After the commercial success of The Shadow, the Street & Smith publishing company decided to try putting out another single-character Pulp Magazine in the same vein, but not too similar. Lester Dent was chosen as the primary author on the strength of a Shadow fill-in novel he'd been asked to write (much later adapted by that series' author as "The Golden Vulture.") Writing under the name "Kenneth Robeson", Dent created one of the classic pulp characters, who ran in his own magazine from 1933 to 1949. A total of 181 issues appeared.Doc Savage was Clark Savage, Jr., raised from birth to be the pinnacle of human physical and mental achievement, and to use his gifts for the good of all mankind. (This being the pulps, pursuing that goal largely meant neck-punching criminals and warlords.) Doc was often called the Man of Bronze because of his well-tanned skin, coppery hair and gold-flecked eyes. He was a near-giant in stature, yet so perfectly formed that people only noticed his size when comparing him to nearby objects.But despite Doc's amazing prowess in science and athletics, he was still only one man. So he gathered a team of five companions, each expert in their own field and totally dedicated to Doc's cause.These men were:
Brigadier General Theodore Marley "Ham" Brooks, Harvard-trained lawyer.
Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Blodgett "Monk" Mayfair, one of the world's foremost chemists.
Colonel John "Renny" Renwick, leading engineer known for his oversized fists.
William Harper "Johnny" Littlejohn, geologist and archaeologist.
Major Thomas J. "Long Tom" Roberts, electrical wizard.
Doc's lovely cousin Patricia Savage sometimes joined their adventures, but was never considered a core member of the group.Doc Savage has also had a Radio Drama, more than one Comic Book series, and a rather campy movie in 1975. He was a big influence on later pulp and comic book superheroes, including Superman (who borrowed, among other things, Doc's Arctic Fortress of Solitude), Batman (who took on the renaissance man traits and the utility belt), and maybe even the Fantastic Four (go here for more information). A new movie is being prepped by Shane Black of Lethal Weapon and Iron Man 3 fame.
Inverted in The Other World, which has T-rexes walking around with upraised tails as per modern understanding, but which went against the knowledge of the time. May also be an inversion of Science Marches On (Science marches back?)
Big Applesauce: Doc's primary headquarters were in the Empire State Building, and the stories often had a large section set in New York City before going off to remote corners of the world.
Black Shirt: In the Doc Savage: Man of Bronze mini-series from Millenium Comics, Doc and his aides stop Silver Shirt bundists from dropping a bomb on New York from a zeppelin.
Bodyguard Babes: John Sunlight's Amazonian bodyguards, Giantia and Titania.
Brainwashing for the Greater Good: Captured criminals were sent to "the College" in upstate NY, where they got treatment (the specifics of which were carefully omitted) and were returned to society.
Break Out the Museum Piece: 'Long Tom' Roberts got his nickname when he used an ancient cannon - known as a Long Tom - that had been on display in the town square to successfully defend a town during World War I.
Doc Samson: Seemed to start out as Marvel's take on Doc Savage, except gamma-irradiated.
Lord Kraven: A British version made for a pulp-tribute story set in an alternate 19th Century called "The League of Heroes", who leads a group of pulp characters against a villainous cabal of familiar faces.
Charles Atlas Superpower: All of Doc's abilities were the result of intensive training since infancy. Well, that and some very fortunate genes (according to Philip Jose Farmer). The recent DC comic-series plays this up somewhat—witness a scene in issue 10 where Doc catches an RPG launched at some American troops by a middle-eastern insurgent, and then throws it back at him. Yes, it's as awesome as it sounds.
Clear My Name: Doc is an honorary police officer, but the NYPD will turn on him in an instant over any hint of a Frame-Up.
Clothing Damage/Shirtless Scene: As seen by our page illustration, the reprint paperback covers tended to show Doc with a severely ripped shirt, but without the bulletproof chainmail he wore underneath. Most people don't mind.
At one point cover artist James Bama actually lost the famous ripped shirt and had to rip a new one for his model. Since he used one of his previous covers as an example the new ripped shirt turned out to be a mirror image of the previous one. No one much minded that either.
Cool Airship: Doc employs a highly advanced airship of his own design that employs a lifting gas of his own invention, with a buoyancy greater than hydrogen but not flammable.
Cool Pet: Monk's pig, Habeus Corpus, and Ham's monkey, Chemistry.
Couldn't Find a Lighter: In Doc Savage #5 (the DC Comics 1980s version), a crazed military officer lights his cigar off the pilot light of a flamethrower before torching the building Doc and his aides are in.
