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Doc Savage History

Note: Text based on official handbooks.

Clark Savage Jr. was born November 12, 1901 aboard his father’s yacht, the Orion, off the coast of Andros Island, Bermuda. At the age of fourteen months, young Clark was placed in the care of a select group of scientists, following his father’s plan to raise his son to be a physical and mental marvel, a superman. Doc’s training lasted until he was twenty years old, minus a period when he lied about his age to join the Army Air Service in World War I. As a fighter pilot he was shot down over Germany, captured and sent to the prison camp Loki, where he met the five men who would be his lifelong friends and partners in adventure: Monk Mayfair, Ham Brooks, Renny Renwick, Johnny Littlejohn, and Long Tom Roberts. Together they engineered an escape from Loki and went their separate ways, though they remained in touch. Back in the States, Clark entered Johns Hopkins University, earning a Doctor of Medicine degree, making the nickname “Doc” which he picked up in Loki, a reality.

When his father died from a mysterious illness in 1932, Doc assembled his friends and, following the instructions set down in his father’s will, traveled to the Central American nation of Hidalgo. There, they made their way to a lost valley inhabited by a preserved Mayan civilization, and after defeating his father’s killers and proving himself worthy of his legacy, he came into his inheritance. This inheritance was a seemingly unlimited supply of gold from the Valley of the Vanished, enabling Doc Savage to dedicate his life to fighting evil wherever he found it, and helping those who needed help and embarking on a career of adventure.

And adventure it was: from his headquarters in one of New York’s tallest skyscrapers, the Man of Bronze spent the next twenty years battling gangsters, discovering lost cities, defeating mad villains with deadly weapons, searching out lost treasures, and in the 1940s, facing down Nazi killers and commie spies, until his final recorded exploit sent him against the forces of Hell itself.

After that…silence. At this point Doc Savage dropped out of the public eye. What happened next? Clearly he abandoned the strenuous life of the globe-trotting adventurer but for what? A life dedicated to lower key achievements in science and philanthropy? Some speculate that the drug he took to slow his aging drove him mad and he became a supervillain himself, a story told only guardedly, concealing his true name. Others believe he was transported to another world, returning after a forty-year absence, not having aged a day, to continue his adventures with a new team, including his own grandson. Regardless of what version one believes, Doc Savage’s amazing legacy has changed the world in many ways we don’t even realize, making him the first and greatest of superheroes.

As a literary property Doc Savage was born in 1932 in the mind of Henry W. Ralston, business manager of Street & Smith Publishers. The company, flush with success from their first pulp title, THE SHADOW, was looking for a follow-up, and Ralston though he had it with a science-adventurer named Doc Savage. He fleshed out the concept with editor John L. Nanovic and they hired Lester Dent as the writer. Dent, under the pen name of Kenneth Robeson, would write most of the 182 novels that appeared between 1933 and 1949. The title was a success in the dreary Depression days of the 1930s, thrilling readers with it exciting tales of adventure, mystery and science fiction (with a dash of oddball humor). The magazine ran until wartime paper shortages and the growing sophistication of the reading public put an end to the pulps.

This popularity led to Street & Smith’s extending the character, first into comic books in 1940, transforming him into a superhero who derives his powers from a sacred ruby. In 1943, a radio show based on this version of the character debuted. His success can also be spotted in a number of “borrowings” from Doc by early comic book heroes, most notably another “Clark” who also has a Fortress of Solitude.

After resting for the 1950s, Doc Savage made a triumphant comeback in 1964, as Bantam Books began reprinting the pulp novels in 1964, and a new generation discovered the great adventure hero, attracted by the realistic cover art of James Bama. Doc again branched out into other media: a 1966 Gold Key comic book, designed to tie into a movie that was never made (plans for an animated TV series also fell through). Marvel produced a color comic book that adapted pulp stories, then a black-and-white magazine that featured all-new adventures in the 1970s around the time of George Pal’s campy 1975 film adaptation. DC picked up the property in 1987 and brought Doc into the modern era via interstellar teleportation. Millennium and Dark Horse also produced versions of the character set firmly in the 1930s. Longtime Doc fan (and science-fiction great) Philip Jose Farmer penned a biography of the Man of Bronze, DOC SAVAGE, HIS APOCALYPTIC LIFE and later, the first new Doc novel in 40 years, ESCAPE FROM LOKI, detailing Doc’s wartime meeting with his aides. After that Savage historian Will Murray wrote another seven new adventures based on Lester Dent’s notes. As in the 1930s, Doc continued to inspire tributes and homages, including Indiana Jones and Buckaroo Banzai.

And who knows? Maybe another movie or comic book lies in Doc Savage’s future….


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