Here’s an fifteen year old article I originally wrote for Comics Buyer’s Guide – a newspaper I used to contribute articles, essays, PR pieces, and restaurant reviews(?) for. But it got snatched up and paid for by an old colleague of mine who used to work in a comic book store with me in North Hollywood and was then posted on a website of his advertising his action figure collection for sale. The reason why I’m representing this is because my best purchase this summer at Comic Con International: San Diego is a four year paperback collection of all the mid-seventies Curtis/Marvel Magazine reprints of the Doc Savage black & white magazine that featured original stories written by Doug Moench. A heavy prolific writer of Marvel Horror comics (and the addition to the creation of Moon Knight – another one of fav characters these days) even though he claimed to never have read a Kenneth Robeson pulp novel, but yet captured the essence and the feel perfectly. There were only eight issues published with most of the pencils and inks done by Tony DeZuniga.
How about we take an imaginary trip this week? Try to picture a world of the 1930’s, an era when science and technology first started to work hand in hand in tandem, therefore giving birth to a cadre of heroes who made applied know how of these golden age techniques and had their adventures chronicled in the pages of a ten cent magazine. These magazines were once referred to as the Pulps and they usually shipped to newsstands once a month, some bi-weekly, and each contained a novel-length adventure, several short stories or novellas packed between oil painted covers that usually depicted the hero busy rescuing the semi-naked leggy damsel in distress from the mad scientist bent on trying to ignite a world shattering device with the intent of spreading utter chaos. Some existed in an era decades way before the inauguration of cape costumed do gooders smothered the imaginations of comic book geekazoids.
These special breed of heroes lived and operated within the boundaries of their own separate universes and their publisher never bothered with the pettiness of attempting company crossovers or cross hatched marketing schemes. Simply put: Tarzan had dibs on the jungle. John Carter was out on Mars trying to bring peace and prosperity to a war ravaged planet while trying to find his own way back to his homeworld. The Lone Ranger tamed the old West. The Shadow reigned in eradicating the underworld and the Avenger was out doing his Nick Fury thing before Nick Fury was in diapers. However- one particular hero was unique above the whole troupe, a man endowed with superhuman strength and endeavored life spine- tingling adventures while trotting from one edge of the world to another in fantastic outer worldly vehicles as he vowed destruction to the gamut of evil doers everywhere. With a entourage of liked minded assistants to accompany him, here was a hero whose every facet was paid homage in the current craze of action heroes ranging from Superman to Tom Strong (not to mention the covers of Planetary).
And yet, to this day, no one has ever manufactured an action figure of – Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze.
Take the time to pick up a Doc Savage novel (if ever they still can be found)- you never know, you may find yourself heading for the center of the earth, the steaming jungles of the Amazon, a lost city in Arabia, or some remote area of the Canadian wilderness fighting werewolves. My long unconsummated tenure devouring Doc Savage adventures began right after I graduated from my mom buying me the entire series of Hardy Boys mysteries novels. In between the clusp of the dawn of dedicating my life to read comic books on a frequent basis. I think a few months later down the 20 cent six panel girded page road was when Marvel put out a short lived eight issued that served as ” Cliff Notes ” adaptions of the novels that I had trouble procuring. The sixties and seventies paperback book covers rendered by painter James Bama were so overwhelmingly hypnotic- they practically commanded me to spend my entire allowance I had saved up
throughout the second grade on four .75 cent paperback novels: The Land of Long Juju, The Feathered Octopus, He Could Stop the World, and The Majii. All in all, there were approximately 181 novels that Bantam Books had published, not including the recent unearthed manuscripts found in the Lester Dent estate authored in his nom de plume of Kenneth Robeson.
I had a blast being transported to remote parts of the globe and being exposed to a variety of nifty scientific gadgets and a way-ahead-of-their-time vehicles such as Doc Savage’s Auto-Gyro and the Helldiver submarine. Doc was also a trendsetter in a jack of all trades in a sort of way; he was a doctor, scientist, electrician, chemist, engineer, musician, had a few law degrees stashed away somewhere, and the list goes on and on. A small portion of these skills were far embedded in his psyche long before he ever took his first baby steps, hired by his father to be trained by the most prestige figures in their own fields. In his later teens, Doc ran around with a crowd after escaping from a World War I German POW camp that were equally qualified in their own accomplishments. The ensemble of these assistants were: Monk- chemist, Ham-lawyer, Renny-engineer, Long Tom-electrician, and Johnny-vocabulary expert and archaeologist.
I was pretty much obsessed over these books all the way through until I moved out to California- but it never quite reached the pinnacle than it did in my 9th grade science class in my freshman year at Parsippany High School in New Jersey. I was, needless to say, more enamored with science fiction than I was with science fact- simply when the subject became too boorish, I’d try a to cram a chapter or two when no one was looking. Eventually I got caught by my science teacher, Mr.Faber who spotted me before too long with pin point accuracy and the long law of the almighty yard stick of whose mental telekinesis of a painful slap on the hand on whose prophecy I would soon be enduring. But that blow never came or any other sugar plum punishment for that matter. Instead, Mr. Faber walked over to my side of the classroom with calculated icy calmness gleaming in his eyes until he was level with the blushness of my own and asked in a regal tone: ” So, I gather you are into Doc Savage, correct ? ”
” Yea-yea-yeah “, I glowingly stammered back; a self confessed defeatist about to punch a one way ticket to his own inquisition while trying to conceal the paperback. I was caught like the proverbial deer in headlights.
