Omnipresent Sunlight: Doc Savage’s archenemy – Part 17

In the previous installment, David Avallone, author of the last (to date) John Sunlight tale, joined me to talk about his inspirations and process for the story, The Ring of Fire. David will return again, giving us more background on the third issue of this four-issue tale, published by Dynamite Entertainment in 2017.

The first two episodes of the story achieved a great deal…they presented a richly-researched period setting, captured characterizations for Doc, Pat, and the five aides that rang true to their original pulp incarnations, and issue #2 ended with the unveiling of the tale’s antagonist, none other than John Sunlight.

Sunlight, from his secret base — Phoenix Island, in the Pacific — had downed Pat Savage’s plane and taken her prisoner. As the third chapter opens, Pat and Sunlight briefly confront one another…again, their personalities captured to perfection. Pat is impudently defiant, Sunlight calm and self-assured.

Pat, taken away to a cell, finds her friend Amelia Earhart there. Earhart (whose disappearance over the Pacific is of course the stuff of legend), had also fallen prey to Sunlight’s motor-stopping weapon.

Speaking of John Sunlight and weapons, Avallone and artist David Acosta then treat us with a revisiting of Sunlight’s original pulp appearance, in the classic Doc Savage novel Fortress of Solitude. Skillfully done, it makes me daydream of how great it would be to see this author/artist team do a full adaptation of that novel.

Sunlight’s second pulp appearance, in the novel The Devil Genghis, is briefly described but not shown, as The Ring of Fire shifts back to its main storyline. Sunlight is attempting to forge an alliance with the Japanese empire…whose military representative is arriving to discuss Sunlight’s claims to be able to use his weapon to damage the earth’s crust, raising volcanoes, starting earthquakes…particularly effective along the planet’s fault lines.

Sunlight presents himself with both dignity and menace. The understated tone of these scenes is very effective, grounding them in an atmosphere that feels real, rather than loaded with comic-book hyperbole.

Meanwhile, Pat and Amelia have escaped their cell, and (true to form for Pat) are raising some havoc as they attempt to reach one of the planes at Sunlight’s compound. Sunlight, having tea with the Japanese officers, does not seem particularly concerned.

Doc Savage himself is now approaching the island, which Sunlight has clearly anticipated. He takes his guests to view a demonstration of the technology which he uses to capture planes.

The action heats up, with Doc and the aides avoiding being helplessly disabled, and they too begin to wreak some havoc on Sunlight’s installation. In the midst of the conflict, Sunlight and his minions succeed in getting the drop on Doc, giving us the cliffhanger to this penultimate chapter of the story.

Here once again is David Avallone, with his thoughts on this third chapter of The Ring of Fire:

David Avallone

Amelia at last! Her friends called her Millie. Amelia’s about a decade older than Patricia Savage. Amelia spent the late twenties and early thirties giving a lot of lectures to college students, and went to a lot of events with the best and brightest young women in the country. Also… she formed an organization of women aviators called The Ninety Nines. I’m quite sure that Pat would have been a Ninety-Nine.

Doc tells the origin story of John Sunlight, for those who haven’t read Lester Dent’s FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE or THE DEVIL GENGHIS recently. (Go read them. They’re awesome.) Lester Dent never named the Siberian Penal Colony where John Sunlight was exiled. Because I’m obsessive about such things, I looked at Google Maps for Siberia and narrowed the possible locations down to Krestovaya.

In this Chapter, Doc finally makes his “sound.” In the original pulps, when Doc is deep in thought, he unconsciously emits a strange trilling sound. His men are used to it, but I’m sure Admiral Leahy has never heard anything like it. I didn’t want to use it gratuitously, just for fan service… but this is the moment where Doc really connects all the dots and figures out his course of action. In the art for this issue, Dave Acosta references both INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE and THE SIMPSONS. But here we are… three issues in, and Doc’s shirt STILL hasn’t been ripped. One issue left, Doc.

To be continued…and both The Ring of Fire and Omnipresent Sunlight concluded!

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