It’s similar to looking at the departure board of a railroad station or the flight schedule of an airport. When you look at row after row of magazines, comic books, and newspapers, it’s almost impossible to keep a smile from crossing your face.
All the magazines ask the same question, but the answer changes all the time.
Where do you want to go today?
In 1920, drama critic George Jean Nathan and legendary critic and journalist H.L. Mencken were hungry, both idealistically and literally. Both men worked and edited Smart Set, a literary magazine that gave up-and-coming writers a chance to put their work in front of a large audience and be discovered.
Smart Set also operated at a staggering loss, and was a labor of love for both Nathan and Mencken. To keep their baby alive, they resorted to putting out sensational pulps such as Parisienne and Saucy Stories to generate enough money to keep Smart Set alive.
In 1920, they decided to go another way, and take some of the best young mystery writers of their day to create a hard-boiled pulp of their own.
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In the early 1930’s, powerhouse pulp publishers Popular Publications began to lose sales to their main rivals, Street and Smith Publications.
While Popular Publications continued to produce such titles as Dime Detective, Dime Mysteries, and Ace-High Westerns, the public fell for the king of the radio detectives, the mysterious Shadow.
There was only one thing to do.
The Spider – Master of Men was first published by Popular Publications in the 1933. Similar in feel to Street and Smith’s The Shadow, the Spider was secretly Richard Wentworth, former military officer and World War I veteran.
To fight crime in New York City, Wentworth donned the familiar uniform of urban heroes: the dark cape and black hat.
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“I shall become a bat….” – Bruce Wayne, Detective Comics #27
The Dark Knight Rises, the newest Batman film, comes to theaters everywhere in a few days, amid speculation as to whether or not it will be the biggest opening ever for a movie, or simply one of the biggest. There is no doubt that the movie will be huge, and if the previous movies are any indication, it will be a great movie, but the question at the heart of the movie is more fundamental.
What is the movie about? Who is the Batman?
For me, and other geeky fan-boys alike, Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego is the guy we’ve always dreamed of being: cool car, great belt, man-cave, and kick-ass reputation. And that doesn’t even touch on the whole Catwoman thing. But that also begs the question: “Why not Superman, or Spiderman, or any of the multitude of comic heroes?”
Because in theory, any one of us can be Batman. But mostly we aren’t.
The Shadow first saw life in 1930 as the narrator for the Detective Story Hour, a radio show that was devised to boost sales for the pulp magazines printed by Street and Smith Publications.
The narrator, voiced first by James LaCurto, and later by Frank Readick, possessed a sinister, dark persona crafted to foster a feeling of suspense and anticipation. The names “the Inspector,” and “the Sleuth” were proposed, but is was scriptwriter Harry Engman Charlot who struck gold.
Though Street and Smith planned to use the mysterious figure to boost sales to its miscellaneous detective stories, the opposite proved to be true. Legions of the radio shows’ fans turned up at newsstands asking for nonexistent issues of “The Shadow” magazine.
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You hear the sounds of footfalls outside of The Spice Tin on North Algiers Street, but as you turn, you see only shadows.
You look to your companion to make sure that you weren’t just imagining the sounds, but your friend is gone, and you are alone in the narrow street.
You can still hear the sounds of footfalls, but now they intermingle with the sounds of laughter, discussion, and a movie soundtrack.
The air around you comes alive as your feet guide you to the door of a nearby shop, where mystery fills the air.
And also coriander, dill, and… well, you get the picture.
Kick off your weekend at the Spice Tin on Friday, July 13th, at 2:30PM to hear local mystery author and make-believe Private Eye Steven Gomez read from his new book Taco Noir.
The case begins with a screening of selected mystery shorts, followed by author reading, as well as samples of the chili recipe from the story. Both spice packets and signed copies of the book will be available for purchase.