Guest Post | G.W. Thomas on Hawk Carse

Author G.W. Thomas is back with the next in his series of articles looking at the great space pulp characters. Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is www.gwthomas.org. He is also editor of Dark Worlds magazine. Thanks for another great article, G.W.!

The author of “Hawk Carse” was one of the Age of Wonder’s great mysteries. Who was Anthony Gilmore? The answer turned out to be Harry Bates and Desmond W. Hall, the editor and assistant editor of the magazine that published Hawk’s four original adventures, Astounding Stories of Super-Science, what fans now call the Clayton Astounding. This magazine was the first to offer Science Fiction as an adventure medium (not a hobbyist magazine like Amazing or the high-brow of Campbell’s Astounding in 1938) for Pulp readers during the Depression era. And the hero of such a magazine would have to be an amazing adventurer.

Living on the Saturnine moon, Iapetus, Hawk roars around the solar system in The Star Devil, the fastest and most up-to-date cruiser. Amongst Hawk’s allies is Friday, the black man rescued from a Venusian slave-ship by Carse, nick-named ‘Eclipse’. He is a muscular and quick-witted friend. Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow (or M. S.) is the scientific mind behind Carse’s modern gadgetry, working away in his secret laboratory to create new and exciting weapons for Carse to use against his sinister enemies such as Kui Su, the evil puppet-master behind the criminals of the solar system, master to men like Judd the Kite. The model for this dastardly villain isn’t hard to spot: Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu. Along with Rohmer’s good guys and bad guys, Gilmore also inherited his racial elements, but more on that later.

The first episode in Hawk Carse’s career was the self-titled story “Hawk Carse” (Astounding, November 1931) which details how Carse’s shipment of Phanti horns, harvested from Carse’s ranch on Iapetus, are stolen by Ku Sui’s agent, Judd the Kite. But the theft has a more sinister plot behind it. For when Carse rescues the stolen horns and begins to pursue the ship of villains who attacked his ranch and killed his people, the voice of Judd the Kite announces a special doom is coming. The phanti horn has been infected with a killer fungus that fills the ship with flesh-eating greenery. Judd the Kite wasn’t interested in the valuable horn but in capturing Carse and taking his space ship for his own. The pirates return to Iapetus to celebrate and Carse must do some quick thinking and even quicker shooting to save Friday from a terrible death. This tale sets up the series well with plenty action, reversals and host of baddies, but the over-all feel is more of the range than the spaceways. It isn’t hard to see how Bates and Hall used Western plot elements to create the tale. As Gene Roddenberry would sell Star Trek thirty years later as “Wagon train to the Stars”, so too did Anthony Gilmore begin on the farm then look to the stars.

The Affair of the Brains” (Astounding, March 1932) picks up after the first story with Hawk and Friday going to keep Judd the Kite’s rendezvous with Ku Sui. This proves ill-advised since Ku Sui captures them and takes them to his secret base on an invisible asteroid. Ku Sui uses a weird color machine to ring information out of Carse, namely the location of his friend, Master Scientist Eliot Leithgow. For Ku Sui has taken the brains of the galaxy’s top geniuses and connected them in a special tank. The combined power of these minds gives him a kind of mental conglomerate that he uses to invent new creations and to plot his evil schemes. Capturing Leithgow, Ku Sui forces Carse to watch the operation that will remove his brain. From a seemingly escape-proof cell Carse and Friday manage to get free, capture the operating room and their friend Leithgow. Then using the advice of the brains they escape their barricade, destroy the dome that the asteroid base uses to hold in the atmosphere, and are blown out into space in spacesuits. The scene of Ku Sui torturing Hawk Carse seem to be taken right out of a James Bond movie (something that won’t exist for 30 years) for Bates and Hall were inspired by Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, just as Ian Fleming would be years later.

