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Two-Fisted Tales

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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 Heroic 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, although there was a resurgence in the '60s and '70s in the form of the Darker and Edgier "men's adventure magazines", which straddled the line between pure pulp adventure and ostensibly-true Lurid Tales of Doom, all with a Rated M for Manly aesthetic. These are today best-remembered as things to read at the barber shop while you waited for your turn.


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.

While most works in the genre are not set during the interwar "pulp era" (though the occasional one, such as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre [1948], is), The Western could be considered an inherently pulpy genre, thanks to it frequently featuring heightened reality, an exotic historical setting (often nostalgically rendered), double-fisted machismo, a sensationalistic tone, plenty of action and/or adventure, print-the-legend storytelling, larger-than-life mythmaking, and fairly clear lines of morality.

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. Also see Sword and Sorcery for a similiarly campy style of adventure narrative that was popular around the same time.


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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 Moonstone relaunch of Airboy focuses heavily on this.
  • The Goon is sort of a cross between this and supermarket tabloids. The Goon himself and his sidekick Franky are a pair of gangsters straight out of an old newspaper comic, who keep their city safe from zombies, mad science, eldritch abominations, sparkly vampires, and a whole Fantasy Kitchen Sink worth of weirdness.
  • 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.
  • Adventureman by Matt Fraction, featuring an Expy of Doc Savage passing on his powers to a single mom and her sisters.

  • 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 Indiana Jones movies, about an Adventurer Archaeologist traveling around the world, outwitting Nazi villains and excavating ancient temples, with some aspects of Diesel Punk.
    • Star Wars, another creation of George Lucas, was inspired by elements of the pulp series Flash Gordon and was in fact originally intended to be a film adaptation of it.
  • This trope is what Pulp Fiction is named after, though in practice, it's more of a crime noir tale than anything from the old pulps.
  • Cult classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a purposeful homage of Doc Savage.
  • The Adventures of The Librarian are a modern day pulp adventure spanning, to date, three films and a series.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger, what with gung-ho hero Cap and a group of Badass Normals fighting HYDRA, a splinter group of Those Wacky Nazis with Weird Science death machines powered by Asgardian magic.
  • Flash Gordon is a very tongue-in-cheek and campy scifi adventure with a Raygun Gothic aesthetic, tons of very hammy acting (including a career-definingly loud performance from BRIAN BLESSED), and a kickin' Queen soundtrack.
  • Amicus Productions made four Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired movies in the mid to late '70s, staring Doug McClure and featuring big rubber monsters, lost worlds, and insanely gorgeous women. Three of these - The Land That Time Forgot, The People That Time Forgot, and At The Earths Core - are straight adaptations of Burroughs novels (see below under Literature), while the fourth, Warlords Of Atlantis, was an original story that nonetheless captured the tone of a Burroughs novel.
  • Hammer Films got in on this too in the '70s, with movies like The Lost Continent, a movie about the crew and passengers of a ship getting stuck in the Sargasso Sea, and encountering sea monsters and a lost civilization descended from Spanish conquistadores, most of which is shamelessly cribbed from William Hope Hodgson's The Boats Of The Glen Carrig.
    • Their development process for these seemed to start by designing a really cool poster, and then trying to write a movie around it. One movie that, alas, never got past the poster was the simply-titled Zeppelin v. Pterodactyls.
  • Jumanji is a franchise all about a sapient magical game based on a Jungle Opera setting from exactly this kind of genre. The second film takes this even further, with every player sucked into the game and given new avatars based on five stereotypical heroes from a jungle-exploring two-fisted tale.
  • The Mummy Trilogy is a trilogy of exactly this kind of story, being largely an action adventure series with the supernatural giving it more of a horror element than most. Taking most of its plot cues and title from The Mummy (1932), it has more in common tonally with The Mummy's Hand, a 1940s semi-reboot that also belongs squarely in this genre.
    • On that subject, The Mummy's Hand and its sequels codified the trope of a mummy as a shambling, mute Implacable Man who likes to strangle people with their recurring villain Kharis and his repeated run-ins with a family of Adventurer Archaeologists.
  • Creature from the Black Lagoon is another Universal Horror movie that edges into this trope, with a jungle expedition running afoul of a very lonely fish-man.
  • Overlord is probably the closest thing we'll ever get to a Wolfenstein movie. It's a pulp take on World War II, with square-jawed American paratroopers infiltrating a German-held fortress full of gruesome Nazi science. It's a lot of fun.
  • The Rocketeer is another affectionate homage to the two-fisted tales of yesteryear, starring an adventurous pilot, an experimental jetpack, and Those Wacky Nazis.
  • The MonsterVerse movies mix some of this flavour in with all the kaiju action, particularly in the films featuring Kong: Kong: Skull Island is a Lost World adventure set in The '70s, and in Godzilla vs. Kong, the big ape travels to an even lost-er world Beneath the Earth, where he finds a gigantic axe that basically turns him into a 335-foot tall Barbarian Hero.
  • The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a horror-comedy version of this, with its Mad Scientist title character lurking in a spectacular Art Deco mansion and terrorizing 1920s London, alongside his band of clockwork musicians.
  • The Pre-Code classic Island of Lost Souls (1932) could be considered one of the quintessential pulp horror movies (though it also has a fair amount of pulp adventure, as well), being about a shipwrecked sailor (Richard Arlen) who finds himself trapped on a South Seas island ruled by mad scientist Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton). Based on the book The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells, it's a still-chilling example of the scarier side of pulp fiction with its lurid horror and exotic locales.
  • Based on a short story of the same title by Richard Connell, The Most Dangerous Game (1932) is a Pre-Code fusion of pulp action-adventure and pulp horror about a shipwreck survivor (Joel McCrea) who finds himself trapped on a remote island controlled by a mad count (Leslie Banks) who's taken game-hunting to the next level. It has heroic action and sensationalistic horror.
  • The landmark Pre-Code action-adventure movie King Kong (1933) is an important work of pulp, being about a giant ape who's discovered by a film crew on an uncharted island. It's got the over-the-top action, awe at the exotic, and fearless adventuring associated with pulp fiction.
  • Batman (1989) largely falls into this style with its pulp-noir aesthetic. The film, about superhero Batman (Michael Keaton) fighting to prevent clown gangster the Joker (Jack Nicholson) from terrorizing Gotham City, is set in an Ambiguous Time Period with some The '40s-style touches in the costumes and architecture.
  • The action-adventure-western Blowing Wild (1953) is about a group of oilmen (Gary Cooper, Anthony Quinn, and Ward Bond) struggling to survive in bandit-infested territory in South America. It's presumably set about the time of its release and has pulpy thrills and macho content.
  • The silent gangster movie The Penalty (1920) is about mobster Blizzard (Lon Chaney), who unnecessarily had both of his legs amputated as a child, and now plots his revenge on the mistaken doctor (Charles Clary) and the city of San Francisco as a whole. While not a pulp film of the rock-'em-sock-'em action-adventure variety, it's still a crime-drama-thriller with sensationalistic elements, like the main character's secret lair, complete with an arsenal and operating room, that's accessible through a secret entrance in a fireplace, and a lurid, morbid plot.

