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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 similarly campy style of adventure narrative that was popular around the same time.

See Also: Hungry Jungle

If you're an author; see Write a Jungle Opera


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    Anime and Manga 

    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.
  • 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 DC Comics character Adam Strange has significant pulpy elements, namely that the title character is an archeologist who becomes a hero on an alien planet while romancing the daughter of the scientist who brought him there. Raygun Gothic design elements, and a Planetary Romance concept (that is clearly inspired by John Carter of Mars) make Adam one of the pulpiest of DC's heroes.
  • In Astro City, the Astro-Naut's adventures are of this nature, featuring an Ace Pilot waging Space Opera battles, fights against TheMafia, and Planetary Romance with the Green-Skinned Space Babe Xalzana, all exploring a thousand worlds in a sleek silver Proto-Superhero costume.

  • 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 — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Andrew Doran: Andrew Doran is a Doc Savage-esque Genius Bruiser and square-jawed hero, even if he's more obnoxious and prideful than the majority of pulp heroes. He's up against Nazis, evil cultists, and monsters. The books are done in a deliberate episodic pulpy style reminiscent of older serialized fiction.
  • Books Of Cthulhu: The anthology books take a very Pulp hero version of Lovecraft's tales with protagonists that are unafraid to oppose the various cultists as well as forces threatening the world. Occassionally subverted where the protagonists Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu.
  • 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 of Mars 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 Psycho 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", with a title taken from a punk rock song by The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. It describes the development and hypothetical use of various WW2 super/strange weapons that never quite made it past the prototype stage (if they made it that far at all).
  • 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 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 protagonist 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".
  • Publisher and editor Robert Deis has released a whole series of anthology books collecting stories originally published in men's adventure magazines. They include such attention-grabbing titles as:
    • Weasels Ripped My Flesh!: A grab bag of multiple subgenres.
    • Cuba: Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter: All stories that involve Castro and the Cuban Revolution.
    • Cryptozoology Anthology: Stories and articles about cryptids.
    • I Watched Them Eat Me Alive!: Animal attack stories.
    • Maneater: More animal attack stories, but specifically Threatening Shark stories.
    • Atomic Werewolves and Man-Eating Plants: When the men's adventure stuff overlapped with weird fiction, bringing us the occult, Hollywood Satanism, more cryptids, and aliens.
    • The Naked and the Deadly: A collection of stories by Lawrence Block, most of which skew towards Detective Fiction and the noirish.
    • Handful of Hell: All stories by prolific writer Robert F. Dorr, nearly all of which are military fiction.
    • He-Men, Bag-Men, and Nymphos: Stories by Walter Kaylin, ranging from the noirish to Nazisploitation to Spy Fiction, but all of them extremely over-the-top, violent, and horny.

    Live-Action TV 


    Tabletop Games 
  • Achtung! Cthulhu is taking all the WW2 and post-war pulps about punching Those Wacky Nazis and disrupting their wicked schemes and gives them a ride through the Cthulhu Mythos country.
  • White Wolf's Adventure!.
  • 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.
  • Crimson Skies, later adapted into a series of PC and Xbox games, focuses heavily on the Zeppelins and Sky Pirates aspect of pulp.
  • The Dark Sun campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons is directly based off of old pulp fantasy classics like Conan the Barbarian.
  • The Eberron campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons combines this with Dungeon Punk.
  • Fists & .45s was created by dredging out few cardboard boxes of old pulps and then trying to work them out into a game. Unlike most cases, this game is heavy on the actual content of the pulps, rather than their aesthetics alone, only adding to the craziness.
  • 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.
  • Gear Krieg is very much this at heart, even with the Diesel Punk trappings.
  • Genius: The Transgression gives detailed instructions on how to create a pulp tale in the sourcebook.
  • GURPS is generic enough to handle the setting, as seen in GURPS Cliffhangers and GURPS Thaumatology: Age of Gold.
  • Hollow Earth Expedition is made of this, to the point its mechanics were build from ground-up toward larger than life heroes doing crazy stunts and simply powering through lesser or trivial obstacles. Large section of the core rulebook is dedicated to explaining in detail how to recapture the feel of a Film Serial in your own scenario, too.
  • 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.
  • 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 adversaries!
  • Pulp Hero for the HERO System.
    • And its earlier incarnation Justice, Inc.
  • The Pulp Heroes setting in d20 Past, full of dashing aviators and mad Nazi science.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Spirit of the Century
  • Two-Fisted Tales from Precis Intermedia Games

    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 Anna'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