Pulp: New Wild Times for Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze

Author Will Murray on the Return of Doc Savage to Prose

By , Columnist

While it’s true that Clark “Doc” Savage, Jr. wasn’t the first of the Pulp era characters to get his own magazine, it’s hard to argue that the character hasn’t had a deep and lasting effect upon the conception and portrayal of the heroic male figure in all forms of modern American genre fiction.

Created to capitalize on the unexpected widespread popularity of The Shadow, Doc Savage had no supernaturally-derived powers. Instead, he was the product of a scientific upbringing instituted by his father. Almost from birth, Doc was trained by a succession of scientists and other specialists who molding the youth into a paragon of the ideal man.

Nicknamed “The Man of Bronze” due to his deeply suntanned skin, he was described by the chief writer of the series, Lester Dent, as a mixture of “Sherlock Holmes with his deducting ability, Tarzan of the Apes with his towering physique and muscular ability, Craig Kennedy with his scientific knowledge, and Abraham Lincoln with his Christliness.” Over the course of 181 issues published between March, 1933 and early 1947, Doc and his companions—five iconoclasts who were the top minds in their fields, with the occasional appearance by his cousin, the beautiful Pat Savage--inspired readers with one thrilling globe-spanning adventure after another.

Doc Savage and crew.jpgStill, that was but the beginning of this icon’s journey. Between 1967 and 1990, Bantam reprinted all of those original adventures as paperbacks, and another publisher is currently well into a second series reprinting those same tales. And, as might be expected, over the intervening years Doc and company have appeared in a variety of other media, ranging from radio plays and a mid-seventies film, to comic books and a series of new prose adventures.

Now, Will Murray, the man tapped by Bantam to write that new series of tales featuring Doc Savage in the early '90s, is preparing to relaunch the Man of Bronze in the medium that gave him birth. Given that Murray is both widely recognized as one of the foremost historians of the Pulp era and as perhaps the leading expert on all things Savage, not to mention the fact that he’s one hell of a writer in his own right - there’s real reason for fans of adventurous literature to get excited about the resurrection of this iconic character.

Will Murray & Doc Savage pic.jpgWhat is it about the Pulps generally, and Doc Savage in particular, that first grabbed you?

I blame Nancy Drew. I really do.

When I was in the third grade, my teacher had us read things like the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew. These were really old editions. I developed a taste for fiction from the '30s and 40s. So when I discovered Doc years later, he was operating on a turf and time I was familiar with.

What is it about the Pulp genre generally, and the Doc Savage mythos in particular, that has kept you coming back as a fan, a scholar, and a writer of fiction year after year?

This has been an evolving interest for me. Doc and his contemporaries grab me in the gut—here I include H. P. Lovecraft and Sax Rohmer, among other writers—and still repay rereading.

As a scholar, I find exploring the roots and the writers of the pulp era unendingly fascinating. Altus Press is about to release 50-odd Doc Savage articles of mine, culled from four decades of fanzines. It’s called Writings in Bronze. And we didn’t include any of the 50-plus pieces I’ve written for Sanctum Books in the last five years! 

As a neo-pulp writer, I can say I’ve learned from the best of the breed. And I’m not the only one. A lot of other modern writers turn to Lester Dent and his contemporaries for inspiration. 

How did you get involved in this revival of the Man of Bronze, and who’s working with you this time out, behind the scenes or otherwise? 

Actually, I am the revival of Doc.

I’ve been working on this for over ten years now. This deal was cooked up between the trademark owner Conde Nast, the Heirs of Norma Dent and myself. The objective is to perpetuate the exploits of Doc Savage and complete Lester Dents unfinished work. Seven new Docs are planned. More if they sell.

Matt Moring of www.AltusPress.com is the publisher. He also did the designing on The Desert Demons, from cover to interior layout. It looks great! So he’s the behind-the scenes artistic genius.

Well, why revive Doc now? Are there any special aspects of the character and his adventures that you believe will speak to today’s readers?

The timing was purely a licensing thing. Conde Nast had been fielding various options on the Doc Savage movie. The nature of options these days gives the studio a lot of say in ancillary licensing. Those deals had to be finalized before my deal could be approved.

