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.

Zot!

zot6I’ve always been interested in Scott McCloud’s Zot! having seen artwork during its heyday but I was never able to actually track down an issue. Recently I bought two volumes – one collecting the first ten color issues and another reprinting the black and white issues 11-36. Having now read the entire saga, I can say that I absolutely loved it… Zot himself is as close to a modern day take on Captain Marvel as is possible. That’s not to say there’s any similarity in superficial elements like powers, origins, etc. – I mean that the sense of whimsy, the character’s innate goodness, all of those are found in large amounts.

The characters… wow. I genuinely love Zot, Max, Woody, Terry and all the rest. The villains are fantastic, too – my favorites being Dekker and 9-Jack-9. The gist of the series is that an unhappy young girl named Jenny discovers that there’s another Earth out there… one that’s set in ‘1964’ but not the 1964 of our world. Zot’s world is like retro-future version of society… think Disney’s Tomorrowland or the old Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers type of thing with jetpacks and laser pistols. Jenny falls madly in love not only with Zot but also with his world in general, which seems so much better than her own home.

zot_terryThe final few issues feature Zot trapped on our earth and the storytelling changes a bit but remains very solid. Issue 33, which features Terry’s struggle with her sexuality, is one of the very best comic stories on the topic that I’ve ever read. It’s highly recommended.

If you haven’t come across Zot!, it’s not super easy to find… but it is soooooo worth the effort. I will be going back to these stories in the future and wondering what happened to these characters. I love it.

zot_world

New Pulp Recommendations: Terror Times Three by Lou Mougin

terrorTerror Times Three is a League of Champions novel published by Pro Se Productions, as part of their licensing deal with Heroic Comics. The League of Champions features the likes of Icestar, Flare and The Huntsman, all characters that have their origins in the roleplaying game world of the Champions line of games. I’ve played the game many times and remember when these characters and others appeared in the gaming books before their leap to comics. I’ve also read many of their comics and even wrote an adaptation of the early Liberty Girl stories for Pro Se.

This particular book features three stories, all set during the first President Bush’s time in office. I kind of liked having the book set in that time frame instead of the modern day. The first story features the team going up against the forces of DEMON, while the second is an in-depth look at their old enemy Makano while the third is similar to those day in the life issues that comics have between the big epics. Overall, Lou does a great job of making this feel like a comic book come to prose and I’d kinda like to see a whole series of these with subplots running through them.

Lou really shines on the Mekano story and he emphasizes what makes this character so different from the likes of Ultron. In fact, I found the scenes from Mekano’s point of view the best of the entire book.

This isn’t high literature and it’s not pretending to be. It’s just a good read with a bunch of superheroes doing super stuff. I recommend it if you’re looking for an enjoyable bit of escapist entertainment.

New Pulp Recommendations: Brother Bones – City of Lost Souls

coverOne of my favorite New Pulp characters is Brother Bones, the Undead Avenger created by Ron Fortier. Bones patrols the shadowy streets of Cape Noire and is an excellent melding of The Shadow with Marvel Comics’ Ghost Rider… he’s a fedora-wearing, skull-faced dispenser of retribution. I was lucky enough to get Ron’s blessing to feature Brother Bones in one of my Lazarus Gray volumes and it was a blast to handle the character.

City of Lost Souls is the newest volume in the series and it features five stories of varying length – the shortest is a scant five pages while the longest clocks in at 103 pages. The book is a bit different than the earlier Bones adventures in that there feels like a lot less Brother Bones than usual… a strong emphasis is placed on the supporting characters. In fact, Bones doesn’t even appear in “A Taste of Cherry Pie,” which is one of the strongest tales in the book!

The cover artwork is based upon “The Synthetic Man,” the longest story in the book, and that tale pits Doctor Satan against Brother Bones. It wasn’t what I was expecting, though, as there’s not really a whole lot of Satan vs. Bones in direct conflict… I did really enjoy the tale, though, and found the subplot revolving around a disfigured henchman and his mannequin girlfriend to be particularly strong.

As for the cover itself, I really liked it – Michael Stribling did a nice job on this.