The Bluff of the Hawk” (Astounding, May 1932) is a short interlude in the saga of Carse and Ku Sui. It begins right after the events in “The Affair of the Brains”. Using the prototype spacesuits they escaped in, Hawk, Leithgow and Friday jet back to Satelitte III, landing in a swamp. Hawk is attacked by a tentacled monster while they sleep after the arduous journey, fending it off with a ray gun. Carse sends the other two to an ally nearby while he goes into the city of Porno (unfortunate name choice!) to retrieve papers Leithgow left behind when kidnapped. On these, in a numerical code, is the secret location of Leithgow’s lab. What seems a mere notation to us will be quite clear to a genius like Ku Sui, so Carse desperately needs to get the papers. Unfortunately they have been taken by a Venusian agent of Ku Sui. (Venusians are odiferous and Carse is able to logically deduct who has taken the papers, Lars Tantril, Venuisian drug-dealer and Ku Sui agent). Using the spacesuit, Hawk flies to Tantril’s ranch, flying low and having to evade the large flying monsters of Satelitte III. Hawk attacks the base, knocking out all the guard towers. In the panic he doubles back and finds his way into Tantril’s inner sanctum and the secret papers. Unfortunately, Lars and the boys capture him, knocking out the grav plates on his suit and making flying impossible. Now comes the bluff of the title. While secretly destroying the incriminating numbers from the paper, Carse suggests to Tantril a trade. He will explain the single weakness of the drug-dealer’s base if he’ll let him go free. Neither party is acting in good faith. Tantril agrees but has no intention of freeing his biggest enemy. Hawk leads the Venusians to the lake near the base and slowly works his way deeper and deeper until he finds the drop off. Sealing his suit, he dives to the lake bottom and walks away laughing.

The Passing of Ku Sui” (Astounding, November 1932) is the longest and in many ways the weakest of the series. Hawk knows that Ku Sui will be meeting Tar Lantril at his ranch, giving the Hawk and his friends a chance to find the invisible asteroid and kill the captured brains. Using a scanner invented by MS they go to the asteroid, take it over and lay a trap for the returning Ku Sui. Instead of asking for death the brains want to be placed in new bodies, so Hawk captures Ku Sui and forces him to operate, for only he can return the brains to their bodies. An unfortunate sub-plot hinging on race muddies the story but eventually the brains are placed in new bodies and Ku Sui is being taken to Earth to clear MS’s name. But Ku Sui escapes to his asteroid, which is burning up in Earth’s atmosphere, and Carse follows him in a finale in which the villain dies (but we don’t see it!) and the hero wins. Smell a sequel here? Working in the Fu Manchu style, the authors have built in an escape route to allow the baddy to return. This is one of the structural weaknesses that make the ending unsatisfying.

And so the original adventures of Hawk end with the passing of his arch-enemy. Or does it? – as they like to say in bad films. In 1942 Hawk would appear one last time in “The Return of Hawk Carse” (Amazing Stories, July 1942). Written by Harry Bates alone it appeared in the rival magazine Amazing (because Astounding had morphed into the top SF market under John W. Campbell and such space opera would never appear there.) Amazing Stories was no longer the leader in SF but an entertainment magazine much as the Clayton Astounding had been. Hawk’s return was not significant enough to earn the cover (which went to “Blitzkrieg in the Past” by John York Cabot and its dinosaur fighting a Nazi tank) though the top of the cover bears “THE RETURN OF HAWK CARSE by Anthony Gilmore”. The plot picks up where it left off with the wives of the scientists who had had their brains transferred being shocked and horrified by the gross bodies the men now inhabited. There is madness and suicide and eventually Kui Su shows up to create the Unborn Q, a composite man who ultimately beats his creator and hustles him off stage like a naughty boy.  As Lester del Rey says in The World of Science Fiction (1979): “…But time had dimmed the luster. It was no longer the right atmosphere for Hawk Carse.” The hero of the Great Depression was not the one that a United States at war required.

Issues plague today’s editors of these old stories: racism, sexism, old ideas about politics and people. It may have been acceptable in 1931 (even 1942) to feature Asians as “Yellow Peril” villains and Uncle Tom African-Americans but today these elements cause our teeth to grate and there is a desire to edit them away. I was faced with this temptation while preparing the Clayton Astounding reprint series for RAGE m a c h i n e Books, but with a little thought I paused. Granted Gilmore’s portrayal is not politically correct by today’s standards, but let’s consider the other 99% of space opera from that period. How many of these other stories even contain people of color (except green perhaps)? Very few. If any. The alternative to racism appears to be completely ignoring the existence of other races or creeds altogether. This seems to me to be an even worse form of discrimination. I chose to leave the contents of “Hawk Carse” alone. Readers are not so inept at distinguishing between current and out-moded attitudes that we need to treat them as children. Hawk Carse is one of the great adventure heroes, warts and all. It would be a shame to get only half his story.

