Three pulp authors discuss “Doc Savage: The Perfect Assassin” by James Patterson and Brian Sitts

What follows is a review/discussion by three diverse authors…all enthusiastic creators and readers of pulp adventure. The three of us met in 2021 and immediately enjoyed one another’s company and writings to the degree that we joined in the tradition of author circles like the 1930’s Kalem Club (a literary group whose last names all began with K, L or M, and included H.P. Lovecraft) and the Inklings, the Oxford circle made up of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams. 

A brief introduction: Atom Mudman Bezecny is both an author and publisher, and created the Hero Saga, which has brought to life unique pastiches of classic — and some wonderfully obscure — pulp characters. R. Paul Sardanas is the co-creator (with artist Iason Ragnar Bellerophon) of the Doc Savage adult pastiche Talos Chronicle, and André Vathier is a French Canadian author who has written stories in both the Hero and Talos “universes”. Together we comprise the Conseil du Mal (or Council of Evil)…dedicated to wicked literary pleasures of all kinds!


Hi Atom, Hi André!

So we are gathered to discuss and dig deep into the new James Patterson/Brian Sitts novel The Perfect Assassin, which is the long-awaited (with a predictable mix of excitement and horror expressed by fans) update and restart of the iconic Doc Savage series by its copyright holder, Conde Nast. 

Here is the blurb, widely circulated by CN and the James Patterson website, for the book:

Prof. Brandt Savage—grandson of the legendary action hero—is forced into a top-secret training program where he discovers his true calling…as the perfect assassin.

Dr. Brandt Savage is on sabbatical from the University of Chicago. Instead of doing solo fieldwork in anthropology, the gawky, bespectacled PhD finds himself enrolled in a school where he is the sole pupil. His professor, “Meed,” is demanding. She’s also his captor. 

Savage emerges from their intensive training sessions physically and mentally transformed, but with no idea why he’s been chosen, and how he’ll use his fearsome abilities. Then his first mission with Meed takes them back to her own training ground, where Savage learns how deeply entwined their two lives have been. To prevent a new class of killers from escaping this harsh place where their ancestors first fought to make a better world, they must pledge anew : Do right to all, and wrong to no one.     

So unlike the Will Murray Doc Savage books which had been published for the past few decades, this is not a traditional Doc story. Instead it focuses on Brandt, grandson of the great adventurer (I believe in the actual book that is great-grandson).

As alluded to above, many Doc fans loathed the idea from the outset, and equally loathed the concept of it being written by Patterson, one of the world’s bestselling authors, but a writer with no clear affinity or connection to the world of pulps. Of course that too is another object of contention, as Patterson writes using a “factory-style” format, with presumably most of the heavy lifting done by his co-author, Brian Sitts. 

Needless to say, this all caused quite a tumult in the world of Doc Savage fandom. Personally I tried to approach it with an open mind…much as I love the original pulp tales and enjoyed Murray’s time as “Kenneth Robeson” (the old Street & Smith house name used by Lester Dent and other original-pulp authors…which, by the way, has been jettisoned by Conde Nast — Patterson’s name is plastered everywhere on the new endeavor, even to the point of dwarfing the title of the book on the spine), I think there is a point where trying to recapture the magic of the pulps by essentially copying their formula ad infinitum becomes stagnant, and a new approach might well attract modern readers to a beloved series. 

Does The Perfect Assassin achieve that goal? Well…in the eyes of Conde Nast the answer is probably yes, as the book seems to be selling well, and in that sense may revive a profitable product for them. In the eyes of Doc fans, I am seeing mostly lukewarm reviews, which in a way is surprising, given the vehemence of its pre-publication detractors, and the general dislike afforded to Patterson’s previous pulp-resurrection, The Shadow. Among the Conseil du Mal — all three of us far more than casual Doc Savage fans — I’m really looking forward to a great discussion of the whole “new Doc Savage”.

To readers of this roundtable talk, please be aware that we will likely be talking about details that would be considered spoilers. Personally I don’t read books like this particularly interested in its twists and surprises (at this point plot surprises are unlikely to really surprise most followers of Doc Savage)…but we realize that element of reading is important to many folks out there interested in the book. So if you want your experience of The Perfect Assassin to be a clean slate, perhaps read the book first, then return here to check out our discussion. 


I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a strongly negative reaction to a book before its release, save for those written by literal Nazis. The intensity was rather incredible to behold at times. I guess it goes to show what love for a property can do – though, sometimes speculative fiction fans forget that this stuff isn’t really that bad. Nothing can erase what has come before, and the future is still full of possibilities. Patterson does represent authentically bad and exclusive practices in the modern mainstream writing industry, but these are broader issues with late stage capitalism itself…an issue that affects all forms of art and human expression. Moving our society away from kleptomaniacal profit-driven corporate rule would probably improve the chances of certain forms of artistic expression being allowed to exist, on top of actually making our planet habitable for the majority of our species. But we of capitalist nations are trained to attack individuals instead of institutions. We’re taught to do so to unconsciously maintain the status quo. It’s natural and normal to lay the blame at Patterson and Sitts’ feet, and I’m not going to blame anyone who attacked them preemptively when the book was announced. Even beyond that, it’s okay to like things, and it’s okay to not like things. There were professional reasons to dislike this book as well, which I am hugely sympathetic to! I gotcha, guys.

With all that being said, this book is…fine. It’s no different than any other Patterson factory book in that it’s clearly meant to be an easily consumable bit of action-excitement that you forget about later. But, imagine how boring life would be if we reserved critical lenses for high art. I am of the belief that the more disposable a piece of media is, the more that can be learned from it, especially regarding the nature of privilege. Disposable media, as we so often term it, is often created in a hurried and, if I can be frank, somewhat thoughtless manner. There is often a desire in such media to appeal to as many people as possible, and therefore their general mood represents what might be considered an average worldview, or rather a worldview averaged across the various lenses of privilege. This is a book aimed at a primarily cishet audience; there are no queer people here. The cast is pretty much entirely composed of white people. The sort of thriller that Patterson writes is usually meant for white cishet men middle-aged or older. 

And so, what we end up with is a book that is about 50-60% fighting and training montages. Effectively, the first half of this book is dedicated to the assassin training of Brandt Savage and flashbacks to the training of his mentor, Meed. We find that Meed was essentially abused from birth, being subjected to overly harsh conditions constantly after being kidnapped and taken to an assassin school as a baby. Brandt, who is the narrator in the modern day chapters of the book, complains of being tortured, but really he gets off easy compared to Meed, his worst experiences being that he had to drink a nauseating volume of protein shakes. To actually connect this to Doc Savage, what Meed went through is probably similar to what Doc is meant to have gone through in his specialized training, pre-pulp days. And yet, Brandt is somehow supposed to be the special one, the successor to Doc Savage. The book hints, by way of the training and her copper-colored hair, that Meed is also a descendant of Doc Savage, possibly Brandt’s cousin or sister. Meed had a twin who died as a baby, but maybe that kid actually lived and grew up in America. (This book opens with baby murder by the way, which is…a choice.) But no…these hints that Meed is a Savage pan out to nothing. It’s like Meed was meant to be the main character, and then they just replaced her with a man. The possibility that Meed and Brandt are related becomes…weird, later, as I’m sure we’ll get to. But for now I just have to say the sexism becomes more and more visible as time goes on. 

I’m just gonna say it up front: my thesis for this discussion is going to have something to do with the undeniable fact that Brandt Savage is a colossal loser and I spent a ton of my reading time laughing at him.

The action scenes are well-written though – impressively so. Somehow, this first half wasn’t repetitive, perhaps because of those nuggets of weirdness I mentioned. I liked this book in certain parts, both honestly and in a so-bad-its-good way.


The pre-release anger and vitriol towards the book were indeed incredible to behold at times Atom. It did feel exaggerated. However, with the previous release of The Shadow some folks felt they were in the right to feel as they did.

I did not like The Shadow. Even if the characters were replaced and every Shadow reference removed, you would still end up with a below average young adult fiction novel. This is not a critique of young adult fiction. Many good books are YA (YA shorthand for Young Adult fiction). The Shadow unfortunately is not one of them. Having read some of the Patterson factory books in the past, I knew what I was going into. In addition, I welcomed the new changes. As you said R. Paul, a new approach prevents things from getting stagnant.

The book itself is average. If I have to make a comparison, it reminds me of the Fast and Furious movie franchise or the Michael Bay Transformer movies. Intense well-made action sequences but at the end of the day somewhat forgettable. Not boring by any means just average.

The opening chapter of The Perfect Assassin removes any ambiguity. This will not be a YA book. As Atom said, the book opens with baby murder. This was shocking to me. I did not expect this in a Doc Savage book. Give me a machine that makes men turn into puffs of smoke or a device that makes people’s heads explode…but baby murder by assassins is where I draw the line. After that chapter, we meet our titular hero. Late twenties to early thirties Doctor Brandt Savage. Great Grandson of  Doc Clark Savage Jr. He is a professor for some unnamed university. What does he teach? I cannot recall, we know he is filling in for a colleague of his who is an anthropologist.  As Atom said, he does come off as a jackass. Meed is the superior character but I will give Patterson and Brian Sitts benefit of the doubt here. I do not think they intentionally wrote to him as an asshole (at least I hope so). We saw it before in other stories. Boring awkward man accepts the call to adventure and transforms into the man he’s destined to be. Nevertheless, boredom and awkwardness are in the eye of the beholder. The way he interacts with his students and the passing judgments he makes, causes Brandt to comes off as an unpleasant person. Later during the training phase, Meed plays a video of him on a loop. The video in question was his daily routine. Waking up, getting his Starbucks coffee , teaching, having dinner alone, reading and going to bed. I know this is supposed to represent, “Look at you Brandt…you are not fulfilling your destiny! Follow your bliss as Joseph Campbell says!” Speaking of Joseph Campbell the book does follow the hero’s journey which makes sense. If you want to reach the widest possible audience in eyes of a mega corporation, the hero’s journey is a safe bet.

Because we saw him judge his students in a negative light, it makes sense that he is a loner. If only we had shown him being well liked by his students and peers. Also due the fast paced nature of the novel we do not really get to know Brandt. There are little to no character moments and the ones we have relate to Meed.

Meed is the quintessential trained woman assassin that is popular now. You know the one. Movies like Anna (2019) , Red Sparrow (2018) and the recent MCU movie Black Widow (2021). If you have watched any of these movies recently then you know exactly who Meed is. This paint by the number storytelling is not bad it is just predictable. For better or worse you can remove any mention of Doc Savage lore from the story and it would still work.

The story itself is divided into two parts. Part 1 is the Meed origin story with Brandt Savage training arc and Part 2 is the assault on the assassin school. Part 2 contains lots of twists and turns.

Poster for “The Perfect Assassin” with its somewhat ironic tagline


I was also appalled at the callous nature of the baby murder that opens the book — the men who perform the act are hideously, casually amoral about it — which was, I suppose, intended to spotlight the cruel nature of the “assassin school” that they are child-snatching for. Of course a hallmark of pulp fiction is violent action, but I do not recall a single incident in the long, long run of the Doc Savage pulp which displayed anywhere near this level of violence toward children. 

Moving beyond that, the opening chapters were the first evidence as well of what I would find to be at times an astonishing level of carelessness in plotting and structure in this book. The “village” where the child abduction takes place is apparently within walking distance of the assassin school. And no one seems to have a clue that it exists. I tried to give the authors (who are, after all, highly-touted professionals and bestsellers) a pass at first, but as the book progresses, this form of what really seems authorial laziness will only get worse. More on that later.

However, before going too much into what may seem a landslide of negatives, I’ll say that in the balance, I enjoyed the book, and will give its already-announced sequel a try when it appears. The tools are there to craft what I feel could be a worthy continuation of the Street & Smith/Conde Nast Doc Savage. The original Doc tales were also very much factory products, so I don’t hold that against the new series per se. But there is a lot — and I do mean a lot — for the authors to improve on, if they care to do so.

