Sunday, April 19, 2015

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #37 : Doc Savage Magazine #3

by Professor Gilbert Colon, P.M.P.

Doc Savage Vol 2 #3
January 1976
Archie Goodwin, Editor
John Warner, Associate Editor
Marv Wolfman, Consulting Editor
Barbara Altman, Design
Dan Adkins, Art Consultant
Lenny Grow, Production
Ken Barr, Cover

“Nothing Stops Doc Savage!”
Less an anonymous introduction than an extended epigraph, this editorial puts the appeal of the Man of Bronze in context as squarely as pulp cover artist Walter Baumhofer drew the hero’s jaw: 

“[I]n a time of great frustration [and] a thousand ills…more than ever, we need a DOC SAVAGE.”  

That means he is not weighed down with “the breast-beating, soul-searching, and self-doubt of many modern heroes,” a plague that continues to afflict today’s so-called heroes.  This is, after all, “[t]he time of DOC SAVAGE.”  So, “[f]orget today for a moment.”  Remember a time when heroes like Doc acted: 

“Swiftly.  Surely.  Rightly.”  

The page’s background art by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson dominates and dramatically depicts the Bronze Giant shackled between two pillars that he is collapsing, painting him as almost a Samson figure bringing down the Philistine temple of Dagon (the devilish fish-god from the Old Testament…and several H. P. Lovecraft tales, come to think of it).  The pulpy art might almost be called “Savage Unchained.”  

“Nothing Stops Doc Savage!”

Mail of Bronze
The magazine’s first letters page installment.  The “Batty Bullpen” boasts, “We’re a hit!” with “nary a negative reaction in the entire batch of mail.”  The best part is that they start off with “a very special missive from a very special lady!,” none other than Mrs. Lester Dent herself.  

Mrs. Dent rates the magazine “very beautiful and outstanding,” citing her appreciation for the George Pal interview.  She relates how she traveled to Asheville, NC to see the movie and, thinking her “heart would burst with pride,” screened it “three times that day.”  She even “cried when [she] heard Ron Ely deliver the Doc Savage Code” because “he said it as if he meant every word of it.”  This letter must have made the editorial staff themselves “burst with pride,” and they report Moench “in particular has been zonked-out” from all the “fervid enthusiasm.”  

One reader says he got a “rush of adrenalin” reading about George Pal’s unmaterialized radio series and the whole “new frantic craze.”  Another appreciates that this magazine’s “characterization of Doc is subtly different from that of Lester Dent…us[ing] his mind much more openly.”  Though a fan of the Bantam paperbacks, he feels that a “problem with the original Doc Savage stories was that it was always apparent who the villain was,” but not so here in Marvel’s pages.  He also comments how Marvel’s previous “quarter comic” simply did not provide “enough room for a typical Doc Savage tale,” something rectified here, though the next letter expressed concern if this newest batch of “episodes remain in their own era” or not.  Luckily, he had nothing to worry about.  

Marvel nixes any “plans for continued stories,” but true to form leaves the door open to the possibility if “final results of our poll dictate that we present an adaptation.”  

A “SPECIAL NOTE:” from “Devil-May-Care…Moench” thanks resident “Doc Savage fan and expert extraordinaire MARK HANERFELD,” always only a phone call away, for supplementing his notoriously poor memory about such nitty-gritty facts that only a “real encyclopedia…or, pal!” could offer.  

Mail of Bronze concludes with a favorable mention for “sometime-Marvel-madman JIM STERANKO[’s]…only authorized organization dedicated to Doc and his crew” – “the DOC SAVAGE BROTHERHOOD OF BRONZE.”  You get, “[f]or a measly two smackers[,] a nifty bronze-finished membership card…portfolio, badge, and comprehensive index to Doc’s pulp adventures…special bulletins [about] Doc’s activities in print, on film, wherever.”  Sounds like a collector’s item waiting to be excavated on eBay.  

The Bronze Bullpen promises, “the very best is yet to come!”  In the meantime, in exchange for Steranko’s “furshlugginer free plug,” they demand that the “Jaunty One” deliver “that new artwork you’ve been promising us”!  

“The Inferno Scheme”
Story: Doug Moench
Art: John Buscema & Tony DeZuniga
“A Narrative Hook: Today, when a man of Bronze faced death, it tore the top off a mountain and made Renny weep.”  “GO!!”  

