The most recent appearance of John Sunlight in a mainstream venue was in the 2017 Dynamite Entertainment comic book limited series Doc Savage: The Ring of Fire. The author of this story is David Avallone, and the interior art is by Dave Acosta. This is also the last time (to date) that a Doc Savage authorized comic book story has been done by any company. I’m glad to say that if it is a finale (at least for now), it’s a good one.
Dynamite tried a lot of different approaches during its time working with the Doc Savage characters and mythos as a whole…some of which were ambitious and interesting, others more pedestrian, and one (the previous appearance of Sunlight) to my mind, a disaster. But The Ring of Fire went back to Doc’s period roots, and pulled it off with considerable skill and poise — and an obvious love of all things Doc.
John Sunlight does not appear until halfway through the story, and in most of the reviews in this series, I jumped straight to the moment where he steps onstage. But bear with me for a bit, as I feel this story is worthy of setting that stage properly.
There are numerous elements to this story, all of which are handled deftly — great credit goes to author Avallone, who entered a minefield that many other authors have attempted, but few have navigated with success. Among the challenges: presenting an authentic 1930’s period atmosphere, including historical personages in the narrative without them appearing for the sake of novelty alone, and balancing an exciting storyline with genuine emotional strength to the characterizations.
All of this is done well in The Ring of Fire. It begins with a dream sequence featuring Doc and his cousin Pat, in which a traumatic episode of fiery death unfolds before Pat’s dreaming eyes.
Included in the dream sequence are Doc’s death, and the appearance of what is to us a legendary historical figure: Amelia Earhart.
Pat awakens, and goes to Doc to talk about her dream. Practical as ever, he is skeptical that it is more than simply a subconscious expression of Pat’s emotions — it’s explained that Pat and Amelia were actually very close friends (a logical connection, given Pat’s own prowess as an aviatrix).
One creative choice evident in the pages above, is Avallone and Acosta are depicting the characters as dressing normally for the 1930’s, without a hint of superhero costuming. This is something the comics over and over were hesitant to do, but it was a huge breath of fresh air to see in this story — linking it visually to the pulp era and style. The characters all speak realistically as well — another excellent decision, as it avoids the pitfalls of camp or comic book speechmaking tropes.
The story progresses with a call from President Roosevelt, using a prototype videophone — also adeptly presented, with a realistic feel for the 1930’s setting.
Next on the scene are Doc’s five aides, as they prepare to investigate the mystery. Doc also agrees to hunt for the missing Amelia Earhart, with Pat’s gratitude presented in a warm scene that shows how deeply the cousins both respect and care for one another.
Pat, of course, is never to be counted out of an adventure — she muses about her own feelings about Amelia and the dangers facing Doc and the others, and decides to head into the thick of the mystery herself…and the stage is set for what will be a memorable reappearance of John Sunlight.
to be continued…