Doc Savage and Me

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This is just a little thing I thought I’d share. Dave Smith over at Fantasy Illustrated was asked to do an article on Doc Savage for the Bronze Gazette. So as part of that, he sent out this survey. I had a lot of fun filling it out and I decided I might as well put it up here on the off chance it will amuse you too.

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How did you first learn of Doc Savage?

Well, I was always one of those kids who gravitated to the comics rack, and there was always the paperback spinner-rack next to it at the drugstore. There was a lot of back-and-forth between the two in the seventies, it was almost a symbiotic relationship at times. That was probably where I first saw the Bantam Docs with those amazing James Bama covers.

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And the back cover copy on those was amazing too: “To the world at large, Doc Savage is a strange, mysterious figure of glistening bronze skin and golden eyes. To his amazing co-adventurers — the five greatest brains ever assembled in one group — he is a man of superhuman strength and protean genius, whose life is dedicated to the destruction of evil-doers. To his fans he is the greatest adventure hero of all time, whose fantastic exploits are unequaled for hair-raising thrills, breathtaking escapes and bloodcurdling excitement.” I didn’t really get into them until Marvel started doing the comics, though. but then there was no stopping me. I was exactly the right age. No thirteen-year-old boy could resist that.

Why do you collect Doc and what was the initial attraction to the character?

Well– I can’t afford to be a pulp collector. I read the reprints. I do sort of collect the comic books, I have a complete run of those here, Marvel, DC, Millennium, Dynamite, all of them except for the original Golden Age comics, and the one from the mid-sixties, the Gold Key one-off adaptation of “Thousand-Headed Man.”

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But I could never afford to collect the actual pulps. Bless Tony Tollin and his pals at Sanctum for making the facsimile editions available.

What’s the attraction? Adventure. I was always a fan of heroic adventure and especially series characters. Superheroes owned me. In comics it was Batman and Captain America and Daredevil, and it’s a short hop from there to Doc Savage. Back then you also had Tarzan and John Carter and the Phantom all over the paperback racks, too. It was all of a piece.

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What was the first Doc Savage pulp you ever bought?

Reprints only here. My first of those were Bantam’s The Devil Genghis and The Crimson Serpent, bought them the same day. Afternoon of the day I bought Marvel’s magazine-sized Doc Savage #1. Read it and loved it so much I bicycled back up to the store and bought the other two books off the spinner rack. So that would make it June of 1975.

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Philip Jose Farmer’s biography of Doc was another early purchase, and his Wold Newton family tree ended up being almost a shopping list for me.

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How many Doc Savage pulps do you own?

Never actually done a hard count but it must be in the neighborhood of forty or fifty. That’s Bantam and Sanctum only.

Are you trying to complete the whole run of 181 issues or do you have a complete run?

I just pick at it. Julie and I have had some Real Life expenses that don’t really allow us to pursue our hobbies much in recent years, and I’m more of a reader. Sometimes I get an itch to read some new Doc stuff and if we have leftover money I might pick up a couple of the Sanctum editions… if I have an urge to complete anything it’s probably going to be those, though I have a bunch of the Bantam ones here too. I found a couple of Will Murray’s new ones for cheap not too long ago, Skull Island and Sinister Shadow.

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I had to have those two and they were way discounted so that was how I justified it.

Do you collect the digest format pulps of the run?

Well, again, just reprints for me. But those were the ones in the Bantam double and omnibus paperbacks and I DO collect those. They’re damn hard to find even from dealers, these days.

If you have a compete run what was the hardest issue to find?

I don’t. But it’d be the Bantam omnibus editions, for sure.

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Do you buy for investment or is this secondary to why you collect Doc?

I don’t know that I’d ever buy a book as an investment. We just love books. The Antiquarian Book Fair is what we do instead of going to Disney World. We do have some nice rarities here– original comics art, a signed Spillane, some of the Oz books, stuff like that. But they mostly came as gifts from creators or bookstore signing events we went to. Some, like the Spillane, were finds we stumbled on out in ‘the wild,’ so to speak. But Doc is something I read for fun. I APPRECIATE original editions and collectability, but I never buy anything JUST for that. I still enjoy pulp stories– to the point where I write my own these days, even. Can’t live on it or anything, but the stories and the column at least cover my reading and collecting habit. The idea is that if my inner child is going to spend money he has to at least get a job.