Previous entries in G.W. Thomas’ series for the Adventureblog:
Buck Rogers
John Hanson of The Space Patrol Service

The Marvel 52, Part One: Marvel Pulp

I’ve kept pretty quiet about DC’s whole New 52 deal up to now. For better or worse, I don’t form opinions quickly, so I gave DC some time to get all their announcements out and respond to the first couple of waves of concerns. I will say that my initial reaction was positive though. I haven’t followed DC comics for a couple of years now, so it doesn’t affect me personally that they’re cancelling everything and starting over. If anything, some of their new series sound really interesting. Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang on Wonder Woman, for instance. Barbara Gordon as Batgirl again, as another example.

My main criticism is that DC seems to be hoping to eat its cake and have it too in regards to balancing current fans with potential, new readers. The New 52’s been promoted as an “all-in” approach to reinvigorating the line, while at the same time refusing to call itself a reboot and insisting that fan-favorite stories (an extremely loosely defined category) still count. That’s not very “all-in” at all and I suspect that their wishy-washiness will cost them some of those potential, new readers they’re wanting.

I don’t expect that they’ll lose many readers though. As much complaining as fans have been doing, they’re still fans. They’ve stuck with DC through Countdown to Final Crisis; I expect that they’ll stick around through this. And it’s not like Marvel’s got anything especially exciting going on to compete. Yeah, yeah, Marvel still routinely beats DC in sales; all I’m saying is that I don’t expect current DC readers to suddenly start switching to Marvel as a result of the “non”-reboot. Whatever you think of DCnU, it’s certainly interesting. Marvel, on the other hand, continues to publish the same kind of crossover stuff they’ve been doing for the last five years. I’m not saying that none of it’s good, ’cause some of it really is, but seriously…their section of Previews the last couple of months hasn’t been nearly as exciting and expectant as DC’s.

I wish I’d thought of this myself, but it was Comics Should Be Good (Robot 6’s sister blog at CBR) that came up with the idea of developing your own Marvel 52. I like DC’s idea of creating smaller imprints within the DCU (JLA, Batman, Superman, Dark, Edge, etc.). so I used that for my Marvel list too. Not that DC came up with it. Marvel’s done the same thing before with Marvel Knights, Tsunami, Marvel MAX, and whatnot. I even used some of those in my list.

Because this could get long, I’m going to divide this up into a series of five posts going into September when DC launches their stuff. That’ll give me some room to talk about why I picked the concepts I did as well as the creators I’d love to see work on them. We’ll start with a category I call…

Marvel Pulp

The idea behind this “imprint” is to focus on some of the great, not-quite-superhero concepts that Marvel’s had over the years: Westerns, jungle adventures, period heroes, spies, and space opera. We’ll do this in countdown format, so:

52. Gamora by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Sam Hiti

Gamora’s got a lot of history in Marvel’s cosmic comics, but the focus on this would be her traveling the universe as an intergalactic bounty hunter. Gamora’s extremely hard to kill and has a wicked sense of humor. Kelly Sue DeConnick (OsbornSupergirl) can deliver the goods on funny (and excitement) while Sam Hiti (Tiempos Finales, Death-Day) knows everything about drawing beautiful women and exotic, alien landscapes.

51. Guardians of the Galaxy by Roger Langridge and Shaun Tan

As fun as a Gamora solo-title would be, we also need a book that can capture the rest of Marvel’s cosmic characters like Silver Surfer, Thanos, and Rocket Raccoon. Roger Langridge (Thor: The Mighty Avenger, Snarked!) has the imagination to make that incredible, while Shaun Tan (The Arrival, Tales from Outer Suburbia) has the ability to mix the real and the odd in a unique, believable way. He’s not known for action sequences, so I’d be interested to see how he tackled that, but I can already imagine his depiction of the arrival of Galactus and it’s mind-blowing.

50. Sabra by Carla Jablonsky and Laurenn McCubbin

Sabra isn’t a well-known character, but I’ve been fascinated by her since I first saw her in The Incredible Hulk #256. Maybe because she took her Israeli heritage so seriously, yet didn’t seem to have been created specifically to fill a slot as Israel’s Superhero for Contest of Champions or something. She eventually became just another of the many, international mutants running around the X-Men’s corner of the Marvel Universe, but I’ve always thought she was better than that. I’d love to see her in a series that focused on the issues of the Middle East in a thoughtful, objective way. Not that Sabra herself should be objective about them, but that the series could explore the region and its history in a way that educates as well as entertains. Carla Jablonsky’s done something similar with Nazi-occupied France in her Resistance series, so I picked her to write.  Laurenn McCubbin has a great, realistic style that would complement that kind of story beautifully.

