It surprises me greatly that more writers haven't pastiched or parodied the Doc Savage canon. Of those that have tried, success has been of varying degrees. It is difficult to create a convincing superman, even in Lester Dent's day.
The first people to try to copy the Bronze Man were Street & Smith, Doc's own publisher. Paul Ernst was hired in 1939 to write The Avenger, after going over the ropes with Lester Dent and Walter Gibson (writer of The Shadow). Dick Benson, The Avenger, can assume the faces of others because of an accident that gave him his ghostly white putty skin. He is followed by his own entourage, Algernon Heathcote Smith, better known as Smitty, Fergus MacMurdie, and Nellie Grey. Warner Books published the short-lived pulp character in a Bantam Look-a-like series which ran two years. (See Appenidx for complete information.)
After the passing of the pulps, it took nostalgia freak, Philip Jose Farmer, to try and recreate the Doc Savage feel. Farmer created Doc Caliban in 1969 with A Feast Unknown, a sex-filled contest between Farmer's version of Savage and Tarzan. It was followed by two more traditional Savage-type adventures, Lord of the Trees and The Mad Goblin in 1970. Farmer would later pen the second unmade Doc Savage film as well as Escape from Loki, the only Savage adventure published without the Robeson pseudonym. The 1970's would see two new Savage clones. Ted White would create Doc
Phoenix for Byron Preiss' book series Weird Heroes. Due to a personal tragedy, White would not write the book, only outline it. The embellishing would be finished by Marvel old-timer, Marv Wolfman. In The Oz Encounter (1977), Phoenix, a super-surgeon, has to travel inside a child's injured mind to save her. Though the Savage debt is obvious, it is not the only influence.
The best Doc Savage pastiche was published two years earlier. Lin Carter was the King of the Pastichers. His Doc Savage imitation features a superhero known as Zarkon, Lord of the Unknown, featured in five volumes, beginning with Nemesis of Evil (1975), followed by Invisble Death (1975), The Volcano Ogre (1977), The Earth-Shaker (1982), and Horror Wears Blue (1987). The Ultimate Man and his five assistances (collectively known as the Omega Team) bear more than a passing resemblance to Doc and the Fab Five. If there is any doubt after seeing the books' covers, Carter removes it by dedicating the first novel to Lester Dent. Though set in the 1970's, the entire series rings of Doc's Depression era world. Prince Zarkon is an enigmatic figure, vague, secretive. Physically, Zarkon is over six foot, well-built, about thirty years in appearance. He dresses entirely in gray. His skin is a strange tan while his hair is pewter-colored. We are told that his skin-tone and hair are false, giving the Man of Mysteries an even more veiled and secret origin. Carter does not disappoint, explaining toward the end of the first novel, that Zarkon is from the extreme distant future, where Mankind is nearing its end. Arkon Z-1000 is a genetically engineered agent (thus he acquires the name Z-arkon). The Man of Mysteries' purpose is to fight the forces of super-criminality which will eventually destroy the Earth in the centuries to come. Zarkon is projected into the past into the small Balkan country of Novenia, which rises up from the primitive mire to become a world power. Za rkon leaves Novenia with the title of Prince and a mission for the entire planet.
The five souls who follow Zarkon through his adventures are all men that Zarkon has saved, one from suicide, another from drink, yet another from cocaine and institutionalization. The five assistants are "Scorchy" Muldoon, a hot-tempered Irishman who loves a good fight--something he is good at since he is a professional boxer; Nick Naldini, a former stage magician and master of sleight of hand, is a sartorial and refined figure while he enjoys taunting Scorchy; "Ace" Harrigan, a top-notch flyer and pilot of the Omega Team's aircraft; "Doc" Jenkins, a human computer with total recall of names and faces; Mendel Loweel "Menlo" Parker, a gruff electronics master and kung fu expert, whose constant grumbling masks his willingness to be part of the greatest group ever assembled. Though none of the five are exactly like Doc Savage's men they do more or less correspond as follows:
The Omega Team is housed in a strange incognito complex in Knickerbocker City (a thinly veiled New York), which has virtually indestructible walls, false doors and unbreakable windows. From this secret building near the docks, the team can easily reach their uncharted isle, Omega Island. From the subterranean and camouflaged base on the island, Zarkon can choose from a selection of jets, submarines and other equipment, including The Shooting Star, his personal plane that can take off vertically. In Nemesis of Evil, the author begins with a note explaining that the story is true but the names have been changed to protect privacy. Carter includes himself as a character in the manner of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. Whether we are supposed to believe Zarkon is actually Doc Savage or someone else is left to the reader to decide.
