Doc Savage in Oz? Doc Phoenix in The Oz Encounter

Although I finished my Doc Savage reread last month, it turns out I’m not as done as I thought. By coincidence, I’d already put WEIRD HEROES VOLUME 5: Doc Phoenix: The Oz Encounter by Marv Wolfman and Ted White on my shelf to reread, and it definitely qualifies as a Doc Savage pastiche, just as much as The Mad Goblin or Doc Sidhe. The endnotes say White, who created Phoenix for Weird Heroes Vol. 2, started the book but couldn’t finish, so Wolfman (best known back in the early 1970s as the co-creator of Marvel’s Nova rather than the New Teen Titans) stepped in.

Doc Phoenix is a super-genius (also a formidable hand-to-hand combatant) who made a fortune investing in the stock market, then increased it by turning to gambling. He used his millions to build supercomputers that enable him to enter people’s minds; like Inception or Roger Zelazny’s Dream Master he materializes in a fantasy landscape symbolically expressing the subject’s issues. His original plan was to use this to reform criminals by finding the flaw that drove them to crime and fixing it — why yes, that does sound like Doc Savage’s crime college, doesn’t it? However it turned out that nobody else could use the equipment safely so using it to eliminate crime isn’t practical; instead Doc uses it to treat trauma victims and the like. He’s assisted by computer whiz Moose (the Monk counterpart), Steffan (Ham) and Linda, a Chinese-American freelance spy. In the first Phoenix story, someone sent Linda to kill Doc; he survived and treated her to restore a sense of morality.

In this book Wentworth, a rising politician and former organized-crime lawyer (typically for the era the book refers to “the Syndicate,” as Italian Americans objected vociferously to mentions of the Mafia) hires Phoenix to free his daughter, Patricia, from a coma (not physical, but caused by emotional trauma). Entering her mind, Phoenix discovers a twisted version of Oz where the affable hobo, the Shaggy Man, uses the magical love magnet to turn people into fawning slaves. Doc barely escapes and the magnet isn’t mentioned again (too hard to overcome?). Doc continues to enter Patricia’s mind, meets her as Dorothy and sets out to find a)what drove her into her dream world and b)why the Shaggy Man is turning it into a desolate waste. Complicating things, someone in the real world is trying to stop Phoenix’s treatment, even if that means killing him — and it appears it’s the Shaggy Man, somehow escaped out of the dream. How does it all make sense?

This was a lot of fun, fast-moving, with plenty of action. While it gets a lot of Oz details wrong — Dorothy does not move to Oz at the end of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz — that can be explained by either Phoenix or Patricia getting it wrong (it might have been Wolfman or White, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt). There are some good illustrations by Stephen Fabian. Regrettably the collapse of Weird Heroes a few volumes later meant we never got a follow-up, but unlike Quest of the Gypsy there’s no loose ends (there’s one small one, but I can live with it).

If I run across another Doc Savage riff of note, I guess I’ll cover that one too.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jeff Jones rights to image remain with current holder.

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Filed under cover art, Reading

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