Doc Savage #1, August 1975

This was Marvel’s second attempt at making the pulp character a comics hit in the 1970s. The first run had been a regular-sized comic, but, beyond a couple of nice Steranko covers, had little to recommend it. In anticipation of George Pal’s forthcoming Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze movie, expected to be a major hit, Marvel again bought the rights and put out this black and white magazine version.

With its nifty bronze logo and striking Roger Kastel cover — clearly inspired by Doc artist supreme James Bama — this first issue certainly looked the part. The inside front cover has a lovely portrait of movie Doc, Ron Ely, posing beside a Bama painting. Editor Marv Wolfman’s editorial extols the wonder of the Man of Bronze, and imparts a little history.

We then settle down to the main event: a full length, 53 page strip written by Doug Moench, with art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga.

“The Doom on Thunder Isle” captures the tone of the pulp Doc Savage adventures perfectly. The tale starts with an exploding skyscraper, and then introduces Doc and his five assistants: Ham, Monk, Renny, Long Tom, and Johnny, each a world class expert in his chosen field. Alerted to the disappearance of a friend, Doc starts his investigation by quickly solving a fiendishly compex code.

There’s no time to rest, though, as the gang are suddenly attacked by a costumed baddie called the Silver Ziggurat. The resulting chase leads Doc on an exciting aerial ride over New York, in pursuit of an airship that can blow up skyscrapers!

Barely surviving this encounter Doc and the gang give chase once more, ending up on a hidden island where the Silver Ziggurat experiments on humans, turning them into beast-like “ani-men” for his own nefarious purposes. Escaping certain death at every turn, Doc soon discovers, and frees, his kidnapped friend, but finds himself trapped once more behind an electric fence, facing down a horde of baying ani-men.

At the last moment, one of the ani-men realises what he has become and rebels, sacrificing himself to disable the electric fence and free Doc. The Silver Ziggurat pays the ultimate price for his crimes, as Doc and the five head for home.

It’s marvelous hokum, perfectly realised by Moench. There’s one of those great moments where the kidnapped guy, grabbing his chance to alert a potential rescuer, proceeds not to write down the name of his kidnapper, or where he’s being taken, but a most convoluted, complicated clue that would take a super-computer months to work out! And while Doc himself has not much of a defined character — he’s so far ahead of everyone around him, it’s difficult to humanise him — the five all work well, with the bickering between Ham and Monk being a highlight.

Buscema acquits himself very well on the art, though he was likely only supplying layouts, keeping the action flowing smoothly. There are a few great full page splashes too — one particularly lovely one showng Doc’s narrow escape from an exploding tower block. DeZuniga, as usual, rather overpowers the pencils with his lush ink washes, but that works well here, and further evokes the 1930s setting.

Bringing up the rear are a couple of interviews with George Pal, and it’s clear that there were very high hopes for the Doc movie. The script for a sequel was already completed, written by Philip Jose Farmer, who had written Doc’s ‘biography’ a few years earlier, and it was thought that the movie series would run and run, rivaling James Bond. Sadly, of course, that never happened. It was probably just a few years too early — had Pal waited until after Star Wars, the Indiana Jones films might never have happened…

©2009 Conde Nast/Marvel Characters Inc