Covers Always Lie: The Bantam edition of Brand of the Werewolf depicts Doc wrestling with what appears to Universal's Wolf Man. No scene like this occurs in the novel (where the 'brand of the werewolf' is a distinctive mark left behind by the killers).
Crazy-Prepared: Doc wears a vest full of pockets, each with an amazing gadget. What do you need? He's probably got it.
Direct Line to the Author: There are a couple of references to Monk and/or Patricia writing up details of Doc's adventures and passing them on to the man who writes the novels (i.e. Lester Dent a.k.a. 'Kenneth Robeson'). Doc himself is not very impressed by Dent's literary style.
Disconnected By Death: In Cold Death Doc makes a phone call that is disconnected when the house at the other end blows up as soon as the phone is answered.
Dolled-Up Installment: Flight Into Fear was an unsold non-Doc Savage story by Lester Dent that Will Murray rewrote to star Doc and his aides.
Also Siegfried from the Doc Savage comic published by DC Comics. He was a Nazi raised by one of Doc's former teachers using the same methods Doc's father devised.
Doc ironically had a Captain Ersatz style evil counterpart in reality—Sun Koh, a Doc knock-off who appeared in magazines published in Nazi Germany prior to World War II. His backstory was mysteriously falling from the sky in London, with no memory, superior physical and mental abilities, and a tattoo on his back identifying him as the last king of Atlantis, who was destined to weed out the lower races in order to prepare mankind for a second ice age.
Actually, all of Doc's men could be said to qualify; Johnny was supposed to be much stronger than he looked and trained to fight. Even Long Tom, the guy who constantly looked to be maybe three steps from the grave, was said to be able to beat "nine out of ten men you'd meet on the street." And since each of Doc's men was the best in his chosen field (except for Doc himself, of course), they all seem to qualify as a Genius Bruiser.
Gentleman and a Scholar: Doc is this as well as being a Genius Bruiser. He is never less than polite, no matter what the provacation, and is at ease in most social situations. Ham probably fits even better than Doc. The other aides are a little rough around the edges.
Hand Cannon: Pat's signature weapon is an old six-shooter handed down from her grandfather—a Colt Frontier Single Action .44 with the trigger filed off and a fanning spur welded on the hammer, which she carries in her purse.
High-Altitude Interrogation: In The Green Eagle Doc captures a group of mooks. To make one talk he hangs him outside a window. When the mook refuses, he drops him. Being a Technical Pacifist, he had Renny and Longjohn catch the mook in a net, but the other mooks don't know that.
High-Class Glass: Johnny originally wears a monocle to correct the vision in his injured left eye. After Doc operates on the eye and repairs the damage, Johnny keeps the monocle as an affectation, although it now contains a powerful magnifying lens that he uses as a tool.
Honorary True Companion: Pat Savage is this to Doc and his aides. She is always willing to help them, and would be a permanent member of the crew if Doc would allow her, but Doc consider his work too dangerous for his sole surviving family member to be a part of.
How Unscientific!: The final novel Up From Earth's Center has Doc clashing with someone who might have a demon and visiting somewhere that might have been Hell.
Improbable Aiming Skills: The primary reason (or so he says) Doc allows Pat to tag along. Lampshaded when a side character watching her shoot asks if she ever misses and she replies "I missed once, about three years ago, which is why I'm practicing so hard now."
Is It Always Like This?: Oh yes. And they like it that way. Any of the aides will drop what they're doing to chase after "adventure."
Which ironically might be (as pointed out by Philip Jose Farmer in his "autobiography" of Doc) the reason why some of them seem to have financial problems at times. Especially Monk, whose money situation seemed to slowly get worse as the series goes on.
Kavorka Man: The homely Monk has at least as much success with the ladies as the dapper Ham.
Inverted with Doc himself, who despite being a paragon of humanity can't seem to get any luck in the romance department.
Knight in Shining Armor: Doc and the Fabulous Five wear bullet-proof chain-mesh longjohns that end up being the only clothing worn after cloth-tearing fights.
Knockout Gas: Doc used anesthetic gas grenades. Somewhat justified in that Doc was supposed to have specifically invented these.
In Fear Cay, one of the novels, the bad guys try to capture Doc with Knockout Gas dispensed from a rigged wallet left on the sidewalk where he would find it. It doesn't work, because of his superior ability to smell (he somehow smelled it before he breathed it) and (as with The Hulk) his ability to hold his breath for much longer than normal. In this case it was not visible.
Both Doc and John Sunlight make appearances in Roger Zelazny's Roadmarks.
