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YA Book of The Year! (The Year Is 1933)

The Doc Savage adventures by Kenneth Robeson: Your great-grandparents' YA.

YA Book of The Year! (The Year Is 1933)

BOOK REPORT for the Doc Savage adventures by Kenneth Robeson

Cover Story: What's With That Shirt?
Drinking Buddy: Teetotaler
Testosterone Level: Off the Scale
Talky Talk: Steampunky, When Punky Wasn't Cool
Bonus Factors: Sidekicks, Hideouts
Bromance Status: Holding Out For a Hero

Cover Story:  What's With That Shirt?

Okay, you're an action star, you have to show off the guns. Hell, if I had perfect abs and no chest hair, I might go for the ripped shirt look. But surely it's a one-time thing, right?


Give me a break...

Yeah, you got the guns. What do you do, wash and reuse that same exact torn business shirt every adventure?

The Deal:

Clark 'Doc' Savage, Jr, (b. 1901), World War I fighter ace, mental marvel, and widow's peak champion of 1918, is devastated when his beloved father is murdered. Traumatized by the loss of his parent, he dedicates himself to the eradication of evil. He builds a super-secret lair, spends hours a day in physical training, and studies until he is a genius in every field of study. He collects a fleet of bad-ass cars, ships, and aircraft, and travels the word, facing a series of very improbable villains, each with a super weapon more powerful than the last. He has a rag-tag group of followers, and is a wealthy businessman and philanthropist in his spare time.

I'm surprised Hollywood never copied this idea.

These adventures were published as comic books in the 1930s and 40s, then rereleased as paperbacks in the 1970s and 80s. Some new adventures were published in the 1990s. You can get most of them for on the Kindle for a buck each.

Drinking Buddy: Teetotaler

Doc, I am not worthy to stand in your perfectly-proportioned shadow (and should you forget Doc is perfectly-proportioned, this is mentioned in every single adventure). You have to admire a man who is a master of brain surgery, kung fu, and ballroom dancing. But Doc doesn't drink. Or smoke. Or run around with women. Or kill anyone (his guns fire special bullets that only knock out his opponents--wonder how that worked with the T-Rex up there).

Doc is the very model of decorum and moderation. He's like a Quaker superhero.

Testosterone Level: Off the Scale

How many times can one man discover a secret valley/island where there are still dinosaurs? Three, apparently. Doc travels everywhere from the North Pole to the, um, South Pole, fighting the Dr. Evils of his day: The Really Short Guy! The Really Fat Guy! The Smart Russian Guy (two adventures)! The Guys Who Always Wear Masks! They come at him with doomsday devices, the likes of which the world has never seen: The heat-seeking missile! The aircraft that flies faster than sound! The blimp that had really hot exhaust!  The guy who could throw things really hard!

Things got even crazier when the Second World War broke out and Doc got to fight Nazis and the Japanese. Hey, maybe Captain America punched Hitler in the face, but Doc kicked him in the, nut.

Talky Talk: Steampunky, When Punky Wasn't Cool

Steampunk is hip. We like to imagine what the past would be like with modern technology. Well, Doc Savage did have modern technology in the past. For instance, his office was equiped with an amazing phone that recorded his messages when he was away. A phone-answering robot, if you will. The doors to his secret hangar would swing open whenever he approached. Think how convenient that would be when he was in a hurry or had his hands full! He not only owned a fleet of the fastest propeller airships around, but a real live autogyro (some people call them helicopters). You know that spike on top of the Empire State Building? That was the mooring mast for Doc's private dirigible.

Okay, it seems hokey now, but back then, these things were purest science fiction. And isn't that what steampunk is all about?

Bonus Factor: Sidekicks

Doc had the most awesome group of buddies ever. They all met while POWs during the Great War. From left to right:

Ham, the dapper lawyer and man about town (that cane has a sword inside it, natch).

Johnny, the verbose anthropologist and geologist.

Renny, the sour-faced engineer who liked to stick his fists through doors.

Long Tom, the electronics expert (in 1990, he would have been a computer expert).

Monk, the socially obnoxious chemist, who was always fighting with Ham.

Not pictured is Patricia, Doc's first cousin. A gorgeous cowgirl, she appears in about a third of the adventures. And since they're related, you don't have to worry about the fan fiction maestros trying to set her up with Doc.

These guys seriously kicked butt. And when the adventure didn't call for six characters, they'd just have Johnny off on a dig or Renny building a dam somewhere.

Bonus Factor: Hideouts

Count em' off:

1)  The entire 86th floor of the Empire State Building, with a research library, lab, and secret elevator to the garage below.

2)  The Hidalgo Trading Company. No, it's not a dilapidated warehouse, it's Doc's private waterfront hangar/boatyard. And yes, he has a submarine.

3)  The Fortress of Solitude: A secret lab somewhere in the Canadian arctic. It's here where Doc does his research.

4)  The Crime College: Somewhere in upstate New York, Doc sends captured criminals to undergo brain operations that 'cure' them. No, not lobotomies. Stop looking at me like that.

5)  Secret valley in La Republica de Hidalgo: This is where the lost Mayan tribe guards Doc's secret, infinite supply of gold. Did I mention Doc and his friends all speak fluent ancient Mayan?

For every boy who ever constructed Fort Awesome out of plywood and an old door, this is what we were aspiring to.

Casting Call:

I can't do it. The one time they did make a Doc movie, it was terrible.

Bromance Status: Holding Out For a Hero

Dr. Savage, you're everything I ever wished I could be when I was in junior high. More than once I found myself thinking 'Those guys wouldn't be calling me a geek if Doc was my buddy.' I know you'd be 111 years old now, but I'll never let the world forget you.

Special thanks to my uncle Rusty, who gave me my first copies.

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.