cover image Pulp Power: The Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Art of the Street & Smith Universe

Pulp Power: The Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Art of the Street & Smith Universe

Neil McGinness. Abrams, $65 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4197-5616-0

Writer McGinness follows up his 2021 revival of the classic pulp comic hero The Shadow with an impressive look at the fictional universe that gave rise to the character in the 1930s. Combining enthralling historical analysis with original artwork, McGinness surveys publisher Street & Smith’s role in creating and marketing comics heroes. When, in 1930, the publisher adapted stories from its Detective Story magazine, “narrated by a mysterious host named The Shadow,” for radio, the program’s immediate popularity led Street & Smith to commission novels featuring the The Shadow, who, McGinness notes, later became the archetype for other superheroes, including Batman. As McGinness traces The Shadow’s development over the decades—including his radio portrayal by Orson Welles in 1937—he brings to life the origin stories of other characters in the universe, including Doc Savage, whose resemblance of “a young and overly tan Clark Gable” served as the perfect counterpart to The Shadow’s “dark avenger” persona. While his writing is marked by a clear reverence, McGinness is judicious in his execution, noting, for example, criticism of Doc Savage’s use of brain surgery to rehabilitate criminals, as well as The Shadow’s troubling m.o. of gunning down his adversaries. It amounts to a fascinating take on a seminal yet overlooked era that shaped a multi-billion-dollar genre. (July)