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From Pulps to Comic Books by Alex Grand

From Pulps to Comic Books by Alex Grand

Welcome to CBH, today we’re talking about interesting Pulp Precursors to Comic Books.  Superhero’s are a lot of fun, and get a lot of screen time in movie theatres these days.  Some fans will check out these old comic books and have a great time watching these characters being created by people like Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, John Broome, Gil Kane, Gardner Fox, Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Bill Finger, Bob Kane Mort Weisinger, Jerry Robinson, Wally Wood, Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino and Stan Lee.


As incredible as these people were, they read their own entertainment when they were younger, and a lot of that was found in early pulp magazines, and newspaper comic strips.  This episode focuses as an introduction to some pulp magazine precursors to some of the golden and silver age comic book characters we know today.


Read below and/or click to view the video:


Literary ancestors or antecedents can go back thousands of years, but for the sake of this video we are going start at 1886, with a penny dreadful of an older british bogeyman legend of Spring Heeled Jack (who would link into Batman) and Nick Carter, a Super-Detective  (who would link into Superman).



1886.  Nick Carter, Master Detective was a dime novel by Ormond Smith and John Russell Coryell that premiered a private detective who had super strength, super knowledge, excellent at every hobby, he was described as having bronzed skin, and he was a little giant at 5’4”.

1886nickcarterpairClick text to buy and read

1912 John Carter of Mars premiered in a pulp magazine serial by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

1912johncartermarsClick text to buy and read

In this story, gravity was less on Mars which allowed John Carter who was a human from Earth, to jump great leaps in these old stories.  In Action Comics 1, 1938, Superman had the physique of an alien from his home planet who could jump 1/8tha mile with the lighter earth gravity, hence he could “leap tall buildings in a single bound.”

1938supermanleapactioncomics1Click text to buy reprint and read

One 1930 Science Fiction novel that deserves mention in the lineage of Superman is Philip Wylie’s Gladiator, about a scientist that injects his pregnant wife with an ant formula that gives their soon to be born son, the proportional strength and resilience of an ant.

1930gladiatorClick text to buy reprint and read

Not only would the later Ant-Men and Spider-Man gain insect strength in the 1960s, but this superhuman baby would be raised to be supremely humble by his Midwest parents, and would even lift a car as shown on the cover of Action Comics 1.


Many of these traits would be used and implemented in a 1933 character, Doc Savage.

1933docsavageClick text to buy reprint and read

His name is Clark Savage Jr and he premiered in “The Man of Bronze” 1933.


Doc Savage was called a “Superman” in a 1934 pulp magazine ad. He could sidestep bullets and lived in his “fortress of solitude” in the Arctic.  Many of these traits would go on to be implemented into Superman the Man of Steel, either at conception or as the character developed.  Does this mean that Siegel and Shuster read Nick Carter?  No, but it does show that one story inspires another and suddenly you have themes all over pulp culture of the time, and then synthesized into the Superman comics.

1933redskulldocsavage1941kirbyClick this text to buy reprint and read

Lester Dent wrote most of the Doc Savage pulp stories notably “The Red Skull” which was an early story in 1933.  Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (notorious pulp fans) depicted a villain called “The Red Skull” in 3 appearances, 1941.  The character creation was credited to their friend, Ed Herron.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster also mention in an interview, that they watched Douglas Fairbanks in the Black Pirate to get the heroic facial/body expressions for Superman.

1926blackpirateClick this text to buy movie and watch

1886, A Penny Dreadful of Spring Heeled Jack was put together and summarized all the rumors of this british legend into an entertaining story of a rich young man, whose parents were killed,  he then stalks the streets to use trickery as a vigilante against criminals, and engage in a wee bit of mischief.  Yes, these traits sound like Batman.

1886springheeledjack1904Click here to buy Spring-Heeled Jack reprint and read

1905, another British story called the Scarlet Pimpernel  by Emma Orczy about an Englishmen who used disguise and a red flower as a symbol to save aristocrats from violent French revolutionaries.    Yes, the red flower symbol is something Zorro would also do similarly, as well as a couple characters we’ll get to there.

