The 1970’s Marvel/Curtis Doc Savage Magazine – best comics Doc ever? Part 5

We’ve arrived at the climax of Issue #1 of the 1975 Doc Savage black and white Marvel magazine, a story titled “The Doom on Thunder Isle”, written by Doug Moench, and drawn by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga. Having arrived at the titular isle, Doc had upped-periscope from the submarine Helldiver, and was looking over the hideout of the bad guys.

The story — an original tale, as opposed to the novel adaptations of the first Marvel four-color Doc Savage series — had shown poise and confidence in its new style, coming out of the gate strong with many skillfully-used elements of pulp storytelling. As the story had progressed, some cracks in this adept touch had begun to show, including some pacing issues and faults in the story’s internal logic. Those are certainly forgivable sins in a fast-paced pulp adventure yarn, but still mildly troubling. That type of problem would appear less and less as the series progressed, as I presume its creators came to feel more and more on solid ground in its balance of pulp and comic book styles. But as “Thunder Isle” ramped up for its conclusion, another problem began to manifest: the comic book penchant for throwing in the kitchen sink.

Down periscope…and the scene shifts to inside the fortress of the Silver Ziggurat, villain of the piece.

We’ve got some uneasy elements here…the villain’s very comic-book cliche costume and speech/rant are a bit over the top, and Moench himself does not seem completely comfortable with the tone of his writing, slipping dangerously toward camp or self-parody with his omniscient narrator noting that the villain actually laughs off-key.

Things quickly shift to an action/fight scene, depicted with great verve by Buscema and DeZuniga.

Then comes the fore-mentioned kitchen sink. Though the tone and weaponry of the bad guys had been set by their lightning motif and was certainly engaging enough on its own, a new wrinkle is added by the appearance of dangerously altered animals and humans (or “manimals”). This type of thing, I would learn through further reading of his work, I came to regard as a “Moench-ism”. Clearly a movie buff and fantasy-adventure novel aficionado, he inserted elements from numerous films and books into his stories (later on in this run of Doc stories, we would see nods to Casablanca, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds are Forever...and the final story he would actually set in Hollywood with a plethora of film references). In this case, the Island of Dr. Moreau provenance is pretty obvious.

Doc goes into action, and again these are artistically dynamic scenes. (Clever use of the fortress’ lightning decor to emphasize Doc’s speed at the bottom of page 51). But the arch-villain reveal is a bit anti-climactic (the guy’s name was “Bolt” after all), and somewhat marred by his continued shrieky demeanor. Nevertheless, he gets Doc and the boys in his power with a basic “threaten the helpless girl” tactic.

The ensuing fight with the manimals has a raw energy to it, though the story was suffering from fight-overuse by this point, so it felt a bit less harrowing than might have been hoped for. It does have a unique emotional edge to it from Doc’s insistence on fighting alone to protect his aides, and their equal insistence on ignoring his orders in order to help him.

The story then races to its climax. The reveal of the red herring for the villain actually being a noble victim is interesting but rushed, and the plethora of elements to the plot prevents his fate from being as poignant as was no doubt intended. On the flip side, the Silver Ziggurat’s histrionics have become positively annoying, and I found it very satisfying to see Doc cut him down to size in a single panel (pre-dating by some years the classic Indiana Jones scene where he casually shoots the flashy swordsman).

The villain, in a distinctly ill-advised fit of pique after he comes to, wrecks his own installation and brings about his own death at the same time. This hearkened at least somewhat to the conclusion of many pulp stories, where villains regularly fell victim to their own machinations and bad judgment.

And so the first story in this new arc of Doc Savage tales came to an end. Though it suffered, particularly as it reached its climax, from overplotting, pacing issues and some collapse into imitative ideas and cliche, nevertheless I found it overall to be exciting and promising. Many of its problems were common to comics of all kinds in that era, and in some ways it was at least tentatively aiming toward the more sophisticated comics creations that would come in later decades. And there were still seven more issues to come, some of which would reach unique heights in Doc Savage storytelling.

to be continued…

Need a summer fix of New Pulp? Doc Talos new releases and tips for other reading.

Summer always puts me in the mood to binge on pulp reading, and the place to go for the most dynamic, iconoclastic and exciting works to put on your buying and reading list are independent houses. Here are some tips to look into for your summer pulp reading!

Odd Tales of Wonder Publications

Check out this lineup of remarkable books!

Enjoy some of the finest, most exciting titles on the market, from some of the world’s most inventive authors. You’ll find your new favorite books right here.

The Hero Saga

The Hero Saga is an ongoing multi-author epic centering around a trio of incredible adventurers: Flint Golden, a time-traveler and scientist without peer; the Brute, who is lord of the jungle; and the Flash Avenger, a cunning costumed vigilante. Each of them are born to different times and places, but destiny brings them together to battle the forces of evil.

There are also some excellent free reads on the site. Odd Tales of Wonder is one of the most intriguing places to visit for readers who want a unique, intense and satisfying reading experience.


The Doc Talos Bookstore also has a bunch of new releases for the summer.

The newest Doc Talos adventure, Wolves (a pastiche novel based on the Doc Savage classic Brand of the Werewolf) is being released on August 21, and is having a pre-order sale here.

Special pre-orders for the Rickie Talos anthology (a pastiche of the magnificent Pat Savage) have all been filled, but the book is still available in the bookstore.

Also new this summer, at the request of a number of readers, are omnibus editions of The Talos Chronicle. The six core books of the saga are an extravaganza of melded text and art by R. Paul Sardanas and Iason Ragnar Bellerophon, but now the narrative and art can be enjoyed in separate collected editions that make them much more affordable.

The Talos Chronicle is an omnibus edition that includes the novels Abyss, Alleys, Towers, Savages, Passages and Madonnas, as well as WWII and post-pulp era stories. All black and white with no illustrations except an opening rogues gallery of the cast, the book is 791 pages long, with a gorgeous wraparound paperback cover.

Wraparound cover for The Talos Chronicle

For those whose tastes shift to the opposite direction, wanting pure art without any text, there is a new collection of every full size painted artwork by Iason Ragnar Bellerophon, The Art of the Talos Chronicle. An astonishing 375 full color plates on the highest quality print stock, also with a stunning wraparound paperback cover.

Wraparound cover for The Art of the Talos Chronicle


There are many more pulp creations out there from modern masters of the genre, including Will Murray (modern Kenneth Robeson and author of a huge array of other pulp adventures), including a new Spider novel.

Jeff Deischer is the author of a series of novels that are the prestige pastiche of Doc Savage. The Doc Brazen series.

Altus Press/Steeger Books has a great selection of pulp publications to choose from, and is terrific fun to browse.

If you’re looking for new AND old pulp adventures, you can’t go wrong visiting Adventure House.

For all things Doc Savage, check out the iconic Bronze Gazette.

New books and quality reprints galore, with a focus on Wold Newton literature, can be had at Meteor House.

There’s an awesome lineup of new books in varied pulp genres at Airship 27.

Pro Se Productions has a huge, wildly diverse catalog of pulp tales.

Shadow fans, you cannot miss out on this superb publication about the cloaked and slouch-hatted scourge of crime! The Shadowed Circle.

Always a good reading tip to be found at The Pulp Net (the link will take you to a post spotlighting Jim Main’s fabulous Pulp Fan magazine).


Much much more is out there for your summer enjoyment and beyond. Happy pulp reading!

Pre-release sale for Doc Talos “Wolves”

Over a year in the making, the latest Doc Talos adventure, Wolves, will be releasing on August 21st! This is an adult-pulp novel re-imagining the classic Doc Savage Brand of the Werewolf.

The year is 1934…Alec Talos, younger brother of Doc’s deceased father, lives in the Canadian Pacific Northwest, and his estate is under siege by a vicious group calling themselves the “Werewolf Gang”. Looking to recruit assistance, Alec, his daughter Rickie, and a Native American couple, Jeremiah Travels-by-Water and Miriam Small Cloud, go south to Seattle, and run afoul not only of gang members, but the gang’s secret leaders, the Gnostic Archons.

In a burst of shocking violence, Alec is killed, and Rickie calls on her famous cousin Doc Talos, for aid. At the snowbound Canadian Talos estate, these forces clash in a conflict underscored by occult manipulations that will shadow the Talos family for decades to come.

In this fiercely intense novel, you’ll find two werewolves, a brother and sister, that are both sensual and terrifying. You will see new interpretations of elements from the original novel, including the ivory cube, and a fresh twist on El Rabanos. You’ll take a lethal ride on a train from rainy Seattle to the snowy wilds of Canada…you’ll see Doc’s cousin Patricia as a strong-willed, dynamic force…six-shooter in hand.

