Doc Savage: The Brand of the Werewolf Who Shook the Earth (#SFWApro)

(That hashtag in the title is to connect this with the SFWA twitter feed)
DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz often came up with a striking cover first, then directed his writer to find a matching image. I can’t help wondering if the Doc Savage book Brand of the Werewolf was titled following the same principle.
After all, there’s absolutely no werewolf. Nor any explanation why the villains use a werewolf sigil as a warning sign, other than justifying the title.
The book starts well. Doc is off to visit an uncle and cousin he’s never seen, unaware Uncle Alex is dead. Strange goings on take place on the train, and some of those involved are convinced Doc’s involved. Meanwhile, at the uncle’s Canadian cabin, cousin Patricia tries to figure out why her father’s killers are after a seemingly useless ivory cube.
As it goes on, though, the story peters out into a stock tale of skullduggery and murder in the Canadian wilderness (a setting that was much more popular back in the pulp day than it is now, so it’s not surprising Lester Dent used it), with the McGuffin a lost pirate treasure (Marvel’s 1970s adaptation of the story named the pirate “the werewolf” which gave slightly more logic to the title. Though not much). The shuffling Negroes and shiftless Indian characters don’t help things.
What does make the story worth reading is the debut of Pat Savage, Doc’s cuz. An eighteen year old who can shoot, fight and track, she has the same taste for adventure that Doc has. She shows up multiple times in the series, usually trying to horn in on the adventures, though Doc does his best to keep her out of the action. Realizing on rereading this that she’s only 18 makes his protectiveness more understandable (Doc’s in his early 30s) but no less sexist—not for a minute do I think he’d have been so worried about a male cousin.
Curiously, most of the discussion of Doc’s history and amazingness comes midway through the book; by that point it’s not like the readers should be doubting it. I’m beginning to think the gush was partly Dent’s way of padding the word count.
The Man Who Shook the Earth is much better. It’s also the first SF-type threat since Land of Terror, in this case a super-weapon that causes earthquakes. A nice touch is that the bad guys, during their time in New York, are constantly freaking out at the sound of quarry blasting or subway trains for fear of a quake.
Once again, someone shows up in New York to ask Doc for help, and once again the bad guys intercept them. Following up eventually leads Doc and his team to Chile, where prominent nitrate mine-owners have been dying in geologically impossible quakes, and (as Doc learns) citizens of a Sinister European Power have been taking over the companies, with an eye to getting a lock on nitrates for explosive manufacturing before the next war.
Dent doesn’t attempt to identify the warmonger nation; I’d assume Germany, but the bad guy specifically refers to himself as becoming bigger than Hitler or Mussolini, so maybe not (not that it affects the story).
This one’s a good read, but the revelation of the villain involves a laughably improbable twist I won’t detail here.
Important developments are that Doc operates on Johnny’s eye (injured in the Great War) in an opening scene so that he no longer needs glasses. Doc, who used some nerve pinches to paralyze Pat in the previous book (to keep her still at a crucial moment) now uses them in combat (a more dynamic version of the drug-tipped thimbles he was using a few books back). And Ham’s sword cane is now coated with a knock-out drug, continuing the emphasis on Doc’s team not killing.
(Covers by James Bama, all rights reserved to current holders)


Filed under Doc Savage, Reading

8 responses to “Doc Savage: The Brand of the Werewolf Who Shook the Earth (#SFWApro)

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