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'Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze'

Pulp Hero of the 1930s and the First Superhero

By Edward GermanPublished 6 years ago 7 min read
Pulp Cover from the 1930s

When I was a child, I had noticed my dad reading a paperback novel that depicted a muscular, bare chested man with close cropped hair on the cover. The man was heroically posed and I was fascinated with the cover. I asked my father who he was and what he was doing. My dad replied, "this is Doc Savage and he is an adventurer." I became intrigued by the cover art that depicted the character standing in desert terrain. On the back cover was a portrait of Doc Savage and in the background were five different men. These men were called "The Fabulous Five" and they were his aids. I wondered what kind of adventures he embarked upon and thought they must be exciting.

I never read any of the Doc Savage novels while growing up; however, I got the introduction of the character through a theatrical movie from 1975. The movie was titled Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. The movie started actor Ron Ely as Doc Savage, Ely had gained fame playing "Tarzan" on TV during the 1960s. The 1975 film was produced by legendary movie producer George Pal and was his last motion picture. Pal is famous for producing such classics as The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and When Worlds Collide. I enjoyed watching the 1975 movie and hoped for a sequel but one was never made. This was because the movie didn't do well after its release when it got unfavorable reviews. More recently, a new Doc Savage movie has been proposed but hasn't been approved yet. The new version would have Dewayne Johnson in the title role.

The 1975 movie has Doc Savage traveling to Central America to investigate the death of his father. He was informed that his father had died under mysterious circumstances while studying the interior of Hidalgo. Hidalgo is a fictional country located in Central America and where his father was living at the time. After briefing his aids on his fathers untimely death they all depart for the jungles of Hidalgo. Once there, Doc and his aids encounter a villain known as Captain Seas. Captain Seas is a international smugger who travels the world in his yacht and is assisted by a small army of henchmen. He wants Doc Savage out of the way so he won't interfere with his plans to mine gold from a local tribe of Indians.

Who is Doc Savage?

The Doc and The Fabulous Five

Doc Savage's full name is Clark Savage Jr. and he is a professional in many different fields. He's a physician, a detective, an adventurer, a scientist, and an explorer. His father chose a select group of scientist to train his son's mind and body from an early age. The training was so intense that it gave Doc Savage almost super human abilities. In reality, Doc Savage is a fictional character created by Henry W. Ralston who worked for Street and Smith Publications while Lester Dent was the principal writer of the Doc Savage stories. Doc Savage was published as an adventure series in pulp magazines during the 1930s and 1940s. Comic Book publisher Stan Lee has credited Doc Savage as being the forerunner to modern superheroes.

The Doc and His Aides

Doc Salvage almost always never goes anywhere without his faithful companions known as the "Fabulous Five." Doc met all five men while serving in the army during the First World War. Each of the men are professionals in their own fields and have their own unique personalities. Andrew "Monk" Mayfair is a professional chemist, he is short in stature but very muscular and can get very angry when provoked. Theodore "Ham" Books is an attorney who is always well dressed for any occasion. Ham always carries a walking cane that has a hidden sword inside it. John "Renny" Renwick is a construction engineer who loves to knock down door panels with his bare fist, his favorite expression is "Holy Cow," which he frequently uses. Thomas J. "Long Tom" Roberts is a electrical engineer who was named after a heavy artillery canon used in the First World War. Tom is very tall in stature and was considered an excellent fighter while serving in the war. William "Little John" Harper is both a geologist and a archeologist. Little John loves to use very impressive words and language instead of using a simple explanation. He also wears thick glasses with a monocle on his left lens. Little John eyes were injured during the war however, Doc preformed surgery to help restore his eyesight. Sometimes Pat Savage, Doc's young female cousin will accompany Doc and his aides on their adventures.

Paperback Novels

The first Doc Savage novel was published in 1933 and titled The Man of Bronze. It was a pulp series that sold for about ten cents a copy and was affordable entertainment during the Depression era. There were 181 Doc Savage stories published from 1933 to 1949. A resurgence of interest of Doc Savage adventures during the 1960s prompted reprinting of the original novels. Bantam Publishing reissued the series starting in 1964 with the novel Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. Artist James Bama was commissioned to paint Doc Savage on the cover and Bama used male model Steve Holland. Holland was famous for playing Flash Gordon on television during the 1950s. The cover art depicted Doc as a muscular man with a closed cropped haircut and wearing a ripped shirt. It was this image of Doc Savage that became iconic. The Bantam books have sold over 20 million copies after the release of the first issue.