Wolves is illustrated by almost 100 painted artworks by visionary multimedia creator Iason Ragnar Bellerophon, which will take you over the edge into primal madness.

If you have ever dreamed about “Brand of the Werewolf” taken to a fever-pitch for adult audiences…the dream is here.

Wolves contains explicit content, and is suitable for 18+ readers only. It is the first of three Doc Savage re-imaginings coming in 2022…to be followed by pastiche creations based on “Fear Cay” and “Fortress of Solitude”.

After August 21, this book will retail for $30, but is available as a pre-order for $20 plus shipping (shipping is $5 within the US, and international postage will be quoted for anyone outside the US interested in this offer).

6 x 9 deluxe paperback, 203 pages. Extras include a photo-spread depicting the “She-Wolf” chapter of the book, and two Bellerophon gallery presentations of wildly intense photo and painted artwork.

Please send inquiries about a pre-order of Wolves to:

Review of the Rickie Talos anthology

(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.)

Rickie, by R. Paul Sardanas, Atom Mudman Bezecny, D.B. Brodie, Joe S. Stuart and André Vathier

— review by Grace Ximenez

I was hooked, I confess, from the moment I saw the gorgeous cover painting of Rickie Talos by R. Paul Sardanas. From her penetrating — and slightly mischievous — gaze, to the little upward curl of her lips into a beguiling smile, this was a woman I could not wait to have adventures with. Of course she is an avatar of the classic pulp character Pat Savage, which made the prospect all the more exciting.

Though I enjoyed the Doc Savage series of pulp novels — and my favorites were always the ones with Pat — I was more a casual follower of the series rather than a devoted one. They were fun, and wild, and I admired the positive ideals the stories embodied…but it was an era of somewhat wooden and stereotyped characterization. They were also quite chaste, and I enjoyed a little spice in my pulp reading. From that time period I was more of a fan of the works of Robert E. Howard…particularly his Conan and Solomon Kane tales. I’ll return to that shortly.

The book begins with a Foreword taking a fascinating look back through pulp literature at Pat, and the pastiches and later incarnations either re-embodying her character or exploring her near-if-not-direct descendants. Beyond Pat herself, the ones I was most into were Trish Wilde (the sexy, intense, and violently capable pastiche of Pat from Philip José Farmer’s A Feast Unknown and The Mad Goblin)…and Farmer and Win Scott Eckert’s Pat Wildman from The Evil in Pemberley House and The Scarlet Jaguar. Of those, The Evil in Pemberley House had me most riveted, with its fascinating depiction of Pat’s psyche, including intriguing insights into her sex life. For a book written by two men, I found it had an astute (if pulp-extreme) portrayal of how a woman could headline a strong adventure narrative without simply becoming an appendage of a male hero. Well done by Phil and Win!

The character of Rickie Talos (and I have to say, I love her name) takes that approach even further…going very deeply indeed into her thoughts and feelings as well as depicting a fierce, tough woman in a world of pulp-style conflict. One of the most engaging aspects of that relationship between pulp and the real world, is the way the Talos stories blend and balance both.

This is evident right from the first tale. Titled The Moon of Skulls, it has a teenage Rickie, in 1930, reading that exact story in Weird Tales. Good Lord, Rickie loves Robert E. Howard too!

Rickie is unabashedly turned on by the character of Nakari (a savage African queen)…which, if one is familiar at all with the broad landscape of The Talos Chronicle, cleverly echoes her relationship to come with the Archon Archdemoness, Ruha. But in this story it is — quite realistically, as that teenage pulp story reader could have been me — a girl caught up in the sexy excitement of a savage erotic fantasy.

Many of the stories in this collection are vignettes, and most are written by Doc Talos creator Sardanas. The other contributors, Brodie, Bezecny, Stuart, each wrote one tale, and Vathier, a two-parter. Sardanas uses the medium of the vignette very skillfully (not a surprise, as he is a celebrated speculative poet, and the poem and vignette forms lean strongly on the creation of powerful or subtle word-pictures delivered to the emotions), using many of the scenes as bridges to a much larger overall tapestry.

The opening Weird Tales homage leads into Rickie’s earliest days in New York, where she (irrepressible as always) bluntly propositions Doc about becoming his girlfriend. This, naturally, leaves him tongue-tied and emotionally paralyzed. Wisely, she doesn’t push, but you know she isn’t going to give up, either.

There is then a string of charming interludes, including a scene where Rickie and the Talos pastiches of Monk and Ham celebrate together as she learns to fly in one of Doc’s old biplanes…a sleepover with her older girlfriend — Rickie is an enthusiastically passionate bisexual — where they talk about life and love…a pulp tribute to Lester Dent, with a scene from his Death in Silver lifted almost verbatim from the novel, but with some noticeable — and very amusing — differences…and my favorite, where Rickie ducks out on a date with the perpetually on-the-make Monk and Ham characters in favor of a night out with the Johnny pastiche (named Bill Johnson). Thinking she’s going to get a staid museum-visit or something similar, he takes her to a Harlem nightclub, where they listen to jazz and Rickie gets stoned for the first time in her life. Stoned, as she puts it, on “Mary Jane and Kong brain”…yes, you heard that right.

The non-Sardanas tales are all excellent. Bronze Knockout, by Brodie, takes us along with Rickie on another date, this time to a clandestine New York fight club, where she — hilariously — ends up decking the winning pugilist when he comes on to her despite her saying “no” in no uncertain terms. 1950, by Stuart, is a tip of the fedora to the end of the pulp era, in which Rickie bulldozes Doc into buying her a bundle of ten-for-a-dollar (oh, I wish!) pulps including some Doc Savages, and they chat about whether or not he really hated the things. Dawn of the Abaddon, by Bezecny, is one of the more intense stories of the collection, one of the few that really digs into the hero/villain dynamics that power so much of pulp fiction, with a dark, very adult tone. I was breathless while reading it. My favorite, by just a little bit, of the contributions from the “4 Archon Agents”, is the Vathier two-parter, Bright Forever and Each Day of Summer, which explore Rickie’s friendship with pioneering transwoman Suzie. Their characters are beautifully realized, and the ending is genuinely moving.

The latter part of the book, beginning with Rickie and Her Mate — a momentous lunch date shared by Rickie and her sometime-lover, the Talos pastiche of Lord Greystoke — shifts into a very compelling stampede across the landscape of her passionate obsessions. These are quite explicit (and very kinky, spotlighting eros/thanatos eroticism), but as always in his writing, Sardanas is not presenting these as titillation. Rickie’s thoughts and emotions are powerfully explored in every story.

Toward the end of the book (as Rickie’s passion-binge hits its peak) is the hammering pinnacle of the collection, a story called Smiling, to the Death. Holy shit this tale redefines intense. In it Rickie takes part in the tournament-style ritual that the modern secret society of Archons has morphed from the intentionally primitive “feast unknown” style conflicts. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but it is an eye-popping, adrenaline-inducing, utterly visceral experience.

The book then winds down with some very thoughtful, introspective tales. Rickie discusses her fierce obsessions with a very unexpected therapist…finds intriguing insights through a unique friendship with one of the elite Archons…separates from Doc in a very touching scene…and in the final story, Icarus be Damned (a title that marvelously captures Rickie’s penchant for soaring into the hottest metaphorical situations possible), she looks back at her life and literally flies forward — with her aviator’s soul — into the future.

The collection is illustrated by almost 90 black and white drawings (some of which decorate this review), which were a real treat. The model for Rickie is actress Sienna Day, who worked with Sardanas for some years, and she is a splendid avatar of pulp-goddess Patricia.

Rickie can be read on its own, but is deeply connected to events in the novels of The Talos Chronicle, with its stories woven around many major events in Rickie’s life that take place in those books. At the very end of the collection is a brief “Significant Events in the Life of Rickie Talos” timeline that helps keep all of that in perspective.

This is a wonderful book. I began it already enamored of Pat Savage, and came to the end flat-out in love with Rickie Talos.


Rickie is available in paperback or PDF download from the Doc Talos Bookstore.

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

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

Marvel house ad for the new Doc Savage Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to be continued…

The Conseil du Mal discusses Philip José Farmer’s “Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life” – Part 3

Welcome to the third and final installment of the Conseil du Mal (Council of Evil) discussion of this classic of pulp/heroic mythography. The Council is made up of three contemporary pulp authors: Atom Mudman Bezecny, editor of Odd Tales of Wonder publications and author of the multi-book Hero Saga…R. Paul Sardanas, author of over thirty books of fiction and poetry and co-creator (with artist Iason Ragnar Bellerophon) of the Doc Talos stories…and André Vathier, a French Canadian author who has written stories in both the Hero and Talos “universes”.

