Sunday, July 26, 2015

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #39: Doc Savage Magazine #5

by Professor Gilbert Colon, P.M.O.S.D. P.

Doc Savage Vol 2 #5
April 1976
Archie Goodwin, Editor-in-Chief
John Warner, Editor
Ralph Macchio, Assistant Editor
Barbara Altman, Design
Dan Adkins, Art Consultant
Lenny Grow, Production
Ken Barr, Cover
Irving Watanabe, Lettering

The Doc Savage Oath
The famous Doc Savage Oath from Lester Dent’s second Doc Savage Magazine (October 1933) kicks off the proceedings, getting a page of its own, setting the stage and tone like only Doc’s oath can: “Let me think of the right...with no regard for anything but justice.  Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens...  let me do right to all, and wrong no man.”  
The backdrop is a moody rendering of a heavily-shadowed Man of Bronze by Neal Adams who should have taken Doc’s advice to be considerate of his country when writing and illustrating his Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #1 story “A View from Without...”  

Mail of Bronze
The Savage Armadillos open by proclaiming “this issue...our personal favorite of the five DOC SAVAGE magazines published thus far,” in part “because we’re such big Loch Ness Monster buffs.”  Between this issue and last, “The Earth-Wreckers!” underwent a retitling, last issue’s Mail of Bronze promoting it thusly: “It’s tentatively titled ‘The Globe Crusher!’”  

A “Dear Folks” letter gushes over this magazine series’ “air of pervading honesty and innocence” and its “easy camaraderie, the child-like but worthy ideals [which] bring forth a renewed sense of optimism in me.”  To the naysayers he spits, “To Hell with relevance—I’ll take DOC SAVAGE.”  Hear, hear.

At the same time, he criticizes this series’ “adherence to the Bama-version as far as Doc’s appearance is concerned [and] think[s] a different hairstyle...more appropriate [because] according to the mythos Doc is a man who can fit in anywhere” (the widow’s peak sticking out like a sore thumb).  He would prefer “Doc’s hair patterned more akin to Ron Ely’s, or to the way Baumhofer depicted it on the original pulp covers [so it] would be more in tune with Dent’s original conception.”  Mail of Bronze responds that “what was good for the printed pulp page is not necessarily best for comics.”  In comics, “any aspect of a character’s appearance which conveys visual distinction is understandably exploited,” and as such, Doc’s hair is here to stay.  

A call for Pat Savage and Chemistry to put in appearances is granted “in this very issue.”  (“All this and Pat Savage too!”)  Pat co-starred in the color comics Doc Savage #7 and #8, but this is her first appearance in this series.  

It is also our first glimpse of Ham’s “goofy babboon [sic]” Habeas.  (Ham and Monk leave behind their mascots Chemistry and Habeas who in their absence play out their masters’ feud, “the surrogate of pet warfare.”)  A complaint in issue #6’s letters page asks, “Shouldn’t Chemistry resemble Monk?”  The armadillos admit “yes, Ham’s simian pet ‘what-is-it’ should indeed[,] at least in vague size and configuration.”  The problem, they explain, “was a communications misinterpretation between Doug, Tony and the other artistic members of the Tribe [and] our deadline was much too tight to accommodate a complete redrawing.”  Their “correctionists...delete[d] the ‘tailless simian’s’ tail [and] Chemistry’s future appearance should (knock on wood) be far more visually accurate.”  There would be no more Chemistry once this Savage series finished its eight issue run.  

One reader votes for Moench to keep “do[ing] originals, but” – impressed with Marvel’s “color comics adaptation of the first novel” – also urges he try one of the better novels (such as The Red Skull,” only in one part.  The editorial board nixes the thought that The Man of Bronze, or any novel adaptation, could be “squeezed into a single issue.”  

Next for “Doc and crew [is] a high-powered blazing vendetta against: ‘THE SKY STEALERS!,’ so “be here—and be good.”  

“The Earth-Wreckers!”
Story: Doug Moench
Art: Tony DeZuniga

Australia; June 12, 1933...”  “Antarctica; June 14, 1933...”  “Africa; June 15, 1933...”  “Eurasia; June 17, 1933...”  “Manhattan; June 18, 1933...”  “The fate of six continents” hangs in the balance!  In Africa, Doc Savage demands, “You know what we want--the Dark Continent.  Africa.”  What does he mean?  

