Friday, June 6, 2014

Forgotten Books: ADVENTURE HEROES by Jeff Rovin (1994)

Here's a book I've long admired. How long? Twenty years to be exact. That's how long it's been occupying my bookshelf.

This massive volume (over 300 pages) gives you the scoop on fictional heroes from all sorts of media: comic books, comic strips, folklore, literature, mythology, movies, opera, radio, stage, toys, television and video or computer games. My only complaint (and it's a small one) is that the author excluded anyone you could find in a history book. For someone like my man Davy Crockett, whose legendary persona is much better known than his historical self (and whose heroic adventures have romped through at least six forms of media) that's sort of a shame. But I can live with it, and so can Davy. There are enough purely fictional characters here to entertain anyone for a lifetime.

Sadly, there's no table of contents, or I'd show you the complete list. But paging through, here are a few names that catch my eye: Aladdin, Alexander Mundy, Ali Baba and the A-Team. Barbarella, Baretta, Beowulf and Bomba the Jungle Boy. Captain Blood, Carson Napier, Cheyenne Bodie and The Continental Op. D'Artagnan, the Dead End Kids, Derek Flint and Doctor Who. Elfego Baca, Ellery Queen and Enemy Ace. Fearless Fosdick, Flashman and Fletch. George Smiley, Grizzly Adams and Gunga Din.

Still with me? Han Solo, the Hardy Boys, Hopalong Cassidy and Horatio Hornblower. Jack Ryan, James T. West and Jungle Jim. Kerry Drake, Kid Colt and Kwai Chang Caine. Lew Archer, Little Nemo and Longarm. Matt Bolan, Mad Max and Magnus, Robot Fighter. Napoleon Solo, Natty Bumppo and Nick Fury. Odysseus and Operator No. 5. Paladin, Paul Bunyan and Prince Valiant. Retief, Richard Diamond and Rowdy Yates.

And what the hell, we've come this far. The Saint, Sam Spade, Sgt. Rock and Steve Canyon. Thomas Magnum, Tom Corbett, Tom Sawyer and Tom Swift. Vinnie Terranova and the Virginian. William Tell, Secret Agent X-9, and Yancy Derringer. And hundreds more.

Some striking omissions: Doc Savage (despite his prominent appearance on the cover), The Lone Ranger, Robin Hood, The Shadow, Tarzan and Zorro. Too famous, maybe? Probably not, since James Bond and Sherlock Holmes are both included. Oh well. I didn't even miss them until I looked.

Each entry cites the character's first appearance, features a brief biography and wraps up with illuminating comments. Photos, comic panels and covers accompany the text, but there is far more space devoted to words than pictures. The amount of information here is staggering. Reading Adventure Heroes is an adventure in itself.

Your Forgotten Books round-up is (as usual) at pattinase.

Next week, Davy and I will be honored to feature the links right here on the Almanack. See you then, if not sooner.


Randy Johnson said...

Interesting list of characters-and glaring omissions.

Anonymous said...

I think Doc Savage and most or all of the other omissions you cite were covered by Rovin in one of his companion volumes, probably (if I remember correctly) the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SUPERHEROES. / Denny Lien

Evan Lewis said...


Ron Smyth said...

Someone should tell Rovin that Elfego Baca is a genuine historical personage, who only died in 1945.

Anonymous said... has a contents list for Rovin's books. The above post gives a list of the adventure heroes covered in Jeff Rovin's book Adventure Heroes.

Baca received an entry since few history books cover him and the TV version had superficial resemblance, as Rovin notes in his introduction.

Properties that did not receive entries that I might have found helpful; Hugh North from Van Wyck Mason, Bourne by Robert Ludlum, the Count of Monte Cristo, Robinson Crusoe, Albert Campion, Cabot Cain, Rocambole, Sandako, Peter the Brazen, Sandro and Colly, Peter the Brazen, Biggles (James Bigglesworth), Ennis Willy's Sand, Arsene Lupin, and some others.

As J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter novel had yet to undergo publication in 1994, whether Rovin would have appeared in this book or Rovin's previous book remains unclear.

We seem to have fewer culturally ubiquitous pre-Superman/Zatara adventure heroes than we do "classic monsters". Natty Bumppo, for example, has had a somewhat limited track record for film and TV adaptation.

Anonymous said...

One challenge perhaps for the book had to do with public domain adventure heroes available for free use on the cover. You may recall that for his earlier tome, Rovin had to feature extremely vague art (though it does seem to feature the Phantom's skull cave).

To attempt to correlate the items represented on the cover with known franchises:

setting: Mongo or Barsoom

Doc Savage and the Lone Ranger (whom Rovin already covered in his earlier book)

Wilma Deering

Sergeant Preston of the Yukon


The dapper man in the rocket pack seems to represent a member of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. My question; did Napoleon Solo only use that once or twice? It seems rather commonly referenced for such a rarely used item.
I wonder if Rovin wrote his book a sequel today whater prose literary heroes he might include. A discussion on the Latarnia Yuku Forum indicates:

But those really well thought through heroes who emerge primarily from literature into mainstream culture do seem a little rarer. Maybe because most heroes that break across culture now seem to owe their origins to TV, films, games or comic books.

Anonymous said...

This has a bit on Adventure Heroes. Intriguingly, some of the properties that Rovin profiled in Adventure Heroes have remained somewhat inert over the last thirty or so years (e.g. Buck Rogers), particularly when compared to the indigenous, native to comic books heroes.

Evan Lewis said...

Dang, that's a lot of info, Mr. A. Thanks for the links.

I assumed the jet pack guy was Bond, from that scene at the beginning of Thunderball.