Monday, July 19, 2010

What's Up? Doc!

In the past week or so, I've been reading some of the later Doc Savage novels that have sat untouched on my bookshelf for far too long. First up was Death Had Yellow Eyes, a late-war-era adventure from 1944 that had high-tech gadgetry, a locked room mystery, a near-perfect frame-up, archetypal Monk and Ham interplay, and lots of Nazis. The latter isn't necessarily a good thing, by the way; all too often, once Nazis enter the villainous picture, characterization falls by the wayside (after all, we all know what Nazis are like, right?). Still, it was an adequate book; the biggest problem is that Doc himself makes several mistakes and spends far too much of the book obsessing over any potential damage to his hands; it's out of place enough that it actual hinders the story at times.

Then came One-Eyed Mystic, the abbreviated paperback title for the 1944 pulp adventure According to Plan of a One-Eyed Mystic. Apparent body swapping, an enigmatic mystic who seems Indian-by-way-of-Mexico, more Nazis (I hate those guys), and yet another frame-up. After a while, you'd think the police would realize that, if the evidence pointed to Doc, Ham, Monk, Renny, Johnny, or Long Tom, that's should be proof positive that they didn't do it. This one flows a little better than Yellow Eyes, but it's obvious that either of these are as energetic or inspired as almost any of the 1930's Doc Savage novels.

Even so, these tales are heads and shoulders above the disappointing Doc Savage comic; I haven't figured out how that book went so badly awry, since writer Paul Malmont had done a great Lester Dent-Walter Gibson adventure novel (Chinatown Death Cloud Peril) before tackling the comic. Alas, Malmont got no guidance on comic book story construction or development, it appears; he seems to have been more or less thrown in the deep end and left to flail around on his own, all the while being critiqued for his lack of swimming technique. In fact, it was that disappointing comic book series that inspired me to revisit the Doc Savage pulps; I wanted to make sure that my appreciation of those pulps wasn't overly colored by nostalgia. It wasn't--even the more lackluster pulps still have a verve and a vitality that the comic book Doc Savage lacked.