When I was in high school a classmate, Scott English, got me to read a Doc Savage paperback and I became hooked. The books, reprinted in the 1970’s-80’s were reprints of the pulp magazine stories from the 1930’s – yet oddly they seemed to be entertaining to me. The books were fast and easy to consume and noir settings and cast of characters made them really stand out.
If you don’t know who Doc Savage is; I’m not surprised. The character was a super-human character that came into being in 1933. Clark Savage Jr. was the pinnacle of human development, with a brilliant mind and a team of comrades that followed him on world-saving adventures. The mix of characters that he had with him included an archeologist, a chemist, an electrical engineer, a lawyer, and a construction engineer – all exciting and expanding fields in the 1930’s. Doc’s team were not some cardboard group of characters. Some of them didn’t get along with each other (Ham and Monk sparred verbally often – with Monk have a pet pig named after “Ham” Brooks). Thomas “Long Tom” Roberts was an electrical engineer that was the equivalent of a tech-geek today. They stood out on their own, yet were better when working together.
Savage and his “Fabulous Five” thwarted bad guys that were somewhere between old-school Lex Luthor and Scooby-Doo adversaries. The evil plans were insidious yet believable in context. There were fantastic sci-fi technology weapons and tools intertwined into the books, many of which were precursors to technology that would eventually be developed in the real world. The books were thin paperbacks because they were reprinted pulp stories, really they were novellas in length.
I thoroughly enjoyed them.
Doc Savage (Clark) bore a lot of resemblance to Superman who also emerged later in 1933. They had above average strength. Savage had a Fortress of Solitude long before the Man of Steel. Where Superman was alone, what made Doc Savage work was that he had a team – a Justice League before there was a Justice League. One must wonder how much of Clark Kent was lifted from Clark Savage Jr.
Doc lived on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, at the time the tallest building in the world. He used an autogyro, a zeppelin, and a Batmobile-like car to get around. He was fabulously wealthy and had a hot cousin, Pat Savage, who also became part of the mix of characters. Doc was a pulp superhero before all of that existed.
There were a ton of books, pulp magazines, radio shows, comic books, and even a movie made about Doc Savage in 1975 that is best left forgotten. A new Doc Savage comic books is out now too, so the legend continues.
Ironically, Lester Dent (under the name Kenneth Robeson), who penned most of the stories about Doc and his team considered his work anything but enduring. For him it was just something he made money at. Oddly enough, his was some of the only pulp fiction to continue on in book format reprinted decades later.
I saw this week that Dwayne Johnson has been cast to play Doc Savage in an upcoming film adaptation of the Man of Bronze (Doc’s nickname thanks to his George Hamilton tan). I have to say I’m a little bit excited. Doc Savage consumed a chunk of my allowance as a kid. Yes, the stories were as formulaic as a Dukes of Hazzard episode, but there was always a twist or two that caught you off guard. What made the books work was the mix of distinct characters which Lester Dent combined and shuffled to make for unique adventures. Doc Savage is part Indiana Jones, part superhero, and a touch of pre-war nostalgia all wrapped in one neat bundle.
In fairness, I haven’t gone back to the books to see if the stories still captivate me the way they did back in my youth. A part of me doesn’t want to know. I have the memories and that is enough for me.
I have always been surprised that no one published a Doc Savage RPG. The wealth of source material out there would make it a natural.
I know the naysayers out there will blast the project before the ink is dry on the script. Most will decry that Doc doesn’t have a place in our fast-paced world – that he is too cartoony for us to enjoy. The one thing the internet has done is made us a nation of bitter cynics who delight in tearing things apart even if we haven’t seen it. I have no illusions that Dwayne Johnson is some academy award winning actor – but that doesn’t mean he can’t and won’t capture some the essence of the character. I know one thing, I will be going to catch the film when it opens and I am sure it will conjure up some fantastic memories.
When I heard the movie was coming, the first thing I said was, “I’ll be superamalgamated,” one of Doc’s team (William Harper “Johnny” Littlejohn’s) favorite sayings. Yeah, I’m geeky and I’m comfortable with that. Bring your A Game Dwayne Johnson, those of us that like Doc Savage are expecting a lot.