Showing posts with label Doc Savage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Doc Savage. Show all posts

Monday, December 18, 2023

Doc Savage #93 - Tunnel Terror

I'm no authority on Doc Savage. I've read a handful of pulp stories featuring the Man of Bronze and his bickering all-star team of supporting characters. I've enjoyed the stories for the most part, but always found the plot-development to build to a disappointing reveal as to who, or what, was creating the hideous, menacing, and all-consuming evil that plagued society for roughly 130-paperback pages. In some books the reveal is senseless, like in Quest of Qui (July 1935) when the mysterious glowing liquid found in the New York harbor is left unanswered. Or, why Vikings appeared ageless in the story. But, with a new mindset and determination, I journeyed into the dark to experience the August 1940 story Tunnel Terror, which was authored by William G. Bogart and reprinted as a Bantam paperback (#93) in February 1979.

Engaging the part of my brain that loves Scooby-Doo and Hardy Boys, I read and enjoyed Tunnel Terror. The book begins with a drifting laborer named Hardrock Hennesey wishing he was in the safety of New York City instead of an undisclosed Western-American mining town. While walking along a rural highway, Hennesey experiences a strange fog that seems to instantly dry out people into a brittle, crispy husk. Someone call Doc Savage!

For sake of time, I'll fast-forward through the complex mini-mystery of how Savage is brought from New York to the mining town. Instead, we get Savage, Renny, Ham, and Monk arriving by plane with their two pointless pets, a pig and a runt-sized ape. Together, they begin interviewing Hennesey and the mining supervisors. The goal is to figure out what the fog is and how it scientifically works. But, the fog can't be duplicated or analyzed until someone can actually find it. The secret is in the mines, specifically an unexplored section that hints at a lost race of giant people that commanded torture and sacrifices. Are the giant people still alive? Are they haunting the mines? Only Savage can find the answer.

Tunnel Terror has a great pace and for the most part is very entertaining. The addition of an engineer's brother, a woman named Chick Lancaster, added a little something extra to the narrative. Her team-up with Savage takes place outside of the mining town and involves an investigation into a missing governor. How his capture ties into the weird fog and dried-up people is the detective journey readers embark on. Overall, nothing to dislike here. Tunnel Terror may be one of my favorites of my small Doc Savage sample size. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 43

On Paperback Warrior Episode 43, we countdown the blog’s 10 most popular reviews chosen by our readers. Tom discusses new finds by old authors Robert Colby and Andrew Frazer. Eric laments the horror of moving thousands of vintage paperbacks and shelves to a new home. Listen on your favorite podcast app, PaperbackWarrior.com, or download directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 43: Top 10 Review Countdown" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Doc Savage #183 - Escape from Loki

The idea of retroactive continuity, commonly referred to as retcon or retconning, is a popular method for new writers to add additional elements or facts to a previously published work. It's been utilized by comic writers for decades and can often be found in early pulp magazines as a way to modernize the heroes for a new generation. The most recent retcon novel I've read and reviewed was Stephen Mertz's fantastic take on Mack Bolan's pre-Executioner life in Super Bolan #04: “Dirty War”. On Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 25, I talked about Nick Carter's retroactive continuity (erasing, ignoring or contradicting prior events) from early pulp detective to international paperback spy. So it's no surprise to find that author Philip Jose Farmer utilized this same technique for his 1991 retcon 'Doc Savage' novel “Escape from Loki” (Bantam).

Philip Jose Farmer (1918-2009) was a highly respected science-fiction and fantasy author noted for his series 'Riverworld' and 'World of Tiers'. Farmer had a fondness for reworking existing fictional heroes into new novels and stories. From “Moby-Dick” and “Wizard of Oz” to “Around the World in Eighty Days”, Farmer would often fill in missing time periods or create sequels to literary works that were created by other authors. Farmer created two mock biographies of famed literary characters, “Tarzan Alive” and “Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life”. As a fan of the Doc Savage novels since 1933, Farmer chose to author one original series novel, “Escape from Loki”, which showcases the character at the age of 16 during WW1. By retconning what original author Lester Dent presented in “The Man of Bronze” (1933), Farmer is able to present an origin story explaining how Doc Savage originally met his beloved team members.

