Once a year around this time, I write a few thoughts about the "struggles" of being a compulsive reader. The title sounds intense but it just for exaggerated dramatic effect. These agonies are more like self-afflicted frustrations because, in reality, no booklover is forced to take on more books than they can handle; they either want to or feel they need to.

On impulse, I got into the Shadow and decided I wanted to start collecting his many novels. For anyone who isn't familiar with the franchise, the Shadow is a mysterious vigilante who uses stealth to manipulate and terrify the criminal underworld. Through a network of loyal agents, he investigates, exposes and often kills thugs, supervillains, and crime lords. The Shadow was in many ways the first superhero and spawned numerous clones, the most famous being Batman. I'm not just speaking for myself. There are numerous sources to support that.

Check out Will Murray's Master of Mystery: The Rise of the Shadow for more info.

I found out in November that the license to publish the Shadow's books was pulled and he is officially out of print again. I recently came into some money and started buying up the Shadow novels right and left as well as the comics too. In approximately two months I went from zero Shadow books to 140, a massive leap even for me and that means my backlog of unread books increased exponentially and I even decided to get rid of some of my other books. I brought this on myself. Any load booklovers assume is something they do to themselves. Why? Why is it that some people are content to snag a one book or a couple at a time and others (freaks like me) grab them in stacks?

I don't understand this compulsion completely, just in parts. I have an oftentimes irrational fear that if I don't grab a bunch at once that I'll lose my chance to read them. This makes logical sense to an extent (not so much with books in print). When I found out the Shadow's licensing was pulled I was sure there would be a shortage of his books and prices for even used copies would go up. It turns out I was right. The first website I ordered new copies of Shadow reprints from is rapidly running out of stock. Books that were selling for $15 or $20 a year or two ago on Amazon are either unavailable or being sold for triple the original cover price. I was taking a gamble by buying so much at once and this was all done for reprinted pulp fiction that was once regarded a disposable entertainment; junk food that came into being a year after Twinkies first hit the market (1931).

In my reading, this bears out to be somewhat true. The Shadow isn't Greek philosophy or Shakespeare but it is something powerful in itself. Yes, Walter Gibson wrote the majority of the 300+ Shadow novels for the pulps (all the novels were written under the pseudonym Maxwell Grant), several were each done within a matter of days. He set a record once for writing 1,500,000 words in just 10 months. He set an unbroken record for amount of words written about a fictional character amounting to 15,000,000 which he accomplished in about 18 years. You would think that the sheer amount of writing would result in a bunch of garbage as was my first impression. IT IS NOT. So far, Gibson's work is good. The stories are sound. He plays fair with the mysteries that take place. That's right. Gibson may have been a rapid pulp writer but he screwed with his readers less than Agatha Christie.

The stories are entertaining and exhibit Gibson's range from hardboiled mystery to golden age mystery, science fiction, horror, gothic, yellow peril, espionage, and straight up adventure. He accomplishes this with good pacing, sometimes slow other times quick but without wasting anyone's time. His style has pizzazz. There is smooth flowing metaphor in his words and realistic action in his scenes. Some of Gibson's plotting depends on coincidence but not to a degree that's intrusive. Overall, I haven't met a Gibson Shadow novel I didn't like. Some of my favorites include The Voodoo Master, Double Z, City of Doom, Crime, Insured, The Black Master, The Gray Ghost, and The Creeping Death.

Thanks to this interest I got into other pulp heroes as well such as The Spider, Doc Savage, and The Black Bat. It's been crazy so far with how much my TBR pile has changed but it's been immensely rewarding. Not to sound too metaphysical but I think this was an essential component that needed to be fitted into my life another puzzle to the piece of my personality. I lived my whole life with comic superheroes so why not their pulp fiction parents? Whatever their faults (and like I always say, there are no perfect writers), pulp fictioneers like Walter Gibson, Theodore Tinsley (both writers of the Shadow), Johnston Mcculley (Zorro), Norvell Page (The Spider), Lester Dent (Doc Savage), and Norman Daniels (The Black Bat) delivered thrills. Those old newsprint pages virtually dripped with excitement along with crumbling bits of cheap paper.

Agony? Not really. But I am on an unending treadmill reading material. Damn, it's fun.

Written by Nicholas Montelongo

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