Let’s jump right in and pick up where we left off! We had reached the portion of the book where Farmer explores each central character in a series of “biography” chapters.

SARDANAS: The biography chapters were always my favorite. To me, they tapped into the tremendously alluring concept of deepening the characters from pulp two-dimensional characterization, and opened up a whole — fascinating — emotional landscape for each. In order, Farmer explored Monk, Ham (followed by a non-human digression with a chapter on Habeas Corpus and Chemistry), Renny, Johnny, Long Tom and Pat. 

The Bantam reprints were nowhere near complete in the early 70’s, but Farmer had access to the full run of pulps, and as you say Atom, he used snippets from various “Kenneth Robesons” to compile his dossier on each character. With 181 stories across the 16 years of the pulp run, that is a lot to sift through, but the results are entrancing. 

With Monk, for instance, we learn about his WWI experience, his techniques (as the chapter title introduces, being “Monk, the Ape in Wolf’s Clothing”) for attracting women, his smoking habit, his perpetual money troubles…and even esoterica like the fact that when knocked unconscious, he does not see stars, but a green waterfall. 

Each of the aides is explored in similar fashion. The effect, when returning to the canon of novels to read any individual story, is to see these characters in a much richer light. 

As you mention Atom, the longest (and gushiest) chapter of the bios is devoted to Pat. Farmer describes literally every adventure she appears in, and compiles and explores the character traits she exhibits in each. Farmer takes anything but a detached approach to his trip through Pat’s life…he flat-out states “I fell in love with Pat when I was just sixteen. Re-reading these stories at the age of fifty-four, I’m still in love with her.” He speculates — in what for its time was very daring — about her sex life, including her attraction to her cousin, Doc. He had, of course, already introduced this concept in much more graphic terms in his novel A Feast Unknown…but here he brings nuance to the possible relationship by enriching it with qualities of both Pat and Doc’s personalities, including dignity and bravery, along with Pat’s fierceness and passion. After reading this chapter, like Farmer, I fell in love with Pat too. Mirroring his statement above, that literary love was sparked at age fifteen for me, and it’s still there at age sixty-four.

VATHIER: I share your assessment Atom that the Fortress of Solitude is underused. Perhaps Dent and the other Robesons felt that after the tour de force that was Fortress of Solitude and The Devil Genghis that this was it.

The biographies are my favorite.

There’s just one thing that’s missing from these chapters. I would have loved to know Farmer’s opinion and insight on Monk’s secretary Lea Aster.  At first she was just that nameless secretary but in The Red Skull she plays a bigger role in the story and she is able to hold her own against  a gang of thugs. They could have done so much more with that character. After that she sort of disappears. Four months after her appearance in The Red Skull Pat made her debut and Lea just faded away (Will Murray did have her make a major appearance in Horror in Gold). To my knowledge she never once interacted with Pat.  

Let’s talk about Pat! 

BEZECNY: I think that one of the sadder aspects of this book is the mention of the last appearance of various aides. It’s always hard saying goodbye to certain long-lived characters, especially when there’s no real goodbye. Eventually, Renny, Johnny, and Long Tom simply cease to be part of the stories. Sometimes there are small, accidental ironies to these characters’ endings. But sometimes it’s clear that there was no regard for any sort of finality to the stories. We can expect nothing else from the pulps, who were here today, gone tomorrow.

In an unspoken way, these goodbyes also include those issued so abruptly to the many unsung dozens of weird and wonderful characters who popped up in the individual novels, who never had a chance to return to later stories. 

Of course, that’s where Farmer works his magic, reviving many of these characters not just here but in his earlier text, which begat a new universe for Doc. 

I’ve hinted over the years that some of my initial reactions to Farmer’s work were negative. One of these moment came from the incest references in the Pat chapter of this book. I never understood the idea that just because two people were incredible they should get together. Then I read A Feast Unknown and realized that Doc/Pat was sort of Farmer’s OTP. These days (in part due to the writings of one Mr. Sardanas) I too ship it pretty hard. I think the thing for me isn’t that Doc and Pat are the only people smart enough, strong enough, and beautiful enough for each other. I think it’s just more that they are both sort of psychologically fucked up, but in a way that I, a reader, can enjoy behind the veil of fiction. Doc has never had a normal sex life. And Pat is like a supernatural being, a living spirit of adventure. She is never satisfied with any status quo, always seeking to change and disrupt. Of course she would follow a fellow supernatural being, regardless of blood, into the bedroom.

My young self let my disgust over the incestuous pondering distract me from the fact that it wasn’t just Pat’s body and sensuality that intrigued Farmer. He says much more about her kindness, her brilliance, and the hope she inspired, both in-universe and for the readers who followed her adventures.

It’s true that the pulps stereotype her and pin her into a role that is meant to be sexually appealing to straight male readers. But she is also treated with much more complexity than many other women in the pulps who served the same sort of function. She is a damsel in distress at times, but she is far from someone like, say, the women of the Barsoom series. Jane Porter really only got to kick ass in a couple of Burroughs’ novels. Pat Savage kicked ass in every single one of hers.

Original pulp portrait of Pat by Paul Orban

SARDANAS: I will certainly confess to a fascination with Farmer’s concept of an emotional/romantic/sexual relationship between Doc and Pat. And I put those two descriptive words first — emphasizing the emotional and romantic — with intent. At fifteen, when I first read the “Pat Savage: Lady Auxiliary and Bronze Knockout” chapter, I was — like you Atom — not enamored of the leap PJF was taking there. I was, at that age, a young intellectual still striving to find a balance with my Catholic upbringing…and the concept of anything even bordering on an incestuous relationship was deeply troubling. It still is, of course, in the real world — but the Doc and Pat link (as you also pointed out, Atom) didn’t seem to be suggested by Farmer for shock value or exploitation. It was rooted in the characterization of two extraordinary people with extreme, and challenging histories…and Farmer seemed intent on presenting Doc and Pat in a humanistic light, with their flaws and desires writ large in the pulp manner. 

The fathers of both had been murdered…neither had a mother or any siblings in their lives…both were brilliant and driven, but lacking in any form of conventional romantic relationships. From their first meeting onward they admired one another, and became fiercely protective toward each other. In that sense, they provided a link to one another that included feelings of emotional safety, mutual understanding, and caring. Those qualities, rather than their physical perfection, were what I saw uppermost in Farmer’s concept of the two as a couple. 

This was enhanced by Farmer’s depiction of Doc Caliban and Trish Wilde in A Feast Unknown…despite profligate sexuality in that novel, what moved me most was the intensity of their devotion to one another. 

I can certainly also relate to the melancholy nature of each bio chapter as they came to their individual ends…that sense of never having a proper goodbye in the pulp world was pretty keen for me (I’m pretty sentimental, even about pulp heroes), so there was a sense of fulfillment to at least be able envision their farewells to us and to each other. 

VATHIER: Paul like some people in real life we don’t get to say goodbye…they just fade away. I like to think the other aides after their final appearance just moved on from adventuring and settled down. However, that is just wish fulfillment. The likely reason is the many Robesons preferred Monk, Ham and Doc.

When it comes to the implied (and explicit in A Feast Unknown) relationship between the two cousins, you both opened my eyes to perspectives that I did not consider. Like both of you, in my first reading of the chapter I made a similar assessment. I found it troubling. I assumed that at the time it was written with the goal of titillating the readers. Pat being the “only woman [who] appears more than three times.“

In a different way, it reminded me of those comic book writers that want Superman and Wonder Woman together. Just because.

In the extreme world they live in. with crime glands, atom stopping devices that turns you into dark smoke…they are meant for each other.

Doc, unlike let’s say Tarzan, The Shadow or The Spider never really got a woman companion. Rhoda Haven from The Freckled Shark does not count. It’s in this one where he uses the persona of Henry Peace. I found the persona to be reminiscent of  Clark Kent in an odd way…it was not Clark Savage Jr. who was in “love” with Rhoda Haven but Henry Peace.

The closest I think we ever got was Seryi Mitroff but she only appeared In Hell, Madonna/The Red Spider (1979) and The Frightened Fish (1992).

So all we are left with is Pat.

I had to search what you meant by the abbreviation OTP.  For those who don’t know, OTP as defined by the urban dictionary is :

‘’One True Pairing in a work of fiction. Characters that a person thinks work well together.”

I second your opinion Atom. Nita Van Sloan, Jane Porter, Margo Lane…ain’t got nothing on Pat.

Farmer also highlights Patricia Savage the successful businesswoman. Women in pulp novels were often dependent…not Pat. She is independently wealthy.

