The Other Doc Savages (#SFWApro)

In addition to to close to 200 pulp novels, Doc Savage has also appeared on radio, one movie and in comic books. Since I have a fair number of those comics, I thought I’d add them to my Doc Savage blog posts. Though for a complete history of Doc in other media, you need Robert Cotter’s book.
docsavage1While Doc appeared in the 1940s in comics, my first exposure to him outside the reprinted pulps was Marvel’s 1972 Doc Savage comic. As a die-hard fan of the books, I was thrilled to see the John Buscema cover and for the first time in seven years or so started reading Marvel again.
The first issue covers little more than the opening couple of chapters of the original book, Man of Bronze. Doc meets his friends and learns of his father’s mysterious death, a Mayan assassin shoots at him from a nearby skyscraper and dies trying to escape when Doc catches up to him. It’s a good, fast-moving story by Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart and artist Ross Andru.
As you can see from the cover, Marvel, like every subsequent comic, adopted the look James Bama created for the paperback covers. Doc’s hair in the books is described as a smooth skullcap; Bama added the distinctive widow’s peak (the hair is bronze though a lot of the paperback covers make it blond). The cover also appears to be influenced by the ripped shirt Doc wore on the paperbacks. The stories inside gave Doc a blue vest to wear, as in the cover of the second issue by Jim Steranko (all rights to both covers with current holder).
The first issue made one unintentional, one intentional error. The intentional one was setting the stories in the present day; the rest of the series was kept in the pulp era of the 1930s (I personally was fine with the 1970s for a setting, but the creators were quite clear they thought they’d goofed). The unintentional one was coloring Monk’s rusty red hair black. They fixed that starting in issue 2, but curiously never changed his hair style, which was way too long for the 1930s (Doc’s vest doesn’t feel quite right either, but he’s Doc, so he can get away with it).
Now, as to the stories—the second part of Man of Bronze worked fine, as it’s a fairly slight story. But then we got a two-part Death in Silver which is much livelier, more complicated plot. They skipped several good bits (the story mentions the villains’ distinctive watches but not the reason for them) and sometimes it feels almost comical how rushed the rest is. The two part adaptations of The Monsters and Brand of the Werewolf had the same problems. Though the latter did have the villain running around in a werewolf costume, which made slightly more sense of the title (if you overlook that there’s no reason for him to wear a werewolf costume).
After eight issues, the series ended, though Doc made crossovers with Spider-Man in Giant-Size Spider-Man (the title refers to it being a super-sized issue) and with the Thing in Marvel Two-in-One. Other than the crossovers, this was the only Doc Savage series to rely entirely on adaptations of the Dent novels rather than original stories. I think that was a mistake, at least with only two issues for each story, but that’s not to say it would have been any more successful if they’d struck out on their own. Doc’s never been as big a hit in comics as he was in the pulps (Cotter suggests it’s because he comes off as a B-list super-hero instead of an A-list pulp hero).
At some point I’ll be reviewing Marvel’s second shot at Doc, from later in the decade, in black and white.


Filed under Comics, Doc Savage, Reading

9 responses to “The Other Doc Savages (#SFWApro)

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