Tag: Doc Savage

Book Review: The Fortress of Solitude/The Devil Genghis

I’m reviewing a (sadly out of print) copy of Nostalgia Ventures’ /Sanctum Doc Savage novel reprint featuring two Doc Savage Novels, “The Fortress of Solitude” and “The Devil Genghis.” However, for early readers of this review, you might be able to get a copy for something approaching a reasonable price.

While most people associate the “Fortress of Solitude” with Superman. Doc Savage had a Fortress long before the Man of Steel graced the cover of Action Comics #1. Savage’s fortress was also in the Arctic. It was an isolated spot where Doc carried out his experiments and also where he stored all the death machines he found in his adventures.

The Fortress of Solitude was published in October 1938 and Doc Savage had been around for nearly seven years and at that point could use a shake up. And boy did Fortress of Solitude provide it. The unthinkable happened. A mad genius named John Sunlight stumbled upon Doc’s fortress took command of its arsenal and unleashed it upon the world, offering Doc’s unused discoveries as well as his confiscated cache of weapons.

As a plot, this is a real corker. This is tops for telling a different sort of story and pushing the character in a different direction against a foe that has to be Doc’s most menacing. John Sunlight is brilliant, ruthless, and yet enigmatic and strange enough to be Doc’s Moriarty. He’s also the only Doc Savage villain to return for a second encounter, which comes in the Devil Genghis.

The Devil Genghis was published in December 1938 and features a more complex and refined plan for world domination as key people around the world are being driven mad. The plan begins with an effort to kidnap Doc, who is set to use one of his lesser known (and less useful) talents and play a violin recital at Carnegie Hall for charity. The Devil Genghis is another globe trotting adventure but with a wider variety of settings. It also offers a key surprise in what John Sunrise’s endgame

As a collection, this is smashing, and the volume is enriched with some commentary by Will Murray. The one thought I had as I finished The Devil Genghis is that if they’d wanted to have Doc Savage end on a strong note, this would have been a great finale because there’s just no topping it. In addition, the next year, the World would be at war and the World of Doc’s Golden Age would disappear forever while comic books and superheroes would replace him in popular culture. However, magazine publishing was a business and they decided to keep milking the character until he ran dry.

However, this book is Doc near the height of his popularity in a story that takes him to places no other Doc Savage story before or since ever took him. If you’ve enjoyed any Doc Savage story, this one is a must-read. While its out of print, interlibrary loans are a great option to enjoy these stories. They are classics of the pulp adventure genre.


Rating: 4.75 out of 5

MyComicshop.com has copies of this reprint available at their website (even though this isn’t a comic book) at a reasonable price. The book is #1 in the Doc Savage Reprints collection from Sanctum. Once it’s gone, ownership of the book will be for collectors only as the cost on most marketplaces I’ve seen is around $30-50

Book Review: The Sinister Shadow

Doc Savage and the Shadow are two of the greatest pulp heroes of all time. Yet, they’ve never met in their original book medium. There have been attempts to do this in comic book form, but the ones I’ve read have been somewhat underwhelming.

The Sinister Shadow by Will Murray takes an original idea by Lester Dent in order to bring these two legends of the 1930s together in one book.

In the books, “Lamont Cranston” was not the true identity of the Shadow. Rather, the Shadow forced Cranston to let him impersonate him when Cranston was away from the city (which was most of the time) on the threat that, if he didn’t, the Shadow would completely steal Cranston’s identity, leaving Cranston without a place in the world because somebody’s got to fight evil, right? In the pulps, Cranston’s amused by this and agrees. In this book, Cranston isn’t as much amused as resigned.

However, Cranston receives a blackmail notice from a villain identifying himself as the Funeral Director who threatens to kill Cranston unless he gives him $50,000. Cranston thinks the villain is the Shadow and turns to Doc Savage’s aide Ham Brooks for help. Before they can get to Doc, both are kidnapped. This leads to both the Shadow and Doc Savage being on the trail of the Funeral Director.

The book has a lot to offer. Much of it is spent with Doc and friends suspecting the Shadow as the creepy methods of the Funeral Director seem his style and the Shadow works outside the law while Doc is an honorary Inspector for the NYPD. In addition, Doc and his men have a no killing rule, while the Shadow has no qualms about dealing out rough justice to the criminal world. Thus our two protagonists spend time hunting and battling each other before turning to the real bad guy. These parts of the book are fun and Murray does a good job writing both characters. Doc’s men are their usual selves while Doc remains ever the unflappable and brilliant man of bronze. The Shadow is mysterious and baffles the great Doc Savage with his strange methods. Doc’s assistants also are great though they’re pushed more to the background than usual. The Shadow’s henchmen are generic and lack a lot of personality.

As for the villain, the Funeral Director is a perfect foil for our protagonists. He’s a creepy, evil villain whose theme is centered around death and dying complete with coffins. It seems like an obvious idea for a supervillain but I’ve never read it done before. Why the Funeral Director came after Cranston is never satisfactorily explained and it comes off as a plot convenience.

