Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pulp-Powered Prose: Tales of the Shadowmen volume one

Created by J.-M. & Randy Lofficier to revive classic French pulp heroes, Tales of the Shadowmen Volume 1: The Modern Babylon is an English language pulp anthology. Strange it seems at first, until you realize it is meant as a tie in to their two books Shadowmen, which give the history of these characters in details. But I digress, this is about Tales, so let’s focus on it.

The first thing you see is an excellent cover by Mike Manley featuring Judex, something of a French version of the Shadow (though he appeared years before the American character), and Frankenstein's Monster. The illustration clearly comes from Matthew Baugh’s opening tale “Mask of the Monster”. The story gets the anthology off to an exciting, action-packed start while introducing me (and I am sure many others) to some new classic characters.

Bill Cunningham continues the excitement with his story of an obscure pulp figure of France, Fascinax, in “Cadavres Exquis”. The story is another Shadow-esque riff, but it takes the character and puts him through hell as he faces his arch-foe Numa Pergyll.

The next high light is Wold Newton grandmaster Win Scott Eckert’s “The Vanishing Devil”. It takes French pulp character Francis Ardan and makes his similarities to Doc Savage more than just similarities. He is clearly Clark Savage, although Win always slides just a step away from saying it out right (probably do to copyright issues). He goes on a rip-roaring French adventure that puts him up against Yellow Peril villian Doctor Natas, a character Eckert makes clear is actually Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu. And this still isn’t the craziest bit of crossover storytelling this book has!

The editors write “Journey to the Center of Chaos”, a story combining H.P. Lovecraft created characters with an entire band of obscure characters, including the rather strange Sar Dubnotal. And of course a Cthulhu Mythos horror manages to pop up its evil head.

Two tales of Edgar Allen Poe’s original detective (and Frenchman) C. Augustine Dupin follow. Samuel T. Payne’s “Lacunal Visions” is somewhat disappointing. John Peel’s “The Kind-Hearted Torturer” is a much more entertaining and well written affair as the detective teams up with none other than the Count of Monte Cristo.

Chris Roberson does give us the story even stranger than Eckert’s with “Penumbra”. Framed around a French silent film from 1915 called Les Vampires, it stars the same director’s Judex. As he seeks to uncover the origins of the vampires, he encounters one Kent Allard, later the similarly attired Shadow. He also meets a young couple named the Waynes, Thomas and Martha. In the process you get a secret of a certain caped crusader’s origin that is only possible in a Wold Newton book such as this.

The book closes with Brian Stableford’s “The Titan Unwrecked”, a story starring Allan Quatermain, Ayesha, Dracula, and numerous literary and business figures of the turn of the century. Bad things start happening and things get almost as crazy as “Penumbra”.

A few more lesser stories round out the book, but even these so-so tales at least feature some truly unique figures. The writers really do cover the spectrum of pulp figures from obscure to quite common.

All in all, this book is a fun and exciting bit of pulp fiction. Though it’s a little pricy for a trade paperback at $22.95, I would say it was definitely worth it. Strongly Recommended.

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