Sunday, September 30, 2018

Doc Savage Covered (1938)


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To the world at large, Doc Savage is a strange, mysterious figure of glistening bronze skin and golden eyes. To his amazing co-adventurers--the five greatest brains ever assembled in one group--he is a man of superhuman strength and protean genius, whose life is dedicated to the destruction of evil-doers. To his fans he is the greatest adventure hero of all time, whose fantastic exploits are unequaled for hair-raising thrills, breathtaking escapes and blood-curdling excitement.




More Doc Savage today. (Woo!)

From previous posts, you already know:
  • I'm going through all 181 Street & Smith pulps (by year of pulp publication) and their corresponding Bantam reprints. (The pulps were originally published between 1933 and 1949, and the reprints between 1964 and 1990.)
  • Emery Clarke and Walter Baumhofer painted the lion's share of pulp covers, and James Bama and Bob Larkin did most of the paperback artwork. (And of course, Lester Dent did most of the writing.)
  • Book blurbs you see are from the reprints--the pulps only had three or four-word cover descriptions--along with slightly longer ones inside under the story's title--but nothing remotely as blurb-tastic as the reprints came up with later.
  • As far as commentary goes, I'm not doing a ton of it for each cover, but whenever something catches my fancy, I (usually can't help but) mention it.
  • You can click through most covers to see larger versions, using your browser's back button or keyboard shortcut to get yourself back to the full post.
Okay then: "1938 awaits!" (Spoken with deep, eerie and echoey voice--natch.)



The Living Fire Menace (January 1938 and June 1971) by Harold A. Davis & Lester Dent

Nations arming for international conflict engage in a behind-the-scenes mineral war that threatens to disrupt the natural balance of the universe. The Man of Bronze rises to the titanic peak of his strength and wit to uncover the secret of the cavern with the living fire!

Artist: Emery ClarkeArtist: James Bama

Well, that blurb starts out pretty run-of-the-mill: international conflict, mineral war--could be talking about any number of paperbacks there on the rack. Then we hit "...disrupt the natural balance of the universe..." and we're like "oh, must be a Doc Savage adventure."

And there have been mornings, after an especially late night, when I've had to rise to the titanic peak of my strength and wit to roll out of bed in a timely manner. I'm just saying I've been there, and that titanic strength and wit are things Doc and I have in common.

(Now on to these two covers, he wrote titanically!)

Hmm. Covers. You know I'm a fan of Bama's Doc in general--his sheer size and musculature are so impressive to me. But BamaDoc abstractly floating over a field of orange fire next to a big blue bubble? ... Meh.

On the other hand, Clarke's Doc amounts to a really nice figure study--obviously not sporting larger-than-life musculature like Bama's, but it's one extremely well-rendered figure by any standard you care to hold up. I'm sayin' it speaks (loudly, so it's kind of shouting) to the artist in me. I also like that firelight reflecting off Doc's skin. And I like that, dressed in nothing but his little red skivvies, Doc's remembered to bring his utility belt along.

And--hello--skeletons! Skeletons ALWAYS garner big points on a pulp or paperback cover, amiright? I mean, double points for LIVING SKELETONS, and these bones are clearly just lying there, but still: 800 Skeleton Points. Yeah, clear winner here.

In fact, just for fun, I'm throwing in an image of Clarke's original painting. Go ahead and click through to take a gander at his work, all up close and personal. Nice, nice stuff.




The Mountain Monster (February 1938 and September 1976) by Harold A. Davis & Lester Dent

The monster came without warning. It came as Indian legend had said it would come, in the night and while a storm raged. It brought terror and horror to peaceful Arcadia Valley. It transformed an Alaskan paradise into a panic-stricken, fear-blanched hell. Only one man could stop it — the Man of Bronze.

Artist: Harold Winfield ScottArtist: Boris Vallejo

Oh how I wanted that giant spider to be real when I first read this one as a kid. First encounter I had with the story was through the Bantam reprint, and man, what a cover! I mean, if Doc can end up in a lost valley filled with honest-to-god dinosaurs, he should be able to meet up with a real live giant spider as well, right? But no, this monster is (yet another) Scooby-Doo contraption built by bad guys to scare off the honest folk. Sigh.

