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Early pulp pastiches of Doc Savage

Posted by at 9:28 pm Thursday, April 11, 2013 in Captain Future, Doc Savage, Hero Pulps, Jim Anthony, Pastiche, Pulps, The Avenger, The Shadow, Thunder Jim Wade
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Early pulp pastiches of Doc Savage

Jim Anthony, Super-DetectiveThe two pulp heroes that kicked off the original “hero pulp” (or character pulp or single character magazines) movement are The Shadow and Doc Savage, both from the then-powerful pulp publisher Street & Smith. Both served as an inspiration to a wide range of follow-on characters from other publishers, and Street & Smith themselves.

But I wonder how many modern readers are aware of the range of original hero pulps that were inspired by Doc Savage?

We should make it clear the difference between the two characters. The Shadow is mainly a detective character, fighting against crooks (or supercrooks). So he inspired a wide range of similar masked detective characters also fighting crooks. Doc Savage was more of an adventurer character. He went up against bad guys, but they were seldom the standard menaces that the detective characters fought. Doc was a more public character, he didn’t hid his identity. And he was assisted by a group of talented people. Plus, Doc was a superlative individual, a “superman” of unique talents and physical capabilities. As an adventure character, he often went to exotic locations, finding lost and mysterious groups of people.

In the original pulps, the characters who seemed to have been inspired by Doc Savage include:

  • Secret Agent X (1934-39)
  • The Skipper (1936-43)
  • Captain Hazzard (1938)
  • The Avenger (1939-42)
  • Jim Anthony (1940-43)
  • Captain Future (1940-51)
  • Thunder Jim Wade (1941)
  • Rush Randall & Adventurers Inc. (1946)

We will look more in-depth into several of these characters in future posts, but as an overview of these characters we will look briefly at each of them. These characters should not be dismissed as just “Doc clones.” Most of the authors put other elements into the characters that make them unique and interesting in their own right.

Secret Agent "X"Secret Agent X is one of those characters that tries to combine elements of several prior ones, in this case both The Shadow and Doc Savage. Based on what I know of the character, some elements worked against him. We never learn who he really is or looks like. He is always in disguise. This can make it hard for the audience to connect with the character.

Also, it’s not clear who the character should be going after. With a name like “Secret Agent X,” we would think he would go after foreign menaces, but oftentimes he went up against crooks (which seems more the responsibility of the police or similar), or mad scientists.

Altus Press had put out a companion volume on the character, and is reprinting the whole series in Omnibus volumes (six out so far). There are new stories from several sources. Airship 27 has several collections of new SAX stories. Author Stephen Payne has written several new novels (two out from Altus Press so far), and is working on an origin story. Others have also written new SAX novels.

After the success of The Shadow and Doc Savage, Street & Smith tried to repeat this with new characters. First off were a pair based on their two successes: The Whisperer (The Shadow) and The Skipper (Doc Savage). It’s telling that when their own magazines went under, the two new characters moved to backup stories of the pulps that inspired them: The Whisperer in The Shadow, The Skipper in Doc Savage. The Skipper, Captain John Fury, is often described as a “nautical Doc Savage.” He is smart and commands an unusual ship, the Whirlwind, and aided by his crew as he sails the Seven Seas righting wrong and punishing evil doers. So far, only a handful of the Skipper short stories have been included in a few of Sanctum Books volumes. I keep hoping the dozen Skipper novels get reprinted in its own series there.

Captain HazzardCaptain Hazzard is sadly a one-hit wonder, and the most blatant Doc clone. His magazine lasted only one issue, with the second story revamped as a Secret Agent X story (they were published by the same company). An adventurer like Doc, who is smart and tough, Hazzard also has slight mental powers of telepathy, which he uses to communicate with his men. Despite lasting only one issue, other authors have reused him.

Lin Carter has him make cameo appearances in his Prince Zarkon series, indicating he had married Pat Savage. Wayne Reinagel used him briefly in his Pulp Heroes series, indicating he’s a love interest for his Pat Savage pastiche, Pam Titan. And Ron Fortier has revised and revamped the character, putting out revised versions of his two original novels (including the one turned into a Secret Agent X story), and adding new novels as well. These are available from Airship 27.

