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Monday, February 11, 2019

Hell-Reapers at the Heart of Paradise - a Review from Doc Savage 2

Doc Savage #2 (October 1975)
"Hell-Reapers at the Heart of Paradise"
Doug Moench-Tony DeZuniga

How do you like your pulp? If it's orange juice, I don't. But if it's more of the hero variety, then it's gotta be like Doc Savage. True confession time (I do that a lot around here, it seems): Prior to purchasing Dynamite Comics's phenomenal-looking hardcover Doc Savage Archives, vol. 1 - The Curtis Magazine Era, I had had zero interaction with the character. Zip. I know, I know... Now that's not to say I was a pulp virgin - of course not. I've had plenty of eyeball time with all of the Robert E. Howard heroes; ditto for the Edgar Rice Burroughs stable of characters. Toss in some Zorro, Buck Rogers, and the Lone Ranger and I've actually read quite a few pulp stories. But for whatever reason, never Doc Savage. I'll try to change that soon.

So why'd I buy the hardcover if I didn't even know if I'd like it? Free money, effendi. I'd come into around $50 of disposable cash several months ago. Given the options, I figured since I wasn't losing anything - and knowing I'd need some resources for this blog - I picked up the Savage book, the Vampirella: The Essential Warren Years trade I'd used for last month's review, and the second volume of The Savage Sword of Kull the Conqueror (featuring Dark Horse reprints of the Marvel magazine). I've read the first two stories in the Doc Savage book, and since I liked the second installment better than the first, here we are. Let's dive in!

100 Word Review:
We open with a quite-large Viking-looking fellow menacing a realtor (of all things). The man is kidnapped by his attacker, and we move ahead a bit to a man seeking help from Doc Savage. But that’s no man! It’s Sandy Taine, whose father went missing some time ago whilst on an Arctic expedition to find Spanish gold. Problem: He’s been accused of murder - but is nowhere to be found. Doc and his team will need to find clues to other kidnappings, and we’ll find that this adventure will lead them to the Arctic, and below! But are they prepared to meet subterranean reptilians?
The Good: How easy must it be to write when you can do whatever you want? Fantastic technology? Let's do it! Exotic locales? Why not? A world beneath our own and populated by reptilian humanoids? Sure!

Saying that I do not mean at all to undermine what Doug Moench has plotted thus far in the two reprints of the Marvel Doc Savage magazine. On the contrary, these are well-crafted tales! Clark "Doc" Savage was created by Street & Smith publisher Henry W. Ralston and editor John L. Nanovic and first saw print in March 1933. Additional elements were added to the mythos by author Lester Dent. If you've seen any of the Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers serials, then you have a real sense of what these pulp characters could be like - larger-than-life and able to push any boundaries needed for that month's narrative. Moench and series illustrators John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga (the latter flying solo in today's issue) take all the wildest and wackiest of the pulps and cut loose. I think we've often read, and remarked, that John Buscema felt most comfortable between the covers of a Conan or Thor mag - fantasy lands, where his mind could go away from the drudgery of cars and buildings and guns and all that. Yet in Doc Savage, both he and DeZuniga seem to rise to a different level - there is power in these comic pages. These guys were nothing if not professionals, but the work seems fired at a higher temperature than normal. These books are pretty awesome to look at.

Doc Savage is the best of all our heroes - he's Captain America, Tarzan, Batman, and Iron Man all rolled into one. Brave, smart, intuitive, and creative - the whole package. He also comes with help - five men who've sworn their loyalty to Savage and who sometimes take care of the dirty work, but are always willing to move forward with their leader. If there's such a thing as a "man's man", then these guys are that. They are fearless, and are adept at kicking some tails and taking names. In this story, it's these five faithful men who begin the case by listening to a Mr. Sandy Taine; little do they know that Doc is approaching the building in his Autogyro and picking up the augmented conversation. It's Doc who sees through Taine's disguise and get to the heart of the matter. And away we go.

I really have enjoyed the vehicles used by Savage and his aides. These are sharp machines, evocative of Batman's arsenal for travel. In Doc Savage #2, we see the Autogyro, the Runabout, the Amberjack, the Helldiver, the Juggernaut, and the Hydro-glider. Bruce Wayne's fortune? Gotta be peanuts compared to the resources Savage had at his disposal. And that raises another important point about the original pulps: those tales were written as the Great Depression was landing hard on Americans. To have a hero seemingly immune to the financial terror gripping the nation had to be a welcome release, a respite of fantasy.

