Blog: Commentary from the den of a pulp super-fan

Marvel Comics’ pulp roots

Posted by at 10:00 am Monday, February 27, 2017 in Comics, Pulps
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Marvel Comics’ pulp roots
Publisher Martin Goodman

Publisher Martin Goodman

Most everyone knows of Marvel Comics, publishers of Spider-Man, Captain America, X-Men, Iron Man, and all the rest. But few know of the man behind Marvel (and I don’t mean Stan Lee): Martin Goodman.

Goodman got into the early days of pulp/comic-book publishing along side some of the founders of MLJ/Archie and DC Comics. Like them, he diversified into a wide range of publishing: magazines, pulps, comics, and books. And sadly he did this under a wide range of shell companies, which can make it a bit confusing.

Before he started Timely Comics in 1939, he was publishing pulp magazines under several names such as Manvis, Red Circle, Western Fiction, and more. For a period he used the “Red Circle” logo, which was a red disk, as an overall logo for his publications. It was even used on some of his comics. But he also used a five-point star marked as “A Star Publication” for a time.

As noted, Timely Comics launched in 1939. It was known by that name until around 1951, when the Atlas Comics globe logo was used, which tied to his Atlas Distribution company. Sadly, he’d sell that off just before the collapse of the main national distributor, American News Co., which lead to a limited deal with the remaining distributor Independent News, which was owned by DC Comics. Around 1961 or so Atlas became Marvel Comics.

Prior to that, Goodman had formed Magazine Management Co. in 1947, which served as the parent company for all his publishing concerns: comics, magazines, and even books. He formed Lion Books in the ’50s, which was later sold to New American Library. Among his other magazine lines were several men’s magazines. He later sold out to a company that would become Cadence Industries, which had its own distributor, Curtis. But, as I noted in another posting, he got back into publishing with Seaboard Publications and its short-lived Atlas Comics line.

Now, back to his pulps. While Goodman published pulps in a wide range of genres: adventure, detective, romance, science-fiction, and western, he really didn’t do many pulp heroes. He did do two: Angel Detective and Ka-Zar.

'The Angel Detective' (July 1941)The Angel Detective, or The Angel as he is referred to in the story, appeared in a one-issue self-titled magazine in 1941 and was published by Manvis. He is really detective Gabriel Wilde in New York on the trail of four criminals who murdered his father back in Seattle. As the Angel is wears a white silk domino mask (as seen on the cover), and carries a strange double-barreled, silenced handgun called Belshazzar. In the butt is a special stamp that he uses to mark a design of the Angel Gabriel blowing a horn. He is assisted by Totem, a Thinget indian chief.

This one appearance has been reprinted twice. Bob Weinberg reprinted it in Pulp Classics #10 (with a great cover by Frank Hamilton). And more recently, the Battered Silicon Dispatch Box reprinted it as Pocketbook Lost Treasures From the Pulps #8.

Now, Timely Comics actually published a character called “The Angel” starting in 1939, and this character was a long-running second-tier character, but there is no connection. This Angel is really former surgeon Tom Halloway, who is a non-super-powered detective who wears a colorful superhero outfit: a blue onesie with yellow angel wings on the chest and a red cape. At one point he got a special cloak that gave him the power of flight. So I’m not sure why the same name was picked or if it was just happenstance.

'Ka-Zar' (October 1936)Ka-Zar has an even more confusing history. Published in three issues by Manvis in 1936, he is your basic Tarzan clone. David Rand, along with his parents, crash in the Congo. His mom dies of fever, and his father is injured, so David is raised in the jungle. His companion is Zar the lion. So over the next three issues he has wild adventures in Africa, all chronicled by Bob Byrd. I have no idea if this is a pseudonym.

Altus Press has reprinted the three novels in one volume.

Ka-Zar made his move to Timely Comics, appearing in Marvel Mystery Comics from #1 to #27 (1939-42). Apparently the first five issues adapted the first Ka-Zar pulp story. So another pulp-to-comics transfer.

Marvel would later revise Ka-Zar in an early issue of X-Men, but this version would be a new character, son of an English Lord raised in the prehistoric Savage Land in the Antarctic, with a sabertooth tiger as his companion. Over the years he’d get his own series, even his own title a few times, and be paired up with Shanna, a Sheena clone.

Now, some of Timely’s early characters (some used in the recent Twelve series) were clearly based on pulp heroes, such as Mister E, Phantom Reporter, and others. And Marvel has done a few pulp-inspired characters later on I hope to highlight. But in terms of pure pulp characters, there were very few as you can see.


  1. You forgot his very first one, the all-black-clad Masked Rider before the title was sold to Thrilling.

    In addition, I discovered another early one a few years ago, also a black-costumed Western hero: The Black Judge. I believe he was in Complete Western Book.

    • Ok. Not up on western characters, plus its sometimes hard to find out when titles get sold off to different publishers unless a whole company gets bought out (Munsey by Popular, etc).

      Wonder if this Masked Rider inspired any Timely or Marvel western characters. Not even sure if Timely had any Western comics. Marvel had a couple.

  2. Considering Goodman started in pulps before founding Marvel Comics, it makes sense that Marvel would publish adaptations of Doc Savage and Shadow.

    • Except that by the time Marvel did those adaptations, Goodman had left. Marvel was just making use of licensed characters.

      DC Comics also had a pulp origin. Its founder, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, wrote many pulp stories. And Harry Donenfeld, who bought him out, published pulps (the spicy pulps, among others).

      As I pointed out in an earlier posts, most comic book companies had connections to pulp publishers. Timely, DC, Ace Comics (Ace Magazines), Nedor (Thrilling), Fiction House, etc.

  3. Was going to mention Goodman’s first hero, the Masked Rider, but I see Matt beat me to it. But I’ll add some more info:

    The Masked Rider was published in 1934 and was an obvious Lone Ranger clone. The Lone Ranger debuted on radio in Jan 1933, The Masked Rider #1 appeared just over a year later (cover dated Apr 1934). The Lone Ranger’s own pulp didn’t appear until Apr 1937. And the company Goodman used to publish The Masked Rider? Ranger Publications, haha.

    • Yeah, well, original these people weren’t.

      Love to know the origin of “Manvis”, the name of one of Goodman’s pulp companies.

      And still trying to figure out if the use of “Red Circle” by Archie Publications for their non-Archie comics in the 70s was a dig at Marvel/Goodman who owned Red Circle publications for his pulps. Goodman had worked with one of the MLJ guys.