Street & Smith’s Second String Superheroes

Jun 1, 2016 by

The Whisperer 1936-10Will Murray discovered Doc Savage in 1969 when he picked up the Bantam Books edition of DUST OF DEATH. Within a few short years, he began contributing to Doc Savage fanzines, starting with THE DOC SAVAGE READERSoon thereafter, he began placing articles in other fanzines, including ECHOES, THE PULP COLLECTOR, and PULP VAULT, writing about Doc and other pulp characters and the magazines in which they appeared. Today, nearly fifty years later, Will is one of the most respected authorities on the pulp magazine, having authored countless articles and books, including THE DUENDE HISTORY OF THE SHADOW MAGAZINE and WORDSLINGERS: AN EPITAPH FOR THE WESTERN.

In addition to his many non-fiction work on the pulps, Murray was the ghost-writer for about forty of the Destroyer action-adventures novels. He has also written nineteen Doc Savage novels and a fully authorized Tarzan novel, RETURN TO PAL-UL-DON. A second is forthcoming. He also serves as the literary agent for the Lester Dent estate and as the co-editor of Sanctum Books’ highly regarded pulp reprints.

At 9:10 PM on Thursday evening, July 21, Will Murray will begin PulpFest‘s much-admired programming with a discussion of “Street & Smith’s Second String Superheroes — The Whisperer and The Skipper.”

After Street & Smith kicked off the hero-pulp explosion when THE SHADOW MAGAZINE debuted in 1931, pulp publishers scrambled to grab a share of that eager reading audience. More character pulps came into the mix in 1933: Street & Smith’s DOC SAVAGE, NICK CARTER MAGAZINE, and PETE RICE MAGAZINE; Thrilling Publications’ THE PHANTOM DETECTIVE and THE LONE EAGLE; and Popular’s THE SPIDER and G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES.

In 1936, Street & Smith decided to introduce a harder edge to their hero pulps. Turning to former newspaperman, Hollywood scripter, and prolific pulp author Laurence Donovan — who had written nine adventures of the Man of Bronze — the publisher brought out THE WHISPERER during the fall of 1936. Hitting the newsstands with an October 1936 number, The Whisperer was police Inspector (later police commissioner) James “Wildcat” Gordon. The stocky, granite-jawed policeman attempted to fight crime within the law during the day, but transformed into The Whisperer to take the law into his own hands when it didn’t go far enough. THE WHISPERER lasted 14 issues, ending with the December 1937 number. All of the novels were written by Donovan under the house name Clifford Goodrich.

Two months after the first appearance of the original THE WHISPERER magazine, THE SKIPPER went on sale with a December 1936 cover date. As The Whisperer is often said to have been inspired by The Shadow, there’s little doubt that Captain John Fury — the Skipper — was a variant of Doc Savage.

The Skipper 1936-12Also written by Laurence Donovan — under the house name Wallace Brooker — Cap Fury wasn’t the giant that Doc was; instead he, like Wildcat Gordon, was stocky, but with “flaming red hair” and “sharp arctic blue” eyes. He had Doc-like skills, which included lip reading, using pressure points to subdue the bad guys, and cat-like agility. He also relied on oversized sea boots to conceal hypodermics, oxygen masks, and other gadgets. His flaming red hair and last name echoed his dealings with the criminal sort. Unlike Doc, who refrained from killing, Cap Fury made good use of automatic pistols and a whip to mete out justice. Vowing to rid the seas of pirates and criminals, he battled a number of fantastic foes who controlled death rays, a meteorite that removed oxygen from the air, voodoo practitioners, plague-bearing rats, and other nefarious foes.

When THE SKIPPER was canceled after 12 issues with the December 1937 number, Cap Fury moved into the back pages of DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE. The shorter stories were written by Donovan, Harold Davis, and Norman Daniels.

Join Will Murray at PulpFest 2016 to learn much more about The Whisperer and Cap Fury. “Summer’s AMAZING Pulp Con” will salute the 80th anniversaries of the two pulp heroes. PulpFest 2016 will take place from July 21 through July 24 in the Columbus, Ohio Arena district at the Hyatt Regency hotel and the city’s spacious convention center. You’ll have a FANTASTIC time. You can book a room from the PulpFest home page by clicking the link that reads “Book a Room Now.”

(THE WHISPERER was introduced to readers with its October 1936 number, featuring front cover art by the talented John Newton Howitt, a devoted landscape painter whose work was sold at fine art galleries in New York City. With the advent of the Great Depression, the artist turned to the pulps for income. An excellent painter, Howitt found a ready market in the rough-paper periodicals, selling freelance pulp covers to ADVENTURE, DIME DETECTIVE, HORROR STORIES, THE SPIDER, TERROR TALES, THE WHISPERER, WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE, and other pulp magazine titles.

THE SKIPPER, including the first issue dated December 1936, featured cover art by Lawrence Donner Toney, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago. During the 1930s and 1940s, Toney painted covers for pulp magazines, such as CLUES, COMPLETE STORIES, WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE, and WILD WEST WEEKLY, all published by Street & Smith.)