The question that raises is…do they care? I got no inkling from the book that either Patterson or Sitts are trying to do anything more here than rack up sales. Again, that in itself is not a series-killer. Lester Dent, author of most of the original pulp stories, sometimes expressed frustration about writing what he considered trashy, semi-mindless literature. But part of the Doc Savage “formula”, beyond mechanical and formulaic plotting and writing, was an intangible: there was an undercurrent of joy in it…even if it was simply from storytelling-abandon and a gunslinging wildness across the whole sixteen year arc of original stories. If Patterson and Sitts are content to simply mail in the “new Doc Savage” and ride the marketable Patterson brand to a cash-trove for themselves and Conde Nast…well, that may be what businessmen and mercenaries do, but it won’t hold my interest for very long. 

Okay, on to more good and bad. Atom, your observation was right on that it seemed almost to be Meed who was designed to be the “new Savage”, but the powers-that-be chickened out and grafted in Brandt to fill that role instead.  медь in Russian means “copper”, and refers to her hair, which is that color. And her story is far more fully-realized than Brandt’s. You are right Andre, the whole scenario around Meed’s situation owes a great deal to the stories you mention (the James Matthews novel Red Sparrow being, I thought, superior to The Perfect Assassin in its presentation of the premise). And as you both mention, Meed is far more engaging and powerful a character. Brandt does very little more than perpetually whine, which is very off-putting. His difficulties and challenges after being himself kidnapped and forcibly trained absolutely pale when compared to what Meed goes through…and where he bitches and moans endlessly, she in those worse straights displayed determination, courage, emotional depth, and even considerable compassion. Honestly, I would have vastly preferred the book if Brandt had been removed completely, with the whole “new Doc” being the story of Kira (her real name). 

An oddity of the book is that Kira’s chapters are told in third person, and Brandt’s in first person. That structural choice, by its very nature, would seem designed to present a deeper look into the thoughts and emotions of Brandt. But he was so vapid (and frankly, annoying) that I wish I had been spared. 


I am something of a believer in the principle of “give them enough rope” – capitalism can only go so far before it breaks. Of course, the challenge is hoping that humanity as a species doesn’t break first, what with the active destruction of the planet and worldwide civil rights in progress and all. But I believe that as the arts (and many other aspects of society) become more and more corporatized, the more people will break away from such offerings to seek out things that actually fulfill them. As technology advances, the tools available to independent creators become more varied, and that gives us more chances to create things that will please those who are sick of things like this book. Perhaps through those means, our voices can help change society for the better. It’s not a wholly positive situation – but there’s never really been a time in history where artists have had the sort of social placement that we’ve wanted. There will probably always be unique challenges for creators, at least as long as we live in an unequal society. It’s important to always battle against these oppressive forces, because inevitably, capitalism must be destroyed for the sake of humanity’s survival. And balance can only be found through action. But also, often, the enemy’s actions blow up in their faces, even after the point where, financially and politically speaking, we’ve been rendered helpless.

And similarly, there’s nothing wrong with quick, disposable books – as I said before, I believe they serve a purpose as lenses into certain aspects of our society. And a lot of them are just fun to read. I’ve been beating this book up a lot, but as rough as it was at times it was still a fun read. I blame this on Meed, who we may as well reveal to be Kira Sunlight – great-granddaughter of Doc Savage’s greatest foe.

John Sunlight in this book is presented quite similar to Shiwan Khan in the Patterson/Sitts Shadow book – a fairly generic villain, with no inherently solid connections to the original pulp character. He exists merely to be the source of all evil in this universe, though there is also the matter of Doc Savage’s evil twin brother Calvin, which is a sequence of words I just wrote. Kira is set up as a prospective villain but steadily turns to be more of a tortured anti-hero. And unlike a lot of tortured anti-heroes, I had a lot of sympathy for her. She went through some truly horrible things, much worse than anything Brandt faced, as we’ve said. She is definitely a clone of a lot of other fictional women who have appeared in recent pop culture. But, being a devotee of Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe gave me a unique perspective on this book. According to the Wold Newton works of Win Scott Eckert and Christopher Paul Carey, John Sunlight was Doc Savage’s son. This would make Brandt and Kira cousins…and so this means that Kira is effectively a dark version of Doc Savage’s cousin Pat.

Pat Savage is often the savior of troubled Doc Savage media. There’s really nothing her presence can’t improve, though depressingly, neither she nor any of Doc’s aides are ever mentioned in this book. But she continues to haunt the narrative through Kira – a gorgeous, copper-haired woman who is more competent in many ways than our male protagonist…or at the very least, more adventurous. And certainly more interesting. No offense to Doc, but to me Pat is the star of all of “his” stories that she appears in. At least Doc is a character you’d actually want to follow for 181+ stories. Brandt…I’ll follow him for maybe like two more books, tops, if he doesn’t fundamentally change in some way. And that’s mostly for the sake of completion.

The book does seem to hint that Brandt and Kira are related in some way – almost as if the authors were vaguely aware of the Sunlight-as-Doc’s-son theory. (Some reviewers claim that there are nods to the works of Philip Jose Farmer in this book, but I didn’t see any.) At the same time, Patterson and Sitts couldn’t be considering John Sunlight Doc’s son because…Brandt and Kira get together at the end. If this is a story set in the Wold Newton Universe, their relationship is incestuous. Now, we’ve seen variants of Doc Savage – Doc Caliban and Doc Talos predominantly – commit incest with their versions of Pat. And in this case, I believe the characters in question would be something like second cousins once removed, unlike Doc and Pat, who are closer relations. But still, Brandt is not Albert Einstein and it’s not the 1930s. Brandt and Kira are not, as fun as that might be, servants of the Nine or the Seven. This time around this just feels weird.


But I digress. Kira is really fun and cool, and her presence allows for the climax to tease one of the neatest Doc Savage concepts that’s come out in a while: a Savage-Sunlight team. If you’re going to read this book, do it just for that reason – to see an alliance between the descendants of two titanic figures who were the most of bitter foes. I’d love for there to be a Doc Savage story where he and Sunlight are forced by outside circumstances to work together, but this is honestly nearly as good. Even if the Savage that we have kind of sucks.

Oh, also, as tempting as it may be, don’t base a drinking game around how many times the phrase “copper-colored curls” is used when Kira is being described. You will be dead before the halfway mark.


Truth be told I’m having trouble talking about this book. Not because there is anything bad with it. It’s just so damn forgettable! Being fans of Doc Savage, we are no strangers to bad stories. But I think the worst one is the forgettable one. I mean do we really remember the plot of The Submarine Mystery? No,  we remember Se-Pah-Poo and Fortress of Solitude. If not for this discussion, I would have read The Perfect Assassin once and then forgot about it. Let me remind you that this is not a bad book. I have read worse. Nevertheless, it feels like a corporate product. They had a list and checked boxes.

Established IP: Check

Best Selling author that can dwarf the title: Check

Standard action adventure story with popular and safe tropes: Check

Winks and nods to please the Doc Savage fandom: Check

R. Paul I agree with you – I do not think they care the way previous Kenneth Robesons (living and dead) cared. Atom, it is depressing that we have no mention or hint of Monk, Ham, Renny, Long Tom, Johnny and Pat. I presume they are dead like the original Doc. However, what is depressing is the idea that in the story they might as well have never existed. Instead we get Calvin! I never got the impression that Calvin is evil. Just a normal man who was manipulated.

I was certain that Brandt Savage is the great-grandson of not Clark Savage Jr but Calvin Savage. In my mind, it would have explained the attitude of Brandt. Brandt is not a well-written character. I share your opinion Paul. It seems that Kira was the main character but they did chicken out.

But I maintain that it was not authorial laziness but a genuine mistake from Brian Sitts and James Patterson. They wanted to write a boring man who’s forced into the intense world of Kira Sunlight. You know, kind of as a reader avatar. That way we could relate to Brandt. Instead, they wrote an asshole.

Can we talk about the superpower? At the end Brandt has super strength, invulnerability and he hints that he has some healing powers (like Wolverine from the X-Men). This comes out of nowhere. Sure in the original pulp Doc’s strength, stamina and endurance bordered on the superhuman. I cannot recall ever going to the extent of Brandt’s abilities. When he gets shot in the chest, I was half-expecting Brandt to reveal a secret bulletproof vest from the fortress that matched his skin color. No, he is genuinely bulletproof. I conjecture that the protein shake that Meed force fed to Brandt contained a little extra pep. This decision to give Brandt superpowers feels like it was done to cater to the superhero cultural craze we witnessing right now in popular culture. The entire book does feel cinematic or prestige television. I could see it as an streaming service exclusive series. It ticks all the right boxes what I assume a studio executive would look for.


Now Atom do not be too harsh we all have dated someone we regret and in retrospective think, we could have done better.


Before we move too far from the cultural implications you both raise about this book and corporate management of creative output in our society, I want to echo your statement, Atom, about what I have often thought of as capitalism’s war on independent creativity. You’re right, technology is more and more putting the tools for independent publishing into the hands of mavericks, but simultaneously those creations are actively marginalized by mega-sellers…the result being a book like The Perfect Assassin outsells all the Will Murray Docs combined, and as you have pointed out Andre, works its way even into the reading and commenting habits of people who openly recognize it as an inherently mediocre (and in fact, as you illustrated with your checklist, a coldly reader-manipulative) product. 

It’s not a new phenomenon…among the bestsellers in 1969, the year A Feast Unknown was published, were authors like Sidney Sheldon and Irwin Shaw, who in their time were very Patterson-like massive corporate-style juggernauts. My point being, though as a fan of Doc Savage I wanted to read this new authorized continuation of the series, I felt guilty and unhappy buying the book when I could have spent that money on something from Meteor House or another independent press. I hesitate to even put it on my bookshelf (which is distinctly devoid of “bestseller” products). I could, of course, have waited for it to be available at the library or the remainder bin, but fan-madness got the better of me. I plan to read the sequel only when it ultimately hits my local library…and I will make amends for purchasing the first book by continuing to relentlessly buy independent.

Fortunately, in my literary world-view, I believe the mavericks and outlaws of writing will always resist being squashed, and will continue to challenge tropes, push boundaries, empower the marginalized, and make statements (even in — perhaps most importantly in — works that you characterize, not disparagingly, as disposable literature, Atom). Those are the wicked corners of reading and writing that are exciting to hang out in…and those are the creators whose works I will always seek out, no matter how far they have been shunted into obscure societal corners.

Returning to our discussion of The Perfect Assassin, I did find many of the action scenes to be engaging — some exhilarating, some harrowing — but the inclusion of super-powers that you talk about Andre was to my mind an incredibly bad idea, effectively destroying any suspension of disbelief the book had achieved earlier. Before Brandt demonstrates that he is indeed bulletproof, Kira had mocked the idea, advising him not to push his luck. Good advice…unheeded by Patterson and Sitts. It is one of book’s stupidities…how did Kira’s training and (presumably) drug manipulation of Brandt achieve this effect? It is certainly not part of the “Doc Savage regimen”, or from some experiment conducted at the assassin school, or all the students there would have equal superpowers. If a change of this nature was within Kira’s capabilities and part of her program, why didn’t she use the technique on herself? 

