Thursday, January 23, 2014

Things would work if I were Doc Savage

As you will find out more tomorrow, I've been in an escapist mode.

Pulp books of the 1930s certainly fit the category of escapism.  They were never meant to be great literature and no writer behind them seemed to bear any aspirations of landing a short story in The New Yorker.  The stories were intended to be quick, "in and out" bits of entertainment that carried certain lurid and prurient aspects to thereby become even more marketable (you never go broke appealing to the lowest common denominator.)

Which brings me to Doc Savage.

Doc Savage is mainly the creation of Lester Dent and first appeared in print in 1933.  As a character, the "Man of Bronze"  Doctor Clark Savage (first name dropped in favor of catchy, folksy aphesis) was...well, damn near perfect.  He had the physical prowess of an Olympic athlete in peak form.  He possessed the agility of a gymnast and was proficient in several forms of martial arts.  But Doc Savage was not a man who could simply solve problems with his fist.

The man was a genius.  He was equally at home at being either a detective or a research scientist.  The more challenging and intricate the puzzle he faced, the more he seemed to enjoy solving it.

In light of all of this plus a secret chill-out pad near the North Pole, it's easy to see how Doc influenced characters like Superman.

You might think the stories would be boring.  Doc Savage should be so invincible that there could be no possibility for conflict.  Nevertheless, he was mortal and faced any number of challenges that played out through numerous books, radio dramas, comic books, and film...even though most fans prefer, through plausible argument, to say that the latter does not exist.  A critical facet that made these stories entertaining was not Doc himself but his staff of aides and adventure partners.  These were characters such as Renny, Monk, Ham, and Littlejohn, men who while talented were also flawed, thus providing a foil for Doc.

My introduction to Doc Savage was...of course...through comic books.  DC Comics had a mini and eventually an ongoing series for Doc Savage back in the day.  Writer Denny O'Neil attempted to update Doc for the late 20th Century, giving him a kid and a group of companions who had aged.  The story wasn't bad, but I just couldn't identify with its postmodern take.  Then there was the Dark Horse crossover of Doc and The Shadow which had it's moments as I've already pointed out.  Of far more interest to me was DC's First Wave series that took Doc and mixed him into a dieselpunk milieu that also contained The Spirit, The Avenger, and DC Comics characters such as Black Canary, the Blackhawks, and most especially a version of Batman that mirrored his original 1930s form.  I have the first issue and really enjoyed it.  I missed everything after that as real life tends to get in the way.  Here's to hoping there's a trade.
UPDATE!  There is a trade.

Would it be boring to be Doc Savage?  To have it so easy?

I dunno.  I'd be willing to risk it and find out.

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