Columbia has Doc Savage now. Let’s hope they make a great movie!

Since you’ve written a series of books featuring this character in the past, I was curious if your basic approach to crafting Doc’s adventures has changed over the years?

There’s no real difference, except that I’m a better writer. I hope. I varied the length of the novels back in the early '90s. I am doing that again. The Desert Demons is longer than a traditional Doc, but reads so fast you won’t notice. Horror in Gold jumps up a notch. With the third one, The Infernal Buddha, we’re talking an epic of Asian high adventure with the entire world at stake.

Will the whole supporting cast—from Monk and Ham and their respective pets to Pat Savage—appear in this new series of books?

In The Desert Demons, I consciously included the full cast—Pat Savage too—in order to reintroduce everybody. Since only a chapter of that story takes place in New York, in the second outing, Horror in Gold, I have set most of the action in Manhattan. This is an exploration of the World of Doc Savage.

We spend more time in the skyscraper HQ than any Doc novel ever written. Doc does a lot of CSI-style lab work. There’s a fight in his scientific library that shows its secrets like never before. 

How about classic adversaries, like John Sunlight? Will any of them make an appearance?

John Sunlight was killed off by God and Kenneth Robeson back in1938 and I’m leaving him moldering in his grave. But I am bringing back one of the great villains who was never satisfactorily killed. I won’t say who and I refuse to hint at when. But this arch-foe stands tall in any list of worst Doc Savage villains.

So, without giving too much away, what are some of the things that readers can expect to see in these new adventures you’re penning?

A great hero. Wonderful supporting characters. Memorable villains. Solid stories you can enjoy in one edition. No continued stories. No mess continuity. No ninjas, mutants, angst or unrequited relationships. Blood and corpses. Menaces more fantastic than anything Doc Savage and his Iron Men ever faced in the original exploits. 

Threats to humanity that stagger the imagination. Things from Outer Space. Time Travel madness. More emphasis on horror than before. And yes, there will be vampires. But these will be Kenneth Robeson-style vampires. I’m calling this new series the “Wild Adventures of Doc Savage” for a reason. Expect every novel to be over the top.

What do you get from writing Doc Savage, personally or professionally, that your other work doesn’t give you?

A version of the same thrill I first experienced reading Doc Savage. What a kick to bring him back to life! Beyond that, it’s creating a seamless collaboration with the great Lester Dent. Sometimes when I’m proofing these stories, I lose track of which sections are really mine! 

How about writing about the Pulps, themselves? What does conveying the history and significance of that specific genre give you that your other endeavors don’t provide?

What a great era. What great writers. Not to take away from contemporary authors, but most of the genres, heroes and tropes were created or refined on the pages of the pulp magazines. If we take away giants like Dashiell Hammett, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Ernest Haycox and their equivalents, where would the detective, adventure, horror and western genres be today?  When I write the background articles for Sanctum Books’ reprints of Doc and the Shadow, I love to delve into how those characters blazed the way for the superhero who dominates movie today. 

And what do you want your readers to get from your writing, be it one of these new Pulp-infused adventures or your other work? Is it just about giving them an entertaining couple of hours, or is there a little something more being offered to the readers if they want it?

I believe in entertainment. It can be smart or scary or thoughtful. But I focus on entertainment first. That’s what I look for in my reading and that’s what I want to give back. I strive to create stories where the reader becomes so immersed that he forgets that there is any writer.

Let’s say that there’s someone out there who’s still unsure about picking up these new books. What might you say to convince them that they should definitely check them out?

Go to www.adventuresinbronze.com and read Chapter I. Then ask yourself, Can I not keep reading? If not, it will cost you. The details are on the website. 

Anything else you’d like to add before I let you get back to work?

This Doc Savage revival happened synchronistically. At the same time Altus Press released The Desert Demons, www.Radioarchives.com began issuing my original seven Docs (previously published by) Bantam Books as audiobooks on CD, and in downloadable formats.

It’s the Summer of Doc Savage!

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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