Everything about Doc is superlative. To begin with, he is the richest
man in the world. He is also the handsomest. His eyes are "hypnotic
whirlpools ot flake gold" and his "perfect features display a
power of character seldom seen." Best of all, Doc is really built.
His "giant" body, "kilned by tropical suns and arctic winds"
to a permanent bronze, possesses "a strength superhuman." He can
dodge a bullet, crawl up a wall like a human fly, stay under water for eight
minutes, smash through an inchthick steel door with one punch, and take
on -- oh, say -- a hundred armed men at a time and flip them about like
Frisbees with his bare hands.
Don't get the idea that Doc is just a jock, though. He is also the world's
greatest surgeon, the greatest chemist, the greatest inventor. He had Polaroid,
television and the shotgun mike at least a decade before the public did,
and if you don't watch out, he'll "teleport" you atom by atom
to his mysterious laboratory near the North Pole. Like James Bond, Doc is
gadget-gaga. Dozens of tiny martial devices -- gas bombs, sedative darts,
ultraviolet flashlights -- are concealed in his clothing. His cars are rolling
fire bases that can "go like Barney Oldfield" and crash like tanks
through concrete walls. The transports and fighter planes in his private
air force are really "whizzers."
The other characters in Dent's stories are understandably something of a
letdown. The Fabulous Five, Doc's "companions in adventure and excitement,"
are said to be "the five greatest brains ever assembled in one group,"
but they talk ("Holy Cow! That's plumb ding-y!") like the Beaver
Patrol on an overnight hike. Dent's villains are far zingier. They have
names like Ull, Ark, Var, Zoro, Rama Tura, "The Sinister Count Ramadanoff"
and "The Horrible Humpback"-whose hump, by the way, is packed
with nefarious electronic gear. One of his nastiest creations is an Eskimo
known as Heck Noe (humor is hardly Dent's forte). Others have long pointy
ears, or keep secret laboratories in hollow mountains, or come from an advanced
civilization in the center of the earth. All are insanely resolved to conquer
the world, and all come equipped with secret weapons -- like, say, a fluffy
yellow cloud that sidles up to airplanes and skyjacks them.
The Fantastic Island (1935), a book lan Fleming obviously ransacked
when he wrote Dr. No, the villain is a mad Russian pianist who owns
an isolated Galapagos island, feeds his guests to a horde of clacking crabs
and explains this little character problem in a marvelously sappy 19th century
trope. "I am impelled to unspeakable desires," he sighs contentedly,
"when my fingers wander over the keys!"
To tell the truth, Doc has a few little problems of his own. The big galoot
can litcrally knock out a 12-ft. shark but he is scared of girls -- in one
book he turns to a Mayan maid who is made for him and stoutly "vouchsafes"
the following: "Monja, you've been a brick." But not all of Doc's
quirks are endearing. Billed as a paragon of fair play, he nevertheless
tends to characterize non-Nordic types as "a low specimen of the Central
American halfbreed" or as "ratty, dark-skinned" people. In
his books black men shuffle, gawk and sputter things like "ah never
seed such muscles befo'." Even more peculiar is Doc's method of dealing
with the criminals he captures. With confidence in his lofty motives, he
ships them to his "crime college" in upstate New York, where their
criminal tendencies are corrected by brain surgery.
But let's be fair, Doc did a lot of good in his time. He thinned out the
werewolves in northern California, established a Brontosaurus preserve at
the center of the earth and prevented an evil maharajah from hypnotizing
the entire world. Too bad he could not have done more for the man who actually
created him. Author Dent, who died in 1959, never got more than $750 for
a Doc Savage novel. His widow, who lives in La Plata, Mo., has no contractual
rights to the stories. Of the millions made by the Bantam reprints she will
not get a penny.
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