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Two-Fisted Tales

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So a Jungle Girl, a Super-Scientist, a Masked Vigilante and an Ace Pilot walk into a bar...

Once upon a time, there was pulp. Pulp was a style of writing that emerged onto the scene in the 1920s, featuring a variety of stories printed on cheap paper (hence "pulp"). Back in the day, pulp content ranged from the Cosmic Horror Stories of H. P. Lovecraft to the noir pieces of Raymond Chandler and from the over-the-top action of Doc Savage to the sword-and-sandals fantasy of Conan the Barbarian and even the Raygun Gothic of Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories. The pulp era died down by the late '50s, when the leading distributor of pulp, the American News Company, went bankrupt.

Then, people started looking back on the pulp era nostalgically, and when they did, they usually locked onto the over-the-top stories of Proto-Superhero characters like The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Phantom. Many point to Raiders of the Lost Ark and the sequel Indiana Jones movies, which took 1930s pulp adventures as an inspiration, as the keystone of the pulp resurgence, but whatever kicked it off, pulp has recaptured the heart of many a geek.


Two-Fisted Tales refers to stories told in a style that reflects fondly on the old pulps. This usually means the story will be set in the '20s or '30s, and focus on square-jawed, clever men (and women) of action. Other elements thrown in for flavor include:

As stated above, Two Fisted Tales don't often attempt to recapture the varied feel of all the old pulps; it's very rare you'll see someone trying to overlay the Doc Savage feel onto a Cthulhu story (not that it's impossible). Usually, it attempts to focus on the thrilling heroics, not that that's a bad thing.


Related to Diesel Punk and Jungle Opera. Often the subject of a Genre Throwback. See also Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot, Twice-Told Tale which requires a specific tale.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • A Centaur's Life's backstory includes a Lost World populated with snake-men, a modern Aztec empire, mass UFO sightings and neo-nazis: not your average Slice of Life setting (even if you ignore the centaurs).