Logic really does go out the window throughout the second part of the book, leaping from impossibility to absurdity so wantonly I got the feeling the authors had no interest in presenting a coherent story at all. I tried to embrace it…looney action can be fun…but there were way too many “Wait…what?” moments for even this fan of pulp nonsense/excess. For example, stuff like this happens: Kira and Brandt at one point steal a jet from an airport — and no one pursues them (this in the post 9-11 world). Except the bad guys, who possess no plausible way to follow them…but do anyway. Their jet is shot down over the water — right on top of the original Doc’s Fortress of Solitude, which had apparently gone undiscovered across the decades until this incredible bit of coincidence. What Kira and Brandt intended to do at the assassin school is devoid of logic…particularly when their whole assault on it is rendered void by Brandt sending a distress call to Interpol, which brings an international force down on the school. It was that easy? Why didn’t Kira call Interpol to start with a decade ago, and skip the whole Brandt thing entirely? I can tolerate dumb plotting for the sake of fun, but this (and many more examples pile on as the book heads to its climax) is bordering on writing incompetence.  


I agree with you, Andre–while I was struck by the story the first time I read it, which was only a few weeks ago, I’ve already forgotten a lot of the fine details, and despite my praise, I’m not hugely tempted to go back and reread the book to fill in the gaps. That’s a consequence of a book being a product first and a story second. As we have this discussion, the Internet is presently turning its back on AI-generated art because most if not all of the companies behind such software have violated the copyrights of artists to make their products. Regarding this, my boyfriend showed me a video by author John Green, where he talks about how the copyright issues with AI art are actually just part of a larger issue: that someday, humans may be viewed simply as meat hardware, literal parts of a machine, to be used by corporate rulers as they will with no regards to the needs of those “parts.” While I’m skeptical of most future-speculations of that kind, I think that Green has something there. Corporations already push narratives that marginalize human emotion and expression. They do treat us as machines, workers and consumers alike.

Someday, though, I do think that the owners of such corporations may find themselves facing the same situation as the nobles of France in the late 18th Century.

And on that note…the Marvel movies are still selling big, despite ending their main storyline like three years ago. That’s probably why Brandt has superpowers – pulp heroes are out, superheroes are in. Which is quite silly because any superhero creator worth their salt knows the bond that superheroes share with pulp heroes. At least some of the movies Marvel makes are willing to acknowledge that they came from that world. Here, Patterson and Sitts seem about as embarrassed to be writing a non-superpowered character as superhero movies are to give people codenames and costumes which were designed in the ’60s. (Seriously, if you’re making a superhero movie and you want to get on my nerves, have the characters talk about how stupid it is to dress up in colorful costumes and call yourself “Something Man.” Then don’t make the movie, hon.) Maybe the superpower sequences are actually Brandt’s dying hallucinations as he bleeds out from getting shot. Or, as someone on a Doc Savage Facebook group suggested, maybe Brandt is descended from Calvin Savage, who was really named Kal-El and was the real dweller of the Fortress of Solitude. Or maybe, when he was looking through the Fortress of Solitude, Brandt found Doc’s magic ruby from the ’40s comics, aka the one time Doc Savage actually had superpowers. It’s just lazy writing, ultimately – a desperate attempt to make a boring character interesting.

Of all of the dumb things in this book, the one I actually came close to hating was the twins thing. For some reason the book makes a big deal about how everyone is a twin. Kira had a twin sister who died and contributed nothing to the plot. Kira’s dad had a twin brother whose reveal as her uncle contributed nothing to the plot. And, Doc Savage has a twin brother, Calvin, who ostensibly contributes to the plot but could have easily been cut with no problems. In this iteration of the Doc Savage mythos, Clark Savage Sr. made what I consider to be a major error in judgment and wrote down all of the training protocols used to make Doc who he was. Never mind the fact that Doc was trained by many different teachers around the world, some of whom probably wouldn’t consent to having their secret methods written down. Calvin’s role in the plot is to steal this book and give it to John Sunlight, who uses it to found the assassin school. Then, Calvin is never seen or heard from again. I agree with you, Andre, that Calvin was likely not “evil,” but the invocation of what I’ll call the Evil Twin trope made me laugh for probably five straight minutes. I kind of wished that Calvin had been hunchbacked with fangs, to drive home the fact that Doc was the Good Twin. Having Clark Sr. use Calvin as the control for his experiments on Doc is an interesting idea, but because we never actually meet Calvin, we never get to explore the emotional depths of such a plot thread. They could have just had Sunlight launch an attack on the place where the training manual was located and steal it that way. Doc and Co. never stopped him from founding the assassin school with the manual because…look, writers are supposed to be creative, I’m sure they could’ve come up with something. Maybe Calvin will play a role in the sequels, but I’m not exactly gonna hold my breath.

Oh, and a big deal is also made about how twins “run in the family,” despite the fact that Doc and Calvin are supposedly not related to the Sunlights. That was a huge point of confusion for a lot of readers, I observed, and it doesn’t help the fact that it feels like Brandt and Kira are committing incest.


The training manual being stolen was the plot of the DC comics Doc Savage annual from June 1989.  I feel they wrote it better in the comic.

“look, writers are supposed to be creative”

You hit the nail  on the head Atom. The book does not feel creative. It does not go all  in. It always read as if they are holding back. You want Brandt to have superpowers  GO FOR IT don’t hold back. Use it!  Have him crash through walls…survive a firing squad…take a grenade in the face with a smile. Lift up fallen debris on his back while the water is rising. Jump one eighth of a mile.

That is where I think the pulps of old and the Will Murray stories differ from The Perfect Assassin. They were creative with lost cities, super weapons, under water world , hollow earth, blind violinist with a map tattooed on his back that can only be seen with X-ray machines.

Some of the stories were trash. Nevertheless, the creativity is what stood the test of time. In a way they had to be creative. I mean if you write monthly stories you need to come up with something different every time or else folks will just stop reading.

I hope our words do not come off as those snobs that Phillip Jose Farmer talks about in Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life. I am frustrated because The Perfect Assassin is just an okay book with safe tropes and safe storytelling. It looks like they are taking creative risk with the Doc Savage world but if you look closely it’s very safe and does not rock the boat too much. They are tropes that are already established popular tropes. Assassin schools are popular now in fiction. Evil twin tropes are a solid established trope. Twin motif, etc.  

They introduce interesting ideas. Calvin Savage as the control now that is something I feel other writer could have done something with. How would Pat and Doc react to a normal happy man who’s content with the life he’s got? How would the other members of Doc crew react? Seeing what an average version of their leader would look like.

In a way, Calvin could have had a wife and kids. He’s not shackled by the adventure life.

I hope they do something else in the next book. I feel they exhausted all the safe tropes in the first book.

My point about creativity can be summed up with Flint Golden. A pastiche of Chip Savage. You do things that are outlandish but because you stuck to your guns and went all in Atom it never feels out of place.

Again I do not dislike the book. I just wish it was a better book.


Like you Andre, I hope that we don’t come off as snobs. For heaven’s sake, we all love the Doc Savage pulps, which are rife with wooden characterization, cliche, deus ex machina, absurd turns of plot…all comments we have made regarding The Perfect Assassin. Heroic fiction, even when off-the-rails crazy, gives us all a lot of joy. 

Atom, you have put forth the single most brilliant way to retroactively reader-edit the whole superpowers thing. That it was all fantasized by Brandt after being shot (and the bullet not bouncing off). Had Patterson and Sitts actually done that, I would have been applauding. 

In any case, I also did not dislike the book. It lacked commitment and passion (as we all have pointed out), and sometimes fell below what I consider professional standards of storytelling — the original pulp writers often did better, despite having sometimes only weeks to churn out a novel, where Patterson and Sitts had (seemingly…it was a long wait for the book) all the time in the world. 

Here are some of the things I did like in the book.

Kira Sunlight was an interesting and nuanced character. Extrapolating her from the original pulp John Sunlight was, to my mind, a brilliant move, as was (per your earlier comment, Atom), the unique excitement of making a Savage and a Sunlight into a team. 

I am a sucker for an emotional or poignant moment, and the book did have a few of those. The death of Kira’s piano teacher was both stark and touching. The scene where Kira returns a stolen baby to its mother had emotional impact as well, even though it was set up in a calculated fashion…the mother was spotlighted in a few earlier chapters, which seemed weird at the time, as she was not utilized in the plot at all…but when the scene of the baby being restored to her came along, I could see that the mom’s earlier chapters had been included for no other reason than to give weight to that restoration. Nevertheless, even though manipulated, I was touched. 

The book tries at times to give a more realistic vibe to its scenes and dialogue. This is somewhat spoiled by some of the goofy story choices that we’ve discussed, but I appreciated that at least in part, the story was not aimed at fourteen year-olds. I hope future books in the series continue that — and commit to it, instead of waffling between at least semi-adult, and outright juvenile. 

As we noted earlier, many of the action scenes are well choreographed and some are quite exciting. Some action-based stories have difficulty by making such scenes confusing and opaque, but those in The Perfect Assassin were sharp and clearly-realized. 

Doc Savage, to my mind, has been loved for the better part of a century in large part due to the inherent idealism that grounds the series, and this new iteration of Doc holds on (at times tenuously) to an underpinning of idealism as well. I hope that continues too.


I enjoyed that 1989 story you cite, Andre, and it indeed does a much better job of dealing with the idea of Doc Savage’s training being corrupted and used for evil. It helps that it incorporates one of Doc’s mentors, giving us a direct connection to Doc as he was when he was young and vulnerable – a vulnerability that the story’s villain exploits. There is no distancing effect between the story and the Doc Savage mythos there as there is here. Here, the Doc Savage story is part of a murky past, rather than a truly living part of the tale. Here’s to hoping that the text’s assertions that Doc is dead and gone are incorrect.

I think that it’s easy for certain condemnations to come across as snobby because of how capitalism has shaped the narrative of our countries. We want stories that take risks and challenge the status quo rather than simply rehashing what’s come before, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable for us to ask for such things. The simple fact is that texts with a touch of rebellion to them burn brighter to people like us, and speaking for myself at least, I believe such works are fundamental to human survival. For what this book was, it was fine. There is still a need for quick, entertaining reads, and as we’ve said, this is basically a modern pulp in most respects.

Kira and most of her story was my favorite part. She represents the greatest potential of the text, and if the team is smart, they’ll focus more on her and not on Brandt – unfortunately, male privilege seem to trump all these days. A revolutionary spirit would let the writers capitalize on some of the odder emergent aspects of the text, but that’s not the game they’re playing. But I’m still curious to see what comes out. If nothing else, this could help with a broader Doc Savage revival, as we and many others have commented – whether that’s official or fan-led, we’ll have to see.


I wish I had more things to say about the book. In the end I wish it was a better book instead of average. They left enough loose ends to have me interested in the sequel.


I always try to look at the literary and film subjects of our Conseil du Mal discussions as opportunities to learn — from you both, and from the story we are discussing. Pulp-style creativity in this early part of the 21st Century is at quite a crossroads. With the older generations who followed the pulps in the 30’s and those (like myself) following their characters and histories in the 60’s and beyond beginning to fade (I have long faced the fact that I’m getting old)…the driving forces of escapism and nostalgia don’t have the power they once did. Today’s pulp writers have a unique opportunity to re-characterize the genre. 

In that light, what can be learned from The Perfect Assassin? It is a product of formula and marketing rather than inspiration or any clear love for pulp storytelling — which I find a little sad. Its financial success will certainly power more sequels, but it remains to be seen if they will strive to energize the pulp market, or merely generate cash until something more profitable comes along. There isn’t much for authors to glean from this story — it breaks no new ground, takes few chances, and even the level of writing expertise was inconsistent at best. If the message is that grafting an iconic hero together with a massively bestselling author’s name is how to build new interest in pulp storytelling, it’s a pretty cynical approach. 

I hope that the authors, having achieved financial goals, will feel relaxed and liberated enough to try and craft a continuation of the Doc Savage mythos with a degree of passion and commitment to the subject. As I mentioned above, I’ll be watching, but no longer buying — my financial support as a reader will be going to more idealistic independents. 

