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Doc Savage is a fictional character originally published in American pulp magazines during the 1930s and 1940s. He was created by publisher Henry W. Ralston and editor John L. Nanovic at Street and Smith Publications, with additional material contributed by the series' main writer, Lester Dent.

The heroic-adventure character would go on to appear in several other media, including radio, film, and comic books, with his adventures reprinted for modern-day audiences in series of paperback books. Into the 21st century, Doc Savage has remained a nostalgic icon referenced in novels and in popular culture.


The Doc Savage Magazine was printed by Street and Smith Publications from March 1933 to the summer of 1949. In all, 181 issues were published.

Doc Savage became known to more contemporary readers when Bantam Books began reprinting the individual magazine novels in 1964, this time with covers that featured a blond, golden-skinned Doc Savage with an exaggerated widows' peak, usually wearing a torn khaki shirt. The stories were not reprinted in chronological order as originally published, though they did begin with the first adventure, The Man of Bronze. By 1967, Bantam was publishing one a month until 1990, when all 181 original stories (plus an unpublished novel, The Red Spider) had run their course. Author Will Murray produced seven more Doc Savage novels for Bantam Books from Lester Dent's original outlines. Four more novels were planned, but not published. Bantam also published a novel by Philip José Farmer, Escape From Loki (1991), which told the story of how Doc in World War I met the men who would become his five compatriots.

Comics, movies, pulp magazines

Doc Savage has appeared in comics and a movie, on radio, and as a character in numerous other works, and continues to inspire authors and artists in the realm of fantastic adventure.

Doc Savage Magazine was created by Street and Smith Publications executive Henry Ralston and editor John Nanovic to capitalize on the success of Street and Smith's pulp character, The Shadow. Ralston and Nanovic wrote a short premise establishing the broad outlines of the character they envisioned, but Doc Savage was only fully realized by the author chosen to write the series, Lester Dent. Dent wrote most of the 181 original novels, hidden behind the "house name" of Kenneth Robeson. The basic concept of a man trained from birth to fight evil was not new. Street & Smith's 19th century dime novel hero, Nick Carter, was trained by his father to be the ultimate detective. In 1932, Philip Wylie wrote The Savage Gentleman; in the novel, a rich man experiments with raising a perfect man on a deserted island. Henry Stone grows up a splendid bronze specimen with a code of honor and feats of derring-do among ancient Aztec temples, among other adventures. Whether Nanovic or Ralston were inspired by Wylie's writings is not known since Lester Dent seems to have begun writing The Man of Bronze in December 1932 for a March 1933 publication date.

Doc Savage

Doc Savage's real name was Clark Savage, Jr.. He was a physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher, and, as revealed in The Devil Genghis, a musician. A team of scientists assembled by his father deliberately trained his mind and body to near-superhuman abilities almost from birth, giving him great strength and endurance, a photographic memory, a mastery of the martial arts, and vast knowledge of the sciences. Doc is also a master of disguise and an excellent imitator of voices. "He rights wrongs and punishes evildoers." Dent described the hero as a mix of Sherlock Holmes' deductive abilities, Tarzan's outstanding physical abilities, Craig Kennedy's scientific education, and Abraham Lincoln's goodness. Dent described Doc Savage as manifesting "Christliness." Doc's character and world-view is displayed in his oath, which goes as follows:

The 86th floor

His office is on the 86th floor of a New York City skyscraper, implicitly the Empire State Buildingmarker, reached by Doc's private high-speed elevator. Doc owns a fleet of cars, trucks, aircraft, and boats which he stores at a secret hangar on the Hudson River, under the name The Hidalgo Trading Company, which is linked to his office by a pneumatic-tube system nick-named the "flea run." He sometimes retreats to his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic—which pre-dates Superman's similar hideout of the same name. All of this is paid for with gold from a Central American mine given to him by the local Mayans in the first Doc Savage story. (Doc and his assistants learned the little-known Mayan language of this people, allowing them to communicate privately when others might be listening.)