This book is enjoyable, though it’s not Shakespeare or even Raymond Chandler. It’s a new pulp adventure team up from the man who is better at recapturing the spirit of the original pulps than any other writer today. While I won’t say it exceeded my expectations, it certainly met them. After nearly eighty years, Will Murray finally created a story worthy of these two great characters and if you’re a fan of either one, it’s a worthwhile read.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audiobook Review: The Frightened Fish

In the Frightened Fish, a man travels around New York city panicking every time he sees a silver fish. The last time he does, it’s in front of the building containing the office of Doc Savage, which sets the Man of Bronze on the trail of a mystery that leads him to post-War Japan and a plot to take over the Earth.

The timing of the book is different from most Savage books, which are set in the 1920s and 30s. This story is set in the heart of the Atomic Age when a whole new slew problems have risen to test the man of Bronze. The story is shorter than the other Doc Savage novels I’ve reviewed, but I think the brevity helps as it gives the tale a bit more focus and the plot builds at a solid pace.

The set up is a bit artificial when you get down to the explanation which adds up to “supervillain ego” mixed the idea of being so desperate to make sure our hero doesn’t foil his plot that the villain reveals it to him. Still, the plot is clever enough, with plenty of intrigue and adventure along the way.

In this story, Doc Savage is a bit more gruff and occasionally abrupt with aides, but  he is also a bit more human and relatable as he even falls in love, something that shocks his aides.

Despite its difference, the story remains true to Doc Savage, while also managing to explore many interesting dynamics of the time and featuring a solidly memorable villain. This makes a great read for Doc Savage fans.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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Book Review: Doc Savage: The Wristling Wraith

In The Whistling Wraith, a visiting king disappears en route from Blair House to the White House and Doc Savage is called in to investigate in broad daylight with cameras watching. Doc Savage is sent to Washington to investigate and things only get more mysterious as there’s a mysterious woman, kidnapping, a plot involving currency, and most mysteriously the appearance of the whistling specter of a long-dead king.

For those  not familiar with Doc Savage,  the”Man of Bronze” is a pulp hero created by Lester Dent in 1933. He was raised by a group of scientists and experts in various disciplines to the peak of human mental and physical perfection.  He’s extremely wealthy and famous with a wide variety of adventures. He was created in 1933, so he pre-dated the superhero genre. To put him in a modern context, it’d be fair to say Doc was part Batman, part Sherlock Holmes, and part Indiana Jones. He’s surrounded himself with assistants, accomplished  men in their own fields, all with their own eccentricities such as the “homely chemist” Monk Mayfair and the “dapper lawyer” Ham Brooks.

This book was written by Will Murray in the 1993 based on an idea by Lester Dent and is one of the best Doc Savage stories I’ve encountered. This book does several things right.

First, it has an interesting way of treating Savage’s assistants. Usually novels either limit Savage to two or three of his five assistants or include all five but have them keep getting lost. This book took a different tact with the assistants split into two groups for most of the book, with two in one and three in another. As they rarely shared the same scene, everyone got a chance to shine.

Second, this novel gave Savage some challenges he usually doesn’t have. Savage is wealthy, brilliant,  physically near superhuman, and holds an honorary rank of Police Inspector in London and in New York as well as an honorary Federal Agent and can obtain the cooperation of any civilized police department on Earth, a favor Doc usually returns by telling the police nothing about his investigations.

However in The Whistling Wraith, Doc and friends find the NYPD has revoked Doc’s honorary commission. When the police are called by Doc’s foes (who have conveniently planted a body on the premises), Inspector “Push ’em Down” Samson of the NYPD shows up trying to collect, its up to Doc to put him off until he can solve the case. While in other stories, having a police foil is clichéd. Here it provides Doc some needed tension and it’s a nice change of pace.

Also, Doc and his assistants have to dodge the press and public, who are far more aware of him than he’d like after a story appeared in a true crime magazine. Their being hounded by photographers and autograph seekers on the street is an interesting element and something you’d expect given how these characters are and it was brilliant of Murray to put that in.

Third, this is a really complicated mystery that borders on being convoluted, but I don’t think crosses that line. At first glance, it appears to be a simple mystery disappearance with a bit of a ghost mystery thrown in. However, the Whistling Wraith is a story of not just strange disappearances and murders but currency manipulation, political intrigue, and science fiction shenanigans. I guessed part of the solution before the end, but there was a lot I didn’t know and the reveal was really good.

As to negatives, two things stand out. First is the portrayal of political stuff in Congress. It was completely unrealistic as described, even for the 1930s era the story was set in.  While this story was in the style of pulps, it wouldn’t have hurt the story to tell the political stuff realistically rather than making processes up.  As it was, the unbelievable political scenes took me out of the story.

I also have to admit I didn’t like Doc’s treatment of Patricia “Pat” Savage in this story. Pat is Doc’s only living relative and wants to take part in his adventures. Sometimes he lets her, often he insists she stays out of it and she persists anyway. In this story, his efforts to keep her out are  rude, abrupt, and way too pushy, even as she shows herself more competent than ever, rescuing three of Doc’s men after overcoming a kidnapper. I felt sorry for Pat and infuriated with Doc for the way he kept treating her.

Still, despite these flaws, this is a solid pulp story. Yeah, it has the normal flaws you associate with a Doc Savage novel (and accept if you’re a fan of the Man of Bronze), but it’s also got a great plot and some really fascinating turns.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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