Once upon a time, there was Pulp – stories of square jawed heroes, damsels in distress, and conflicts where it was clear who was the good guy, and who was the bad guy. Heroes like Doc Savage, The Lone Ranger, and The Shadow patrolled the land, keeping it safe for the common people. Years later, creators have looked fondly back on that era, creating a modern take, or what we’re just going to call Neo-Pulp. Because I like naming things.
Anyway, in particular, the last few years have seen a resurgence of Neo-Pulp, with DC releasing First Wave, a more modern look at their 1930s era characters. And Marvel recently started releasing Mystery Men, an (excellent) series by David Liss that pushes the origins of the Marvel Universe back ten years. And most important of all, IDW has been releasing the superb Rocketeer Adventures, telling new stories of the now classic hero. With that in mind, here’s our seven favorite Neo-Pulp Heroes – ever:
Created by J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston, The Twelve were approximately a dozen Golden Age heroes, all accidentally cryogenically frozen until 2007. They did all exist in actual comics continuity before then, but not at the level of a Ka-Zar or Solomon Kane, so we’re counting this series as their first appearance… Particularly as the series dealt with what happens when Pulp era characters are thrust into the modern era, and have stop acting so racist.
Mike Mignola’s cigar chomping demon-fighter is Neo-Pulp through and through… From his often-in-World War II era setting, to the noir tones of the art, Hellboy fights evil by punching it… The way HellMEN used to.
Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener may have cast a robot as their lead character – a slightly less than human choice for a Neo-Pulp character. But Robo’s sense of humor while punchin’, his association with Nikola Tesla, and frequent fights with Nazis all contribute to make this a delightfully less than futuristic take on robotics.
Okay, this is a little bit of a cheat, as James Bradley has existed in Marvel Comics continuity since 1941. But he disappeared for a good long while, only recently emerging as part of the X-Men’s Science Club – a team of research scientists specializing in Mutant’s problems – with a cleaner look, and a Neo-Pulp sensibility. Nemesis leads with his guns blazing, his sardonic wit, and if that wasn’t enough, spent his time out of comics fighting Nazis in South America. Someone needs to do a “Dr. Nemesis: The Lost Years” comic, and stat.
Designed by writer/artist Howard Chaykin, Dominic Fortune originally appeared in Marvel Comics “code-free” line, which harkened back to the time before you had to call Zombies, Zuvembies. An adventurer for hire, Fortune lives up to his name, taking money where he can, and breaking hearts where he can’t.
Dave Stevens created The Rocketeer specifically to evoke the matinee serials of the 30s and 40s… So its mildly shocking to realize that this homage might be better than most of them. Cliff Secord finds a stolen rocket pack, and ends up fighting villains, along with his scientist friend and vivacious girlfriend. Stevens perfectly captures the wonder and excitement of a regular guy getting the ability to fly, in the way that few comics ever have.
Another “science hero” like Dr. Nemesis, Tom Strong was created by Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse… And it’s basically a love letter to everything that makes comic books good. From robots, to spies, to pirates, to talking gorillas, Tom Strong is a joy from start to finish.