A senior copywriter at R/GA (an interactive, digital advertising agency in New York), Malmont has been reading pulp fiction – specifically the Bantam reprints of “Doc Savage” – since he was a teen growing up in such places as Washington D.C., Virginia, Taiwan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Malmont also devoured comics starring Superman and Doctor Strange in the seventies and considers Howard the Duck a personal favorite.
In 2007, Malmont delivered his debut thriller, “The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril” to critical acclaim. The novel features Lester Dent and William Gibson as problem-solving adventurers, reminiscent of the exploits of their own creations, namely Doc Savage and The Shadow.
In his first-ever comic book-related interview, Malmont told CBR News that he can’t believe that his name is actually going to appear in print in a DC comic, and, despite the fact that Doc Savage has been around for more than 70 years, there are still plenty of stories to tell with the Man of Bronze.
Malmont also revealed he’s completed his sequel to “The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril,” a novel titled “The Astounding, The Amazing and The Unknown.”
CBR News: You have an incredibly diverse bio, from writing novels, TV and films to creating copy for an award-winning ad agency in New York City. How did you land at DC Comics as the writer of a Doc Savage ongoing series?
Paul Malmont: It really came out of my first book, “The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril.” It’s about Walter Gibson, who wrote “The Shadow,” and Lester Dent, who wrote “Doc Savage.” And I put them in the kind of adventure that they would write about. So Walter Gibson is on kind of a Shadow adventure and Lester Dent is on kind of a Doc Savage adventure and they come together and fight crime. That’s the shorthand copy.
Anyways, the books been out for a few years now and it’s still kind of a cult favorite, but my first night out with it at a reading – it was a Barnes & Noble – was publicized in a couple of local papers. And as I’m doing my signing there, this guys plops a card down on the table that says, “DC Comics,” on it. And he says, “If you ever want to write comic books, give me a call,” and it’s Joey Cavalieri, the legendary writer and editor from DC. I called like two days later, and we started getting lunches together over a couple months and I started writing a couple of things for him that, for some reason or another, didn’t get out there. The this “First Wave” broke, and from what I hear, somebody walked in to Joey’s boss’ office from marketing with a copy of my book and said, “We’ve got to get this guy for ‘Doc Savage'” and Joey’s boss called him and said, “We have to get this guy for ‘Doc Savage'” and Joey said, “I’ve been trying to get you this guy for a good year now. He’s been writing for us, and yes, he’d be perfect for it.” That’s pretty much how it came to pass. It’s been great.
Looking at your photo on your website, you don’t look old enough to have been reading pulp fiction in the 1930s. How did this love of pulp fiction come about?
Well, I found the Bantam reprints in the 1970s. I remember when the movie came out, I was probably about 10 years old at the time, or maybe a little younger, but I remember the commercials and the thing about it, I remember my dad saying, “Wow, they made a movie out of Doc Savage, finally.” Because he was a depression era kid and he read them when they initially came out. When I found the Bantam reprints, I was like, “Oh, here’s the guy they made the movie out of,” but I didn’t realize I was reading something that was written 40 years beforehand until I started reading it. And then I really fell in love with it, because I always bought, at that age, old movies about New York. I loved old gangsters movies, and “King Kong” was one of my favorites, so here’s a book set in that era! I just read them all through my teens and collected them and stopped reading them when I started reading other stuff, but it was always kind of brewing in the back of my head. Then it just popped in my head one day. I was reading an article about Isaac Asimov, and it mentioned all the pulp writers that he used to hang out with when he was young. Walter Gibson came up, and then L. Ron Hubbard and Lester Dent are there too. “Great, I know all of these guys. It would be great if I could write a story about all of them.” That’s really where that came from.
I wasn’t trying to do a pulp story. There are lots of people who do that really well, but I was just trying to capture the excitement of reading those pulps for somebody who didn’t know what the pulps were and was never going to read “Doc Savage” or “The Shadow” in their life. I tried to explain, for those of us that are fans that have this connection to the material and these writers, with the sequel that I just finished writing, which is about science fiction and the pulps in the forties, what it’s like for fans to connect with and feel like they own that material too.
You’ve just finished the sequel, correct?
Yes, I just finished it. It’s called “The Astounding, The Amazing and The Unknown” and it’s a sequel to “The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril.” It takes place in 1943, at kind of the tail end of the hero pulps and the rise of the science fiction pulps. It’s really about the birth of fan culture and stuff like that.
When is that coming out?
Hopefully, this summer. We’re trying, so we’ll see. It takes a lot of work to get publishing to react quickly. I just turned in the book a few weeks ago and there is a lot of work that has to happen – a lot of wheels that have turn. But it would be great if we could get it out by summer or early fall.
