Q&A with 'Doc Savage' writer Will Murrary
Not only is Doc Savage one of the quintessential pulp magazine detective/adventurers of the 1930s' but he is also popularly considered to be the first super hero in the modern sense of the word. Doc gained new popularity in the late 60s' and early 70s' when some his adventures were reprinted.
We spoke with Will Murray, who is currently writing Doc's adventures, about the character and his appeal.
How did your interest in Doc Savage begin?
As I remember, it was a magically snowy Friday evening in January, 1969. I felt a strange compulsion to brave a mild snowstorm and walk a mile or two, looking for something new to read. I happened to notice the Bantam Books reprint of Dust of Death. The James Bama cover captured my imagination. I had noticed Doc Savage books before, but they never grabbed me. I think I was under the mistaken impression that they were a version of the “men’s sweat” magazine stories that proliferated at that time.
Anyway, I bought the book, took it home and started reading. By the following Monday, I was buying whatever Doc Savage books so I could find after school. I was 15. That was the target age for Doc Savage readers, even going back to the 1930s.
I might mention that back in 1966, when I was collecting Marvel Comics, I came across the Gold Key one-shot Doc Savage comic book, studied the cover and decided not to buy it. Although I had never before heard of the character, for some reason the fact that I had picked it up and put it down unpurchased stuck in my memory. Perhaps it was an intuition of the future....
What in your opinion makes the character appealing?
On the surface, Doc Savage appears to be an action-adventure hero and on one level that’s exactly what he is. But he was created to be an inspirational hero who just happens to be in the action- adventure category. The thinking of Street & Smith back in 1933 was to create a character who would embody all the pinnacle in human achievement possible. Doc would not only be the strongest and smartest man in the world, but the top in fields as diverse as medicine, science, aeronautics, geology, etc. In short, Doc Savage was conceived as an all-around superman.
For four generations now, Doc Savage has inspired his readers to be everything from scientists to bodybuilders, pilots, doctors, physicists and archeologists––every skill you could imagine. The influence was not limited to Doc himself. Lester Dent’s stories inspired me to become a writer and his always exceptional cover artists inspired numerous artists, including my own cover artist, Joe DeVito.
That is the secret of Doc Savage’s appeal. He inspires. The fact that he is so multifaceted means that he motivates people to take whatever inspiration they choose from his superlative example. If Doc was only a scientist or a doctor, his inspiration would probably be limited to those two fields. This is what lifts this character head and shoulders above all adventure characters, whether they be Tarzan of the Apes or James Bond, or you name it. And let’s not forget that the creators of Superman, Batman, Star Trek, the Fantastic Four, the Man from UNCLE, Buckaroo Banzai and others, all ransacked Doc Savage when creators their iconic characters. It’s not for nothing that Lester Dent is sometimes called “the Father of the Superhero.”
Could you tell us about your non-fiction work regarding Doc?
I owe my non-fiction writing career to Doc Savage, as well. The first time I was ever published was a article on the called “Reflections in a flake-gold eye,” which appeared in an issue of The Doc Savage Reader back in 1973. My first appearance in book form was contributing a bunch articles to The Man Behind Doc Savage.
Over the years. I’ve interviewed people who were involved in the original pulp magazine, as well as the Bantam Books prints, and I’ve written hundreds of articles for all sorts of books, magazines, fanzines and even encyclopedia on the Man of Bronze. It was my original research that uncovered the true identities of most of the ghost writers who worked for Lester Dent on the series.
When we started the Wild Adventures of Doc Savage, my publisher Matt Moring, collected a huge number of my Doc Savage articles for a compendium called Writings in Bronze. Massive as it is, it by no means collects everything I’ve written on Doc, never mind the pulp magazines. We should probably do a second volume...
I understand that the recent novels about Doc that you have written are primarily unfinished manuscripts by Lester Dent. Are any of them unfinished pieces by other writers for the series? Are any of them original?
