Americans in 1933 had “nothing to fear, but fear itself,” and the pulp heroes introduced early that year had been proving the country’s new president to be absolutely correct. During that harrowing year, The Phantom Detective, Nick Carter, and Doc Savage had met and defeated “The Emperor of Death,” “Maniacs of Science,” “The Red Skull,” and other adversaries. As the year wore on and The Great Depression savaged other genres, the pulp heroes of 1933 surged forward, their magazines disappearing from America’s newsstands. And the publishers noticed.
When Fiction House introduced Air Stories during the summer of 1927, aviation fiction had become a standard of the industry. With the launching of War Birds in early 1928, Dell Publishing would add war to the mix. Riding the tide of “air-mindedness” inspired by the heroic flight of Charles Lindbergh, both magazines proved to be instant hits and similar titles were rushed to the stands.
With the stock market crash of 1929, “the vision that aviation would lead mankind to a higher level of civilization…came plummeting down to earth,” taking much of the air pulp market with it. However, the genre was far from dead. In 1932, a trio of air-war magazines was born–Popular Publications’ Dare-Devil Aces and Battle Birds and the Thrilling Groups’ Sky Fighters. Their pages filled with the exploits of flying aces of the First World War, these pulps were “especially sought after by boys raised on the courageous exploits of fathers and uncles who had served in the Great War, boys who kept themselves busy building model planes constructed of balsa wood.” Little wonder that the next pulp heroes to be introduced in 1933 would take to the air, retelling the adventures of two flying aces of the First World War.
Borrowing one of the nicknames given to Charles Lindbergh following his nonstop flight from New York to Paris, Standard Magazines was first to the stands with The Lone Eagle. Retelling the heroic adventures of Air Intelligence Agent John Masters, “the world’s greatest Sky Fighter,” as proclaimed on the magazine’s cover, the pulp debuted in the late summer of 1933.
“Masters showed a natural affinity for a stuttering machine-gun and as his natural proficiency increased, he built up a dark and terrible reputation about his name. He became the “Lone Eagle” of the skies…. He showed an indomitable courage and a dynamic driving power, in pushing to a successful conclusion his secret missions. Many men feared him, many hated him–an occasional one loved him.”
Those words, written by F. E. Rechnitzer, appeared in “No Man’s Air,” the lead novel for the first issue of the new hero pulp A former World War I allied pilot and prisoner-of-war, Rechnitzer is believed to have written many of the adventures of The Lone Eagle, hidden behind the “Lt. Scott Morgan” house name. Robert Sidney Bowen probably contributed most of the later novels. In all, seventy-five tales of “the world’s greatest Sky Fighter” would appear through the spring of 1943 when the magazine would fly off into the sunset as The American Eagle.
One month after the debut of Standard’s air hero, Popular Publications premiered G-8 and His Battle Aces with Robert J. Hogan at the controls. An air cadet at the end of the first world war, Hogan turned to writing after losing employment as an airplane salesman. Although he also wrote sports and Western fiction, Hogan was a regular for the air pulps, scoring big with his Smoke Wade and Red Falcon stories.
In the summer of 1933, Henry Steeger, co-founder of Popular Publications, had asked Hogan to come up with a book-length air character patterned after The Shadow and Doc Savage, pitting “a super protagonist and his loyal side men against heinous forces of power and evil.”
“We have decided to make you a special agent of the spy system of America. A special independent system…. No one will take command over you. You may choose any assistants you wish. You may take matters entirely in your own hands. You will answer to no one but us, and that will be at your discretion. Your first job will be to stop this deadly plan of the fiend, Krueger…”
Determined “to avoid similarity and dullness with a healthy injection of fantasy,” Hogan created diabolical masterminds to match wits with his flying spy: “Herr Doktor Kreuger, a fiendish, thick-lensed gnome whose outsized brain conceived surgically altered man-beasts and mammoth bird monsters, deadly rays and flying swords…. Chu Lung, an oriental mercenary scientist with a retinue of padding hatchet men, and the huge Herr Stahlmaske, crazed and scarred in a fiery crash, who wore a bullet-shaped steel mask and commanded an underworld corps of disfigured brutes equipped with razored gloves. There were others with secret formulas from the ancient tombs of Egypt, voodoo priests and flying zombies from Haiti, cobra charmers and poison dart mystics from India and Africa, and even a tribe of defrosted Vikings from northern glaciers.”
Debuting in the October 1933 number of G-8 and His Battle Aces in “The Bat Staffel,” Hogan’s hero would appear in 110 adventures, battling “The Skeleton Patrol,” “Staffel of the Floating Heads,” “The Black Aces of Doom,” “Squadron of the Flying Dead,” “Skeletons of the Black Cross,” “Hordes of the Wingless Death,” and other hideous horrors of the hated Hun. The final issue of the Popular Publication would be dated June 1944.
To learn more about these and the other great pulp heroes of 1933, register now for PulpFest 2013, running from Thursday, July 25th through Sunday, July 28th.
The covers pictured above are from the August 1927 Air Stories (artist Frank McAleer with scan from The Fiction Mags Index); the September 1933 The Lone Eagle (artist Eugene M. Franzden with scan from All Things Pulp); and the October 1933 issue of G-8 and His Battle Aces (artist Frederick Blakeslee with scan from Savage Tales)
Bradd, Sidney H. “G-8, Flying Spy of the Pulps.” Xenophile #11 (March 1975). St. Louis, MO: Nils Hardin.
Chomko, Michael. “The Rise and Fall of the Air Pulps.” The New, Complete, Thrilling, Popular, Spicy, Mammoth, All-Comment Magazine #17 for the April 2002 PEAPS Mailing.
Hogan, Robert J. G-8 and His Battle Aces #1: The Bat Staffel. New York: Berkley Publishing (1961).
Rechnitzer, F. E. “No Man’s Land” in Wings of War. Normal, IL: Black Dog Books (2011).