Three uncut diamonds are stolen from a “fashionable jewel emporium” by a mysterious winged creature and “the yellow-sheets have a carnival”: 


(CNB—5/16/[33])—Due to last night’s bizarre Park Avenue jewel theft, the security force at the Metropolitan Museum of Art will be tripled…  “We don’t necessarily expect any trouble,” said [the museum’s chief administrator].  

But trouble comes – the $6 million Stavros Diamond is stolen by “a supranormal bear.”  (The scene is reminiscent of the gem exhibit robbery in the “Mechanical Monsters” episode of Max Fleischer’s 1940s Superman cartoon series.)  Colonel John Renwick, whose “favorite pastime…is slamming his massive fist through solid oak doors,” does his best to stop the heist, but “the bear…is no oak door.”  

The Contessa de Chabrol tells Renny that “the man behind all the thefts…the genius who built the mechanoids…” – dramatic pause – “…is my brother!”  Renny suggests the police, but the Contessa fears the police “have a habit of advancing bullets before questions…”  (The “Thunderous ’30s”!)  When he agrees, she throws herself in his arms and thanks him with a kiss.  

At “the headquarters-suite of the phenomenal Doc Savage,” the Contessa explains how her brother Jacques kept all the diamonds from his South African mine to study for their “‘prismatic qualities’--and filtering,” not to sell, and how she saw him building a robot eagle.  Jacques cut off ties with her, having gone mad and “calling himself…Inferno!,” and is now holed up in a “mountaintop fortress [guarded by an] army of uniformed thugs.”  

Ham arrives late with torn trouser cuffs and an editorial asterisk that reads “*For the full misadventure of Ham’s ragged cuffs, see the Monk solo back-up story this issue.—Archie.”  The events leading up to this ignominious arrival are told in “A Most Singular Writ of Habeus Corpus.”  

Doc’s plan: Renny will infiltrate the “heavily armed Inferno Fortress,” learn about his experiments, and deactivate his mechanoids while the rest of them “use the autogyro to assault the fortress at tomorrow midnight!”  

CHAPTER II: the FORTRESS over HELL”: On the ride there in the Contessa’s Bugatti, she reveals a tragic backstory and her philanthropic zeal to Renny, deepening his affection for her.  She rewards him with another kiss, causing the colonel to reconsider how “until now he had always thought of himself as being…alone…”  

Colonel Renwick refocuses and does his stuff – knocking heads, using “pressurized gas pellets,” plowing oak doors, etc. – and breaches the fortress walls and defenses.  During his mission, he overhears a henchman say something about Inferno needing “one ‘final component.’”  

Renny enters “a vast room which leaves the rest of the fortress-complex centuries behind” and, in a panel evocative of approaching the Wizard of Oz in his cavernous throne chamber, encounters Inferno, a diabolical figure in a Mephistophelean cape and satanic satyr haircut.  He reveals that he has “devoted many years toward developing a process which will convert light to energy…destructive energy..”  Renny’s part in this drama?  “You are the final component needed to open the gateway on Hell!”  

Renny of course refuses to volunteer his engineering skills, until he sees the Contessa chained in a cage surrounded by “repeating-fire muzzles…pointed at her heart.”  He gives in to Inferno’s demands, despite the Contessa’s pleas not to help her ruthless and insane brother and his “plans to use his device to extort…the governments of the world--threating the very face of the Earth…with burning destruction--!”  (From the Doc Savage novel The Monsters to the 1949 serial King of the Rocket Men to the Inspector Clouseau comedy The Pink Panther Strikes Again, isn’t this always the evil master plan?)  Inferno shows Renny to his new work area.  

For “CHAPTER III: the INFERNO MACHINE:,” the action crisscrosses fiercely between the separated Renny, the rest of the Amazing Five, and Doc Savage.  Piloting the autogyro, Doc and his men fly off to join Renny in Maine.  Renny makes a break for it to rescue the Contessa who turns out no longer to be imprisoned in the chamber where he last left her.  

The cinematic cross-cutting begins.  Doc and his “absurdly noble aides” parachute in—  

Renny explores deeper into the fortress and catches the Contessa in a clinch with Inferno – “NO!!!” – the two are definitely not brother and sister.  “Then it was a set up--!”  The Contessa fesses up that it was all a ploy “to get you to come here--!  And to get Doc Savage out of the way,” anticipating that sooner or later, “his foolish sense of justice would compel him to [interfere]!”  

