As Robert Cotter’s Doc Savage history notes, one of the things that sets Doc apart from the Shadow is that he can fight evil anywhere from New York to Mongolia. Reading the series I’ve realized his adventures also run from relatively mundane crime thrillers up to world-threatening apocalypses—which are the extremes shown in this month’s two books.
THE GIGGLING GHOSTS is the mundane one. After a nicely written opening which discusses the definition of “giggles” and how normally, it’s nothing to be scared of, we have crazy rumors of giggling shadowy figures (the title ghosts), then several people coming down with uncontrollable giggling fits (I can’t help wondering if Bill Finger remembered this when coming up with the concept for Joker venom), then residents of a small New Jersey town come down with giggling fits accompanied by a potentially lethal brain condition. A scientist discovers that a recent earthquake has opened up rifts allowing a toxic subterranean gas to poison the town—but fortunately, a kindly philanthropic group is willing to buy up all the now unusable property so the residents can start over elsewhere. Of course, the group can’t afford to pay full price …. Yep, it’s a land-grab scam. The town is very close to the recently opened Lincoln Tunnel (Dent doesn’t name the tunnel—Cotter filled that in for me—but of course, it would be instantly known to anyone reading at the time) and so the land is potentially very profitable.
Doc has tackled scamsters before, but The Pirate’s Ghost has a more interesting scheme and more colorful villains. And the good guys had more interesting adventures in that story: here it’s just running around and squaring off with dull adversaries (the only distinctive traits the bad guy’s field leader has are that he’s dressed in grey and smokes cigars with cork tips). There’s also a forced reference to the 1939 New York World’s Fair (this book was late 1938), rationalized because some of the villains are working backstage on the fair prep. I can understand Dent wanting to tie in to such an (at the time) big event, but it didn’t work (I recall 1939’s World’s Fair Goblin as better—we’ll see when I get there).
THE MUNITIONS MASTER, by Harold Davis, is at the other extreme. It opens with Doc visiting Paris to perform surgery on Great War veterans, but during the welcoming ceremony, an invisible flame leaves a battalion of French soldiers with their legs burned away to the knees. Crooks inserted in the French police seize Doc as the culprit; he escapes, but the real mastermind, weapons-maker Carloff Traniv, uses a voice modulator to broadcast as Doc, taking credit for the deed. As Doc, he calls on nations on the world to rise up against their governments and bow down to him—or else.
Traniv’s weapon expertise is indeed impressive. In one scene he takes out a US battleship with guided missiles armed with multiple payloads, then finishes off the survivors with machine guns mounted on radio-controlled aerial drones (what kind of fiend would use such a—oh, wait). His other gadgets include the mysterious flame death, the super-freezing trap portrayed on the cover, biological and chemical WMDs and an army of zombie soldiers, enslaved by surgery. Traniv plans to force Doc to perform a variant operation that will place various world leaders under the munitions-maker’s control (showing once again that while he considers himself Doc’s equal, Doc’s mastery of all sciences puts Traniv in the shade).
This has some now odd political bits, such as treating Japanese protesting their nation’s occupation of Manchuria as dangerous subversives, and having the US worried about an invasion from Mexico (the Mexican Menace was taken seriously long after Pancho Villa’s raid earlier in the century, but it sure seems odd now). And for some reason, of the various dictators Traniv plans to replace, why is Stalin the only real-world one listed? Those minor quibbles aside, this was a fun one.
Covers by James Bama, all rights with current holder.