As Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Man of Bronze be lifted up as a salve for an age of gritty, dark superhero flicks. Clark “Doc” Savage, Jr. is an unapologetically unironic pulp fiction superhero. Raised from birth to be the peak of human mental and physical achievement, Doc is a self-made supreme adventurer and ultimate male fantasy. He lives by his creed:
To go here and there, from one end of the world to the other, looking for excitement and adventure, striving to help those who needed help, punishing those who deserved it.
Despite all of their messianic symbolism, superheroes owe far more to Doc Savage than they do to Jesus Christ, Hercules, or Thor. Doc even has a Fortress of Solitude for goodness sake.
Creator Lester Dent summed up Doc in this way:
I took Sherlock Holmes with his deducing ability, Tarzan of the Apes with his towering physique and muscular ability, Craig Kennedy with his scientific knowledge, and Abraham Lincoln with his Christliness. Then I rolled ‘em all into one to get – Doc Savage.
When I say there is nothing ironic about Doc, I mean nothing. Unlike nearly every other superhero, Doc has no secret identity. There is no difference between his public persona and his inner man: he is bronze inside and out. He is so one-dimensional that reading his stories is as refreshing as it is amusing.
But it’s Doc’s friends and sidekicks – the Fabulous Five – that gives the story just enough dimension to avoid falling into flatland. Each of them is extremely gifted in one area of study, but still remain Doc’s lesser, even with their combined strengths:
Doc’s mental training had started with medicine and surgery. It had branched out to include all arts and sciences. Just as Doc could easily overpower the gorilla-like Monk in spite of his great strength, so did Doc know more about chemistry. And that applied to Renny, the engineer; Long Tom, the electrical wizard; Johnny, the geologist and archaeologist; and Ham, the lawyer.
Doc graciously allows his inferiors aid him on his investigations.
The first novel, Man of Bronze, is an origin story of sorts and has Doc uncovering the mystery of his father’s murder and battling savages in a forgotten Mayan Empire. The plot is standard adventure fare: lost kingdoms, fisticuffs, princesses, and shark fighting derring-do. Since I happen to quite enjoy standard adventure fare, this did not bother me in the least — not least because Man of Bronze was the trope maker in this regard.
If the Batman vs Superman trailer made you long for the days when superheroes were shamelessly super and heroic, Doc Savage is the man for you.