  • The novel Gods of Manhattan, in the Pax Britannia 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.
  • In the Wax and Wayne series, interludes in the book parts have snippets of the in-universe "broadsheets" featuring headlines, advertisements, and bits of pulp fiction stories. The most recurring being the (heavily embellished) real life adventures of "Allomancer Jak".

    Live-Action TV 


    Tabletop Games 
  • Crimefighters is a pulp-themed, role-playing tabletop game from 1981. It emulates the quests of popular Crime and Detective pulp characters (such as Doc Savage, the Shadow, and Agent X-9) against criminal masterminds. The game presents three character classes: the Defender, an in-universe Lawful Good that fights crime and gains experience by capturing, not killing, offenders; the Avenger, an in-universe Chaotic Good with a penchant for vigilantism and therefore gains experience points by killing criminals; and the Pragmatist, in-universe Neutral Good, that usually abides by the law but is willing to break it in order to bring villains to justice.
  • Two-Fisted Tales from Precis Intermedia Games
  • White Wolf's Adventure!.
  • Spirit of the Century
  • Pulp Hero for the HERO System.
    • And its earlier incarnation Justice, Inc.
  • GURPS is generic enough to handle the setting, as seen in GURPS Cliffhangers and GURPS Thaumatology: Age of Gold.
  • The Eberron campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons combines this with Dungeon Punk.
  • The Pulp Heroes setting in d20 Past, full of dashing aviators and mad Nazi science.
  • Crimson Skies, later adapted into a series of PC and Xbox games, focuses heavily on the Zeppelins and Sky Pirates aspect of pulp.
  • Many adventures had by the Sons of Ether in Mage: The Ascension, whose Tradition is chock-full of people with names like "Doc Eon" and "the Crimson Claw." Taking an appropriately two-fisted nickname seems to be standard even if you don't use it often.
  • Genius: The Transgression gives detailed instructions on how to create a pulp tale in the sourcebook.
  • Hollow Earth Expedition is made of this.
  • If Savage Worlds can be said to have a "default setting," it's this. One of the first supplements was a Pulp Toolkit, and the whole system's emphasis on "Fast Furious Fun!" leads to a very pulpy game experience.
    • The supplement/source book Thrilling Tales all the way.
  • Gear Krieg is very much this at heart, even with the Diesel Punk trappings.
  • Rocket Age is intended to have a pulpy, heroic play-style, in a Raygun Gothic Space Opera setting. It even has a story point system to let you manipulate the plot and pull off almost impossible stunts and bluffs.
  • Fortune and Glory, one of many Adventure Board Games by Fighting Frog Games: players take on the roles of pulp archetypes - an Ace Pilot, an Intrepid Reporter, a Mad Scientist, a Great White Hunter - in a globe-trotting adventure to recover mystical artifacts before a Nebulous Evil Organization (In addition to Those Wacky Nazis, we have The Mafia and a Religion of Evil) gets them first.
  • The Pulp Cthulhu supplement for Call of Cthulhu does this to the parent game, turning the fraidy investigators to pulp heroes by tweaking the game rules, and adding weird science in mix with the traditional Lovecraftian setting, resulting a setting where insane adventurer is bad news... For the adverseries!

    Video Games 
  • The Uncharted series. 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.
  • Semi-Auto Semla is a webcomic that seeks to emulate the genre and the tone, complete with the gratuitous numbers of damsels in distress and heavy-duty action.

    Web Original 
  • r/Pulp is a subreddit devoted to the creation of modern pulp fiction, juicy taglines and lurid covers included.
  • Wormwood: A Serialized Mystery - horror pulp centering around the mysterious northern Californian town of Wormwood.
  • The semiprozine Cirsova Magazine was specifically conceived as a place for good ol' pulp-style sci-fi and fantasy stories.
  • is a blog that posts the cover art - and sometimes interior illustrations - from pulp magazines and old paperbacks. Sometimes they include a link to a pdf of the original magazine, too.

    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): Two Fisted Tale