Norgil the Magician

Walter Gibson is rightly associated with The Shadow, having written 282 novels featuring the character. But he also wrote 23 stories featuring the lesser-known “Norgil the Magician,” drawing upon his real-life knowledge of magic. Norgil debuted in the November 1937 issue of Crime Busters and continued to be published until 1940. These 23 stories are, for the most part, very hard to come by. In 1977, Mysterious Press issued two volumes collecting 16 of the tales — I can only assume there were plans for a third book that ended up never happening. The books themselves are beautiful things to behold — both feature Jim Steranko covers.

I’m lucky enough to own these two volumes and I thought I’d take some time to talk about the first of them with you. It contains 8 stories, selected as a “best of” from the ’37-’40 period. The very first story is a little rough compared to the others — it’s easy to see that Gibson (writing under the Maxwell Grant byline) gets more comfortable as time goes on. Unlike The Shadow, Norgil doesn’t have a large supporting cast — in fact, the only character who appears in each tale alongside Norgil is his trusty stage assistant, Fritz. There is also a showgirl named Miriam who is in many stories but it’s really only in one of them that she has much to do or say — the rest of the time she’s basically background material.

The basic premise of each story (all of which are around 22 pages in this book) is this: the story opens with Norgil in some new city, performing a magic trick, which Gibson explains to us. Then he becomes involved in solving a murder/jewel theft/protection racket scheme. He usually manages to solve the mystery with the help of another magic trick, which Gibson again gives a full description of. Sometimes Fritz helps, sometimes not. My favorite plots involved Norgil attending a magicians’ convention (“Battle of Magic”) and one about a ring that people are being killed over (“Ring of Death”).

All the villains in this book are of the small-time variety: hoodlums, rich guys who are secretly bankrolling the mob, etc. There’s no true threat for Norgil, who handles all the cases with relative ease. In that sense, it reminds me of a perfect setup for a television series, a la Murder, She Wrote – our hero could travel each week, with one or two supporting cast members, solving crimes wherever he goes.

Norgil himself is suave and intelligent. There’s no signs of romance in his life but he’s a friendly sort who seemingly knows people in every town. He’s a master of disguise, good with his fists and a master illusionist.

Gibson’s trademark writing style is recognizable but the character certainly feels different from The Shadow. If you enjoy Gibson’s more famous creation, I think you’ll find enjoyment in this one, as well. My biggest complaint is that I kept hungering for Norgil to face a true master criminal, one that would push him to the limit. Despite all the gunfire and death traps in this book, I never really felt that Norgil was threatened.

The book is great fun and an interesting look at a forgotten character.

I give the book 4 out of 5 stars — if Norgil’s opposition had been greater, I would have given it a perfect score. Norgil is one of those characters on my bucket list to write… I tried unsuccessfully to get the rights to him at one point and would dearly love to have a shot at handling this wonderful but forgotten hero.

New Pulp United!

Already submitted a 18,000+ story for this and it’s been accepted.



Pro Se Productions, a publisher of Genre Fiction, is also a publisher and a leading figure in one aspect of what is considered The New Pulp Movement. This movement focuses on fiction that is inspired and in the style of Pulp Fiction published in the early 20th Century, influenced by Pulp of the past, but written by modern writers with an eye toward the future. New Pulp exists outside this movement, obviously, and many recognize all aspects of this style of fiction as a community. This feeling has been so prevalent in the past that it has led to creators coming together to produce benefit books in memory of other creators or, in the case of Pro Se’s Editor in Chief, Tommy Hancock, to assist during hard times.

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Star Trek: Episodes with Impact

Planetary Defense Command


You are witnessing a first here at Planetary Defense Command.  Although I frequently blog about short stories and novels, and every once in a while about a film, this will be my first post about television.  To demonstrate how irrelevant I am in modern America, I’ve chosen to write about two episodes of a television show which aired in 1967.  I didn’t see Star Trek during its original airing, but I remember that when I watched the re-runs, “color TV” was still an important distinction.  The two episodes I’ll discuss here left a lasting impact, sticking in my memory through the decades.

The first episode is called “Mirror, Mirror” (I had to look this up).  Several members of the crew, including Captain Kirk, are transported to a parallel universe, where the Enterprise is populated by “evil” twins of the regular crew.  The Enterprise is on a mission to…

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Gravedigger Carves Up a 5-Star Review!

IMG_2098ChickJ is back, having posted a review of the third Gravedigger book over at He gave this one 5 stars and this is what he had to say:

An excellent ending to this trilogy. I love seeing The Dark Gentleman showing up. This time there are lots of new ideas but the characters you love are evolving. A few surprises this time. To get the full impact you really need to read the whole series. It is worth reading, a must for all pulp lovers.

Thanks for the review! I remember you gave book 2 only 3 stars so I was pleased to see that you felt the final book was a satisfying completion to the series. I definitely wanted to push the characters forward since this would be the last time you would be seeing most of them. Glad it felt like I succeeded.

Our art today is one of the interior pieces from Gravedigger Volume Three – the artist is the incomparable Chris Batista.

