Welcome to this most recent meeting of the Order of the Disgruntled Camel! Hump Day is here, and a busy one here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia. Gotta clean the treehouse, gotta roust the monkeys (AKA my kids) to do the chores that rainy weather has delayed, just gotta try to get organized before we run out of summer and it’s time to hibernate through another winter. But! Busy or not, I have been out on the Interwebz, searching out more stuff to share with you, my loyal readers. I am embarrassed to mention how many books (most of them free) that I yoinked from Amazon yesterday, hoping they will fulfill my ever-ravening lust for pulp, Dieselpunk and Steampunk goodness (the words thirty-two might strike a chord deep in my subconscious, but I firmly refuse to confess it out loud). Now I just have to find the time to do the actual reading.
Before we go any further: Happy birthday, H.P. Lovecraft! We love you!
Now, onwards….So I was surfing the Interwebz, trying to find out more about the SyFy show “The Mercury Men,” when my link chasing led me to this page. The webpage is a little hard to read, at least for me, so I almost passed it by. I’m glad I didn’t. Captain Blasto (according to IMDB, it was made in 2005) is an independent web series from Christopher Preksta, who was also responsible for SyFy’s Mercury Men. It’s a loving send up of comic book superheroes (sorta kinda), which seats it rather nicely in the Pulp genre, by my lights. It was nominated for a pile of awards, including a Streamy in 2009 and was a selection of the London Independent Film Festival in 2008. It won for Best Feature Film at the GenCon Film Festival in 2007.
So what’s it about? According to their own webpage, “Captain Blasto, a comedy video web series, follows
Colin Carter, a high school outcast, who recruits a middle-aged crew of comic crooks, including his high
school janitor, to stage fake robberies in their small town which he can foil as his childhood comic book super hero. But what happens when these bogus burglaries become real?”
It has the tagline, ” He doesn’t want to save the world. He just wants to be noticed.” Here’s the trailer, so you can have a quick peek.
A more detailed explanation. Colin Carter(Christopher Preksta) is a sad, lonely high school nerd, with a crap home life, and no real friends, except maybe for the school janitor, his neighbor, Daryl (Aaron Kleiber). What he does have is an obsession with 1930’s comic book hero Captain Blasto. Captain Blasto (a teenager who acquired amazing superhero powers upon finding a mysterious ring) was the subject of Golden Age comics, radio shows, toys, TV shows, magazines, the full merchandising gamut. And our hero, Colin, has all of them.
Colin, obviously, is not entirely satisfied with the way his life is going thus far. In a fit of inspiration — or madness — he has The Idea: get Daryl to stage a robbery. Okay, it’s an actual robbery, in that he is going to grab something from some unsuspecting bystander. But the robbery will be foiled by Colin, in costume as Captain Blasto. This whole drama is supposed to happen in the local park, so there’ll be lots of witnesses to Colin/Blasto’s triumph. They manage to pull it off, but, as you can imagine, it doesn’t quite play out the way they intended.
But it worked, more or less, so Colin goes on to get a job on the local paper, because that’s Captain Blasto’s secret identity. Then he and Daryl go on the world’s most inept crime spree, with its own built-in superheroic foil. There is even — I shit you not — a phone booth in which to change identities (with added privacy curtain!). Eventually, they recruit other town outcasts and malcontents to play more bad guys in an Ocean’s Eleven style store robbery. If, you know, George Clooney was a gawky teenager, and Brad Pitt and friends were the Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight. This goes fairly well, but they decide they need to up the ante even further. They need (gasp) a supervillain! They recruit somebody, and from there, things get really interesting.
What I like about this little show is that, despite the fact that it’s a comedy, at no time did I feel like the writers were laughing at the audience. They love the genre as well, and are poking a little affectionate fun at some of the ideas therein. I can’t find out that much about the cast, but they seem to be a mix of pros and amateurs, and the performances reflect that mix. But a lack of experience did not diminish my enjoyment. In particular, Daryl the School Janitor (AKA The Mugger) is a giggle, delightfully and endearingly inept. In fact, all the characters are endearing, and there are some genuinely sweet moments in it, moments of character insight that you wouldn’t expect from a spoof web series.
My only problem with the show is the choice to make the “bad guys” adults, all measurably older than Colin. I don’t find it surprising that a teen would have primarily adult friends; I was a hopeless nerd at that age, and the vast majority of my friends were significantly older than me. What I find hard to believe that a teenage outcast could convince a bunch of grown men, all but two with wives and children, to do something so outrageous and irresponsible. No adult is going to risk going to prison (and they technically ARE committing crimes, sort of) simply for the sake of fulfilling some kid’s fantasy about
being a superhero. But, if you can get past that particular stumbling block, you’ll not have a problem with this story.
There are eleven episodes, each one six to seven minutes long. You can see what I’m talking about at the
webpage above. You can also watch the episodes on Youtube, and supposedly it’s available on iTunes. I don’t do the iTunes thing, so I don’t know if they’re still there. Go check it out; it’s funny and surprisingly sweet.
So, while I was doing all that surfing and book-yoinking yesterday, I was thinking about the definition of New Pulp. I know I gave a preliminary definition of the genre in the earliest days of this blog. It’s a story written in the style of and/or using the primary tropes of the pulp novels of the 1920’s through the 1950’s. But that’s a pretty loosey goosey definition. There are lots of things that fall under that umbrella; some of them would obviously be New Pulp, some would not. I would classify most, if not all comic book style superheroes as New Pulp; Batman and Zorro both were born in the classic pulp tradition. Indiana Jones is classic New Pulp, both for style and tropes.
But what about something like The Dresden Files series of urban fantasy novels? The primary character is the classic hardboiled detective, a la Raymond Chandler. Okay, the magic is a major twist on the theme, and, while the earlier books tried to be hardboiled (with varying levels of success), the author Jim Butcher didn’t really maintain the tone in later volumes. And if Dresden Files IS pulp, what about all the other modern urban fantasy novels that chase (and sometimes catch) a similar tone? What about movies? Ocean’s Eleven, anyone? Or TV shows? Pick the private detective show of your choice. The entire genre of science fiction, though not born in the era, certainly came into its own during the Pulp era and in the pulp world; heck, SF fans still call that time The Golden Age. Does all SF — tv, movies, books, the lot — get a pass and are automatically Pulp by default?
My first impression is to say, No, they’re not New Pulp. But I don’t have a good justification for saying it’s not, other than, “my gut says no.”
So I’m asking for feedback: give me a better justification than “my gut says no.” What are the parameters of New Pulp. Where do we draw the lines? Tell me in the comments, let’s talk about it.
Okay, enough from me. I have things to do and people to do them to. You know the drill, all comments, tweets, shares are more than welcome, they shamelessly begged for. Next up this week is Fun Friday, and if you have a recommendation, do contact me at ajwriter(at)ajclarkson.net. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook, the links are on my AboutAJ page.
And I guess I’ll see you on Friday!