Sunday, March 22, 2015

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #35: Doc Savage Magazine #2

by Professor Gilbert Colon, P.M.P

Doc Savage Vol 2 #2
October 1975

Marv Wolfman and Archie Goodwin, Editors
John Warner, Assistant Editor
Michele Wolfman, Photo Editor
Barbara Altman & Nora Maclin, Designs
Dan Adkins, Art Consultant
Ken Barr, Cover

The Great Doc Savage Interview, or Why Couldn’t Ron Ely be Short and Ugly!!!
By Marv Wolfman

Originally scheduled for this “2nd SMASH ISSUE!” was “a very good piece by Bob Sampson on Doc Savage in the pulps,” but instead Wolfman chooses to be timely and go with an “indepth [sic] interview with the actor who has brought the most famous adventure hero ever created to life on the screen in the Warner Brother’s [sic] presentation of DOC SAVAGE” – Ron Ely.  (Sampson’s “The Pulp Doc Savage” appears in upcoming issue #5, with a “Renny” essay in #6 and “Johnny” in #7.)  

Marv notes his wife Michele’s “part-time profession: photography (while not slaving in Marvel’s far-famed coloring department),” accounting for this issue’s photo credit.  That and the fact that she “has been enamored with Ron Ely since his Tarzan days” and “more than mildly interested in meeting and photographing the incredible Mr. Ely.”  Why couldn’t he be “your average stereotype handsome jock-actor,” Wolfman asks, instead of someone with “ideas, thoughts, and observations [that] make fascinating reading.”  She scans “the TV Guide every week to find out if he is on…Father Knows BestIronsideMarcus Welby [or] Celebrity Tennis…”  

This issue also contains “the second epic-length illustrated novel by Doug Moench and Tony DeZuniga,” though “[t]he Tribe aided Tony with the inking as our terrific one was caught with his deadlines down between this and Marvel’s ‘Marvelous Wizard of Oz’ Treasury book…”  

Wolfman signs off with a farewell, announcing “this will be my last issue as Doc’s editor, having been sent to take care of and guide Marvel’s color line.  I leave this book in the more-than-capable hands of Archie Goodwin and Doug Moench.  It was fun.”  

Expect “next issue, our letter column.”  

“Hell­Reapers at the Heart of Paradise”
Story: Doug Moench
Art: Tony DeZuniga 

Doc Savage versus Thor!  Not exactly, but the Man of Bronze is up against a Mad Viking in this “pulse-pounding, epic-length journey into peril.”  But that comes later.  First the Mad Viking “stalks the towers of Manhattan” and kidnaps realty investor Thorne Shaw, taking him “--to the Lost Valley of Hell!”  

Sandy Taine enters Doc’s 86th floor office soliciting his help in finding her father Quentin Taine and clearing his name of criminal charges.  She recounts a legend about a treasure-laden Spanish galleon in 1504 that sank “somewhere above Canada,” and how her father joined a 1929 expedition with Shaw and a man named Jared Rutter to find those riches.  Taine and Rutter are still missing, and Taine is accused of kidnapping and probably murdering the remaining expedition party “for abandoning him to the blizzard!”  

After 11 pages of the first chapter comes “chapter II VENGEANCE FOR A MAD VIKING” which oddly lasts 44 pages without a third chapter.  (Did someone forget they were dividing the story into chapters?)  Doc, Monk, and Renny race in the Runabout to the remaining expedition members, first Leonard Whiting who lives in a Central Park West mansion, then Desmond Jenks who owns a South Ferry District warehouse.  

At 1460 Central Park West they find the butler tied up by “a madman- - Huge--dressed like a barbarian--[who] abducted Mr. Whiting--.”  They gather clues and rush to the next kidnapping target, Jenks.  At the warehouse they catch the Mad Viking in the act, and after Doc does battle with him and his “power-scepter,” the barbarian gives him the slip.  But not before leaving behind a gold coin that leads them to “Baffin Bay…the location of the sunken treasure…”  They are off in the hydro-glider…  

At Baffin Island they dive through a pinpointed hole in the ice, discover the Spanish galleon, and are sucked through a whirlpool that “dumps them into a tunnel bored into the ocean floor.”  They journey through the vortex till they reach “an entire valley under the surface of the earth!”  There is no sky or sun, but it is lit by the “solid uranium, melded with luminescent phosphorus--” of which the cavern is composed.  