Once past the initial pages, the reader is thrown into a Kenneth Robeson-like story about a strange cult known as the Brotherhood of Lemurian Wisdom which has a criminal grasp on Southern California, with its eye on the rest of the world. The cult is led by a mysterious figure known only as "Lucifer" and is a villain worthy of Lester Dent. Zarkon describes the ring-master: "Lucifer is a megalomanic with ambitious dreams beyond the criminous scope of the ordinary gangland crime lord...Unfortunately, he is a scientific genius--one of the greatest inventors since Thomas Alva Edison, and therefore has the power to fulfill those mad schemes, unless we are able to stop him." The Omegas gasp with surprise upon discovering that Lucifer is, in fact, Dr. Zandor Sinestro, who had supposedly died five years previously, not unlike John Sunlight who came back in The Devil Ghengis. Lucifer's use of a bogus cult is also reminiscent of Doc Savage's greatest foe, who started a secret order in Tibet.
Lucifer has a secret fortress inside Mount Shasta from which he rules, sends out his squads of ruthless thugs to terrorize the populace, and metes out punishment in the form of "The Hand of Death" (which would have been Lester Dent's title, without doubt), a poison so potent it can pass directly through the skin.
Assisting Sinestro is the insidious Eurasian, Ching, who is cut from the same bolt as Fu Manchu and Ming the Merciless. In any other kind of novel the "Yellow Peril" characterization would be offensive, but in a Doc homage it is a masterful stroke. Also in the team's midst is a secret traitor, and in the usual style, only a ten year old could not figure out who it is from the earliest part of the book. Dent used the plot device in many of his original Savage novels, with the traitor being revealed in an exciting scene at the end. Prince Zarkon, of course, has been wise all along and gives the detective's account of how he knew for those people without enough brain-power to see it for themselves. As with the other elements of a Savage novel, Carter once again copies with superb accuracy and great fun. (Carter has a lot of fun with in-jokes. In the first novel, he refers to Elvira Higgins as being the grand-daughter of "the deputy sheriff of Comanche County", referring to the Edgar Rice Burroughs western.)
Nemesis of Evil ends with a solid climax: the Omega Team infiltrates the secret base inside Mount Shasta, are captured and escape, with the final destruction of Lucifer, whose robes catch fire during the confrontation with Zarkon. An explosion follows and the Man of Mysteries does not see Lucifer die, suggesting that Carter may have planned a return of the evil one. A fitting pulpish end to a thoroughly contrived pastiche. I would like to think if Carter had not died in 1988, he might have had a shot at penning a real Doc adventure for Bantam's new series, under the Kenneth Robeson house name, of course. *
The Avenger by Paul Ernst/Emile C. Tepperman/Ron Goulart
Avenger #1: Justice Inc. (1939)
Avenger #2: The Yellow Hoard (1939)
Avenger #3: The Sky Walker (1939)
Avenger #4: The Devil's Horns (1939)
Avenger #5: The Frosted Death (1939)
Avenger #6: The Blood Ring (1940)
Avenger #7: Stockholders in Death (1940)
Avenger #8: The Glass Mountain (1940)
Avenger #9: Tuned For Murder (1940)
Avenger #10: The Smiling Dogs (1940)
Avenger #11: The River of Ice (1940)
Avenger #12: The Flame Breathers (1940)
Avenger #13: Murder on Wheels (1940)
Avenger #14: Three Gold Crowns(1940)
Avenger #15: House of Death (1941)
Avenger #16: The Hate Master (1941)
Avenger #17: Nevlo (1941)
Avenger #18: Death in Slow Motion (1941)
Avenger #19: Pictures of Death (1941)
Avenger #20: The Green Killer (1941)
Avenger #21: The Happy Killers (1942)
Avenger #22: The Black Death (1942)
Avenger #23: The Wilder Curse (1942)
Avenger #24: Midnight Murder (1942)
Avenger #25: The Man From Atlantis (1942)
Avenger #26: Red Moon
Avenger #27: The Purple Zombie
Avenger #28: Dr. Time
Avenger #29: The Nightwitch Devil
Avenger#30: Black Chariots
Avenger #31: The Cartoon Crimes
Avenger#32: The Death Machine
Avenger #33: The Blood Countess
Avenger #34: The Glass Man
Avenger #35: The Iron Skull