It turns out The Shadow: Midnight in Moscow #1 published by Dynamite Entertainment not only marked Howard Chaykin’s return to The Shadow, it also marks the first time a Wold Newton scene has been overtly depicted in a comic book.
The term Wold Newton has become overly synonymous with crossover fiction in recent years, but there is more to Wold Newton fiction than characters crossing over with each other. The brainchild of award-winning science fiction grandmaster and lifelong pulp fan Philip José Farmer, the Wold Newton Family is the precursor to such works as Planetary by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill.
Farmer postulated that fictional characters such as Tarzan, Doc Savage, The Shadow, Sherlock Holmes and Fu Manchu were all based on real people and they were connected thanks to a real-life meteorological event.
On December 13, 1795, a meteorite fell from the sky just outside the hamlet of Wold Newton in Yorkshire, England. A monument commemorating the fall still stands to this day. It just so happens two coaches were passing nearby, and their drivers and passengers were exposed to the ionization of the meteor. The group consisted of five married couples, a brother of one of the wives, and the two drivers.
Those present at the Wold Newton event include Sir Percy Blakeney, the titular character from Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel and Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. There were also members of the Drummond, Lupin, Raffles, Lecoq and Holmes families present, just to name a few. The 3rd Duke of Greystoke was also present. These individuals, already of a heroic ancestry which includes figures such as Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane and Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood, had their genes further enriched by the experience. The families offspring would then intermarry further reinforcing the traits and ensuring they would not become recessive.
The core of Farmer’s Wold Newton Family concept can be found in two fictional biographies of perhaps his two favorite characters: Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke published in 1972 and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life published in 1973. It’s in these biographies where Farmer first included the Wold Newton Family tree, as well as his theory on the Wold Newton meteorite being the catalyst for this “nova of genetic splendor” that would give rise to the emergence of remarkable individuals over the coming years.
Farmer’s Wold Newton-related material did not end with these two biographies however. He would continue to insert Wold Newton material he uncovered into his own fiction, thus creating a secret history that readers are continuing to uncover to this day. Author and Farmer expert Christopher Paul Carey refers to Farmer’s overall body of interconnected work as the Farmerian Monomyth. The fact that Farmer left so many breadcrumbs throughout his large body of work is quite a remarkable feat due to him writing in various genres and for different publishers throughout his career. It was only recently with the reprints from Titan Books that his interconnected work began to be branded by his publishers as a Wold Newton series.
It should be noted that Farmer’s erotic underground novel A Feast Unknown published in 1969, which features pastiches of Tarzan and Doc Savage actually predates both biographies. Whether A Feast Unknown and its two sequels (without the erotic elements) are directly connected to Farmer’s works involving the Wold Newton Family has been debated among Farmer fans for years. The explicit blend of sex and violence in A Feast Unknown does not carry over into Farmer’s larger Wold Newton body of work. As a matter of fact, Titan Books branded A Feast Unknown and its sequels as The Secrets of the Nine: Alternate Universe subseries when they published the new editions.
Farmer passed away on February 25, 2009 at the age of 91. I never met the man, but I can imagine him smiling at the first issue of The Shadow: Midnight in Moscow by Howard Chaykin. This is due to page 11 depicting The Shadow at a dinner party with friends, no these men are more than friends. They’re a family. Joining The Shadow at the dinner party are thinly disguised depictions of Doc Savage, Tarzan, Nero Wolfe and Bulldog Drummond (thanks to Keith Kole for the detective work on Drummond).
Although these men are members of the Wold Newton Family, on the surface I believed the scene to be a fun crossover moment and nothing more. That is until I reread the issue and noticed the painting prominently placed on the wall in the center of the panel. This painting is of the Wold Newton monument. Between the painting of the monument and the presence of major Wold Newton Family members, I believe this scene goes far beyond just a crossover;- it’s the first overt depiction of the Wold Newton concept in a comic book (a fact author and Farmer expert Win Scott Eckert has confirmed).
The spirit of Farmer’s work has continued in prose form with the Wold Newton Universe (a term coined by Win Scott Eckert), which is an expansion of Farmer’s Wold Newton Family concept to bring in more elements into the proposed shared universe. This includes new speculative essays using what Farmer dubbed “creative mythography” to make connections and explain inconsistencies within fictional works. There have also been authorized continuations of Farmer’s Wold Newton fiction through Subterranean Press and Meteor House.
Farmer still has a large following to this day, and the Wold Newton Universe Facebook group and yearly FarmerCon events are a testament to his legacy. The fact that Howard Chaykin (who provided the paperback cover for Farmer’s Greatheart Silver in 1982) put in this subtle nod to Farmer and his work means a lot to us fans and I imagine it would have meant a lot to Farmer as well.
Introduction to Tales of the Wold Newton Universe (by Win Scott Eckert [www.winscotteckert.com] and Christopher Paul Carey [http://cpcarey.blogspot.com/]): http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/10/excerpt-read-the-introduction-from-tales-of-the-wold-newton-universe-edited-by-win-scott-eckert-and-christopher-paul-carey/
A Wold Newton Primer by Win Scott Eckert: http://www.thepulp.net/pulp-info/pulp-articles/wold-newton/
Philip José Farmer’s Official Website: http://pjfarmer.com/
Meteor House Press: http://meteorhousepress.com/
The Wold Newton Universe: http://www.pjfarmer.com/woldnewton/Pulp.htm
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Aiken is the writer/producer of Pulp Crazy, a video blog and podcast dedicated to classic pulp literature.