I’ve been privileged to work with Lester Dent material that ranges from complete Doc Savage outlines to multi-chapter openings that he never finished. What a thrill! Lester Dent is one of my favorite writers and to finish his unfinished works is the supreme privilege. Most of these ideas were things Dent’s original editors thought to far-out for the time. Hence, I call my series The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage.
I knew one of Den’s ghostwriters, Ryerson Johnson. Back in 1935, he had produced a Doc Savage outline that was discarded and replaced by a vastly different version, which Lester wrote as The Motion Menace. Long before his passing, I acquired from Johnny the right to turn his original outline into a Doc Savage novel. His original concept revolved around an intriguing scientific threat and at the end of Dent’s story, the sinister device was turned over to the War Department. Since it survived, I turned Johnny’s outline into a sequel! Once again, this was a complete outline and it was wonderful to work with it. It was also the first Doc Savage novel I dictated on my iPad, as opposed to typing it. I would never been able to do that if I didn’t have a detailed chapter-by-chapter story breakdown to work with.
Doc has crossed over with the Shadow and King Kong in the newer books. Could you provide us with details? Are other crossovers planned?
When we started this enterprise, crossovers were the last things on my mind, although going back to Bantam Books days, I harbored a hope to have Doc Savage meet The Shadow
When I was discussing what to do for the 80th anniversary of Doc Savage in 2013 with my cover artist, Joe DeVito, he happened to mention that he owns certain rights to King Kong and perhaps we should look into having Doc Savage encounter the Eighth Wonder of the World. Well, who could say no to that? It was a natural. King Kong died from a fall from Doc Savage’s skyscraper headquarters. Both characters debuted within weeks of each other in 1933.
So we worked out the rights, and I wrote Skull Island, which tells the story of Doc Savage and his father and their exploration of Skull Island long before the events of the seminal 1933 King Kong story.
Two years later, Conde Nast granted me permission to have Doc Savage finally meet The Shadow. I built that story from discarded drafts of Lester Dent’s only Shadow novel, The Golden Vulture. The result was The Sinister Shadow, which was set in 1933, during the period were both characters were new on the scene. It’s really a Doc Savage story set in the grim and gritty thriller Prohibition world of The Shadow. I’m very proud of it.
2016 is the Year of the Monkey so it’s probably fitting that I release another King Kong epic, King Kong vs. Tarzan. That one tells the story of the capture of Kong and the attempt to transport him by ship to New York City and the problems the crew encounters, which leads to King Kong running amok in the African jungle. The only person who can recapture him is Tarzan of the
My next release is another Doc Savage-Shadow crossover, Empire of Doom. Here, we pit Doc and The Shadow against The Shadow’s greatest enemy, Shiwan Khan, who is once again attempting to assemble an army to take over the world. Empire of Doom is set for about seven years after The Sinister Shadow. The two characters have struck an uneasy truce, but still don’t fully trust one another. When Shiwan Khan steals a U.S. Navy destroyer and attacks The Shadow’s secret sanctum, it brings Doc Savage into the picture and the two heroes team up to hunt him down.
Somehow I’ve become some kind of crossover king. Believe me, most of this was serendipitous. A lot of it was simple hard work.
Do you have any thoughts on the casting of Dwayne Johnson as Doc in the forthcoming movie (I always pictured Dolph Lundgren myself)?
I had never heard of the Rock before I happened to see a movie called The Rundown during its original theatrical release. Somewhere in the middle of the story, it suddenly hit me that this Dwayne Johnson might make a pretty good Doc Savage. Coincidently or not, about five or six years ago Johnson’s management reached out to me, wanting to know who had the rights to Doc Savage because Johnson was interested in portraying the character. His people thought it would be a perfect fit. I agreed. But Sony by that time had the rights and Johnson could not get them.
Yet somehow, he has miraculously become attached to the Sony project. I really feel that it’s the hand of fate giving this talented actor a role he may be perfect for. Just as Doc Savage is an inspirational fictional hero, Dwayne Johnson is an inspirational actor. It’s a wonderful fit. I’m really looking forward to this film.