Tuesday, October 23, 2018


The Bronze Gazette #82 [$12] arrived the other day and, right off the bat, I was taken by editor Chuck Welch’s opening piece, “Bronze in Amber.” In it, he asked if Doc Savage will last much longer. He wrote:

A recent Flearun thread decried how few of our children picked up our love of the character. Doc Savage is a fly trapped in amber. His foes, motivations and expectations are close to 90 years in the past. While he have a contingent of fans who want Doc to never change, I believe the future of Doc Savage rests in new blood and approaches.

Exactly this.

A few years back, while attending Pulpfest in Columbus, Ohio, I was met with horrified reactions when I suggested to writers of what is commonly called “new pulp” that Doc Savage, the Shadow and so many other beloved pulp magazine heroes had to be updated to reach the modern audiences. They were chained to the notion that those heroes had to adventure in the 1930s and 1940s.

What I would do with Doc Savage is figure out his timeless core values, values that could exist beyond the decades of his original adventures. Then I would remake Doc from that starting point. I’d update his origins to reflect modern science and the world of the present. I would look at his aides with an eye towards diversity. Do they all have to be straight white men? Do their quirks make any sense in 2018? I would look at his foes and give him villains who fit our modern world. At the end of the day, though I might change his supporting cast to a significant degree, I would present fans with a Doc Savage for today.

I enjoy the original Doc Savage novels. I enjoy the new Doc Savage novels written by my pal Will Murray. If Will keeps writing them, I’ll keep reading them. But I don’t think the future of Doc Savage  must or should rely on these fine vintage adventures. I think, like so many things in life, Doc Savage’s mantra should be...

Always forward.

In the meantime, do check out The Bronze Gazette. This new issue is packed with fascinating articles, such as Murray’s reflections on Philip Jose Farmer’s Doc Savage novels and a tribute to Ron Wilber, a wonderful artist who left us too soon.


Having finished Assassination Classroom and Princess Jellyfish, I have been looking for a new favorite manga series. Tokyo Tarareba Girls by Akiko Higashimura, the creator of Princess Jellyfish, is a contender. Here’s what I wrote about it several weeks back in my Tony’s Tips!” column at Tales of Wonder:

Tokyo Tarareba Girls is a comedy aimed at young women in their late teens or somewhat older young women who have entered the job market and making their own way in the world. Clearly I don’t fit squarely into that demographic, but Higashimura is a skilled creator with a fun sense of humor. His work speaks to me.

Our heroine is Rinko, a 33-year-old writer of romance teleplays who has never been married. Her career has gotten a little shaky, her love life is non-existent. Her leisure time is spend drinking with  Kaori and Koyuki, her best friends since high school. On one such night, their loud complaints about men and their situations annoy a handsome man in the bar. He tells them they are “what if” women, constantly bitching about what might have been instead of trying to change their lives. Rinko vows to get married by the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.

Rinko’s path crosses that of the handsome man at her job. It’s not a pleasant coincidence. But, even as Rinko takes some hits at work, the reader can’t help but hope to gets everything she wants out of life. I know I’m rooting for her.

Tokyo Tarareba Girls is a seven-book series. I’m in for their whole ride. There has also been a ten-episode TV series, but I won’t seek that out until I finish reading the manga.

If you’re into manga beyond the usual battle, horror, or science-fiction tales, I think you’ll enjoy Tokyo Tarareba Girls.
I’ve now read the second of those seven volumes and, well, Rinko, Kaori and Kayuki are making bad decisions. Will these bad decisions derail their quests for happiness and romance? That strikes me as a real possibility and one that adds a serious note to the series. But that serious notes elevates Tokyo Tarareba Girls from a series I have been getting via my local library system to one I’m buying. Consider my previous recommendation doubled.

Tokyo Tarareba Girls Volume 1:

ISBN 978-1-63236-685-6

Tokyo Tarareba Girls Volume 2:
ISBN 978-1-63236-686-3

My search for manga has reunited me with Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma 1&2. This is a goofy epic of a teen martial artist and his frankly insane father. Training at cursed springs, they fell into various springs and now, when they get wet, they turn into, respectively, a buxom young woman and a giant panda. Which is actually one of the least crazy things about this series. Ranma has multiple fiancées, none of his own choosing. He has rivals for these fiancées, some of whom, fiancées and rivals alike, have also fallen into the cursed springs. He has a feared grandfather who steals panties. He faces martial arts disciplines such as combat cheerleading. If a reader can embrace this madness - and you know I can - they will receive big laughs at a rapid pace.

I just finished reading Ranma 1&2 (2-in-1 Edition) Volume 11 [Viz; $14.99], which collects books 21 and 22 of the series. This volume starts with battle between father and son and continues with cherry blossoms that reveal true love, the combat cheerleading mentioned earlier, Ranma and his dad avoiding his mother because of a seppuku vow Dad made, Ranma seeking to get one of the fiancees he doesn’t want to confess her love for him and a ghost who is unable to move on from this world because Ranma’s grandfather refused to steal her panties. Embrace the madness.