Two New Reviews

thumbsupA couple of new reviews went up on Amazon recently – one very positive and one not so much. First up is Chick J, who has reviewed other books by me in the past. He reviewed the second volume in the Gravedigger series and gave the book 3 out of 5 stars. Here’s his review:

I am a big fan of Barry Reese. Love his Peregrine and Lazarus Gray series. This time, the story just seems to wander. It seem like I read all this before. I hope the next one is better.

Sorry the book didn’t click with you, Chick. I thought the second book was a good one but I’m a bit biased! Hopefully you’ll try the third book and see an improvement. Thanks for the review!

The second review covered Restless: An Anthology of Mummy Horror, which I contributed to. This reviewer was anonymous but he or she did give the book 5 stars and wrote the following:

Engaging collection of stories of mummies from Flinch Books. Nice decision to avoid focusing solely on the typical Egyptian Universal Horror-style pyramids and pharaohs mummy. More action/adventure with a touch of the supernatural vs. horror. Look forward to reading more from this new publisher.

I was proud to be a part of this book and I’m glad to see it getting some love!

Various Things

equalizer_two_ver2Went and saw The Equalizer 2 this weekend and it was a nice dose of New Pulp. Parts of it really reminded me of the old Charles Bronson Death Wish movies, in fact. If you enjoyed the first movie in this series, you’ll like this one, too – the plot for this film seems a little less focused than last time around but there are a number of great character scenes in this one so I think it all balances out. Personally, I’d enjoy seeing a third installment in the series.

Finished off a short story last week that brought together a number of public domain characters that have appeared in my Lazarus Gray books. It turned out pretty well, I think, but I’m not sure if I’ll do a second story with them or not. We’ll see. Tommy Hancock named the group and I plan to give him the blame for anything that you may not like when you finally read it.

I’ve started work on the 10th volume of the Lazarus Gray series, which will be entitled LAZARUS AT WAR. It starts off with a dark day in American history and I’m sure that most of you can guess what day of infamy I’m hinting at.

The third book in the Gravedigger series has been selling well – if you’ve read it, please leave a review over on Amazon or Goodreads, or both. Even if you didn’t like the book, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on it.

The Hour of the Dragon


For a short course I gave online in the past weeks, I went back and revisited The Hour of the Dragon, a novel by Robert E. Howard, also known as Conan the Conqueror.
This is the only novel about Conan ever written by Howard, and it was used many years ago to introduce the character to the Italian public. In this, the Italian publisher followed the lead of Lancer Books, that in 1950 started its Conan series with this same book.
It was not the first Conan book I ever read (that was Conan the Adventurer) but it was the first Conan story by Howard I ever read in English. And I read The Hour of the Dragon in the Berkeley edition curated by the late Karl Edward Wagner, and based directly on copies of Weird Tales. Without, that is, the editorial interventions of De Camp.



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Timeline of My Pulp Adventure Universe (updated 7/18/2018)

lg01_lazarus_solo_with_textMajor Events specific to certain stories and novels are included in brackets. Some of this information contains SPOILERS for The Peregrine, Lazarus Gray, Gravedigger and other stories.

~ 800 Viking warrior Grimarr dies of disease but is resurrected as the Sword of Hel. He adventures for some time as Hel’s agent on Earth. [“Dogs of War” and “In the Name of Hel,” Tales of the Norse Gods].

1748 – Johann Adam Weishaupt is born.

1750 – Guan-Yin embarks on a quest to find her lost father, which takes her to Skull Island [Guan-Yin and the Horrors of Skull Island].

1776 – Johann Adam Weishaupt forms The Illuminati. He adopts the guise of the original Lazarus Gray in group meetings, reflecting his “rebirth” and the “moral ambiguity” of the group. In Sovereign City, a Hessian soldier dies in battle, his spirit resurrected as an headless warrior.

Continue reading → Timeline of My Pulp Adventure Universe (updated 7/18/2018)

Gravedigger volume 3 gets another top review!

Ray Bara posted a five star review of the newest Gravedigger volume on – this is what he said:

A fantastic ending to Barry Reese’s Gravedigger trilogy! As others have said, this was bittersweet, as the trilogy has been wonderful, but there won’t be any more Gravedigger stories. I guess I’ll have to wait for Reese’s other books, like future Lazarus Gray stories. Maybe his publisher will put them out quicker. Enjoy this one, and any other Barry Reese stuff you can get your hands on.

Thanks, Ray! I’m glad you enjoyed the series!

Friday Update!

Gravedigger_06_smallSales have been brisk on the new Gravedigger book and all the feedback I’ve received so far has been very positive. I’ve gotten several questions about whether or not I’d want to write more books about the other Gravediggers from throughout history – or even the modern day version, whomever that might be. The answer is that I have plenty of ideas for such things but I don’t have any immediate plans to do so. Right now I’m working on a short story featuring The Black Terror, The Golden Amazon, The Fighting Yank and Olga Mesmer – it’s set right after the 9th Lazarus Gray volume. Once I’m done with this, I have a story I started based on an idea from Jim Beard and I’m also tempted to start the 10th book of Lazarus Gray… and I have a few other ideas, as well. We’ll see what happens.

Reading (and enjoying) THE OUTSIDER by Stephen King. It’s the best thing I’ve read him in a long time but I’m only halfway through the book so there’s still time for him to disappoint me!

Comic-book wise, I can’t recommend DOMINO from Gail Simone and Marvel Comics enough. Great stuff!