“Escape from Loki” races out of the gate as the young Doc Savage pilots one of his first aviation missions. It's explained to readers that Savage was hoping to pilot for the U.S. Air Service, but due to their planes needing machine gun installations, Savage's Colonel assigned him to a French aerial combat unit. Farmer uses this as an exciting sequence of events where Savage is shot down during dogfights over Germany. Making his way through the forest, Savage finds shelter in an abandoned farmhouse with two American soldiers. When the two immediately begin squabbling with one other, it's apparent that these men are Ham and Monk. While Savage's introduction to both of them is brief, it's a rewarding experience for Doc Savage fans to pinpoint where he met two of his most trusted allies.

After he's captured by German soldiers, Savage is subjected to a strange dinner party hosted by Von Hessel and Countess Idivzhopu. After escaping Hessel's fortified home, Savage manages to steal a German aircraft but once again finds himself captured by Germans and placed on a train of POWs. After escaping a third time, Farmer's novel reaches a heightened frenzy as Savage is forced to fight a pack of wild dogs inside a bombed out farmhouse. In what could be considered a series abomination to some fans, this 10-12 page portion of the book was an absolute highlight for me personally. Savage's violent battle with the dogs is a bloody carnage of broken legs, sliced throats and stabbings. Then, the starved, crimson-smeared Savage sits on a rooftop prepared to eat the raw carcass of a dead dog. Thankfully, there's another dog battle that leads him into a secret room where he finds that the prior owners were sacrificing infants on a Satanic altar! 

I can't help but think that Farmer was venturing off into a different style of storytelling, one that was wildly obscene yet mesmerizing. I was as equally entertained as horrified by the author's stark contrast to Dent's original work. Savage is caught for the final time and shipped to the notorious and supposedly impenetrable Loki prison camp, thus curbing Farmer's penchant for the peculiar.

The book's second-half explores Savage's life at the prison camp and his strategizing an escape from the facility. It's here that he is reunited with both Ham and Monk and the two continue there hilarious insults and banter. It's only a matter of time before Renny, Johnny and Long Tom make their introductions. Together, Savage and the five men form an escape plan while learning that Von Hessel may be performing terrifying experiments on the prisoners. In the book's finale, readers experience a small amount of pulp-fantasy that is reminiscent of Doc Savage's typical “super-powered” villains.

“Escape from Loki” receives an equal amount of love and disdain from Doc Savage fans. Some are alienated by Farmer's writing style and his attempts to capture the original style of Doc Savage storytelling. At the same time, fans appreciate this origin story and find that Farmer's characterization is spot-on (although universally everyone seems to agree that Farmer's treatment of both Monk and Ham was exceptional). For me personally, I've always had an average experience with Dent's original Doc Savage stories. The first half of “Escape from Loki” was remarkable and surpasses the better Savage narratives I've read. The second half wasn't quite as impressive with some sluggish scenes, a rushed (or even botched) ending and a halfhearted attempt at introducing Savage to his future colleagues.

Overall, “Escape from Loki” should be a mandatory read for Savage fans. It is clear that Farmer adored the series and attempted to treat the characters and fans with care and respect. While not perfect, the book was exhilarating at its best and easily acceptable at its worst. You deserve the opportunity to be your own judge.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, March 23, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 36

In Paperback Warrior Podcast Episode 36, our field correspondent witnesses a book purge at a legendary bookstore. Who got the axe? We discuss big news regarding Max Allan Collins’ Nolan books and a vexing problem concerning John Boland’s Gentlemen series. Eric reviews a Doc Savage book by Philip Jose Farmer, and Tom covers The Captain Must Die by Robert Colby. Stream below on your favorite podcast app. Direct downloads HERE:

Listen to "Episode 36: Max Allan Collins' Nolan" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Doc Savage #12 - Quest for Qui

“The Quest of Qui” was originally published as the July, 1935 issue of “Doc Savage Magazine”. When Bantam Books reprinted these classic stories in paperback novel format, this title became #12 in their series (July 1966). It was written by Lester Dent under the house name of Kenneth Robeson.

