Omnipresent Sunlight: Doc Savage’s archenemy – Part 2

In Part 1, we took a look at John Sunlight’s origins in the pulps, as well as the interest in the character generated by his mention in Philip José Farmer’s Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, and the near miss of a Sunlight appearance in the Marvel/Curtis Doc Savage black and white magazine of the ’70’s.

It was finally DC Comics, when they launched an updated Doc Savage comic in the late 80’s, who orchestrated the return of the only villain to have faced Doc twice.

John Sunlight by Rod Whigham

Series author Mike Barr was a pulp aficionado, so he integrated a number of original Doc Savage pulp stories into the framework of his multi-part comics story, “Sunlight Rising”. Those included the original two Sunlight adventures, Fortress of Solitude and The Devil Genghis, and also Resurrection Day. As the story unfolds, it’s seen that Sunlight did indeed, as it appeared in The Devil Genghis, die at the hands of his own followers at the end of the novel. His body was mummified, and in a remote mountain area had been worshiped for decades by natives of the region.

A soldier of fortune discovers the body, murders the villagers to acquire it, and drags it back to civilization. Once there, a different mercenary takes possession, and he has an ambitious plan: to revitalize Sunlight, and have him reveal the location of the apocalyptic weapons Sunlight had stolen from Doc Savage’s Fortress of Solitude in the 1930’s. Needing financing and equipment for the project, he recruits the disaffected son of a 1980’s tech firm CEO.

Despite some reservations, the resources of the tech firm are put at the disposal of the mercenary, who then promptly attacks Doc’s current Fortress (not as well hidden as the old one), takes Doc and his aides prisoner (including both the original aides and new, younger ones created for this series) and hacks the computer for the secret of the “resurrection formula” that Doc used back in the 30’s pulp novel Resurrection Day. The results? John Sunlight lives!

After the end-of issue cliffhanger, we see Sunlight begin the process of learning about the new world of the 1980’s. His personality — as established in the pulps — begins to quickly assert itself. In a trait he displayed in the original novels, he requests clothing all of a single color. Though at first, discovering that Doc’s own technology has been used to revive him, he is distinctly afraid of Doc Savage, and only becomes calm and calculating again when he realizes he’s been resurrected by enemies of Doc.

And discuss they do, as Sunlight’s mind begins to recover fully, and he promptly begins to plant seeds of distrust among his new partners.

In the meantime, Doc escapes from the lockup in his own fortress, and comes very close to capturing the whole group…but is just a fraction too late to do so. Once back at the tech firm, Sunlight (garbed in royal purple), continues to expand his manipulations, preparing to turn all of his allies against one another…except for the woman scientist who performed his resurrection. Seeing her devotion to him (rather than to profit), he is more open about his manipulations when talking with her, and actually chooses her to be a unique sort of consort.

Sunlight, in The Devil Genghis novel, had expressed lofty ambitions beyond those of most “world conquerors”…he actually wants to unite the nations of the world into a kind of utopia. It was an interesting approach to the struggles of the world in the Depression era of the 1930’s, and equally intriguing as it would apply to the world of fifty years later. A kind of despotic idealism, which was intriguing in a pulp villain.

All of the players continue toward the point of confrontation, which turns out to be the “original” Fortress of Solitude, where Sunlight had hidden what in today’s world would be considered weapons of mass destruction. The weapons are horrific (as were their 1930’s counterparts), which is why Doc had sealed them away in his Fortress to begin with — and that too was (and is) an interesting commentary on the practice of nations creating and then stockpiling devastating technologies…a practice which certainly continues to this day.

By now Sunlight has all of his allies ready to turn on each other…and they make a final push — pursued by Doc and his team — to acquire the cache of doomsday weapons.

Another cliffhanger!

So far this story was living up in many ways to the special nature of a third confrontation between Doc and his arch-villain from the pulps. It embraced the history of original stories, adeptly re-focused 1930’s plot devices into the 1980’s, and provided pretty sophisticated character play.

Two issues of “Sunlight Rising” down, and two to go!

To be continued…

3 thoughts on “Omnipresent Sunlight: Doc Savage’s archenemy – Part 2

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