This pulp cover, featuring Doc and Pat, was one of the finalists for Farmer’s choice of artwork for the hardcover first edition of DS:HAL

The next two chapters are “Doc the Gadgeteer” and “Some of the Great Villains and Their World-threatening Gadgets”.

After reading completing  the blog series exploring John Sunlight (Omnipresent Sunlight), I think Mr. Sardanas said everything, read everything there is to know about John Sunlight. I think Farmer’s helped cement that mythology. 

BEZECNY: I think you guys did a great job conveying the mystique that surrounds Pat and Farmer’s thoughts and feelings about her. She is truly unique among pulp heroines. 

It wouldn’t be a true Doc encyclopedia without the gadgets and the villains. It is those two elements, alongside the group dynamic with the aides, that have left the biggest impact on superhero comics. Doc has famously been described as one of the pulp ancestors of the modern superhero, alongside Tarzan, The Shadow, and the Avenger. I don’t really have much to say on that matter, since it’s something that many Doc fans already know about, and besides that one little mention of Clark Kent, Farmer is not interested in the superheroic descendants of the pulp heroes. All I’ll say is that Farmer handles these last trope-studies with his usual finesse.

And then…the ancestry! Wow! Not quite as elaborate as Tarzan’s background, like I said, but there are some clever details here. The “Clarke” which is not Doc’s first name in Farmer’s view, but rather his middle, comes from Doc’s descent from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Micah Clarke. Doc is also descended from Captain Blood, a physician and scientist who found himself transformed into an adventurer. As a kid, I always appreciated that Doc’s ancestors included Ned Land, who was one of my favorite 19th Century heroic figures during my big Jules Verne phase. As in Tarzan Alive, characters are pruned from the whole of fiction not merely for their physical attributes, but for their thematic resonance as well. This is a great finale for the book, especially coupled with Farmer’s excellent chronology for the Doc stories. 

SARDANAS: When initially reading Apocalyptic Life back in ’73, I was so bowled over by the bio chapters that my brain went on automatic when shifting into the chapters on Doc’s gadgets, the rogue’s gallery of villains, and the family tree. I found them fun and fascinating, but Farmer had made his most powerful impression to me through his humanizing of the characters, and that would be the most lasting legacy of the book into my own creative life. 

However, through many re-readings, I’ve come to appreciate those latter chapters more and more. I believe you are quite right Atom, in your observation that the gadgets and villains of Doc’s world had a huge influence on the superhero comics that would in essence replace the pulps in popular literature. The formula of clever gimmicks and colorful bad guys would run rampant through comics culture in the decades after the pulps came to an end. Interesting in a way that Farmer – from what my artistic partner in the Talos books, Iason Ragnar Bellerophon, has told me — really didn’t care for comics much. Farmer flat out said so to Iason when the two met. And certainly Farmer seemed quite indifferent (at best) to comics culture, never scripting one (as far as I know) or making much effort to incorporate them into his elaborate cross-connections of pulp literature. Though in an amusing “read between the lines” part of the Family Tree chapter, Farmer wickedly toys with his contemporary maverick author, Harlan Ellison (a vocal comics fan), through a gently acid-penned page in the chapter concerning “Cordwainer Bird” (Ellison’s pseudonym which he applied to any of his own works he ended up loathing).  

His “villains” chapter seemed to really be interested in leading him to the final issue of Doc Savage magazine, the now-classic “Up From Earth’s Center” story…a concept he clearly wanted to revisit, and did so with his 1980’s The Monster on Hold teaser chapter and story summary, which was finally — and thrillingly — completed by Win Scott Eckert. 

And then, of course, there is the Family Tree. This — along with its companion exploration of Tarzan’s ancestry in Tarzan Alive — was the part of the book I was most conflicted about. It was tremendous fun (I have told the tale of how I regaled my siblings back in the 70’s about all the luminaries “Doc is related to”)…and the concept of cross-linking literary canons seemed a natural extension of the presentation of characters like Doc and Tarzan as “real people”. But it had an aspect of Pandora’s Box to it as well. Certainly a fresh idea in ’73, with Farmer’s research into “literary genealogy” done with a kind of glee that showed how much he was enjoying himself…still, the downside of the idea to me was that much of the dynamism in literary canons rested with their unique individuality. Too much mashup made me feel as if the excitements and unique revelations of each popular character would be watered down, their kaleidoscope of colors blurring into more and more of a gray slurry if the technique was overused. 

What I did not anticipate was the cleverness and dedication of those that followed Farmer into this territory. Yes, there have been stories that felt like simple exercises in the novelty of pairing disparate characters for its own sake…but concurrent with that, the concept of a strong, complex and carefully structured multiverse of characters took hold, with some works (like the aforementioned The Monster on Hold) crafted to blend literary streams into a vibrant river, rather than the stagnant, overcrowded pool I feared. I think the legacy of Farmer’s venture into genealogy/mashup (which he called “Creative Mythography”) has ultimately energized pulp storytelling — one of the finest examples being your own works, Atom (which, to my shock — and delight — inspired me to take part in what I found to be an exciting vision within your “universe”. You jolted a lukewarm “multiversist” right off his ass into a bold world indeed). 

The Family Tree

VATHIER: Doc’s influence on comic books can not be overstated. I firmly believe that the modern version of Batman is a re-tooled version of Doc Savage. A man through physical and mental training fights crime using an array of gadgets. The villains when captured are sent to an institution for the criminally insane. R. Paul, I never heard of that story about Farmer. ”[He] really didn’t care for comics much. Farmer flat out said so to Iason when the two met.” Iason must have felt a little disappointed. 

But now that you mention it it’s somewhat obvious. I’m sure the family tree of Tarzan and Doc would be quite different if he had been a comic book fan. Atom, as a French Canadian I can’t help but smirk. Ned Land is related to Doc Savage. hehehe 

At first “Addendum 1 The Fabulous Family Tree of Doc Savage” was my least favorite part. Truth be told, most of the names present I was not familiar with. It’s only later did I really start to appreciate it. Meeting Atom who’s way more knowledgeable of pop culture and obscure media did help open my eyes. She can give me mini-bios for every character in both family trees.  Also like Paul Sardanas she inspired me to also take part of her very own creative mythography with her Hero Saga

As for the villain chapter I have not a lot to say that has not already been said. 

We are now reaching the last part of the book. The chronology. To this day this is the most contentious part of the book. with fans making their own chronologies . The latest chronology we got in book form was released a year ago. I don’t know many fandoms (beside comic book) who dedicate themselves to creating new chronologies. Tarzan only has two chronologies (that I know of) Rick Lai produced one for The Shadow . But Doc Savage has FIVE distinct chronologies with different interpretations of the same texts. Each with different conclusions. Reading them, they all make their very own compelling case and I find that fascinating  (I’m not here to determine which one is correct…this is for you to decide). I’m still impressed that Farmer did that without the use of a computer. I assume he was forbidden from highlighting or taking notes in the original pulps he borrowed from Jack Cordes.  

I forgot to add do we know what happened to the Kent Lane novel Farmer mentions in the family tree.

Kent Lane. (See my short story, “Skinburn”, in The Book of Philip José Farmer, and my forthcoming novel, Why Everybody Hates Me.) Kent Lane became a crime fighter, too, but he operated (mostly) within the requirements of the law. 

Page 234 (1975 Bantam ed)

Page 234 (Playboy paperback)

Page 219 (Altus press softcover)

Page 219 (Meteor House hardcover)

BEZECNY: It’s definitely interesting that Doc, of all the pulp heroes, has attracted so many chronologists. Perhaps the lack of similar efforts for other pulp heroes is due to either the length of the history of the character in question (such as in the case of The Shadow, who had over 300 stories in his series) or due to the vagueness of the property. There are a number of shorter chronologies for certain pulp characters out there, such as those on the Wold Newton website, and their brevity reflects the comparative simplicity of those series next to the Doc Savage canon. That’s not to say that Doc’s universe is the deepest of all the pulp worlds. Maybe this is the sign that Doc is the most famous of all the pulp heroes, besides Tarzan, whose name is nearly as well-known around the world as those of Superman and the founders of the world’s religions.

Curious but perhaps unsurprising that Farmer wasn’t big on comics. Superhero comics are after all the bastard children of the pulps (which are in turn the bastard children of ancient myths). As someone who has mixed feelings about comics myself, I very much understand.

I am also in awe of Farmer’s ability to assemble vast swaths of knowledge without the Internet. I am grateful that the Internet has helped make a lot of the texts he drew from more accessible, to say nothing of the fact that I can pay a good price to read many of his own books at the touch of a button. It’s fascinating to consider what he could have come up with if he had lived in the age of the Internet. But he has left a devoted fanbase who have, as you guys say, created tons of awesome new content using that very power. (It’s certainly kind, the things you guys said about me…but unlike older members of the community, I am not a Jedi yet. At the very least…I don’t like to toot my own horn, even if it’s a horn I’ve spent a lot of time and hard work on.)