Do you have a complete Bantam run of Doc Savage books?

No, but I have a bunch of them. Not really adding to those any more except the later ones that I mentioned before.

Do you presently buy the Sanctum Books reprints?

I do. They are AWESOME.

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What is your most cherished ephemeral Doc item?

That’s easy. It’s a copy of Marvel’s magazine-sized Doc Savage #5, the Loch Ness one that guest-starred Pat Savage, signed by both Tony DeZuniga and Marshall Rogers– two brilliant artists that, sadly, are no longer with us.

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We really enjoyed chatting with both of them, too. Mr. DeZuniga talked about what a great showcase the black-and-white magazine format was for a comics artist, and he got kind of wistful about how it’s gone away. Mr. Rogers was pleased that my wife Julie liked that he drew Doc leaner and not as hulking. “That’s how Dent WROTE him!” he said. “It’s all in the books!”

What is your favorite Doc pulp cover?

That’s HARD. I lean more towards the Bama versions, to be honest– you never forget your first love and the Bantams were really my primary exposure. I don’t think it gets any cooler than that back-cover black-and-white illo with Doc and the Five, and that great copy underneath.

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That just hits me where I live, even today. A lot of the comics covers are great, especially the painted ones Brian Stelfreeze was doing for Millennium. Of the originals I’ve seen, the Baumhofers, probably either THE MAN OF BRONZE or THE PHANTOM CITY.

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What is your favorite story?

Cold Death, probably. The original Man of Bronze I go back to fairly often, too.

What is your least favorite story?

Really, without a doubt, it’s the Denny O’Neil/Kubert brothers miniseries from DC Comics that revealed Long Tom as a traitor.

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It’s not just me; that annoyed Mike Barr so much that when he took over as writer he made it a point to un-do that one. But I imagine you mean the original pulps. I don’t really DISLIKE any of the original stories though there are some clunkers. Probably The Yellow Cloud.

Favorite character besides Doc and why?

Well, everyone loves Monk and Ham, though the fun of them is together, so really you can’t separate the one from the other. I always had a soft spot for Doc’s cousin Pat, the ones where she guested were always a hoot.

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It’s kind of nice to have someone around who likes Doc but doesn’t worship him. She wasn’t afraid to sass the big guy.

Please feel free to add anything else you would like to say about collecting Doc Savage pulps.

Mostly just that if you skip the comics you are missing some fun. I am especially partial to the Moench/DeZuniga magazine ones, there are only eight of those and they’re pretty easy to find. There’s even a DC Showcase edition collecting those stories, but that doesn’t reprint all the articles and ancillary material. The George Pal movie was current and so there were interviews with Pal and with Ron Ely, and scholarly articles about the pulps as well. Those were a great gateway drug not to just Doc but the whole hero-pulp thing.

Probably more answer than you wanted or needed, but I get carried away.

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And there you have it. Feel free to footnote as you like with your own opinion down in the comments, and I’ll be back next week with something cool.

8 Comments

  1. John Trumbull

    The O’Neil/Kubert brothers mini was actually the first Doc I ever read. I still have a bit of nostalgic affection for it even though I know it missed the mark. And I still picture Renny with muttonchops.

    Apparently, it was originally going to go even more far afield — At one point there was a plan for Doc to have his brain transplanted into a Native American man’s body. Maybe he could have teamed up with the Andy Helfer/Kyle Baker Shadow who had his head on a robot body…

  2. frasersherman

    Oh, that miniseries was awful. And I agree with one blogger, the ad that shows Doc as (apparently) a hardboiled PI in the series has nothing to do with the reality. Thank goodness Mike Barr came along.
    Marvel’s 1970s color series suffered from having to squeeze an entire novel into two issues. With something as busy as Death in Silver (which is one of my favorites) that really didn’t work. However it did turn me into a regular Marvel reader for the first time (“Well, now that I’m buying one Marvel book, I might as well get another … Avengers looks good.”)
    My least favorite pulp novel is probably Land of Long Juju, which piles on the racial stereotypes with a trowel. The series is, however, surprisingly good for the era at showing competent women, whether as scientists, businesswoman or troubleshooters.
    Favorite cover: maybe Flaming Falcons.
    My first Doc? Devil on the Moon. Not so good when I reread it. Though like a number from the tail end of the 1930s, it’s interesting to see them deal with the situation in Europe without taking obvious sides (there’s one warlike country and it’s doing something bad to a defenseless country, and Doc gets involved. But no names).
    I have almost the entire series except for two or three of the four-in-one volumes. As I’m rereading and blogging about them, I figure I’ll wait until I get to that point in the series and go looking.

