PULP COVER FRIDAY PRESENTS, PER REQUEST, THE OCTOPUS & THE AVENGER
THE OCTOPUS (Feb.-March 1939) was a villain pulp that unfortunately lasted only one issue. I can’t describe it any better than the splash on the original magazine: “From the bowels of the City, hideously deformed monsters emerged; hungry for the food of human life, and the purple glow of ultraviolet sustenance. They had once been men and women, now they were mutant followers of the maniacal atrocities of . . . .the Octopus! While an entire city searches for the accused Dr. Skull . . . alter-ego, Jeffrey Fairchild and the doctor’s nurse, Carol Endicott, risk life — and quite literally limb — to wipe out this fiendish, purple-eyed plague. Only The Skull Killer can defy this bestial terror.”
You know it’s a pretty tough mag when the HERO is named Dr. Skull!
Unfortunately, the Octopus proved less than popular, so the magazine was revamped for the April-May issue and came out as THE SCORPION. To wit, “A holocaust of satanic murder-madness … an entire City overcome by maniacal purple-eyed killers. Mothers slaughtering their own children, husbands and wives living in sheer terror of one another…..and only the honest little old Dr. Skull has the wherewithal to foil this relentless madness. Craig’s tale unfolds in fiery fury and massacre as the relentless crime-master, The Scorpion, dredges the city–leaving the waste of death and corruption in his wake.”
They just wouldn’t give up on that purple-eyed ultraviolet stuff. Unfortunately, no one else was buying into it. THE SCORPION also, alas, lasted a single issue.
The Avenger, purportedly by Kenneth Robeson (the same house name slapped on Doc Savage, but actually written by Paul Ernst) came late to the game (1939) and didn’t stay too long (1942), lasting 24 issues of his own magazine and then an additional six novelettes in CLUES DETECTIVE and THE SHADOW (stories written by Emile Tepperman). When reprinted in the early 1970s, an additional twelve novels were commissioned from Ron Goulart. Obviously rushed, they are not his best work.
The Avenger, conceived as a combination of Doc Savage and The Shadow, was Richard Benson — just your usual twenty-something globe-trotting millionaire-adventurer-scientist-doctor, who loses his family to the hands of organized crime and then gathers a like-minded group of individuals called Justice, Inc. to strike back. The group included the dour chemist Fergus MacMurdie, gigantic electronics expert Algernon Heathcote Smith, diminutive martial artist Nellie Gray, Saint-light Cole Wilson, and, unusually for the time, African-American married couple Josh and Rosabel Newton.
In the beginning of the magazine’s run Benson, who had suffered a nervous shock at the death of his wife and daughter, had pure white hair and facial features frozen into a clay-like mask which were malleable and could be carefully “sculpted,” thus allowing him to disguise himself as near everyone. The conceit was dropped about half-way through the series.
Examples of Avenger covers proved rather difficult to find, and are rather repetitious, with a giant Avenger head looming in the background and observing a scene taken from the particular story. Most of the covers from the paperback reprints are better, so I’ve included one this time around for contrast.
I’m putting this up a little early for some bonus-viewing pleasure, because tomorrow I’m off for the Albuquerque Comic Con. Hasta la vista, muchachos.