Once upon a time, there was pulp. Pulp was a style of writing that emerged onto the scene in the 1920s, featuring a variety of stories printed on cheap paper (hence "pulp"). Back in the day, pulp content ranged from the Cosmic Horror Stories of H.P. Lovecraft to noir pieces to the over-the-top action of Doc Savage to the sword-and-sandals fantasy of Conan the Barbarian. The pulp era died down by the late '50s, when the leading distributor of pulp, the American News Company, went bankrupt.
Then, people started looking back on the pulp era nostalgically, and when they did, they usually locked onto the over-the-top stories of heroes like The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Phantom. Many point to Raiders of the Lost Ark and the sequel Indiana Jones movies, which took 1930s pulp adventures as an inspiration (along with a Real Life zoologist/paleontologist, Roy Chapman Andrews, who basically did what Indy did but in the Gobi Desert), as the keystone of the pulp resurgence, but whatever kicked it off, pulp has recaptured the heart of many a geek.
Two-Fisted Tales refers to stories told in a style that reflects fondly on the old pulps. This usually means the story will be set in the '20s or '30s, and focus on square-jawed, clever men (and women) of action. Other elements thrown in for flavor include:
- Mad Science and/or Weird Science
- Lost civilizations (and often dinosaurs with them)
- The Yellow Peril, usually including a Dragon Lady
- The occult
- Plenty of Nazis to be punched out. Most of them will be the source of, exploiting, or trying to exploit either Mad / Weird Science or the Occult.
- Pre-Jet Age aviation feats
- Adventurer Outfits
As stated above, Two Fisted Tales don't often attempt to recapture the varied feel of all the old pulps; it's very rare you'll see someone trying to overlay the Doc Savage feel onto a Cthulhu story (not that it's impossible). Usually, it attempts to focus on the thrilling heroics, not that that's a bad thing.
Comic Books[edit | hide]
- Hellboy features elements of Two Fisted Tales, with Nazis, evil monkeys, Weird Science, and the Golden Age crime-fighter Lobster Johnson. A spin-off series featuring Lobster Johnson has taken these elements and cranked them up to eleven.
- Planetary features Axel Brass, one of the universe's "Century Babies" and a Captain Ersatz of Doc Savage, who once headed up an entire secret society of Captain Ersatzes based on the pulp heroes of the era. His adventures and dealings with Elijah Snow are regularly chronicled.
- Tom Strong is Alan Moore's take on the pulp hero living into the modern era.
- Marvel's Immortal Iron Fist is mostly a kung fu book, but features strong elements of pulp as well (especially with Orson Randall, the World War I era Iron Fist).
- In 1997 DC Comics had a "Pulp Heroes" event, in which all their annuals were written in the style of the pulps. Ones that particularly fitted the Two-Fisted Tales paradigm were under the banners "My Greatest Adventure" and "Tales of the Unexpected". "Suspense Detective" also fitted to an extent, although that was more the Private Detective trope. "Young Romance" and "Weird Western Tales" were based on very different pulp genres.
- The EC Comics title Two-Fisted Tales began with stories of this genre but soon became a (much better) war comic.
- In Atomic Robo, the titular character has fought Nazi mad scientists, Lovecraftian horrors, and an intelligent dinosaur, visited different dimensions, and encountered the ghost of Rasputin.
- DC Comics' First Wave imprint, a Two-Fisted Tales & Dieselpunk universe that includes Doc Savage, The Avenger, The Spirit and Rima the Jungle Girl, as well as DCU characters who fit the paradigm like Batman (who in this world is basically The Shadow, complete with twin guns) and Black Canary.
- The picture above is from Dave Stevens's The Rocketeer, adapted into a movie in 1991.
- Dominic Fortune, a 1930s 'Brigand For Hire' in the Marvel Universe. Created by Howard Chaykin.
- Parodied in Tales Designed to Thrizzle with Two-Fisted Poe.
Quoth the raven - Lights Out!!!
- Also, The result of a confusing memo: Two-Tailed Fists! with a pair of confused gangsters attacked by giant fists with tails.
- Marvel Noir, especially the ones that involve powers like Spider-Man.
- The Deadpool mini was called Deadpool Pulp, rather than Noir.
- The Moonstone relaunch of Airboy focuses heavily on this.
- The Indiana Jones movies.
- The Mummy and sequels.
- The Rocketeer
- Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow
- The Shadow
- Atlantis the Lost Empire
- While more noir than pulp (though one could argue that they're similar), this trope is what Pulp Fiction is named after.
- Cult classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, a purposeful knockoff of Doc Savage.
- The Adventures of The Librarian are a modern day pulp adventure spanning three films to date.