Review of Doc Talos “Fortress”

FORTRESS, by R. Paul Sardanas and Iason Ragnar Bellerophon

— review by Grace Ximenez

This book is going to be enormously challenging to review. And this is far from my first rodeo…I’ve been reviewing books and films for over two decades, and have even reviewed works in the Talos universe (having done a review of the splendid anthology Rickie in 2022).

Fortress, however, is literally beyond assessment or criticism of a pulp yarn. It is brilliant, mystifying, moving…it is either an utter anomaly to the world of pulp fiction, or a blueprint (albeit an impossible blueprint to re-create) of what pulp fiction can be in the 21st Century.

God, where do I begin?

The Doc Talos stories — now something like a dozen books and still going strong — have from the beginning been…well, something never seen before. I love pulp fiction…it can be so exciting and fun, it can be trashy in the best definition of the word, it can take you on adventures, put you in a state of tingling peril from the safety of your easy chair. The sixteen year run from 1933-1949 of the Doc Savage pulp was a blast.

That is not the Doc Talos experience.

I can only refer to the Doc Talos mythos as a pastiche because the English language lacks for an adequate descriptive. We ain’t in Kansas anymore Toto…we’re not even hanging out for simple, glorious fun on the 86th floor of one of Manhattan’s most famous skyscrapers.

The Talos stories feel like astonishingly erudite mainstream fiction whose topic is a lurid subterranean world. Yes, they are for mature audiences. There is explicit sex and sometimes shocking violence. But they are truly mature because you need to use your brain in reading them. All of your brain. Your intellect, your perceptive qualities, your human insight. These tales are not going to let you off easy.

Case in point: Fortress.

On the surface, this is a pastiche re-telling of arguably the second-most famous (after The Man of Bronze) Doc Savage pulp story, Fortress of Solitude.

The original is one of the wildest rides in the mad world of Thirties pulp storytelling. It reveals the secrets of Doc’s titular fortress (shamelessly appropriated as a concept by Superman comics)…it introduces John Sunlight, who became one of the most iconic villains of the pulp age…it has a diesel-engine rush of action…it has goofy, quirky elements like two spies who are immensely strong women with a weirdo, princess-bitch of a sister named Fifi. It is a Lester Dent tour-de-force.

Forget all that when reading Fortress. Yes, the basic elements are there. Doc’s mysterious, remote sanctuary…the Sunlight character (renamed Sergei Marakov and known as “Illumus”)…

It chronicles the penetration of Doc Talos’ sanctuary by Illumus, and the momentous experiences thus triggered.

But holy shit, this becomes Doc Savage written by some ungodly-brilliant savant. My head began to spin literally on Page 1 (wherein Illumus is being interrogated while imprisoned in a Russian Siberian gulag).

There is no pulp bad-guys-plot-to-take-over-the-world stuff. The content is a brutally sophisticated discussion about idealism, despotism…the terrors and despair of totalitarian imprisonment…it’s about hope and dreams and what can either preserve or crush them.

And there will be no let-up for the entirety of this story. James Talos — Doc — never physically appears. He is presented (and grippingly illuminated) through streams of thought layered over the books he reads when in solitude (which include Thomas Aquinas, Sun Tzu, and much much more).

Explicit sex, yeah…but so psychologically complex and compelling I didn’t feel a single molecule of prurience. Both Doc and Illumus are driven by undercurrents of erotic obsession as well as their intense idealism, and that is all laid bare for us to see.

History is meticulously channeled…from the gulag to 1930’s Russia…I felt as if I was looking behind the scenes at the hidden shaping of the 20th Century world.

The personalities of the story — from Doc and Sergei, to the interrogator, on down through a clutch of purged Russian scientists, to figures out of the shadowy corners of history — are all so finely drawn I felt like I personally knew them all. And the climax, when it comes, is devoid of pulp extremes or melodrama.

The artwork (some of which decorates this review — the book contains dozens of full color paintings by fine artist Iason Ragnar Bellerophon) somehow manages to be visceral and visionary all in the same stroke.

I put down this book (which I read in a single, nonstop rush), literally stunned by it.

Do not enter Fortress looking for a pulp romp. Do not look for adolescent thrills. But be prepared to think as you have not thought in a long time, and prepare to be changed by characters and creators who have not settled for anything less than a harrowing — and ultimately inspiring — trip into the heights and depths of being human.

(Grace Ximenez hosted a noir/story/roleplay/film site for almost a decade, and headlined three pulp-peril short-story collections called The Grace X Anthologies. She is the author of the Doc Talos fan fiction story “Esperanza”, and was the primary inspiration for the character “Grace X” in The Talos Chronicle.)

The 1970’s Marvel/Curtis Doc Savage Magazine – best comics Doc ever? Part 8

This detailed look at the stories of the 1970’s Doc Savage black and white magazine continues with the next section of issue #2, which featured the story “Hell-Reapers at the Heart of Paradise”, by author Doug Moench and artist Tony DeZuniga. To this point we have been introduced to a bizarre villain called the Mad Viking, a tale of a lost galleon in the far north, followed by a modern expedition to find its treasures…the tragic end of that expedition, and a daughter’s plea to Doc to help her find her father. To that end, Doc and his aides prepare to set out to the far north.

First stop, the Hidalgo Trading Company…

Moench invented a number of impressive vehicles to fill Doc’s warehouse/hanger (among them the dirigible Amberjack — used in issue #1 — and the tanklike Juggernaut, which would come into play in a later story). The hydroglider was an intriguing design, looking fierce with its many sharp angles and edges. In the pulps, Doc often used a trimotor plane to make the “long flight” which took place in almost every tale, but those airships were almost always wrecked during their adventures…apparently Moench wanted a plane that would actually survive a mission.

Monk’s penchant for bragging (which he cannot resist any time he is in the presence of a pretty girl), is cut short by Doc, a little more sternly than he was wont to do in the pulps, but it highlighted his serious, modest, and no-nonsense nature.

In any case, off they go, and in short order arrive in the icy north.

Using more gadgetry, the group moves much faster and more efficiently than the original expedition to find the lost galleon, and sure enough they are right on top of it.

The galleon, it turns out, is not an answer in and of itself, but a gateway to deeper mystery.

The discovery of lost worlds was a staple of the 1930’s adventure pulps, and even by the 1970’s when this story was written, the finding of secret worlds and lost civilizations was a thrilling moment. The “strange blue world” that Doc and the others now enter was a pretty enthralling sight.

In short order, the survivors of the lost expedition — and the kidnap victims, also appear.

At this point the story veers a little more into 70’s Marvel comics style than 30’s pulp. For all the bizarre elements abounding in the original pulp tales, they were most often fakes or concepts grounded in at least a tenuous sense of reality. The “reptilians” which are about to appear take that premise just a little too far in my mind…though an effort will be made to explain them in at least pseudo-scientific terms.

The expedition members implicate Sandy’s missing father as the villain of the piece, but something doesn’t seem right about that…all of which will have to wait, as one hell of a fight is about to break out.

to be continued…

The 1970’s Marvel/Curtis Doc Savage Magazine – best comics Doc ever? Part 7

When we left off, this look at the ’70’s Marvel Doc Savage magazine had reached Issue #2 of its eight issue run, with the beginning of a story called “Hell-Reapers at the Heart of Paradise”.

I was 17 in 1975, and a huge Doc fan. Though disappointed with the camp approach of the Man of Bronze film, I was thrilled that Marvel — unquestionably hoping to cash in on what they hoped would be a blockbuster movie — re-launched their Doc Savage series in a new format (the first comic series, which had adapted pulp novels at a two-issue per story pace, had fizzled and been cancelled). The line of black and white Marvel magazines of the time, catering to a slightly older audience, seemed a perfect vehicle for a revitalized Doc.

The stories were all new rather than adaptations, written by Doug Moench, and drawn by a succession of artists, though in a style made cohesive by the ongoing presence of Tony DeZuniga as either pencil or ink artist. This second issue was drawn entirely by DeZuniga.

The Marvel black and white magazine line was headlined strongly by the monster craze then going on in the comics world, and the Ken Barr cover of Doc Savage #2 was a little uncomfortably monster-heavy, but the actual story began as a solid pulp yarn, with mysterious kidnappings, a quirky Viking-attired villain, and a tale told of a treasure hunt in the far north that had ended in tragedy. Doc had just made his first appearance in the tale, arriving at his 86th floor headquarters as his aides were listening to the account of the lost expedition given by an apparent blind man named Sandy Taine. Doc quickly unmasks Taine, who is in fact a woman.

Doc swings into action, and the tale is off and running. Moench and DeZuniga had a great feel for the interplay of Doc and his aides (and even included amusing little moments like the one almost hidden by a word balloon in the second to last panel, where Sandy’s guard dog and Habeus Corpus give one another a curious sniff).

We jump right to a dynamic panel of Doc riding the running board of his distinctive 1930’s vehicle, against a backdrop of Depression-era New York.

An action scene quickly follows, as Doc and the aides arrive in the aftermath of another kidnapping. Using an ultraviolet lantern (one of his favorite devices from the pulps), Doc begins to shed light on the mystery.

Another little visual clue is dropped here, cleverly woven into the fast-paced sequence. Monk surmises that the kidnappers entered through a broken window, but when he sticks his head out and looks up, the viewing angle is instead pointed down, with broken glass on the ground below the window. The window was broken outward, not inward.

The scene shifts to a Manhattan warehouse district, where Doc (using Sandy’s blind man disguise) arrives in time to potentially thwart the last of the kidnappings, touching off a fierce fight with the “Mad Viking”.

The aftermath of the fight yields another intriguing clue, which prompts one of Doc’s rare small smiles. Then he returns to headquarters to share what he has discovered.

The unveiling of the map to the treasure site is clever (if a little improbable)…story-author Moench delighted in this type of puzzle.

And so they are off to the Hidalgo Trading Company, and will soon be on their way to the heart of the mystery.

to be continued…

Pre-release sale for Doc Talos “Fortress”

2022 has seen the release of two Doc Talos re-imaginings of classic pulps, Wolves (based on Brand of the Werewolf), and Fear (based on Fear Cay). Now available at a pre-release price is a pastiche novel based on one of the most iconic pulp tales of all time: Fortress.

In the year 1938, a small group of purged Russian scientists are expelled from a Siberian gulag, then transported to the arctic Greenland coast and abandoned. Led by the charismatic outlaw Sergei Illumus, they discover a mysterious domed installation, which proves to be a place of both wonders and terrors.

It is the arctic retreat of Dr. James Talos, the man known to most as “Doc”. Inside the sanctuary are weapons of horrific destruction, as well as books, notes and films that provide a deep and nuanced look into the psyche and heart of one of the Twentieth Century’s most enigmatic figures.

Illumus must decide if the man, whose drives, ambitions and demons are an uncanny mirror of his own, should become an ally or an opponent…to be embraced or killed.

The novel’s roots, of course, are in the pulp classic Fortress of Solitude. But this is far from the story of the 1938 Doc Savage Magazine. An ambitious melding of psychology, philosophy and human drama, it goes deep into labyrinths of the mind the surface of which was barely scratched in the original tale of Doc Savage and John Sunlight. It was a time in history when the world was edging closer and closer to catastrophe, and against that backdrop the two men are driven, each in their own way, to both safeguard and revolutionize society.

Who is a hero, and who a villain? After reading Fortress, you will find your own concepts about bravery, dedication and determination powerfully challenged.

Fortress will release on December 31, and after New Year’s Day will retail for $30 plus shipping. If you pre-order before release day, your cost will only be $20 plus $5 US shipping (international shipping will be calculated for you if you reside outside of the United States). You can place your order by sending an email to A PDF download of the book will also be available for $10.

Fortress, presented by Gromagon Press in partnership with Tetragrammatron Press, is a 6 x 9 paperback, 122 pages, by R. Paul Sardanas, with 75 stunning full color painted illustrations by Iason Ragnar Bellerophon. The book has mature content, and is for adults only.

