The Beauty of ‘Doc Savage’ Is Its Old School Earnestness

The original superhero is coming to the small screen, but let’s hope they don’t change him too much for the modern age.
Doc Savage
By  · Published on February 24th, 2020

Doc Savage isn’t as popular as Batman and Superman, but they might not exist without The Man of Bronze. The pulpy precursor to comic book superheroes has been around since 1933, inspiring the creation of DC’s most iconic characters and countless others. That said, these days he has been overshadowed by many of the spandex-clad crusaders that followed in his wake. However, the good news is that the O.G. might be on the verge of making an impact on the small screen, where he can make his presence known once again.

Deadline recently reported that the long-gestating Doc Savage movie — which at one point was to be directed by Shane Black and star Dwayne Johnson — is being turned into a TV series. While information is being kept close to the vest for now, the report notes that the show will feature Doc taking on rampaging dinosaurs and secret societies while packing some groovy gadgets and weapons.

The new series sounds like a serialized adventure show, and that’s what a Doc Savage project should be. The appeal of the old pulps and radio adaptations are their adventurous qualities, with the hero travelling around the world, battling an array of villains hell bent on unleashing some wicked master plans. Original author Lester Dent was an adventurer in his own right, and some of his globetrotting experiences informed the stories.

The show also has a treasure chest of stories and ideas to mine from. Whether it’s zeppelin battles in the sky, swashbuckling with pirates on the high seas, discovering prehistoric craters at the center of the earth, or contending with the ghosts of English royalty, the Doc Savage collection boasts an array of imaginative adventures where anything is possible. Every episode can present a different threat, set in a random corner of the world.

Furthermore, Doc is also a jack of all trades type of hero. While he doesn’t boast any superpowers, he has trained his body to be stronger than that of any other human being. He’s also a scientist, inventor, neurosurgeon, lawyer, and a detective. The character’s skills are essentially a mishmash of other pulp heroes such as Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes, albeit with a more complete skill set, but that’s part of his charm.

Since many modern viewers won’t be too familiar with the hero and his exploits, hopefully the show won’t modernize him too much. Black didn’t make his movie adaptation because the studio wanted to set the story in modern times, but we have plenty of superhero fare like that at the moment. The show can still be appealing to contemporary viewers — dynamic action, a diverse cast, no damsel in distress tropes — while retaining a period setting and an old school pulpy spirit.

Doc as a character is also earnestly good, and the stories are simple tales of right versus wrong. He’s incorruptible and kind to the people who deserve to be treated as such. But he doesn’t even kill the baddies as he has a strong ethical code that discourages him from taking lives. The Man of Bronze defeats his enemies with science and his own personal inventions, such as toxins which put people to sleep upon connecting with their body. In an age where even good two-shoes heroes like Superman have been given the cynical treatment, Doc Savage should remain fun, pure, and simple.

Pulp adaptations haven’t enjoyed the most success in the past, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be given the chance to succeed. While fun to watch, movies like The Spirit and The Green Hornet were mishandled attempts to give the classic heroes new life. Therefore, it’s important for the creators of Doc Savage to embrace what makes these stories appealing, and find a way to bring those elements to television.

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.