Doc Savage

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Doc Savage is a fictional character, one of the pulp heroes of the 1930s and 1940s. He was created by writer Lester Dent.


Doc Savage Magazine was printed by Street and Smith Publications from March 1933 to the summer of 1949 for a total of 181 issues. All the stories were reprinted by Bantam Books as paperbacks, beginning in 1964. Bantam also published a heretofore-unknown story, The Red Spider, which featured an older and more subdued Doc, more man than superman. However, fans wanted more of the original Doc, so Bantam commissioned an additional eight novels (based on notes or outlines left by series author Lester Dent).

Doc has appeared in comics and a movie, on radio, and as a character in numerous other works, and continues to inspire authors and artists in the adventure and fantasy realms.

The basic concept of a man trained from birth to fight evil was created by Street and Smith Publications executive Henry Ralston and Editor John Nanovic, to further capitalize on the success of their other pulp hero magazine success, The Shadow. Ralston and Nanovic wrote a short premise establishing the broad outlines of the character they envisioned, but Doc Savage was only fully realized by the author chosen to write the series, Lester Dent. Dent wrote most of the 181 original novels, hidden behind the "house name" of Kenneth Robeson. (Will Murray wrote seven of the Savage novels published after Dent's death, also using the Robeson pseudonym.)

Doc Savage, whose real name is Clark Savage, Jr., is a physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher, and musician — a renaissance man. A team of scientists assembled by his father trained his mind and body to near-superhuman abilities almost from birth, giving him great strength and endurance, a photographic memory, mastery of the martial arts, and vast knowledge of the sciences. Doc is also a master of disguise and an excellent imitator of voices, though he admits to having trouble with women's voices. "He rights wrongs and punishes evildoers." Dent described the hero as a mix of Sherlock Holmes' deductive abilities, Tarzan's outstanding physical abilities, Craig Kennedy's scientific education, and Abraham Lincoln's goodness. Dent described Doc Savage as manifesting "Christliness." Doc's character and world-view is displayed in his oath, which goes as follows :

Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it. Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage. Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens and my associates in everything I say and do. Let me do right to all, and wrong no man.
Doc Savage
Doc Savage.jpg
Doc Savage Magazine #1 (March, 1933)
Charachter information
Publisher(s): Street and Smith
First Appearance: 1933
Created by: Lester Dent
Henry Ralston
John Nanovic
Power(s): Peak physical abilities
Alias(s): The Man of Bronze
Alter Ego(s): Clark Savage, Jr.
Alliances: Fabulous Five

His office is on the 86th floor of a New York City skyscraper, implicitly the Empire State Building, reached by Doc's private high-speed elevator. Doc owns a fleet of cars, trucks, aircraft, and boats which he stores at a secret hangar on the Hudson River, under the name The Hidalgo Trading Company, reached from his office by a pneumatic-tube system called the "flea run." He sometimes retreats to his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic—which pre-dates Superman's similar Fortress of Solitude hideout of the same name. All of this is paid for with gold from a Central American mine given to him by the local Mayans in the first Doc Savage story. (Doc and his assistants learned the little-known Mayan dialect of this people, allowing them to communicate privately when others might be listening.)

Doc's greatest foe, and the only one to appear in two of the original pulp stories, was the Russian-born John Sunlight. Early villains were bent on ruling the world, but a late change in format had Savage operating more as a private investigator breaking up smaller crime rings. In the last Doc Savage story written by Dent, Up from Earth's Center, Doc Savage fights a character who is believed to be the Devil, in the company of two self-confessed demons.

In early stories some of the 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. A non-canonical comic book series published in the 1980s states these were actually lobotomies. In the 1975 film Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, Doc uses acupuncture.

Dent, the series' principal author, had a mixed regard for his own creations. Though usually protective of his creations, he could be derisive of his pulp output. In interviews, he stated that he harbored no illusions of being a high-quality author of literature; for him, the Doc Savage series was simply a job, a way to earn a living by "churning out reams and reams of sellable crap." In Jim Steranko's History of Comics, it was revealed that Dent used a formula to write his Doc Savage stories that had his heroes continually getting in and out of trouble.

