Thirty years ago, Millennium Productions’ comic book presentation of The Monarch of Armageddon was coming to its climax. The final issue of the four-issue series had a dynamic cover by Brian Stelfreeze, depicting Doc fighting the ubermensch from the hidden civilization of Thule, Xaus.
The primary villain of the story, however, was John Sunlight. Across the previous three chapters of the story he had wreaked havoc in Doc Savage’s life, and after taking Pat Savage prisoner, had set out with the hulking Xaus to travel to the secret civilization of Thule. Sunlight’s plan was to utilize the martial Thulians as his personal strike force in a decisive step toward toppling world governments, which he then intended to mold into a unified global order.
Sunlight is next seen in the far north, along with Xaus (who does not appear to feel the cold). The story is by Mark Ellis, with art by Darryl Banks.
From his visual depiction in the above page, Sunlight seems surprised when Xaus confronts him about acts of treachery — throughout the story Sunlight has displayed a monomaniacal belief in his own control over everyone and everything, but below that surface, has shown cracks and fissures in his self-confidence. He shivers in the cold (where in the original Lester Dent novel Fortress of Solitude, he uses his personal force of will to at least feign being unaffected by an Arctic chill)…after his defeats in the two pulp novels, he seems to teeter on an edge of personal collapse, which he balances with seeming mastery and nonchalance toward risk and peril. It’s an intriguing extrapolation of his character from the novels.
He is next seen within the framework of the fantastical ultra-Teutonic landscape of Thule, standing to one side of that hidden civilization’s ruler (who, though going along with Sunlight’s plans, does not seem particularly impressed by him, and who is certainly not in Sunlight’s thrall). Doc Savage and his aides have followed Sunlight’s trail to Thule, and the stage is set for their final confrontation.
The Thulian leader listens to Doc’s denunciation of Sunlight, but decides that a contest of strength between champions is the way to settle it. When making this pronouncement, he tosses what is essentially a threat at Sunlight, whose demeanor once again cracks, as his whole plan now hinges on the outcome of a single fight.
The fight swings back and forth between the two combatants, with Sunlight’s self-control slipping away, as his composure erodes.
Doc is triumphant, but sudden chaos ensues with the arrival of gangsters who have also followed the trail to Thule, and who begin a wholesale slaughter. In the bloody carnage that follows, Sunlight breaks and runs for it.
The concept of a villain having been psychologically damaged by the intense trauma of his past defeats (which included physical maiming), is a subtlety rarely displayed in comic book (or for that matter, pulp) storytelling. But it’s a logical development of his character as presented in the two original novels, and a nuanced bit of writing from Monarch of Armageddon author Mark Ellis.
Cornered, Sunlight digs deep into more brutish instincts…growling as he hurls himself at Doc. This is also a trait described in the original novels, and astutely shown here at the climax. Beaten, Sunlight reverts to his sardonic, disdainful self, mocking Doc Savage before allowing himself to fall.
Dropping (presumably) to his death, his body is not actually found…which of course left the door open for another possible return. But Millennium’s stewardship of Doc Savage comic stories would not last for very long, as the story rights would shift yet again.
It was an interesting take on creating what I would consider a true sequel to novels from the Doc Savage canon. When I re-read the novels Fortress of Solitude and The Devil Genghis today, I always follow them up by reading The Monarch of Armageddon, which I found to be a very worthy extension of the two books into a trilogy.
Next…many years would pass between the early 90’s and John Sunlight’s next appearance, in which the effort to coherently tie in the character with his pulp origins will essentially be abandoned. Stay tuned for a look at DC Comics’ second version of this iconic character.