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The Pulp Adventures of The Hooded Detective
G.T. Fleming-Roberts
Altus Press, 228 pages

The Pulp Adventures of The Hooded Detective
G.T. Fleming-Roberts
G.T. Fleming-Roberts (born George Thomas Roberts, 1910-1968) fiction includes a number of pulp adventures such as Secret Agent X, The Green Ghost Detective. He wrote a number of stories about magician-detectives, the bulk of them appearing in three series: Diamondstone, The Ghost/Green Ghost, and Jeffery Wren.

The Works of G.T. Fleming-Roberts
ISFDB Bibliography
IMDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Richard A. Lupoff

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If publishing partners Martin Goodman and Louis Silberkleit had not had a falling out in the late 1930s, American popular culture might have taken a different path over the rest of the Twentieth Century -- and beyond.

Goodman and Silberkleit were limping along with a line of low-end pulp magazines, competing with fast-talking Rumanian-born Harry Donnenfeld's Spicy line, Delacorte, Fawcett, Harry Steeger's Popular Publications, and aging giant Street & Smith.

Then along came something new: the superhero. Mystery men like the Shadow and wild adventurers like Doc Savage got their start in the pulps, but Donnenfeld bought a superhero comic strip for stamp money from a couple of teenagers straight out of Cleveland, Ohio. Donnenfeld ran the feature in a new monthly, Action Comics, Superman took the nation by storm, and the race was on to create an army of powerful crimefighters garbed in colorful tights and flowing capes.

Soon there were scores of muscular heroes with amazing powers competing for the dimes of twelve-year-old customers.

Former partners Goodman and Silberkleit went their separate ways, competing in the mini-budget pulp field, and dipping their toes into the new superhero-dominated world of comic books.

Silberkleit brought out a brigade of the tights-and-cape-wearing adventurers: the Wizard, the Comet, the Hangman, the Black Hood, the Shield. That last named, per pop-culture maven Will Murray, was the first patriotic-themed superhero. His outfit looked as if it had been stitched together by a mad tailor trapped in a flag factory. Red, white, and blue stars and stripes, of course, plus a similarly-themed, triangular shield that the hero wore like an umpire's chest protector.

Goodman's heroes were as colorful and as bizarre as Silberkleit's. The Human Torch was an android who could turn himself into a one-man flying conflagration; the Sub-Mariner was a hybrid born of a human and a mer-creature; and Captain America was a muscular patriot whose outfit looked like something stitched together by a mad tailor locked in another flag factory. Red, white, and blue stars and stripes, of course, plus a similarly-themed triangular shield.

Gosh, do you think Louis Silberkleit was peeved? Do you think the two ex-pals exchanged lawyer letters and threats of lawsuits? Do you think Goodman backed off? Well, he did, to the extent of having Captain America's shield redesigned, dropping the triangular format for the familiar bull's-eye shape that's still around after all these years.

I'm not sure why the Black Hood was as popular as he was, but for some reason he caught on and had a fairly lengthy career in a variety of Silberkleit's comic books. There was also a Black Hood radio show. I've never heard it, and if anybody could provide me with a copy I'd be very grateful.

And what's chiefly to the point, Silberkleit added a Black Hood Detective pulp to his line. Ten cents a pop, kiddies! After just one issue the title morphed into Hooded Detective. Will Murray suggests that legal problems, possibly involving the better-established Black Mask pulp, were involved, and he makes a very plausible case.

The Black Hood's pulp adventures lasted only three issues, dated September, 1941, November, 1941, and January, 1942. The demise of the magazine may have resulted from paper rationing imposed by the government, the United States having entered World War Two on December 7, 1941.

Well, who was this guy? Will Murray recounts his rather tangled origin story in Silberkleit's comic books. An honest cop named Kip Burland is framed by the mob. Falsely convicted, he escapes but -- a common pulp device -- is mouse-trapped between the police and the gang. Mobsters catch up with him and riddle him with bullets. They dump Burland's apparently dead body in the countryside but in fact there remains a spark of life.

Along comes a bearded hermit (shades of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) who nurses Burland back to health. The hermit happens to be a scientific genius who puts Burland through a series of treatments that render him a sort-of semi-superhero. He can't quite fly, and bullets won't bounce off his super-tough torso, but he's abnormally strong, can jump like a grasshopper, and has amazing powers of recuperation. (Shades of Steve Rogers, aka Captain America.)

I would think, under the circumstances, that I'd change my name, move to a distant undisclosed location, maybe grow a moustache or dye my hair, and start a new life, keeping well under the radar. But not so, Kip Burland. He gets himself a lovely, attractive outfit at the local Superhero Haberdashery.

Bright yellow tights, black gloves and shorts, and a black headgear that covers the upper half of his face. At this point I must take a slight detour and mention my young grandson, Ethan. He has asked me repeatedly why Superman wears his underpants "on the outside." Well, Supie is not the only one!

