Saturday, March 23, 2013

Doc at his most Savage! SKULL ISLAND by Will Murray - where Doc meets King Kong!

Wow. This is Doc Savage as you've never seen him.

Even without King Kong, this would be one of my favorite Doc novels ever - and that's saying something, seeing that almost two hundred of them have gone before.

The story starts with Kong lying dead at the foot of the Empire State Building. Doc and the gang were not involved in the events that led to the King's demise, but the city asks them to supervise the removal of the oversized remains. For Doc, this is a sad affair, because if he and Kong were - if not friends - at least old acquaintances. And once the body is on its way back to Skull Island, he tells the guys how that first meeting came about.

In flashback, we're with twenty-year-old Doc as he returns from the war in Europe, where he and his future associates became fast friends. He's summoned by his father, the close-mouthed and mysterious Clark Savage Sr., who desires his presence on a voyage to the South Seas. The trip is well underway before Clark Sr. reveals the true purpose of their mission: They're seeking Doc's grandfather, the near-legendary seafarer Stormalong Savage - who's been missing for years. (In a nice touch, Clark Sr.'s vessel is a black-hulled schooner, much like that piloted by Lester Dent's Black Mask hero, Oscar Sail.)

This first portion of the voyage, in which Doc and his father get reacquainted - or more properly get truly acquainted for the first time in their lives - is the closest to literary fiction a Doc novel is ever likely to come. This is some fine writing from Will Murray, proving he's capable of far more than simply channeling Lester Dent (which he does, of course, very well). It's no wonder this is the first Doc novel bearing his own name rather than the traditional "Kenneth Robeson."

But Skull Island is first and foremost an adventure story, and the adventure aspects build gracefully until Doc, his pop, and yep - old Stormalong Savage himself - find themselves battling prehistoric monsters and bloodthirsty Dyak headhunters while trying to evade the king-sized grasp of Kong, the undisputed lord and master of the island.

Kong, as you might expect, is awesome, and a real badass when riled, but we also see a softer side to his character, and get some insight into what motivates him. This makes his movie fate all the more poignant.

And then there's Doc, more savage than we've ever seen him. As we know, he's a product of his intensive training, and this novel takes place just after WWI, where he's been trained to kill. And man, did he learn! This is Doc Unleashed, as he snaps  necks, bashes brains, slices off body parts, and mows down the headhunters with his newly invented annihiliator machine pistol (which fires real bullets). The battle scenes are a real kick, and it seems unlikely we'll ever again see the like.

Along the way, we get tantalizing hints of the wild lives led by Clark Savage Sr. and his pop Stormalong, and even the pre-war life of Clark Savage Jr. The result is a unique and thoroughly satisfying Doc novel. This would seem open up new vistas for Mr. Murray to explore. I can't wait to see what he does next.

The trade paperback is available NOW, and coming next month is a limited edition hardcover with the wraparound cover shown above. Order info is HERE!


Charles Gramlich said...

OK, I've heard too much raving on this one. I'm buying it. Just put it in my cart. That price is awfully high it seems to me, though.

Evan Lewis said...

You won't be sorry, Charles!

Anonymous said...

In the first two or three pulp magazine stories in 1933, Doc Savage killed villains, sometimes pretty ruthlessly. After that, the violence was toned down considerably, and Doc and his sidekicks used "mercy bullets" (apparently some sort of tranquilizer darts). Doc also used a nerve pinch to harmlessly subdue opponents, decades before Mr. Spock. Maybe S&S realized that a lot of the readers were kids, so they decided to set some limits. For that matter, Batman started out as a ruthless vigilante, before DC Comics adopted a policy against excessive violence.