Doc Savage and his amazing crew hop across the globe ... in search of the strange pieces of an even stranger machine that might destroy everything unless Doc can stop the madman who controls it.”  

“Doc and his aides [have found] these jigsaw-puzzle pieces of a huge globe in three dimensional relief... scattered all over the real globe.”  

The “magnificently Bronzed Knight” assembles the globe with his men while explaining that “every government on Earth has received a blackmail threat...demanding a million dollars from each world nation, and warning that a new ‘super-explosive’--supposedly developed from uranium-238--has been deeply buried somewhere in each of the six continents.”  

“Assembled [they] form a thirty-foot-diameter replica of earth...”  “This globe--is the activator--or detonator--for the ‘super-explosives.’”  

Even after all that globetrotting, “the Magnificent Man of Bronze” has managed only this: “By seizing the components of this globe,” he has only “delayed the payment deadline which is less than 24 hours away,” not much time before “--the ‘super-bomb’...will be detonated, creating massive faults in the Earth’s crust--earthquakes and floods.”  

Doc’s cousin Patricia Savage brings in Hiram Meeker, a “demolitions technician” who came to her with the story, to fill in the rest.  An “international extortion cartel call[ing] itself the ‘Earth-Wreckers’...and...their l-leader...Iron Mask” sought to hire Hiram because of his explosives expertise.  He was supposed to meet them in “Britain” – specifically the Loch Ness in Scotland – “an island...they believe [will] be safe from all the devastation the six contents will suffer.”  

Before that it seems that Meeker might have been the one who leaked to Doc where the detonators were hidden.  After this setback, the Iron Mask has “every capable man working around the clock” to make “new replace the lost ones!”  The Amazing Five, and Pat Savage, and Hiram, board the Amberjack, Doc’s “awesome bronze zeppelin” (with the usual shipboard shenanigans between Ham and Monk).  

Inverness, Scotland, June 19, 1933...” The Amberjack arrives.  

Desperate for clues, Monk takes to the lake and encounters “a terrifying, time-lost leviathan,” the Loch Ness Monster!  The others join him and go diving for “Old Nessie,” following it to an underwater cavern.  What seems like the monster’s lair is guarded by “an electric-eye garage door!” – it is Castle Urquhart, lair of a different monster known as Iron Mask.  

“The globe is operational” declares Iron Mask, his underlings having successfully “assembled a new detonator device [and] put together a whole new globe.”  With less than an hour to go, “there is a desperate assault to mount” by Doc and his men before Iron Mask completely destroys Australia.  “The Amazin’ Five” storm the subterranean grotto and discover that the plesiosaur-like lake monster is “nothing but a camouflaged submarine!”  “The Bronze Avenger” goes one-on-one with Iron Mask, the “maniac with metal fists...which can crush a man’s skull like brittle eggshell,” hurling him into the Scottish Loch.  

The battle is on!!,” and just in time “the Bronze Crusader” and his men halt the “World-wreckers!” from beginning with Australia.  Pat Savage, “beautiful Bronze Angel,” is “smashed” with “that metal hand of...Iron Mask!!,” a consequence of her overeager ambition to show her cousin up.  Doc and Monk pursue the Globe Crusher himself in a speedboat, but it is the Loch Ness Monster – the genuine article, not the “‘monster-sub’” – rising from “the murky waters” who does Iron Mask in before “submerging into the mystery from whence it came.”  

EPILOGUE:” Doc has his “suspicions” about the identity of Iron Mask, speculating that it might have been “a man named Sinecuse, who was a demolitions expert like Mr. Meeker...and...also a mercenary.  A defective explosive destroyed his face in South America, and it was rumored that the shock drove him insane.”  The Amberjack departs from home, “with seven excited sightings [of Nessie] lying ahead [which] will be dismissed, of course, as the figments of wild imaginations -- but then, there are even those who claim that Doc Savage does not exist.  They are fools.”  FIN.  

