Every month, my long-time friend Anthony Tollin and Nostalgia Ventures publish Doc Savage and Shadow "double-novels," neat trade paperbacks reprinting the original pulp magazine adventures of the heroes and adding historical bonus material to the mix. Whenever I can find a few hours, I love to sit down in my favorite chair and thrill to these exciting stories that hold up amazingly well given they were originally published six decades ago.
Long before Wolverine, Doc was the best there was at what he did...and he did everything. He was the world's best fighter and the world's smartest scientist in every field of science. He was trained from his youth to battle evil and has the monetary means to do so. Joining him in these missions were his five friends - Monk, Ham, Renny, Long Tom, and Johnny - and each was the second best in their individuals fields. Their adventures took them all around the world and inspired early comic-book writers.
Lester Dent is the writer most associated with Doc Savage and he wrote more Doc stories than any other. He shaped the character with a crisp straightforward writing style that still holds lessons for modern writers. When Bob Ingersoll and I wrote our Captain America: Liberty's Torch novel several years ago, we used Dent's work as the model for how we paced the story. I'm a fan of Doc Savage and of Dent's.
Unfortunately, "The Sea Magician" is one of Dent's weakest Doc Savage stories. It starts out promising enough: the ghost of King John wandering the Scottish moors searching for his murderer and, along the way, killing a number of "suspects." However, the weird spiffiness of that is overshadowed by what is nothing more than an elaborate con game. I never got the sense that Doc was in jeopardy or even raising a sweat in dealing with these villains.
Writer and historian Will Murray's "Intermission" follows "The Sea Magician" and explains the novel's suckiness. Dent was going through a stretch of an editor not approving his story pitches and, due to deadlines, had to make do with this lesser effort. I learn something every time I read one of Murray's articles.
"The Living Fire-Menace" more than makes up for the lead novel in this book. Written by Harold A. Davis and Lester Dent, it has a frightening "weapon" and a collection of truly evil masterminds. All five of Doc's friends appear in the story and, on more than one occasion, they are in deep peril of losing their lives in horrible fashion. If I were adapting Doc stories for comics, this one would be high on my list.
Murray has two more articles in this book, the first being an informative piece on Davis, who wrote a number of Doc novels in the 1930s and up to 1940. As Murray reports, David often wrote while manning the telegraph desk at the New York Daily News and he was doubtless inspired by the news stories he transcribed.
Murray's remaining article is a treasure; it's a biography of Richard Henry Savage, a real-life historical figure who was clearly a role model for Doc Savage, the Shadow, and other pulp adventure heroes. A man of many parts, Savage was an engineer, a solider, a global traveler, and a writer. Prior to Savage's death in 1903, Street and Smith published some of his books. S&S business manager Henry William Ralston, who was instrumental in the launching of the Shadow and Doc Savage magazines, was working for the company back then and, in all likelihood, met the real-life Savage. Yet another terrific contribution by Murray.
Sidebar. My local library, which is tied into other libraries throughout Northeastern Ohio, appears to have access to several of Savage's books. Once my schedule lightens a bit, I'll request some of these, with an eye towards reading and reviewing them here in an upcoming column. End of sidebar.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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