Overall, if you’re a fan of the character, you’ll like this book. It deepens the vigilante’s world and makes it clear that the supporting characters are strong enough to carry the tales even without Bones.

New Pulp Recommendations: Wayne of Gotham

wayne_coverEvery so often I focus on a New Pulp work that I think merits your attention. Sometimes it will be something that’s brand new, other times I’ll look at something that’s a few years old. This week, I’m encouraging you to check out Wayne of Gotham by Tracy Hickman.

Before we dive into the book itself, let me show you how the publisher describes the work:

Two men separated by murder: Thomas, the rebellious doctor and heir to the vast Wayne empire, and Bruce, his son, whose life is forever altered by witnessing his parents’ murder. The slaying of Thomas and Martha Wayne is the torturous point on which Bruce turns to become Batman.

The Dark Knight’s file on the case has long been closed, the foundations of Bruce Wayne’s secret life secure in the simple genesis of a mugging gone horribly wrong.

These foundations are shaken, however, when an unexpected guest invades the grounds of Wayne Manor, raising questions about the event that ended the lives of the mother he loved and the father he worshipped, and sparked his unquenchable drive to protect and avenge.

To discover his real family history, Batman must face down old foes, his only confidant, and the evil heart of Arkham Asylum, and shoulder the new burden of a dark legacy.

This novel is a prose adventure of Batman – such things are sometimes very, very good. Other times, they are very, very bad. Since I am familiar with other works by Mr. Hickman (mostly in conjunction with Margaret Weis), I expected to enjoy this story quite a bit.

I most certainly did, though it’s not without some flaws.

There is no mention of the other Bat allies here, so there’s no Robin, Huntress, etc. We do get references to Barbara being in a wheelchair but there’s no telling if she was ever Batgirl or Oracle in this universe. The story jumps back and forth between the modern day and Thomas Wayne’s time. We find out that the elder Wayne was involved in a project aimed at removing all crime from Gotham City… but it ended with disastrous results, which are now haunting Bruce. Alfred may have complicit in keeping the truth from Bruce, which leads to some very tense scenes between the two. It’s pretty shocking to see their relationship disintegrate.

There’s a very compelling mystery here and I was riveted, curious to see where the author would go with it. He definitely went some places that I never thought he would.

If I have any complaints, it’s that some scenes are needlessly confusing and this version of Bruce is, if you’ll pardon my language, a real dick. He’s just a self-absorbed ass, who sits in the Batcave thinking these kinds of morose, over-written thoughts: I was young once… or was I? I don’t remember being young. The face is still strong but there are more lines in it than I remember. Dusk to dawn, fall to spring… Did the wheel of the years turn and I never noticed? There are no seasons in this cavern tomb where my soul resides. Does Gotham exist in an eternal rain-soaked night, or do I only see it that way?

I know – it’s like something straight out of Twilight. Thankfully, the entire book isn’t written like that… but too much of it is. That and the constant “tech babble” keeps this book from being a classic, in my opinion.

It is, however, worth reading if you’re a fan of Batman and want something a bit different.

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.

New Pulp Recommendations: Millennium Bug

bugJeff Deischer is a prolific author and I’ve greatly enjoyed both his non-fiction works (he wrote a wonderful chronology of Doc Savage) and his novels (mostly featuring superheroes). This time around he’s written a pastiche of Doc Savage in which Doc Brazen returns from retirement at the turn of the 21st century, bringing together a new group of aides to help him in dealing with an attack on the Brazen Institute, which is where Brazen alters criminals to be productive members of society.

This is my favorite Doc Savage pastiche of all time, bar none. It captures the feeling of a classic Savage novel while making enough tweaks to keep thing fresh. The new aides are all fun and I found Oz and Noble to be a nice updating on the Ham/Monk dynamic — to be honest, I think I might actually prefer Oz and Noble! Thankfully there are no pet pigs or monkeys around…

I remember when DC tried to update both Doc Savage and The Shadow to the modern day, with very mixed results. A lot of people think these characters only function in their original eras — but Deischer puts the lie to that theory. He proves that Savage/Brazen can work in any time period.