Some of the gadgets described in the series became reality, including telephone answering machines, the automatic transmission, night vision goggles, and hand-held automatic weapons.


In the text of the pulp novels Doc Savage is described as a giant but so well proportioned that this is not apparent unless he is standing next to an object that can be used as a reference. Doc's skin is bronzed "by tropical suns", with dark bronze, close-cropped hair and hypnotic gold-flecked eyes. The effect is summed up by his epithet "The Man of Bronze". In fact, in the first issue (The Man of Bronze, March 1933), a sniper observing through a window initially mistakes Doc for a bronze sculpture. His height and weight varied, with later books listing his height as 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m). Doc is usually described as wearing a normal suit but no hat. He wears a special waistcoat underneath his shirt in which he carries an assortment of gadgets.

The covers of the Street and Smith Pulp magazines, initially painted by Walter M. Baumhoffer, depict Doc as an athletic man with a standard hair style of the period (a side parting and wayward lock of hair on the right). He is often shown in various states of dress but a shirt and khaki trousers are common. The look of Doc Savage was based on film actor Gary Cooper.

The covers of the Bantam Books paperback reprints, by illustrator James Bama, depict Doc as a slightly older muscular man with bronze skin and a crew cut with a very pronounced widow's peak. He is usually shown wearing jodhpurs and a partially ripped shirt. Bama based his version of Doc Savage on model/actor Steve Holland.

The real Doc Savage

While visiting John L Nanovic, the editor of the Doc Savage magazine, writer-researcher Will Murray learned that Doc Savage may have been, in part, based on a real-life person named Richard Henry Savage (1846–1903). Like his fictional namesake, Savage was a true renaissance man—soldier, engineer, diplomat, lawyer, novelist, civic leader, and war hero.

Richard Henry Savage was born on June 12, 1846, in Utica, New York, the son of Richard Savage and Jane Moorhead Savage (née Ewart). His ancestors were English, Scottish and Irish, and his grandfather, a civil engineer, arrived in America around 1805.

Savage graduated from West Point in 1868 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He joined the Egyptian army as a major in 1871. He subsequently served as U.S. vice consul in Marseilles and Rome. On January 2, 1873, he married Anna Josephine Scheible of Berlin, Germany.

Later, Savage served on the Texas-Mexico frontier and as a chief engineer on a railroad in California, retiring in 1884. Following his retirement in 1884, Savage traveled extensively, visiting Turkey, Japan, China, Russia, Korea, Asia Minor, and Honduras.

Returning to the United States in 1891, and a confidant of President Ulysses S. Grant, Savage was given several diplomatic appointments around the world. Savage could talk of all the wild spots in the world that he had visited and had many personal mementos of his strange life.

Savage wrote his first novel, My Official Wife (1891), which proved to be his most famous. Savage wrote over 40 books, including Our Mysterious Passenger and Other Stories (1899), which was published by Street and Smith a year after a 17-year-old Henry W. Ralston, the future co-creator of Doc Savage, joined the firm.

Savage became senior Captain of the 27th U.S. Volunteer Infantry and was appointed Brigadier General and Chief Engineer of Spanish War Veterans in 1900.

After living such an adventurous life, Savage was run over by a horse-drawn wagon while crossing Sixth Avenue in New York City, on October 3, 1903]], dying eight days later at the age of 57.

The Fabulous Five and Pat

Doc's companions in his adventures (the "Fabulous Five") are:

  1. Industrial chemist Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Blodgett "Monk" Mayfair and his pet pig, Habeas Corpus. Monk got his name from his simian appearance, notably his long arms, and was covered with red hair.
  2. Lawyer Brigadier General Theodore Marley "Ham" Brooks and his pet monkey, Chemistry. Ham (the shyster, as Monk referred to him) got his nickname after teaching Monk some French swear words to innocently use on a French general. Shortly afterwards, Brooks was framed for stealing a truckload of hams. He was never able to prove Monk was behind this, and the name stuck.
  3. Construction engineer Colonel John "Renny" Renwick. Renny had fists like buckets of gristle and bone and no wooden door could withstand them.
  4. Electrical engineer Major Thomas J. "Long Tom" Roberts. "Long Tom" got his nickname from an incident with a World War I cannon of that nick-name. Long Tom was a sickly-looking character, but fought like a wildcat.
  5. Archaeologist and geologist William Harper "Johnny" Littlejohn. Johnny used long words ("I'll be superamalgamated!" was a favourite saying). Johnny wore a monocle in early adventures (one eye having been blinded in World War I). Doc later performed corrective surgery.

