Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, March 27, 2020


Thunder Jim Wade -- The Complete Series by Henry Kuttner (2008)

There was a time when pulpwood magazines were filled with heroes of all stripes:  Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Spider, Ka-Zar, The Black Bat, Captain Future, The Avenger, Secret Agent X, The Rio Kid, Dusty Ayres, The Lone Ranger, and so many more...hundreds of them...of all stripes.  Many of these heroes jumped from the printed page to the radio airwave (and, occasionally, vice versa), while others shared their pulp existence with comic books.  The advent of television essentially killed the pulps as well as many other magazines.  But for a brief while in the first half of the twentieth century, pulp magazines provided monthly (and in some cases, weekly) enjoyment for hard-working Americans -- purple prose, pulse-pounding action, fantastic villains, exotic locations, good triumphing over evil...glorious fantasies and escapist reading...

Publishers vied for the reading dollar (or, dime, in this case).  A constant stream of pulp heroes were created to both satisfy demand and also hoping to find a hero that would strike a chord in the reader.  Most of the heroes appeared in "novel-length" adventures (pulp speak for novellas) written by penny-a-word (or far less) authors, most of whom spread their talents across numerous genres.  Many of the pulp hero tales were written under a house name, a pseudonym that would disguise the fact that different authors were contributing the stories.

And so we come to Thunder Jim Wade, a Doc Savage clone who appeared in five consecutive issues of Thrilling Adventures in 1941.  The author was given as "Charles Stoddard," a house pseudonym that would be used in 49 stories in magazines from Ned Pines' Thrilling magazine group (also known as Standard Magazines).  Most of the authors behind this pseudonym remain unknown, although Ray Cummings used the pen name at least once, as did Donald Bayne Hobart.  The Thunder Jim Wade stories have all been attributed to Henry Kuttner, one of the most talented of the pulp writers best known for his science fiction and weird mystery stories.  (The fictionmags index website credits only four of the five Thunder Jim Wade stories to Kuttner, while a fifth ["The Devil's Glacier"] is uncredited; there's little doubt that Kuttner also wrote this one.)

Thunder Jim Wade, portrayed on magazine covers as a blond wearing a Buck Rogers-type of costume and cape, actually had dark hair and eschewed any such costume.  He was raised in a lost African city founded by the Minoans of ancient Crete.  A strange culture, founded in both science and a worship of the Minotaur, it was ruled by a king-priest who adopted Thunder Jim when a plane crashed and the child was the only survivor.  As a youth, Thunder Jim's training allowed him great muscular control, mastery of hypnotism and sleight-o f-hand, a true marksman's eye, and a thirst for justice.  A scientific genius, Thunder Jim Wade burst on the world scene as a relentless, avenging Nemesis determined to bring justice for the oppressed.  How he got the funds for his mission and for his secret South seas island lair is unknown.  What is known is that Thunder Jim Wade had a world-wide organization of secret helpers who would inform him of situations that might need his talents. 

Thunder Jim is assisted by his two best friends and companions.  Red Argyle is a hulking giant of a man, surprisingly dexterous and extremely skilled in combat.  Dirk Marat is a small man who is also good in a fight and is an expert at throwing the blade he keeps sheathed on his back between his shoulder blades.  The two travel the world with Jim in his fight against crime and injustice.

There is a fourth member of the team, the Thunderbug, a vehicle designed by Thunder Jim that has perplexed scientists the world over.  Made of a light weight, secret alloy that Thunder Jim had developed developed, the Thunderbug  is an impenetrable and versatile flying machine that, with a stroke of  switch can transform to a submarine or to a fast-moving tank.

Altus Press collected the five Thunder Jim Wade novels in this collection.  Four years later, the pulp hero reappeared in an original anthology edited by Russ Anderson and Tommy Hancock, The New Adventures of Thunder Jim Wade.  This was followed by two novellas by Frank Schildener, The Horror of Hyprborea (2014) and Tomb of Ancient Evil (2018).  Thunder Jim Wade lives on beyond 1941!

The stories:

  • "Thunder Jim Wade" (Thrilling Adventures, May 1941)  A brutal death in Singapore leads Thunder Jim on the trail of corrupt treasure hunters determined to find the lost City of Mnos in Africa where Thunder Jim was raised.
  • "The Hills of Gold" (Thrilling Adventures, June 1941)  A false mu'min is preaching violent jihad against whites in Afghanistan.  Two gold-thirsty villains are using the situation to enrich themselves.
  • "The Poison People" (Thrilling Adventures, July 1941)  A renowned air explorer who is secretly an intelligence agent for the U.S. Army, is held captive in a hidden Nazi war factory in the South American jungle.  If Nazis weren't enough, the jungle is infested with a vicious tribe of head hunters.
  • "The Devil's Glacier" (Thrilling Adventures, August 1941)  A poison gas-filled cave in Alaska leads to a lost city of Viking warriors and to another lost city people by escapees from Catherine the Great's Russia.
  • "Waters of Death" (Thrilling Adventures, September 1941)  Another lost city, this time isolated by a great swamp in Borneo.  The natives have a method for transmuting metal into gold and the bad guys want it, but if the secret is released, much of the free world's economy will be destroyed.
The stakes always seem high for Thunder Jim Wade and his friends.

Dco Savage, Tarzan, and a number of other pulp heroes combined to make Thunder Jim Wade and his fantastic adventures make good, fast-paced reading.

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