Comic Series

Doc Savage comic books were first published in 1940s under Smith and Street Publishing, the publisher of the Doc Savage pulps. With the success of the Bantam Novels, a new version of the comics would appear. Gold Key was the first to publish a new Doc Savage comic, but it only lasted one issue. That comic was based on the Doc Savage novel The Thousand-Headed Man by Lester Dent first published in 1934. The comic was supposed to be a tie in for a proposed movie but the film was never made. During the 1970s, Marvel comics did adapt four of the Doc Savage novels in standard comic format. The adaptations were The Man of Bronze, Brand of the Werewolf, Death in Sliver, and The Monsters. During the 1980s, DC Comics published a four part mini-series as a tryout then printed 24 more issues. These comics had original adventures that included Doc being reunited with his wife Moya, stories from his youth, and adventures with his grandson Chip. Millennium Publications also produced a Doc Savage mini-series form 1991 to 1992. In 1995 Dark Horse Comics produced a mini-series in which Doc and The Shadow team up together. The Shadow was another pulp hero published by Smith and Street Publications during 1930s. More recently, Doc Savage has appeared in Dynamite Comics as of 2013.

OTR Drama

Doc Savage's personal code.

Doc Savage was made into a radio drama during 1930s and 1940s. Each show ran for about 15 minuets and consisted of some 26 episodes. Sadly, none of the audio dramas survived from the period except for a few scripts that were saved. During 1985, NPR broadcasted a 13 part series based on the Doc Savage pulps and it was preformed in a style similar to the 1930s radio dramas.

Actors and artist at work during the age of radio drama.

The 1985 NPR presentation of Doc Savage was preformed by the Creative Arts Theater. There were two stories that were dramatized in half hour episodes that concluded in a cliffhanger ending. The first story was the novel Fear Cay, which was published in 1934. In this story, Doc and his aides journey to a remote Caribbean island in pursuit of a movie star, a 130 year old man, and a criminal gang. The second program was called The Thousand-Headed Man based a Doc Savage novel also printed in 1934. In this story the Doc and his aids travel from London to the jungles of Southeast Asia in search of an ancient city.

This video is a home made movie shot by a group adolescents during the year 1967. It is a very charming film based upon the Doc Savage novel Fear Cay. There is no dialog in the movie except for voice over narration. The video is just over 50 minuets in length and is well preserved for a movie that is over a half century old. The young film makers do make use of some cheap effects in this home made movie. A mannequin is used to simulate a victim falling from a building after being chased by Doc Savage. One of most impressive effects was simulated gunshot wounds placed on the actors after a action sequence. There was also smoke effects used throughout the movie as well. The producers used plenty of on location shooting and I wonder how they were able to film it on a small budget.

This short documentary discusses the history of Doc Savage from the pulp era to modern times. The video is produced, written, and narrated by filmmaker Abe Diaz. The presentation is just about 30 minuets in length and consist of three parts.

My Thoughts on Doc Savage

I got my first impressions of Doc Savage form the 1975 movie. The movie was very imaginative and followed most of the source material. I have not read any of the comic books nor any of the novels based on the Doc Savage adventures. I would like to read a Doc Savage novel sometime in the future and maybe check out one of the comics. I would much prefer to see a TV series made about his adventures rather than a movie. I believe a TV series would work best because of the episodic nature of the series. Overall I would like to indulge more in the Doc Savage series. I am always looking for nostalgia and the Doc Savage adventures rates high on my list.

Sources on Doc Savage

Doc Savage: Man of Bronze wiki

Doc Savage wiki

List of Doc Savagenovels

Doc Savage Library


About the Creator

Edward German

A long-time sci-fi fan who loves the internet. I am also writing on subjects other than sci-fi.

you can follow me on "X" @EdwardGerman3 Listen to my podcast The 1950s Science Fiction Podcast on Spotify for Podcasters.

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