There has been a renaissance of late in the comic book industry marking the return of many of yesteryears pulp heroes in all new tales and stories. Spearheading the charge is Dynamite who has been picking up properties and spinning them into successful titles and mini-series. Flash Gordon, the Shadow, the Green Hornet, Doc Savage and many more have made a resurgence to the joy of fans young and old. But why do these characters resonate so much with fans today so many years after their creation? Is it the thematic qualities that each one brings to the table, the nostalgia factor, a product of the times or just really good storytelling?
For many, nostalgia plays a big part as old memories made flesh once again stir the soul and warm the heart. Many companies have played in the same sandbox over the years but with only middling success. Moonstone has published comics on the Phantom, the Avenger, Zorro, the Spider and others over the years but perhaps due to being a smaller publisher and having a smaller budget to advertise with, have flown under the radar for most of their durations. The Green Hornet was last published by NOW Comics and that ended in the early nineties while Dark Horse has put out various comics featuring pulp characters over the years including Doc Savage, the Shadow and Tarzan among them. Marvel used to publish a Doc Savage magazine in the 1970s while DC also published Doc Savage a couple of times over the years, most recently in their First Wave imitative which failed to charm readers to their books. Tarzan has been at almost every publisher minor and major while another Burroughs property, the Warlord of Mars has been at Marvel, been released in trade format at Dark Horse and is currently being published at Dynamite.
In fact, Dynamite now publishes the greatest amount of comics featuring pulp characters than any other company today. They currently have books featuring the aforementioned Warlord of Mars, the Phantom, Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, Zorro, the Lone Ranger, Miss Fury, the Green Hornet, the Shadow, the Spider, Lord of the Jungle (Tarzan), the Black Bat, and the soon to be released Doc Savage. They have also published Buck Rogers in the past, and it is unknown if there are any future plans for the hero. As Dynamite continues to expand, so does it seem the thirst for more pulp heroes from the golden age of magazines and comics. And with the amount of titles being presented, it conveys the impression that nostalgia indeed plays a part with today’s audience.
A case can be made though for the thematic qualities that these heroes bring to the table. Each one, in their own way, delivers justice – justice upon the wicked and those who would do wrong. They are classic iterations of the hero character found in all of history’s literature. They fight the good fight, no matter the cause with no care or concern for themselves and they aim to do right for rights’ sake and not for personal gain. But aside from being a force for good against evil, there is something that makes these characters who were created in the 1930s or even earlier appealing to today’s readers. Perhaps it is also being a product of their time coupled with that examination of character as there are great similarities between then and now. There is great economic turmoil in North America as there is in most of the world, the same as when these great heroes were created eighty years ago. The rich keep getting richer while the poor are getting poorer and the middle class are almost non-existent. People are dissatisfied with their governments, countries are in turmoil and there is civil unrest everywhere. Criminal systems are failing the people and crime itself is getting worse as are the crimes themselves. Slavery, piracy, drug running, child prostitution, serial murderers – the list is long and growing everyday. People are frustrated. Frustrated with their lives and with everything else around them and unable to change it no matter how hard they try. And like the 1930s people need to escape, and where better to escape than a comic book.
These heroes, created so many decades ago in similar times are perhaps the exact thing that people need right now. It is easy to identify with a hero who fights for justice because that is all we wish to do ourselves. We want to battle back, to fight back and to rail against the wrongs of the world. How can you not identify with the Shadow when he takes down a criminal from the darkness and you read that magical line, ‘The Shadow knows!’ We associate with heroes because they do what no normal person can do; they fight our evils and they win.
At any one time, these pulp heroes might sell but with such a resurgence happening today it is not simple nostalgia and it is not just the commentary and exposition expressed within but a combination of both that is resonating with today’s audience. We live in hard times, perhaps the hardest in quite some time. The argument that things were supposed to get easier with each passing generation no longer applies as it is quite the opposite. Today with more and more books coming out and pulp magazines being mined on a continual basis, we seem to be in for another golden age of pulp fiction. Dynamite, Dark Horse, Moonstone and others who publish these heroes of old have hit at the right time. We need nostalgia more than ever and we need heroes even more.