At Baltimore Comic-Con 2013, Dynamite Entertainment announced it has signed a new licensing deal with Conde Nast, granting access to publish a new ongoing “Doc Savage” series this December, bringing all-new adventures for the fan-favorite pulp hero into a new generation. Stewarding Doc in a new era of exploration is writer Chris Roberson. Alongside artist Bilquis Evely and superstar cover artist Alex Ross, Roberson plans to start from the very beginning of Doc’s history — in 1933 — and continue throughout history to the present day for his first arc.
Roberson spoke exclusively with CBR News about taking on the iconic pulp hero, what it means to bring “Doc Savage” to a new generation of readers, adding more to the mythology of the character and more.
CBR News: Chris, you have a very diverse body of work in comics, including your recent pulp book “Masks” over at Dynamite. Now, you’re taking on one of the most iconic pulp heroes of all time: Doc Savage. What does it mean to you to be a part of this character’s history?
Chris Roberson: Doc Savage was one of the first pulp characters I encountered. Growing up in the ’70s, it was impossible to miss the ubiquitous Bantam reprints with those amazing James Bama covers. I started reading the novels when I was still in middle school, if I recall correctly, and Doc quickly became (and remains!) my absolute favorite of the bunch.
I have been absolutely obsessed with the character for some three decades now, and to say that I jumped at the chance to write a new Doc adventure would be underselling it. I didn’t “jump,” I stalked the opportunity and pounced.
Tell us a bit about the story you have planned for Doc Savage. Who are the major players and what kicks things off to start your series?
This is a big story that we’re telling in these first eight issues, starting in 1933 at the point where readers were first introduced to Doc Savage, and continuing on through the years to the present day. Just because the Doc Savage Magazine ended publication in the late ’40s didn’t mean that Doc’s adventures ended there. He kept on going, and in this storyline we’ll see what happened.
On the art duties, we have an incredibly talented Brazilian artist named Bilquis Evely. I was only recently introduced to her work by the good folks at Dynamite, but having seen the first few pages of Doc Savage come in, I can’t wait to see what she does with the upcoming issues.
In terms of villains, who steps up to challenge Doc Savage during your first arc? Any chance of an old, familiar face, or will it be a brand-new creation?
With one exception, Doc Savage never faced the same adversary twice. And that one exception, John Sunlight, only appeared twice. Doc didn’t have long-running rivalries or archenemies or anything of the sort. He encountered a problem, fixed it, and moved on. And I think that’s largely because crime, for Doc, was not a social ill, but a disease that could be cured. There was something aberrant in the minds of criminals that drove them to antisocial action, and as a physician it was Doc’s job to isolate that cause and address it.
Doc Savage has had many incarnations over the years. How did you walk that balance of combining the classic character that fans love with your own, unique spin on him?
I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in my brief comics career, in that I’ve now gotten the chance to work on virtually every character and concept that meant the most to me growing up. And I’m approaching Doc Savage the same way I approached all the others. Not by worrying about new readers or old readers, per se, but by taking the core elements of the character that appealed most to me when I first encountered him, and then using those as the foundation for telling the kind of story that I would most like to read.
A new ongoing series for Doc Savage opens up a lot of potential for unexplored aspects of the character and his mythology. What are some pieces of that unexplored territory that you hope to bring to light during your run?
I probably can’t say too much for fear of spoiling big reveals down the line, but I can point to the “Crime College” as something that we’ll be digging into deeply. As I mentioned, Doc views criminal action as the result of aberrant brain function, and has developed a surgical technique that can “cure” someone of their criminal tendencies. When Doc defeats a villain, if at all possible he avoids handing them over to the authorities, because he doesn’t want to see them rot in jail. Instead, he transports them in secret to a clandestine hospital facility that he owns in upstate New York, also known as the “Crime College,” where the captured villains are operated on. When the procedure is finished, the criminals no longer have the urge to commit crimes, and usually have no memory of their criminal pasts, and are freed to be productive memories of society. Many of them end up working for Doc’s organization, in one capacity or another.
Understandably, many readers over the years have found the whole idea of the “Crime College” a little troubling. And that’s something that we’re going to be exploring.
With all the titles you have going on, what kind of creative itch does “Doc Savage” scratch for you? What can you do in this book that you just can’t do anywhere else?
Most notably, this is the only book in which I get to write a Doc Savage adventure! I’m sure people grow tired of me saying this so often when I start working on a character for the first time, but this is sincerely a childhood dream come true.
What was your biggest challenge as you approached reviving the character for a brand new series? He’s obviously part of the cultural zeitgeist, but what makes this series stand out?
I think it’s a mix of things. On the one hand, Doc Savage is very much a product of his time, and much of the appeal of his setup and supporting cast can best be enjoyed when he’s set in the ’30s and ’40s. At the same time, though, the basic core qualities of the character — a person who pushes himself towards physical and mental perfection, who never lies and never kills, who travels the world in an endless pursuit of knowledge and justice — those are things that transcend the original setting. So what we’re attempting to do with this story is begin at the beginning, in an adventure set in 1933, and then gradually move forward towards the present day, preserving the aspects of the character that are more timeless, and introducing new elements that bring him more in line with a contemporary setting.
Why do you think Doc Savage as a character has managed to endure throughout the years? What do you feel is his biggest strength when it comes to character?
Doc Savage is really the wellspring from which so much of popular culture has sprung. You can see elements of him in Superman, Batman, and the Fantastic Four, but he also arguably was a big influence on characters like Indiana Jones and James Bond. I think one of the most appealing aspects of Doc Savage is that, in him, we get to see those kinds of adventure hero elements in their original form, stripped down and lean, without encumbering mythologies and continuities. And speaking only as a reader, those original adventures are just so much fun that it’s impossible not to revisit them over and over again. Our hope with this new comic is to try to communicate some of that fun and appeal to contemporary readers.
“Doc Savage” #1 launches in December.