RECENT USED BOOKSTORE FINDS!

I’m on vacation this week and I hit a really cool used book store in my travels.

I wasn’t holding out much hope for “Expressions of Time” because it sold jewelry and other trinkets in the front, but the back, where the books were, were a different story.

First off they had the largest collection of Bantam Doc Savage paperbacks I had ever seen. I’ve been scouring bookstores looking for these since I was thirteen years old and I have never seen so many. I scoured through them searching for the very few that I didn’t already have.

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There were two others but my photographing skills suck this morning.

I also found these gems:

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So, it was a pretty good day and I’m excited. I’m hoping to find even more today!

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Who is DOC SAVAGE?

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This post originally appeared at the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website, written under my pen name MD Jackson (The name I use when I write about art and other namby-pamby subjects, unlike the real manly-man topics I write about as Jack Mackenzie).

And it doesn’t get more manly that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Doc Savage!

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You may have heard the news this week that actor Dwayne Johnson (formerly the professional wrestler known as “The Rock”) has been cast as Doc Savage in an upcoming film by Shane Black.

For some of you this will be meaningless. For me this is a big deal and I can’t tell if this news is good or bad but the whole thing fills me with a sense of dread and anxiety.

First off: Who is Doc Savage?

Doc-Savage-March-1933Doc Savage was created by by publisher Henry W. Ralston and editor John L. Nanovic at Street & Smith Publications. His creation was an attempt to capitalize on the success of Street & Smith’s The Shadow Magazine. Additional material was contributed by the series’ main writer, Lester Dent. In contrast to The Shadow‘s mysterious and mystic qualities, Doc Savage was conceived as a scientific super adventurer.

Clark Savage, Jr., first appeared in March 1933 in the first issue of Doc Savage Magazine. Clark Savage (or “Doc” to his friends), had no special powers, but was raised from birth by his father and other scientists to become one of the most perfect human beings in terms of strength, intelligence, and physical abilities.

804949Doc Savage set up base on the 86th floor of a world famous New York skyscraper (implied, but never outright stated, as the Empire State Building). Doc Savage fights against evil with the assistance of his five companions, Monk, Ham, Renny, Johnny and Long Tom.

The Doc Savage adventure magazine debuted on newsstands in March of 1983. Although most of the adventures were written by Lester Dent, each adventure was attributed to Kenneth Robson, a Street and Smith house name. Street and Smith would go on to publish 181 issues of the magazine before it was cancelled in 1949.

docsavage_01b_bamaDoc Savage became known to more contemporary readers when Bantam Books began reprinting the individual magazine novels in 1964, this time with covers by artist James Bama that featured a bronze-haired, bronze-skinned Doc Savage with an exaggerated widows’ peak, usually wearing a torn khaki shirt and under the by-line “Kenneth Robeson”. The stories were not reprinted in chronological order as originally published, though they did begin with the first adventure, The Man of Bronze. By 1967, Bantam was publishing once a month until 1990, when all 181 original stories (plus an unpublished novel, The Red Spider) had run their course. Author Will Murray produced seven more Doc Savage novels for Bantam Books from Lester Dent’s original outlines.

For me it all began at the start of a summer vacation in 1975. My family had embarked on a long drive, my mother and father in the front and us three kids, me and my two younger brothers, in the back seat. As is typical in these situations, bickering began before long and my parents stopped the car in a nearby town to try to rectify the situation. I was given money and pointed to a used bookstore and told to go buy some comic books to read along the way.

In the front of the store was a bin containing used paperbacks which I immediately began to paw through. As I perused covers looking, no doubt, for some Star Trek books a cover leaped up at me from inside the bin.

It was a thin paperback emblazoned with the strange, vaguely flag-shaped words: Doc Savage. Above the type was another title: The Other World.

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To a ten year old kid who loved monsters, dinosaurs, heroes and action, this cover was a perfect storm. The cover art was so fantastic and yet so real! Was it a photograph? I had to squint closely at it to determine that it was a painting, but the most realistically rendered one I had ever seen! I did not know it at the time, but the cover artist was the amazing and talented James Bama, the artist whose work adorned most of the paperback reissues of the Doc Savage adventures.

SavageI purchased the paperback and spent the rest of that summer engrossed in the breathless and thrilling world of Doc Savage and his amazing crew of larger than life heroes. I was hooked. That summer, if it wasn’t Doc Savage, I wasn’t interested.

And that summer there was a lot of Doc Savage going on. 1975 was the year that Warner Brothers released the first film version of Doc Savage produced by George Pal. In the wake of that release, Marvel Comics had begun producing a monthly Doc Savage magazine featuring all-new Doc Savage adventures rendered in amazing black-and-white art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga. Naturally I devoured each and every issue.

RogerKastelMovieThe 1975 film, although criticized for not taking itself seriously enough, was a faithful adaptation of the characters and situations, if not the actual plot of the first novel. In 1975 Warner Brothers was obviously uncertain how to market the film to audiences. Since the 1966 Batman movie and TV series, with its campy tone and self-depreciating humor was such a success, that seemed to be the way to go. In hindsight it is clear that the attempt only succeeded in needlessly ruining what could have been a decent film.

