He was the original Superman – a being of perfect mind and body who fought evil with the help of a specially-trained crew, countless magnificent inventions, and “delicate brain operations” that cured evil impulses. Beneath his high-and-tight haircut and always-ripped-to-shreds khaki shirt was a mind that could solve any problem, even death (once every 10 years, anyway).
And now, this hero of the pulp era returns to comics yet again with Dynamite Entertianment’s Doc Savage, which premieres this December. Though Doc had his roots in the pulp magazines, he’s appeared in comics many times, including runs from Marvel and DC. But this new run will take Doc places he’s never been before – specifically, eight different decades, one for each issue, showing his crime-fighting aging into the present.
We spoke to writer Chris Roberson (The Shadow, The Strangers, Monkeybrain Comics) for the details on this new series. While interior pages weren’t ready for preview yet, we did include a number of classic paperback covers from the 1970s Doc reprints (some by the great Jim Steranko), that best represent the character, or at least had titles that amused us.
Newsrama: So, Chris – Doc Savage: He's been around many times, teamed up with Spider-Man and Batman and even hadJohn Philip Sousa doing his theme-tune. But for those who know the name but not the man, who is he, and how much did Superman swipe from him?
Chris Roberson: Clark Savage, Jr., better known as Doc Savage, was a character introduced in the pulp magazines in 1933, and he continued to appear on a regular basis until the late 40s, in 181 adventures in all (as well as a few radio shows, comic books, etc.). The majority of Doc’s original appearances were written by Lester Dent under the house name “Kenneth Robeson.”
Doc is a man raised from the cradle to be the pinnacle of physical and mental development, and he’s devoted his life and his fortune to the pursuit of knowledge and the abolition of oppression. He lives atop the tallest skyscraper in New York City, and when he feels the need for a little bit of quiet time, he travels to his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic. He was even described in an early advertisement as “A SUPERMAN.”
Nrama: …and yet, now one ever thought of suing. Tell us the format of y'all's tale.
Roberson: It’s a comic book. 22 pages, saddle-stitched, and this initial storyline runs for eight issues. Words and pictures combined in sequence to tell a story.
Nrama: …I hate you. What do you get when you take Doc Savage out of the 1930s? Because I gotta tell ya, those evil-curing “delicate brain operations” look a bit more suspect as time goes on.
Roberson: Well, we start in the 30s, and then follow the character as the decades progress, and see what changes and what doesn’t. And yes, the mere existence of the “Crime College” is something that will play heavily into the story as time goes on.
Nrama: And give us the down-low on the art.
Roberson: Covers are provided by the amazing Alex Ross with variants by the spectacular John Cassaday, and interiors are by a relative newcomer from Brazil, a woman named Bilquis Evely. And the pages I’ve seen of the first issue look amazing.
Nrama: You've been dipping most frequently into the well of pulpdom as of late with books like this and Masks. What's the deal? How'd you encounter all these pulp-peeps in the first place?
Roberson: I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, at a time that I’d argue was the absolute golden age of American popular culture. Because not only did we have all of the fantastic new stuff in print and on screens, but we had a constant supply of everything that came before, as well. That’s in large part because there was an insatiable hunger for more material, but not yet enough new material to fill that need.
So newsstands and book racks were filled with old pulp reprints, old Saturday morning serials ran on TV on the weekends, you could listen to old time radio on AM stations, etc. There was an enormous revival of pulp fiction that started in the ‘60s and continued into the ‘70s, which in large part gave rise to things like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, among others. But I developed an appetite for the original stuff at the time, and that appetite has never really abated.
Nrama: Paperback reprints have kept Doc's fandom alive all these decades. For those who know his biz: DEMONSTRATE FOR US THE DEPTHS OF YOUR FANDOM. You automatically win if you dropped two-fitty on this baby.
Roberson: Oh, how I salivated when I first saw that. I posted the images on my tumblr, and just stared at them over and over again. But no, I couldn’t find room in the budget for it. Does it count that I have Philip José Farmer’s Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life in three different editions?
Nrama: Maaaaaaayyyybbbbbeeee. Oh, almost forgot bad guys, that is, the ones who aren't dead or “cured” by the aforementioned delicate brain operations. Will John Sunlight be resurrecting again with his purple-clad, vaguely-evocative-of-the-use-of-effeminate-characterization-as-counterpoint-to-macho-leading-men-stereotypical-behavior-of-the-1930s evilness?
Roberson: With one exception, Doc Savage never faced the same menace twice. And that one exception, John Sunlight, only appeared one additional time. (In the original pulps, that is. He’s turned up a number of time in other comics.)
I feel pretty strongly that old villains should never return to face Doc again, because Doc’s whole mission is that he is there to cure crime, and if someone comes back, it means he’s failed. Of course, we’ll be delving into the moral implications of the method he uses to cure criminals.
Nrama: DOC'S HAIR: Super-tight crew cut or wavy-style from the pulp covers? Be honest.
Nrama: Again: I hate you. Now, name your favorite member of Doc's runnin' crew. Everyone always picks Monk or Ham, though I'm fond of Johnny because he had a steampunk monocle and always used the fitty-dollar words.
Roberson: My glib answer is the ape named “Chemistry.” But my honest answer is Patricia Savage, who I think is a full-fledged hero in her own right.
Nrama: Quote your favorite piece of purple prose from one of the original Doc Savage novels. My own is from “The Man of Bronze”:” “Strange clucking noises escaped his lips. A gibberish of hate!”
Roberson: Here’s one chosen at random from the opening chapter of “The Annihilist:” “The portly man was a limp heap, leaking crimson in several places, for the bullets had driven through the leather and upholstery of the divan.”
Nrama: That poor, poor divan. Now, Lester Dent wrote 50,000-word Doc Savage novels in six days (and on the seventh day, he soaked his fingertips). How long does it take you to do a complete script for a 22-page issue, compared to his record? In fairness, you do have other books, shorties, and an award-winning electronic comics company going on.
Roberson: I’m no fool. There’s no way I’d try to hold myself to Dent’s standard. (But a script takes a week to write, on average.)
Nrama: Do you have more stories with Doc planned after this mini?
Roberson: I think that depends on how well these first eight issues do!
Nrama: Shane Black's makin' a Doc movie. What advice would you give to the man who wrote Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Monster Squad, three of the greatest pieces of American literature, other than, “Don't try to give John Phillip Sousa marches lyrics and call it a theme song?”
Roberson: I’ve seen some interviews with Black about the character, and he seems to have a good handle on him.
Nrama: What other pulp/Golden Age/potentially public domain characters would you like to tackle? I want someone to do something with the Heap.
Roberson: Man, I’m pretty much working all my way through my Bucket List. I’m content to work on these, for the time being!
Nrama: What's next for you?
Roberson: Still writing The Shadow and Codename: Action for Dynamite, Mysterious Strangers with Scott Kowalchuk at Oni, and Edison Rex with Dennis Culver at Monkeybrain. My Image series with Paul Maybury looks like it will be starting up early next year, and I’m doing Aliens at Dark Horse.
Nrama: And finally: How, dare I ask, will you capture in print the soft, soothing trilling Doc Savage does when he's a-thinkin'?
Roberson: I’m still trying to figure that out!
Can you handle the Man of Bronze? Find out when Doc Savage #1 hits stores from Dyanamite Entertainment this December!