When last I looked at Doc Savage in comics, it was Denny O’Neil’s god-awful miniseries from the 1980s. I was dissatisfied enough that when it went to series, I didn’t pick it up, until Mike Barr took over with #7 (cover by Adam Kubert, all rights to current holder). I liked Mike Barr so I skimmed the book, discovered Doc was interesting again, and continued buying until the finish (#24).
The opening two parter, “The Mind Molder,” retconned away Long Tom’s betrayal of Doc in the miniseries as the work of the title villain. Having had his life ruined b the brainwashing treatment at Doc’s crime college (where he surgically alters criminal brains to make them forget their former lives and to turn them honest), he adapted some of Doc’s chemical treatments into a mind-control drug, hence Long Tom’s betrayal.
The story reintroduces Pat Savage, and in a nice touch, it turns out that unlike Doc’s aides, she’s accepted his death (though she’s happy he’s back) and moved on with her life. Oh, and she has a granddaughter lookalike who becomes a pawn of the Molder, then joins the good guys once the villain is taken out.
While the miniseries played up Doc’s men as kind of old fossils, the series shows that while they’re certainly older, slower and weaker, they can still cut it in the field alongside the newer recruits.
The series mines lots of stuff from Doc’s pulp days, starting with a return to the Mayan valley that provides his wealth, then the return of John Sunlight, Doc’s arch-nemesis (whose debut novel I still haven’t gotten to). Note to crooked businessman: reviving John Sunlight as a way to get a business advantage is a very, very, very, very bad idea and you will be sorry. The Annual tells the story of how Doc and his men met back in World War I. And then came “The Conflagration Man,” a crossover between Doc and the Shadow, DC having the rights to both at the time. As a fan of both characters this was an absolute kick, especially as their perspectives on the war against crime are so different, and Barr and Gerard Jones (Shadow writer at the time) captured them well.
That story was set in the 1930s. Apparently it sold better than Barr’s previous stories because the book switched back to the Depression for the rest of the run. At least, that was the plan … but after a three-parter, “The Air Lord,” it must have been obvious that the book was headed for cancellation. The final story arc starts with Doc as a child, encountering the murderous Mr. Lear in Siberia; then slips into a rematch with Doc and his men in their prime in the 1930s; and ends up back in the present, with everyone (including Doc’s pacifist grandson Chip) on board for the showdown.
It’s a shame it didn’t run longer. Next up, Doc moves to an indie company Millenium for another 1930s-set series.