The men were never called the "Fabulous Five" within the novels, only on the back covers of the reprints.

In later stories, a number of the aides were working elsewhere so could not go on adventures, and finally it was just Monk and Ham. There was always banter between the two of them, particularly when a pretty young girl was present and Monk talked of Ham's (fictitious) thirteen half-wit children.

Doc's cousin Patricia "Pat" Savage, who has Doc's bronze skin, eyes and hair, also joins Savage for many of his adventures, despite Doc's best efforts to keep her away from danger. Pat chafes under these restrictions, or indeed any effort to protect her simply because she is female.

Publication history

See the Wikipedia:List of Doc Savage novels for a complete bibliography.

All of the original stories were reprinted in paperback form by Bantam Books in the 1960s through 1990s. About sixty of the paperback covers were painted in extraordinary monochromatic tones by James Bama, whose updated vision of Doc Savage with the exaggerated widow's peak captured, at least symbolically, the essence of the Doc Savage novels. The first 96 paperbacks reprinted one of the original novels per book. Actor and model Steve Holland who had played Flash Gordon in a 1953 television series was the model for Doc on all the covers. The next 15 paperbacks were "doubles," reprinting two novels each (these were actually shorter novellas written during paper shortages of World War II). The last of the original novels were reprinted in a numbered series of 13 "omnibus" volumes of four to five stories each. It was one of the few pulp series to be completely reprinted in paperback form.

The Red Spider was a Doc Savage novel written by Dent in April 1948 about the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The story was killed in 1948 by new editor Daisy Bacon, though previous editor William de Grouchy had commissioned it. It was forgotten until 1975, when Doc Savage scholar Will Murray found hints of its existence. After a two-year search, the manuscript was located among Dent's papers. It finally saw print in July 1979 as Number 95 in Bantam's Doc Savage series. Philip José Farmer wrote the book Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life which summarized the series with the conceit that Doc actually existed and the novels chronicled his exploits.

After the full series was reprinted, Bantam published a new novel by Philip José Farmer, Escape From Loki (1991), which told the story of how Doc met the Five in World War I. Murray produced seven novels from Dent's original outlines. Four more novels were announced, but not published.

The Blackmask eBook and POD website offered large numbers of Doc Savage books for download up to early 2006, when the owner was sued by Conde Nast, (publisher of Vanity Fair and Vogue) resulting in the site's closure (it reopened in 2008 as Munseys, without the Doc Savage novels).

There is an active market for used Doc Savage books in all formats, on eBay and elsewhere. There are also dozens of fan pages and discussion groups on the Internet.

Nostalgia Ventures began a new series of Doc reprints (starting November 2006), featuring two novels per book. Several editions came with a choice of original pulp style or more modern cover and most include new essays as introductions and afterwords.


Two Doc Savage radio series were broadcast during the pulp era. The first, in 1934, was a 15-minute serial which ran for 26 episodes. The 1943 series was based not on the pulps but on the comic book version of the character. No audio exists from either series, although some scripts survived. In 1985, National Public Radio aired The Adventures of Doc Savage, as 13 half-hour episodes, based on the pulps and adapted by Will Murray and Roger Rittner.

See the Wikipedia:List of Doc Savage radio episodes for a complete playlist.