Journey to the edge of the world, and experience fear and hope as you never have before.

The Conseil du Mal discusses Umberto Lenzi’s “sexploitation” giallo film Oasis of Fear

What follows is a review/discussion by three diverse authors…all enthusiastic creators and readers of pulp adventure. The three of us met in 2021 and immediately enjoyed one another’s company and writings to the degree that we joined in the tradition of author circles like the 1930’s Kalem Club (a literary group whose last names all began with K, L or M, and included H.P. Lovecraft) and the Inklings, the Oxford circle made up of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams. 

A brief introduction: Atom Mudman Bezecny is both an author and publisher, and created the Hero Saga, which has brought to life unique pastiches of classic — and some wonderfully obscure — pulp characters. R. Paul Sardanas is the co-creator (with artist Iason Ragnar Bellerophon) of the Doc Savage adult pastiche Talos Chronicle, and André Vathier is a French Canadian author who has written stories in both the Hero and Talos “universes”. Together we comprise the Conseil du Mal (or Council of Evil)…dedicated to wicked literary pleasures of all kinds!

AMB: For this discussion, the Council of Evil will be talking about Umberto Lenzi’s 1971 giallo thriller, Oasis of FearOasis was one of several gialli Lenzi made at the tail end of the ’60s. It forms a curious triad with Lenzi’s other films Orgasmo (1969) and A Quiet Place to Kill (1970). The original Italian title of Oasis of Fear translates to An Ideal Place to Kill. The entirely separate A Quiet Place to Kill has also been released under the title of Paranoia–which was the release title of Orgasmo in the United States. What makes this even more confusing is the fact that Orgasmo has an extremely similar plot to Oasis of Fear. As our discussion will hopefully uncover, this is one of the least bizarre things about Oasis.

Oasis focuses on the Italian adventures of American hippies Dick and Ingrid, who make their way across the country by selling pornography, including some featuring themselves. Eventually the authorities get wise to their operations and banish them from Italy. While trying to make their way out of the country’s borders, they run out of gas, and decide to siphon gas from Barbara, the wealthy wife of a diplomat who presently resides alone in the titular Oasis. Barbara catches them in the act, and what follows is a mindbending game of sex and murder which leaves every party involved unsure of their comrades’ true intentions.

Oasis of Fear was one of the first gialli I ever watched, and it opened me up wide to the genre. Before, I had known giallo films as simple thrillers, and expected nothing great from them. What I found, however, was that these thrillers contain a uniquely, splendidly Italian emotion aura which turns what ought to be straightforward mystery plots into dazzling feasts for the senses–experiments in grotesquery and strangeness, often for their own lurid sake. In the case of Oasis, I was struck by the self-conscious nostalgia that surrounded it, a sort of melancholy innocence that served as a great emotional critique of the then-dying hippie movement. Dick and Ingrid are first seen running joyously through the rain as the Italian band I Leoni channels the Beatles for their song “How Can You Live Your Life?” This song’s central lines invite us to ask, “How can you live your life / if people won’t let you live it the way you like?” It is a reflection not just of the authorities clashing with the two youngsters, but of the rebelliousness of the Hippie Generation as a whole. It’s clear that the lovers have started traveling across Europe in order to be free, and their sexual escapades stress that further. They are running away from consequence. Like many protagonists of early ’70s cinema, however, they will soon learn that trying to evade consequence is a deadly mistake in itself.

By the end of the film, the cozy, naive love the two have enjoyed is doomed. Their encounter with and manipulations by Barbara have left them questioning each other, and beyond that, death is inescapable for them. They have already been branded. All this resonant fatalism, in a movie that was probably made just to show off the bodies of its two lead actresses.

AV: Oasis of Fear (Which sounds like a Doc Savage title ) was not my first giallo. That would 1973’s TorsoI corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale). Torso can be seen as a precursor to slasher films like 1978’s Halloween. Coincidentally both Torso and Halloween have an antagonist who kills women while wearing a white mask. One is more of a whodunit while the other laid the ground work to modern slasher tropes. I was under the flase impression that all giallo movies were horror films. What I discovered thanks to Atom, is that they are intense emotional thrillers . Maybe in 2022 we have grown numb to sex and nudity but for a movie that is considered “sexploitation”, i have seen more graphic depictions of sex and nudity in modern HBO or other Prestige Television shows. 

Prior to watching this movie i found out that actress Irene Papas who played Barbara in Oasis of Fear passed away on Sept.14, 2022 at the age of 93!

I dedicate this discussion to her. 

RPS: A lovely gesture to dedicate our discussion to Irene Papas, André. Her performance in this film is really quite remarkable, as I’m sure we’ll be discussing in depth. Interestingly it seems she was the third choice for the role, which Lenzi, the director, first wanted to give to Carol Baker (with whom he had worked in other thrillers), and Ponti, the producer, wanted Anna Moffo, who apparently backed out only a few days before shooting began. Papas, an actor of considerable stature, was brought in by Ponti, though Lenzi thought her inappropriate for the role. I actually found her mesmerizing as Barbara…a powerful player who brought considerable gravitas to the role (and who took the role seriously, unlike some other film heavyweights who appeared in thrillers of the time as “paycheck exercises”…Richard Burton in 1971’s Bluebeard springing immediately to mind).

The phenomenon of the giallo has fascinated me for decades — a natural interest (or unnatural, as the case may be) given my literary attraction to often scorned and dismissed genres like pulp fiction and pornography. They are, if approached with an open mind, both fun and illuminating. I’m endlessly drawn to elevating all of those genres by infusing them with style and technique usually reserved for the ivory tower…but they have tremendous allure as subterranean entertainment as well. 

As you observed Atom, giallo (though marginalized in the minds of many critics as sex/slasher exploitation) in fact excels most when creating what you describe as “emotional auras”. They are concerned with uprooting intense drives and fantasies, often involving mind games which are a mix of exciting and frightening. 

Oasis of Fear explores this territory in some very unique ways. It’s certainly not a horror film, is not bloody at all, and doesn’t strive to create an atmosphere of terror. As you noted Atom, its subtext is much more about the decline from hedonism and idealism into nihilism of the hippie generation…and the clash with previous generational mores. 

As you mentioned André, the nudity and sex of Oasis of Fear (daring in its time) is very tame when compared to everyday fare on HBO today, but even that is interesting to consider. The breakthroughs in the portrayal of explicit content in film from the late Sixties, early Seventies were maverick in both the film arts and literature of the time (in literature, Philip José Farmer’s A Feast Unknown and collections like Halan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions were doing much the same thing). This was a revolution in breaking down taboos in books and movies, and films like Oasis of Fear played a part in that revolution. It was more than exploitation…with the integration of these themes into entertainment, there was a contribution to more open thinking regarding all forms of sexuality in society.

In addition to watching the film, I did some exploring into its background. Lenzi apparently wanted to go deeper into territory more akin to the generation-defining Easy Rider…while Ponti wanted more of a traditional giallo. The result is a film that is — remarkably — both and neither of these things. Surface changes in the original plot include the shift from the two hippies, Dick and Ingrid, being involved with drugs as a means to get money (as was the case with Easy Rider, and which Ponti feared would cause issues with the ratings board) to pornography. The pornography depicted actually feels remarkably innocent — Dick and Ingrid float through the early scenes of the film like a pair of carefree hippie angels, with “free love” a mantra of joyful play rather than a “dirty secret” or dark obsession. They buy a stack of explicit magazines which they then take into more-repressed Italy, and sell to customers who seem thoroughly bemused by the lighthearted approach Dick and Ingrid exude.

When those run out (and they spend their profits in sprees of careless abandon), they take pictures of themselves to sell. In one amusing scene after Dick’s camera is confiscated, Ingrid squeezes into a tiny photo booth to take nude shots of herself, crashing around and swearing in the booth’s tight confines. Dick, standing guard outside, makes a donation to some passing nuns, who had seemed intrigued by all the noise. Dick and Ingrid are completely oblivious to consequence…though as you say Atom, this will soon change. 

AMB: I agree with you, André – this one’s for you, Irene. Irene Papas also appears in the landmark giallo Don’t Torture a Duckling, and I hope to be checking out some of her more famous films, such as Iphigenia and Zorba the Greek, sometime in the next few months.

André, as you and I have discussed elsewhere, Halloween was originally going to be much more giallo-esque. I’m curious about how that version of the movie would have played out. Even in its present form, however, Halloween shows its giallo influences, though it also infuses elements from proto-slashers like Psycho. Curious how gialli, which come from a fiercely Catholic nation, are often darker and more sexual than what Americans of the ’70s and ’80s were doing–Halloween and Friday the 13th are very sexually tame even by the standards of their time. Though as you say, HBO and other places show we’re catching up (even if our Puritanism manifests in other ways).

The concept of libertinism, or pleasure for pleasure’s sake, was of huge interest to the ’60s and ’70s, and I think it’s that pseudo-philosophical perspective, so similar in so many ways to the rebellious movements of the 18th Century and others, that makes movies from this era so interesting. In many ways, Dick and Ingrid are the epitome of their era’s libertines, being, as you say, Paul, “carefree hippie angels.”

Their worst sin is being naive and privileged enough to believe that they can do whatever they want. Their philosophical aims have elevated them somehow. If they had been drug dealers, it wouldn’t have felt as wholesome as it does–both drugs and sex can be harmful, but by and large the former are the more deadly. I definitely agree with you, that a lot of movies which we write off as exploitation were actually challenging the status quo. The egregious sexism of the films of Doris Wishman, for example, is often so brutal that it’s hard not to read as self-aware satire. These movies lend themselves to some remarkably progressive criticism, if viewed through the right lens.

I do have to wonder, though, if this movie isn’t punishing Dick and Ingrid for their joyousness, no matter its degree of innocence. I’m reminded of a song that plays in the rather similar 1972 film An American Hippie in Israel, which is also concerned with philosophical libertinism–the refrain claims that, “Someday they’ll have to play / for taking time to play,” and this turns out to be quite horribly true by the film’s end. The cynical but hippie-inspired drugsploitation flick A Ton of Grass Goes to Pot features a scene where a group of free-lovers are confronted by a cop, who tells them, “It’s time for you to grow up and get a job. You got kids to feed, man, and there ain’t no welfare down here.” The movie’s tone suggests it sides with the cop. There is a sort of conservatism to Oasis in its seeming proposal that you cannot consensually make money off your own sexuality without there being some sort of consequence. Of course, Barbara enjoys a bisexual extramarital liasion with our heroes, and she is never punished. In fact, her secret scheme succeeds with flying colors. Maybe the message isn’t that there’s a deserved punishment for being free with one’s body–maybe it’s that there’s a punishment for failing to recognize one’s own gullibility.

Papas’ performance is really great, especially in the face of such a daunting task as portraying a victim who is secretly a victimizer. Unlike Dick and Ingrid, who chow down on lobster and four-course dinners on the money made from their porn, Barbara is truly sophisticated, but she’s not perfect. Every time she answers the phone she comes one step closer to being found out, and she is openly afraid during these moments. It is entirely possible too that she was legitimately afraid of Dick and Ingrid when they threatened her, but allowed her own fear to guide the performance she was setting up for them. She makes herself hard to read on purpose, and that is greatly to the movie’s benefit.

The word “performance” of course reminds me of my favorite movie, Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell’s 1970 triumph Performance. That movie is also about exiled travelers (one, anyway) stumbling on the lair of a declining elite, who end up caught in mind games with their host. Oasis of Fear doesn’t go so far as Performance, having the personas of the guests and the hosts blending together, but it does twist and turn on who is good and who is bad in the situation. It creates an ambiguity which, while not fearful in itself, is nonetheless hypnotizing.