This wrap-up can only mean that “Mulder” Moench really believes in the Loch Ness Monster?  The Mail of Bronze page states as much about the Marvel staff, only a year away from tuning in to the Leonard Nimoy-narrated In Search of... (1977-1982).  Or Moench and Marvel are being tongue-in-cheeky by implying that Nessie is as real as the Man of Bronze, sharing Ham’s remarks that “drunks...claim they’ve got a monsterin their lake”?  

A Mail of Bronze letter-writer from the sixth issue asserts that the “Loch Ness Monster’s final appearance [was] borrowed from...a Saint story, The Convenient Monster.”  Marvel denies Moench ever read it, but reports that “Doug says he’s gonna try to dig it out of the shelves of his mostly unread library...”  In “The Human Torpedo” episode of Zombies of the Stratosphere, a 1952 serial involving atomic detonators, a speedboat chase scene ends with one motorboat crashing into a suddenly-surfacing submarine.  

Odd is the naming of one “Sinecuse” as the culprit, a meaningless solution since we never heard of him before.  What revelation is there in that?  It sparks a reaction a little like Truman Capote’s in the 1976 comedy Murder by Death when he complains about one of his fellow mystery authors, “You’ve tricked and fooled your readers for years....You’ve introduced characters in the last five pages that were never in the book before.”  Unless we are supposed to recognize the name Sinecuse from the hundreds of Doc Savage stories written by Dent and other authors?  None of this undoes the fun that preceded it, but it makes for a largely extraneous epilogue.  

A Mail of Bronze letter from issue #6 calls “the villain Iron Mask...little more than a low-grade Doctor Doom with one-dimensional motivation.”  Marvel fesses up that their “original plans for Iron Mask somehow went awry [and] contained a good deal less material pertaining to Iron Mask than did ‘The Earth Wreckers’ as a plot emerging from Doug’s typewriter.”  

There is a moment when it feels as though Iron Mask is going to be unmasked as the Silver Ziggurat from Doc Savage #1’s story “The Doom on Thunder Isle!”  When Doc and his aides take to the air, Renny muses how good it feels to again fly the Amberjack, the last time being when “we went to Thunder Isle and battled Tommy Bolt’s Silver Ziggurats.”  Pat references “...poor Wiggens Tripp--,” a victim of the Great Silver Ziggurat, and Meeks responds with a seeming flicker of recognition: “Wiggens...uh, Tripp--?”  Was this all intended as a red herring?  

The Iron Mask’s lair is introduced as “an ultra-modern fortress” and could be interpreted as a clue considering the Ziggurat’s aesthetic tastes.  Instead it turns out to be just more Moench indulging his architectural sensibilities and philosophies.  As further indulgence, Pat Savage’s uptown Park Avenue beauty parlor is described as a “renowned emporium devoted to the reconversion of feminine beauty” and “an environment [of] bewildering resplendency of chromium, enamel, and colored rugs in a pronounced art deco style.”  

DeZuniga illustrates little of this ultra-modern and art deco wildness the way he and John Buscema did in past issues.  Instead he lavishes the attention of his pen and brush on the “bronze-haired, -eyed, and –skinned knockout” whose gymnastics and subsequent toweling-off leave Hiram’s knees shaking.  And also Pat’s beauty parlor’s staff of “girls gorgeous enough to pop one’s eyes, all of superb physique and dressed in the best (if exotic) taste.”  Even “Hiram is stunned.”  

“Milquetoast.”  “Sissy.”  “Creampuff.”  These are just a few of the insults heaped on Hiram Meeks, a “man of nervous disposition” roundly and repeatedly derided by Pat Savage, her girls, and others throughout.  A battle rages in issue #6’s Mail of Bronze page over the treatment of this character by not only other characters, but Marvel’s own writers.  Marvel defends their portrayal as “caricature—a ‘character-type representation’ in the mold of precursors such as Zorro’s Sergeant Garcia, many of Woody Allen’s or Don Knotts’ comedic personae, innumerable supporting characters from Dent’s own pulp milieu, and all the other larger-than-life nervously bumbling ideologues of fiction.”  