Encountering Shaw and Jenks and “practically the whole expedition--!,” all “except my father...” Sandy grieves.  Jenks tells her her father is the Mad Viking mutated from “the uranium in these rock walls,” like the Reptilians who were once men and “treat him like a god.”  The radiation “affected his glands--made him grow…and drove him mad.”  

The Reptilians advance, and the expedition party survivors fear that “Taine has sent them…to kill us--in revenge for abandoning him to that blizzard five years ago--!”  Doc commands his aides to set their “rapid-firers…on ‘stun,’” but Jenks kills one anyway.  Doc and Monk turn against Jenks for disobeying the orders, thus winning over the Reptilians who “abandon their hostility, perhaps sensing a friend in the Bronze Giant…”  

When the Mad Viking takes Long Tom hostage, Doc deduces that “the kidnappings in New York were faked…to cast suspicion on Quentin Taine.”  Led to “the warmer regions below…” by their Reptilian allies, Doc and his band of brothers behold their tranquil primitive “stamping grounds” – and their masked god who recognizes “Sandra--!!”  Sandy embraces her father, Quentin Taine, and Doc feels his assumption confirmed, “that the Mad Viking is actually Jared Rutter.”  Rutter, in his obsession to possess first the “treasure of Oriental splendor,” then the uranium, had mistreated their Reptilian hosts, “the descendants of those Spanish sailors.”  Taine expelled Rutter after “mercilessly beat[ing] him…” and thus they “exalted [him as] their god.”  Rutter returned as the Mad Viking and slaughtered many Reptilians with his scepter weapon and made plans to “destroy this paradise” by strip-mining its uranium.  Taine unmasks himself to his daughter and reveals himself as a partly mutated Reptilian who “belong[s] here.”  

Doc, followed by Monk in the hydro-glider, hurries to rescue Long Tom.  Meanwhile the Mad Viking plots to kill him and Taine and bring mining operations below.  In the fight between Doc and the berserk barbarian, “uranium-scepter” energy is maniacally unleashed and blasts holes in the cavern ceiling until “the icy outer wall of the lagoon…explodes.”  The Mad Viking “rushes to greet a thundering tidal wave,” crying “You can’t take my uranium--!!”  Taine too remains with the flood, and with his adopted people.  With no time for anything else, Doc flies his crew in the hydro-glider safely to the surface above, leaving behind the deluged “cavern-world.”  

Perhaps this flood is God’s way of punishing the evil which has been wrought in the pocket-paradise…but if the hydro-glider is an ark, and Doc Savage a modern-day Noah, [this] Noah has failed to save the creatures of paradise…”  Miss Taine does her best to console Doc and the Amazing Five: “[The mission] wasn’t a failure.  At least I learned that my father was innocent…that no matter how mad he may have been…he was still…a good man.”  FIN.  

This story’s “technological wonder[s]” on display include the autogyro, the Runabout, and the hydro-glider, though we glimpse inside the Hidalgo Trading Company’s storehouse “the bronze zeppelin called Amberjack…the sleek submersible Helldiver…the prototypical tank dubbed Juggernaut…”  Also, Monk’s pet pig Habeas Corpus makes his first appearance, a fleeting cameo on page 6 of this issue, a topic of reader discussion throughout the last round of Doc Savage color comics where he was never seen.  

The third issue’s letter page features comments about the magazine’s art worth quoting.  One letter-writer confesses that “Tony de Zuniga’s style always annoyed me before, but in this instance…created pleasing results.”  Another hits the nail squarely on the head: “Your black and white format evokes memories of those excitingly atmospheric films Hollywood made in the thirties.”  

It is jarring, on page 49, to hear the Mad Viking come out of character to talk inexplicably to one of his underlings in an uncharacteristic voice: “Don’t be an ass, Shaw!  When we bring mining teams down here for the uranium, it’ll be the biggest news of the century.  There’ll be reporters everywhere--investigations comin’ out’ve our ears.”  Maybe this is how he spoke before becoming the Mad Viking and slipped back into his former personality?  Why, when Rutter mutated, he took on a Viking persona is something else not entirely clear.  

