(Doug Moench and Various; 448 pages; DC COMICS, 2011)
Publisher Henry W Ralston with an assist from editor John L Nanovic (they of publishing house Street and Smith) created what was, for all intents and purpose, the first “super” hero, Doc Savage. Lester Dent brought the character to life in the pages of DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE beginning in 1933. Since then, Doc and his aides (later to be dubbed the Fabulous Five) have appeared in just about every medium imaginable: radio, film, several reprint series in book form (Bantam Books began publishing paperback versions in 1966) and, of course, comic books (there were even two attempts to launch daily newspaper comic strips, the first written by Dent).
From 1975 through 1977, Marvel Comics printed an out-size black and white magazine version of their moderately successful color book. Both the books were canceled in 1977, Marvel having lost the comic book publishing rights to the character. DC Comics obtained the comic book rights in 2010, no doubt smelling the same kind of money that Marvel sniffed in the ’70s: a movie tie-in! Though the movie is still in production, DC went ahead with several titles starring Doc (a one-shot with Batman, a mini-series called FIRST WAVE and his own title, which lasted ’til mid-2012). Apparently, the publishing rights included previous comic book versions, including the ’70s Marvel books. And so, here we are, examining this SHOWCASE PRESENTS… collection of the eight-issue black and white series.
I remember buying these mags (and the color book, too) back in the day when I bought everything with a Marvel or DC logo on it. I bought, but very rarely read. Sure, I gave a cursory look at the innards of the books, perusing the art and scanning the word balloons for the mere basic plot, but I almost never read an entire issue of anything outside THE AVENGERS or TOMB OF DRACULA. Okay… that was a long-winded way of me telling you that though I’m familiar with the material, this is the first time I’ve actually read the things from front to back. I gotta say that, for the most part, I like what I’m reading. The artwork is all over the place, with most of it tied together by the inks of Tony DeZuniga, whose guazy, thin-lined approach was much in demand at DC (where, as both penciller and inker, he co-created Jonah Hex with writer John Albano) through-out the 1970s. He, obviously, also did a smattering of work for Marvel.
Doug Moench, who got his start in the 1960s at Warren Publishing (doing horror for CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA) and created the Deathlok and Moon Knight characters while at Marvel, wrote the stories. They were all originals featuring Doc and other characters created in the ’30s and ’40s by Lester Dent or his surrogates. Moench’s work is faithful to the pulp adventures and are generally fun to read. He was given the chance to develop character and plot a little bit more than a standard 20 page comic, as most of the stories are over 50 pages in length. My favorite of the nine yarns presented here is the second, “Hell-Reapers At the Heart of Paradise.” Featuring Vikings, pirates, a mysterious blond and a cavern at the center of the Earth inhabited by ticked-off lizard people, and great art with pencils and inks by DeZuniga, what’s not to love? Other highlights include the John Buscema-drawn (except for, oddly, one page penciled by John Romita) first issue feature, “ The Doom On Thunder Isle”; “A Most Singular Writ of Habeas Corpus,” a solo tale from issue #3 featuring Doc’s specialist in chemistry, Andrew Blodgett Mayfair (Monk, as the others call him), with art by Rico Rival; and “The Mayan Mutations,” again featuring the art of Tony DeZuniga, from issue #7. While DeZuniga is responsible for most of the artwork, there are others who contribute, some more admirably than others. Buscema returns for the lead story in #3, the wonderful Marie Severin pencils the first eight pages of “Ghost-Pirates From the Beyond” for the fourth issue, and the usually solid Ernie Chan offers a less-than-stellar job on the final issue’s tale, “The Crimson Plague.” Chan’s art isn’t offensive enough to totally wreck the story, though, as it holds up as well as the others.
I am a huge fan of DC’s SHOWCASE PRESENTS… archival reprint series. The books, while all are printed in black and white, are almost all over 500 pages and offer a chronological look at most of the strips from the Silver (and a few from the Bronze) Age of DC Comics. They are a great way to collect some old favorites or familiarize yourself with titles and characters you may not recognize. Reprint agreements between DC and the writers and artists in later years has, unfortunately, rendered some titles unavailable but – I’ll take what I can get… they are that good! This one, though, is a bit odd since they were originally published by Marvel, is no exception.