Moonstone, the pulp-focused publishing house behind such series as “Kolchak the Night Stalker,” “Buckaroo Bonzai” and “Captain Action,” is in for some major changes this summer. The Phantom, the pulp hero that has until now been a staple of Moonstone’s line, moves to Dynamite in July, but filling his boots will be a new slate of projects under the banner “Return of the Originals,” an initiative comprising five new ongoing series as well as other projects. CBR News spoke with Moonstone publisher Joe Gentile and writer Mike Bullock about what’s coming up.
Bullock, who has the distinction of penning more Phantom stories than any other American writer, brings the “Phantom: Ghost Who Walks” series to an end with issue #12 in June. “The last arc of ‘Phantom: Ghost Who Walks’ (#9-12) encompasses the second ‘Invisible Children’ storyline. Readers will learn who’s been pulling the strings all along, see the return of several familiar faces and witness the final showdown between Phantom and the worst villain he’s ever faced,” Bullock told CBR. “Oh, and watch out for the wildlife, it’s a killer. This all comes to a head in #12, featuring an homage cover of Bill Sienkiewicz’s ‘Moon Knight’ #25 drawn by Fernando Peniche.”
Reflecting on his run as a whole, Bullock told CBR, “In the grand scheme, I hope I’ve been a good custodian of the character. I’ve done my best to honor the legacy of one of the greatest sequential story tellers in history and hope that when I finally meet him in the afterlife, Lee Falk will be proud of what I’ve done with his marvelous creation.
“I really wanted to make it to 75 issues, but you never know what the future holds. Either way, it’s been a wonderful experience.”
Next up for Bullock, then, is writing a new “Black Bat Double Shot” series as part of Moonstone’s “Return of the Originals” line, as well as back-up features starring Captain Future. “Black Bat is the precursor to Batman and Daredevil. His pulp stories inspired those two famous crime fighters and many others,” Bullock said. “Anthony Quinn, a highly successive District Attorney, tires of watching criminals walk free on technicalities, botched evidence and bought judges. When an attempt to destroy evidence goes wrong, Quinn finds himself blinded by acid. He retires from his job as DA, but takes his fight to the streets in the guise of the Black Bat, complete with heightened senses, a pseudo radar sense and two guns he’s not afraid to use. You see, unlike his successors in Gotham and Hell’s Kitchen, Black Bat follows his own code of ethics, doing whatever it takes to rid the streets of evil. If that means a large body count, then so be it. An eye for an eye…or maybe two.
“The first story will flow through ‘Black Bat Doubleshot’ #1-3 like a river of blood,” Bullock continued. “The tale introduces readers young and old to the thrilling adventures of Black Bat as he takes on a local mobster who is turning smack addicts into spree killers. Why he’s doing this? What’s he after? How can he be stopped? These questions and more await you within the pages of ‘Black Bat Doubleshot.'” The artist on the series will be Michael Metcalf, with the first issue shipping in September.
As to the other hero in Bullock’s charge, the writer said, “Captain Future, along with E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Lensman, launched the space opera sub-genre. Often described as Doc Savage in outer space, Captain Future, along with his Futuremen, uses his ridiculously intelligent mind, vast resources and whatever else it takes to keep the solar system safe for all of mankind,” Bullock said. “The Futuremen, consisting of Otho, the synthetic man; Grag, the living robot; and Simon Wright, dubbed the Living Brain (as he’s nothing more than a mind floating in a transparent box), are always at his side.”
Bullock is joined on the Captain Future stories by artist Norm Lanting, and this hero’s adventures will run as second features in alternating Moonstone “Return of the Originals” titles. “Captain Future’s first story is a nod to another great science fiction property, which sets the stage for future tales. This yarn appears in Moonstone’s Widevision format and will either land in the first or second issue of Moonstone’s new pulp fiction magazine,” Bullock said. “Widevision” refers to Moonstone’s format of using double-page spreads throughout an issue with a band of text across the bottom.