Did you grow up reading comics too?
I was a big comic book reader. I loved Superman when I was younger, and I was also a huge Doctor Strange fan. And I loved Hulk. I loved the reprints of Hulk and Spider-Man from the early days.
Marvel was a lot of fun in the seventies, but somehow I always came back to DC, so it’s fun to come to DC now. But I think my all-time favorite character is Howard the Duck. I’m a product of the seventies when it comes right down to it.
But it’s definitely been a lifelong dream to write comics. I’m going to see my name on a DC comic. I’ve waited a long-time to be able to say that. People don’t believe me when I say this is a real thrill for me and I don’t take it for granted and I hope people enjoy it. I would love to keep going with the character and keep exploring the world. It’s a kick.
Fast forward to the present and DC calls and says, “We want you to write ‘Doc Savage.'” That must have taken your breath away, as you’re such a big fan?
It was great. They showed me Brian Azzarello’s outline for “First Wave,” which started in the first “Batman/Doc Savage” crossover. But at the time, it felt like I was getting a peek into Area 51. It was this whole new world and it was very exciting. At first, they asked if I wanted to write some text, a prose story, for the back of each one and I was like, “Yeah, that would be great.” But then they asked if I would actually do, “Doc Savage.” And I was like, “Really?” And they said, “Yeah. Give it a shot.” It’s great, but it’s also really daunting because I’ve written about the character, but going at him and having to write the character is challenging – he’s a challenging character to write for, and it’s been real interesting.
I’ve finished three of the four issues that make up the first arc, and it’s been great working with Brian Azzarello – he’s the overall visionary behind it. So I get his notes, and it’s this great sandbox world that he’s created that he’s letting us play in. But he’s like, “You guys fill in the blanks here. That’s what this is for.” And then there are other times where he is like, “No. Remember…” He’s very good at reminding us that the world of the “First Wave” is a world where the characters are still the characters that we know. So it’s about their reactions in this world. It’s just been really fun.
I think my first outline was very conventional, like if I got to write a “Doc Savage” story in my dreams, this is what it would look like. It was a very PG, Doc Savage as boy scout kind of story. And they asked if I could PG-13 it up a bit, make a little bit more in this world, and then I kind of got where they were going. It was really freeing. I was able to get inside Doc’s head a little more, which is one of the things that I think always needed to happen with the character. He tends to be very enigmatic, so it’s good to be able to get into his thinking a little more.
He’s a character that’s been published for more than 70 years. How did you make a character introduced in the 1930s relevant for today’s readers?
It’s definitely a challenge. The first thing to do is remind everybody of his humanity. Remind them that the reason he’s doing this is because he cares about people, he cares about his friends who are around him and to recapture the feeling that it feels like he’s been trained to do this and that there is baggage associated to that training and then also that it’s exciting for him. He’s an adventurer. That’s something he shares with Indiana Jones and James Bond and other people. He really has the spirit that this is fun for him, and the fact that he’s doing good at the same time has lots to do with it.
But Brian is setting up in the first arc that Doc’s got some sadness over the recent death of his father, so I’m playing to some of that too. He definitely has not got Bruce Wayne-type issues, but there are definitely issues about what’s it been like to be molded by somebody to only have this specific destiny and at what point do you make it yours to fulfill and not what your father made for you? Those types of things. I think from our heroes, we expect more emotional resonance. It’s not like we have to analyze every single thing that they do, but I think for both The Shadow and Doc Savage, there’s not a lot of psychological depth there, and that’s what kind of makes them fun for teenagers – it’s just all action. You don’t have to stop and pause. But I think even Jack Bauer has to stop and pause sometimes. It’s what’s expected now.
Brian has Batman wielding guns and Mark Schultz is introducing a new femme fatale to The Spirit mythos – will we see any major differences from Doc’s established origin and backstory in your “First Wave” version of the character?
Not really. Doc was always pretty technologically advanced. In fact, what I’m doing with my storyline is I’m stripping Doc of everything for the purposes of this adventure. I was trying to go with a kind of “Die Hard” model. It all takes place in one night. Doc is stripped of all of his weapons, all of his gadgetry, all of his money, right off the bat. So really, it’s just him and his wit and his strength. I really wanted to get down to that. I cut way back on gadgets and stuff and wanted to get Doc to the essence of who he was. And his friends. I thought that was real important. But it does make it a bit more interesting if he can get his hands on a cell phone every now and then [laughs]. That definitely helps, because if you think about a lot of the old adventures, it makes it way easier if someone could just pick up a phone and call Doc and say, “Hey, I’m being held in the basement in this old house. Come get me.” So with some of that stuff, it’s kind of a challenge to overlook some of those things that would have been a plot hole earlier. I’m not trying to make it completely contemporary because it’s also fun to have some of that retro stuff. There’s a dirigible chase in the third issue that we’re working on that should be pretty amazing. The world is just really cool and exciting and adventurous.