    Comic Books 
  • Hellboy features elements of Two-Fisted Tales, with Nazis, evil monkeys, Weird Science, and the Golden Age crime-fighter Lobster Johnson. A spin-off series featuring Lobster Johnson has taken these elements and cranked them up to eleven.
  • Planetary features Axel Brass, one of the universe's "Century Babies" and a Captain Ersatz of Doc Savage, who once headed up an entire secret society of Captain Ersatzes based on the pulp heroes of the era. His adventures and dealings with Elijah Snow are regularly chronicled.
  • Tom Strong is Alan Moore's Reconstruction on everything that made those stories fun and noble.
  • Marvel's Immortal Iron Fist is mostly a kung fu book, but features strong elements of pulp as well (especially with Orson Randall, the World War I era Iron Fist).
  • In 1997 DC Comics had a "Pulp Heroes" event, in which all their annuals were written in the style of the pulps. Ones that particularly fitted the Two-Fisted Tales paradigm were under the banners "My Greatest Adventure" and "Tales of the Unexpected". "Suspense Detective" also fitted to an extent, although that was more the Private Detective trope. "Young Romance" and "Weird Western Tales" were based on very different pulp genres.
  • The EC Comics title Two-Fisted Tales began with stories of this genre but soon became a (much better) war comic.
  • Atomic Robo:
    • Much of the series is a more modern-day take on this. The titular character is a snarky robot who has fought Nazi mad scientists, Lovecraftian horrors, and an intelligent dinosaur, visited different dimensions, and encountered the ghost of Rasputin.
    • In-universe, Robo is a fan of Dirk Daring, the Daring Doer of Derring-Do, a radio program that is best enjoyed at certain (i.e. loud) volumes.
  • DC Comics' First Wave imprint, a Two-Fisted Tales and Diesel Punk universe that includes Doc Savage, The Avenger, The Spirit and Rima the Jungle Girl, as well as DCU characters who fit the paradigm like Batman (who in this world is The Shadow, complete with twin guns) and Black Canary.
  • Dave Stevens's The Rocketeer is a celebration of all kinds of Thirties and Forties tropes including this one, and so was the 1991 film adaptation.
  • Dominic Fortune, a 1930s "Brigand for Hire" in the Marvel Universe. Created by Howard Chaykin.
  • Parodied in Tales Designed to Thrizzle with Two-Fisted Poe.
    Quoth the raven - Lights Out!!!
    • Also, The result of a confusing memo: Two-Tailed Fists! with a pair of confused gangsters attacked by giant fists with tails.
  • Marvel Noir, especially the ones that involve powers like Spider-Man.
    • The Deadpool mini was called Deadpool Pulp, rather than Noir.
  • The Moonstone relaunch of Airboy focuses heavily on this.
  • The Goon is sort of a cross between this and supermarket tabloids.
  • The Captain America arc "The Bloodstone Hunt" is essentially this - Cap has to travel around the globe to exotic locations to get the five fragments of the Bloodstone before Baron Zemo can. Each location is essentially a pulp location in itself.
  • Five Ghosts is a deliberately pulp adventure comic whose protagonist, Fabian Gray, is possessed by — and shares the abilities of — the ghosts of Miyamoto Musashi, Merlin, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula and Robin Hood. The covers often emulate EC Comics and other Golden Age titles, though the series itself is far less "meta" than Tom Strong or Planetary.
  • Many Wolverine stories that aren't focused on more traditional superheroics are instead pulp-style adventures. In fact, the first 20 or so issues were almost all exclusively pulp stories, with Logan traveling around the seedier parts of the world and fighting supernatural villains. He also spent little time in his iconic costume, not even wearing it at all for the first two arcs.
  • Garth Ennis's run on The Shadow is a full on Genre Deconstruction of Two-Fisted Tales. A romantic view of the pre-war Thirties is only possible by intentionally ignoring the heinous war crimes committed by the Axis Powers, especially the Nanjing Massacre. A character in the series Lampshades this, saying he expected more of "rip-roaring" adventure in the Japanese-occupied China.
  • As part of Secret Wars (2015) is Where Monsters Dwell featuring the Golden Age character the Phantom Eagle, a Cool Plane, Amazons, and an Island of Mystery full of dinosaurs. It being another Garth Ennis piece, it's also a Deconstructive Parody, as the Eagle is a send up of these kinds of heroes; sexist, cowardly, and completely incompetent. It's The Not-Love Interest Clemmie who does all the heroic stuff (and who gets to have lots of sex with the Amazons.)
  • DC Comics Bombshells puts the leading ladies of the DC Universe in World War II, fighting both Those Wacky Nazis and Eldritch Abominations.