Though his pedigree is less obvious, the DC Comics villain Bane was conceived of as the evil Doc Savage.
Doc, Monk and Ham all appear, un-named, in the original The Rocketeer mini-series. Doc, in fact, turns out to be the creator of the rocket-pack.
Lobotomy: In early stories, 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.
Overranked Soldier: Four of Doc's aides had high military rank during World War I: Major, Lt-Colonel, Colonel and Brigader General. Given how late the US entered the war, it seems unlikely that they could have achieved these ranks if they enlisted when the US entered the war. Fanon, as used by Philip Josť Farmer in his "biography" of Doc Savage, has them enlisting in other nations armies at the start of the war and transferring to the US Army when the US joined. Even then, Ham's brigadier generalship is stretching credibility.
Justified if all four men were Regular Army prior to the war, but for their positions on Doc's team they are overranked.
President Evil: Senor Steel, the president-dictator of Blanca Grande in The Freckled Shark.
Science Marches On: The "Crime College", where captured crooks are given brain surgery to wipe out criminal impulses and retrained into productive law-abiding citizens. It's pretty much agreed now that brain surgery doesn't work that way.
In The Land of Terror (1933), someone asks Doc about the theory that we could get lots of energy by splitting the atom. Doc explains that this has just been discredited, as recent work suggests you have to put in as much energy as you get out...
Scooby-Doo Hoax: No matter how supernatural the story's villain seems to be, it almost always turns out to be one of these.
A major exception: Up from Earth's Center, the last story, involving a trek through strange caverns. Their guide may be some sort of demon, but in the end they make a strategic retreat. Though the group tries to rationally explain it all, (some shared hallucination/exposure to the gases) even they don't seem to be 100% convinced.
Shoe Phone: Doc and his companions are loaded with escape gadgets. On one occasion when the villains took the trouble to tie Doc up and search him thoroughly (even washing his hair to remove hidden chemicals) Doc simply hypnotised his way out.
Shown Their Work: In a relatively recent novel, Doc and his companions are chasing the villain through a plantation Doc owns, and the villain sets the crops alight so Doc will have to let him get away. Doc has his men keep going, and stays with them. It's a sugar plantation; sugar cane has no specific "ripe" period, and burning the cane is the first step in harvesting.
Shout-Out: There have been many, many shoutouts to Doc over the years:
An octogenarian Doc, (and nonagenarians Monk and Ham) all participate in the "Melee of the Milennium" in Philip Jose Farmer's Greatheart Silver
In the 1980's action movie parody Jake Speed the titular hero complains that Savage needs to retire and give younger heroes a chance.
Doc doesn't like killing, and goes to great lengths to avoid it. His companions don't like lethal force either, but being less impressively-skilled than Doc, they sometimes do kill accidentally. Most often it's that Monk hit someone too hard, or Ham had to resort to his swordcane.
Renny is by far the most bloodthirsty of Doc's aides. His acts include chasing after a fleeing henchman (who was no further threat) and machine gunning him down, and slashing the parachute of a bad guy who was bailing out of a damaged aircraft.
Partially deconstructed in the recent DC series. A flashback shows Doc fighting alongside American soldiers in the middle-east, where his efforts to avoid killing any enemy combatants frequently endanger (and in once case, lead to the deaths of) his comrades.
Thinking Tic: The eponymous character is known for making an eerie trilling sound when in deep thought.
Well-Intentioned Extremist: John Sunlight, or at least as he claims in his second meeting with Doc. He wants to take over the world with the intention of abolishing war (by erasing international boundaries, making English the official language of the world, and outlawing gun ownership). He even tries to get Doc to join him as a technical advisor. While Doc finds the dream of ending war an admirable one, he knows it can't be achieved (as Sunlight intends to) without slaughtering millions of people in the process. So no dice.
Worst News Judgement Ever: There was an unsold Doc Savage newspaper strip that was shopped around to newspapers in 1936. (The first week's worth of strips were eventually published in Doc Savage: Manual of Bronze from Millennium Comics.) The first strip had a villain reading a newspaper that proclaimed as its lead story 'SAVAGE TO SAIL ON THE CAMERONIC', with a subheading 'Famous Adventurer Refuses Interview - Will Not Make Statement'. So the lead story is that someone is sailing on an ocean liner and refusing to talk about it. The mind boggles as to what the rest of the article must have contained.
Wrench Whack: In one of the novels, Ham - having been on the receiving end of yet another one of Monk's practical jokes - picks up a monkey wrench and whacks Monk in the head hard enough to knock him out.