Given what a mess James Patterson and Brian Sitts made of The Shadow, I read their Doc Savage reboot, THE PERFECT ASSASSIN, without much enthusiasm. It isn’t good, but it doesn’t mangle the Man of Bronze the way the duo (which I assume is mostly Sitts, with Patterson providing marquee value) mangled the Master of Darkness.
Our protagonist is Brandt Savage, grandson of Clark Savage Junior. He’s aware of his ancestor’s legend, though he assumes it’s exaggerated, and the apple has fallen far from the tree: Brandt is a dull, scholarly introvert who’s happiest spending his evenings reading at home (I did bristle a little at the implication this is a bad lifestyle choice). Then he’s kidnapped by a woman named Meed. She subjects him to an insanely intensive training course that also remakes his body (taller, buffer) in ways I doubt made sense but I wasn’t reading closely enough to find out.
These scenes alternate with scenes of Meed’s past, undergoing training in what looks like a rip off of the Red Room that gave birth to Black Widow at Marvel. Eventually she balked at the ugly hits she was sent to do and escaped, but the Russian establishment is still training kidnapped girls. She wants to end it. Brandt is going to help, like it or not (contrary to the cover copy he is not being made into a perfect assassin).
Why pick Brandt? Meed eventually reveals she’s John Sunlight‘s daughter Kyra. The Red Room knockoff operates on a twisted version of the training program that created Doc Savage, based on information Sunlight got from the twin brother we didn’t know Doc had. The twin was Clark Savage Sr.’s test case, given none of the training Doc did so their father could quantify it’s effectiveness. I can understand the brother having issues.
Together, Brandt and Kyra take down the organization, become lovers and Brandt becomes a true heir to his grandfather — don’t call him doctor or professor, just call him “Doc,” okay?
As the book doesn’t use Lester Dent’s Doc Savage, it doesn’t piss me off the way The Shadow did. The Perfect Assassin doesn’t rewrite Doc’s history the way they authors did the Shadow, either. One of the best moments is when Brandt winds up in Doc’s Fortress of Solitude and it finally sinks in that everything he’s ever heard about Clark Savage Junior is true. There’s a genuine sense of awe in that moment.
Despite that, and some good action scenes, I did not care for the book. The long training sequences are dull, the scenes from Kyra’s past are stock (she’s not far off from assassin-turned-Batgirl Cassandra Cain) and after the bad guys go down we spend a pointless amount of time on wrapping the story up. I skimmed more than half of the story and don’t feel I missed anything.
On top of which I have some picky fan criticisms. Back when Marvel had the Doc Savage rights they had a team-up with Spider-Man — actually a story where Doc and Spidey fight the same menace in the 1930s and the 1970s. Rereading it along with Marvel’s first Doc Savage series, it struck me that instead of Peter Parker vaguely remembering Doc as an early superhero, a science nerd like Peter would probably remember him as a groundbreaking scientist (e.g., “I read his Atomic Science Simplified when I was 10, it made the physics so clear!”).
Same problem here: long after Doc’s adventures have faded, his science work would keep his name alive. Brandt’s an anthropologist so he ought to remember Johnny Littlejohn, Doc’s aide, as a top guy in the field. I can’t believe Johnny didn’t have some landmark research that Brandt would have heard of.
And John Sunlight’s daughter really should be more distinctive than Kyra. If she were just a straight graduate of the assassin academy with no significant parents it wouldn’t have changed anything. Being Kyra Sunlight rationalizes her going to Brandt for help, but that’s it.
#SFWApro. Covers by James Bama, Bama again, and Gil Kane. All rights remain with current holders.