And so we come to the last installment of this immense, 18-part exploration of all the mainstream appearances of Doc Savage’s persistent nemesis, John Sunlight. It began in 1938, with the Lester Dent pulp novel Fortress of Solitude, and Sunlight’s final appearance came in the 2017 comic series from Dynamite Entertainment, written by David Avallone and drawn by Dave Acosta, The Ring of Fire.
At the end of this article David Avallone will add his own comments to this final chapter.
When we left off, Doc had been captured at Sunlight’s hidden installation on Phoenix Island. Also on the scene are Doc’s cousin Pat, the five aides, and notably, Amelia Earhart. Sunlight is in the midst of enlisting the pre-WWII Japanese in his scheme to terrorize the United States with his immensely destructive weapon, which can precipitate huge eruptions along faultlines of the Earth’s crust — like the titular Pacific “ring of fire”.
While Doc and Sunlight engage in an angry exchange, the rest of the cast is moving into position for the final confrontation.
Things now begin to happen quickly — the Japanese commander rejects Sunlight, but is abruptly executed by his own junior officer. The antagonism escalates into more violence, resulting in the young officer taking off to trigger Sunlight’s terrible weapon and devastate the United States’ west coast.
Sunlight’s growl as he physically attacks Doc is an attribute of his right out of the original pulp novels — a nice touch. As is Sunlight’s somewhat twisted idealism…his goals, though arrived at through brutal means, are to unite the world, and end war.
Battle breaks out all across the Phoenix Island installation, but the plane carrying the super-weapon has already left. Amelia bravely insists on going after it, while Doc and his crew continue to fight Sunlight. The parting is a hard one for Pat and Amelia, who are close friends. Everyone is aware that if successful, this is a one-way flight, which Amelia cannot possibly survive.
Doc and Sunlight fight for the final time, but it is Pat, merciless in her anger and loss, who lines up her gunsight on the villain.
The final scenes are skillfully intercut for a powerful emotional conclusion. Instead of dialogue, author David Avallone — with remarkable artistry for a pulp/comic book story, orchestrates the scenes accompanied with captions that present Amelia Earhart’s poem, “Courage”.
Amelia rams the plane carrying the apocalyptic weapon, Sunlight, shot by Pat, falls (presumably to his death)…and disaster is averted, but at great cost.
These are very powerful scenes, presented with strong emotion and drama — really elevating the tale beyond adventure melodrama.
The story ends quickly after that, with a poignant farewell. And despite the hopeful caption at the bottom of the page, this has, to date, been the last mainstream Doc Savage story to be produced.
Here are author David Avallone’s final thoughts:
Chapter Four: Already? I could have written twelve issues of this story. In 1938, there was considerable tension within the Japanese military and I wanted Matsui and Osato to represent both sides of that debate. History demonstrates, tragically, who won that argument in the long run. Matsui’s list of objections to the Ring of Fire/Superwave Modulator are based on the principles of the Bushido Code. Matsui is ticking off all the ways in which the weapon breaks those rules. Of course, so does the atomic bomb. Now we finally rip Doc’s shirt. Is everybody happy now?
I always knew that Amelia would likely not survive my series: the joy of writing about her, and “bringing her back,” was always tempered by the knowledge that I couldn’t really write a happy ending to her story… because we don’t live in a world where she got that. Dave’s panel of their last embrace absolutely kills me. It’s perfect. Like everything else he did in this series, it’s everything I wanted and better than I could have imagined.
There is a popular 1980s “cult film” that is an homage to Doc Savage: a movie about a brilliant scientist/doctor/musician/adventurer who travels the world with a team of amazing specialists, writing wrongs and fighting supervillains. Dave had to introduce the concrete wall a few issues back so I could have my little nod towards BUCKAROO BANZAI. I thought it would add just the tiny touch of lightness amid the unfolding tragedy, for the few who recognized the reference.
For all the research I did into Amelia Earhart, I mostly used it as a way to understand her as a person (and a character,) and used very little that was specific. The one vital “discovery” in the research was the poem “Courage,” which I’d never seen before. It is by Amelia Earhart, it is beautiful and I decided to let it play in “silence” for the finale, mirroring somewhat the silent dream sequence that opened the first issue.
And so we come to the end. Evil is defeated, at a terrible cost. Doc can hope that the last of his lost superweapons has been destroyed and Pat can accept the heroic fate of her beloved Amelia. As a lifelong James Bond fan, I couldn’t resist captioning this final image – certainly inspired on some level by You Only Live Twice – with: The End, But Doc Savage Will Return. Indeed he will, and I hope to be a part of it when he does.
And so this look at the long history of John Sunlight also comes to an end. As a character he has clearly held a fascination for both writers and readers, and though his appearances can’t be woven into any kind of single continuity, they have, across eight decades, provided an intense and fascinating look at the concept of an “arch-villain”.
His last words: “And you won’t stop me!” may yet prove to be true…time will tell if John Sunlight ultimately returns — yet again — to cast his omnipresent shadow over Doc Savage.