SARDANAS: And so we come to the final chapter of the book: “Addendum 3, the List of Doc Savage Stories”. This of course has been massively improved and made more accurate over the decades since 1973, but forty-nine years ago I can tell you it was a revelation to me. 

Like, I suspect, most older Doc Savage fans, my one source for the bigger picture of Doc publishing history was the list of Bantam reprints that appeared inside many of the paperbacks. The story titles were magical and alluring, promising so much adventure and excitement…but beyond those it was, in a way, like looking for treasure without a map. I did not own any original pulps at that time, and the internet was far, far away from existing. So beyond the Bantam paperbacks, it was a tapestry filled with mystery.

Farmer listed the pulps grouped in their years of original pulp publication, then noted with a B those that Bantam had reprinted up to the time of Apocalyptic Life’s publication. Then he added more initials…to my utter shock…which were author notations.

Say what? In the late sixties, early seventies, I thought every story had been written by that Kenneth Robeson guy. The existence of Lester Dent was unknown to me, and I was thunderstruck to learn that not only was Robeson a “house name”, but that other authors had written Doc tales too. Suddenly the divergence in writing styles that I’d seen when reading some paperbacks made sense, despite the constant repetition of the Robeson name.

Farmer’s data regarding this, needless to say, was in some cases faulty. He credited the Laurence Donovan novels to Norman Danberg, and the only other Doc ghosts noted were Alan Hathway and William Bogart. The work of Doc scholars after Farmer corrected all of that in fabulous detail over the years.  

So, quite a book, and a lot to sum up! Even a discussion as wide-ranging as this one has only scratched the surface. At the very least, whether you love or loathe Farmer’s approach to Doc Savage and the constellation of pulp/literary figures he worked to weave into a much broader tapestry than ever imagined…Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life left the landscape of heroic fiction much changed, and an amazing amount of inspiration has flowed from that effort in the past half century.

The Conseil du Mal will return soon with our ongoing discussion of the world of pulp entertainment, and more!

The Conseil du Mal discusses Philip José Farmer’s “Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life” – Part 2

Playboy Press version of DS:HAL

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!

Picking up where we left off…

SARDANAS: There’s no doubt that the book contains language – and attitudes – that are unenlightened regarding gender identity and sexuality. As you noted Atom, Farmer is pretty free with the word “fairy” (which he also uses in A Feast Unknown). There was never a time in my memory when it wasn’t an insulting term (and I was born in 1958), but it mollifies me a little to read in Apocalyptic Life how Farmer takes what at least appears to be a critical view of what in Chapter 18 – discussing Lizzie, one of the villains in The Annihilist – he calls “pulp magazine tabus”. He elaborates that these tabus were very much effect in all literature circa 1934. As you say Atom, I believe Farmer learned as he grew older. And in 1973, when Apocalyptic Life was published, the word “queer” was considered an epithet – it was not until later that through strength in protest and advocacy, the word was reclaimed and repurposed as a statement of pride.

Of course the pulp novels were also rife with racial stereotypes and sexism…it’s an aspect of the pulp experience that troubled me even as a pre-teen, as I grew up in a family environment where any form of intolerance and marginalizing was considered one of the deepest and most reprehensible forms of ignorance. It always surprised me in the course of my wide-ranging reading when I encountered it…I somehow thought that writers, whose world of the imagination all but required the ability to strive to understand the perspectives, self-identity and beliefs of people across the human spectrum, would be immune to intolerance. Not so, obviously.

In any case, I think of Apocalyptic Life as something of a bridge in attitudes as they developed between the 1930’s and 1970’s – heroic fiction was evolving right alongside society.

One interesting point about Doc as a character, is that even when one of the pulp novels veered into (sometimes appalling) stereotypes, Doc himself treated everyone with dignity and respect. Not in a preachy way, but simply behaving toward others with an equanimity he afforded every human being. It’s one of the reasons I was – and still am – drawn to Doc as an example of basically a decent guy under all the pulp blood and thunder.

VATHIER: Atom I share your hope that one day someone will write an Arronaxe Larsen story. Ned land is my favourite character from 20 000 Leagues.

We may suppose that the outraged Ned Land made an extensive search for his daughter’s betrayer, nut that story was not written by Jules Verne, though it may be written someday by somebody else “

Now that is a story I want to read! (Perhaps I will write it myself) Knowing what we know now about the Farmerian monomyth and Wolf Larsen’s real identity.  I may be repeating myself but that is what I love about that book. It always gives me a boost of creativity.

Doc is one of the few characters from that specific pulp era who aged best. We still feel Doc’s presence and shadow in 2022. Modern Batman shares some characteristics with Doc. Both are physical and mental marvels. Both fight crime. Batman’s utility belt would not be out of place on Doc Savage.

Atom you said earlier, “This book isn’t just a biography of Doc Savage– it’s a highly detailed encyclopedia.”

I agree 110%. He could have easily followed the Tarzan Alive route. Focus on Doc himself…update the family tree and call it a day. Instead, Farmer gives detailed illustrations of the 86th floor headquarters. In addition, how it changed from 1933 to 1949.

“The Crime College” chapter is fascinating since it quotes the 1966 book In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. The quote concerns Reverend James Post who at the time was the prison chaplain at the Kansas State Penitentiary. The Reverend talks about the rehabilitation of criminals. That part showed me just how popular and influential Doc Savage magazine was back in the 30’s and 40’s. Doc was way ahead of everyone with the idea of rehabilitating criminals. When you have characters like Tarzan, The Spider and The Shadow who have no moral objection to killing criminals. it is a radical idea to have your main protagonist not only be against killing and the death penalty but also promoting rehabilitation.

BEZECNY: Any look into the past is going to be something of a political challenge, but a necessary one. Fundamentally, it’s noble to try to do and say what is right in the moment, regardless of chronological limitations. I look forward to being criticized by younger people when I’m older. I have much to learn, and I appreciate insight into my perspectives.

Interesting that so many, Farmer included, ascribe such insight to Doc in the face of his pulp simplicity, and indeed his rougher qualities…but there is something authentically wonderful about the guy, beyond the fannishness and the stereotypes. He’s a figure who would definitely grow wiser with age, probably always being notably wiser than the others of his era. That’s why I think it’s so tempting for so many authors to place Doc, or versions of him, in decades later than the pulp version got to see. 

Is this the discussion where I break down and ask you guys what you think of the Crime College? Let’s just say yes, even though I’m sure we’ve discussed it elsewhere. Here are my thoughts… It’s true that while Doc’s rehabilitation methods are in some ways more humane than the barbarities of the U.S. justice system, it clashes fundamentally with modern ethics in several ways. Doc tampers with people’s free will, and besides that, much of the process is based on psycho-physiological conceptions of the brain which we now know are not accurate. One could argue that in a just society one must accept the consequences of their crimes, including external determinations about one’s free will, but it’s hard to say even with some of the crooks Doc fights that this punishment is proportionate.

This is a consistent region of ambiguity for me, and Farmer’s statements on the matter don’t resolve that. The Pandora’s can of worms is opened…please feel free to dismiss the discourse summarily if you wish. André, I agree with you that the general act of having Doc be merciful is quite radical for the time.

SARDANAS: The Crime College has certainly proved to be a hot topic over the decades. As you noted André, Farmer cites the passage from In Cold Blood where Reverend Post makes his “Sometimes I think old Doc Savage had the right idea” comment. The reverend, troubled by the overabundance of wickedness in the world, considers Doc’s solution in a favorable light.

Farmer himself raises the “what constitutes a criminal” question, with examples like a starving Depression man who stole food to live, or a militant advocating the overthrow of a government, as gray areas where Doc probably wouldn’t resort to his anti-criminalizing surgery. He also makes an amusing comparison between Doc’s method and that of his contemporary crimefighter, The Shadow:

(The Shadow) has none of Doc’s desire to reform criminals. He stops the criminals’ careers by putting huge holes in them from his two .45 automatics.

Art by Joe DeVito for “The Sinister Shadow” by Will Murray

Post-pulp takes on the surgical technique include comics author Denny O’Neil’s presentation of the technique as a lobotomy…and in Dynamite Entertainment’s Man of Bronze comic series, Doc is brought before a government judiciary panel to explain himself when “The College” is revealed, and the story is filled with serious societal repercussions from Doc’s rehabilitation techniques.