1905scarletpimpernelClick this text to buy reprint and ready

1914, Jimmie Dale, The Grey Seal by Frank L. Packard about a wealthy playboy who puts on a costume,  sneaks on rooftops, leaves a gray paper seal behind to mark his conquest, and eventually wages war on criminal organizations.

1916greyseal1917filmClick text to buy reprint and read

The pulps & news strips contributed to comic books in the 1930s.  One hybrid strip was the 1936 Phantom by Lee Falk which was originally to be named “The Gray Ghost.”  The name, Phantom was used in pulps as far back as 1914 “The Grey Seal” who fought a villain Phantom.


The Gray Ghost was Batman’s child hero in the 1990s animated series.


A small tangent on the Phantom, Lee Falk has mentioned that his 1936 Phantom had some of his origin inspired by the 1926 Douglas Fairbanks film, The Black Pirate where a son’s father is killed before his eyes by pirates and the young nobleman survives and swears an oath of vengeance on them.  Both characters wear rings that are unique to the hero’s identity.  Yes, Batman gets a similar origin story.


1930, The Shadow was created by Walter B. Gibson for Street & Smith, a man who uses trickery to give a sense of mysticism to criminals, he uses disguises to infiltrate criminal organizations, and disguises himself as a wealthy billionaire playboy Lamont Cranston.

1930shadowbatman1939Click to buy reprint and read

The first Batman Comic written by Bob Kane with Bill Finger was a rewrite from the 1936 Pulp Shadow story, “Partners in Peril.”


The 1938 The Shadow in Face of Doom appears to be a direct inspiration to the appearance of Two Face in Detective Comics 66, 1942. In 1939, the Black Bat is a pulp character that used guns much like the Golden Age Batman and originated in a Detective magazine.  This character came out around the same time as Batman and is thought to be an example of parallel thinking, so Editor Whitney Ellsworth brokered a deal where both companies continued to use their characters.


He really is a wholly separate character however, because he is a district attorney/lawyer who was blinded by a criminal throwing acid in his face, scarring it, and this origin was used for Two-Face in 1942.


Despondent, he went to many doctors eventually finding one who would graft pieces of a cadaver eye.

The Black Bat developed superhuman sight from this incident and still pretended to be blind.  This power set was then used in the original for Daredevil when he was created in 1964.  So although there are some superficial similarities to Batman, the Black Bat appears to be more a creative ancestor to Two-Face and Daredevil.


So, does this mean that Bob Kane “with” Bill Finger read Spring Heeled Jack?  Probably not, but it does mean that likely one story inspires others, and suddenly you have a lot of pulps repeating the same themes, and many of these themes were likely read here or there by one or both of these guys, and used on Batman.  This among many examples show that many of the early comic books, especially Detective Comics, were in many ways cartoonized pulp stories.  So now that we have pulp roots to Superman and Batman done, let’s examine pulp roots to other genre/characters of comic books.

Edgar Rice Burroughs published Tarzan 1912 about an orphan white boy raised by apes in the African jungle.  ERB wrote The Land that Time Forgot 1918, volcanic activity preserved the dinosaurs in an island off the coast of Antarctica.

1912tarzanClick text to buy reprint and ready

In 1936, Ka-Zar was created in its own pulp magazine.


The company later known as Marvel made their first Golden Age Ka-Zar comic in Africa 1939.


More than 20 years later, Kirby & Lee revamp him into a new Silver Age version and then combining him with the Antarctic Savage Land in Uncanny X-Men 10, 1965 titled “The World that Time Forgot” , they fused the two ERB novels into an ongoing grand Marvel adventure.