Doc Savage's Aides

Savage is accompanied on his adventures by up to five other regular characters (referred to in marketing materials from the Bantam Books republication as "The Fabulous Five"), all highly accomplished individuals in their own right.
  • Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Blodgett "Monk" Mayfair, an industrial chemist. Monk got his nickname from his simian build, notably his long arms, and he was covered with red hair.
  • Brigadier General Theodore Marley "Ham" Brooks, an accomplished attorney. Ham was considered one of the best-dressed men in the world, and as part of his attire, carried a sword cane whose blade is dipped in a fast-acting anesthetic.
  • Colonel John "Renny" Renwick, a construction engineer. Renny was a giant of a man, with "fists like buckets of gristle and bone which no wooden door could withstand." He usually had a gloomy expression, which deepened as he grew more happy.
  • Major Thomas J. "Long Tom" Roberts, an electrical engineer. "Long Tom" got his nickname from using an antiquated cannon of that nick-name in the successful defense of a French village in World War I. Long Tom was a sickly-looking character, but fought like a wildcat.
  • William Harper "Johnny" Littlejohn, an archaeologist and geologist. Johnny used "long words" ("I'll be superamalgamated!" was a favourite saying). Johnny wore a monocle in early adventures (one eye having been blinded in World War I). Doc later performed corrective surgery that restored Johnny's sight in that eye, but Johnny retained the monocle for use as a magnifying glass as well as a memento.

In later stories, Doc's companions became less important to the plot as the stories focused more on Doc himself. The "missing" characters were explained as working elsewhere, too busy with their own accomplishments to help. Toward the end of the series, usually only Monk and Ham appeared with Doc.

Doc's cousin Patricia "Pat" Savage, who has Doc's bronze skin, golden eyes, and bronze hair, also was along for many of the adventures, despite Doc's best efforts to keep her away from danger. Pat chafes under these restrictions, or indeed any effort to protect her simply because she is female. She is also able to fluster Doc, even as she completely charms Monk and Ham.


Doc's greatest foe, and the only enemy to appear in two of the original pulp stories, was the Russian-born John Sunlight. Early villains in the "super-sagas" were fantastic schemers bent on ruling the world. Later the magazine was retitled Doc Savage, Science Detective, with a more realistic detective feel where Doc broke up crime rings. With a new editor, the last three magazines returned to the super-saga, then was canceled, as were most other pulp magazines.

A keynote of Doc's adventures is that no matter how fantastic the monster or menace, there was usually a rational scientific explanation at the end. A giant mountain-walking spider was revealed as a blimp, a scorching death came from super-charged electric batteries, a "sea angel" was a mechanical construct towed behind a submarine, Navy ships sunk by a mysterious compelling force were actually sabotaged, and so on. But Doc Savage also battled invisible killers, a murderous teleporter, and superscientific foes from the center of the earth.

In early stories some of the criminals captured by Doc received "a delicate brain operation" to cure their criminal tendencies. The criminals returned to society fully productive and unaware of their criminal past. It is referred to in Truman Capote's book, In Cold Blood, as an older Kansan recalls Doc's "fixing" criminals he had caught.


Some of the gadgets described in the series became reality, including flying wing, answering machines, television, automatic transmission, night vision goggles, and hand-held automatic weapons.

Lester Dent

Lester Dent (October 12, 1904 – March 11, 1959) was a prolific pulp fiction author of numerous stories, best known as the main author of the series of stories about the superhuman scientist and adventurer, Doc Savage. The stories were credited to the house name Kenneth Robeson.

Dent, the series' principal author, had a mixed regard for his own creations. Though usually protective of his own work, he could be derisive of his pulp output. In interviews, he stated that he harbored no illusions of being a high-quality author of literature; for him, the Doc Savage series was simply a job, a way to earn a living by "churning out reams and reams of sellable crap". Comics historian Jim Steranko revealed that Dent used a formula to write his Doc Savage stories, so that his heroes were continually, and methodically, getting in and out of trouble. Dent was paid $750 per story during the Great Depression, and was able to buy a yacht and vacation in the Caribbean.

