Continuing the look at the literary efforts to update the iconic pulp magazine hero Doc Savage into the Millennial world of today, we come to the climax of Dynamite Entertainment’s 2013 comic book series Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. The story unfolded over eight issues, all written by Chris Roberson and drawn by Bilquis Evely, with covers by Alex Ross.
The penultimate issue of the series had a particularly chilling cover by Ross, displaying in vivid fashion some of the difference between the world of the Great Depression and the world of the present. In it, a mob, carrying cell phones, swarms violently over the figure of Doc Savage, with one of the assailants (in what has become typical post-2000 behavior), capturing the moment on his cell phone camera.
The story itself begins on an equally unsettling note. One of the foundational concepts of the Doc Savage series in the pulp magazines of the 1930’s was Doc’s “Crime College”. Unlike his pulp contemporary The Shadow, whose method for criminal deterrence was essentially to fill crooks with lead from his 45’s, Doc was deeply invested in rehabilitation. He had a secret medical facility where operations were performed on the brains of criminals encountered in his career of “righting wrongs”.
Essentially all memory of the criminal’s former life is erased, and those receiving the operation are then taught a trade and conditioned to hate all forms of crime, before being returned to society. In the 1934 pulp novel The Annihilist the procedure was described as dealing with something called the “crime gland”…a somewhat simplistic concept that was revised later in the series.
Needless to say, this approach to criminal rehabilitation would run into some serious issues in today’s world.
The Dynamite Entertainment series tackles those issues…first with an interview that exposes Doc’s activities to the world at large.
The scandal over the “Crime College” (referred to in this story as the “Serenity Convalescent Center”) snowballs, until Doc himself is brought before the Supreme court to explain himself.
It’s interesting to see the practical and moral issues raised by the concept of surgical intervention to prevent criminal behavior explored openly in the story. Arguments from both sides are presented with a degree of eloquence, providing much food for thought. Doc is not whitewashed of culpability for his actions, but things do become thematically skewed in the narrative as efforts to “restore” the individuals who have undergone the treatment somewhat predictably results in a return to criminal behavior. The most extreme example of this comes in the form of a horrific hack done to one of Doc’s primary 21st century tools, a cell phone called “The Bronze”, which has come into near-universal use all around the world.
A clever sidelight to the bronze phone is its ringtone…as you will see in the pages presented below, it trills.
Far more seriously, as Doc continues his crimefighting activities while the Supreme Court deliberates, he is confronted by everyday people who are angry about the “brainwashing” allegations. Despite that, almost all of them carry a bronze phone, all of which (after trilling alarmingly), display a skull and crossbones, and an effect is unleashed that plunges everyone into a state of extreme, violent aggression.
Essentially, just about everyone in the world is overcome by insanely violent impulses…it looks like Armageddon has arrived, via cell phone.
“Millennial Doc Savage” to be concluded in the next article…