(Another rewritten post from my own blog, from 2014).
If not for Doc Savage, I might never have started reading Marvel in the Bronze Age.
I’d read Marvel occasionally in the 1960s, but I was (and remain) more a DC fan. After moving from England to America and resuming comics buying I focused entirely on DC. But then came Doc Savage #1.
From the first moment I read a Doc Savage paperback I’d been hooked on his adventures, even though it was the underwhelming Devil on the Moon. I picked up every paperback I could find, used or new. When I saw John Buscema’s cover to the first Doc Savage issue I couldn’t resist, even though it was Marvel. With the Rubicon crossed, I figured I’d check out my favorite Silver Age book, Avengers. Steve Englehart had just started writing and I was instantly hooked on them too. Other Marvels followed.That makes it ironic the Doc Savage comic doesn’t hold up well (certainly not as well as Englehart’s Avengers tales). I enjoyed actually seeing Doc and his friends in action rather than reading about them, but it didn’t give me the buzz the books did. Rereading a few years ago as part of a general Doc Savage reread I could see why.
The first issue covers little more than the opening couple of chapters of the original book, Man of Bronze. Doc meets with his friends and learns of his father’s mysterious death, then a Mayan assassin shoots at him from a nearby skyscraper. Doc catches up and the killer dies trying to escape. It’s a good, fast-moving story by Roy Thomas, Englehart and artist Ross Andru. The cover shows the influence of the James Bama cover art from Bantam’s pulp reprints, with the distinctive widow’s peak and a version of the ripped shirt look Bama always gave him. The stories inside gives Doc a blue vest to wear instead, as seen the Steranko cover of the second issue.The first issue made the mistake of coloring Monk’s hair black, which they corrected in #2. It also set Doc’s adventures in the present of 1972, which I’d have been fine with but the creators promptly decided against. From #2 on, we’re back in the 1930s. Unfortunately they didn’t change Monk’s shaggy, shoulder-length mop of hair which looks way too modern to my eyes.
Of Doc’s several comics series this was the only one that stuck to adaptations of the pulps instead of coming up with new stories. Adapting The Man of Bronze into two issues worked fine because it’s a relatively slight story. But then came Death In Silver, one of the best yarns, with a much livelier and more complicated plot. Chopped into two issues (Marvel said stretching adaptations out longer wouldn’t work because of the bi-monthly schedule) it felt rushed and cramped.
So did The Monsters, which missed one of the best elements of the original story about a criminal army of giants (the mastermind plans to whip up mass hysteria to the point everyone thinks there are hundreds of giants, bigger and scarier than the reality). Brand of the Werewolf is a weaker story so it suffered less. The title also made more sense here than in the pulp novel (where it replaced author Lester Dent’s proposed title, Crew of Skeletons); there’s no werewolf in the book but here the bad guy does run around in a werewolf suit, Of course there’s no reason for him to do so, so I guess it didn’t make that much more sense.
The series died after eight issues, plus forgettable crossovers in Marvel Two-in-One and Giant-Size Spider-Man. The two-part adaptations didn’t help, but I don’t know writing original stories would have changed anything; Marvel’s black and white Doc Savage magazine used new stories and it didn’t last any longer. Doc’s never been a huge success in comics, possibly because he comes off more like a B-list superhero than an A-list pulpster. Certainly if he’d been a new superhero I wouldn’t have picked up Doc Savage #1.
But in hindsight, I’m glad I did.
#SFWApro. Images top to bottom by Buscema, Steranko, Andru and Rich Buckler.