The 1970’s Marvel/Curtis Doc Savage Magazine – best comics Doc ever? Part 4

When we left off in this in-depth look at the Marvel/Curtis 1975 Doc Savage black and white magazine, we were deep into the story of issue #1, titled The Doom on Thunder Isle, written by Doug Moench, and drawn by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga.

Marvel house ad for the new Doc Savage Magazine

A little bit of fun nostalgia for those Doc fans who remember the 1975 Doc hype…this was an era before the whole world was flooded with merchandise to accompany any media product…but Marvel at that time had a gig with 7/11 stores to put their heroes onto Slurpee cups…and yes, one of them featured Doc, using the same art from the magazine ad. As a teenager I searched hard for one of these at my local 7/11, and was utterly delighted when I snagged one!

The new magazine had come out of the gate strong, avoiding the missteps of its Marvel four-color comic predecessor back in 1972 — which had begun its run updated to what was then the present day. We were spared a repeat of seeing, for instance, Monk Mayfair in bell bottoms, with black hair done in a stylized ’70’s cut.

Sorry…I know that is an image you can’t un-see once it’s burned into your psyche.

In any case, the black and white magazine was firmly rooted in the 1930’s milieu, and took off with great confidence and style.

At this point in the story, much has happened…the villain and his world-shaking weapon has been introduced, there have been solid action scenes, and some clever intellectual play with a complex cipher. Doc has had an encounter with a zeppelin that throws lightning bolts…the latest one tossed at a rooftop supper club where murder and mayhem had just unfolded.

The zep gets away, and Doc returns to earth in his autogyro to help pick up the pieces. One quirk of these Marvel stories is that Doc and his aides, when contacting one another by radio, use a name and number designation — for instance, Monk is referred to as “Monk-One”…a gimmick that I thought a little silly at the time…I mean, wouldn’t “Monk” be enough for a quick identification?

The story pivots here, from the action scene to a transitional one, in which Doc gathers the clues to follow his quarry.

More code is dropped into the story here…perhaps reaching a bit, as the device of multiple ciphers, very clever at first, began to get a little strained. But nevertheless, Doc and his aides are soon off on the portion of the tale — an iconic part of the pulps — that Philip José Farmer referred to at “the long flight”: where a journey is made to carry the tale from a more prosaic setting to an exotic one.

Nice view of the Hidalgo Trading Company and its many air-and-sea conveyances…the Helldiver of course is a classic from the pulps, and the Amberjack felt like a good designation for Doc’s airship. You may note a little strain in the logic (and logistics) of the journey at this point…the Amberjack, in pursuit of the silver zeppelin, leaves New York to head for the Pacific Ocean, and reaches the Pacific by morning…not very credible, and the kind of slip that Moench, who wrote very fast, was known to make throughout his comics career.

The Amberjack does indeed catch up to the silver zep, at which point some strategy is employed to deceive the bad guys. An entertaining action scene, though again defying logic…why engage with the silver zep at all if the ultimate intent is to follow it to its base (the latitude and longitude coordinates of which they already have)?

Another little bit of oddness here, as you will note the “L.I.” from the earlier cipher clue comes to refer here (obliquely) to a “long island”…the obvious name choice for the Island wound have been “Lightning Isle”…but I wonder if Moench belatedly realized he had named it “Thunder Isle” in the title of the story, and had to backtrack into a more clumsy solution to his earlier code clue. In a way, this type of glitch, while messing with the smooth flow of the story, also hearkened back to the pulps, which were also written at high speed and had imperfect continuity proofing.

But the Long Flight has come to an end…and the climax approaches!

to be continued…

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