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Doc Savage, a Pulp Precursor to Comic Superhero’s by Alex Grand

Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.

In the meantime enjoy the show:

In this episode, we’ll discuss Doc Savage and how this pulp character influenced various characters in comic book history.

read below and/or click the video:


As we remember from the Pulps to Comic Books episode,



Doc Savage was first created as a pulp hero by Lester Dent in 1933 and his name was Clark Savage, Jr the Man of Bronze and was referred to as a Superman in various newspaper ads.  We also mentioned how similar that was to the Man of Steel, Superman also known as Clark Kent from Action Comics 1,1938.  However when one digs deeper into the story of Doc Savage, we find many precursors to more than just Superman including Batman, the Fantastic Four, a particular aspect of the X-Men.  As we go over various examples of Doc Savage, we will mostly use images from his 1970s Marvel Comics and Magazines since the original pulps were generally text only with scant illustrations from time to time.  This can be done here for demonstration purposes because the 1970s images represent text content originally written in the 1930s pulps. Something to keep in mind while going over these examples, is that the 1970s Marvel depictions of Doc Savage don’t use the original pulp cover as the model for the character but rather the 1960s novel covers by James Bama done for Bantam books.



As far as the examples discussed for Doc Savage’s similarities to Superman, there are a couple more than the few described above.  First, Doc Savage was known to have an arctic fortress of solitude in his 1930s pulp adventures.  Here is an illustration from 1938 showing its distinctive shape and size.



And here is another image of it from Marvel’s Doc Savage 1, 1972 again as an impenetrable hemisphere above snow and ice.



It was said that he retired there to study and to train his awesome mind.  Superman was also revealed to have his own fortress of solitude which was first shown and named in Superman 58, 1949.


Superman says that he built it in the polar wastes because the intense cold keeps away snoopers, and it wouldn’t be until the Silver Age when this fortress of solitude was given a deeper backstory.  Another aspect of Superman that Doc Savage also had in the 1930s was having only one family member left which would be his first cousin, Patricia Savage as shown in the Curtis Marvel Magazine issue 5, 1976.



Patricia Savage was essentially a female counterpart to Doctor Clark Savage, jr.  She was physically perfect, had a lust for adventure, quick on her feet and every man wanted her.  She is reported in the Pulps as being “Five feet seven, slender, nice form, tan, golden eyes, hair sort of like dark copper” and was much younger than Clark.  These characteristics are largely similar to Clark Kent’s cousin Supergirl created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino in Action Comics 252, 1959.



Both sets of cousins are similar in that they are the last two left of their family, they are superior to other humans on earth, she is younger and aching for adventure.  Moving from Superman, we find that there are also some precursor similarities between 1933 Doc Savage and Batman who first premiered in Detective Comics 27,1939.



Much like Batman, Doc Savage was also essentially a physically and mentally perfect human, both inheriting millions of dollars from their fathers, with no super powers other than aggressively exercising since they were kids, and with incredibly well educated and trained minds who understood various sciences including forensics with an incredible sense of detective reasoning.  As we know Bruce Wayne inherited his millions from his wealthy parents, more specifically his father, Thomas Wayne.  Clark Savage, jr also inherited millions of dollars from his father in the form of a South American treasure which funded all his adventures.



Doc Savage religiously would spend time in isolation vigorously exercising his body for 2 hours a day since he was a child as shown in this Marvel Magazine with art by Tony DeZuniga.



Bruce Wayne is also known to do the same thing as shown in this painting by Alex Ross.



So clearly both men are driven to be as many steps ahead of their enemies by working to be mental and physically perfect human specimens.  As Batman would use this earned muscle and his trained fighting ability to fight minions, so too does Doc Savage.



Both characters are adept at multiple fighting art forms from various countries to deal with as many overwhelming situations and as many opponents as possible to achieve victory in their missions.  Batman has been shown to use various forensic skills to be the world’s greatest detective, which was also the same for Doc Savage.