AV: Like Flight to Lucifer this is another case where the creator hates his creation (Curti, Roberto (2022). Italian Giallo in Film and Television. McFarland p.134)  According to that book Umberto Lenzi said and I quote “If I could burn that film, I’d do it!”. What is it with us and liking work that their creator hated hahaha. 

Atom you talk about “his movie isn’t punishing Dick and Ingrid for their joyousness, no matter its degree of innocence.”  I am reminded of quote by Phillip K. Dick : “This has been a novel about some people who were punished entirely too much for what they did. They wanted to have a good time, but they were like children playing in the street; they could see one after another of them being killed–run over, maimed, destroyed–but they continued to play anyhow. We really all were very happy for a while, sitting around not toiling but just bullshitting and playing, but it was for such a terrible brief time, and then the punishment was beyond belief: even when we could see it, we could not believe it.”  

This is part of the afterword for A Scanner Darkly (1977) Again with the theme of the decline of the hippie free love movement and the use of recreational drugs. Oasis of Fear in my opinion is part of that movement that was born out of this decline. When the consequences of that decade caught up with them.  Youtuber May Leitz when talking about the book Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis said it best: “They [the character’s] have absolutely no awareness  of consequences and then when the consequences find them [it] completely destroys them”. Ingrid and Dick are oblivious and they go around making bad decision after bad decision. Selling pornography when they know they can get in serious trouble. Trusting people who end up abusing their carefree attitude. All of this led them into the arms of Barbara. 

I will spoil some of the movie so if you don’t want to be spoiled go watch the movie now. it’s okay we will wait. ….

You’re back? Did you like it? Alright now i can talk about it. 

Regarding the character of Barbara, if the premise of Oasis of Fear was done today, I feel she would have been the focus character. A lot of thrillers, horror or any story with a killer focus on the killer. His motivation and every side character exist to shine light on the murderer. Not in Oasis of Fear. Barbara exists solely shine light on Ingrid and Dick. Her motivations are nebulous. She acts scared and hysterical then calm and calculating. We get no deep insight into her character. At least not on the same level as Ingrid and Dick. If it was done today, the writing convention would have spelled it out for the viewer. This is in no way a bad thing. Sometimes as viewers we want some insight into the killer. 

The movie is subtle in a lot of ways. But the movie spells it out for us with the car. This bright yellow flower power car that ingrid and Dick drive around with. Then at the end we see it. They painted it black. Their clothes are all dark. 

I see a red door
And I want it painted black
No colors anymore
I want them to turn black

Something to note. From late 1968 to 1981 that period in Italian history was known as the years of lead. This period was plagued by waves of political terrorism. This period did have an influence on giallo. How it manifests in Oasis of Fear is this feeling that the good times are over. 

RPS: It’s interesting…as the 70’s were the decade of my own coming of age, I remember that what in retrospect is pretty universally thought of the decline and end of the hippie generation and the innocence of its ideals was not quite so clear in living through those years. I’ve often told the tale of how I discovered Farmer’s A Feast Unknown in a counterculture head shop in ’73 (and that establishment was always filled with young men and women who were iconoclastic, idealistic, cultural outlaws). By the later 70’s the hedonistic side of youth culture had shifted…the hippies, many in their late 20’s or older, were no longer using the slogan “Never trust anyone over 30”. But (perhaps contradicting my own observations earlier in our discussion) I wonder, on reflection, if in ’71, the creators of Oasis of Fear were fully in position yet to be making a full blown parable of the ending of that era. I had mentioned Easy Rider, a film Lenzi was interested in channeling, which in 1969 presented a similarly disastrous ending to a hedonistic journey…but it’s possible that in both cases the “message” was more one of the cultural and societal struggles going on at that time (the Easy Rider protagonists being gunned down by avatars of ignorance made them tragic but outlaw-noble symbols of a culture still very much alive and well). In that sense Oasis of Fear may have been less a knowing commentary on a darkening and declining hippie culture, and more an intriguingly nuanced look at the dynamics within the generational conflict then very much still raging  The Free Love Generation was, in many ways, quite enthusiastic about storytelling that exposed the hypocrisy of privileged people who had invested in “the system” (often ignoring their own hypocrisies, as cultural movements often do) — and entertainment venues from books to comics to music to movies were very much on that bandwagon, slanting much of 70’s entertainment toward presenting hippies and “straights” as antagonists, with the straights considerably more ruthless (as will be demonstrated distinctly in Oasis of Fear). 

I thought of myself as a hippie in those years, but identified more with the side of the movement that was concerned with fighting what I perceived to be society’s true evils (racism, sexism, greed and the entrenchment of the privileged, war, environmental destruction, etc) rather than its hedonistic aspects…though I confess those were fun.  

The film’s narrative focus on Ingrid and Dick rather than Barbara (as you observed, André) certainly feeds into this paradigm, though interestingly the movie does not make Barbara a straw-cutout “evil straight”, as it is at least hinted that her murder of her husband was provoked by her being a victim of abusive behavior in that relationship. Remember of course that Lenzi (40 at the time) and Ponti (59 in 1971) were age-wise more from Barbara’s generation, and they portray Dick and Ingrid as free-spirited, but also (let’s call it like it is)…remarkably dumb. I wonder if there is a little subversion-within-the-subversion going on, with the portrayal of Barbara showing her to have considerable agency, as well as intelligence and drive. I got the distinct feeling that she was the one Lenzi and Ponti were rooting for to come out on top.

AMB: I think that seeing things from a purely historical view definitely changes context, and I think that helps explain how we view and mythologize the end of the hippie era. It is very easy to look at Altamont and the Manson killings and view them as inevitable conclusions to this blissful time in history; there’s this idea that these events transformed the biker and the hippie guru into cultural images of blood and death, and one day the gentle sitars stopped and the angry punk screaming immediately took over, like a lightswitch being flipped. But like you said, Paul, it wasn’t that simple. Unless you really dig into something, history has this streamlining effect that makes the past seem fixed or foretold. But in actuality ambiguity was raging every day, as it does in the present.

I really can’t help but wonder how much the fatalism imposed on the hippies by their opponents played a part in this vision of a quick decline. It’s hard for any movement that’s been hated by the majority culture from the beginning to achieve a positive position in history. I don’t want to give the hippies overly much credit, because they were far from perfect. (Trans exclusion was a problem among second-wave feminists, and white people appropriating Black or Indigenous cultures for themselves was commonplace.) But as a millennial, I understand the nuance and frustration of one’s generation and values being nearly universally vilified. It’s hard having one’s social power systemically stripped away by powerful older figures so that that older generation can continue to force their oppressive views on the country…which is why Boomers need to stop doing that sort of shit to millennials now that we’re coming up on our mid to late thirties. But I digress…

As far as the hippies, we also exist in a strongly failure-centric culture. Recently I’ve become intrigued by the concept of silent film stars whose careers flopped upon the development of sound. It turns out…this is largely a cultural myth. Almost every great actor from the silent era who continued in sound continued to enjoy wide if not even wider success. John Gilbert, for example, is commonly ascribed a grotesque squeaking voice that stood in contrast to his romantic masculinity–but the movie he’s mocked for, His Glorious Night, was laughed at because the dialogue was bad as written, not as spoken. Silent stars whose careers ended in the sound era were those who chose to retire for entirely separate reasons. But many film fans tend to believe that those who starred in technologically less-advanced movies were inferior to their talkie counterparts. We dwell on failure, because that’s what happens when our culture was created by Puritans.

(That’s the second time in this conversation I’ve railed against the Puritans. One might think I had anti-religious fixations or something.)

So strange that movies like this so uniquely expose the duality of life and death. It seems that in the world of Oasis you cannot live more greatly without drawing near to the vastness of death. In my experience, that’s the opposite of real life. The more you live the smaller death gets in your life. But stories like this tell us to cherish great living while it lasts.

AV: I forget Paul that you lived it! I must admit since I did not live it, instead I read about it. Some folks have stated elsewhere that individuals such as myself look at history with clear beginning middle and ends. Instead of what it is…a series of events. Speaking of Puritanism let’s talk about sex.

Before watching the movie I decided to prepare myself and read some books, articles and online articles about the giallo genre and the era it was produced . This movie is often classified as sexploitation and on the most explicit end of that spectrum. I found it almost comical how tame it is to modern standards. I found the recent series House of the Dragon to have more explicit sex scenes. Did we just grow accustomed to it? It’s true that our attitude towards nudity and sexuality have changed in 50 years. Not too long ago Basic Instinct was considered highly controversial because we saw some pubic hair. It feels like every streaming service has at least two shows with explicit nudity.

This idea that Ingrid and Dick are these deviants because they consensually produce their own pornographic material is laughable in the internet age where people are more tolerant towards sex work (Still not great but better than it used to be).

I can’t help but chuckle at Lenzi and Ponti making a soft-core pornographic movie also at the same trying to vilify pornography.

RPS: The approach to cinematic sex has certainly evolved in the fifty-plus years since Oasis of Fear, no doubt about that! But at the time, the X rating was something profoundly feared by some filmmakers, and actively sought by others. Its effect was to marginalize a film (by severely limiting its audience) while at the same time sensationalizing it as something “forbidden”. Lenzi’s previous film Orgasmo got an X, and ads for the movie wore it like a badge of honor. The ratings system of the time was the epitome of Puritanism…all it took to get an X was enough nudity or sexual content in the script to proclaim it explicit in that regard (sexuality, even in its gentlest forms, being more of an evil in the eyes of the ratings/censors than violence). 

The absurdity of this began to erode the bite of the X rating very rapidly…the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy came out as an X film, but starred A-list actors and was nominated for Best Picture. 

In any case, “sexploitation” films were very much a thing in 1971. My understanding is that both female actors, Ornella Muti as Ingrid and Irene Papas as Barbara, did not do nude scenes, and the full-frontal or semi-explicit sexual scenes were shot using body doubles. Male genitalia, considered the height of “obscenity” and reserved for XXX films, does not make an appearance in Oasis of Fear

Though the sex in Oasis of Fear is certainly presented as titillation, aspects of it also drive the plot and the characters, which was interesting as indulgence in hippie-style pornography was not the original screen treatment’s “crime” of Dick and Ingrid. Ingrid, though openly proclaiming the joys of “free love”, is profoundly upset when she discovers that Barbara has seduced Dick (she walks in on them during sex after their hedonistic party, but does not confront them). She is angry and clearly feels betrayed, picking up a ridiculously inadequate pair of scissors with the intent to return and violently break up the liaison, before swallowing her feelings and acting them out more obliquely from then on in the film.

Dick appears to feel no sense of having betrayed or hurt his lover…and Barbara is using the seduction as part of her manipulation of the two hippies…and it is interesting to see these attitudes: for Ingrid sex was part of an emotional bond; for Dick (one wonders if the name Dick at this point took on double meaning), he could turn his emotions on and off in pursuit of pleasure, and Barbara saw and used sex as a weapon. These are all sexual stereotypes, but they did provide a more complex psychological undercurrent to the behavior of all three characters.

AMB: The history of the X rating is really interesting, as is the history of attempted obscenity regulation in film in general. Trying to regulate obscenity is always a doomed battle because social morals are always changing, as echoed in remarks like Potter Stewart’s infamous “I know it when I see it.” Interestingly, the first film to be rated X for violence rather than sexual content was 1970’s I Drink Your Blood, a hippiesploitation film a la Oasis of Fear. I Drink Your Blood‘s reception of the X was probably due to the hippie villains’ deliberate resemblance to the Manson Family. The movie is basically a what if sort of tale, as in, what if the Manson Family showed up in a small town, raped a girl, and then were infected with rabies via meat pies distributed by the girl’s vengeful ten year old brother. It’s a gruesome movie to be sure, with decapitations, impalements, and the suicide of a pregnant woman – much more disturbing, obviously, than Oasis. A lot of people really did not like hippies. But then, I hope Manson is in Hell, so.