Moench superamalgamates several story elements from previous Marvel color adaptations of Doc Savage.  Before doing that, he pirates from his own pen for this “NOVEL-LENGTH THRILLER,” starting with last issue’s original story “The Doom on Thunder Isle!”– in both tales, the seemingly hostile mutants turn out to be allies after all.  Not only that, Doc nose-dives the hydro-glider here in “Hell-Reapers,” and in the previous issue Doc, Monk, and Ham did likewise in “the streamlined, needle-nosedHelldiver, dropped from the sky by the Amberjack.  

Like last time around, other familiar Doc Savage elements of recent vintage abound.  The Reptilians hold Taine to be a deity, just as the Mayans in color Doc Savage #2 hail Doc as their “messenger from the gods.”  In Doc Savage #3, the household butler dies before Doc’s eyes just as he pulls up to the Hudson Valley mansion.  Here they find the butler tied up the minute they arrive at the Central Park West mansion.  In Doc Savage #4 the villain’s master plan is to frame a non-existent man to keep the police on the trail of a phantom.  In this issue Rutter sets up Taine as his patsy, even trying a second time.  

These may be common genre conventions, but we have only just read them, so if there are fresher ones to lift, those should have taken precedence.  Most specific is the Spanish galleon flashback that parallels the one in color Doc Savage #8, the Bronze Man’s Canadian adventure.  In it a 17th-century Spanish ship sails north in search of a water passage around North America and sinks, its treasure cargo lying hidden in a cavern.  

And yet again it must be said, Moench knows his way around this genre and makes good use of what has come before, though it would have been better to draw inspiration from Lester Dent novels untouched by Marvel.  When a reader wonders, in next issue’s letters column, if Marvel will “be recreating any of Doc’s already published escapades,” the answer is that “Doug would prefer doing original stories to adaptations.”  Nevertheless, with this constant borrowing, he almost might as well adapt one of the 181 existing novels.  

Ron Ely: The Man of Bronze
Conducted by John Warner
With photography by Michele Wolfman

DOC SAVAGE SPEAKS!” in this “EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH RON ELY!”  Warner’s verdict is that Ely “really does look like Clark Savage Jr.”  He “expected the interview to be much shorter,” but due to Ely being generous with his time, ended up “spending the afternoon talking to Doc Savage” – or rather “the multi-faced actor who…created the character anew.”  He describes Ely “very congenial and easy-going.”  

About playing the role, and about Lester Dent, Ely states, “I understand a man of fixed ideals and principles.  There are some areas where I’m not completely separated from what was created by Kenneth Robeson and later called Doc Savage.  I do understanding a willingness to attach yourself to a fight against this thing or that which is affecting this thing or that.”  

Warner tells us that before becoming an actor, the younger Ely worked at “many different and very diverse occupations— like roughnecking on oil rigs and other odd jobs.”  “I grew up in Texas,” Ely says, and “[w]ork was a necessity to me which had a flavor of honor attached to it.”  That was a “pre-sixties period of time,” and Ely is “not sure that people still look at work the same way.”  

When Warner suggest that this current outlook may have to do with “concepts of individuality” and “the nine to five grind [that] seem[s] to make you one of a crowd,” Ely calls that “a very phony cry.”  “There’s nothing wrong…with being either materialistic or one of a great crowd of people,” he asserts, wisdom that flies in the face of the youth market he is probably speaking to.  “It’s easy to wear a uniform and still be an individual.”  

Ely’s résumé is proof that work ethic and individuality are not incompatible ideals.  There were the “odd labor jobs [before] going for a radio-electronics degree” cited by Warner.  Ely adds, “I roughnecked in the oil fields when I was in high school [and] a very brief period of time in college” before heading to Hollywood where he “got under contract to 20th Century Fox.”  

“You flashed rather quickly over your early days in Hollywood,” Warner says later towards the end of the interview.  Ely explains that is only because those days “quite frankly, they’re boring!”  Luckily “all [he] remember[s] about that period is having a great time.”  