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    I remember seeing the Bama covers every time I was in a book store; but, I didn’t buy one until years later. I remember seeing the ads for the Marvel series in other comics; but never one of the comics. I think the movie, on tv, was the first exposure to the character. Then, probably the 80s mini-series. I started looking for the books in college and found a bunch just after I left, starting with Man of Bronze. That was the first novel I actually read. I read the Millennium series and enjoyed it and found the magazine, from Marvel. Those were fun. When I was at the 1991 Atlanta Fantasy Fair, writer Terry Collins, who I think was doing some Doc, possibly at Millennium, had the Farmer book. I wanted one of those. I lucked into one at a used book store one day, along with a copy of Col. Mike Hoare’s (embellished) memoir of his mercenary days in the Congo ( I had a fascination with mercenary soldiers, after seeing The Wild Geese. Reading less biased accounts and actually serving in the military cured that!).

    In regards Doc and the portrayal of women, if Paul Malmont’s The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril is a reasonably accurate portrayal of Lester Dent, then his wife was probably the inspiration for Pat and the other women in the series. She comes across as a fun, spunky, adventurous woman (though the plot kind of calls for that).

    I hope the new movie is going to try to be along the lines of Legend of Tarzan; faithful to the spirit, if not the text. With Dwayne Johnson, I worry about it being too jokey and played too much like a generic action film. Shane Black is supposed to be a fan; so, fingers crossed. The Pal movie isn’t bad, when it doesn’t totally degenerate into camp, though the Sousa music is really annoying. It needed John Williams.

  4. Edo Bosnar

    Thinking about that first question has me really puzzled: I didn’t read the Doc Savage comics (color or b&w) in the ’70s and I didn’t read any of the novels at the time, but I know I’ve known *about* Doc since I was pretty young – I definitely recognized the character. But I have no idea where I first encountered him…
    I only actually read a few of the novels and all of the ’70s comics from Marvel (reprinted by DC…) in the past 5 years. I definitely agree that the comics, especially from the b&w magazines, are really worth it if you like Doc Savage. In fact, I like them better than the novels that I’ve read (kind of prefer the old Shadow novels to Doc Savage).

  5. fit2print

    Like John Trumbull, my first exposure to Doc was that O’Neil miniseries from the 80s. At the time, I had no strong feelings one way or the other about it — I suppose the modern-day shorthand for my reaction would be “meh.” I’d had high expectations, too, given that O’Neil was the man behind “The Question” revival, which I revere to this day.

    It was only when I read the Moench/DeZuniga run — now available in a very handsome and very reasonably priced hardback edition from Dynamite, incidentally — that I came to fully appreciate Doc (along with The Five) and started dipping into the paperbacks. To purists it’s probably heresy for me to admit this, but I prefer the comics, too.

    Visually, I agree that the leaner-looking Doc is preferable to the Hulkish one, which also makes me a bit wary of the movie casting of Dwayne Johnson (that and, you know, the fact that Doc is a genius and Dwayne, well, just might be a few IQ points short). I thought Ron Ely had the right look for Doc back when he played the part in that painfully campy 70s movie. One can only hope the Shane Black version at least gets the tone right — and somewhat less crucially, doesn’t require the Rock’s hairstylist to try and approximate Doc’s worse-than-Eddie-Munster’s widow’s peak. You’ve got to admit, there is nowhere other than in pulp fiction that such an abomination to barberdom could actually exist…

    1. You’ve got to admit, there is nowhere other than in pulp fiction that such an abomination to barberdom could actually exist…

      I take your larger point and you’re not wrong. But that’s technically something James Bama created for the Bantam paperbacks, pulled it pretty much out of nowhere and went with it for his first cover (his model Steve Holland had normal hair) and even Bama backed off on it some, painting the later covers, but somehow everyone since has run with it. Why, I don’t know. Marvel’s compromise has always struck me as the best way to go. With that you could pretty much just dye Dwayne’s real hair and call it done.

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