And it is the spider that brings all the joy, on that Bantam cover. I don't remember if I've mentioned (it's taking me so long to get through these year-at-a-time posts), but being quite a fan of Boris Vallejo's work otherwise, I'm not so overcome by his Doc-renditions. (Shrug.)

But hey! A new artist has popped up on the pulp side of things! Click through the link on Mr. Scott's name (just underneath his pulp cover) for a little background info on the man. Apparently this is his one and only Doc cover, and I like it. I mean, clearly I can't place it above anything with a giant spider on it, but this is an interesting, engaging cover in its own right. Well done, Mr. One and Only.

GIANT SPIDER! Mmmmm....



Devil on the Moon (March 1938 and July 1970) by Lester Dent

A fiery red flash bursts through the silence of the night … a dying green man insists he’s been held captive on the moon .. a small blue capsule conceals an unearthly medallion. Can the invincible Man of Bronze piece together this weird puzzle in time to save the world from the devilish merchants of international war?

Artist: Emery ClarkeArtist: James Bama

I honestly don't remember if this story actually involves someone masquerading as a devil, but it does involve a group of evil-doers tricking folks into thinking they're being held captive on the moon. At any rate, looks like Bama just took the book title and painted it. A little fanciful for me (says the guy who raved about a cover's giant spider just one book back), but okay.

Gotta say I prefer Clarke's cover this time around--nothing overly exciting about it, to be sure--it's just that I prefer Doc and Pat dosing up a Bad Gal with (I assume) truth serum, to Looming Red Devil Guy. Nice to see both Doc and Pat on a cover together. I wonder how many times that happened? (Nope, I'm not going to go back and count.)

But you know? I like this story's title. It's a tiny bit outside the usual formula used for the series. You know, The _____ Mystery, or The _____ Ghost, etc. Mysteries and ghosts were very popular at the Doc Savage Titling Office.

Yeah, I like it.



The Pirate's Ghost (April 1938 and July 1971) by Lester Dent

At his supersensational best, the Man of Bronze finesses an international band of modern day pirates in possession of the master invention by the Mad Genius of Death Valley!

Artist: Emery ClarkeArtist: James Bama

And speaking of ghostly titles, there was one published the very next month! (Insert mysterious melodic trilling sound here.)

Okay, I like that this blurb uses the word "supersensational" and I pulp-honor it for that, but overall it's gotta be the lamest Bantam blurb so far (alas, another thing I'm not gonna go back and actually check on). I'm not wrong though, am I? The blurb's a snoozer.

And again, nice Doc on that Bama cover, but Big 70s TV Movie Pirate Guy is doing me no favors. None at all. I feel like he could start selling me cereal at any moment. Blech.

Clarke's cover is doing me a few favors, though. It's not changing my life, but there are small-to-medium-sized favors happening. I like the image overall, nice lines and composition. Wee fishes on the bottom right are a nice touch. Kind of an "X" going on visually, with Doc's body making one half and the anchor chain and fishes the other. I like the knife between the teeth too--kind of a cliche, but where else would you hold your knife if you needed both arms to swim?

It's just a more interesting cover for me, over all.

Nuff said.



The Motion Menace (May 1938 and September 1971) by W. Ryerson Johnson & Lester Dent

The Man of Bronze and his cousin Pat face an inordinate challenge: a machine that makes all modern weapons worthless. A gang of international thieves in control of the invention are shooting high: World Control.

Artist: Emery ClarkeArtist: James Bama

World control?! Those bastards!

Okay, Bantam covers haven't been faring well this time around, but I'll come right out and say I prefer this Bama cover to Clarke's. I'll also say it's the dirigible we're seeing in the background that put's the cover ahead in my book. (Heh. Get it? We're talking about books and I said "in my book." Heh.) Anyway, dirigibles are extremely cool, plus they have a name that is incredibly fun to say out loud, and I just like them, and that's why the Bantam cover wins here.

As for Clarke's cover, no real complaints, there's just not a lot going on in it to keep me interested. Is that a parachute that Doc is sitting on? Were those a thing, back in the day--you sat on your parachute? Hmm. You know, I'm reasonably sure that's a dirigible way down in the cover's bottom right. Are we looking up into the sky at Doc having just jumped out of an exploding dirigible?

I don't know, and maybe that's part of the problem with this one for me. I don't generally want to have to puzzle out what's going on in a pulp's cover--just pull it out and hit me over the head with it, already.



