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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Doc Savage #14: The Man of Bronze / The Land of Terror

Reviewed: March 11, 2009
By: Kenneth Robeson
Publisher: Nostalgia Ventures
144 pages, $12.95

On the week the that the long awaited Watchmen movie finally hits the screens, you will pardon me if I ramble on a bit about adventure heroes.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons set out to examine the relationship between costumed adventurers and the real world, taking as their source material the Charlton Comics lineup that had recently been purchased by DC Comics. When it turned out that their former editor, Dick Giordano, who had come aboard with them, still had plans for the Blue Beetle, the Peacemaker, the Question, Captain Atom, Thunderbolt and Nightshade, Moore and Gibbons reworked them into Owlman, the Comedian, Rorschach, Dr Manhattan, Ozymandius and Silk Spectre, probably making a better story in the process.

They weren’t the first creators to play with the concept of the costumed adventurer or to play with existing material in order to create something different.

Baroness Emmuska Orczy created the Scarlett Pimpernell for a play in 1903 and went on to write several novels. He fought against the evils of the French Revolution. He is almost the template for the playboy dandy who is secretly a force against evil or, for that matter, any character with a dual identity.

In 1919 pulp writer Johnston McCulley would take many of the same elements and use them to create Zorro for All Story Weekly magazine.

There were lots of other adventure heroes in those bygone days, before the comics pages shrank in size and the gag a day strips took over the field. Among them were Tarzan and Buck Rogers (both debuting in 1929) and Flash Gordon, which premiered in 1934.

In the current Batman mythos, Zorro is often cited as the inspiration for the Dark Knight, but that really belongs to The Shadow, another pulp magazine character, whose adventures began in 1931, eight years before Bob Kane and Bill Finger dressed Bruce Wayne up in a bat suit and sent him out to strike fear into the hearts of criminals.

Now the Shadow had a bit of a costume, but the real inspiration for all the spandex that was to follow came from the pen of Lee Falk, who created the multi-generational hero the Phantom in 1936. The man in the purple tights is still in print today and his costume, though it lacks a cape is the inspiration for almost every one which would follow.

In comic book terms, Superman was first out of the gate by about a year, appearing in Action Comics #1 on June 30, 1938. Batman followed the next May.

But in jumping to Superman, I’ve skipped the main subject of this week’s column, the man from whom such Superman basics as the Fortress of Solitude, enhanced senses and such were borrowed. I doubt very highly that the Man of Steel would have taken on quite the same flavour had there not first been the Man of Bronze.

Clark Savage Jr. inhabited Doc Savage magazine from 1933 until 1949. In many ways he and his little band of men were the inspiration for such later comic book creations as the Challengers of the Unknown and the Fantastic Four. But Clark himself has a great deal to do with that other Clark, that Kent fellow. Even the coincidence of names is suggestive.

The 181 Doc Savage short novels have all been reprinted once in paperback and are now being reprinted again in these Nostalgia Ventures editions that mimic the original pulp magazine appearances, including two column pages and illustrations from the original printings. The paper is of much higher quality, of course, and the books come with essays and background information about the writers (mostly Lester Dent using the house name) and artists who created the books.

The Man of Bronze was the first of these adventures. In it we meet Doc and his five man crew as they escape death in Manhattan only to travel to the jungles of South America, there to discover the secret to the fabulous fortune that will enable Doc to spend the rest of his life fighting the forces of evil in the world.

Land of Terror starts out quite bloodily in New York and eventually ends up on a sort of natural Jurassic Park island where strange adventures ensue. The second book is much more violent than the first.

If you think the sort of writing that went into these books is quite out of date, I’m here to tell you that many modern thrillers, and here all the novels of The DaVinci Code author Dan Brown come to mind, use the same fast paced pulp style plotting of mystery/confrontation/chase/ repeat as needed until done that sets the tone for the Savage stories.

These are not complex novels They are essentially comic books in prose form and at 50,000 words can be read in a few hours. They are a product of their age and contain a lot of assumptions that we would think of as politically incorrect now. But they are entertaining; that is why they were written in the first place and why they are still around 70 years later, when most of the mainsteam best-selling fiction of their heyday has been forgotten.

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