Then suddenly, I could’ve faintly sworn him say ‘good’ as he reached his hand into a cabinet drawer under a lab table and threw a box that emitted a loud crack when the box landed on the lab table just a few inches from my nose. ” I’ve been wanting to get rid of these for months .” Inside the box, my heart must skipped a Barry Allen heartbeat as I saw to my gasp of bafflement and amazement that there were at least forty old ragged and torn Doc Savage novels- a good percentage of ones to fill the gaping holes in my collection. The entire class turned around to look at me and to giggle to see my dropped jaw hitting the glass beakers- I mean, I was literally speechless- I guess I could describe the experience as when I once saw Harlan Ellison receive a original Jacek Yerka painting on the Tom Synder Late Show. I just then broke out of my stupor and put the books underneath my desk and forever gave my undivided attention to Mr. Faber for the rest of the entire year ( except when it came time to dissect a frog ). I later perused used book shops in nearby Morristown to complete the collection and kept up to date when Bantam released the latter ones written in the forties of two to a book (and in later Omnibuses collected four to five per book).
A lot of concepts and ideas were lifted or borrowed from Doc Savage throughout many other comic books, movies, and TV shows. Take for example: Doc’s real name was Clark Savage Jr. The name Clark was derived to make up half of the alter ego belonging to Superman ( As the last name Kent was derived from the true alias of the Shadow, Kent Allard ) besides storing numerous failed and dangerous secret weapons in a arctic fortress of solitude. Doc’s abilities as a death defying escape artist was mimicked in the opening sequence of the very first Indiana Jones movie. The same type of portable crime labs and multiple utility vehicles that Doc used were later incorporated by Batman.
But the poor legendary monument of a pre superman has never been paid the proper respect. George Pal’s very last film was Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze and it was nothing more than a campy impoverished thanks, but no thanks that barely covered your embarrassment you felt after shelling out even for a matinee ticket. Now word’s come down that Arnold Schwartzenegger has an active interest in next portraying the bronzed man of marvel. However, personal observation predicts that he is becoming way too old for the part.
I already assume that some hot shot toy company such as McFarlane Toys have their mitts in negotiations for the toy rights as soon as Arnold puts his Aussie John Hancock on the dotted line. I’m sure the molds for Arnold’s face and pumped iron body cast are being manufactured even as we speak. The color variations of torn shirts from chest to sleeve are rudimentary in place ( the Bantam book covers always featured Doc egregiously posing in torn up shirts although the stories themselves never hinted that Doc was streaking all over the world half naked or he picked them up from the cleaners that way. In contrast, the original pulp covers had hardly a call for a portable sewing kit. ) Model builders are printing up the schematics applied to all air, water, and road vehicles present in Doc’s arsenal.
It would be a gas if some toy companies would get the gumption to design some authentic action figures based on the pulps. I’m in admiration with what DC Direct is doing with their line getting them designed the way that both satisfies both the integrity of the company and the enthusiasm of the fans alike. Look no further than the models of Hawkman and the Arabian Nights Sandman. So what about the fans and collectors of pulp magazines ? Surely there’s a market somewhere for Doc Savage fans besides reissues of James Bama prints and Randy Bowen sculpture busts. If a action figure of Doc and his Amazing five truly existed, imagine all the cool accessories to go along with it- for instance: the Doc Savage parka kit for those bone chilling adventures in the North Pole. The Doc Savage jungle exploration kit, The Doc Savage Middle Eastern Shiek Yer Bootie kit ( with apologies to the late great Frank Zappa ) and a special gadget vest equipped with wacky amenities such as little glass balls filled with knockout gas, ultraviolet goggles, and super machine pistols that only fire ” mercy bullets ” ( bullets that do not kill, but simply implied to knock out a foe. Doc Savage does not believe in killing).
I can only just imagine what splendid designs they can do with Doc’s Amazing Five. Monk’s mold would have to have longer arms than the rest of the group because he’s always described as the homely looking of the bunch and he could come blister packed with his pet pig, Habeas Corpus just as Ham could be paired with his pet monkey, Chemistry ( the names are sort of reference to the ongoing feud the two share between each other, even though they consider themselves the best of friends ). Renny could come packaged with a broken door- because that happens to be Renny’s favorite hobby and passion- slamming his gigantic fists through wood paneled doors. And of course, no action figure series wouldn’t be complete without the hard to find 12 to 1 ratio jacked up pricey exclusive figure- so may I be inclined to suggest Doc’s mettlesome tomboyish cousin, Patricia Savage or the nefarious John Sunlight- the only villain to return twice in the pulps to thwart the Man of Bronze?
Playsets galore ! Just picture: a pull apart replica of Doc’s 86th story headquarters equipped with free fall hidden private elevator, laboratory, and work out room. The Hildago Trading Company, the warehouse where Doc stores most of his extraordinary collection of vehicles. Plus, how could one not forget the ancient Mayan city where Doc stores most of his gold booty which he uses to finance his globe spanning adventures?
The possibilities are endless. So i implore all of you major toy companies to get out there and jump on the Doc Savage bandwagon. It’s what the world really needs right now- a true untarnished and incorrupted hero of a long misbegotten era whose only weakness was getting cooties from sultry and scantily clad females. Think of the perfect role models he would make for present or future to be tax exemptions.
I believe someday this could happen. Only, please don’t make him to resemble Ron Ely, but rather Steve Holland, the actor who posed for the Bama paintings.
Cary Coatney – December 15, 2000