Publication history

All of the original stories were reprinted in paperback form by Bantam Books in the 1960s through 1990s. About 60 of the paperback covers were painted in extraordinary monochromatic tones and super-realistic detail by James Bama, whose updated vision of Doc Savage with the exaggerated widow's peak captured, at least symbolically, the essence of the Doc Savage novels. The first 96 paperbacks reprinted one of the original novels per book. Actor and model Steve Holland who had played Flash Gordon in a 1953 television series was the model for Doc on all the covers. The next 15 paperbacks were "doubles," reprinting two novels each (these were actually shorter novellas written during paper shortages of World War II). The last of the original novels were reprinted in a numbered series of 13 "omnibus" volumes of four to five stories each. It was one of the few pulp series to be completely reprinted in paperback form.

The Red Spider was a Doc Savage novel written by Dent in April 1948, about the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The story was killed in 1948 by new editor Daisy Bacon, though previous editor William de Grouchy had commissioned it. It was forgotten until 1975, when Doc Savage scholar Will Murray found hints of its existence in the Street & Smith archives. After a two-year search, the carbon manuscript was located among Dent's papers. It finally saw print in July 1979 as Number 95 in Bantam's Doc Savage series. Philip José Farmer wrote the book Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, which summarized the series with the idea that Doc actually existed and the novels chronicled his exploits.

Sanctum Books in association with Nostalgia Ventures began a new series of Doc reprints (starting November 2006), featuring two novels per book, in magazine-sized paperbacks. Several editions came with a choice of the original pulp cover or the covers from the Bantam paperbacks, and most include the original interior artwork, as well as new essays and reprints of other old material. In late 2008, Nostalgia Ventures ended their relationship, and Sanctum Books continues with the reprints on their own.


Two Doc Savage radio series were broadcast during the pulp era. The first, in 1934, was a 15-minute serial which ran for 26 episodes. The 1943 series was based not on the pulps but on the comic book version of the character. No audio exists from either series, although some scripts survived. In 1985, National Public Radio aired The Adventures of Doc Savage, as 13 half-hour episodes, based on the pulps and adapted by Will Murray and Roger Rittner.

Comic books

Golden Age

Street & Smith published comic book stories of Doc both in the The Shadow comic and his own title. These started with Shadow Comics #1–3 (1940), then moved to Doc Savage Comics. Originally, these stories were based on the pulp version, but with Doc Savage Comics #5 (1941), he was turned into a genuine superhero when he crashed in Tibet and found a mystical gem in a hood. These stories had a Doc who bore little resemblance to the character in the pulps. This lasted through the end of Doc Savage Comics in 1943 after 20 issues, and briefly with his return to Shadow Comics in vol. 3 #10 (Jan 44). He would last until the final issue, vol. 9 #5 (1948), though did not appear in every one. He also appeared in Supersnipe Comics #9 (June 1943).

Modern Age

Post-Golden Age, there have been several Doc Savage comic books:
  • Gold Key Comics, 1966, one issue. Adapts The Thousand-Headed Man.
  • Marvel Comics. In 1972, eight standard color comics with four adaptations of books — The Man of Bronze, Brand of the Werewolf, Death in Silver, and The Monsters — and one giant-size movie adaptation. In 1975, the Marvel imprint Curtis Magazines eight black-and-white magazines as a movie tie-in. All are original stories by Doug Moench, John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga.
  • DC Comics, 1987–90, a four-issue mini-series tryout, then 24 issues and one Annual, most written by Mike W. Barr. Original adventures, including a reunion with Doc's Mayan sweetheart/wife Monya and John Sunlight, adventures with Doc's grandson "Chip" Savage, and back story on Doc's parents and youth. Included a four-issue crossover with DC's current run of The Shadow.
  • Millennium Publications published several mini-series and one-shots, including Doc Savage: The Monarch of Armageddon, a four-part limited series, from 1991 to 1992. Written by Mark Ellis and penciled by Darryl Banks, the treatment "come[s] closest to the original, capturing all the action, humanity, and humor of the original novels". Other miniseries were "Doom Dynasty" and "Devil's Thoughts", and one-shots Pat Savage: Woman of Bronze, and a Manual of Bronze.
  • Dark Horse Comics, 1995, two mini-series: a two-issue mini-series "The Shadow and Doc Savage" and four issue "Doc Savage: Curse of the Fire God".
  • DC announced in 2009 that it would publish a Doc Savage crossover with Batman, written by Brian Azzarello with art by Phil Noto and a cover by JG Jones. Other characters involved will be Black Canary, The Avenger, Rima the Jungle Girl, The Spirit, and Doc Savage's The Fabulous Five. It is a prologue to First Wave, a six-issue limited series with art by Rags Morales.

