Considering the inspiration that pulp heroes created for the mainstream comic book characters we have now, you’d think comics featuring pulp heroes would perform better and win over more fans. Before Batman became a full-fledged superhero, he was really nothing more than a pulp hero himself, even carries the same traits that they have, and yet pulp heroes still take back seat.
When you look at these popular pulp heroes, you see the similarities they carried compared to some of the mainstream heroes of today. The Shadow inspiring Batman, Miss Fury sharing similar qualities with Black Widow, Black Bat sharing similarities with Daredevil, and The Spider being the inspiration for Spider-Man. Things many readers would never realize unless they were knowledgeable of all the characters mentioned, and yet still unknown to many. There’s likely much more comparisons out there, and everyone has their own, but you see how these heroes have those defining characteristics that mold the heroes of today. Morals, value, skill set, personality, everything they need yet the pulp heroes have and did well enough to become memorable.
What sets them apart? Comic companies want dark and gritty, they have forgotten that readers came to characters because while there was the over the top danger, there was a traditional side to the heroes. Good vs evil, that’s all there was and there really wasn’t an in-between. Seems that has been the biggest struggle with when it comes to mainstream comics due to all this progression with the heroes and readers demanding more. There are some strides to push towards that normalcy with many heroes of today. Getting back to those classic bad guy scenarios where there was a lot more punching and less complex storytelling. A great story is good, but you can’t let it take control to the point where you talk down to the readers. Remind them what it means to be a hero. That is what pulp heroes do, and they have nothing to measure up to other than that.
Do they need powers? No, of course not. Many didn’t have powers and never needed them. It’s having no powers what makes them so much more believable as people like you and me. No knock at Batman, but even as a regular man they have pushed him to that point in physical/mental prowess that he may as well be superhuman. This is something pulp heroes don’t need for attraction, they just need to be resourceful while taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them. Relying on people around them, using their businesses, thinking on the fly before jumping into a fight, and of course using weapons and responsibly. Powers are just something to make that character stand out amongst others, and in general why those with them are called superheroes. Not having powers reminds you that they are only human, trying to do the same thing and show that much more dedication towards what they fight for.
Do they need to be modernized? I wouldn’t think so, there are some that have been nonetheless. Not as a main progressive story, but just one that allows mainstream audiences to connect better with the hero. To be specific, I’m speaking of The Shadow NOW. For those unaware, it is Lamont Cranston seeking to resume his old life, and his heroic alter-ego is ready to stand once more as an enemy to evil. But while he was gone, his foes have remained vigilant, and the most dangerous man The Shadow has ever faced prepares to rise once more. This takes place in current time, 2013, and it’s one hell of a good book as well. But is that the only way to enjoy the Shadow, or any other pulp hero? Not at all, time means nothing more than the setting and that is one of the last things you should worry about when picking up any book. Any one of these pulp stories you could pick up and the art would look amazing enough that you forget that they took place in whatever time period. They have all for the most part been relaunched and that is more than enough.
So what is the problem? Not what, it’s who. The readers are the biggest problem, over the years they demand so much more from their heroes than they can receive. Throwing around the word relatable as if this that one thing every character must have. This could be a TV show or movie and that word always makes and breaks it. They’re used to reading about heroes who are crushed by life and losing all the time. This is why most pulp heroes don’t work for them, because that’s not real to them. And yet it shouldn’t have to be real to them, writers should be able to make these heroes bigger than life. Characters like Conan the Barbarian and Doc Savage for example. Readers find it difficult to take a chance on something they aren’t as familiar with, different is always a fear for them. It’s all about reading the same thing, even if it is a dozen Batman books with stories going in every direction, and still finding room to want more. I mean why modernize heroes that define the heroes you see now?
Even knowing this, what can you really do? And the answer to that is do better. Give readers a reason to pick up these books. Show them the difference between what they read and this, that if the story is told right these could have a higher quality than mainstream books that snatch up all the readership and popularity. That time will soon come, and all any writer can do is keep doing what makes pulp stories what they are while trying to attract the attention of new readers. Nothing should be sacrificed for attention.