Tourists aboard a yacht called Sea Scream find what appears to be a Viking Dragon Ship off the coast of Long Island, NY. Venturing closer, they discover the ship's passengers resemble Vikings and they are holding a beautiful blonde as prisoner. The mysterious discovery leads to the threat of violence when the Vikings exchange boats with the Sea Scream's passengers. The Viking ship, and it's passengers, arrives safely back to harbor while the Sea Scream goes missing.

In the opening chapters, Johnny (William Harper Littlejohn) finds some clues that suggests the Viking ship may have sailed near the Labrador Coast, an arctic area in the Canadian Northeast. He flies solo to the area and discovers a wounded man and a bunch of bad guys. Escalating the mystery further, the rest of Doc Savage's “fabulous five” crew are all attacked in New York by phantom like entities that throw knives and spears. What!?!

After aligning with a wealthy business owner, Savage and company fly to Labrador searching for Johnny, a missing plane and some evidence that the theft of the Sea Scream is connected to the personal attacks the team experienced. Once there, the gang fights with greedy criminals, dwarves, and Vikings while trying to survive the harsh conditions.

I can't help but feel as though Dent just gets in his own way while writing this story. After the entire 119-pages, I still don't understand any of it. Why? Because Dent spends most of his time fixating on the adventure without explaining any of it. Who are the criminals? Why are the Vikings ageless? What is the mysterious glowing liquid found in the New York harbor? Why and how are invisible entities attacking the team? None of this is explained. It's as if Dent just wanted to get out in front of this story and provide atmosphere, wild adventure and an epic fight...without actually designing a coherent plot.

I'm just a casual Doc Savage fan and have enjoyed prior installments. But this novel was really difficult to enjoy within the murky haze of an undeveloped plot. Whoever said the most beautiful view comes after the hardest climb never read “The Quest for Qui.”

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Doc Savage #08 - The Land of Terror

I’m notating this review as “Doc Savage 08” due to Bantam releasing these in paperback order. “The Land of Terror” was originally released as the second ‘Doc Savage Magazine’ issue in April, 1933. The confusion may lie in the fact that Bantam released their books out of the series' original publishing order (under house name Kenneth Robinson). I’m still a new reader of this character and many sources advise me to just read them in any order. So, with that explanation clearing the air…

“The Land of Terror” picks up after the events of the series debut, “Man of Bronze”. Savage is now receiving his pipeline of funds and can afford to travel the world righting wrongs. In one early effective scene Savage hands a fistful of cash to a woman experiencing blindness. He encourages her to use the money and a personalized handwritten note to seek out a surgeon friend of Doc’s. He does this while chasing a bad guy, which is ultimately the book’s setup and early premise. It turns out Doc’s friend and chemist Jerome Coffern is melted by a mysterious substance released by the villain Kar. In furious opening chapters, the reader is tagging along as Savage is on a highspeed foot chase to capture Coffern’s murderer. The killer is attempting to dodge Savage’s advance by running through New York streets, downtown apartment buildings and onto a tourist ship in the Hudson River. It’s a long but entertaining sequence of events that culminates in the killer escaping.

Later, Savage does a little detective work and learns that the melting substance being used is called the Smoke of Eternity and Kar’s gang plans to use it for robbing banks and other dastardly deeds. As a gumshoe, Savage learns that Coffern, a taxidermist named Bittman and a guy named Yuder traveled to a remote New Zealand location known as Thunder Island. After asking Bittman, an old friend of Doc’s father, about the trip, Bittman suspects that Yuder could really be the mysterious Kar and that the Smoke of Eternity could have originated from Thunder Island. After another furious chase scene that involves Monk being captured, the team pursue the bad guys from New York to Thunder Island. From here it falls into what I perceive as the typical Doc Savage adventure tale - exotic location, strange creatures, gunfire and a quest or chase to thwart some evil mastermind.

