Pulp Power is a gorgeous tribute to the art of classic crime serials

Pulp Power: The Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Art of the Street & Smith Universe [Amazon] is an absolutely stunning new coffee table book celebrating the art of old pulp heroes like The Shadow and Doc Savage. And if you really want to sit at the coffee table (and hold. a 6-pound book in your lap), it also includes a wonderfully detailed history of the pulp publishing industry, written by author Neil McGinness. McGinness, who consulted with James Patterson on his recent reboot of The Shadow and also helped develop the recent Batman / The Shadow crossover comic for DC, clearly has a passion for these classic crime serials, and revels as he details the development of this iconography, both behind-the-scenes and on the page.

It's a surprisingly captivating read, that traces the path of the pulp influence from the art of Bill Sienkiewicz and Jim Steranko (who both produced covers for Street & Smith magazines), through the literary love of Michael Chabon's Cavalier and Clay. This is a 16×11-inch hardcover with some 350 pages, and I found myself eagerly flipping through it to not only look at all the beautiful images, but also to read the words that gave them context. That's quite a feat for a coffee table book!

If you're a fan of pulp stories and painted comic art, this could make an excellent addition to your own coffee table. My only gripe with the book is that McGinness fanboyish excitement for the genre sometimes takes precedent over his critical eye. Though the history as told through the book is richly detailed, it's also written with rose-colored glasses on. And that can be fine — not everything needs be hyper-critical or recontextualize things within the seedy secrets of American history. But McGinness also calls attention to this when he pre-emptively rebuffs the criticisms of Doc Savage. Here, the author is eager to defend the creators of the pulp hero, insisting that they certainly didn't intend for the rich white guy who's perfect at everything and travels the world being a hero to come off as a sort of colonialist uber-mensch. This was the only part of the prose that took me out of the book (luckily, there was plenty of visual splendor to keep me satisfied). Either give me the rose-colored glasses version of history to fill the content pages, or give me a gritty in-depth history that presents the artwork in its proper sociopolitical context, for better and for worse. Don't randomly say "Well some people think this guy is sort of a white supremacist but he's definitely not!!1" and then move on from it again. Now you've called attention to it, and I want to know more. Even the intro written by Frank Miller was less conspicuous.

Anyway, if you're still interested, here's the official blurb:

Pulp Power: The Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Art of the Street & Smith Universe gives fans a rare glimpse into the pre-war pulp novel decade of the 1930s, a period of bold action and adventure storytelling that ultimately led to the creation of the comic book and the superheroes we know and love today.

This period, a pre-Batman, pre-Superman golden era of American creativity and artistic excellence, starred two main characters in leading roles: The Shadow and Doc Savage. In more than 500 novels written between 1930 and 1940, The Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Street & Smith universe of characters captivated a generation of Americans with their heroic exploits and inspired a new generation of writers to create a pantheon of comic book superheroes in their mold.

Street & Smith, the renowned publisher of these novels, commissioned leading artists to provide bold and original cover artwork for their publications, and in Pulp Power, hundreds of these eye-catching covers are reproduced as a collection for the first time. Comics legend Dan DiDio provides context for the cover illustrations alongside a narrative discussion of the influence of the Street & Smith superhero universe on legendary creators such as Orson Welles, Truman Capote, Michael Chabon, George Lucas, Agnes Moorehead, James Patterson, Walter Mosley, Dwayne Johnson, Frank Miller, James Bama, Jim Steranko, Jim Lee, Gail Simone, and many more.

The book also includes original line art illustrations from the volumes along with unique reproductions of Shadow ephemera. Pulp Power is the ultimate coffee table collectible book for all who love the world of superheroes.

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