As I mentioned a few years ago, I’m fascinated by the missing years in Doc Savage’s life. The series tells us almost nothing about the time between Doc meeting his five friends in WW I and the beginning of his career in The Man of Bronze. And what we do know seems contradictory. The Purple Dragon and Devil’s Playground establish Doc was busting crooks back as far as the late 1920s yet Man of Bronze states clearly that he and his friends are only now beginning their great crusade against evil.
An easy explanation for the contradictions is that both books were by Lester Dent’s ghostwriters, putting in their own ideas. Will Murray’s Writings in Bronze shows Dent was quite willing to rewrite his ghosts’ work to suit the series better but he might have missed the contradictions, given the several years between their books and Man of Bronze. Then again, Dent’s second novel, Land of Terror, establishes Doc’s crime college is already up and running, and that shipping criminals there is SOP for him. And in novel #1, a cop who spots Doc speeding tells his rookie partner not to even think about ticketing Doc; he’s such a big deal, even Mayor LaGuardia would turn handsprings if Doc asked him.
That could be because he’s the son of the great philanthropist Clark Savage Sr., but the impression I get is that Doc has earned this respect in his own right. This could be due to his medical skills — Land of Terror mentions that one of the city’s top political bosses is only alive because of Doc. However, the bulk of the evidence works better if we assume Doc and his friends have been busting heads and taking names since at least 1929 (according to the The Purple Dragon) and possibly earlier.
The most logical solution is that prior to Man of Bronze, our heroes saw whatever adventures they had as a dry run, a test to see if they had what it takes (Doc points out that while he’s been trained for this from birth, the guys haven’t). It’s not until the death of Clark Savage Sr., prior to the opening pages of that first novel, that they commit themselves 100 percent.
Doc, of course, has been committed from birth. But I don’t think he counted his earlier adventures because he had another kind of training: school.
Murray’s book quotes from a couple of novels establishing that Doc’s dad began his training at birth; it lasted until he was around twenty. Dad recruited the best, but having a college seal of approval would still make it easier to prove himself. Particularly as his first love is surgery; there’s no way he gets a medical license without going to medical school. Factoring that in, here’s my tentative timeline for his life prior to Man of Bronze:
Doc is born in 1900 (I’m picking the year arbitrarily because it’s cooler than being born in, say, 1897). His parents launch his training but after the US gets involved in WW I, Doc takes a powder so that he can get in on the excitement (adventure in what was seen as a great moral crusade, that would suit him perfectly). He meets his five friends (whether or not it was in a prison camp) and discovers that he really is suited to the life of heroism he’s being trained for.
Doc returns home, completes his training and starts college in 1920. Quite aside from the benefit of formal credentials, a lot of his training wasn’t academic (combat skills, wilderness survival, memorizing street maps of major cities). It’s quite possible he still had something to learn. While Doc could breeze through his classes easily enough, I’m guessing he took several degrees (and possibly advanced degrees) so it’s plausible he graduated in 1924. He may have been relieved to be done; in a time when the “gentleman’s C” was considered a good grade for a man of his social class and college involved lots of partying and dating, Doc would have come off as a “wet,” AKA what later generations would call a square. Then again, he was young; perhaps he dabbled in partying and found it wasn’t for him.
(This Millennium Comics mini took a look at the pre-Man of Bronze era)
Next comes medical school, another four years, bringing us to 1928. Then comes his residency, which could easily run the five years to 1933, particularly as he probably wanted to qualify in several specialties. And of course he wasn’t just studying in those years. The Fortress of Solitude is up and running by Man of Bronze and Doc’s already got a boatload of scientific devices, probably developed there. Maybe that’s where he developed the surgical techniques he used at his crime college (I’ll be writing about that soon) and undoubtedly he kept leaping into adventures with his friends. But until he’d completed all his studies, he couldn’t commit to being the nemesis of all evil.
I can see lots of different timelines that would work as well, but this is the one I like best.
#SFWApro. Covers by James Bama (top) and Tony Harris, all rights remain with current holder.