The 1970’s Marvel/Curtis Doc Savage magazine — best comics Doc ever? Part 10

Part 9 of this long revisit to the Doc Savage black and white magazine of the 1970’s finished up the tale from Issue #2, “Hell-Reapers at the Heart of Paradise”. Almost exactly two years ago, in May 2021, I took a special look at Issue #3, “The Inferno Scheme”…so we’ll pick up now with Issue #4, “Ghost Pirates from the Beyond”.

The cover was by Ken Barr, and very much in the Bama/Bantam tradition, with bold figures and intense colors. The “Doc Savage” belt buckle was the only thing I found questionable about the cover design…did we really need that to know which of the figures is actually Doc? Oh well, no big deal. A teenager when these magazines first appeared, I was incredibly excited for each new issue, which, in that era, I always found at a drug store magazine rack. This one practically leaped off that rack to grab my eye.

By the time of this issue, the 1975 Doc Savage movie had tanked spectacularly, ending hope for an ongoing film series. But the magazine, which had been birthed in the craze preceding the movie, continued on.

As with each issue of the magazine, the author was Doug Moench. John Buscema, who had done issues #1 and #3, was now gone, with the pencils now being done by Marie Severin. I was a little dubious about this…Marie was noted for a degree of wild, kinetic excess in her penciling, and while those were qualities not wholly unsuited for Doc Savage, her work for Marvel during the Sixties (on series like Dr. Strange, The Hulk, and Sub-Mariner), had been more on the cartoony side. Nevertheless, in the same time period as the Doc Savage magazine, she was doing remarkable work in conjunction with her brother John on the full color King Kull comic for Marvel. In addition, inking was provided by Tony DeZuniga, who had penciled Issue #2, and provided visual continuity for almost the entirety of the Doc Savage Magazine’s run…so to my mind, I was ready to dive into the adventure without reservation. And as it turned out, Severin was to pencil only the first eight pages.

One thing about the magazine that remains a little annoying is its recurring problem with typos (note the misspelling in the contents of Morocco)…since the magazine was quarterly, leaving plenty of time for production, this was perplexing, but many of the issues were let fly with simple and obvious errors overlooked. In retrospect, this might have been an indicator of lukewarm commitment to the book by Marvel after the failure of the movie and short-lived nature of Marvel’s full color Doc comic some years earlier. It was not a problem that plagued other more high-profile Marvel magazines of the time, likes its Conan and monster-themed books.

Still, there was great stuff within, like this dynamic splash page introducing the story to come.

The story itself gets underway from an oblique angle…a prelude with none of the regular cast appearing. This was not unheard-of even in the original pulps, where opening chapters (usually written by Lester Dent) frequently focused on setting the story groundwork by presenting the tale’s theme amid bursts of outlandish or violent action.

“Ghost Pirates from the Beyond” opens in Casablanca, where forces of law and order (none too affectionately presented as pretty narrow minded and dumb) are quickly dispatched by assassins, who come off as far more dedicated and competent (if quite ruthless).

So the stage is set, and the scene shifts to the familiar environs of New York…specifically the Empire State Building, where Doc’s aides are gathered there at his office.

Another odd little glitch…take a look at where the dartboard is placed on the wall. Hm…just where does Renny plan to throw that dart? In any case, it moves to another wall on the next page.

I thought Moench had a nice touch with the aides (despite succumbing to inevitable horseplay between Monk and Ham, that was offset by Johnny’s wry, smart assessment of such antics two pages down). “Consummately puerile altercations”…quite so, Professor Littlejohn.

The dart/knife panel layering is what’s known in the movies as a “shock-cut”…and it was well done here, shifting the tone of the tale adeptly into darker and more deadly territory.

We then get an eerie view of the ghost-pirate…and the adventure is well and truly off and running.

to be continued…

2 thoughts on “The 1970’s Marvel/Curtis Doc Savage magazine — best comics Doc ever? Part 10

  1. It never occurred to me the belt buckle was supposed to identify Doc. I thought it was a riff on his license plate, DOC-1.


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