Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Return to Greatness

And a return to a mondo-geeky era of my early teens.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Doc Savage and his Fabulous Five!

I remember seeing the Bantam reprints of the Doc Savage pulp novels in used book stores. And it wasn't until I got a copy of a Marvel Giant-Size reprint of their first two issues of the Doc Savage comic, the ones that adapted The Man of Bronze (shown at right), the first book of the saga, that I became a Savage fan, a member of the Brotherhood of Bronze. A used bookstore not too far from my parents' house always had a steady supply of the novels (probably from boxes stored for years in some dude's basement, whose wife squinched her face in distaste when she found them and said, "What the hell is this? The Thousand-Headed Man? Ewwww, what's all that crap all over his body? And what's with the guy in the torn shirt?") I always managed to pick up a few when I'd stop by. At a quarter apiece, I got what I thought were million-dollar adventures for pocket change.

They were short reads, so I'd finish one every two or three days - a week if I was feeling lazy. Then Marvel came out with a black-and-white magazine, the first issue of which tied into the (embarrassingly corny) film version of The Man of Bronze.

That was the summer of 1975 - it was a Summer of Bronze for me.

My interest in the saga tapered over the next few years. I started reading more potboiler thrillers, and I found many of those while visiting the used bookstore looking for more Doc Savage books. I think the last one I read was The Boss of Terror while I was homebound from school during the Blizzard of 1977.

Had I grown out of Doc that quickly? Maybe. A year before, I read Black Sunday, and its plot with terrorists exploding a blimp over the Super Bowl seemed so, well, Savagish to me. Doc used Zeppelins a lot in his world travels (this was in the 1930s, when airship travel was common, until The Hindenberg became a big bag o' fire and chared metal). So why couldn't one of Doc's enemies hijack one of his Zeppelins and wreak some havoc where a lot of people were?

Sadly, we now know what sociopathic fantatics can do with any type of aircraft to anyplace where people gather.

But I had soaked up so much of the Saga during the short time I was with it: Doc's headquarters on the 86th Floor of the Empire State Building, Philip Jose Farmer's tongue-in-cheek biography Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, the imbued sensuality of Doc's cousin Patricia (and visiting the used bookstore frequently, feverishly almost, looking to see if anyone brought in a copy of Brand of the Werewolf, where she first appears), his aides - five brilliant professional men with oddball physical characteristics, but each one such a badass that he could kick your ass standing still.

In spite of my allged maturity, I still celebrate Doc, Monk, Ham, Renny, Long Tom, Johnny, Doc's cousin Patricia, and the pets Habeas Corpus and Chemistry. There's a quote from a famous Latin American author (I can't think of the exact words or who the author is) who gave an important piece of advice about writing. It says somethng about how you are not only full of all the good literature you have read, but you are also full of the comic books you read in your youth.

I still yearn to be lounging around the 86th floor, to ride in a Zeppelin or in a large airplane down to a South American country, or down inside a volcano or to a small Pacific island, and encounter a man with a thousand small heads glued to his body, or a fleet of giant bats.

It's all still with me. And it all still makes me smile.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a novel to write.

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