THE SEA ANGEL (cover by James Bama, all rights with current holder) was one of my favorite Doc Savage books as a teen, and it holds up well on rereading. It has an unusual set-up, and one of the best of the fake supernatural adversaries.
We open with Doc trying to help a well-known philanthropist terrified of something called the Sea Angel. The Angel (captured accurately on the cover) can fly, outswim a sub, shrug off bullets and gas, and knock a man out with its stinging tentacles. We soon learn the creature and its human agents have kidnapped a number of crooked financiers (the philanthropist is not the nice guy he seems) and are currently hunting Monk, who’s put Ham in the poor house with a financial swindle and gotten himself kicked off Doc’s team. Why yes, this is a trick, how did you guess.
Complicating things is “Hog” Coolins, another crooked millionaire whose determined to destroy the Sea Angel and free his prisoners—because Coolins plans to collect a fat ransom from each of them before setting them loose. As Doc and his friends battle against both sides—and get their butts kicked by the Angel—they eventually wind up on the isolated island where the Sea Angel runs a prison farm and tries to intimidate the crooks into reforming. Doc, however, tells the creature’s agents that their methods can’t produce change—it takes the medical treatment at his crime college to fix brains as crooked as these guys. Doc describes his cure as a gland treatment, the same description as The Annihilist, although the books in the three years since that novel have painted it as brain surgery.
It turns out the Sea Angel is an ingenious fake, but it’s a fun ride up to that point. And weirdly contemporary—a little tweaking and the vigilantes could be a radical offshoot of Occupy.
The series closes out 1937 with Harold Davis’ THE GOLDEN PERIL (cover by Bama, rights with current holder) and another formidable villain, simply named The Leader. In the opening chapter, his people wipe out a Mayan baggage train bringing gold to the capital of Hidalgo for shipment to Doc (as established in the first novel, this the funding source for Doc’s humanitarian and crime-fighting efforts). The Leader has an organization set up throughout the world, spreading insurrection and anarchy, but to complete his global destabilization efforts, he needs the Mayan gold. Not for money per se: as we learn late in the book, he plans to pour so much gold onto the world market that the price will drop. And in a world where the gold standard is still a thing, that will destabilize economies everywhere (I have no idea if that would actually work), making the world nations easy prey for the Leader.
If Czar of Fear was Doc vs. the Depression, Golden Peril feels like Doc averting the next world war that everyone feared was coming. Not that there haven’t been world conquerors before, but the Leader is a straight military type, without super-weapons. His only gadget is a mysterious killing device called the Hand of Death, and like the weapon in Davis’ Land of Fear, it’s more for intimidating people than a genuinely destructive super-weapon like the Red Snow.
This book brings back the Mayan princess Monja. While most women in the book fall for Doc, Monja’s love is more open than anyone else’s. It’s easy to see why when comics writers look to pair Doc off, Monja’s usually the one.
Despite the painful start to Doc’s 1937, the Man of Bronze went out on a win.