After his 20th Century Fox contract came a non-singing bit part in South Pacific and later Malibu Run, with “considerable” film work in between (including Playhouse 90s).  His “first lead…was The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker,” then “a couple of westerns and…other television shows, guest starring roles.”  There was “a brief stint in military training, in the Air Force.”  After Malibu Run, he was “called back into the Air Force [as] a reservist…for the Berlin crisis.”  

Upon his return a year later, he was considered “cold!” and found no roles “of any substance on the horizon.”  Nevertheless, he “did a couple of pictures,” avoiding taking parts just “for the money.”  Then he “left the country, did a couple of more pictures” – in Europe, mostly Germany – and “started writing.  Seriously writing.  I travelled a great deal.  I worked enough to support myself in my travels and was very content with learning and enjoying an awful lot about the world.”  

The bulk of his acting overseas was foreign language films.  “I did a film over there…not written by Jack London— maybe it was stolen from a Jack London idea.”  Set in “Alaska in the late 1800s or the early 1900s, with sled dogs and such— the kind of action that Jack London wrote about [that] combines drama and action that I find great fun to do and great fun to watch.”  (Presumably this film is Cry of the Black Wolves from 1972.)  

One Italian co-production had “everyone…speaking different languages.  It was a western comedy.”  (In all probability this was the 1972 spaghetti Western Halleluja and Sartana Strike Again! – further inquiries can be directed towards Professor Flynn.)  In fact, most of Ely’s work in Europe “as you might well imagine…contained a great deal of action.”  Also as one might well imagine from European co-productions, Ely “would do [his] parts in English and then the film was dubbed.”  During his time abroad he was “offered the role of Tarzan in films, but…wasn’t interested.  Then…in 1965, it came up again [as] a television series” for NBC, and “found it something I was interested in.”  

Questioned whether he “ever consider[ed] New York theatre, like Broadway,” Ely emphatically answers: “Never!”  He cites “rehearsal time [and the] run of a play” as factors, but also because of his feeling New York City to be “a stifling place…for me because I’m such an outdoors person.”  So much for the 86th floor offices of the Empire State Building!  After all, he continues, “I seem to have grown up outdoors and I think in terms of outdoors…Not that I’m one of those ‘nature people’ who run into the woods with a sleeping bag and a little pack.  I do enjoy comfort.”  

New things excite Ely, so “doing a play—I don’t care how many new things you’ll find in the character of a play—it’s still basically the same thing night after night, performance after performance.  I know, I’ve done it!”  For him, “I’d rather let my energies work on new creations in the business.  And you do that in film.”  

Because Ely “like[s] to do a little bit of everything…to know everything,” he “became interested in the formularized education process in karate,” even “more than the karate itself.”  This “natural inclination to ferret out all physical things, plus the fact that we use them in stunts and fights,” did in fact, in answer to one of Warner’s questions, help with the film stunt work involved with Ely’s roles.  Warner recalls Ely’s willingness to perform his own stunts as leading to him being “injured quite a bit during Tarzan.”  Because Ely “had very good people to work with” on Warner Brothers’ Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, he “was not injured one time during the filming.”  Because of the crew’s professionalism, “[a]ll the fights[,]…we choreographed them easily [and] I didn’t get hurt.”  

Ely works out “one tenth of my total time” and the “exercise is varied…from tennis to simple calisthenics.”  But he “start[s] rigorous training just before a picture, which involves running and a lot of heavy calisthenics, accelerated workouts and maybe some boxing.”  This training takes “double the time during that period…maybe, a fifth of my total time” which he begins “from three to two weeks in advance” of filming.  “You have to program exercise into your life— it doesn’t come naturally.”  (Tying into the phys ed theme, about half-a-dozen fitness ads for martial arts courses, one from Charles Atlas, along with his bodybuilding “Dynamic-Tension” book, round out this issue.)  