The Contessa, having played Renny for a sucker, lets loose with four panels of contempt for her sap: “How could I even entertain thoughts of you…Did you actually think I could love an oafish, buffoon such as you--?!!  Your kind sickens me, Renwick!  Do you hear?!  You DISGUST me!!”  Renny’s resolve stiffens, but before he can act, Inferno “maneuver[s] himself to a special corner of the desk”…

—while Doc ejects after Inferno rockets crash his ’gyro.  

An episode of “bombastic consummation--” lures the fortress thugs into the adventurers’ rapid-firer fusillade, allowing them to commandeer the ski-lift.  

…and causes the floor to fall out from under the colonel.  

Doc “snaps his boots into skis----and rockets down the mountainslope--.”  (The cover art by Barr says it all, minus the fainted damsel-in-distress in his arms.)  After exercising “dazzling pyrotechnical skill in the slalomhe kicks the skiis loose in midair—” and cannonballs himself through the fortress window.  

Doc’s first stop – “the fantastic Inferno Machine.”  Making contact with the colonel via his “wrist-communicator” – “Renny-Four-- this is Doc-One!” – who reveals his current cellar location.  

Concurrently, the “amazing crew” slowly make their way to the fortress on the ascending cable-car.  

Aiming and firing the machine at the floor, Doc blasts a hole to what “looks like Hell.”  Below, he destroys one of the “swooping mechanoids!” and then the bear operated by Inferno.  In the bowels, he finds Renny sinking in sulphur and surrounded by more mechanoids.  

Long Tom, Johnny, and Ham siege the fortress with grenades, and the Contessa mans “Inferno’s light-to-energy converter--” weapon to repel them.  

Doc defeats the “denizens of Hell” – the metal monsters – and pulls Renny from the sulphur pit.  They climb up the open trap-door and Doc punches Inferno out.  They make for his infernal machine, which Renny managed to short out earlier.  Renny is still carrying the torch for the Contessa, despite her revealing her true nature and feelings for him.  He tries to stop her from using the machine because he “rigged [it to] reach a critical peak fast--,” but she is undeterred: “Stupid fool--!  What kind of weakling do you take me for?!”  

She does not heed Renny’s repeated warnings, pivoting the gun machine towards him and Doc.  Doc is forced to knock Renny out and carry him to safety before the machine blows.  

As Doc seeks to rejoin his three companions below, the Contessa takes aim, and true to form to the last, she spits, “Stupid, oafish Renny…,” before: “BUH-ROOM.”  The machine “finally…fizzled[,] it implodes with the noise of a thousand thunder storms.”  

Inferno’s true identity, it is revealed, was Giovanni Stavros himself, “owner of the world’s largest cut diamond [who] had to sell it…to build his vision of Hell…and he had to steal it back...”  

All Renny can manage is to stare at the flames, a tear running down his cheek.  FIN.  

Instead of a triumphant tone, this episode strikes a semi-tragic one instead.  Only avid Doc Savage fans can say if this is contrary in spirit to any of the 180 or so novels.  

A letter writer appeals to Moench to “differentiate [Renny, Johnny, and Tom,] all veterans of WWI and each [with] his own life before he became one of Doc’s aides.”  The reader is in luck this issue as Renny is center stage, with more room to work with than in the past. 

One letter writer in this issue discerns Moench’s architectural obsessions for these Doc tales, seeing an advantage to writing about the Thirties decades later: “Could a pulp writer of the 30’s have written a story based on the Art Deco movement?”  This story has Renny run past the “baroque medieval splendor…” of Inferno’s fortress and into his “vast chamber of primitive futurism…”  Buscema and DeZuniga’s metal eagle looks like an Art Deco hood ornament decorating the Chrysler Building, cousin to the Deco Empire State Building housing Doc’s 86th floor headquarters.  

In the premiere issue’s story “The Doom on Thunder Isle!,” the red herring suspect is an architect, one of his own Manhattan buildings destroyed in a September 11th-style collapse.  The culprit, a villain calling himself “the Silver Ziggurat,” bears a name with dual-meaning – a ziggurat is a kind of stepped pyramid, and also “the Art Deco term for lightning bolt insignia--.”  He operates from “a strange, incongruously chromium structure [with] contours whisper[ing] to time-lost Mayan and Egyptian mysteriesa temple whose roof opens in seeming reverence.”