It is really weird that films are so touchy about male nudity compared to female nudity – but then, in a heteronormative patriarchy, the eroticisation of men is not allowed unless it facilitates male power fantasies. In this way, cishet men have been conditioned to fear penises. The penis has always been the bogeyman lurking beneath cinema, and only fairly recently has it started to, as it were, come out of the closet.

On that note…yes, Dick is rather a cunt, isn’t he? It wouldn’t be a giallo without a little sexual cruelty, so Dick gets to fuck around and Ingrid has to just fuss till she fizzles out. This, after Dick has been kind of treating Ingrid in a rather pimpish fashion. If you ever find yourself in a sexual tense situation in 1970s Italy, do NOT trust men, no matter how hot or forbidden they are. Actually, don’t trust anybody, of any gender, just leave Italy and go to a place where you can be killed by something preternatural instead, like Spain or Australia.

AV: indeed Paul we did not in fact see Dick’s dick. Back in 2006 there was this documentary called “This film is not yet rated” where they talk about the “objective” standards when it comes to MPAA ratings. How subjective it is since it’s individuals who rate movies. So yes the penis is still very much the height of obscene.  But also lesbian sexuality is more kindly looked upon than male homosexuality.

Sex, nudity is not the reason why Oasis of Fear stayed with me. For me it’s the ending. Barbara wins! She gets away with murder and Dick and Ingrid die. The finality of it was shocking. Not to trash on more recent movies. But I feel if Oasis was an American production and done in the 80s or any other decade Dick and Ingrid would have had their happy ending where they learn their lesson that the movie director wants them to learn.

Also the movie does not dwell on it. There is like not even 2 minutes left and BANG car crash. Cue the cheery  music.

A major disappointed for me is how difficult it is to watch this movie. Not because of the subject matter but just how unavailable it is. It did receive a vhs, dvd and blu-ray release but all three are out of print and can be very expensive on the second-hand market. As we speak it’s not available on streaming services (at least not where I’m from). I just find it sad that a lot of movies regardless of status might just get lost due to bad distributors.

RPS: The standout for me in this film was the performance of the two female leads,  Papas was a formidable presence. Within recent memory she had played the title roles in Antigone (1961) and Electra (1962). Papas won Best Actress awards at the Berlin International Film Festival for Antigone and from the National Board of Review for The Trojan Women, released in 1971, the same year as Oasis of Fear. As I commented earlier, she could well have treated Oasis of Fear as a trifle between major parts and mailed in her performance, but instead produced a bravura rendering of Barbara. Her dark sensuality, punctuated by a wild spectrum of emotions all encapsulated in a labyrinth of manipulation, was masterful. 

Muti, only sixteen at the time, was completely believable in her role as the emotionally open but naive Ingrid. She embodied a sense of innocence and adventurous yearning — as well as emotional fragility — that was very true to many in the hippie movement. 

One scene mentioned by multiple critics of the film as outstanding is a sequence where the characters pursue one another through an aviary, and it’s true, that scene is perhaps the only one in the movie that attempts a level of suspense-film tension.

But the critics focusing on it and wishing for more missed the point to my mind…Oasis of Fear has staying power precisely because it is not a traditional suspense film. Another tense scene (designed for kinky erotic effect as well, as Papas — well, her body double — has her breast exposed) displays Dick attempting to torture Barbara with a lit cigarette to get her to reveal information. She remains stonily impassive toward the threat of pain, which was chilling, as it pointed thematically toward the hardening effects of her supposedly-privileged life. By contrast, Dick is the one who breaks down, unable — though he comes close — to willfully inflict pain on her. 

There are moments in the film where it edges toward black comedy…but not knowingly, I believe. It simply collapses into absurd logic from time to time. After discovering the body of Barbara’s husband planted to incriminate them, Dick and Ingrid decide to bury it outside the house…as if that will somehow help in preventing its discovery or clear them of being suspected of the crime? And the car being repainted — losing its bright colors and hippie flower pattern to become black — is a little hard to swallow as well. Dick gets a couple of small paint cans at a local hardware store, and instead of a streaky and inadequate cover-up, it looks like it was painted in a professional body shop. The unique model of car made it stand out visually anyway. The only other nod to disguising themselves to make their getaway is Dick cuts his hair (not even particularly short)…why of course, cut a hippie’s hair and he becomes unrecognizable! Ingrid, despite having been the one to talk to the police earlier, makes no great effort to change her appearance. 

As you say André, the ending is exceedingly abrupt. Dick and Ingrid blithely drive away to head for the border, but are as relaxed as if leaving grandma’s house instead of the lair of a supremely calculating villainess. Of course in no time the cops have heard Barbara’s completely convincing recitation of their crimes, and are after the pair. 

Continuing to be clueless, Dick and Ingrid decide to stop off shy of the border and have a relaxing ocean idyll. While they are soaking up the sun, the cops ID them and block the road. 

Finally deciding to wrap up their beach day, Dick and Ingrid run smack into the police and attempt to run for it. A high speed chase ensues (who knew that Dick had that in him?). The car crash, remarkably enough, occurs when a small animal darts across the road, and the hippies swerve to miss it. Practicing hippie-ideal “live and let live” behavior right to the end. 

Dick and Ingrid die (or do they? Atom, I think our readers might enjoy hearing how Ingrid’s character appears in your own Hero Saga)

And that music…yes indeed, cheerful hippie pop. Pretty off the wall…I mean, can you imagine the somewhat similar ending of 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde accompanied by a lilting tune?

As noted earlier, Lenzi disowned the film (wishing he could burn it), but I’m glad that wasn’t feasible — instead we are left with a bizarre little classic in a genre and from a time that is endlessly fascinating.

AMB: Yes, I agree that the women of this movie provide the best performances–I’d like to give a shoutout to the body doubles as well, as that’s got to be thankless work. I doubt many body doubles who aren’t stunt workers get a lot of credit, especially if they’re being used for the purpose of concealing the lead actresses’ modesty, so I’ll take this time to I say props to them. The guy playing Dick does a fine job, but as you say, Paul, the leading ladies blow it out of the water. If I haven’t mentioned him before, my favorite bit part of the movie is the drummer guy in the club near the movie’s beginning, who just goes absolutely nuts and is probably meant to be coked out of his mind. He stuck with me for months after I first watched this.

There are so many different moods in this movie, and I think that’s part of why I love it so much. Love and lust, abuse and joy, chaos and danger and bliss and the hard fist of cold reality all abound. There are dumb moments, both intention and otherwise, but there are also those moments which Lenzi must have meant as irony, dark humor, and satire. It’s a movie where if you go exclusively off the dub work and the budget, it may seem bad. But it’s so complex that I can’t help but see it as authentically good. Complexity is what makes or breaks movies in my opinion. I hate boredom in movies and this one doesn’t disappoint. Hippiesploitation movies like this seem to enjoy hanging loosely on the tack of their premises as they reminisce about all these little bits of human living. And yet on top of that, they embrace the absurd, the bizarre, the extraordinarily outlandish. And they’re chill, even when they’re framing naive young people for murder. Somehow, this chillness often ends up being sad or nostalgic in some way. Like I said: complex. Like a bouquet of funeral flowers. 

In my stories of the time-traveler Flint Golden, such as Flint Golden and the Thunderstrike Crisis, which can be found at the website for my press Odd Tales Productions, Ingrid does indeed get a second chance. In my view of things she was able to climb free from the burning wreck of her car, though Dick was actually killed in the crash. After recovering, she eventually returned to the U.S., where she met Clark Savage III, the son of a certain bronze-skinned adventurer, and became pregnant by him. Her son, who would one day be called Flint Golden, grew up to be a brave explorer and hero. In case you haven’t read the 1980s Doc Savage comics by Denny O’Neil and Adam and Andy Kubert, my stories are suggesting that Ingrid is the unnamed hippie girl who became the mother of Doc Savage’s grandson, Clark “Chip” Savage IV. In my stories “Aberrant Branch” and Operation Xanadu, as well as Katherine Avalon’s story Betrayal: A Tale of La Belle Dame Sans Merci, we learn that Ingrid lived a long and complicated life before her passing in the early 2010s, which included becoming the mother to Chip/Flint’s twin half-siblings Jake and Julia Hazel and enduring a brief and abusive marriage to fellow hippie David Angar. In her later years she was a wise and kindly woman, and she never let go of her rebellious streak. She raised her children to be kind and to live life to fullest, and to fear no evil.

AV: I share the same opinion both women lead the movie. I thought that perhaps it was the dub that made Dick’s character a little flat. Who knows until I learn to speak Italian I will have to base my opinion on the dub.  But after watching it again I paid closer attention to the quiet scenes. The ones with no dialogue. Irene Papas’ acting range is superior. She truly sells it as calculating always two steps ahead of anyone and being “hysterical” the next (or perhaps it is all part of her ruse). Some of my favorite scenes are when she asks our main couple to do what seems at first unrelated tasks. Can you get this glass please? Can pick that up? Let’s have sex.  Later on, we discover that everything was deliberate with the intention to frame Ingrid and Dick.

Paul you mention that they are clueless. In other movies, this might come off as silly. The protagonist making bad decision after bad decision. Where Oasis of Fear differs from other movies is that from the very beginning we see that they are prone to bad decision-making. We seem them being ripped off by a biker “Robin Hood”. We see them getting arrested and being let go with a small warning for selling pornography. This lack of good decision-making does not feel out of character. Of course, they would take a swim near the border. Of course, they decide to move the body and bury it somewhere else. Their impulsiveness is what drives the story. It’s one of the few movies where it does not feel forced.

Also having Dick getting his di… Johnson sucked while wearing a union jack jacket. I think there is a metaphor there.  This iconic scene is on the cover of most dvd’s and bootleg vhs.

That is something I really enjoy about your stories Atom. You give often forgotten characters a second chance. I had to read Issue two of the four-issue DC comic series Doc Savage: The Silver Pyramid again. You are right Clark Savage III’s lover is unnamed! My mind played a trick on me I was sure she was named Ingrid. I don’t want to generalize but I have read more than few pastiches of the bronze-skinned adventurer and not all but a lot of them continue the tradition of having an unnamed or absent mother. Not you. Instead Flint Golden’s mom was more than just an unnamed hippie. Other authors would have made her a perfect saint. In her youth she was a hippie who made pornography and not once in your stories does she feel guilt for it. She’s not repentant to the point of making her son a paragon of virtue. She’s not a Clark Savage Sr 2.0.  This is a breath of fresh air. It’s always fun to see her live her own life. She does not live in the shadow of her heroic son.   

RPS: It’s probably safe to say that Oasis of Fear is not a widely-known film today, but there’s much in it that’s remarkably illuminating about how pulp-type fiction (and despite being categorized in its own genre, the giallo, it incorporates many elements used as the building blocks of pulp fiction, including mystery/thriller qualities, dark sexuality, murder…) can remain powerful over many decades. In that way it’s instructive to creators of pulp fiction today (including us). Pulp fiction often skirts around strong emotion in order to put the emphasis on action (often very violent action), but here we have a film that is very restrained in its violent content, and spends a lot of time delving into psychological depictions — and manipulations — of its characters. There’s a timeless human quality to that, and as time passes which may date shallow aspects of the storytelling, the infinite chambers of the mind that can be opened — particularly in pursuit of its lusts — offer a theme that never becomes dated. 

Just the fact that you mined this story for a character to use in your own creations, Atom, is something that the ensemble from Oasis of Fear would probably be astonished by — and I think that should give inspiration to the creators of today, who feel their own creations are destined for obscurity or oblivion.