Marvel devotes a lot of ink maintaining that this “cartoon of a man,” “the classic ‘nervously bumbling milquetoast,’” is “true to...the pulp era...and would have been accepted without question in that time context.”  It still seems like an awful lot of repetitive abuse towards a man who, while he was never going to cut it as one of the Amazing Five, was at least trying to do the right thing.  (Doc Savage #8’s “Man of Bronze” page sarcastically quipped that Hiram was “our answer to Burt Reynolds.”)  Pat, “awesomely miffed” after Doc tells her that “adventure is no place for a woman,” takes out her displeasure on hapless Hiram by laying it on thick: “[T]he way I feel about men right now--well, it’s a good thing you are what you are!”).  

It all works out in the end for Hiram as Pat partway through comes around to his side, showing sympathy when he confesses how his wife left him.  And it is Hiram who has the last laugh after all.  Come the epilogue, Pat rebuffs Monk’s advances, taking off with “Hot-lips Hiram” (per Doc Savage #8’s letters page) for a dinner date (giving Ham plenty of ammo to rib Monk).  

Elsewhere Pat goes out of the way and “bellows her defiance to the entire masculine world--”  This Battle of the Sexes subtext feels more 1970s than 1930s, but better to let “ardent enthusiasts” of Doc Savage who have read all 37 novels featuring Pat Savage determine that for themselves.  (Of course Pat also “bellows her defiance” by driving, for the second time in the story, like “a maniac,” but no one dares utter the words “woman driver”!)  

One Mail of Bronze letter in #6 loved Pat for being “the perfect foil for Doc, talkative and sarcastic in contrast to her bronze cousin’s silent stoicism.”  Furthermore he is pleased that “at a time when women were portrayed as ‘the weaker sex,’ I always liked the fact that Pat was as two-fisted a scrapper as Doc or Monk or Renny [and] self-confident, hot-tempered, stubborn.”  

The same letter writer questions the scene where Pat tells Monk, “I’m off-limits, remember?,” insisting “there are ample hints sprinkled throughout the mythos which indicated that Monk and Pat may have been more than just friends.”  Marvel slightly concurs, speculating that Doc’s “many unspoken ‘frowns’” notwithstanding, the pair were perhaps “covering up—to assuage any possible suspicions Doc might harbor concerning their after-supersaga fun & games...”  

The reader from next issue’s Mail of Bronze who wrote about The Convenient Monster says the scene of “Pat trapping Doc & Co. in the Flea Run [is] borrowed from Dent’s The Yellow Cloud.”  As stated, Marvel testifies to Moench’s ignorance of the novel.  This episode where Pat blackmails Doc into taking her with his men provokes her cousin to the point where his “face hardens to a bronze mask of anger.”  Immediately after, “despite himself, Doc faintly smiles at his cousin’s spunk.”  This firmly sums up the cousins’ paradoxical relationship, an element absent in the previous color series.  

Ham and Monk strap themselves in an “upside-down go-devil...!,” a “bullet-shaped capsule [that] plunges straight downward” through an oversized “pneumatic tube” for what Monk calls a “flea run.”  At first it looks like they are headed to the earth’s core in an iron mole machine, amusing when considering that Monk, earlier monkeying inside “the activator--” globe, jokes that “They oughtta write a pulp story about this--‘Monk at the Earth’s Core!’”  

Then the text resumes: “...for a distance of 86 floors--”  The panel at the bottom of page 37 gives us a nifty diagram of their route from “Doc’s Headquarters; 86th Floor” to “cross-town express run” tunnels below Manhattan serving as “the six adventurers’” own private subway to the Hidalgo Trading Company warehouse on the Hudson River.  

In conclusion, to borrow what someone wrote in issue #4’s Mail of Bronze, “that Doug Moench managed to slip in so much solid characterization, amidst all the slam-bang action, is a real accomplishment.”  

The Pulp Doc Savage!  
Article by Bob Sampson
Illustration by Marshall Rodgers [sic]

Sampson, author of Deadly Excitements: Shadows and Phantoms and the five-volume series Yesterday’s Faces: A Study of Series Characters in the Early Pulp Magazines from Popular Press, chronicles a short history of Lester Dent’s pulp hero beginning with “the first issue of the Doc Savage Magazine, March 1933” and subsequent “some 181 issues, though Spring 1949.”  

It is an impressive feat for five pages and Sampson, per issue #6’s Man of Bronze, “logically attempted to mesh his prose style with the spirit of his subject matter.”  