The Submarine Mystery (June 1938 and August 1971) by Lester Dent

It might be a hoax, and it might not be. Blood has been spilled! People are dead! The Man of Bronze ably confronts a dangerous crackpot scheme that has a baffled world wondering what will happen next.

Artist: Emery ClarkeArtist: James Bama

Well, if blood has been spilled and people are dead, I'm guessing it's not a hoax....

As for these two covers, I am seriously enamored with Bama's. Why? Take one look at his bursting-to-the-surface submarine and you'll know why. Submarines are right up there with dirigibles, as far as pulp-paperback-cover-coolness goes. (Pulp-paperback-cover-coolness is a technical publishing term--very big in the publishing world.)

Now if the corresponding pulp also had a submarine on its cover... we might have a closer contest. I guess Doc and damsel might be inside a submarine on Clarke's cover there, but sub-insides are not in the same league as sub-outsides, cool factor-wise.

So yeah, sub breaching at the surface wins hands down.

Hmm. Awfully shallow water BamaDoc is standing in. Must be a nice, deep ocean trench just behind him. Otherwise how would he be standing thigh-deep with that big old sub coming up hard enough to pop its prow (do subs have prows?) like that?

Yeah, gotta be a trench back there. That sub was probably running from a megalodon. (amiright, Steve Alten fans?) Sigh. And now, having brought a completely unrelated idea up, I'm compelled to include this megalodon size chart, totally out of the blue and courtesy of Fossil Guy. (Click through the image to ginormicise so you can fully appreciate it. Fossil Guy did nice work.)


Damn, that megalodon would SO dominate our oceans today. But I digress. On to Doc's next novel.



The Giggling Ghosts (July 1938 and January 1971) by Lester Dent

Fears of ghosts and a deadly giggling gas become a terrifying reality to millions of people threatened by the S.R.G.V. The Man of Bronze faces a supreme test as he pits might against the forces of evil.

Artist: Emery ClarkeArtist: James Bama

Okay, I am flat out enjoying PulpDoc in that sweater vest. Never mind he's keeping it cool while hanging from a skyscraper, unconscious woman in-hand--he's doing it all while rocking his late-thirties-business-casual to boot.

BamaDoc, on the other hand, is all locked, loaded and ready to kick ass in yet another ruined shirt. He looks supremely ready to take on every last one of those Shadowy Bad Guys lurking about in his cover's background. And, there will be NO GIGGLING INVOLVED should any ass-kicking take place--that mask Doc is wearing ensures he will be well defended during any "deadly giggling gas" attacks.

Yeah, it's a decent Bantam cover, but PulpDoc and his sweater vest take the deadmansprize here. (Now you're wondering what a deadmansprize is and if you can get one.)

Does this story involve laughing gas, as in the actual dentist-thing? (What's it called, CO2?) Ah, Google tells me it's C2O, and since it was around well before the 1930s it could be a factor in-story. Can't honestly say I remember a darn thing about this book's plot-line, and... a quick look at my own collection says I don't have this one available to thumb through, so we are just out of luck on that count.



The Munitions Master  (August 1938 and March 1971) by Harold A. Davis

Screaming trunks of soldiers seared by white-hot fire … a small, twisted man carrying long loaves of bread … a thin liquid with a peculiar sickening smell … Branded the worst traitor in history, the Man of Bronze fights through the flames of revolution to uncover the master of a world of the Living Dead!

Artist: Emery ClarkeArtist: James Bama

Wow, that is quite a cover blurb we've got going here.

I'm not even sure what a screaming trunk of soldiers refers to. A large container full of screaming enlisted men? Or is the container itself screaming? Or are we talking multiple enlisted men sans arms and legs, all tossed into a big box? I truly have no idea. (I had to go to a couple different sources on that blurb to make sure I wasn't looking at a typo. I wasn't. "Screaming trunk of soldiers" is the real deal.) Anyway, add small twisted men, long bread loaves and the living dead into the mix... that's gotta be quite a story.

As an aside, Harold Davis was apparently known for putting together some of the more outlandish of Doc's adventures, and while I've read them all at least once it was before I'd looked into things such as who wrote what, so I'm not the man to ask on that score. But I'll say that THIS is a Harold Davis story, and it sounds fairly over the top to me, so the Harold Davis theory is not disproved here.