Needless to say there are powerful problems of morality with the whole concept – the wiping out of a person’s memory and removal-reinsertion into society as a blank (albeit “crime-hating solid citizen”) slate – even if taught a “useful trade” — is a violation of human rights at the very least, however well-intended. In the pulps things were pretty black and white, with the criminals portrayed as wantonly murderous, completely amoral, and essentially beyond redemption…and the primary Crime College story, The Annihilist, makes Doc seem mild as opposed to The Crime Annihilist’s solution to the issue, which is to cause anyone who has violent thoughts to have his eyes literally pop out of his head. Such is the nature of moral debate in the bloody pulps!

“The Annihilist” cover art by James Bama

VATHIER: You are right Atom. Doc Savage’s method is quite at odds with our modern ethics. I wonder what happens to the loved ones of these criminals. To them they just up and vanished one day.

Most of the Kenneth Robesons wave it away with sentences that imply that they do not have living relatives or have no one waiting for them when they go home.  The following question goes to the most knowledgeable Savageologist. To my recollection, Doc only performed the surgery on the most violent and evil criminals. Did he ever performed the surgery on let us say a kleptomaniac?

I did some research and found the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Centre.

This nonprofit, according to the Clark County prosecuting attorney (situated in Nevada ) is quoted in saying, “[Death Penalty Information Centre] is probably the single most comprehensive and authoritative internet resource on the death penalty [in the United States]  ”

Starting in the 1920s the American abolition movement loses support. We see a peak in execution in the 1930s the average being 167 per year.

The pulps reflected that. With the main protagonists gunning down criminals left and right without remorse.

At first Doc did kill his foes but later on he promotes his non-killing rule. Lester Dent was bold to promote the rehabilitation of criminals during a time when most folks supported the death penalty. His methods were flawed but I’m sure it planted the seed in pulp readers readers that there is another way. 

BEZECNY: I think you both nailed the ambiguities surrounding this element of the pulps. What I’ve found is that the legacy of the pulps is, unlike the pulps themselves, far from being black and white. It’s easy to condemn stories like the Tarzan series on the basis of its racism, or the Doc Savage series for its perspective on criminality – and it’s equally easy to praise those series for what progressive qualities they have. People like Dent and Burroughs and others, by and large, did make an effort to enhance themselves as time went on, even if they maybe didn’t go the full distance – even though there are massively retrograde elements in both of their bodies of work. This is where I separate authors like Dent and Burroughs from writers like my two big hate-targets, Sax Rohmer and H.P. Lovecraft, who did not try to learn or improve themselves and really only changed as a result of market demands. I really can’t accept the “product of its time” argument on any level, but I am also willing to accept that the people of the past were hugely complex, and not everything can be judged by my own desire and admiration for revolution.

Following the segment on the Crime College, Farmer digs into the Fortress of Solitude, and beyond, the various aides (and Pat, whom I’m sure we will gush about to no end, just as Farmer does). The Fortress has always been one of the most interesting but most underused aspects of the Doc mythos, as Farmer excellently outlines. His major focus is on the John Sunlight duology, Fortress of Solitude and The Devil Genghis, as those stories most closely deal with the Fortress itself. In some ways, he treats the Fortress like a character unto itself, like the aides but inanimate. Though its appearances in the series are limited, it’s easy to view it as Doc’s TARDIS in a sense – one of his companions, albeit one which never speaks.

“Fortress of Solitude” and “The Devil Genghis”, Sanctum Books reprint

The biographies of the aides are evocative and exciting, loaded with all of the tantalizing hints about their pasts that the authors slipped in. That’s part of why Farmer’s work is so fun, is that it takes years and years of exceptionally minor references and reveals them to be relatively cohesive pieces of larger character sketches. There are still continuity hiccups, of course, but generally speaking, there’s a fairly straightforward sequence of events for each of the characters. The pulps really didn’t like fleshing out a lot of their characters, so when people do collect the tidbits and speculate on how they come together, it’s always a thrill.

to be continued…

The Conseil du Mal discusses Philip José Farmer’s “Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life” – Part 1

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!

SARDANAS: Hi Atom, Hi André…so we are here to chat together about Farmer’s Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life. First published in 1973, it has been reprinted across the decades by numerous publishers, with revisions and expansion from Farmer enthusiasts and colleagues. At face value an unusual book, as it is a “biography” of a fictional character. In the almost fifty years since Apocalyptic Life was published, the fictional biography is practically a genre all its own, but at the time it was quite a thunderbolt of imagination. It was actually a companion book to another fictional-character biography Farmer had done: Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke.

Both books had a twofold effect on the landscape of fiction. First, exploring elements of these characters’ lives as if they were “real” afforded an unusual depth to characterizations designed for exciting adventures rooted primarily in pulp-style action narratives. Second, they spawned what has become an immense, complex network of interrelationships between Doc, Lord Greystoke, and an almost dizzying array of other literary and historical characters. In that sense, they were foundational building blocks of the “literary mashup”.

I encountered Apocalyptic Life the year it was published, and it was quite a revelation to me. I had been an enthusiastic reader of Doc Savage novels since 1969, when I was eleven years old (seduced by the stunning James Bama covers, after my first I was hopelessly addicted). There’s a big difference between an 11 year-old boy, and a 15 year-old, restless, edgy, intense adolescent. I loved Doc novels for their sense of wonder, for their relentless action, for their high ideals and relative simplicity. I didn’t feel any desire to give up those pleasures, but in many ways, for a young adult, they were not enough. I wanted to read books with more human dimension, more challenging and daring approaches to fiction (I also discovered Farmer’s A Feast Unknown that same year, and in conjunction with Apocalyptic Life, my wish was fulfilled in spades).

By interesting coincidence, Farmer says on the first page of the first chapter, “The Fourfold Vision”, that he was also fifteen when he first encountered Doc via the original pulp magazine. Here is Farmer’s description of that day:

“I could find out how the weather was on Friday, February 15, 1933, by checking an almanac. But it doesn’t matter if it was cloudy or snowing or clear and sunshiny. That day will always be bursting with a golden light.”

I’d encountered the golden light at a comparatively younger age through my own first Doc novel…but on my birthday in 1973 when my parents – who knew I loved Doc – bought me a copy of that original hardcover Apocalyptic Life, I went from the golden sunshine to a storm of fascinating, challenging, sometimes inspiring, sometimes subversive, ideas.

VATHIER: That is indeed an interesting coincidence. I discovered Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life later. I was 22 years old back in 2016. I just finished reading Tarzan of the Apes, Return of Tarzan and Tarzan Alive. After reading the first autobiography, I decided to jump in with the second. Back then the idea of reading all 202 (in 2016) Doc Savage novels seemed impossible. Therefore, I settled for the next best thing. Honestly, nothing can substitute reading them but this is a close second if you cannot afford to track all of them.

The thing that impresses me the most is Mr. Farmer did this without the aid of a computer. Reading and re reading those original magazines (Bantam would only finish reprinting the series in 1991 and again 25 years later with Sanctum Books.). Taking what I assume is an ungodly amount of notes. He laid the foundation for future chronologists. He set a standard that is still used today.

The  first chapter “Fourfold Vision” is a great introduction. Not only will Mr. Farmer bring us on this extraordinary journey. He lets us the readers in on his personal connection to the character. How he first discovered him 89 years ago and how he rediscovered it with the 60s reprints. While most of us first met him with those reprints.  His digression into poplit is marvelous.  The comparison he makes between E.E Smith, William S. Burroughs and Henry Miller is academia-worthy.

The second chapter “ Lester Dent the Revelator from Missouri” is possibly my favorite. Millennials like myself can forget that back before computers and internet databases finding biographical info on authors was not that easy. Sure, your local library might have some directories with dry information. However, this is different.

Mr.:Farmer showed us one of the man behind Kenneth Robeson. Giving us both funny and sad stories told by Norma Dent. There is a thing that shines through with these stories. You can feel how much Norma loved her late husband. I cannot pin point it exactly but you can tell. His output of  130 000 to 140 000 words a month on average for 16 years! Holy S#!T.

Knowing what we know now about the infamous Doc Savage movie this quote from the 1975 edition is hilarious.

The movie was originally scheduled for the spring of 1974, but as [George] Pal reported to me, “We made it too good.”

BEZECNY: This book, as well as Tarzan Alive, are all about synthesis: the synthesis of different fictions, the synthesis of personal and fantastical experiences, the synthesis of the literary and the “lowbrow.” I believe that Jung, in his Gnostic period, expressed interest in synthesis as the primal form of enlightenment, and Farmer made it no secret that he was a Jung reader. Both Jung and Freud haunt this book, perhaps even more so than in Tarzan Alive–but that makes sense, as Doc Savage is a man of brains in more ways than one. Tarzan Alive, by contrast, was spiritually driven more by Jane Goodall and the anthropologists, because it was about an ape man living in an anthropologically unique situation. Anthropology is part of Apocalyptic Life as well, but it’s more a matter of sociology here. (While Farmer doesn’t speculate on it, I imagine Doc was one of sociology’s early defenders, when it fell under fire by the old guard of academicians in the mid 20th Century.) 