After the failure of The Whisperer and The Skipper, Street & Smith tried again, this time combining elements of The Shadow and Doc Savage into The Avenger. Paul Ernst, who wrote the character, also combined elements from other characters he had created. But you see elements of Doc in the Avenger with his many talents, adventuring around the world, super-science devices and stories that are more like Doc stories then Shadow stories. Sanctum Books is currently reprinting The Avenger.

Jim Anthony, Super-Detective is one that I only learned of in very recent years, and who has surged in popularity. The character was created for “spicy pulp” publisher Culture Publications (formerly Trojan, later Speed Magazines). Strangely, the owner of Culture also owned National-DC Comics, and the title of his magazine Super-Detective is done in the same font style as Superman comics! Jim is described as “half Indian, half Irish, and all American.” A physical marvel (he is usually shown in yellow swim trunks) who is also a scientific genius, the earlier stories are very Doc-like. Today, we are getting new stories, usually by Joshua Reynolds. Altus Press is reprinting the original stories, and Airship 27 is the main source for new stories.

Curt Newton, Captain FutureA fairly different Doc clone, Captain Future has several elements of Doc. Set in the future, after the murder of his parents by crooks, Curtis Newton is raised into a physical and mental marvel. He is aided by Simon Wright, a scientist friend of his parents who is now just a brain in a floating case, the robot Grag, and the shape-shifting android Otho. Grag and Otho fill the “Ham and Monk” dynamic of the stories. From his base on the moon, he travels throughout the solar system fighting evil. The stories by Edmond Hamilton are being reprinted by Haffner Press, don’t know about the rest.

The short-lived Thunder Jim Wade was raised by a lost colony of Crete located in Africa and given their super science, including a super-strong metal. With it, he created his super vehicle: The Thunderbug, which is a tank-plane-submarine. Operating off an island in the South Pacific, and aided by his associates “Red” Argyle and “Dirk” Marat, who give us the “Ham and Monk” dynamic, he travels to exotic lands to right wrongs and punish evil doers. Altus Press has published a complete volume of the original stories, and new stories are coming from Pro Se Press under their Pulp Obscura line.

A very short-lived character, Rush Randall appeared only once in a story in Mammoth Adventure by William Bogart, one of the other writers of Doc Savage stories. “The Crazy Indian” was actually written as a Doc novel! Bogart just rewrote it, and changed Doc into Rush Randall, and Ham and Monk to the other members of Adventurers Inc. They haven’t been see since when Jeff Deischer wrote a new Adventurers Inc. novel, “Spook Trail.” You can read the original novel in Black Dog Book‘s “The Adventurers.”

So there you have them, the original pulp Doc clones. All are interesting and should be checked out. Please do.

6 Comments

  1. Great blog entry Michael. I’m really interested in trying to read Edmond Hamilton’s Captain Future and Henry Kuttner’s Thunder Jim Wade stories at some point. All these pastiches you mention sound interesting though…

  2. The Captain Future stories are very entertaining (if you ignore the scientific implausibility of civilizations on all of the solar system’s planets — but you are reading pulp stories). Probably one of my favorites series.

    I haven’t read Thunder Jim Wade yet.

    Nice survey of the Doc Savage pastiches, Michael!

  3. Great job!
    Enjoyed reading about the pastiches of Doc.
    And that Ron Fortier had revised and revamped Captain Hazzard, putting out revised versions of his two original novels,including the one turned into a Secret Agent X story.
    I think I had heard about that one!!
    Looking forward to the next post.

    Don O’Malley

  4. I have afew issues of Super-Detective. Anthony seems a closer copy of Doc than the others. The title page shows him in swimming trunks peering through a microscope. Many of the stories were written by Robert Leslie Bellem and W.T. Ballard.

    • Yes, the later half of the stories were written by Bellem & Ballard, the authors of Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective. At this point, the more fantastical elements of Jim Anthony had been dropped (along with most of the co-stars) and he was more a hard-boiled detective.

    • Per an article by Will Murray in the latest issues of “Blood n Thunder” (#36/37), we seem to have the final word on the authorship of the Jim Anthony stories. Victor Emmanuel wrote the first 12. Edwin Truett Long did #13-15. Then Bellem & Ballard did the remainder (#16-25).