While much of the character history is familiar to fans, Marvelites and fans of comic art will find Sampson’s survey of previous Doc representations informative.  Starting with the first artist, Walter H. Baumhofer, Sampson reviews Paul Orban, John Falter, R.G. Harris, Emory Clarke, and Modest Stein.  He rates Baumhofer “often superlative, frequently spectacular.”  Of Orban he says, “he never drew a .45 that didn’t look like a stick,” but thought his Doc “a figure of competence and his best illustrations snapped with tension.”  He notes the second issue where, in one of the magazine’s standard non-Baumhofer interiors, which he calls “sorry,” featured Doc with “a drawing of Clark Gable, complete with dimples”!  A letter-writer from the next issue suggests “printing some of the original covers of the pulps in an article,” a motion seconded by another letter the issue after that.  

Sampson points out that “[i]n the first two issues, Doc meets...violence with violence [and] attacks...crooks ruthlessly, breaking necks, crunching bones, sloughing them with fists, blades and available furniture.”  Not long after Doc “moderates his ways...squeezing neck nerves [and sending] droves of crooks [to] a secret hospital in upstate New York.”  This is much like Batman before DC editor Whitney Ellsworth clamped down on the killing after the Batman #1 (June 1940) story “The Giants of Hugo Strange” (ironically inspired by the tamed April 1934 Doc Savage Magazine story “The Monsters,” adapted in Marvel’s color Doc Savage #5 and #6).  Also similar to the arc of Batman’s mythos of recent vintage: “All this activity proceeds entirely outside the law...  At first, no public violence reduces the enthusiasm of the police for Doc...; but later, after continuous mayhem, explosions, running gun fights and devastation...Doc’s activities generate increasing turmoil and dismay in official circles [and in one case they] actively hunt him for murder.  (He didn’t do it, of course).”  

Over the course of a decade, the magazine changed sizes.  In early 1939 it came in at 130 pages, each “novel...around 45,000-50-000 words,” down from “the more massive 70,000 worders of the mid-1930’s.”  By the end of 1939, it “shrank to 114 pages” with novels “wasting away toward the 35,000-word length.”  In 1944, “the entire magazine is condensed to pocket-size, with 132 pages.”  

During “[t]he war years,” the occasional “matters of national security” stories of the pre-war era increase.  “Doc and his associates,” despite the “repeated pleas to Washington authorities...never quite made it into the Armed forces.”  They serve instead “as consultants” on “[m]any assignments support[ing] the war effort [but] see no active service.”  Nonetheless, the “[lack] of official sanction doesn’t keep Doc from numerous actions against hidden enclaves of Germans, Japs, and other such evil types,” even ending up “behind German lines,” and “[t]he 1944-1945 stories are jammed with war themes [that include b]attles with spies in Oklahoma, Nazies [sic] in Europe.” Postwar stories focus on the “recovery of treasures stolen by war criminals” and then “talk...of the terror weapons—of atom bombs and germ warfare and the subversion of small countries.”    

The bulk of the stories are from Dent’s typewriter ribbon, but Sampson covers some of the other contributors like Ryerson Johnson, Norman A. Danberg, Alan Hathaway, and William Bogart.  One author who does not make the cut in Sampson’s list is Dune author Frank Herbert who, in Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #3, revealed that he “sold to the my teens…Doc Savage, that sort of thing,” the tale in question being “The Jonah and the Jap” published in 1946.  One famous contributor of non-Doc “short stories/novelettes” to the magazine was John D. MacDonald.  

In 1947, “madness seizes the magazine [and t]he title changes to Doc Savage Science Detective.”  Then in 1948 it “is retitled—Doc Savage.”  After the Summer 1949 issue, “it’s all over.  Very quietly with no announcements.” And with it, “[a]n era dies [that] not even the paperbacks...could bring back such splendor as the pulps knew.”  However, it should be remembered, “[i]t was...the paperbacks that returned the series to us.”  Sampson gives “[m]uch Paul Bonner of Conde Nast Publications (which absorbed the Street & Smith works in 1960), Mark Jaffe of Bantam Books, and Mr. Harry Feldenstein.”  