Without going into a longer plot synopsis than I did above (and that the art samples provided hopefully convey), suffice it to say that the story moves at a pretty good clip and everything fits nicely. Moench has bad guys with motivations that are believable (albeit pretty bad guy-ish), heroes who behave as such, a twist here and there, and a satisfying if mildly predictable conclusion. As mentioned, pulpy things like settings, technology, and uranium (because who doesn't love themselves some atomic age fiction?) all knit together this mammoth 54-page tale. Doug Moench did good work.

The Bad: Above I commented on Doc's five faithful men. While those guys are certainly an asset to Doc (and the stories), there's just something mildly unsavory about the relationship. I'm not suggesting that those guys are in any way slaves to Savage - far from it. But their loyalty seems somewhat over the top, almost fawningly symbiotic, if that makes any sense. Each of the five are supposed to be at the top of their various disciplines, whether it be archeology, chemistry, law, etc. Yet they often prove inferior to Savage's intellect and intuition. This of course serves to elevate our hero to superman-like status. But at the expense of the other characters, it gave me a bit of pause. Overall, what it has inspired me to do is to get some of the Doc Savage novels downloaded to my Kindle.

The Ugly: I got nuthin' here this time. I've liked what I've read so far in this beautiful book. The stories are long and do require a little stamina/perseverance, but it's ultimately time well spent.

Leave a comment, please, as I know there are readers who have a much more intimate history with Doc Savage than I do. I'd love to hear your praises and get a sense for your nostalgia about the character. Thank you in advance!


  1. Nice review, Doug.
    Somewhat like you, I came to Doc Savage rather late in life - I'd always been aware of the character, but never read any of the comics (they were a bit before my time) or novels until recently, like in the last decade or so.
    I now have the complete materials originally published by Marvel, i.e., the b&w magazine and the four-color series (which were quite weirdly published in paperback editions by DC) and a few of the novels. I have to say, I actually prefer the comics to the original novels, and of the comics material, the stories from the b&w magazine are far superior to the color comics. You're right, the extra pages gave Moench an opportunity to flesh out the stories, and the art, usually by Buscema and Zuniga, is lush and gorgeous.
    I also tend to agree with you about Doc's buddies - it does seem a bit weird that a bunch of top-level scientists, engineers, etc. would be hanging out with Doc all the time. It would have made more sense if they were a bunch of misfits or former outlaws or something who were given a helping hand by Doc.

    1. Good morning, Edo -

      An element of the pulps that is sadly lost in comic format (at least in these done-in-one magazine stories) is the cliffhanger. Burroughs was quite adept at that in the Tarzan novels. Even if one of these stories is told in chapters, it's not quite the same as reading from a paperback - one's imagination and predictive powers can be somewhat dampened by the provided pictures and sight of the very next page.


    2. Doug, that may well be, but as I said above, I read a few of the Doc Savage novels (that were originally serialized in the old pulp magazines), and overall I just didn't find them very exciting or captivating. At about the same time, I read a few of the original Shadow novels as well, and liked those much better. I guess I'm just not a fan of Lester Dent's writing - I also read one of his non-pulp thriller novels from the 1950s and didn't like it very much, either.

  2. Great write up Doug!

    I have to second Edo's commentary. I've read a few Conan, Doc Savage, and The Shadow paperbacks. I found all of them to be somewhat uninteresting and also actually incoherent at times, to the point where I'd be re-reading trying to make a bit of sense out of whatever they were trying to describe, but could not.

    I've read plenty of Conan, DS, and TS comics and here I would agree with Doug... they do strip away a bit of the imagination. Unless an exceptional artist like Kaluta was doing the depression-era comic, I just never really liked them.

    However, the B&W mags... they seem to split the difference for me. More story than a comic; more imagination required too. I like it!

  3. I always thought the b/w run was Doc's best appearance in comics by a mile. It's where I first came across the character, back in the early '70's, in UK Marvel reprint title The Super-Heroes.
    Re: The Fabulous Five - I've always kind of felt that too, although I always loved the Ben Grimm-esque Monk, and his endless sparring with arch enemy / best friend Ham. I also always liked Renny's distinuishing habit: That of being able to punch through doors ( something I even tried as a kid, to my parents dismay! )
    Those who've read the novels might know, but I have a vague memory that Doc and his team served in the army, before the stories, and that he'd saved all their lives, so they swore to always be there for him.
    I wonder if I read that in one of these b/w's, and that was Doug's way of retro-writing that concern?

    1. Thanks for the insight, Pete. I really need to get round to reading a Doc Savage novel or two.




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