Last time, we watched as Doc Savage faced off against his most fearsome foe, the Rasputin-like John Sunlight. While the clash of intrigues did reveal many of Doc Savage’s virtues, such as the observation powers of Sherlock Holmes, the physical prowess of Tarzan, the Christliness of Abraham Lincoln, and a leavening of Percy Fawcett’s adventurousness, that Arctic battle obscured one important fact: Doc Savage never fights alone. For at his side are five remarkable men of mayhem and science, each a master of their field, each a pulp hero of renown, and each eclipsed by only one man, Clark (Doc) Savage, Jr. himself. Whether he is joined by the simian industrial chemist Monk Mayfair, the dapper attorney Ham Brooks, the brooding bruiser and construction engineer Renny Renwick, wildcat electrical engineer Long Tom Roberts, or the verbose geologist Johnny Littlejohn, Doc Savage always has a friend at his back, ready to dive into the latest adventure.
Especially when that adventure starts with the delivery of what appears to be Renny Renwick’s desiccated remains to Doc Savage’s laboratory. An act that, instead of intimidating the Man of Bronze, sets him on the trail of Renny’s apparent murderer. And into the path of a mysterious Chinese artifact that holds the power to drain the world’s oceans. But how did Renny end up in that box?
Like all of Doc Savage’s associates, Renny is free to work on his own projects. And when his latest takes him to Malaysia, Renny crosses the path of exotic twins Mark and Mary Chan. The twins have escaped from Dang Mi, a notorious pirate, but have left the Buddha’s Toe in the pirate’s lair. This encased artifact can draw all the moisture from its surroundings, effectively mummifying any creature that comes in contact with it. Renny attempts to retrieve the Buddha’s Toe, but is last seen being chased into the jungle by Dang Mi’s second in command. Dang Mi recaptures the twins, the Toe, and the apparent remains of Remmy, who is then shipped to Doc Savage as a warning.
Immediately, Doc Savage, Ham Brooks, and Monk Mayfair fly out to Malaysia, where, after a spell moonlighting as pirates, they track down the Toe, Renny, the larger Ice Buddha of which the Toe is a piece, the twins’ warlord father Wa Chan, and a Japanese flotilla out to avenge their losses on Wa Chan and his family. The Infernal Buddha may be written by Will Murray instead of Lester Dent, but the familiar pattern is the same. Not will Doc Savage and his aides prevail, but how. And while Murray’s novel is far longer than the fast-paced novelettes that filled the Doc Savage pulp magazine, for once, the extended adventure does not feel padded. Some of that comes from the banter between Monk and Ham, but most comes from Murray keeping the same breakneck pace of Dent’s originals.
One may notice a certain cheesiness around the names of Dang Mi and Wa, Mary, and Mark Chan, almost verging on disrespect. The cheesiness is deliberate, but saved only for those Western characters who are playing a masquerade and badly. All the characters mentioned are Americans, fugitives for various reasons. If anything, their adventures show the disastrous meddling of the West in Eastern affairs. Doc Savage becomes an American cleaning up an American mess, and, in typical Savage fashion, setting the criminals back on the road to rehabilitation.
The Ice Buddha and the fragment known as the Buddha’s Toe are improbable materials based on real-world chemistry. At a time when much of the contents of the sky were unmapped–in a chemistry sense–the idea of a super desiccant falling from the sky is fitting and based on creative liberties with known chemical phenomena. Although, strangely for the kind of adventures, the fate of the Ice Buddha is tied up with the Divine, as Doc Savage ascribed his actions in ending the threat of runaway desiccation by crystal to true Divine Inspiration. And the Man of Bronze, this Man of Science, remains in awe of the brief encounter. It is to Murray’s credit that he presents this encounter in such a way as to remove any taint of deus ex machina from the story. The Man of Bronze likes his musings. Sometimes he even shares them.
But the highlight of this story comes down to Doc Savage’s associates. Renny is given an adventure of his own that is worthy of the adventure pulps. In classic form, Ham and Monk bicker their way across the globe in search of Renny’s apparent murderer. And if Johnny and Long Tom sit this one out, it is because even Lester Dent realized that six main characters can be too unwieldly of a cast for one book. Murray fills the pages with little character moments that not only establish the friendships between Doc Savage and his aides, and his aides with each other, they also establish why the five men, heroes in their own right, gladly follow where Doc Savage leads. Plus Ham, Monk, and Renny act out the anger and emotions that the taciturn Doc Savage cannot allow himself to display. It is through his friends that Doc Savage becomes human, instead of an Icon of Bronze.
For a new adventure, in a time when reboots ravage the originals, Murray gets Doc Savage right. The Infernal Buddha is one of the best of Doc’s New Adventure, which will later get cluttered with such eminences as The Shadow and King Kong, as well as a stand-alone adventure for his cousin Patricia Savage. But while Doc and his friends have some time of their own, they shine here in what will become well-worn tracks. It’s pulp revival done right, with one of pulp’s biggest heroes getting the story he deserves.