Bullock’s own pulp creation, Death Angel, will also be returning, following his debut in “Phantom: KGB Noir.” “The newest pulp hero shares the spotlight with another costumed avenger in the pages of ‘Black Bat Doubleshot,’ penned by me with art from the amazing and versatile Michael Metcalf. Beyond that, I’m helping Josh Aitken launch ‘Gladiator,’ the character Superman and Captain Marvel are derived from. Once those are in the can, I’ll be bringing out Moonstone’s first pulp sword and sorcery character Runemaster, in the pages of the aforementioned pulp fiction magazine with art from my good friend Rob Osborne,” Bullock said.
To discuss the rest of Moonstone’s ambitious upcoming projects, CBR next spoke with publisher Joe Gentile. Gentile explained that the “Return of the Originals” line will include, in addition to the Black Bat series, “Double Shot” titles starring the Phantom Detective (written by Aaron Shaps, with Danillo Guida on art), Secret Agent X (by writers David Watkins andMatthew Baugh, art by Robert Geronimo), the Spider (Martin Powell/Pablo Marcos), and Rocket Man (James Kuhoric/Hannibal King). Each new series will be published 6-8 times per year with the lead in each title sharing space with a rota of second features, including Green Lama, written by Mike W. Barr; Moon Man, written by Elizabeth Massie and illustrated by Cortney Skinner; Ki-Gor, by Martin Powell and Tom Floyd; Green Ghost, written by Win Scott Eckert and Eric Fein, with art by David Niehuas; I.V. Frost, written by Ron Fortier, drawn by Jeff Minor; Skull Killer, written by Jai Nitz with art by Christopher Jones; Golden Amazon written by Howard Hopkins; Gladiator written by Josh Aitken; Honey West, written by Will Murray with art by Jake Minor; and Domino Lady written by James Chambers. Each character has a long and storied publication history, and Gentile gave CBR a brief run-down of what many of these heroes represent.
“The Phantom Detective appeared in more pulp stories than any other character except the Shadow! His stories were everywhere from 1933 to 1953,” Gentile said. “He is part investigator, part disguise artist, part metaphysical adventurer. His noir adventures will take you through evil that most cannot believe actually exists, except in your wildest dreams.
“He came before Doc Savage, and has a lot of elements that were used to inspire the guy with bat ears and the big red ‘S.’ This character will be like nothing you expect!”
As for Secret Agent X, Gentile said, “No one knows his true identity – not those who call upon him to save the day, not those he vanquishes and not the girl who loves him. He is the greatest hero we’ll never know. The most daring crimefighter…who could be anyone…anywhere…you will never see him coming.”
He described G-8 as an “aviator and spy, fighting against the supernatural and lethal super technology,” while the mysterious Ki-gor leads readers to wonder, “savage jungle man…or mystical shaman?” And, from jungle to jetpack, there’s Rocket Man. “The jetpack is a wanted device, and the man wearing it is not the hero it was intended for,” Gentile said, “and that ‘hero’ now wants the pack at all costs!”
Next, “Golden Amazon is a woman missing a large chunk of her past and it is catching up to her. Something buried deep in her DNA is clawing to get out and she is at once frightened of its power and exhilarated by it,” Gentile said. “She doesn’t know who – or what – she is…but others do. Others who want to use her gifts to their own ends. She is given to great bursts of fury and violence, and possession by a chilling monstrous force from within that is as powerful and all-consuming as a narcotic. Government shadow agencies, Nazis and alien intelligence all lurk in the darkness as she discovers her mission, the horrors of her forgotten past and the secrets of her creation.”
There is also Frost, whom Gentile describes as “tall, thin, hatchet-faced ‘Ivy’ Frost…an American Sherlock Holmes; a brilliant scientific and analytical mind powers this eccentric character, but he is also a man of action, capable of getting his hands dirty when the heat’s up. Frost has an assistant: Jean Moray, a sexy looking blonde who carries a .25 caliber derringer in her garter and possesses a genius I.Q. thus making her a fitting companion to the eccentric and colorful professor.”
Moonstone’s Green Lama, Gentile said, is a “Tibetan-educated mystic.” “This version of the Green Lama isn’t like all the others appearing elsewhere. This one is more cerebral, more deliberative – which doesn’t mean there won’t be a lot of action. The Lama will be up to his brains in it. Hopefully, those brains will be enough to get him out of it.”