Kip Burland also resumes his life as a plainclothes society playboy. I don't know what he does for money. I also don't know why the mob and the cops have forgot that they both have him -- or had him -- in their sights. He has a girlfriend, society dame Barbara Sutton, and a potential sidekick-wannabe/rival, former professional athlete Joe Strong.

Lissome Miss Sutton is of course carrying a torch for the Black Hood while dismissing Kip Burland as a useless fop. (Shades of Lois Lane for Superman, and Clark Kent... Vicki Vale and Batman, Bruce Wayne... Beautia Sivana for Captain Marvel, Billy Batson... and so on.)

For the pulp adventures of the Black Hood, Silberkleit obtained the literary services of George Roberts, a solidly competent pulp scrivener who used the by-line G.T. Fleming-Roberts. For the three book-length adventures of the Black Hood, Roberts grappled with some serious problems involved in converting a comic book hero to a pulp adventurer. Roberts was accustomed to writing detective stories for the pulps, and once he tackled the Black Hood, the results resembled pulp detective stories more than they did superhero adventures.

Roberts' favorite device called for a criminal mastermind blackmailing a millionaire -- or group of millionaires -- with the threat of murder should they fail to comply. (Shades of uncounted Saturday afternoon movie serials!) Kip Burland in both his civilian identity and as the Black Hood becomes involved, as do Barbara and Joe Strong

Kip wears his Black Hood costume under his street clothes, and in at least one instance we see him strip to his tights, hide his civvies in the bushes outside a mansion, and set off to chase the crooks. He seems to have forgotten to come back for them. Or maybe I missed that in all the excitement.

In another novel, he's involved in a chase through midtown Manhattan and stops to make a telephone call, ducking into a public phone booth while he's at it. He does worry that he'll be recognized in his bright yellow and black superhero suit, but fortunately nobody notices. Next he hails a cab, and that works out nicely, too.

Which reminds me of the day I sat with pals Lenny Kaye and Gary Lovisi in a café on upper Broadway. Just outside, a muscular male individual garbed in a perfect Wonder Woman costume stood at the curb, trying without success to flag down a taxi.

Hmmm.

Roberts modified the Black Hood's costume by adding a flowing black cloak, permitting him to disappear into the shadows when it suited him. (Shades of Walter Gibson's crimefighter, The Shadow.)

These three stories are of course part of their time. Of particular interest, in one of them, precision machine tools are being smuggled out of the country disguised as lead ash trays. And where are they destined? Russia!

Russia?

Clearly, the story was written during the months of the infamous Hitler-Stalin Pact.

Fascinating.

In all honesty, I can't say that these three novels make great reading. Even by pulp standards, they are pretty mediocre. Certainly readable (I've struggled through far worse!) but far from great. I think Roberts was writing at breakneck speed, not uncommon for high-volume pulp creators. Further, trying to fit a comic book semi-superhero into the procrustean bed of a fairly conventional detective story was a difficult exercise at best.

Still, The Pulp Adventures of the Hooded Detective is a fascinating artifact of a lost era. Publisher Matthew Moring earns major kudos for putting together a most attractive package, while Will Murray demonstrates outstanding scholarship and, in my opinion, critical perceptions in both an introduction and an afterword to the collection.

We're living in an era when several publishers are vying to make classic pulp fiction available to contemporary readers. For gray-haired oldsters, they represent a trip down memory lane; to younger readers, they offer a literary glimpse into the world of their grand- and great-grandparents.

I was lucky to receive a paper copy of The Pulp Adventures of the Hooded Detective from Matthew Moring. If you try, you may succeed in finding one for yourself. But failing that, I'm pretty sure that the collection is available from Altus Press as an e-book.

As for Martin Goodman and Louis Silberkleit -- remember them? -- both pioneers have of course long since gone to that great comic book factory in the sky. But their heirs and descendants are still at it, and the penny-poor companies they created have grown into a billion-dollar industry.

Goodman's heroes, joined by latter-day comrades like Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the Fantastic Four, are the subjects of one blockbuster movie after another. And as for Silberkleit's successors, while they clearly lost the battle of the superheroes, they found another rich mother lode to mine. Archie Andrews, Betty and Veronica, Jughead, Mr. Weatherbee, Miss Grundy... yes, after the better part of a century, they're still plying their wares at Riverdale High.

Copyright © 2014 Richard A. Lupoff

Richard A. Lupoff reports that his long-delayed cop novel, Rookie Blues, is on the verge of publication and should actually be available in July, 2012. Publisher is Dark Sun Press. His two most recent short story collections, Visions and Dreams, previously published only in very limited hardcover editions, will shortly be reissued as trade paperbacks by Hippocampus Press. Each volume contains a new story that was omitted from the previous editions.


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