- Captain America the First Avenger, what with gung-ho hero Cap and a group of Badass Normals fighting HYDRA, a splinter group of Those Wacky Nazis with Weird Science death machines powered by Asgardian magic.
Literature[edit | hide]
- Philip Jose Farmer's long writing career is marked by his great love of the pulps and he devoted great energy to his many Two Fisted Tales. Even his works which aren't in the genre are often informed by it. Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life provides a biography of the pulp era hero and links him to other period heroes.
- The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril has the authors of Doc Savage and The Shadow looking into the murder of H.P. Lovecraft and uncovering a global conspiracy.
- The Takers is an Indiana Jones-style homage novel by Jerry Ahern, about an action-adventure novelist and his Love Interest—an Intrepid Reporter who investigates wacky UFO and occult stories—who team up to investigate the murder of a CIA agent, and the log of a 19th Century expedition searching for Atlantis. It manages to work in Pirates, Ancient Astronauts, Mysterious Antarctica, Flying Saucers, Those Wacky Nazis, a Magnificent Bastard and his Knife Nut daughter, and a nuclear submarine! Great reading, but unfortunately the sequel wasn't up to scratch.
- Kim Newman's Dr Shade ... sometimes. Some of the stories featuring him are celebrations of the pulps and others (most especially "The Original Dr Shade") are Deconstructions. Also by Newman but not featuring Dr Shade: the Diogenes Club story "Clubland Heroes" (definitely a Deconstruction).
- Zach Parsons specifically called his book My Tank is Fight! "two fisted pulp history." And describes the development and potential use of various WW 2 super/strange weapons.
- The Gabriel Hunt books, although set in modern times.
- In a more lighthearted variant, the Doc Wilde series. Doc even brings his kids along on his adventures.
- Doc Sidhe
- The novel Gods of Manhattan, in the Pax Britannica series of Steampunk novels, features two-fisted adventurer Doc Thunder (Savage), and killer vigilante Blood Spider (the Spider, with elements of the Shadow), amongst others.
- Drawing inspiration from the Medal of Honor games, Stationery Voyagers has its Mosquatlons and Aviatets battling Underworld-style in caverns where a Hitler-worshiping vampire lord takes the pursuit of super weapons to new heights. While the heroic vampiress dresses up in a bomber jacket the likes of which could only come from a Pulp Magazine. The Voyagers' entrance into that feud puts this right into Decade Dissonance / Schizo-Tech territory.
Tabletop RPG[edit | hide]
- Two-Fisted Tales from Precis Intermedia Games
- White Wolf's Adventure!.
- Spirit of the Century
- Pulp Hero for the HERO System.
- And its earlier incarnation Justice, Inc.
- GURPS Cliffhangers
- The new GURPS Age of Gold as well.
- The Eberron campaign setting for Dungeons and Dragons combines this with Dungeon Punk.
- Crimson Skies, later adapted into a series of PC and Xbox games, focuses heavily on the Zeppelins and Sky Pirates aspect of pulp.
- Many adventures had by the Sons of Ether in Mage: The Ascension, whose Tradition is chock-full of people with names like "Doc Eon" and "the Crimson Claw." Taking an appropriately two-fisted nickname seems to be standard even if you don't use it often.
- Genius: The Transgression gives detailed instructions on how to create a pulp tale in the sourcebook.
- Hollow Earth Expedition is made of this.
- If Savage Worlds can be said to have a "default setting," it's this. One of the first supplements was a Pulp Toolkit, and the whole system's emphasis on "Fast Furious Fun!" leads to a very pulpy game experience.
Video Games[edit | hide]
- The Uncharted series, easily. Set in modern times, but all the elements are there: Indiana Jones-esque hero, lots of bad guys to fight in the middle of a war, exotic locations to visit, women to rescue (and be rescued by), betrayal, and the overall theme. It's essentially the playable form of a pulp hero story.
- The Wolfenstein series also seems to have elements of this. You're a One-Man Army during WWII, stopping the Nazis from taking over the world with either hi-tech weaponry or taking the supernatural to their advantage. The third game even has a final level on a zeppelin.
- The Ultima Worlds of Adventure spin-offs, Savage Empire and Martian Dreams.
- Bulletstorm embraces this demeanor, down to the unlikable but heroic lead.
- Parodied in Team Fortress 2 with Saxton Hale, a pulp protagonist who owns the company that makes all of the characters' weapons.
- Dark Void.
- Athena Voltaire, a rare example of a female lead pulp story.
- Girl Genius is based strongly off pulpy stories of juvenile adventurers like Tom Swift and Jonny Quest.
- The currently comatose "Modern Pulp" webcomic site, especially Sprecken, about a 1930s crimefighter (who used to go by "Mr Midnight") relocated to the 2020s.