At the time of this Marvel issue, “[t]he paperback series [is] slightly more than ten years old [and] saw 78 novels republished to the end of 1974.”  Sampson acknowledges this run’s success to cover artist James Bama and “an immensely-muscled Doc...considerably older than the dedicated reader might imagine [whose] close-cropped bronze hair, cut in an arcing spike toward the nose, was a distinct shock.”  

Sampson does not chronicle Lester Dent’s death from a heart attack in 1959, leaving that to David Anthony Kraft’s following piece...  FIN.  

An Interview with Mrs. Lester Dent
Interview by David Anthony Kraft

Like a larger-than-life pulp hero, “The Man Behind Doc Savage,” Lester Dent, was “a self-styled sultan” and “world traveler” who “managed to prospect for gold in” the Old West while “sail[ing] his small schooner—the Albatross—from New York to the Caribbean Sea for [the] exploration and search for ancient treasures.”  He even “receive[d] recognition for exploration work in the tropics and...prehistoric cliff dwellings of the western United States.”  

In 1925 he made Norma Gerling “Mrs. Lester Dent.”  She met Dent where they both happened to work, “the same Western Union office in Carrollton, Missouri.”  As widow to an “ingenious spinner of super-scientific sagas,” and a prolific one at that, “she spends a great deal of her time trying to get caught up on fan mail” at their LaPlata, Missouri farm.  She tore herself away long enough to give Kraft an extended interview for this issue.  

Mrs. Dent begins by dispelling the myth of “writing as a glamorous career...there’s just no getting around the fact that a pulp writer has to produce a vast quantity of work, and the only way to do that was to sit behind the typewriter and pound the keys.”  Today “the closest contemporary situation to the pulps” with its breakneck pace is “the comics industry.”  

Though the couple lived a comfortable life during their “NYC period,” Mrs. Dent confirms the shameful fact she has “not received one cent from the paperbacks—not even a free book!”  This is because “writing for the pulps [meant] the publishers bought all rights, quite unscrupulously.  The writer was treated like a hired service, the same as a typesetter or a printer, and it didn’t matter whether they reprinted his work, made it into a movie, or whatever.”  Kraft points out that this is another area where the pulps mirror the comics, and in retrospect this Doc issue hits the stands only a year after the historic Siegel & Shuster v. Warner Communications case.  Mrs. Dent calls the publisher royalty policies “greed” and “morally wrong!”  

For those who recall, in this series’ Doc Savage #1, producer George Pal told Chris Claremont that “several producers were bidding for the rights and Conde-Nast...and Mrs. Dent...selected me, [giving] me the privilege to produce” the film Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze.  In the same issue he explained to Jim Harmon that “we made part of the deal with her [because it] was a very complicated legal matter to clear the rights to all these one hundred eighty-one stories.”  In the end, “Mrs. Dent was very helpful.  She and the other owner, Conde-Nast...selected me [and]  I’m very happy to say Mrs. Dent will have a percentage of all these pictures.”  

Despite the tangled rights and profit sharing issues, Mrs. Dent is understandably “elated” at the revival of interest in her late husband Dent and Doc.  “I just wish all this could have happened when Les was still living, and around to enjoy the recognition” since she knew “how much time he spent on writing these stories, and how much they meant to him.”  

The Savage Father
She takes prides in the Pal-produced Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze because Dent “was sure Doc Savage would be made into a movie someday, and he was right.”  She “enjoyed seeing it on the screen,” – a courtesy screening or from out of her own pocket, she does not say.  (She also technically does not say she enjoyed the movie, but “enjoyed seeing it on the screen,” and it is hard to know if by not commenting further she was politely parsing her words, or simply happy to see her late husband honored in this way, or truly fond of the film.)  For sure though she “liked the issues of Doc Savage comic magazines that you sent me,” something that should probably have appeared as a blurb on future Marvel covers.  

The interview ends as it should, with Kraft’s proper and primly respectful thank you to The Woman Behind “The Man Behind Doc Savage” – the bronze gentleman adventurer himself could hardly have done better.  FIN.  

# # #

The Professor of Dust and Dinge, Gilbert Colon, will return on September 6th for in-depth coverage of the sixth issue of Doc Savage Magazine. You can also catch Gil's thoughts on Solomon Kane now and then in our regular post on Wednesdays!

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