Pre-release sale for Doc Talos “Fear”

Following Wolves, a Doc Talos adult-pulp re-imagining of the classic Doc Savage novel Brand of the Werewolf, comes the next in the series of daring pastiche novels, Fear. Based on the 1934 pulp classic Fear Cay, the new book will be releasing on November 21st!

Pre-orders for Fear are now being accepted at a significant discount off cover price. Like all Doc Talos novels, the book is filled with dozens of paintings by visionary artist Iason Ragnar Bellerophon, and is being published in a deluxe paperback edition with the artwork in lush full color. After release this book will retail for $30, but is available for pre-order at $20 plus shipping.

Over the bones of the original pulp tale of a Fountain of Youth scheme and the hunt for it on a mysterious, deadly cay in the Caribbean, comes the story of a bizarre gang called the Dead Sun Mob, who involve Doc Talos, his five aides, and his cousin Rickie in an intense life-and-death conflict. A woman born in 1874 who looks a fraction of her age; a drug kingpin who can murder by intimate touch; and an anarchistic outlaw who bears a strange resemblance to a fictional jungle lord unleash a death-erotic nightmare, beginning in Depression-era Miami and New York, and ending at Terror Cay.

Readers looking for an innovative New Pulp experience will find it in spades with Fear. In addition to the pulp pastiche, the novel follows patterns laid down in mythic literature, and at the same time channels concepts pioneered by authors William Burroughs and Philip José Farmer with their creations of the Nova Mob and the Jungle Rot Kid. The action is dizzying, sensual, violent and powerful.

Pre-orders for Fear can be placed directly with the publisher by sending an email to The advance cost of the paperback is $20 plus $5 shipping within the US (postage for foreign orders will be calculated for you at the time of your email inquiry). All pre-ordered books will ship on November 21, 2022. As noted above, the price of this book will be $30 plus shipping after release, so take advantage of the big discount and order your copy now!

As a special offer to readers who missed the pre-order sale for Wolves, the wild Brand of the Werewolf-inspired adventure can be bought together with Fear for a total of $40 plus $5 US shipping. This offer also ends on November 21. You can inquire about the joint package of two books at the same address, Orders can be placed using PayPal, check or money order. Instructions for making your purchase will be emailed to you in response to your order requests.

Enjoy cutting-edge adult pulp adventure with Doc Talos!

The months ahead: New and upcoming in the Doc Talos library of tales

Heading into the final months of 2022 and looking forward into 2023, there is a dazzling array of books, stories and art that is both here and coming.

The busy year of 2022 has seen the release of four books: Rickie, the anthology of tales featuring the Talos pastiche of Pat Savage…Wolves, a re-imagining of the classic pulp novel Brand of the WerewolfThe Talos Chronicle Omnibus, a huge tome collecting the six core Talos novels together in one volume…and The Art of the Talos Chronicle, a stunning collection of hundreds of Iason Ragnar Bellerophon paintings into a single book. All are available in the Doc Talos Bookstore.

Still coming in 2022 are two more pastiche re-imaginings of classic Doc Savage: Fear (based on Fear Cay)…and Fortress (based on Fortress of Solitude).

And much more is ahead for 2023! The second in the Doc Talos Files series of anthologies will be Mona, a deep exploration of the Talos pastiche of Princess Monja. In addition to stories by Doc Talos creator R. Paul Sardanas, this collection is scheduled to include stories by Atom Mudman Bezecny, Marissa Sarno, André Vathier, Brooklyn Wright, Grace Ximenez (and hopefully more literary contributors, as submissions for the book are open until November 2022).

The next full-length book adventure will be Montage, scheduled for release in early 2023…a sweeping look at subversive underground and mainstream 20th Century film through the eyes of Archon Archdemoness Damaris Emem, with a particular meaning for both Doc Talos and his father, James Talos Sr.

Next up in 2023 will be another re-imagine of a classic novel…this time The Annihilist.

This book, Annihilation, will take the controversial subject of Doc’s “Crime College” head-on, as well as exploring (in sometimes fun, sometimes scathing terms) the tangled web of mores and the ideological struggles that characterized the 20th Century (and still resonate powerfully today).

Further down the line are more exciting projects…a new novella (based on the pulp classic The Screaming Man) from Talos author André Vathier…Depths, a further classic re-imagine, this time of Up From Earth’s Center…and another anthology, this time (many thanks for the suggestion go out to Atom Mudman Bezecny) featuring Helen Grersoun, the Talos pastiche of none other than Lady Greystoke, the often overlooked “Jane”.

Hope you will be with us, as the Talos saga roars on!

The 1970’s Marvel/Curtis Doc Savage Magazine – best comics Doc ever? Part 6

The next issue of the Marvel/Curtis Doc Savage magazine was #2, and it sported a cover by Ken Barr.

Though dynamic, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Certainly there are some nods to the iconic James Bama in its composition (the menacing figure looming in the upper background was a stylistic technique that Bama used frequently), but the serpent-man fighting with Doc was at least mildly troubling…”creature feature” monsters were not really in line with the storytelling of the Doc pulps.

This was of course the era of Marvel’s monster/horror craze, so perhaps an effort was being made to visually channel those (then popular) books. But the seventeen year old Doc fan (yours truly) who grabbed the issue off the newsstand and hurried home with it to read, was hopeful the magazine wasn’t abruptly going off the rails to become another Marvel monster mag.

I needn’t have worried.

Note from the credits of this first page that John Buscema was absent from the artist notation — this issue was drawn entirely by Tony DeZuniga, who had inked Buscema in Issue #1. DeZuniga’s visuals would ultimately be the unifying element of this run of Doc Savage magazine…the pencil art would go through quite a varied cast of creators, but the overall look of the series remained consistent, thanks to DeZuniga’s steady presence either on pencils or inks (the only issue where he was not a contributor was the final one).

Doug Moench returns as the author (and he would write all eight issues of the series). Moench had something of an addiction to wordy titles…the “Hell Reapers” of the cover blurb gets another five words tacked onto it here in the opening interior page.

The 1930’s setting is evoked well in this issue as it was in the series’ opening tale — the cityscape and clothing of the characters puts the reader right into the correct milieu.

The Viking who bursts into Thorne Shaw’s office has a Dent-like quirky outrageousness to it (and at least for the moment, put to rest my concerns about serpent-men)…and the story is off and running.

The opening confrontation is brief, and the story promptly pivots to the next morning, with Monk and Ham arriving at the Empire State building. (Nice to see Habeus Corpus making his first appearance in this series, too.) Lester Dent and the other Kenneth Robesons of the pulps never could seem to resist spotlighting Monk and Ham’s perpetual quarrel, and obviously neither can Moench. But the verbal repartee is fairly adept, displaying the intelligence of both men alongside their more juvenile behavior. Though the Monk/Ham feud would get a lot of play in this series, Moench wisely refrained (at least for the most part) from making them clowns.

Up they go to the 86th, where they quickly join the rest of the aides as they prepare to meet with a mysterious individual who has reached out for assistance.

The (apparent) blind man settles in and begins a remarkable tale of a lost expedition in the far north.

This is all solid pulp stuff, and ties in nicely with the naming of Thorne Shaw (who we saw in the opening sequence) as one of the expedition members. As these developments proceed, it’s becoming clear that this story is going to be a “lost world” yarn, which was of course, a staple of the pulps.

In a similar device to the introductory technique used in Issue #1, Doc is brought into the story rather subtly…listening to developments remotely as he approaches in the autogyro.

The stage is set for Doc to cut through all obfuscation (as Johnny might phrase it)…as he promptly unmasks Sandy Taine as a woman.

I was, by this point, very pleased with the way this story was shaping up. All the elements were in place for a classic pulp tale.

to be continued…

Call for submissions: New Doc Talos Files anthology – “Mona”

The first Doc Talos Files anthology, featuring Rickie Talos (pastiche of Pat Savage) was a great success. The DTF Anthology series features a spotlight on specific characters from The Talos Chronicle, and next up is a collection exploring the life of Dr. James Talos’ great unconsummated love, Mona.

Based on Princess Monja from the Doc Savage canon, the Doc Talos take on the character, Mona Chayak, is a much more realistic one. She is not a Mayan princess, but a Guatemalan woman of Mayan descent. Her father, not the king of a lost civilization, is an early 20th century Central American gold magnate, who becomes the partner of Doc’s father, James Talos Sr.

The younger Talos — James Jr. — accompanies his father on a trip to Guatemala in the 1920’s, and young James and Mona are immediately attracted to one another, but both are exceedingly shy (despite being very capable in violent situations), and they share a slow courtship over the course of the next twenty years. Finally in 1949 they plan to be married, but the ceremony is called off at the last minute (an event depicted in The Talos Chronicle), and the two, despite still loving one another, part permanently.

Mona will die in 1962 (of cancer), and much later, using 21st century Virtual Reality technology, Doc creates a VR companion that is in many ways his lost Mona reborn.

Stories in the Mona anthology will take place across that whole arc of time. As with the Rickie anthology, the tone of the stories will be mature and sophisticated…most will not be conventional pulp action scenes (though there is potential for those as well), but tales and vignettes exploring the personalities, beliefs, aspirations, joys and pain experienced by Doc and Mona over the course of their relationship.

A sample of the type of story to be included in the anthology is Daughter of the King, by Marissa Sarno (click on the title link to read), which was a part of the 2021 Doc Talos fan fiction contest. Marissa has graciously given permission for her story to be included in the new anthology, along with tales by Doc Talos author/creator R. Paul Sardanas.

Some classic books that might also provide inspiration for potential stories are the works of Isabel Allende, or the D.H. Lawrence 1926 novel The Plumed Serpent. Certainly a familiarity with the three Doc Savage novels Monja appears in, The Man of Bronze, The Golden Peril, and They Died Twice, will be helpful, but by no means necessary, as the tone of these stories is quite different from what will be appearing in Mona. Still, though more mainstream in presentation, Mona’s character — her courage, dignity and personal strength — is much informed by the Madonna-like Princess Monja.

For those who have not read The Talos Chronicle, here are some of the events and details of Mona’s life:

Birth year: 1905

Death year: 1962

Ethnicity: Guatemalan of Mayan descent.

Meets Doc Talos in 1925 — she is 20, he is 25.

Childhood in Guatemala City and the smaller village of Cobán, much of it spent in the violent environment of her father’s gold business.

Mona becomes a sculptor in her 20’s, and by 1939 is an acclaimed artist to the point of her work appearing at the Pan American Pavilion of the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

Mona is Catholic, which causes some challenging philosophical exchanges between her and the atheistic Doc Talos.

Planned marriage between Doc and Mona: December 1949 (marriage is called off after Doc confesses extreme details of his own violent past).

Possible stories could be set in Central America or New York, with background events or elements like World War II; The Depression; the violent underground of early 20th Century Guatemala City; Mayan culture in modern Guatemala.

If your submission is selected to appear in the book, you will receive an author’s copy of the paperback, and a percentage of book profits divided equally among all anthology authors. Authors will retain copyright of their stories.

The book will be illustrated, as was the Rickie anthology, with black and white line drawings created by R. Paul Sardanas.

Mona portrait – illustration sample

Submissions will be accepted until a final deadline of November 15, 2022. Publication of the anthology is scheduled for spring/summer 2023.

Submissions should be made in Word or Open Office format. There is no length restriction: stories/vignettes can be as short as one page, or as long as needed to tell the tale. As pro-quality tales, these should be free from serious or multiple typographical errors to be considered.

As these stories will be considered a part of Doc Talos canon, series creator R. Paul Sardanas will be consulted to review all tales and to suggest any revisions to authors that will keep the stories solidly within the facts/continuity of Talos canon.

If you would like to pitch an idea or have any questions before writing a full story, contacting the book’s editor/main author R. Paul Sardanas is certainly encouraged — you may write and describe your idea directly to:

Thanks in advance to all who are interested in taking part!