You’ve mentioned this being an opening arc – are you writing the series beyond that?
I’m not sure yet. Obviously, it depends on how well it does. At a certain point, it’s up to the marketplace to decide if they want me there. But I’d love to stay on.
Will we be seeing Batman or The Spirit in your first arc or are you sticking purely with Doc in your first four issues?
We definitely establish Doc in our first arc. There is connective tissue, let’s put it that way, between Doc and the other characters in the universe. And we try to allude to their other adventures and stuff in this but it’s very much a Doc Savage stand-alone story within this world. It’s the villainous roots connecting all the stories. But we definitely wanted to get all of these characters up and standing on their own first.
In #3, there is a quick exchange with The Spirit and an homage to Batman and we’ll see if that makes the cut, but I had to try. I think I have a very funny Spirit appearance. Any time you get to write, “The Spirit does this,” it’s very exciting.
We talked to Mark [Schultz] about The Spirit and he said we’re going to see the Octopus in his book, but the villain may not be depicted as one might expect. Any chance we’ll see John Sunlight in your book?
Nope. And that’s not spoiler-ish. Not yet. If John Sunlight appears – and I’m not saying if he will or he won’t – that will be a really big deal.
But we’ll see the Fabulous Five, right?
Oh yeah, they’re all there, and they’re great. I’m definitely keeping the focus on Doc, because I think that’s one of the pitfalls of “Doc Savage” writing. Too often, we go off with Monk or Ham on these side-plots or side investigations that get us away from the lead character. I always liked the stories that show Doc and his team working together. That’s really happens in this. The team comes together. They pretty much stick together and work together.
And Pat Savage is showing up for the first time in this universe in this arc. Anybody who likes the Doc Savage stories has a crush on Pat. It will be good to see her popping to life again.
What about classic Doc Savage locations like his office in the Empire State Building and maintaining a Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic?
We’re not going to make it to the Fortress of Solitude in this arc but I think it will exist. In fact, it does. I see no reason why it doesn’t. The Empire State Building headquarters is there. It actually makes an appearance in the “Batman/Doc Savage” crossover. It’s gorgeous. The Hildalgo Trading Co. – the waterfront warehouse full of amazing things – is there and we’ll see it in the first issue.
There will also be some little nods to some Doc adventures. You’ll see the Wolfman costume from “Brand of the Werewolf.” You’ll also see an allusion to “Death in Silver,” which is one of my favorite Doc stories.
So yes, there is lots of Doc Savage history in there, but there are also tweaks on it, as well, to keep it topical and current and fun. You can’t pretend that Doc Savage exists in this day and age without the audience having knowledge of John McClane in “Die Hard” and Harrison Ford in “Indiana Jones” and all of these other ironic, great quipping, fast-thinking heroes with great action. But you have to reassert Doc’s position at the head of all that. And Brian’s positing on that is that Doc is the Superman of the “First Wave” universe. He’s top dog, so you have to show why.
Can you share a few thoughts on the work of Howard Porter?
I really liked his work on “The Trials of Shazam!” I thought that was really cool. His angles, his pacing and the sweep of one of his pages are just gorgeous. The way action happens on his page is so cinematic and beautiful. It’s really thrilling to see it come together.
Any other comic work coming from DC or otherwise? Any you’d like to tackle?
I’ve got my hands filled right now, but obviously I’d love to try “The Spirit.” The comedy, the medium-busting of “The Spirit” is kind of cool. Anytime you tackle The Spirit, I think you have to think about the medium in general and what can be done differently. I’d love to tackle The Shadow. I’d love to see The Shadow make a comeback.
It’s funny, because I don’t know what I’d have to say about other characters like Superman or Batman. So much has been said about them. It just happened to be that [Doc Savage] needs some new stuff. If someone said, “Do something with Superman,” I don’t even know what I’d do. I’d be thrilled, but talk about a challenge. Coming up with something new for Superman would be a mind-bender.
On the other hand, Shazam/Captain Marvel, there would definitely be some stuff to do there. I’d love try that some time. And Deadman, too, I think is a fascinating character. Those are some characters I’d love to get my hands-on at some time, but for right now, I’m just happy to be in the “First Wave” family and hope people get out and take a look at it.
“Doc Savage” #1, written by Paul Malmont featuring art by Howard Porter, is scheduled for release on April 14.