Sunday, April 4, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different(Doc Savage #s 1 and 2)

So, it has been quite sometime since I last posted anything. Too long for my tastes, really. And it's not that I haven't been reading any comics. Quite the contrary, actually, but it's finding the time to post thoughts about them that becomes the sticky point. I have decided, though, instead of spending time and energy reading and then writing about comics I've already read, maybe I should focus more on books I haven't had a chance to read yet that are just as deserving of my attention. I've accumulated a good number of bronze age books, but have been occupied with staying current on reading new books that I haven't had the time to read these older gems, but that all changes now as we shift our gaze onto a Doctor of a different sort!

The opening salvo of Marvel's Doc Savage series starts off with a one-two punch By Steve Englehart, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, Ernie Chua(on #2)and a cover by Jim Steranko on #2. The story opens with Savage's 5 man posse hanging out in the Doc's office, apparently awaiting Savage's return. Doc's father has recently passed away, but the gang has been unable to get in touch with him to let him know. It's a good opener though, as you get see each of their personalities as they interact with one another. The gang(Monk, Ham, Long Tom, Renny, and Johnny)are waiting for Doc's return while a weirdly-attired sniper posted on a building across the way has his laser rifle trained on the apartment clearly also waiting for Doc Savage to return.
The Doc soon returns and the gang delivers the news about Savage's father. Doc says his father directed him to check out the wall safe if anything should happen to him and finds a packet deeding him 200 suare miles of land in the Central American Republic of Hidalgo in exchange for a yearly fee of $100,000 and 1/5th of everything he removes. Just as the Doc reads this bit of info, the sniper takes his shot and misses! Luckily, Renny designed the windows with refractive glass which makes everything from the outside look 5 inches to the left of where it really is! The team track the assailant's whereabouts to an unfinished skyscraper where he leaps off taking his own life rather than being apprehended by Savage, but not before mentioning something called "The Son of the Feathered Serpent". Now convinced his father was murdered and this Serpent group had something to do with it, Doc and his crew make plans to travel to Hidalgo. #1 ends with an epilogue revealing a 2nd assailant involved in the plot as he communicates with his superior and is ordered to return home to prepare to kill Doc Savage and his men. Imagine having to wait 2 months back in 1972 to find out what happens next. Luckily, I happened upon this storyline 35+ years later and so didn't have to!

Issue 2 opens in mid action, as Doc Savage and his crew's plane is shot out of the air above Central America. They are able to safely crash land, of course, thanks the airbags equipped on the plane. The group are greeted by Hidalgo's president and secretary of state. The president informs them the anti-aircraft fire is from the revolutionaries in the country. The crew board a seaplane and are quickly on their way to their destination. Upon their arrival, the crew is attacked by a group of people dressed just like the sniper back in New York. The combat is halted by their King, Chaac, accompanied by his daughter, Princess Monja, who welcome Savage and his gang. They know who Doc Savage is and even speak English. King Chaac new Savage's father and he taugh Chaac English. There is dissension in the ranks, however, in the form of "Morning Breeze," chief of the warriors. He believes all outsiders should leave the Mayan people alone.

Chief Chaac explains to Savage why his father sent him to Hidalgo. Apparently, Savage Sr. told Chaac he would one day send his son to him for 30 days of judgment. If he was found worthy, Doc Savage Jr. would have access to the "unlimited" supply of gold found in their valley with the agreement that Savage would put 1/3rd of it in a trust fund(!) for the Mayan people and 1/5th of it would go to the country of Hidalgo. Savage isn't particularly interested in taking their gold, but the Chief tells him to sleep on it.

That night, Morning Breeze and his men try to kidnap some of the gang, but Monk can't sleep and he gets the drop on Morning Breeze. Despite his best efforts, though, Monk is unable to stop them and they make off with his companions. Monk pursues them and finds Morning Breeze throwing Savage's crew down a well filled with vipers. Monk is too late to save them, and in fact, covers his eyes as the last one is dropped. Well, it's not as bad as we think as we see Monk run up to the pit after Morning Breeze and his men have left only discover his friends alive. Doc Savage is there and explains he and Renny couldn't sleep either and they were out walking when they overheard Morning Breeze's plan so they hid in the pit and caught his gang as they fell in. The next morning, Savage comes up with a plan to convince the Mayans that his men who were supposedly killed by Morning Breeze are coming back as ghosts to accuse him of their murders in front of all the villagers. Morning Breeze is disgraced in front of his people and Savage now considered an emissary of the gods.

Morning Breeze journeys to a deserted pyramid where he meets The Son of the Feathered Serpent(or SFS here on out), whom he is working for. We learn Morning Breeze is doing all this so he can take the throne from Chaac and marry his daughter. SFS is wanting the Mayan people's gold to fund his revolution in Hidalgo. Having had his first two plots fail, SFS decides to unleash the red death. What is the red death? Well, it's a germ SFS dumps into the Mayans' drinking water which forces them to break out into red splotches and lose consciousness before eventually dying. And if that's not evil enough, SFS shatters the ONLY vial of antidote he for some reason had. Shockingly enough, this is determined to be what also took Savage's father's life. Savage takes samples of the water and spends many hours creating an antidote. Morning Breeze made full use of this time too, however, and began an initiative to spread propaganda against Chaac and Savage. Savage, emerges from his makeshift lab victorious over the germ that is killing the Mayans, only to be met with disdain by the very people who scant hours before considered Savage to be a messenger of the Gods! SFS shows up and adds to the peoples' fury by saying Savage and King Chaac poisoned them so they could appear to be heroes when they produced the antidote. Savage is once again shot at with lasers and it at this point he realizes SFS was behind the whole murder plot and his father's demise. Nevertheless, Savage manages to put some space between himself and his attackers and begins a flurry of salvation as he runs through the village adminstering the antidote as he comes across the fallen victims. Savage and his men are cornered atop a pyramid and as SFS, Morning Breeze and the others close in, one of the victims of the red death Savage cured shows up fully healed causing Morning Breeze to believe Savage is indeed a god and tries to flee only to be laser gunned down by SFS. An epic battle ensues between Savage and SFS ending in SFS being flung to his death all the way down to the bottom of the pyramid. In an amazing bit of Scooby Doo goodness, Savage removes SFS's serpent headpiece to reveal that the Son of the feathered Serpent is none other than Hidalgo's Secretary of State. Doc Savage is judged worthy by King Chaac and so begin the forbidden rituals to initiate new members into their tribe. They are led into a room full of gold. The princess asks Doc Savage to stay and rule by her side, but he declines citing he has much work to do. The gang speeds off in their plane to parts unknown in search of their next adventure.

All in all, I'd say it was an interesting story. Steve Englehart manages to give Savage's crew their own personality, even if Savage himself is a bit wooden. Maybe the source material is the same way, I don't know. Ross Andru's art is actually quite decent. I seem to recall seeing his stuff elsewhere(no, not Amazing Spider-Man as I haven't got any of his early adventures as of yet)and being left cold by it, but here it works for me. Any ways, if you are a fan of pulps(and who isn't really?)or high adventure, check these issue out! Hope to do this again soon.