  • The version of Daring Do in The Many Secret Origins Of Scootaloo's eighth chapter is this trope. It centers around the sale of a legendary diamond in a mafia-owned cabaret, complete with gunfights and a young street urchin who helps out the heroes.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • The work of Edgar Rice Burroughs, providing some of the definitive examples of some of this trope's subgenres.
    • Tarzan, his most famous character, is one of the definitive pulp heroes, practically defining the Jungle Opera subgenre: Tarzan is a man raised by apes to become king of the jungle - basically what you'd get if Mowgli were an action hero. His stories are full of lost cities and grand adventure.
    • The Land That Time Forgot and its sequels tell a classic Lost World tale of dinosaurs, feuding tribes of cavemen, volcanic eruptions, and a square-jawed American hero (played by Doug McClure in the movie) who must sort it all out.
    • The Pellucidar series is basically a pulp adventure take on Journey to the Center of the Earth, with a Lost World Beneath the Earth full of good-looking primitive humans, diabolical monsters, plenty of dinosaurs, and a different square-jawed American hero (though one also played by Doug McClure in the movie) who must sort it all out.
    • The John Carter novels are classic Planetary Romance works, with a richly-drawn world of trackless desert, proud warrior race guys, Weird Science, daring escapes, heroic rescues, airship battles, sword fights, and a square-jawed American hero (whom, sadly, Doug McClure never got to play) who must sort it all out.
  • Philip José Farmer's long writing career is marked by his great love of the pulps and he devoted great energy to his many Two Fisted Tales. Even his works which aren't in the genre are often informed by it. Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life provides a biography of the pulp era hero and links him to other period heroes.
  • The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril has the authors of Doc Savage and The Shadow looking into the murder of H. P. Lovecraft and uncovering a global conspiracy.
  • The Takers is an Indiana Jones-style homage novel by Jerry Ahern, about an action-adventure novelist and his Love Interest — an Intrepid Reporter who investigates wacky UFO and occult stories — who team up to investigate the murder of a CIA agent, and the log of a 19th Century expedition searching for Atlantis. It manages to work in Pirates, Ancient Astronauts, Mysterious Antarctica, Flying Saucers, Those Wacky Nazis, a Diabolical Mastermind and his Knife Nut daughter, and a nuclear submarine!
  • Kim Newman's Dr Shade ... sometimes. Some of the stories featuring him are celebrations of the pulps and others (most especially "The Original Dr Shade") are Deconstructions. Also by Newman but not featuring Dr Shade: the Diogenes Club story "Clubland Heroes" (definitely a Deconstruction).
  • Zach Parsons specifically called his book My Tank is Fight! an example of "two fisted pulp history." And describes the development and hypothetical use of various WW2 super/strange weapons that never quite made it past the prototype stage.
  • The Gabriel Hunt books, although set in modern times.
  • In a more lighthearted variant, the Doc Wilde series. Doc even brings his kids along on his adventures.
  • The novel Gods of Manhattan, in the Pax Britannica series of Steampunk novels, features two-fisted adventurer Doc Thunder (Savage, with elements of Hugo Danner and Superman), and killer vigilante Blood Spider (the Spider, with elements of the Shadow), amongst others.
  • Lagadin's Legacy belongs to the genre in that it features elements of the Indiana Jones-style adventure story, but also tries to subvert it by including elements of thriller, mystery, and satire.
  • The Bernice Summerfield novel Down by Lawrence Miles features "Mr Misnomer, the Man of Chrome", who Benny knows for a fact is a fictional character from 24th century "pulpzines". It also features a hollow world full of dinosaurs, a Nazi villain, a mad computer and all the usual stuff. Turns out to be a deconstruction.
  • "Adventure Story" by Neil Gaiman is narrated by the son of a WWII soldier who had this type of experience post-war.
  • The Ciaphas Cain books follow this style, with the added twist that the narrator protaganist keeps insisting his acts of daring-do are misinterpretations or just what was necessary to survive.
  • Mark Stephen Rainey's Blue Devil Island featuring the Blue Devil Squadron facing off against an Eldritch Abomination in the South Pacific during World War II.
  • The Captain Riley series by Fernando Gamboa, featuring a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits on a Cool Boat fighting (who else?) Those Wacky Nazis.
  • Biggles had a few adventures that dabbled in this genre between the wars. It looked as though he were going to end up doing the same thing again after the Second World War, but instead he got a job offer from a comrade in arms who'd gone back to his prewar career as a police inspector, and spent the next decade or so being Biggles of the Yard instead.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The X-Files episode "Triangle" had elements of this, especially the big ballroom punch-up between British sailors and Nazi goons, not to mention Scully as a glamorous 1930s spy in a red dress.