“I think I did thirty-six shows [of Malibu Run],” Ely estimates.  “I know I did sixty-four Tarzan episodes.  Both represent huge chunks out of a person’s life.”  Warner informs Ely “[t]hey are staring a new Tarzan film, you know…,” but Ely already knows: “…LORD GREYSTOKE.”  Warner is wondering if Ely has “been approached at all for the part?”  Ely answers no, nor anyone else so far as he is aware.  (In 1984, Christopher Lambert was cast.)  “From my own point of view, there’s no reason to do the film unless they intend to do it a little camp” – here Ely must still be in character from shooting Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze.  That, “or alter the basic truth of it in some sense…It’s been done so much that to remake it would be ridiculous.  So I can’t imagine which direction they’re thinking in.”  The direction turned out to be a serious-minded and realist treatment that was Hugh Hudson’s Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984).  

Warner asks if Ely saw “the Johnny Weismuller-Maureen O’Hara version of TARZAN OF THE APES,” and Ely judges that it “was a very, very lovely film…artistic and it captured the flavor of the Edgar Rice Burroughs book beautifully.”  Ely follows up by mentioning “a silent picture with…”  Warner finishes the sentence: “Elmo Lincoln!”  Ely describes that film (likely Lincoln’s Tarzan of the Apes, though possibly his The Romance of Tarzan, both from 1918) as having “dealt with the book as the book developed the story…the child growing up.  That’s what it would actually have to be.  Half the picture would be about the other people, not about Tarzan.  It could be that they intend to do that.”  And, as if someone were listening in on Ely, Greystoke director Hugh Hudson for the most part did just that.  

“They could be doing a film about the father of Tarzan, but the meat of the story is this development of a child who is abandoned and eventually raised by apes.  That’s what the story is.  Anything else is Tarzan as a grown man, which was done.”  In fact, Ely can barely imagine “any facet of the story that would be new— unless they do it on the development of the baby from little boy to young teenager to young man.  That may be, but I doubt it.  I know the writer, Robert Towne—who has written CHINATOWN and SHAMPOO— and I can’t see him writing a ‘baby’ story.”  Greystoke was not quite a “baby story,” but years later Michael Austin took over screenwriting duties, and an unhappy Towne replaced his name with that of his pet sheepdog “P. H. Vazak” on the credits.  (In the year following the film’s release, Austin and “Vazak” were nominated for an Academy Award.)  

Because of all the foreign language films he had been doing, he “became interested in doing an English language film again.”  Then, “DOC SAVAGE came up.”  Warner asks if Ely “read any of the Doc Savage pulps.”  “I had a superficial impression of Doc Savage,” he replied.  “I didn’t know exactly what Doc Savage was, but I thought I did know.  I recognized immediately that Doc Savage is another super-hero, but a different one.  I sort of like the super-hero.  I like representing him.”  This must be true as this Man of Bronze later played an aged and alternate-dimension Man of Steel in a two-part episode of the 1988–1992 series The Adventures of Superboy.  “There’s something enobling about it when you do it.  Your product is something that won’t hurt anybody, but it is something which may, during or after the fact, help someone here and there.”  

For this reason he “felt it was going to be a very solid film for all people to see.  And by that I mean all people!  That’s tough to do these days.  We have the ‘G’ rating— now most people misinterpret a ‘G’ rating.  Most people think it means ‘for children.’  That’s not what it means at all; it means that children are also acceptable.  It means it is for the whole spectrum of movie-goers.  DOC SAVAGE is not a Walt Disney type picture, it’s a fantasy.”  Nowadays it might end up a Disney film by default, whether it was from Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Jim Henson Productions, et alia, all subsidiaries of the Walt Disney Company in this age of mergers.  

Ely confirms Warner’s query that there is a “Philip Jose [sic] Farmer…possible future script for DOC SAVAGE…”  However he knows the Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life author’s work “by reputation only.”  Yet he is aware that Farmer “did TARZAN ALIVE.  In fact, he relates the two through a family tree.”  Warner elaborates: “He links just about every pulp and super-hero type of character throughout history— Doc Savage, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, The Scarlet Pimpernel, whomever…!”  

Of all of them, Warner deems Holmes “decidedly not ‘physical,’” but the very physical Ely is quick to bid that he’d “love to play Sherlock Holmes…one of the most interesting characters in literature.”  Certainly Robert Downey’s reinterpretation in two recent films emphasized physicality (swordplay, marital arts, etc.).  Ely believes “a Doc Savage has many of the same facets as, say, a Sherlock Holmes.  The combination of Tarzan and Sherlock Homes is Doc Savage,” suggesting he is familiar with Lester Dent’s own words that “I took Sherlock Holmes with his deducting ability, Tarzan of the Apes with his towering physique and muscular ability [and] rolled ’em all into one to get – Doc Savage.”  

