Tuesday, November 29, 2011

So Which One's The Black Bat Anyway?

Pulp Perusals #4

It's a habit, I'll admit it. I suffer from a four-color addiction that is fed every Wednesday by a trip to see the wonderful purveyors of sequential art at Austin Books & Comics.

A couple of weeks ago in among the stack of comics that came home with me were a couple of Moonstone Books. That evening it just so happened that the first one I decided to peruse was THE BLACK BAT and DEATH ANGEL VS. DRACULA written by New Pulp’s very own Mike Bullock. Overall I enjoyed the story, but part way through I discovered I had a problem – more on that later.

The following weekend saw the annual visit of the Wizard World ComicCon circus to the Austin Convention Center. Due to a mix up prior to my arrival at the show my original assigned table in Artist Alley had been given to a bevy of pretty young ladies selling costume jewelry. After things were sorted, where should I end up, but on the table next to the aforementioned Mr. Bullock.

Over the course of the weekend we chatted about this and that, naturally I mentioned I had not long ago read his latest piece of comics work, and of course he was duty bound to ask what I thought. I had no choice but to admit to my problem:

I had read almost to the end of the comic under discussion before I actually figured out who was who. The cover of the book had planted in my mind that this was a story about THE BLACK BAT vs DRACULA. So naturally I assumed that the character we first encountered and who was “on-screen” for most of the first half of the book was the titular Black Bat. But his actions seemed strange for a character with that name, nor did the dialogue flow the way I would have expected it to. The fact was that I had read the comics in the mistaken idea that the Death Angel was the Black Bat. Once I figured out who was who the story suddenly made a lot more sense.

The conversation with Mike and my problem with parsing his excellent story, made me realize that while I may be reasonably well versed in the classic pulp heroes, my knowledge of the more esoteric denizens of the genre is sadly lacking.

To overcome this deficiency Mike presented me with a copy of FROM THE VAULT: THE PULP FILES with which to educate myself. It now sits on the table in my studio for reference. Every time I open it I find great characters--several of whom fall right into the “'I’d like to write that guy someday” category.

So while I head off to do a little bit more New Pulp homework, please settle in and enjoy the third part of NAMELESS HERE FOR EVERMORE by Rick Klaw and myself, featuring our own addition to the New Pulp pantheon: The Raven.

For those who came in late…

Part 1
Part 2


(Part Three)
By Alan J. Porter & Rick Klaw

Long after the two socialites and even all the other police officers left, Malone stood alone in the empty apartment. He stared down at the blood on the carpet and wondered why it just didn’t feel right. Then he noticed something. Books littered the apartment, all obviously well read—spines cracked and covers torn—save for the bible on the night stand. It's black leather cover embolden with gold gilt declaring “Holy Bible” shone like new. Malone flipped through the pages. No creases, no markings. As he opened the bible further, the spine let out the tell-tale groan of a freshly opened book. It even smelled new. But this bible proffered up no new clues.

By two in the morning he gave up his ruminations. Walking down the alley towards his car, Malone heard the sound of a boot scraping on the iron rungs of a fire escape ladder above him. He tensed, but didn’t look up.

“Are you planning on being perched up there all night,” Malone asked the night air, “being all Mr. Mysterious?”

In response, a heavy thump sounded behind him as two booted feet landed in the alley.

A muffled baritone voice spoke, “It wasn’t a murder.”

“How do you know that?” Malone spoke without turning around. This was an old game. If he didn’t turn and look at The Raven then it made it a lot easier to deny that any of these conversations ever took place. He could truthfully say that he had never seen the vigilante.

“The blood splatter. Patterns were wrong. More like it had been thrown about, rather than from an artery under pressure. It was staged.”

“Once an actor, always an actor I guess. So why would Wilkes want to fake his disappearance then?”

“He didn't. It wasn’t a murder. It was a snatch.”

“So, me ol' friend, what’ll be your next step?” asked Malone.

The Raven paused, then responded. “They called him the man of a thousand faces. Let’s find out his true one.”
At dawn, The Boss growled unhappily. “I lost a good car last night! That jalopy cost plenty to fix up special, and you morons let that masked do-gooder wreck it!”

“But Boss, we wasn’t even there.”