Comic books

Golden Age

Street & Smith published comic book stories of Doc both in the The Shadow comic and his own title. These started with Shadow Comics v1 #1–3 (1940), then moved to Doc Savage Comics. Originally, these stories were based on the pulp version, but with Doc Savage Comics v1 #5 (1941), he was turned into a genuine superhero when he crashed in Tibet and found a mystical gem in a hood. These stories had a Doc who bore little resemblance to the character in the pulps. This lasted through the end of Doc Savage Comics in 1943 after 20 issues, and briefly with his return to Shadow Comics in v3 #10 (Jan 44). It was apparently dropped by his second story. He would last until the end of the Shadow Comic, v9 #5 (1948), but did not appear in every issue. He also appeared in at least one issue of Supersnipe Comics.

Modern Age

Post-Golden Age, there have been several Doc Savage comic books:

  • Gold Key Comics (1966, one issue)
  • Marvel Comics (1970s, both standard comic books and larger, black-and-white magazines)
  • DC Comics (1987–90) published a title which ran for 24 issues
  • Millennium Publications published Doc Savage: The Monarch of Armageddon, a four-part limited series from 1991 to 1992. Written by novelist Mark Ellis and penciled by Green Lantern artist Darryl Banks, the Comics Buyer's Guide Catalog of Comic Books refers to their treatment as the one "to come closest to the original, capturing all the action, humanity, and humor of the original novels."
  • Dark Horse Comics (1995, including a two-issue pairing with The Shadow)

Motion picture

The cast of Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975)
Ron Ely as Doc Savage (foreground), with (background, left to right) Eldon Quick as Johnny, Darrell Zwerling as Ham, William Lucking as Renny, Michael Miller as Monk, and Paul Gleason as Long Tom

A campy Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze movie was made in 1975, starring Ron Ely as Doc who confronts smuggler Captain Seas. It was the last film produced by George Pál.

In 2007, a fan edit called "Doc SaLvageD: The Fan-Edit of Bronze" was created to minimize the campiness of the original film.

In 1999, there was an announcement that another Doc Savage movie, to feature Arnold Schwarzenegger, was in the works, but it never materialised.

According to long-time Batman producer Michael E. Uslan, a new Doc Savage film is set to be produced, hopefully for 2009/2010 release. Uslan delivered the news at Comic-Con '08.

