What's Up, Doc?

Doc Savage: The Silver Pyramid

DC has been pushing Doc Savage hard lately ’cause he’ll be one of the stars of the upcoming “First Wave” series. So they put out this trade paperback of the four-issue “Doc Savage” miniseries from ’87. I’ve just started reading Lester Dent’s original “Doc Savage” novels, so this one, written by Denny O’Neil with art by Adam and Andy Kubert, looked like it’d be good fun.

World War II has just ended, and near-superhuman genius/surgeon/scientist/two-fisted adventurer Doc Savage and his crew of assistants — Monk Mayfair, Ham Brooks, Renny Renwick, Long Tom Roberts, and Johnny Littlejohn — are looking forward to some post-war downtime. Unfortunately, the Nazis — particularly a genius inventor named Wessel — are still looking to put an end to Doc’s adventures permanently. When the Nazis are tracked to their lair, a giant high-tech silver pyramid in the middle of the South American jungle, Wessel manages to get the drop on Doc with a giant raygun that disintegrates him! Doc’s assistants rout the Nazis, but the damage has been done.

A few decades pass, and Doc’s son gets himself killed in a pointless gunfight, then another few decades pass, and Doc’s grandson is a committed pacifist living in Antarctica with the rest of Doc’s old assistants. When they learn that Wessel is still alive and has gotten into his old silver pyramid, intent on destroying the world. Can even the miraculous return of Doc Savage save the day?

Verdict: Thumbs down. So much to dislike. The visual design is incredibly wonky — the story begins in ’45, but the fashions are several decades off — bowlers, top hats, handlebar mustaches, muttonchop whiskers, and all that. The worst is Monk Mayfair. The Lester Dent novels are extremely clear on Monk’s appearance — namely, he looks like an ape. He’s supposed to be short, squat, muscular, arms longer than his legs, and a very ape-like face. In the comic, Monk looks absolutely nothing like that. He’s short and stocky, but there’s absolutely nothing about him that makes him look like a gorilla. In fact, he’s a dead ringer for Wilford Brimley, even when he’s young, and there is no good reason for Monk Mayfair to look like that. It’s a embarrassingly bad oversight that should’ve been caught during the early stages of the comic’s creation.

The story isn’t much better. Doc Savage is seemingly killed at the end of the first issue. He reappears on a distant planet for a few pages in the third. Then he comes back to Earth in the fourth issue. There are a bunch of new characters tossed in, including a psychic Israeli secret agent and some generic hillbilly who are interns with Doc’s assistants in the Antarctic hideaway. Oh, and one of the assistants is very pointlessly designated a traitor. I have no idea why any of this stuff takes place, because it’s completely random, entirely pointless, and utterly stupid.

I even have to complain about the characterization for Doc Savage himself, which is kinda a strange thing to complain about. See, in the novels I’ve read so far, Doc doesn’t have much of a personality — he’s taciturn, hyper-competent, and pretty generic. I think that was all by design — having a hero with no personality made it easy for readers to imprint their own personality on Doc and identify with him better. In this comic, Doc gets a personality — namely, a lot of doubts and insecurities. And that’s not the kind of personality I want to see stuck on Doc Savage.

And a lot of the story is sabotaged almost from the git-go. Doc Savage stories — and adventure pulps in general — seem to work best when you set them close to their historical origins — namely, the 1930s and ’40s, preferably either before or during WWII. Dragging the story from 1945 to the ’60s and then into the ’80s — and aging Doc’s loyal assistants clear into their 80s — puts too much strain on things. Bringing classic adventure pulps into the modern era loses you everything that made the classic adventure pulps special.

It’s a bad, deeply disappointing comic. DC never should’ve published it in the first place, and as many popular old comics that have never been reprinted, it’s really frustrating that they decided to collect it and foist it off on us.

No Comments

  1. embee Said,

    January 29, 2010 @ 5:25 pm

    Dude… you saved me from buying this turkey!

    Many thanks, and may the new (Chinese) year bring you a Mayan fortune in gold!