He goes so far as to claim that “[t]here’s not a super-hero in the whole fantasy game that doesn’t relate in some way to Doc Savage.”  Almost as an afterthought, Ely exclaims, “I’d like to play…the Scarlet Pimpernel.”  Ely as Tarzan, Ely as Doc Savage, Ely as Holmes, Ely as the Scarlet Pimpernel – calling Philip José Farmer.  

The difference between “‘realistic drama’ as opposed to a kind of…what I call ‘high fantasy’…[e]scapism” is that “[p]laying a character like Tarzan or Doc Savage is very difficult because you don’t have that meat to really sink your teeth into and with” as you do in “a Tennessee Williams play” with its “sense of brutality, anger and frustration.”  Those emotions “are realistic, common, everyday” in contrast to “the kind of cool that a Doc Savage…or a Tarzan has [which] is unnatural.”  So it becomes “hard to find those ‘keys.’”  And “to find those keys” is “not easy because there is not a lot to draw from.”  Having played Tarzan and many of “those kinds of characters before…I’ve begun to find some keys and I’ve begun to find them in real people!”  

Ely “worked [Doc interpretations] out…with the aid of [director] Michael Anderson and [producer] George Pal.  They were extremely helpful in keeping me on the line with what we had agreed should be the character.  It was just up to me to do it.  It was up to Michael to maintain it, to see that I maintained it…I hope people will think it successful.”  Warner wants to know how Ely feels about the film.  “I think it’s exactly what we set out to do— …it’s a ‘smile’ picture.”  (The dedicated Doc Savage devotee might cross-examine, “Is that a sparkle-eyed wink and a smile?”)  “It’s fun, top to bottom.”  At least Ely is honest to concede that “the Doc Savage purist might object to the license we took in…exaggerating the fun—with music and things like that,” though to him this “does not take away from the picture” simply because “[t]hat is what we wanted to do with it.”  

As far as a second film is concerned, “[t]here were several areas of casting with which people were displeased— that might be corrected in another film,” but Ely is not specific who he might be referring to.  Contradicting himself somewhat, Ely confidently concludes that while “I don’t know how extensive the Doc Savage audience is…I’m quite sure most of them will be pleased.”  Except those Doc Savage purists he earlier mentioned!  Ely’s verdict: “I support the picture.”  

As for how it will be received overall, Ely feels that “[t]he future of DOC SAVAGE stands very firmly in the fickle hands of the viewing public,” though “this is not to say this is where my future stands.”  Because they used this first film “to tell who Doc Savage was…who his friends were…who his enemies were…what his world was all about…from now on we don’t deal with exposition!”  From now on “we pull out any base we want, any facet of that world, and we reach in, grab it and show it.  Anything we feel is interesting!”  

As we all know now, future follow-up films were not in the cards due to dismal box office performance.  Recent rumors coming from Hollywood signal the possibility of a Doc Savage movie from Iron Man 3 director Shane Black, but those reports have been swirling for at least five years.  

When NBC re-launched Buck Rogers in the 25th Century as a series with Gil Gerard, they brought back Buster Crabbe for a cameo, and the Batman: The Animated Series creators gave Adam West the role of a TV actor whose “Gray Ghost” show inspires a young Bruce Wayne to grow up into the Dark Knight.  To borrow Ely’s words again, “There’s something enobling about [playing the super-hero].  Your product is something…which may, during or after the fact, help someone...”  Why not a role for Ely in any new Doc Savage film?  Without producer Pal and director Anderson giving Ely cues, the still spry seventy-six-year-old actor could even play it straight as the Man of Bronze’s father, Clark Savage, Sr. 

Gilbert Colon, Man of Pulp will return with an in-depth dissection of Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #6 in two weeks! Keep Watching the Skies!


1 comment:

  1. As would be expected, you got the names of both of those Ely movies correct. Haven't seen either one -- those Spaghetti Western comedies are usually terrible and should be avoided at all costs.