Will Murray's Pulp Classics #44
Captain Zero #2 Audiobook
The Mark of Zero!
by G.T. Fleming-Roberts
Read by Michael C. Gwynne. Liner Notes by Will Murray
Most pulp heroes were born in editorial conferences, with or without the input of the assigned author. This is how great characters like Doc Savage and The Avenger were created.
Not so the Master of Midnight, Captain Zero. He was solely the brainchild of pulp veteran G. T. Fleming-Roberts, who had previously worked on Secret Agent X, the Black Hood and the Green Ghost, the latter two under his own name.
In 1948, Fleming-Roberts decided to turn the stalwart pulp superhero on its head and came up with mild-mannered newspaperman, Lee Allyn, who stripped down to his skivvies every midnight and sallied forth as the invisible but nervous Captain Zero. Thinking he had a winner, Fleming-Roberts left his Indianapolis home and went knocking on the doors of the major Manhattan pulp houses.
Street & Smith's Daisy Bacon turned him down. They already had the original unseen avenger, The Shadow. Who needed another? But when the writer paid a call on Popular Publications, the former issuers of The Spider and Secret 6 decided to get back into the hero business. They announced the first issue for early 1949, but the pulp industry remained stuck in the post-war doldrums, so Popular held back Captain Zero #1 for a September release. The first issue of the new bi-monthly was cover-dated November.
Captain Zero was a breath of fresh air in a field dominated by grim crimebusters. Lee Allyn didn't really want to fight crime, but what are you going to do with your time after an accident turns you invisible (except for your eyeballs, that is) every midnight? Underfunded, unappreciated, at risk of being overwhelmed by the furious guns of the Underworld, Captain Zero battles small-town crime far from the big cities braver superheroes guarded.
For his second caper, Captain Zero challenges a mysterious mastermind who commands his murderous minions via radio, and is known only as the Man in the Black Hat. It appears as if G. T. Fleming-Roberts was having a bit of fun - for the Man in the Black Hat sounds a lot like The Shadow! If that's not enough, he manages to run afoul of the local law, and becomes a wanted fugitive.
The Mark of Zero! is the name of this thrilling tale. It's narrated with just the right leavening of wry wit by Michael C. Gwynne. Also included in this exciting audiobook are two short stories torn from the pages of the January, 1950 issue of Captain Zero, “Pinned Down!” and “Double-Take on Death,” penned by Alan Ritner Anderson and Walt Sheldon respectively.
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