Friday, April 12, 2013

Skull Island -- The Secret Origin Of Doc Savage!


I just finished reading Skull Island, the latest of the "All-New Wild Adventures" of Doc Savage from Altus Books. This story written by Will Murray and illustrated by Joe DeVito brings together two of the great icons of pop culture from the 1930's. What we end up with is in fact a "secret origin" for Doc Savage himself.

The story begins at the end. Moments after King Kong plummeted from the top of the Empire State Building to his doom, the aides of Doc Savage are on the spot and soon enough Doc himself arrives to make the dramatic announcement that he is familiar with the "Eighth Wonder of the World" already. In fact he says he owes his life to Kong. This cryptic comment is left unexplained as Doc and his men make arrangements to transport the body of Kong out of Manhattan and return it to Skull Island. It's at this juncture that Doc begins to tell the story to his trusted aides of how he and his father Clark Savage Sr. once traveled to Skull Island in search of his grandfather Stormalong Savage. 


Now Doc's men are more able to believe the outrageous claims made by Doc about ultimately finding Skull Island and the creatures there, because the events chronicled in King Kong happened about the same time that Doc and his men began their careers and they've had a few adventures together already including a visit to "Thunder Island" which was populated by dinosaurs of all sorts. Nonetheless, the story Doc relates is a fantastic tale of his own relative youth, a time when as a man of nearly twenty-one he was contacted by his father and the two take a crew of Mayans and a clipper ship named "The Orion", the very ship Doc was born on, to search for his missing Grandfather, a famous sailor whose ship has recently been sighted adrift.


The story of Doc Savage's early mission which finds him on Skull Island can best be understood if one has already read Joe DeVito's and Brad Strickland's book Kong, King of Skull Island which created a rich back story for the island and for Kong himself. Here is what I said about that tome last summer. It is this Skull Island and not just the one revealed in the RKO classic which is the setting here for Doc's adventure. At least one character is common to both tales, and the story is told in such a way that nothing previously revealed seems to be unraveled. This intertwining of the sagas of Doc and Kong seems to fit well.


I found Will Murray's story compelling and it pushes you along to find out what will happen next as a good adventure tale ought. The story is not a short one by any means. I'd reckon it's twice as long as a typical Doc adventure, and it's not the seasoned Doc we are familiar with. We get glimpses and to some extent explanations for some of Doc's more curious aspects. His unusual trilling is explained and in fact becomes a significant plot point as does the fact that the Savage family members have golden eyes. We get to see an early prototype of Doc's all-purpose gun, the Super-Firer. And we get to understand why Doc is hesitant to rely on guns by and large as an adventurer.

Tarzan of the Apes is mentioned a few times during the story and in fact Murray even adopts ERB's technique of switching narrators between chapters for certain sections. This is certainly a Doc who is very comfortable in the trees of the jungle, something we've seen many times in his classic adventures. Interestingly Sherlock Holmes comes up a lot too, and in one place Doc and his Dad have a very entertaining exchange of quotes from Doyle's great detective.

I won't say too much more to avoid spoiling some really sweet moments and some true surprises, but I will suggest that if anyone wanted to read a Doc Savage novel in which he unleashes hell on his enemies this is the one. This is a blood and thunder Doc who is in a life and death struggle and who fresh from the rigors of World War I seems unafraid of bloodshed. There's a lot of mayhem in this book.

This is a story any Doc fan will love. Murray put his name on this one as opposed to the classic "Kenneth Robeson" nom deplume because it travels behind the scenes more and certainly there are details some Doc fans might take issue with. But for this reader, I found this peek into the vivid history of Doc "Don't-Call-Me-Clark" Savage fascinating, and I suspect most others will too.

I give this one the highest recommendation.

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8 comments:

  1. It always bothers me when latter-day writers insert their ideas into esablished backstories and feel compelled to "explain" things we've accepted for 70+ years. I'm glad you reviewed this as now I know I will skip it and stick to the originals by "Kenneth Robeson."

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    1. I think Murray is sensitive that feeling, hence putting his name on this and not the classic Robeson name. It gives the purist the opportunity to dismiss the tale as not in canon. I rather liked the story, but to each his own.

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  2. The key seems to be that Will Murray, like Roy Thomas and Philip Jose Farmer, doesn't contradict previous stories, but enhances them with "previously-unknown" material.
    When writers start doing the "everything you know is wrong" routine, then they've lost me.

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    1. I agree with you. Secret origins and whatnot are fun if they work within the confines of established lore. In the modern days of reboots every few years, such niceties of continuity are ephemeral in comics, but in other literary corners such as the well-kept Doc Savage corner still significant.

      This story had a whiff of Wold-Newton about it, particularly in the character of Doc's grandpa, but there's nothing I noted that established that as what Murray was going for necessarily.

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    2. That Wold-Mewton "everything and everyone has to be connected" stuff is what turns me off. Roy Thomas does that a lot and pretty much every modern comic does it now...BlueBeetle has a scarab therefore he is relates to Black Adam
      who is Egyptian and so is Shazam who is now related to Isis, etc. Too much inbreeding for
      me, too much "Look at me being clever!"

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    3. I take your point, and it's valid. I used to trot around a theory about what I called "Light Continuity" and "Dark Continuity", and what it said was that some of these connections did indeed add to the overall understanding and enjoyment and some of them just were complications for the sake of being as you say overly clever.

      Roy is a perpetrator. His Invaders continuity I liked for the most part, as it developed characters who had long been forgotten, got them a new lease on life. Working the Patriot into Cap's history is an example of "Light Continuity".

      But in the All-Star Squadron Roy got too detailed often for my tastes. The noisome connection between Tarantula's costume and Sandman's costume is big case of who cares, and truly "Dark Continuity".

      One adds and one just is.

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    4. Exactly...plus it reminds me a bit of when they take dead celebrities and insert them into ads and what not. Maybe it's just my sensibilities, but I prefer to
      leave well enough alone. Then again I don't stand to make or lose any money by it.

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