As for these two covers, BamaDoc encased in ice is the winner for me. It's just a cool (*NPI) image. The pulp cover is decent too, but not over-inspiring. (Is it even possible to be overly inspired? That's like being too beautiful, or having too much peanut butter. Not sure you can really do that.)

*No Pun Intended

Regardless, the Evil Guard on Clarke's cover is surely about to get what's due him. We know he's evil because he's wearing red and has a goatee. Plus, he's cowering in the face of Righteous Courage. Wait, maybe he's only cowering 'cause he's about to get clocked by an angry bronze giant. Or maybe it's both.



The Red Terrors (September 1938 and July 1976) by Harold A. Davis

The Red Terrors — they came out of the depths to seize an unsuspected ship and transport its precious human cargo to their watery domain. There, in a lost sunken world under the sea, they lived securely. Until they sank the wrong ship … and the Man of Bronze came to call.

Artist: Emery ClarkeArtist Boris Vallejo

Hmm. Well, that Vallejo cover does nothing at all for me. His Red Terror looks like the Vulture, of whom I have never been a fan. (I thought Micheal Keaton did a nice job with that latest re-imagining, though.)

Clarke's cover definitely wins out for me this round. Nothing epic about it, to be sure, but it's at least delivering the goods as far as pulp action is concerned--being trapped in a room rapidly filling with water is not to be sneezed at. (...shudders...) What a way to go.



Fortress of Solitude (October 1938 and April 1968) by Harold A. Davis

The deep mysteries of Doc Savage are finally revealed! John Sunlight, poetic genius of evil, gruesome master of a thousand elements of screaming terror, discovers the innermost secrets of The Man of Bronze. Doc Savage finds himself enmeshed in a diabolical web of dark horror as he valiantly battles the appalling machines of destruction he himself has invented!

Artist: Emery ClarkeArtist: James Bama

You know, I think it's time I gave this one a second read-through. Pretty sure I only read it the one time, when I was going through all 181 stories.

Have I mentioned yet how I managed to do that? It was back in the day of PalmPilots. I was working nights, with a lot of nothing-to-do-but-must-stay-awake-at-all-costs time on my hands, and I'd come across a website with all 181 of Doc's adventures in .pdb format. On to my Palm they went and I got through all of 'em in about six months as I recall.

Of course my Palm and its files are long gone now, but that's how I got through all the adventures without actually having books-in-hand. These days, copyright holder Conde Nast is pretty quick to quash any electronic Doc Savage files they find lurking about the web, so I'd be surprised if you could get a hold of anything similar now. Too bad.

Anyway, as it turns out I do own a physical copy of this particular story, and so I gave it an airplane-read on the business trip that happened between that first paragraph up there and this one (life happens between paragraphs). The biggest standouts for me in the book were 1) how evil this book's villain was portrayed as being--he was a truly horrifying figure--frighteningly so, and 2) all the references to Doc as a very human character.

What I mean by that second point is this. Doc (especially earlier on in the series) is invariably painted as being very close to superhuman, physically and psychologically. He's always in control of himself and the situation. He never voices concern for his own safety, or really expresses any emotion at all. But in this story, instances of Doc's humanity are called out several times. Here are a few of 'em:
  • "Doc Savage was a normal fellow who... was rather unusual but still human enough. He had missed the play-life of normal children, and so he was probably more subdued, conscious that he hadn't gotten everything out of life. Talk... attributed all kinds of fantastic doings and powers to Doc Savage. But it was only talk."
  • The bronze man's powers of observation had been trained from childhood.... He had to notice little things... if he wanted to go on living.
  • "How did you figure that out?" Ham demanded. (Doc's aides were generally quite subservient, almost seeming to hold Savage in awe. Hard to imagine one of them "demanding" anything of him.)
  • [Doc's] face--they had never seen quite such an expression on his face before. It was something stark. Queer. They could not, at first, tell what it was; then they knew that the bronze man was feeling an utter horror.
  • Doc Savage had spun, and flung [himself] into the library. The bronze man snapped the library door shut behind him, then did nothing more exciting than stride to one of the great windows and stand stiffly, staring into the hazy northern sky. Doc's sinew-cabled arms were down, as rigid as bars, at his sides, and his powerful hands worked slowly, clenching and unclenching. He was doing something that none of his men had ever seen him do before. He was taking time out to get control of himself.
  • [Doc] never criticized his crew for errors or shortcomings. The bronze man made mistakes himself. Mistakes - his metallic face settled into the grimmest of lines. Mistake! This whole thing was the result of a mistake he had made. A horrible error. He had not told them that as yet, but the fact had taken shape in his own mind, and was there whenever his thoughts relaxed, to torment him like a spike-tailed devil.
Got some nice Ken Barr
cover art going on here.
So yeah. A horrified, out-of-control, tormented Doc is not the norm for this series. I do remember that Philip Jose Farmer, in his (excellent) book Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, talked about Doc losing some of his superhuman self-control as the series progressed. He called out The Lost Giant and several other books as examples, but I don't think he mentioned this one.

