Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Doc Savage: The Miracle Menace

Just finished the trade paperback of Will Murray's Doc Savage novel, "The Miracle Menace". The story definitely lives up to the blurb of "the weird adventures of Doc Savage". Most of the science fiction oriented Doc stories have one fantastic or inexplicable element outside of Doc's gadgets: invisibility, dinosaurs, a lost race of unique humans. This one has several, to the point that the book has footnotes explaining that Doc has come across something similar before. That alone is something the original books did not make much use of, referencing previous adventures when Doc and crew encountered something similar such as invisible crooks.

The structure of the novel is that of what could easily be two novels, but made to overlap and told in a parallel structure. Doc and his crew come to Missouri to investigate the reports of a Victorian era house in the middle of nowhere that disappears when approached, just leaving a concrete foundation behind.

Meanwhile, down-on-his-luck magician Gulliver Greene is working in a gas station in town nearby, waiting for news of a comeback gig. Instead, he finds himself embroiled in a mystery, framed for murder over a telegram that says Christopher Columbus is alive and well in the 20th Century and which seems to involve a group of tent evangelists of a sorts who claim to read minds, one of whom is a beautiful woman named Saint Pete. Luckily he has the inveterate liar Spook Davis, his assistant in better days, to help him out. When he's not panicking when he sees the sign of a gun.

The dual nature helps the story move quickly from event to event and mysteries getting more mysterious and the danger and efficiency of the villains growing as the story progresses. Gulliver Greene and Spook Davis feel like some of Dent's early non-Doc heroes, though the magic tricks echo some other pulp heroes and writers.

The Monsters/The Whisker of Hercules: From there I moved on to two recent reprints of the original pulps. I picked up this double in part because of the interview with James Bama talking about the bantam covers as well as a look at the 1940s comicbook Doc Savage. Because of them being still under copyright, information on characters from Street & Smith's comics can be a little difficult to come by. As these "reprints" include chapters that were edited out of the original stories, I decided to read them again.

I've read "The Monsters" paperback a couple of times. It was also adapted by Marvel Comics back in the 1970s. The menace of the monsters, the deadly efficiency of the bad guys, it all makes an exciting story. The female character is woefully under-utilized. She is interestingly described as having steel colored hair and eyes, serving as a counterpoint to Doc's own unique metallic looks. She is also a lion tamer and speaks an obscure language. As a character, I always thought she'd be an interesting one to have as a recurring character.

"The Whisker of Hercules" does a better job with the female character of Lee Mayland. She's characterized as nervy and a genius growing up in the town the action takes place and the bad guys seem to have a certain respect for her as well. At some point she made the acquaintance of Monk Mayfair, so when her brother is involved in some kind of criminal plot involving the myth of Hercules, she thinks of calling in Doc Savage. This has Doc and crew coming across villains who seem to have the ability to toss Renny fifteen feet into the air, pull a Superman, wreck their car by hand, and out maneuver Doc and steal a corpse out from under his nose. In this case, the person under-utilized is the probable bad guy Marvin Western. Designed along the lines of Charles Atlas, he keeps an estate built to glorify his physical perfection with sculptures and keeps hanger ons devoted to his ideas of physical culture. His cultish organization sounds like something that would pop up in the pages of The Shadow. Like Lee, there are some comparisons to Doc.Much is made of the power of his voice and his hair is described as silver. It ends there, as the man is full of his self importance contrasted with Doc's humility and he proves to be an abject coward. We never see how he would fare against Doc or even Renny or Monk. It is interesting to note that the surviving bad guys go to jail, not Doc's crime college. It is an enjoyable read, I enjoyed it more than when I first read it years ago.