It’s only Dent’s second issue of writing this character but it’s clearly evident he has a firm grasp on what he wants to express to the reader. The first half of the book works really well as a simultaneous chase scene while still asking probing questions as an investigative pursuit of plot. The second half is by far the best as Doc’s team faces dinosaurs and Kar’s henchmen inside of a volcano. Fans of the series often point out the fact that this entry includes five killings, something Doc’s team doesn’t do much (if any) of in future volumes. High body count on a pursuit of vengeance. I’m okay with it.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Doc Savage #01 - The Man of Bronze

Predominantly, my Paperback Warrior musings are catered to 70s and 80s fiction, but I’m leaping through time to cover this iconic pulp warrior. Shamefully it has taken me 41 years on Earth to read my very first Doc Savage title. Over the years I’ve discovered the character while browsing a multitude of media including novels, comics, magazines and audio. For some reason, I just never had any interest in delving beneath the surface until now.

‘Doc Savage Magazine’ was first published in March, 1933 via Street & Smith publishers. Street & Smith was a New York company formed in 1855. It released its first pulp, ‘The Popular Magazine’, in 1903. By the mid-20s the pulp market had exploded, led by what many claims as the “Big Four” – ‘Argosy’, ‘Adventure’, ‘Blue Book’ and ‘Short Stories’. Street & Smith publishing agent Henry Ralston and editior John Nanovic had a hit on their hands with ‘The Shadow’ and were pursuing a second title. They pitched their Doc Savage hero concept to author Lester Dent with a dangling carrot of $500-$750 paychecks per book. It was a triumphant transaction that led to Doc Savage appearing a whopping 181 times for the magazine and related media. In 1964, the title regained popularity with Bantam reprinted each magazine as an individual novel. The books were handsomely presented with new artwork by James Bama and listed under house name Kenneth Robeson. These books are mostly out of chronological publishing order except the first – ‘The Man of Bronze’.

As the forerunner to the modern superhero, ‘The Man of Bronze’ starts the series as the obligatory origin story. It begins by introducing us to Doc Savage and his “Fabulous Five” team members. Each are introduced by name and what their overall skill is. Monk is a strong type that doubles as an industrial chemist. Ham is an accomplished attorney with a sword cane. Renny is the team’s brawn and construction engineer. Long Tom is an electrical wizard and Johnny rounds it off as the team’s archaeologist, complete with magnifying lens over his damaged left eye. Savage himself is sort of the conglomerate of all his team’s skills, only he has perfected each due to a strenuous two hours daily spent exercising his body and mind. Author Lester Dent describes Savage as a physical specimen with a chiseled “bronze” body.

Savage and his teammates served together in WWI, yet it wouldn’t be until Philip Farmer’s 1991 novel, ‘Escape from Loki’, that the full details are explained. The group is assembled on the 86th Floor of what is presumably New York’s Empire State Building after learning of the murder of Savage’s father. Doc, in distress, learns that his father was poisoned while exploring a remote location called Hidalgo in Central America. During the assembly, a red-handed assassin attempts to assassinate Doc. Through the book’s opening chapters, the group run from building to building chasing the assassin before learning that Savage’s father left a hidden message behind. This message pushes the book’s focus to the team traveling to Hidalgo to investigate not only the murder, but the land that has been willed to Doc.

From one fast-paced frenzy to another, Dent presents a riveting adventure for the team. From deep underground caves and primitive villages to sea and air battles, ‘The Man of Bronze’ covers a lot of ground and, for the 1930s, took the imagination into foreign and exotic lands. Collectively, the team uses all of their resources to foil the enemy and solve the inevitable mystery. Who’s the assassin? Why did he murder Doc’s father? All of this comes to fruition in a climatic, mountainside finale that finishes one chapter while introducing elements that will be key in future editions. The author’s clear boundaries of good and evil are questionable in 2017, but one has to remember this was written in a much simpler time with black and white social and cultural outlines. It’s easy to dismiss the fantasy and incredible writing style, often putting Doc Savage at Godlike strength and mind, but that’s the whole idea, right? It isn’t really supposed to make sense.

It’s written as an escape from the factory work and mundane daily rituals. For my own interpretation, Savage is one-part Indiana Jones, one-part Bruce Wayne and one-part Captain America. His skillset or power? I think it could easily just be perfection. He’s seemingly human perfection. Who wouldn’t want to be this bronze, intelligent hero? I say bring on book two – ‘The Land of Terror’. I can’t get enough of this stuff.

Buy a copy of this book HERE