In the first installments of this article, I took a look at the pulp roots of Doc Savage’s most celebrated foe, John Sunlight — then began the exploration of his literary return in Doc Savage comics across the decades. The first of those revivals came in the late 80’s/early 90’s DC Comics series, in a four-part story called “Sunlight Rising”.
Author Mike Barr and artist Rod Whigham unquestionably did their research…the Sunlight of their story carries forward virtually every one of his characteristics from the pulps. The disturbing, “poetic” cast of his features…his penchant for wearing only one color (in the image above the color scheme is incomplete for practical reasons…he is wearing a bulletproof vest)…his long, powerful hands. And on the philosophical side, his ambition to unite the world, abolishing all national borders.
When we left off after the third part of the story, Sunlight had assimilated himself powerfully into the present-day of the time. He had allied with terrorists, manipulated a big tech company to utilize their resources, and made use of space technology (and one of Doc’s deadly devices stolen from the Fortress of Solitude), to establish himself on a space station where he could blackmail the world by blocking out the rays of the sun.
Not all is smooth going, however…one of the first things he does is turn on the terrorist nation that he had allied with, making an example of the power of his weapon by wiping them out. This does not go down well with the country’s representative on the station, and Sunlight is forced to utilize his own relentless and considerable physical strength.
More of his allies turn on him, and he ruthlessly dispatches them as well, leaving him with a cadre of loyal (if dumb) soldiers, and the woman scientist who facilitated his resurrection, who he has — in his own creepy way — romanced into becoming his consort.
One of Sunlight’s demands to the countries of the world was to take Doc Savage prisoner and deliver the Man of Bronze to him, and it seems as if they have capitulated…but in a series of plot machinations (which are a trifle contrived, I’m afraid), Doc and his new, younger aides get aboard the station and start wreaking some havoc with Sunlight’s plans.
In the midst of this, Sunlight’s soldiers (who have been conditioned to obey his every order without question), open fire as soon as they see Doc, not paying the slightest attention to the fact that Sunlight’s scientist accomplice/love interest is right in the line of fire. Doc (also wearing his bulletproof attire) survives the attack, but the scientist does not.
Infuriated, Sunlight slaughters his own men.
Part of the plot involved Sunlight holding a unique “hostage”, the body of Doc’s dead wife Monja (who he had intended to attempt resurrecting), and in the wake of his plans disintegrating Sunlight takes final revenge by ejecting the cryogenic capsule holding Monja’s body into space. Interesting that Sunlight appears to be weeping over his lost companion — apparently in his own way, he really did love the woman.
The climax comes quickly — Doc escapes to the shuttle which his aides are using to flee after setting explosives on the space station to destroy it. Sunlight (apparently) does not escape. Though he is not shown dead…and I strongly suspect that had the DC series gone on for any great length of time, he would have returned for yet another bout with Doc.
All in all, it was a very engaging story. Though it slipped into cliche at times, and fell back on some standard comics/adventure story tropes, it was largely an adept updating of the Doc/Sunlight conflict that had unfolded in the 1930’s.
The DC series went on for another year or so, but was gone before any further appearance of John Sunlight could be engineered. DC lost the license to publish Doc stories shortly afterward.
However, this was far from the end of John Sunlight stories. The license shifted to an independent (and very ambitious) new comics publisher in the 1990’s, Millennium Comics. And their first Doc story, a remarkable, complex tale, turned out be, among its other plot elements, a direct sequel to the two Sunlight pulp stories, Fortress of Solitude and The Devil Genghis.
to be continued…