Doc Savage: The Three Wild Men Who Fell Up

Given we’re now halfway through 1942, I’m wondering if Street and Smith just didn’t want to tackle WW II in the Doc Savage series yet. THE MAN WHO FELL UP has Doc up against what are obviously Nazis, but there’s not a hint of America’s own war effort.

The book opens with two Brits, Rod Bentley and Tottingham Strand, approaching a mysterious building. Rod goes in and Strand sees him on a ledge, then sees him (apparently) shot. But instead of falling to the street, Rod’s body floats up into the air. Strand goes to contact Doc and the Nazi plot kicks in. We don’t learn who’s behind things until the bad guys start spouting German late in the book, though I wonder if Doc calling his adversaries “efficient” early on would have been a sign (German efficiency being a byword back in those days).

The plot involves a mysterious green fog blanketing New York, more people falling upwards and both Strand and the bad guys wanting to get their hands on Doc’s mysterious “Compound Monk.” Toward that goal the Nazis have been studying Doc’s operation for weeks. They create a fake copy of his HQ, along with Monk and Ham impersonators to keep Doc under watch. It almost works except Evil Ham explains Pat, who showed up earlier, left because she got scared. Doc knows that has to be bullshit.

Pat, incidentally, has persuaded Monk to teach her Mayan, the language the guys use to communicate without being understood.

It turns out the apparent flying corpses are actually a kind of heat-sensitive aerial mine. A balloon lifts them up in the air, then they’re drawn to sources of heat, such as plane engines. Compound Monk would improve on the current design as its super-sensitive to heat; Pat explains Doc picked the name because Monk’s always drawn to “hot numbers.”

It’s a good story with one memorable Doc gadget: he’s knocked off Wonder Woman’s invisible plane. Okay, technically Dent insists the plane isn’t invisible, it’s just transparent plastic, with camouflage hiding the parts that can’t be made that way. It has the double advantage that it can’t be seen easily, and it’s easy to see out of, though smoke from the engines soon stains the transparent body.

THE THREE WILD MEN has a striking intro in which a young woman, Abba Cushing, injects Doc with some kind of bioweapon. When it turns out his bulletproof shirt protected him, she pretends it was a joke, vamps Monk and leads him into a trap. Her fabulously wealthy, politically radical father and his friends demand Monk give up the secret of the Three Wild Men, which Mr. Cushing insists is Doc’s work.

It turns out that three wealthy individuals — power broker, financier, reformer — have turned into crazy brute men, one of whom dies trying to attack a subway train. Doc is supposedly the brains behind whatever’s causing this; that it’s happening overseas in cities where Johnny, Renny and Long Tom are working just seems to confirm this. As usual for this period, there’s more than one faction competing for the secret. There’s also the FBI which takes Doc’s involvement seriously. And that’s baaaad news: the story makes it clear that being hunted by the unstoppable G-Men is about the worst thing that can happen to someone (J. Edgar Hoover must have loved this issue). Which makes it rather annoying they just sort of fade from the story instead of being involved at the climax.

It turns out Cushing is behind the process that creates the wild men (Abba didn’t know this, neither did his associates). He believes the world is in such a mess it’s going to take a wholesale, worldwide reform of the entire system; the wild men, once restored to normal, are broken enough to be malleable using their power as Cushing commands. His goals are genuinely  humanitarian, but also authoritarian (I’ve no idea how readers would have seen this at the time — Nazi allegory? Communist? Nothing at all?).

Like the FBI, the story just peters out. Doc bluffs that he’s found a way to counter the insanity treatment, so Cushing surrenders. It’s really anticlimactic. And the treatment itself is just a less interesting version of The Men Who Smiled No More,

We do learn that Doc’s “crime college” graduates are now being scattered across the world to give Doc eyes and ears everywhere. The opening has Doc talk with a Turkish contact (not a graduate) whose spy operation is secretly working for Doc. It’s a very WW II concept, I think, though I don’t remember if this network recurs. There’s also a couple of character bits such as “Doc Savage had not spoken a dozen words in the past hour, and he’d done it in a way that completely dominated the conversation.”

#SFWApro. Covers by Bob Larkin, all rights to images remain with current holders.

2 Comments

Filed under Doc Savage, Reading

2 responses to “Doc Savage: The Three Wild Men Who Fell Up

  1. Pingback: Doc Savage: The Fiery Menace’s Laugh of Death | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Doc Savage wants some action: Hell Below and the Goblins | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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