Millennial Doc Savage – Part 5

The DC Comics updating of Doc Savage to the present day ran for two special team-up stories and then 18 solo issues beginning in 2010, was wildly inconsistent — with remarkable highs and lows — and after the comic was cancelled, the rights to present the character in comics form shifted to another company. That publisher was Dynamite Entertainment, and they also planned to update Doc to the 21st century.

Of course there was no continuity between the story presentations of each company, so things with Dynamite went essentially back to square one. DC had utilized a reboot technique to transplant Doc into the time frame of 2010, but Dynamite took a different approach, beginning in the 1930’s and then moving forward through the decades. Doc’s survival across that arc of time was explained by his use of “silphium”, a plant introduced in the original pulp novel Fear Cay, which could be refined and ingested to produce human longevity.

In the Dynamite story, written by Chris Roberson, Doc experiments with the longevity drug on himself (and also uses it in a life-and-death emergency on his cousin Pat)…but on no one else. By the time he feels the drug is safe and begins preparations to share it with the world, a terrorist group destroys the installation that held the entire stockpile of silphium. So Doc will not age (and Pat, having received the drug only once, will only age slowly)…but everyone else ages and dies normally throughout the course of the story.

The story device to provide Doc with “immortality” felt a bit awkward, but at least it utilized plot elements from canonical pulp stories (though as Jeff Deischer points out in his comment below, not with complete accuracy…the life-extending qualities of silphium were debunked in the original novel). In any event, it allowed Doc’s whole pulp history to be utilized.

Beyond the technique used to carry Doc forward in time, the stories themselves attempted a coherent retelling of events between the 1930’s and 2014. This was carried out with a varying degree of success.

The Dynamite project certainly did correct one great flaw from DC’s attempted updating — creative continuity. The DC comic changed writers and artists almost constantly throughout its run, and the discontinuity was glaring. Dynamite used the same creative team throughout its series: author Chris Roberson, artist Bilquis Evely, and cover artist Alex Ross.

While that certainly made things more coherent, it provided problems of its own. The covers by Ross were brilliant…visually stunning to a degree that rivaled the great Bantam paperback cover artist James Bama. Evely, by contrast, provided somewhat pedestrian visuals. Her artwork across the arc of stories was competent, detailed (at one point I was amazed to see Evely depict the art deco designs of the elevator doors of the Empire State building…and they were absolutely correct. She clearly did her research) and consistent, but almost entirely lacked the dynamic power of Ross’ cover paintings. So after the thrill of the exterior package, the interiors were a distinct step down.

Empire state Building Elevator

Long Tom and an ESB elevator – art by Bilquis Evely

Roberson’s writing style exacerbated the effect. Though displaying a thorough and wide-ranging grasp of Doc Savage history, his sense of drama proved to be tepid, and characterization almost non-existent. Each story felt like a dry recounting of events…almost like a documentary. Doc’s aides were essentially ciphers, appearing for the purpose of advancing plot but little more. Doc’s original “Amazing Five” were depicted so shallowly they seemed to barely be there at all. Pat fared a little better, if only because she will go all the way through the 20th century in the story. The other aides age and die and are replaced by new characters…and in his zeal to repopulate the stories, the new characters are numerous, and unfortunately, equally wooden.

Issues 1-5 covered the decades from the Thirties to the turn of the century, and so I won’t explore the stories in depth here. With #6, the timeline crosses the year 2000, arriving in the Millennium.

But before exploring Roberson and Evely’s vision of Doc in the 21st century, here are the covers of the first five issues, all by Alex Ross.

To be continued…

2 thoughts on “Millennial Doc Savage – Part 5

  1. I sorta hate to keep doing this …. At the end of Fear Cay, Doc explicitly states that silphium cannot be used to extend human life. This was another of PJF’s lies about the canon. Contrary to what Farmer claims in his biography of Doc about it being a youth drug, “silphium was only a valuable medicinal herb”; “it was an amazingly efficient antiseptic and tonic”. “Doc did not disillusion” Monk, who believes that silphium is a “Fountain of Youth” drug that prolongs life.

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    1. Absolutely right, Jeff. The Dynamite comics essentially ignored the conclusion of Fear Cay, using silphium as a device to prevent Doc from aging, but not in accord with the original story. This was a failing that occurred on several occasions in this comics series, using canonical elements, but incorrectly, in order to serve and advance author Chris Roberson’s plot.

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