49. Black Widow by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Amanda Conner

I don’t know if this was the right thing to do, but though I picked 52 visual artists for my list, I only picked 26 writers and gave them each two books. That was partly because most writers can handle multiple books in a month, but it was also partly to make list-making easier on myself. I’m sure I’ll regret it later when I realize I’ve forgotten one of my favorite writers.

At any rate, this is the second book I’d give Kelly Sue. I promise that I didn’t purposely match up women creators with women characters, but it worked out that way in Kelly Sue’s case. I’d love to see her write Black Widow. As for Amanda Conner: I love seeing anything she draws, but one look at her variant cover from Secret Avengers #6 above and you’ll get why I want her on a Black Widow comic so badly.

48. Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD by James Turner and Luc Jacamon

If you’ve read James Turner’s Rex Libris or Warlord of IO, you know how insanely, awesomely inventive he is. Just the guy to put the “super” back into super spy. And Luc Jacamon (The Killer) knows all about drawing deadly people in diverse settings, both urban and exotic.

47. Mystery Men by Susan Kim and Guy Davis

I really hate not to have David Liss and Patrick Zircher continue the concept they started, but one of the criteria I wanted for my list was to have as many women as possible on it. So I’m giving this ’30s-set heroic pulp series to Susan Kim, who did such a great job with her adventurous City of Spies set in a similar time period. And I’m aching to see Guy Davis do some more stuff like he did on Sandman Mystery Theatre.

46. Tigra by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, and Kerry Callen

The inspiration for this book is two-fold. First, I wanted a jungle comic and Tigra would work great in that setting. She wouldn’t have to stay only in that setting, but it would be a great homebase for her.The second inspiration was this description by Kerry Callen of what he wanted in a Tigra series: “a fun-loving character whose cat-like curiosity gets her into interesting predicaments.” Pak and Van Lente would be perfect for that and one look at Callen’s blog and you know he’s the only guy for the visual part of the job.

45. The Savage Land by Joshua Fialkov and Jeremy Bastian

It’s another jungle comic, but this one’s different from Tigra. Her comic would be much more versatile with lots of guest-stars from other Marvel characters. The Savage Land of course would be set exclusively in the prehistoric world beneath Antarctica. At first I thought I’d call it Ka-Zar and Shanna (the first of several two-character comics you’ll see in my Marvel 52), but then I remembered the temptation to take those two out of the Savage Land to interact with the rest of the Marvel Universe. Renaming it The Savage Land (which is a much cooler title anyway) removes that temptation.There’s a whole world to explore there and as long as I’m fantasizing about my dream comics (as opposed to worrying about sales), I want to keep these characters out of the rest of the Marvel Universe. I don’t care if other Marvel characters stop by for a visit, but I want the setting to stay consistent.

Josh Fialkov (Elk’s Run, Tumor) does really well with setting and small casts of characters, so I pick him to write. Jeremy Bastian (Cursed Pirate Girl) draws lavishly and I’d love to see the creatures and landscapes he could fill the Savage Land with.

44. The Rangers by Alan Moore and J Bone

Based on another group of characters I once read about in The Incredible Hulk (#265 this time). The Rangers were a goofy team created by Bill Mantlo, but I liked their modern-Western concept and the sheer zaniness of it would be a great playground for Alan Moore. The team included Firebird (probably the most famous character to come out of the team) as well as modern versions of Red Wolf and the original Ghost Rider (renamed Phantom Rider to avoid confusion) and a couple of very Mantlo characters: Shooting Star (her gun shoots stars!) and Texas Twister (tornado powers). In keeping with making the series fun and versatile, J Bone can draw absolutely anything and make it look wonderful.

43. Gunslingers by John Ostrander and Leonardo Manco

Counterpoint to The Rangers, this would be a real Western set in the late 1800s. Really it’s just a continuation of Ostrander and Manco’s two mini-series, Blaze of Glory and Apache Skies in which they updated Marvel’s classic, Western heroes for modern fans of Westerns.

Coming Monday: Midnight Sons!