The Boss glared unsympathetically. “I don't want to hear excuses. I left you in charge and you blew it, Finn.”

The big man flinched under The Boss’s ire. He was left in charge—nothing unusual in that. The Boss formulated the ideas, but Finn handled the day-to-day running of the gang. Despite the false impressions demanded from his size, 6' 5”/300 lbs, he was the logistics guy, with a knack for knowing who to use on what job, and when to pull the job. Or had. But this Raven character changed everything. Now it seemed he was second guessed every time they tried to do anything.

“But how was I to know that the neighbors would blow the whistle at the deli?” Finn knew he had said the wrong thing as he was saying it, but his brain insisted he finish the sentence. The response came in the form of a smart blow to the side of the face administered with the leather gloves. The Boss alway carried a pair in his right hand. He never seemed to wear them, just use them to administer pain with.

“I pay you to plan for every contingency. It was your job to know!”

“But The Raven…”
"I don't want to hear anymore about The Raven. That’s the only excuse I hear from you these days. I ain’t never seen this Raven character. No one has managed to get a photo of him either. I’m beginning to think you made the whole fairy tale up to cover for your failures, Finn. Perhaps he ain't even real.”

“But he killed Dutch, and the other guys last night.”

“And why should I believe you? Prove it!”

“How am I gonna do that, Boss?”
“Do I have to think of everything, Finn? Bring him to me. Get me The Raven!”

The Raven fiddled with his set of skeleton keys. The frosted glass filling the top half of the locked door read “British Colonial Exports Ltd.” He'd found the address scribbled on a piece of hotel stationery slipped between the pages of a near-pristine bible in the actor’s apartment. The bible had appeared out of place, all the other books showed signs of multiple readings. Anything but a religious man, the actor's reported tastes ran more to the decadent than the godly. The address seemed familiar. Once he arrived and saw the name on the office door he knew why.

The door creaked open. The outer office was a typical mid-town reception area. A desk for a no-doubt shapely girl receptionist, a row of hard wooden chairs against the wall. Hat stand and a filing cabinet, which he doubted held anything actually useful. He tried the inner door and found it locked. The second lock was more sophisticated than the lock on the main door. That fact just meant it took a little longer to pick.

Fifteen minutes later he stood in the inner room—similar to the outer but with four desks, phones, filing cabinets and on the far wall another door with an even more formidable lock. Surprisingly unlocked, the door opened, smoothly and noiselessly with just the slightest touch, as if someone expected him.

As he entered this third room, a loud click announced the bright light that suddenly shown straight into The Raven’s eyes. His sensitive red eyes contracted at the sudden light. Temporarily blinded, he inwardly cursed at his own stupidity, reflexively dropped into a defensive posture, and prepared for the inevitable attack.

“There’s no need for that old chap,” came a masculine voice, British, from the darkness, “I’m sorry if the old lamp trick disoriented you, I just wanted to make sure that it was, in fact, you.”

The Raven remained silent, squinting as his eyes adjusted. A man, his features hidden in deep shadow behind the lamp, sat at a large desk that filled the room. The slight glow from the bowl of a pipe was just visible and a plume of smoke swirled in the lamp light. The man's right hand rested on a manila folder lying on the desktop.

The mystery man pushed the folder forward into the pool of light. “This will give you the answers you need. Well some of them at least. I hope it helps.” With that he turned the lamp off, returning the room to darkness. “Please excuse the charade, we may not be as flamboyant as you colonials, but we still enjoy our theatricals. Oh and please relock the door on your way out, there’s a good chap.”

When Captain Malone arrived for the morning shift, he found a strange manila folder on his desk. The rough black ink sketch of a pair of wings, signifying a gift from The Raven, adorned one corner of it. As Malone opened the package, he arched his eyebrows in surprise. The official seal of the British Security Council marked the inner flap.

The British Security Council, euphemistic name for the arm of the British Secret Service operating in the US, maintained an office on Broadway. Officially chartered with attempting to sabotage German propaganda efforts in the US and exposing Nazi fifth columnist agitators, rumors persisted that their main mission was to find a way to get the American government into the war in Europe. In some ways Malone sympathized with their aims, so he tended to turn a blind eye to their methods.
Malone received an ever greater shock when he opened the folder.


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