The action set piece with Doc rocket-skiing into the Inferno fortress is singled out in the letters page of issue #4 by a reader who compares it to the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, along with “the battles in the snow…the cable car sequences, even a countess…plus a small touch of Diamonds Are Forever in the theft of diamonds as components for a laser projector.”  The Bullpen staff admit that the “night before Doug plotted ‘The Inferno Scheme’ he had occasion to see On Her Majesty’s S.S. and, while the basis of ‘Inferno Scheme’s’ plot had already been formulated in Doug’s mind, he may have been subconsciously influenced by the general spirit of the Bond flick.”  The same letter writer observes that the gadgeted “Bond is one of Doc Savage’s direct conceptual descendants, so it only makes sense.”  When he goes on to point to “the entire assault-on-the-fortress sequence…[its] superb pacing and momentum [and] the rapid and tense cross-cutting among the three fields of action,” it is not difficult to see the art of moviemaking as one more Moench muse for this issue’s rapid-fire storytelling technique.  

“A Most Singular Writ of Habeus Corpus”
Writer: Doug Moench
Artists: John Buscema & Rico Rival
Finally we get the full scoop, on page 64, how Monk’s “scuttling shoat!,” Habeus [sic] Corpus, tore at Ham’s trousers and why Ham shows up in Doc’s office in the previous story, on page 19, in “ragged cuffs.”  (All at the playful Monk’s command, it should be noted.)  As a result, Monk sits out “The Inferno Scheme,” his big meaty hands full starring in his own escapade, which runs in parallel with Renny’s outing.  

The staff announces their “continuing and rotating back-up series of solo adventures starring each of the five aides in turn” (crediting Wolfman with the idea).  This issue debuts “the first of these solo tales which spotlights Monk and gueststars Ham.”  It promises that, “if all goes as planned, Long Tom will probably be second at bat, and even Doc himself will eventually get a crack at a solo adventure.”  

Not only that, but “A Most Singular Writ” marks the porcine pet’s debut appearance.  “Brand of the Werewolf!,” in Doc Savage #7 (the comic series), gives Monk a throwaway line referencing his “Arabian runt-hog,” but only a reader of Dent’s novels would have picked up on it since neither of Monk or Ham’s mascots ever put in so much as a cameo.  A running debate in the letters pages raged since that series’ issue #3 about their inclusion, leading Marvel to put it to a reader “do you want ’em or don’t you?” vote for or against Habeus Corpus (or Chemistry, Ham’s monkey).  Issue #5 reported that “[s] running about even at the moment...”  In #7, Marvel’s editorial staff replied, “We’re still racking our brains trying to figure out how to maintain that ‘awe’ and ‘mystique’ you crave while depicting in a visual medium five grown men who have a monkey and a pig as pets.  You gotta admit, it is a problem!”  In a 20 or so page comic, it would have been a problem, but in a 19-page peripheral story like this, it is not.  (Marvel’s color comic series closed up shop after eight issues before getting the chance to resolve the matter.)  

In these 19 pages, Monk is a more fully developed character than the stock figure who generally provides the comic relief in background scenes with his rambunctious repartee with Ham.  We learn that Monk is a world-renowned chemist, a ventriloquist, and something of a ladies’ man, in addition to being the inventor of “bubble-fizz” (“a remedy for upset stomachs!” – Alka Seltzer?).  

Things then get serious when Monk alone becomes embroiled in a “mob war on the New York waterfront!”  A Prohibition-era bootlegger, “‘Masher’ Miller!,” – “New York’s biggest dealer in beer and blood” – seeks to coerce him into using his expert chemist skills to render his competition’s booze non-alcoholic, with explosive results!  

In the opening comic interlude, Lieutenant Andrew Blodgett Mayfair (aka Monk) gets the upper hand on Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks (aka Ham).  He (sort of) wins his duel with Ham and makes his fencing friend jealous at the sight of his gorgeous secretary Marla.  Monk even gets the girl in the end, in contrast to Renny’s heartbreak in “Inferno.”  (Oddly enough, Veronica Curtis, who comes to him for help, even begins their relationship by describing her boyfriend as “my brother!”)  Even Habeus Corpus gets in on the comeuppance when he uses Ham’s Saks Fifth Avenue “sissy-pants suit!” as cage-lining – pig in a blanket? – but more critically, it is terrific Habeus twice to the rescue, making him the Rin Tin Tin of the swine world.  

Craving more Doc? Can't get enough of Ham? Professor Gilbert is just chomping at the bit to unload even more of his Pulpy knowledge to his legion of fans so... Be back in this spot on June 14th for the Professor's in-depth, exhaustive coverage of Doc Savage Magazine #4!

1 comment:

  1. Geez, "The Inferno Scheme" sounds like something they could have used for Buckaroo Banzai Part 2!