A masterful novel and one that I know I’ll return to in the future. Bring on more Doc Brazen!

Recommended Reading: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Just finished reading this one and I have to say that I loved it! Set in a future where death has been eradicated, the world’s population is kept at a safe level by the workings of a group of men and women known as Scythes. In this story, we get to know two young people – Rowan and Citra — as they are taken on a journey of apprenticeship to Scythe Faraday. There are intrigues aplenty, with some Scythes feeling that the old ways have become too stagnant… they desire change and it’s a change that might put the world’s utopian status at grave risk.

The action is top-notch but it’s the characters and concepts that make the story one that I’ll remember for a long time. It’s so good that I’m not sure that I’d want to see a movie made of it — they’d simply have to leave too much great stuff out! I could see it making one hell of a television miniseries, though. Give this thing about 8-10 hours to breathe and I think it could be captivating.

I highly recommend that you seek this one out!

New Pulp Recommendations: Quest for the Space Gods

QUEST_Cover_FinalWhen I was a kid, Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Daniken was everywhere. Not only were there sequels galore but the notion of ‘ancient astronauts’ popped up on episodes of In Search of… and even formed the basis for Jack Kirby’s Eternals. I remember reading Chariots of the Gods and coming away convinced that we’d been visited by aliens in our ancient past. Of course, I was a sucker for all things ‘weird’ at the time, devouring material about Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs and Atlantis.

All of this brings us to Flinch Books’ newest release, Quest for the Space Gods: The Chronicles of Conrad von Honig. This book features stories by Jim Beard, Desmond Reddick, Frank Schildiner, Brian K. Morris, Terry Alexander and Fred Adams, Jr and all of the tales follow the exploits of author Conrad von Honig — he’s basically von Daniken only cast in more of an action hero mode. Despite the variety of authors, the character remains remarkably consistent throughout, which is a testament to both the overall concept and the editorial oversight of John C. Bruening and the aforementioned Jim Beard.

The setting is great, taking place in the late sixties/early seventies — not only is this a time period that you don’t see much in New Pulp but it feels perfectly suited for the material and all the authors do a fine job of capturing the flavor of the era.

My favorite story was probably Reddick’s and I have to give him props for not only writing a corker of a tale but I love the title of his story and wish I’d thought of it first. Other stories that really appealed to me were the ones by Beard and Morris but all of the tales are quite good.

I could easily see this being a series of television movies or even an ongoing show. The cover reinforces that feel — I wanted Lee Majors starring in this!

Highly recommended for all fans of New Pulp and/or ancient astronauts!

Creator Spotlight: Adam Garcia

adamOne of the best authors in the New Pulp movement is Adam L. Garcia, whose name has become synonymous with the classic hero, The Green Lama. Adam first burst onto the scene in 2009 with a novella reviving The Green Lama, “Horror in Clay.” The story was written as a gift for his father and went on to garner a Best Short Story nomination in the New Pulp Awards. The very next year saw Adam’s reputation continue to grow as his novel Green Lama: Unbound won two Pulp Factory Awards: Best Novel and Best Interior Art (for his collaborator Mike Fyles).

He’s continued adding to the legend of The Green Lama with works like Crimson Circle, The Heir Apparent (in which the hero teams with Sherlock Holmes), Scions and Day of the Destroyers. While several companies use The Green Lama, Adam is one of the very few that has the official sanction of the creator’s estate and it’s clear why they gave it: Adam is not only a tremendous author but he’s also a huge fan and advocate for the character.

Adam has branched out in other directions, as well. He contributed a story to The Peregrine Omnibus Volume 3 featuring the third Peregrine teaming up for a night on the town with Kayla Kaslov; wrote a graphic novel called Sons of Fire with artist Heidi Black; and most recently contributed to the bestselling The Obama Conspiracy.

lamaholmesAdam’s one of my favorite creators in the realm of New Pulp right now. While he understands what made the classic pulp stories work, he’s not wedded to the past. He pushes the characters and their situations forward with a very modern way of thinking. I encourage you to check out his Amazon Author Page and check out some of his work if you haven’t already. You can come back here later and thank me for the recommendation!