  1. Buck Rogers premiered as Anthony Rogers in a pulp magazine, and he had a flying jet pack.  I’ve always enjoyed the hero who can use ingenuity, engineering and jet packs to fly.  A fantastic metaphor for self-discipline, bravery and luck with a modern day Icarus having to stay careful not to fly too close to the ground or the sun.  Buck Rogers Newspaper strip 1929, King of the Rocket Men film 1949, Mystery in Space 90, 1964 and Rocketeer Adventure Magazine 1988.  Buck Rogers would go on to have King Features Syndicate create their own character with similar properties, which would be Flash Gordon who would go on to inspire many comic book characters which is in CBH episode 4, the Newspaper Strips episode.


1931 Night Hawk, an English pulp about a wealthy man Thurston Kyle who fought crime in a mechanized winged suit.  He was referred to as “The Winged Avenger” in 1932.  Most possibly the first flying armor suited super hero.


This type of Winged Hero would be used again with Red Raven in 1940, Nighthawk in Marvel who premiered in 1969 and his name was Kyle Richmond, then Falcon who debuted in 1969, but wouldn’t get mechanized wings until 1974.  Its an odd coincidence that both Nighthawks were named Kyle.


1933. G-8 and his Battle Aces is a world war 1 era pulp series by ex-flying military man, Robert Hogan.  He injected much of his own experience into this pulp magazine series which would later inspire many war time flying comics.


One of the most memorable runs was Joe Kubert and Robert Kanigher’s Enemy Ace created in 1965.  Enemy Ace is one of DC’s Silver Age great runs, with amazing stories and art, but when read with G-8 in mind, its similarly set stories in WW1 take on a whole different life.

1965enemy-aceClick text to buy reprint and read

  1. The Lensman pulp series by Edward Smith, Ph.D & took science fiction to a whole other level.  The Galactic Patrol, with each member worthy of a Lens attached to their hand, capable of transmitting energy and translating interstellar languages.  Their mission is to defend civilization.  Sounds like the Green Lantern Corp which first appeared in Showcase 22, 1959 by John Broome and Gil Kane.

1934-grey-lensmen-greenlanternsClick text to read Lensman

  1. Suicide Squad, a pulp series written by Emile Tepperman of an FBI task force that combats domestic threats to the USA.  1959, the Squad were 4 non powered adventurers who went up against powered beings.  1987, the Squad was a covert group of prisoners on forced missions against world threats.

1936-suicide-squad-1959-1987Click text to buy reprint and ready

Odd John: A Story Between Jest and Earnest is a 1935 Sci-Fi book by Olaf Stapledon about a physically disabled, mentally powerful telepath who forms a colony of supermen, in a very similar vein to Professor X and the X-Men who premiered in Uncanny X-Men 1, 1963.

Click text to buy reprint and read

The colony of Supermen, like the X-Men in Westchester, are destined to come into a great conflict with standard homo sapiens.  This book coins the term “homo superior” which Jack Kirby and Stan Lee used when they had Magneto say the same phrase in the first issue.

This is another episode of CBH, the important thing about understanding the pulp history of comic books is to better understand the creators of the original golden age of comics as well as what plot or story lines were on the pulse of the readers back then.  The notion that one story likely inspires others, and suddenly you have a lot of pulps repeating the same themes, with many of these themes likely being read by a comic book creater here and there, and then used to create our favorite characters.  

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Use of images are not intended to infringe on copyright, but merely used for academic purpose.

Action Comics ©DC, Detective Comics ©DC, A Princess of Mars ©ERB, Doc Savage ©Conde Nast, The Red Skull Doc Savage ©Conde Nast, Captain America Comics ©Marvel, Batman Animated Series ©DC, The Phantom © King Features Syndicate, The Shadow ©Conde Nast, Daredevil ©Marvel, The All-Story ©ERB, The Land that Time Forgot ©ERB, Ka-Zar ©Marvel, Buck Rogers © The Dille Family Trust, Mystery In Space ©DC, The Rocketeer ©Stevens, Red Raven Comics ©Marvel, The Avengers ©Marvel, Captain America and the Falcon ©Marvel, The Green Lantern ©DC, Suicide Squad ©DC, Showcase ©DC, Star Spangled War Stories ©DC, Uncanny X-Men ©Marvel, Odd John ©George Pal, Photos ©Their Respective Copyrightholders

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