It does indeed take a remarkable intellect to produce such incredible research, from so many areas of scholarship–and to be able to shape that research into a compelling story. The genealogy that makes up one of the book’s addenda is fairly simple compared to that from Tarzan Alive, being an extension of such–but it is still a masterwork of research, of both real and fictional history. Farmer seeks out and pounces on physical and thematic similarities between Doc and such characters as Micah Clarke, Captain Blood, James Bond, Sam Spade, and Kilgore Trout, and notably, he is more keen to embrace the fantastical than in Tarzan Alive, making allusions to Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Cthulhu Mythos, among others. The fact that Doc’s genealogy is not as detailed as Tarzan’s feels thematically correct as well. Doc may be of noble blood, but he is not a nobleman; Tarzan is. So Tarzan gets the full Burke’s Peerage treatment, and Doc’s ancestry ends up a bit more working class.

There must be some record of Farmer’s opinion the Doc movie. Given his low opinions of the majority of the Tarzan films, one has to wonder. Though Farmer did very nearly get a sequel made, with himself in the writer’s chair! 

SARDANAS: The “We made it too good” comment from George Pal about the 1975 Doc Savage movie gave me a chuckle, André. The movie has of course been excoriated by fans for decades. It doesn’t fare quite as badly these days with critics, who usually rank it in the three-star range now rather than the one-half or one stars it garnered for a long time. I believe in interviews shortly after the film’s release that Farmer favored scaling back the camp approach, and his screen treatment for the sequel bears this out. It was an adaptation of the Doc Savage novel Murder Mirage (interesting that Farmer chose a Laurence Donovan novel rather than a Lester Dent one), and the camp was indeed greatly toned down. Though not entirely eliminated…for instance there is one scene where Monk plows through some bad guys, and Farmer gave the sound-effect instruction to produce a sound like bowling pins falling…but that kind of campy gimmick was the exception rather than the rule in his screen treatment. One note germane to Apocalyptic Life…when Farmer wrote the film scenes introducing the aides and Pat, he instructed that title cards appear with the same description he gave in the book chapters dealing with those characters. For instance, the heading for the scene introducing Pat was “Pat Savage, Lady Auxiliary and Bronze Knockout”.

Atom, your observation about Jung and significance of synthesis is an important point to keep in mind while reading this book, as well as looking at the massive structure of the “Wold Newton” universe that has evolved from Farmer’s creation of the “fabulous family tree” in Tarzan Alive and Apocalyptic Life. Your perception indicates that deeper psychology was at play throughout the book – where my impression when first reading it in 1973 was that the psychological explorations of the characters (which were most inspiring to my own later take on modern pulp writing) were separate from what I at the time considered clever literary play on Farmer’s part. I remember showing the family tree to my siblings, pointing out “Look who Farmer says Doc is related to!”…but it felt more like lighthearted fun. Over the decades since, I was amazed at the intensity and dedication fans and scholars brought to what has become Wold Newtonism (a reference to a location in England where multiple branches of the superhuman family tree were exposed to a meteor that altered/enhanced them genetically).

Today that process of synthesis had spread like wildfire through heroic fiction. It’s fascinating to see the connections that scholars after Farmer have brought into the mix, though I am personally less enamored of the “mashup for its own sake” stories, in which characters are flung together seemingly just for the novelty. Other stories, certainly, have taken a more ambitious approach, using the synthesis as a means to bring out unique qualities in characters that become highlighted in conjunction to one another.

Like you André, I enjoyed the parts of Apocalyptic Life that illuminated the lives of Doc Savage creators – particularly Lester Dent. Though Farmer’s research into the other authors under the “Kenneth Robeson” house byline was badly flawed in the original book (with much more accurate attribution of works done by later scholars), I was actually thunderstruck in 1973 to realize Kenneth Robeson was not a real person, who had written every adventure!

VATHIER: “Doc ancestry ends up a bit more working class.” Well said Atom. I could not pin point the thematic differences between the two genealogies exactly. You identified it perfectly. At first glance it might look like Mr. Farmer chose various fictional characters at random. However, when you pay close attention you find out that he took great care.  Now I need to read, “Tarzan vous Salue Bien “ (French edition of Tarzan Alive) again but from an anthropological perspective in mind. That is what I love most about these biographies. I always find something new with each subsequent reading.

By the way Paul I need to read the script someday. I know it is available somewhere. I wonder what Mr: Farmer thought of the other Robesons.

Earlier you said “Mash-up for its own sake” – I have to agree with you there. Some of these crossover/Wold Newton stories can feel that way. It is easy to assume that a crossover with two or more characters makes a story a Wold Newton universe yarn but that is not always the case. I have to ask Atom. Among the three of us she is the expert for all things Wold newton universe. I want to know Atom. What makes a good Wold Newton yarn in your opinion? Why do some succeed and others fail?

Next we get the following chapters  “Son of Storm and Child of Destiny”, “The Bronze Hero of Technopolis and Exotica” and “The Skyscraper”. That is where we really start to get into the meat of the book. We get a deeper look into Doc’s childhood and by extension his father. Mr. Farmer really wanted to explore the psychology behind Clark Savage Sr. What could possibly motivate a man to raise his son the way he did? Guilt. I find it fascinating that Phil used the same theme in A Feast Unknown four years earlier. Both fathers want to atone for the sins they committed. A big contribution he made to the canon that might not seem big at first but I think it is worth praising. He named Doc Savage’s mother. She was up until that point this nameless person. Will Murray would later give her a different name and story in the Wild Adventures of Doc Savage: Skull Island (2013).

Arronaxe Larsen. Daughter of Wolf Larsen. Little did Farmer know this bit of info would play a huge role in the Wold Newton Mono-myth. Part of it reached its conclusion with the recently released The Monster on Hold, a posthumous collaboration with Win Scott Eckert. He names more of the mentors. Only a handful of them were given names in the main books. It is also in this chapter where we get the seeds that would lead to Escape from Loki. Farmer talks about Doc’s military service in the Great War. In addition, how Doc met his future aides.

It is too bad that Dent never got around to writing of this highly ingenious and exciting breakout. Perhaps someday Condé Nast will give its permission for an author (myself I hope) to write this very first of the super sagas”.

Escape from Loki is a topic for its own Conseil du Mal.

In “The Bronze Hero of Technopolis and Exotica” Phil gives us a good profile of James Clarke Wildman Jr (Doc Savage) and how he changed and evolved from 1933 to 1949. How he went from the stoic gadget man to the flawed science detective. I like his thesis that everyone changes over the years even characters.  In addition, “Technopolis and Exotica” sounds so cool.

“The Skyscraper”. Win Scott Eckert partly refers to that chapter in a Farmerphile article and said it best, “While not always successful, you have to admire the lengths Phil went to while researching Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life. We get a detailed plan of Doc’s savage 86th floor headquarters and its many secrets. It’s great!

A little digression. Phil makes the following comment:

Some Savage scholars [Speculate] that [Doc Savage] was a suppressed homosexual.  According to modern psychology (admittedly a discipline that keeps changing its mind)”.

 It’s worth noting that back in 1975 it had only been two years since the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders).

BEZECNY: I enjoyed the Doc Savage movie…maybe not one of my favorites but I’m glad it exists. The only other Doc film we have (besides the Western film Ride Beyond Vengeance, which began life as an adaptation of The Thousand Headed Man) is the 1966 Fear Cay fan film, which, while ambitious, is about as barebones as a film can get. The bowling ball sound effect in the sequel script is very much in keeping with Farmer’s sense of humor…God, I wish we’d gotten that movie!

A good Wold Newton story, in my opinion, is one that does its research but also doesn’t turn into an essay. Farmer balanced his intensive theorizing with a solid plot and good characters–something which was facilitated by the fact that many of the characters he drew upon were already richly detailed by their original authors. On top of that, the wilder the crossover, the harder you have to work to make it fit, and sometimes it’s just not worth it. There are some characters which work in the Wold Newton setting and some which don’t–this is why there’s a no superhero rule, though Apocalyptic Life does mention Clark Kent. (Farmer never says whether or not Clark is Superman in this universe, though the general consensus these days seems to be that Superman did exist in the WNU, albeit neither as powerful nor as public as the comics indicate.) The idea of putting hard literary research behind one’s crossovers has admittedly set the bar high for me. I freely turn my nose up at things like Warner Bros.’s upcoming fighting game MultiVersus, which promises you the ability to fight Arya Stark as Shaggy Rogers, among other unlikely pairings. I understand it’s for fun, but also the idea of trying to fuse the world of Game of Thrones into that of Scooby-Doo violates a sense of order I’ve built up in myself, for better or worse.