Doc Savage used his knowledge in physics, chemistry and forensics to extrapolate what occurred at a scene of a crime.  Both Doc Savage and Batman always felt there is a rational explanation for all events.  When Batman was facing various enemies or dilemmas, he would sometimes use his utility belt which was first introduced in Detective Comics 29, 1939.



Doc Savage had something vary similar with his utility vest which had a gadget for every occasion.



Clearly both men were obsessed with being as prepared as possible.  Bill Finger first mentioned that there was a secret underground hanger under Bruce Wayne’s mansion in Batman 12, 1942.  This was later referred to as the Batcave and had various schematics shown in the comic book such as this one from 1948.



Doc Savage also used his family inherited fortune to create a hanger that has various transport vehicles as well.



This hangar of various types of vehicles ranging from aircraft, to zeppelin, to submarine was called the Hidalgo Trading Company warehouse.  So although 1933 Doc Savage had some key features in common with the later 1938 Superman, he also had just as many key features in common with the later 1939 Batman.  However, there are some more characters that seem to be literary descendants to the Doc Savage 1930s pulp series.  We spoke in another episode about Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four and its team dynamic having a creative origin with Jack Kirby and Dave Wood’s Challengers of the Unknown 1957.



However, we can go way back to find a similar team dynamic in 1933 Doc Savage 1 with Doc’s loyal friends called the “Fabulous Five.”  Here they are represented visually in Doc Savage Magazine 1, 1975 by John Buscema, Tony DeZuniga and Dough Moench.  According to the 1930’s pulp stories, the Fabulous Five were loyal friends to Doc Savage since their time together in World War 1.



Each one would have their own particular skills, and there would be internal team bickering which would also later make for a hallmark of the Fantastic Four.  Readers could always rely on the Human Torch and the Thing playing practical jokes on each other in the 1960s Fantastic Four, bickering away, but still loving each other in the end.



Two of the Fabulous Five, Monk Mayfair and Ham Brooks did the same thing in the 1930s pulps as recreated in this 1970s Marvel Magazine.


These two characters, Monk, the more outwardly bestial character and Ham, the silver tongued attorney showed internal friction, bickering and practical jokes 3 decades before and in a similar manner to the monstrous Thing and the slick Human Torch.  Doc Savage and his Fabulous Five were depicted in the 1930s Pulps as living in a skyrise building suggested to be the Empire State Building, headquartered in the 86th floor.



The Fantastic Four were also depicted as living in a skyrise called the Baxter Building in the 1960s when created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.



Doc Savage and the Fabulous Five would use a specialized aircraft called the Autogyro to travel on their missions in the 1930s.  This was used to carry their team from one location to another, and it is visually depicted in the 1970s Doc Savage comic for Marvel.



The Fantastic Four had their Fantasticar which they would use for the same purpose in the 1960s as shown here depicted by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.



Nothing like a specialized team aircraft to take both the team and the reader straight to the action.  Finally, the character Monk Mayfair who was shown to first premiere in Doc Savage Magazine 1, 1933 was a chemistry genius despite his outwardly bestial appearance.  He was described as having an ape-like body shape in the pulp stories and visually depicted here in Doc Savage comic 1, 1972.



Hank McCoy, also known as the Beast of the X-Men by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, first premiered in 1963, and  has ape-like physical similarities to the 1930s Monk Mayfair as well as a genius aptitude for chemistry.



1933 Monk Mayfair pre-existed both the 1961 Thing of the Fantastic Four as well as the 1963 Beast of the X-Men, and both are likely his creative descendants.  This has been a fun episode of CBH, and the overall point here is that 1933 Doc Savage and his Fabulous Five pulp stories by Lester Dent show an incredible amount of sci-fi adventure, characters, and traits that would precede and influence the Superhero genre, most specifically Superman, Batman, the Fantastic Four and even the X-Men.


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Use of images are not intended to infringe on copyright, but merely used for academic purpose.

Doc Savage ©Conde Nast, Action Comics ©DC Comics, Detective Comics ©DC Comics, Superman ©DC Comics, Batman ©DC Comics, Fantastic Four ©Marvel Comics, X-Men ©Marvel Comics, Photos ©Their Respective Copyrightholders


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