a Spanish pilot from the city of Santander who fights evil in the skies over Europe, although his headquarters is in Spain. Aguirre is assisted by his team, which included Santi Echetorena, a Basque, Conrad Kroeger, a German, Mootar Bin, a Hindu, two Andalusians, and an Argentine. Ciclón appeared in stories with titles like “The Winged Dragon,” “Wind of Insanity,” and “Golden Wings.”

Ciclón was one of a quartet of Spanish pulp heroes who were overtly modeled on successful American pulp heroes: Ciclón on Bill Barnes, Manuel Vallvé López’s Hércules on Doc Savage, Guillermo Lopez Hipkiss’ Yuma on The Shadow, and José Mallorquí’s 3 Hombres Buenos on Pete Rice. I’m including Ciclón et al. in the Pulp Encyclopedia not only because they are foreign pulp heroes (though admittedly that’s a big lure) but because each of them overcame their American models to become singular figures in their own right. The Spanish enthusiastically embraced the American pulps and turned out numerous pulp heroes and heroines of their own, figures who may have owed their ultimate inspiration to American pulps but which were definitely Spanish in style and content while still being successfully pulpish. The Spanish knew how to do the pulps right, and Ciclón was a part of that.

Too, these pulps came out during the Spanish Civil War and afterwards, when the fascists took power, which meant that the writers and artists of the pulps were working under restrictive conditions (not just from the fascists, but from the Church), and it’s a tribute to their fecund imaginations and skill as writers and artists that they managed to succeed as well as they did.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Dr. Chung

Chung, Dr. Dr. Chung was created by S. Oesmany and appeared in the Indonesian novels Dr. Chung (1940) and Mr. Bacht (1940). Dr. Chung is a Great Detective modeled on Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Chung is an Indonesian consulting detective and medical doctor. He is active around the world and travels to Europe to learn more about European medicine. Dr. Chung is assisted by the very Watson-like Dr. Wu and the Philip Marlowe-like Bellem (wise-cracking hard-boiled private detective) Mr. Bacht.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Chucho el Roto

chuchoelrotoChucho el Roto. Jesús Arriaga (1858-1894) was a Mexican swindler and bandit who became known for the elegance of his dress (hence his name: “Chucho,” a nickname for Jesús, and “el Roto,” slang for a well-dressed person), his swindles, and his form of social justice. He appeared in a number of Mexican films, novels, radio shows, soap operas, comic strips and comic books from 1919 to the present, beginning with Santiago J. Serra’s Aventuras de Chucho o El Bandido Generoso. The fictional version of Chucho el Roto is, depending on the text, a Con Man, a Gentleman Bandit, a Lupin, a Robin Hood-esque Costumed Avenger, or some combination of the three.

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The best of the Encyclopedia of Pulp Heroes: Charlie Chong

charliechongChong, Charlie. Charlie Chong was created by James Perley Hughes and appeared in at least three stories in Argosy All-Story Weekly in 1925 and 1926, possibly beginning with “Charlie Chong and the Perfect Way” (Argosy All-Story Weekly, July 4, 1925). Charlie Chong is the Chinese-American “editor, advertising manager and general factotum of the Chung Mei Bo, Chinatown’s most progressive newspaper.” He is a clever, skinny man, entirely un-stereotypical, who does things like starting and managing Chinatown’s first beauty contest as a charity contest for Chinatown’s new hospital. He is aided in his schemes by the lovely Tze Chan, Chong’s girlfriend and the daughter of the newspaper’s publisher.

I’ve included Charlie Chong in my encyclopedia, and have posted him here, not for the plot of the stories (which are fairly straightforward and of ordinary quality for the better pulps), but because he’s a good example of the kind of POC character who appeared as protagonists in the better pulps (i.e., not the mediocrities like the science fiction pulps, but the better-paying, better-edited, and just plain better pulps like Argosy and Blue Book). No stereotypes involved, no pidgin English or opium or Yellow Peril villains or anything like that–just ordinary characters who happen to be POC having entertaining adventures.

Characters like Charlie Chong are why I repeatedly point to the pulps (despite their many flaws) as being superior, over-all, in terms of race and ethnicity, to mainstream media of the day. Go ahead and search for a Charlie Chong character in the slick magazines, or movies or radio. You won’t find them. Yes, the pulps had an embarrassing number of stereotypical POC characters, but it also had Charlie Chongs, which is more than the non-pulps can say.

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