André, the description of the various chapters you’ve provided reveals that this book isn’t just a biography of Doc Savage– it’s a highly detailed encyclopedia, a guide to every little component, recurring or otherwise, that makes up the world of the supersagas. And that Farmer summarizes all of that information so swiftly and so thoroughly on top of adding details like his speculations about Doc’s mother is truly awesome. The idea of Doc’s grandfather being one of the most repellent antiheroes in literary history has always fascinated me–it’s a brilliant elaboration on the conclusions which Farmer had already pried out of Doyle’s The Adventure of the Priory School. Not only was Doc raised in the shadow of his father’s guilt, but he was stamped from the beginning as a grandson of evil. The pulps were always vague about the motivations of the two Savages, and Farmer’s ideas are some of most coherent ever conceived on the subject. 

I hope that someday we get to see Arronaxe Larsen’s story. I’m sure it’s as astonishing as that of her son.

And yeah, it’s so surreal to think that my identity was once in the DSM, both in terms of gender and sexuality. Admittedly, Farmer does say some unenlightened things about queer people in this book, speculating that Doc is “a fairy.” But, the ’70s were like that. Stonewall had only happened a few years before, and its events were not sufficient to educate most cishet folk on the particulars of respecting queer culture. It’s not an excuse, but I have the benefit of knowing that Farmer learned as he grew older. 

to be continued…

Pre-release sale for the Rickie Talos anthology

Rickie, the big anthology collection of vignettes, short stories, novellas and artwork featuring the Doc Talos pastiche of the classic pulp character Pat Savage, will debut on July 15!

Cover painting for “Rickie” by R. Paul Sardanas

Despite appearing in forty original Doc Savage pulps, Pat Savage rarely got to truly shine. In more recent years, fans of Pat have been treated to the fine Wild Adventures of Doc Savage novel Six Scarlet Scorpions by Will Murray, and a pastiche of Pat headlines another splendid series by Win Scott Eckert and Philip José Farmer, the Pat Wildman adventures, which include The Evil in Pemberley House and The Scarlet Jaguar.

Rickie takes its own independent path, expanding and deepening the vitality and mystique in a new pastiche of this beloved character.

The Doc Talos series of novels and stories takes a more realistic approach to modern pulp storytelling, presenting tales that allow a deep dive into the minds and emotions of classic characters…moments of introspection, joy, sorrow, triumph and loss alongside tales of intense adventure. The stories are for an adult audience, and contain explicit content, as they portray powerful passion in addition to a unique subtlety of characterization.

Rickie will take the reader along with Patricia Talos from her early life as a teenager (and avid pulp reader) in Canada, to her arrival in 1930’s New York, to her career as a businesswoman and aviatrix, to her place as the Primal Woman within the secret society that shadows and shapes the lives of the Talos family.

Across the tapestry of Rickie’s life, the reader will experience her growth and evolution as a woman of strength and remarkable heart. There are tributes to Lester Dent and the “Kenneth Robesons”, a visit to behind-the-scenes Hollywood where Rickie was almost cast in the sequel to The Man of Bronze film. You’ll visit a Harlem nightclub in the 1930’s (where the truth about the “real” King Kong is revealed), experience the end of the pulp era in a 1950 tale, and celebrate New Year’s Eve with Rickie, Doc and the gang in the Fifties. You’ll see Rickie’s role as a WASP pilot in WWII. You’ll burst into the era of modern tech and beyond.

Rickie has a total of 23 tales, told chronologically from the 20th to the 21st centuries. In addition to a Foreword exploring the long history of Pat Savage stories and pastiches, there are tales by Doc Talos creator R. Paul Sardanas, and by superb authors Atom Mudman Bezecny, D. B. Brodie, Joe S. Stuart, and André Vathier.

Rickie contains close to 90 black and white digital-art illustrations, bringing each story and its remarkable characters to life.

Rickie is a deluxe 6 x 9 paperback, 248 pages, and after release will list for $21 plus postage. Pre-orders are now being accepted at the pre-release price of $15 plus postage. This special offer will be available only until July 15, 2022. US postage is $5 (Canada and International shipping will be pre-quoted to customers outside of the United States). For mature audiences, 18+ only.

If you are interested in the book, please send an inquiry via email to:

Experience Rickie Talos…unforgettable woman of bronze!

And please visit the Doc Talos BOOKSTORE to see other books in the ongoing series of novels and collections!

The 1970’s Marvel/Curtis Doc Savage Magazine – best comics Doc ever? Part 3

In the first two parts of this article, I began a look at the comics adaptation of Doc Savage that many fans — even almost fifty years after they appeared — consider the finest ever done. The Doc Savage magazine of that era was published hoping to ride the coattails of what was a hoped-for hit movie series — but when the movie tanked, the magazine went on.

Marvel/Curtis had introduced a line of black and white magazines a little earlier in the 70’s, aimed at a somewhat older audience, and showcasing some of the top writer/artist talent of that time. Doc Savage headlined writer Doug Moench, and artists John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga. The concept was to present a complete-in-one-issue story with every magazine, with a long page count that allowed for a “supersaga” vibe.

Doc himself was modeled not after the movie’s Ron Ely, but more in line with James Bama’s iconic paperback cover portrayal.

When we left off, the stage had been set for a rousing adventure — a mysterious force is destroying Manhattan buildings, and an immediate clue in the form of a woman looking for help comes right to Doc’s skyscraper headquarters. She gives him a scrap of paper, which proves to hold a cipher.

Before they can begin work to crack the cipher, a distraction arrives in the form of the woman’s boyfriend, who has a very volatile personality. Doc collars him and brings him into the office…and in short order all hell breaks loose.

A blast shatters the office windows, and in swing a cadre of costumed killers. Doc’s response is immediate…he appears to be everywhere at once as the attackers unleash an attack with lightning guns.

This sequence is very much in the style of Lester Dent’s formula in his pulp novels. Dent would frequently front-load the story with numerous supporting characters (often with clever or quirky names), and would frame their introduction into the story around wild action scenes.

And a wild scene this is. Doc, in an astonishing display of his fighting prowess, all but decimates the attackers — who respond, equally astonishingly, by committing suicide.

Despite the outbreak of intense mayhem, Doc and the aides remain all business in the aftermath. The next two pages dig into the puzzle of the cipher, and they are delightfully complex. I confess, at age 17 after reading these pages, I became obsessed with secret codes and ciphers, designing several that I felt were impossible to crack (I tested these on my siblings, who thought I was nuts, but nevertheless did not crack the codes).

The anagram portion of the cipher-cracking session had my full attention — I paused and attempted the anagram myself (coming up with stuff about the caliber of Johnny and Ham’s efforts), before being appropriately impressed with Doc’s solution. The cipher-cracking continues — cheating a bit as it is revealed that Doc knows the steps to break the code in advance — but still clever, and the answers revealed foreshadow events to come in the story.

Using information gleaned from the cryptogram, Doc heads for a location on Long Island, taking Monk with him. We immediately get to see more of Doc’s sophisticated arsenal of equipment, as they fly out there in his autogyro (a precursor to the helicopter).

Off they go, and it’s fun to see the scene they discover at the swanky Long Island restaurant, which is clearly unaccustomed to pulp violence and chaos.

The comics of that time were often caption-heavy, and used the device of an omniscient narrator to ground scenes and set the mood. To 21st century readers the device may seem a bit antiquated, and some Marvel writers had difficulty balancing it with the flow of the story itself. Moench was one of the most adept at the technique, and will use it throughout the magazine’s run of eight issues. The trick of course, is to enhance the visuals and enrich the fabric of the story, without bogging down the pacing. Moench mixes his captions with fast-moving visual action and clever dialogue to keep things moving briskly.

Another cipher is uncovered, just as obscure as the earlier one. Another of Doc’s signature gadgets is brought into play…his ultraviolet lantern. More violence erupts, as another Silver Ziggurat thug shoots a lightning bolt down from a hidden vantage point, and this time a chase is on to catch the bad guy.

The chase is exciting (and ultimately explosive)…and ends with the mysterious silver zeppelin escaping, but not before Doc has tagged it with a tracking device.

Aha…”Thus slew a zeppelin”…

Did Monk and the restaurant’s innocent bystanders get out before the lightning bolt struck? Where is the zeppelin going, and what is the goal of this high-tech (for the 1930’s) gang? Have there already been red herrings passed before our eyes regarding the solution of the story’s mysteries?

More to come….