Motion picture

[[Image:Moviegroup.jpg|thumb|The cast of Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975)

Ron Ely as Doc Savage (foreground), with (background, left to right)Eldon Quick as Johnny, Darrell Zwerling as Ham, William Luckingas Renny, Michael Miller as Monk, and Paul Gleason as Long Tom]]

In 1967, a TV Guide article reported talks were underway to have Chuck Connors play Doc Savage in a possible television series. Nothing came of that project, but in 1975, producer and director George Pal did produce the movie Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, starring Ron Ely as Doc Savage. The movie was a critical failure and did poorly at the box-office. Several articles and a later interview with Pal suggest the movie's failure had much to do with its loss of funding during filming, when the studio changed heads and Pal was forced to cut costs. Nevertheless, Pal is generally blamed for the film's campy feel. An original soundtrack was commissioned, but when Pal lost his funding, he resorted to a patriotic march from John Philip Sousa, which was in the public domain. Science fiction writer Philip Jose Farmer tried to get another movie made, but nothing came of it.

In 1999, there was an announcement that a possible remake featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger was in the works, but it, and several other Schwarzenegger projects (Sgt. Rock and an epic about the Crusades) were shelved when Schwarzenegger ran for Governor of the state of California.

A 2009 motion picture has been announced being produced by Neal Moritz and Ori Marmur for SONY PICTURES, with Shane Black confirmed as screenwriter.

Cultural references

  • Doc Savage and his brain modification technique are suggested as a possible outcome to the trial in Truman Capote's book In Cold Blood.

  • In Philip José Farmer's sexually explicit A Feast Unknown (1969), the "Ultimate Nature Man" (Tarzan, called Lord Grandrith, confronts his urban counterpart and younger half-brother (Doc Savage), called Doc Caliban). "Ham" Brooks (called "Porky" Rivers) and "Monk" Mayfair (called "Jocko" Simmons) also appear in the story, which continues in the novels The Mad Goblin and Lord of the Trees.

  • Monk and Ham cameo in Arthur Byron Cover's novel, Autumn Angels.

  • The protagonist of Jack Chalker's novel Jungle of Stars has himself transformed into a physical duplicate of artist James Bama's Doc Savage.

  • In the original Rocketeer comic book miniseries, a tall, handsome scientist who bears an uncanny resemblance to Doc is the inventor of Cliff Secord's rocket pack. In the novelization of The Rocketeer movie by Peter David, the characters speculate that perhaps Doc Savage invented the rocketpack and his boys ("probably Ham and Monk") are due to come any moment. In the Rocketeer movie itself, the inventor was Howard Hughes.

  • Lester Dent, the writer of Doc Savage, is a protagonist in The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, a 2007 novel by Paul Malmont.



  • Goodstone, Tony (1970), The Pulps: 50 Years of American Pop Culture, Bonanza Books (Crown Publishers, Inc.), SBN 394-4418-6.
  • Goulart, Ron (1972), Cheap Thrills: An Informal History of the Pulp Magazine, Arlington House, ISBN 0-87000-1722-8.
  • Hamilton, Frank and Hullar, Link (1988), Amazing Pulp Heroes, Gryphon Books, ISBN 0-936071-09-5.
  • Hutchison, Don (1995), The Great Pulp Heroes, Mosaic Press, ISBN 0-88962-582-2
  • Robinson, Frank M. and Davidson, Lawrence (1998), Pulp Culture, Collector's Press, ISBN 1-888054-12-3.
  • Gunnison, Locke and Ellis (2000), Adventure House Guide to the Pulps, Adventure House, ISBN 1-886937-45-1

External links

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