Though a chromatic kindred of the Lama, the Green Ghost is a very different sort of hero. Gentile described him as “a magician sleuth [who] equals his mentor, the late Harry Houdini, in the art of escape. He’s also a renowned skeptic and debunker of fakes and frauds, as well as a master criminologist, excelling in makeup and disguise, lock-picking, knife-throwing, illusion – anything and everything a top-notch magician knows. He courageously puts his expertise to use as a relentless crusader for justice, donning a skull mask to become ‘The Green Ghost’ and aiding Police Commissioner Standish, solving impossible crimes.”
Another costumed hero will be Moon Man, who “hides his true identity by wearing dark clothing and a reflective Argus glass globe over his head which allows him to see out but not allow others to see him,” Gentile said. “Using wits, stealth and his .45 automatic, he robs from the rich and gives to the poor, a regular Robin Hood. His friend and companion, ex-boxer Ned Dargan, helps with these clandestine operations.”
Providing an extra does of espionage drama is the secret agent Operator 5, whose series will “emphasize the psychological toll going undercover has on him as he’ll have to do questionable acts at times to maintain his disguises,” Gentile explained, and “how this then also affects his relationships with his lady love, reporter Diane Elliot, and others.” Operator 5’s father was also in the business, known in spook circles as Q-6. “What was it like growing up with a secretive father? [One] who at some point makes the decision to train his son in spycraft…to lie, cheat and steal in the service of your country?”
Rounding out the list are a madman and a vigilante squad. “Skull Killer is a wealthy and aloof playboy who built a hospital with his family fortune,” Gentile said. “As the Skull Killer, he is a mentally imbalanced vigilante…but his city, filled with real-life monsters, is even more disturbed. The Skull Killer is not a hero. He is a crazy man in a crazy world where monsters and insanity rule the day.”
And finally, in “Secret 6,” “An enigmatic adventurer known only as King busts out of Death Row to form an anti-crime group called the Secret 6. All are wanted, so they operate outside the law. They battle humans the size of King Kong, a Mayan Bat-Man, a giant golden alligator and other outrageous menaces. There are no limits.”
In addition to the new ongoing series, a number of other projects are in the works. September will see the publication of “Battle for L.A.,” featuring the Phantom Detective, The Black Bat, Domino Lady, G-8, and Secret Agent X. The original graphic novel is written by C.J. Henderson and illustrated by Mark Sparacio. “Battle for LA is a real historical event that happened during World War 2,” Gentile said. “Google it and you will see the only newspaper photo of the event. Some object appeared in the skies over LA…our shore batteries opened fire on it, and our planes were scrambled…thousands of shells were fired…but the large object just kept slowly moving until it was gone. Lots of controversy on exactly what that was to this day! There will be a major motion picture on this event next year.
“Our story starts with Secret Agent X in a spot he cant get out of…so eventually, one by one, the other heroes find out the truth of what X was investigating, which culminates in this historical event. Major battles ensue!”
Gentile is also co-writing the one-shot “The Spider and Domino Lady” with Nancy Holder, the New York Times best selling author of the “Wicked” series and a number of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” projects. The issue will be presented in “Widevision” format and feature art by E.M. Gist. “The idea here is, people are catching fire and turning into zombies,” Gentile said of the one-shot. “Crazy action ensues as the Spider meets up with Domino Lady, causing many moments of their own heat…and they have to decide how to stem the tide of this crazy sea of flames! It is a Spider story of all-out action, as well as a Domino Lady story of mystery.”
Alluded to earlier by Bullock, Moonstone will also offer “Moonstone Pulp Fiction,” a twice-annual anthology “widevision” series featuring an assortment of the publisher’s pulp heroes. Gentile described the title as “a great way to sample the whole pulp enchilada (probably the first time that phrase has been uttered).
“Each issue of this will have a new prose Green Hornet story written by C.J. Henderson. Very noir, very pulp crime fiction.”
Finally, there’s “From the Vault: The Pulp Files,” a black and white one-shot serving as a who’s-who of Moonstone’s pulp heroes. “There are so many characters, we want everyone to follow along and have fun meeting all of these great heroes!”
Taken as a whole, the “Return of the Originals” banner marks an ambitious expansion to the Moonstone line. “This represents what we do best: heroic adventure, but far from the standard ‘superheroes.’ These guys have little to no superpowers…and justice gets done,” Gentile said. “I think both of those elements are especially appealing.”