ISBN 978-1-4216-6632-0

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella


  1. I think the problem with updating Doc, The Shadow, the Spider, et al. is that they were clearly a product of their times, times which have changed significantly. Looking back at the old pulp heroes (that I love), I'm often struck with their total disregard for the law or, in fact, for civil rights. How would Doc's Crime College and his unauthorized brain operations work in today's world? Would he even be able to export gold from Hidalgo in the 21st century, or would international law (and the IRS) put a stop to that? And I'm sure that, with as many countries involved in the Arctic, as well as the current talk about regulating that part of the world as strictly as the Antarctic is, Doc's Fortress would be a political impossibility. The Spider was a borderline psychopath who left a trail of bodies in his wake a mile long, and even the Shadow's less homicidal vigilantism would be greatly curtailed in these days of due process and Miranda rights (I'm sure Bob Ingersoll would have some interesting insights on all this). But, to take away the extra-legal power that these characters wielded would be to take away a lot of the fun they represented, and a great deal of the power fantasy that fueled them. I get what you're saying, but I think some characters need to stay within the milieu they come from. To wrench them from the 1930s and transplant them to today, one would either have to undo ignore many of the things we, as readers, relish about the characters, or set the suspension of disbelief to such a high degree that the stories become ridiculous. I think this is why the various attempts to update Doc and the Shadow have largely failed, is that the characters we get in those instances are never the characters we came to love and enjoy.

  2. I confess I would be less concerned with pleasing the old and rapidly aging fans than I would be in winning new fans to the core values of characters like Doc Savage.

  3. I seem to recollect that DC attempted to update Doc Savage when they held the license and, in the end, satisfied no one.

  4. In the latest issue of THE BRONZE GAZETTE (fall, 2018) Chuck Welch says that there is a real need to update the character of Doc Savage, and that he doesn't believe the character can survive if this doesn't happen. This has been done in the comics now and then, and it generally doesn't work, and I think that's because Doc really is a period character. He belongs to the 30's and 40's. There are exceptions, of course, one being the fine work done by Chris Roberson and Dynamite Comics, where the team concept so important to the Savage Saga moves into the present era with the Savage Corporate Headquarters and the field teams who represent the Savage Mission in action.
    Good stuff.
    Another variable here is the work of Will Murray. No one better deserves to be Kenneth Robeson than Murray- he is the single most important influence in Doc Savage fandom since the sixties. It's a remarkable thing when you manage to actually "become" your favorite writer, as Murray did. His Doc Savage novels have not only continued the adventures, but provided us additional Lester Dent material that would have never seen print otherwise.
    It's amazing.
    Having said that, however, and as much as I do respect what Murray has accomplished, I believe that his mission to use as much unused Dent material as possible in his novels has sometimes gotten in the way, because he is constantly writing "around" the Dent materials. I think he puts as much effort into finding a way to integrate the Dent stuff with his own style and ideas- and this gets right down into his efforts to make use of single paragraphs, or even sentences left behind by Dent, that it gets in the way of his creativity.
    I've read and enjoyed a great many DESTROYER novels that Murray wrote some years ago, and they aren't burdened with this obsession to use earlier materials. Rather, it's clear that Murray was writing in free style, telling HIS story, and developing his own chronology, character traits and "brand" of adventure fiction that expands the series limits. Speaking for myself, these books are as good or better than any of his Doc Savage novels.
    As much as I respect Murray, he isn't the only writer who could be doing Doc Savage. I have always thought an occasional collection of Doc Savage novellas, each by different writers, would make for fun reading. There's an audience for this kind of thing.
    So what I'm saying here is that, sure, the Savage Saga could be updated- new writers, new ideas- but that I do believe Doc should remain a period character. What's wrong with that? Would you want to move the Lone Ranger or The Untouchables into the present era? To what end?

  5. If you only want to read period pieces with characters like Doc Savage, then have at it. If a good writer does a modern take and then offends your sensibilities, don't read it. But I don't believe we should preserve these wonderful characters in time-frozen amber just to please fans like you. There are something like 200 Doc Savage novels set in the past and a couple dozen comic books. Read those to your heart's content. Me, I'm all for updating these characters (while maintaining their core values) and trying to attract a new generation of readers to them.

  6. Certainly there is precedent for characters in popular fiction to be updated and enjoy huge success - both in film and print. I would contend that the recent BBC Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch has supplanted the original Sherlock Holmes in the popular consciousness, and similarly James Bond has been re-invented in film and print many times since his origins in the 1950s. Lawrence Osborne's recent Philip Marlowe novel "Only to Sleep" avoids pastiche by aging our protagonist and moving the action to Mexico in the 1960's/1970's. In all cases, the change of milieu and era gives an opportunity to explore new facets of the characters.
    So creating new Doc Savage stories in the present day should be seen as an opportunity to attempt something new while retaining the core values.

    At their core, the Doc Savage stories are about the rationality of science overcoming the anarchy of superstition and the arcane. Certainly the bonds of friendship and self-sacrifice play key elements in the stories, as do the romanticism of both the cities and wide-open Western spaces that Lester Dent interjected. When Philip Jose Farmer coined the phrase "Doc Savage - His Apocalyptic Life", he cleverly encapsulated what Doc is about - overcoming evil with science. The battle between mysticism and civilization.
    It would be interesting to explore how those concepts could be manifested in today's world.

    I've been pondering why pretty much all Doc Savage comic adaptations have failed to connect with a substantial readership. My personal view is that they never truly grasped the core concepts of the pulp novels.

    Tony - as an adapter of Brand of the Werewolf back in the early 70's for Marvel - do you have a perspective on the lack of success of comic adaptations of Doc?