Oh, wow. We're 13 paragraphs in on these two covers, and I haven't weighed in on the artwork yet. Oops. Well, fun as the actual story was, neither one of these covers does a lot for me. Nothing wrong with either of them, they're just not getting my heart rate up at all. I guess if I had to go with one, it'd be... um....

Huh. I guess it's a tie. Weird. How often does that happen? (Not very often, if memory serves....)



The Green Death (November 1938 and November 1971) by Harold A. Davis

From Matto Grosso — in the deadly heart of the Green Hell — comes an organic mystery that paralyzes even the Man of Bronze: an oozing horror that wipes out the line between life and death!

Artist: Emery ClarkeArtist: James Bama

Eew. Oozing horror sounds too much like oozing sore and that's just gross. Let's see, we're almost to the end of 1938--this and one more month to go. So what's up for me with these two covers? Anything? Hmm. I'll say neither one stuns me.

Bama, as usual, has some nice dark-and-creepy going on in his cover. Nice image of Doc there, too. It looks familiar--I wonder if Doc was taken from an earlier cover and pasted into this cover's foreground. (Yet again, not something I'm going to research out.) I guess it's a pretty standard Bama-esque pose, though. Maybe that's all I'm seeing.

Anyway, I'm going with Clarke's cover this time. I'm liking the whole Doc tied to an alter thing going on there. Heck, you could swap Doc out for a certain member of the Greystoke clan and you'd have a Tarzan cover staring you in the face. Anyway, the more I look at the cover, the more I like it overall. Pretty iconic, priestess with raised dagger and the whole bit. Well done. Reminds me it'd be fun to do a Tarzan Covered post sometime....

Wow, is it me or does Doc have a particularly prominent nipple on display in Clarke's cover. (I'm not judging; I'm just asking.) 

On to this year's LAST COVERS.



The Devil Ghengis (December 1938 and December 1974) by Lester Dent

A fantastic horror has come out of the polar regions — a menace so bizarre it causes men to go insane! The Man of Bronze and his courageous crew penetrate the rugged Asian interior on a perilous mission: to find out the source of this mystery and smash the evil genius who controls it.

Artist: Emery ClarkeArtist: Fred Pfeiffer

That's gotta be Johnny, Renny and Ham staring down at a coffined Doc in that pulp cover, right? Cool to see so many of the main characters on a cover. I'll have to give this one a read as well (it IS the sequel to Fortress of Solitude, after all--villain John Sunlight was the only baddie to show up twice across all 181 stories. Anyway, if I give it a read I'll know exactly who's who on that cover.

I like the Clarke cover due to its being well-peopled--can't say there's a lot of action going on (there never is when the centerpiece is a coffin amiright?). But that Pfeiffer cover is really nice to look at, too. I mean visually it's a striking cover. Hmm. You probably know by now I'm not a fan of Giant Floating Head covers in general, but this one is a nice composition--maybe having Gengis' wrist and hand in there as well makes it less Floaty Heady.

Goin' with the old pulp though, on account of it having so many of the gang featured. (And if I read the story and find out I'm mistaken on who's who I may or may not remember to come back and update....)



And that's it! We are through with Nineteen Thirty Eight, in all its glory. 1939 is next (obviously), and it'll be the LAST 1930s cover set. Wow. I'll be curious to see how the pulp covers change (if they do) as we move through a new decade. I mean, certainly art in general, and commercial art in particular, has tended to reflect what was going on in the world at the time, right? So we'll see....

Till next time.