Cultural references

  • Lin Carter wrote a series of books featuring Zarkon-Lord of the Unknown, a thinly disguised version of Doc and his companions.
  • Doc Savage and his brain modification technique are suggested as a possible outcome to the trial in Truman Capote's book In Cold Blood.
  • In Philip José Farmer's sexually explicit A Feast Unknown (1969), the "Ultimate Nature Man" (Tarzan, called Lord Grandrith) confronts his urban counterpart and younger half-brother (Doc Savage, called Doc Caliban). "Ham" Brooks (called "Porky" Rivers) and "Monk" Mayfair (called "Jocko" Simmons) also appear in the story, which continues in The Mad Goblin and Lord of the Trees. The concluding story in the series has yet to appear.
  • In his book Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, Farmer lays out Savage's key role in the fictional Wold Newton family, linking Doc to Tarzan and numerous other fictional heroes and villains.
  • Doc Savage has influenced the creation and development of other fictional heroes, including Superman, Batman and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension|Buckaroo Banzai. Both Alan Moore's Tom Strong and Warren Ellis's Axel Brass|Doc Brass are closely modeled on Doc Savage. Dr. Samuel "Sam" Beckett from the TV series Quantum Leap also shares many similarities with Savage.
  • Warren Ellis' Simon Spector one-shot, done for the Apparat Singles Group, is a direct homage to Doc Savage and The Spider.
  • The animated series The Venture Bros. references Doc in the recurring hallucination/flashbacks that Doctor Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture has about his father, Jonas, who is obviously based on Doc.
  • The good doctor makes a cameo appearance as a character in the Roger Zelazny novel Roadmarks
  • Doc has teamed up with The Thing and co-shared an adventure with Spider-Man in a couple of issues of Marvel Comics, during the time Marvel was publishing a Doc comic.
  • In the original Rocketeer comic book mini-series, a tall, handsome scientist who bears an uncanny resemblance to Doc is the inventor of Cliff Secord's rocket pack. In the novelization of The Rocketeer (film)|The Rocketeer movie by Peter David, the characters speculate that perhaps Doc Savage invented the rocketpack and his boys ("probably Ham and Monk") are due to come any moment. However in the Rocketeer movie, the inventor was changed from Doc to Howard Hughes.
  • A character resembling a young Doc Savage named Doctor Francis Ardan (or Hardant) was created by writer Guy d'Armen for his novel La Cité de l'Or et de la Lèpre serialized in the French magazine Science et Voyages Nos. 453 (May 1928) to 479 (November 1928). This novel was translated in 2004 under the title Doc Ardan: City of Gold and Lepers by Randy and Jean-Marc Lofficier and published by Black Coat Press. Doc Ardan has also appeared in several stories written for the anthology Tales of the Shadowmen.
  • A pair of fantasy novels by Aaron Allston, titled Doc Sidhe (1995) and Sidhe-Devil (2001), focus on the exploits of a "Doc Sidhe" and his "Sidhe Foundation" in a parallel world which links to our own current world, containing humans, elves, dwarves, etc. in a 1930-ish technological setting. The title character, his surroundings, environment, and exploits, and the writing style of the novels are all modeled after and pay homage to the original Doc Savage series.
  • A now aged "Senator Ted Brooks" appears in the comic book Liberty Girl, about a World War II-era superheroine who reappears in the current times. A unidentified picture is shown of Doc and his associates, and there may be a connection between the bronze Liberty Girl (real name Elena Hunter) and Doc, most likely she being his daughter.
  • Ted White, later assisted by Marv Wolfman wrote two adventures of a character clearly meant as an homage to Doc Savage. This character was named Doc Phoenix, The Man Who Enters the Mind. He appeared in several volumes of the Byron Priess-produced series, Weird Heroes
  • The Bernice Summerfield novel Down by Lawrence Miles features a 24th century "pulpzine" character named Mr Misnomer, whose tagline is "The Man of Chrome".
  • The song "Dial a Hitman" from the Big Audio Dynamite album "No. 10 Upping St." contains the line: "At the Continental, Doc Savage pays the bill."
  • In issue #10 of Paul the Samurai, The Tick demonstrates his allegiance to Crime Cannibal by saying, "We're good guys! If you don't believe it, check out this Doc Savage shirt ripping action!" while tearing off his T-shirt.
  • AM Radio personality and conservative talk show host Michael Savage (aka:Michael Weiner) uses the pseudonym "Doctor Michael Savage" to present his broadcast. In some respects his radio persona may be patterned after the popular notions of Doc Savage, such as scholarly studies, world travels and perceived status as a freedom fighter and Renaissance man.
  • In the first issue of Warren Ellis' Wildstorm comic Planetary, a character in jodhpurs and safari shirt named Doc Brass (formerly mentioned) and his five aides who suspiciously resemble Tarzan, The Shadow, and Fu Manchu, fight off an invasion from an alternative reality. In this story Doc Brass goes up against an alternative universes' Justice League destroying them to save the earth with only Doc as the survivor guarding the rift until he is found almost 70 years later. In later issues an alternative book history is given in pulp form. The main characters all relating with certain abilities due to their birth date, January 1, 1900.
  • Doc Savage is mentioned in Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2001 book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
  • Lester Dent, the writer of Doc Savage, is a protagonist in The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, a 2007 novel by Paul Malmont.
  • The tanned giant Max Thunderstone hopes to use his amazing wealth and team of crack therapists and lawyers to free all humanity from oppression through a better understanding of applied neurology.


External links

  • "Remember The Doc Savage Movie Disaster?" by Will Murray. The Bronze Gazette (Vol. 1, No. 1) March 12, 1992.
  • "The Doctor is in! Doc Savage" by Michael A. Beck. Baby Boomer Collectibles (April 1996)
  • “The Bronze Age” by Will Murray from James Van Hise, ed., Pulp Heroes of the Thirties, 2nd edition (Yucca Valley, CA: self-published, 1997).
  • Philip José Farmer. Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1975).
  • Rick Lai. The Complete Chronology of Bronze (Indianapolis, IN: ACES Publications, 1999)
  • "Doc Savage at 70" by Tim Lasiuta


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