  • Tales of the Gold Monkey, a short-lived Belisarius series featuring Ace Pilot Jake Cutter and his adventures in the South Pacific in 1938.
  • Bring 'Em Back Alive, which dueled with the above and ended up about as short-lived.
  • Danger 5 brings more of a '60s flavour to this, pastiching the silly men's adventure magazines of the decade. Despite its very '60s aesthetic, however, it's set during World War II and features a very silly Hitler as its Big Bad.
    • The second series carries it further with an over-the-top neon-lit Cannon-esque version of The '80s - except that it's actually set during the '60s, with figures like Perron, Kruschev, and Skorzeny running around.
  • Doctor Who has this as one of its stock Genre Roulette settings, especially during the Classic series. Many of the William Hartnell-era stories harken back to boy's adventure stories of the '30s and '40s, from "The Daleks" (which has a heavy Dan Dare vibe) to "The Smugglers" (pirates and Swashbuckling). Season 13 and 14 (the "Gothic Horror" period) are a particularly good period to find them in - there's a Raygun Gothic detective story, a Fu Manchu Expy, and a Who Shot JFK? conspiracy thriller; a Darker and Edgier, Bloodier and Gorier, slightly Hotter and Sexier and more 'pastiche-y' tone; and the introduction of a sexy jungle-girl companion inspired by 1900s pulp. Some show up earlier and later than this - bizarrely, "City of Death" was intended to be one, but then someone got the bright idea of asking Douglas Adams to write it.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • The Uncharted series, easily. Set in modern times, but all the elements are there: Indiana Jones-esque hero, lots of bad guys to fight in the middle of a war, exotic locations to visit, women to rescue (and be rescued by), betrayal, and the overall theme. It's essentially the playable form of a pulp hero story.
  • The Wolfenstein series also seems to have elements of this. You're a one-man army during WWII, stopping the Nazis from taking over the world with either hi-tech weaponry or taking the supernatural to their advantage. The third game even has a final level on a zeppelin.
  • The Ultima Worlds of Adventure spin-offs, Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire and Martian Dreams.
  • Bulletstorm embraces this demeanor, down to the unlikable but heroic lead.
  • Parodied in Team Fortress 2 with Saxton Hale, a pulp protagonist who owns the company that makes all of the characters' weapons.
  • Valiant Hearts deconstructs this by placing it in the real-world context of World War 1. The early game focuses on the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits tracking down a Diabolical German Baron who has kidnapped The Chick's Reluctant Mad Scientist father and used his genius to engineer devastating super-weapons in the name of German Imperialism. However, even once the apparent Big Bad is defeated, the War itself continues on and the game shifts focus to the Gray-and-Grey Morality of the situation and the extreme personal toll of the war on the protagonists.
  • An arcade game called The Cliffhanger: Edward Randy. Staring a dashing whip-wielding protagonist, you do things like fend off enemies on speeding motorboats, run away from huge demolition trucks and fight a boss on the wings of a plane.
  • The Pulp Adventures mod for Freedom Force vs The Third Reich is a total conversion mod which changes the original game into a homage to pulp stories, with a brand new campaign featuring "Nazi punching! Dinosaur wrangling! Two-fisted action galore!", and a roster of 25 available heroes such as Doc Savage, Indiana Jones, the Rocketeer, Tarzan, Dick Tracy...
  • Pathway, a Roguelike/Turn-Based Tactics game set in North Africa and Middle-East during the 1930s, where you lead a multinational team of adventurers whose goal is to prevent Nazi occultists to gain archaeological treasures.
  • The Earnest Evans trilogy. The titular Evans is a clear Indiana Jones homage (though despite the name, Evans is only playable in one game in the trilogy,) and the series has the cast dealing with Roaring Twenties-era gangsters, ancient magic, plenty of globe-trotting to ancient ruins, and a plot to resurrect Hastur.

    Web Comics 
  • Athena Voltaire, a rare example of a female lead pulp story.
  • Girl Genius is based strongly off pulpy stories of juvenile adventurers like Tom Swift and Jonny Quest.
    • In-universe, the Heterodyne stories, (often exaggerated) tales about the adventures of heroes Bill and Barry Heterodyne, are enormously popular.
  • The currently comatose "Modern Pulp" webcomic site, especially Sprecken, about a 1930s crimefighter (who used to go by "Mr Midnight") relocated to the 2020s.

    Web Original 
  • The semiprozine Cirsova Magazine was specifically conceived as a place for good ol' pulp-style sci-fi and fantasy stories.

    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): Two Fisted Tale


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