The movie is very dated. It is clearly of it`s time (I mean the 1970`s, rather than the 1930`s in which it was set) and it featured no really big stars. The actor playing Doc, Ron Ealy, had achieved his success by starring in a television series based on Tarzan in the decade prior to this.

Now, more than 40 years later, Hollywood is about to try again. Shane Black, the director and writer of movies such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3, is determined to bring the character back with Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson as the iconic pulp superhero.

Will it succeed? Will it even happen? Who knows? But people will be talking about it, and if you knew nothing about Doc Savage, at least now you know a bit more than you did before.

The Man in the Torn Shirt

Here is a reprint of my most recent post for the AMAZING STORIES website. This post was inspired by my good buddy Cal over at the Cave of Cool who tends to knock one of my great childhood heroes because of his choice of shirts.

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This post is about icons.

It’s about powerful images and the way that they can become stuck in the public consciousness.

But it’s also about old pulp heroes. One in particular.

I suppose I should start at the beginning. Not back in the 1930’s when Street and Smith released a new hero pulp magazine featuring a super-scientific crime fighter named Doc Savage. Not even in the 1960’s when the adventures were reprinted in paperback format with covers painted by artist James Bama.

For me the beginning was the summer of 1976. I was eleven years old and it was the start of our family summer vacation. Summer vacation for me meant long drives in a hot car with my brothers and I in the back seat. We had made a stop somewhere and my mother sent us in to a used bookstore with a little bit of pocket money to buy comic books to try to keep us interested in something else other than fighting amongst ourselves.

DocSavageTheOtherWorldCoverProofI started rifling through the second-hand paperbacks. I can’t remember exactly what I was looking for, but when I came across the Doc Savage paperback I was stopped cold. The cover showed a muscled man with a torn shirt and a strange haircut, fending off a trio of weasel-like creatures. The name DOC SAVAGE was blazoned across the top but above it was the name of the adventure: The Other World.

The description on the back of the book got me even more excited. “To the world at large, Doc Savage is a strange, mysterious, figure of glistening bronze skin and golden eyes…”

How could an eleven year old resist that? I read the paperback and wanted more.

Fortunately there were lots around at the time. George Pal had just made Doc Savage, the movie. There were comic books and magazines and plenty more paperbacks all featuring the iconic image of Doc Savage sporting a torn shirt.

The iconic torn shirt.

An icon is a religious work of art from Eastern Christianity. Depictions of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, saints, what have you, these images were very powerful representations of a people’s faith.

The icon has become co-opted by our society for anything but religious purposes. An icon is a visual representation of an idea or a feeling. It can be a symbols that encapsulates a feeling or an idea. Icons are very powerful, though we tend not to think too consciously about them. But that’s how they work.

Take Sherlock Holmes. Holmes was never… NEVER… described as wearing a deerstalker cap. The illustrator of the stories, Sidney Paget depicted Holmes wearing a traveling cloak and a deerstalker hat for one adventure. For whatever reason, the deerstalker became permanently associated with Holmes. The deerstalker was a country cap, favored by hunters. To wear it year round, in the city was an absurd thing back in the late 1880’s, yet it quickly became Holmes’ costume.

Put on a deerstalker cap and you are Sherlock Holmes. Even the recent BBC TV series Sherlock, which has updated Holmes to the Twenty-First century, could not entirely get away from at least giving a nod to the existence of the famous cap.

Doc Savage wearing a torn shirt ALL the time is ridiculous. Yes, he’s an adventurer and very busy. If, in the course of an adventure his shirt gets torn he doesn’t have time to get a new one.

Some bloggers, including Calvin from Calvin’s Canadian Cave of Cool, take to complaining about it, asking why he doesn’t make his shirts out of the same, seemingly durable material out of which his pants are made.

But these questions are immaterial. Doc Savage’s ripped shirt is iconic. It’s as iconic as Sherlock Holmes’ deerstalker, or Tarzan’s loin cloth.

It was not always like that. Just as with Holmes’s deerstalker, the torn shirt is a product of the illustrator. Doc Savage’s original pulp magazine run featured lots of action-filled covers and on some Doc appears wearing a ripped shirt. In the very first issue Doc’s shirt is torn. Nowhere near as torn as it would be in later covers, but it was there from the beginning. But other covers do not feature the torn shirt. In some cover illustrations Doc is wearing a suit and tie with not a single rip in sight.

When the adventures were released in paperback the job of painting the covers went to artist James Bama. Bama was the one who settled on the image of the torn shirt (the publishers insisted on the weird, widow’s peak hairstyle, but that’s another story) and the torn shirt appeared on every single cover that Bama or any other artist painted, right up until today.

 
So now, poor Doc Savage has to wear a torn shirt all the time, just like Sherlock Holmes was saddled with his ridiculous deerstalker. Perhaps Doc will move beyond the torn shirt. There is supposed to be a new movie in the works. Perhaps that will give us a new iconic image for Doc Savage. Maybe something cleaner, sophisticated and less… torn.

Perhaps that is a vain hope. I imagine that the poster for the movie, should it ever materialize, will feature a picture of whatever broadly muscled actor they cast sporting a shirt hanging raggedly about him to better highlight his pectorals and six-pack abs. That image will still overshadow the essence of a character who is so much more than a torn shirt.

Such is the power of the icon.