The Mysterious Wu Fang #1: The Case of the Six Coffins
I’ve been aware of the Mysterious Wu Fang for years but resisted reading the series. To put it bluntly, I wasn’t in the mood to read to what I expected to be an at least slightly offensive “Yellow Peril” pulp.
A little background:
Wu Fang was clearly inspired by Fu Manchu, a popular fictional villain created by Sax Rohmer in 1913. Fu Manchu was an evil genius and scientist bent on world domination. He’s appeared in film, radio, television, comics and more.
Clearly looking to capitalize on this popularity, Popular Publications introduced The Mysterious Wu Fang in September 1935. The series was written by Robert J. Hogan of G-8 fame. Wu Fang was another Asian scientist looking to take over the world. Like Fu Manchu, he was opposed by a constant foil (former Secret Service agent Val Kildare instead of former police officer Naylan Smith). Popular even hired Fu Manchu illustrator John Richard Flanagan to illustrate the pulps.
Unlike the long-lived Fu Manchu , Wu Fang was gone in less than a year. After seven stories, the March 1936 issue ended his adventures. A cease-and-desist letter from Rohmer’s attorneys certainly didn’t help matters.
Just two months later, Popular made another attempt with Dr. Yen Sin. The doctor was a Chinese crime lord who (surprise!) had his eyes set on taking over the planet. Jerome Rozen, who had provided the cover art for Wu Fang did the same for the new title. Flanagan again illustrated the stories. These adventures were written by veteran pulp writer Donald Keyhoe. Yen Sin was opposed by Michael Traile, left unable to sleep by a botched brain operation. This attempt lasted only three issues, folding after the September/October 1936 issue, with threatened legal action again on the horizon.
Now, back to this adventure: I was pleasantly surprised by the first story. While Wu Fang may get the headline, he’s in the background for the vast majority of the story. Instead, we’re following Secret Service Agent Val Kildare and his partner, newspaper reporter Jerry Hazard. That set-up works great, as it makes Wu Fang more mysterious and sinister than it would if we spent a lot of time with the master villain.
It’s a fast-moving adventure, a quick read and an enjoyable trip by Robert J. Hogan. There were few, if any, of those cringe-worthy moments we tend to see when there is an Asian foil in the pulps. (I’ll freely admit I’m saying this as a white male, so perhaps others may be more offended.)
On to the presentation: The story is published by Altus Press/Steeger Books, which has reprinted all of Wu Fang’s adventures. It is very clean, with easy-to-read type, nice covers and only a handful of typos. It also includes original illustrations. Pulp purists may be unhappy as it doesn’t exactly replicate the pulp size and experience, but this is how I like to read my pulp stories. I look forward to reading the rest of Wu Fang’s adventures from Altus.