It’s official! The “world’s first superhero” is coming to the big screen (again). Dwayne The Rock Johnson will be playing the legendary Doc Savage in an upcoming film from Shane Black, director of Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys. But there’s a good chance a majority of moviegoers have never heard of this 1930s pulp icon. To help, we’ve assembled some of the most important facts about the Man of Bronze in preparation for his return to the limelight.
We don’t expect to see this film anytime soon though, considering Black plans to start his Predator reboot in October. Not to mention The Rock is currently working on Fast 8 and is set to star in Jumanji, two Journey to the Center of the Earth sequels and Shazam, along with like 15 other in-development projects. Seriously, this is a very busy man.
But with some concrete news finally coming out about this project, this is as good a time as any for a refresher course, especially considering the good doctor may be sticking around for awhile if all goes well and they move forward with a planned franchise. Here are 12 Things You Need To Know About Doc Savage.
12. He Inspired Superman
His real name is Clark Savage Jr., his nickname is the Man of Bronze and he was originally billed as “Superman.” It doesn’t take a keen-eyed comic historian to see traces of Doc Savage in another popular hero who got his start in the ’30s.
While Doc played a part in influencing pretty much all comics to come, his connections to the Man of Steel are particularly striking. Some of the latter’s most famous aspects are even directly lifted straight from the stories of the pulp hero. Perhaps the best example is Doc Savage’s secret base — which is located in the far-off Arctic — known as the Fortress of Solitude.
11. He First Appeared in Pulp Magazines
Popular throughout the first half the 20th century, Pulp Magazines — or “pulps” — were inexpensive fictionalized stories containing lurid, exploitative and sensational plots, characterized by their colorful, eye-catching covers. Their name derives from the cheap wood pulp paper they were printed on and were initially geared towards lower middle-class readers.
Doc Savage Magazine debuted in 1933. It was developed by Street & Smith Publication’s Harry W. Ralston and John L. Nanovic. They would bring on Lester Dent, the writer most associated with the Man of Bronze, to help refine the character. As was popular with pulps, Street & Smith used a pseudonym (Kenneth Robeson) in all their magazines so they could market under a single author advertised as “the creator of Doc Savage.”
Most today have come to know the character through novel reprints by Bantam Books or through the several comic book series developed by DC, Marvel, Millennium and Dark Horse. (Doc even once appeared in a crossover with Batman.) Shane Black has said that his reboot will be set in the ’30s, when the pulps were originally released
10. His Looks Were Inspired by Clark Gable and the “World’s Greatest Model”
Around the same time Street & Smith were looking to create a new adventure hero, Clark Gable’s Red Dust was blowing up at the box office. Given the public’s growing infatuation with the actor and the mounting success of his films, the publishers figured who better to fashion Doc Savage after than the “King of Hollywood.” As a result, they borrowed the actor’s first name and rakish good looks, going as far as to explicitly tell their cover artists to make Doc look “very much like Clark Gable.”
Originally, the character was drawn with subtle golden bronze tanned skin, bronze-colored hair and eyes flaked with gold (traits that earned him the nickname “Man of Bronze”). In the cover art for the later 1960s paperback reprints, he went through a physical transformation, appearing more as a superhuman bronzed colossus with a trademark ripped shirt and distinctive widows peak crew cut. Artist James Bama created this new look off photos of former fashion model Steve Holland, who portrayed Flash Gordon in the original 1950s TV series and was famously declared by Bama as “the world’s greatest model.” Today, this is how the character usually appears, and given The Rock’s bulking stature, will most likely be the one the film is based on.
However, the similarities between the character and his real life inspirations end at their outward resemblances. Doc Savage was depicted as being incorruptible, shy and awkward with the opposite sex, several things Gable and Holland never were. Most likely, these characteristics will be played for laughs in the upcoming film, especially considering Dwayne Johnson has described the character as having “zero social graces” and is a “hilarious weirdo.”
9. He is Not the World’s First Superhero
Despite what you may hear from The Rock, Doc Savage was not the world’s first superhero. He certainly helped shape the persona, but there were several other heroic figures with super abilities who appeared prior to the Man of Bronze.
In 1902, the Chicago Tribune released a comic strip called Hugo Hercules in which the title character used superhuman strength to help citizens, pulling off such feats as lifting cars and running as fast as a speeding locomotive. This strip is often cited as the first example of a superhero comic. In Phillip Wylie’s 1930 novel, Gladiator, the main character Hugo Danner is born with superhuman abilities after his pregnant mother is injected with a serum that imbues him with the proportionate strength of an ant, leaping ability of a grasshopper, accelerated healing, and bulletproof skin. In a later adaptation by Marvel, Wylie’s creation would be advertised as the first superhero. A year later, the mysterious pulp vigilante known as The Shadow — who was a primary influence on the Caped Crusader himself — first appeared. Then there’s Ōgon Bat (lit. “Golden Bat”). Also created in 1931, this Japanese do-gooder donned a red cape (along with a golden, skull-shaped head) and possessed superhuman strength, invulnerability and the ability to fly.
8. He Doesn’t Have Superpowers
By traditional comic standards, Doc Savage doesn’t have any inherit superpowers. What he does have are an impressive array of skills garnered from a lifelong dedication to discipline and training. Like other “powerless” superheroes, what he may lack in supernatural abilities he more than makes up for in determination and savvy.
In his announcement The Rock did a good job of summing up the hero and his backstory:
Doc was physically and mentally trained from birth by his father and a team of scientists to become the perfect human specimen with a genius level intellect. His heightened senses are beyond comprehension. He can identify a woman’s perfume from half a mile away. He is literally the master of everything.
Doc’s original writer, Lester Dent, described the character as possessing the mind of Sherlock Holmes, the strength of Tarzan and the goodness of Abraham Lincoln. In addition he is a master of martial arts, a skilled imitator of voices, versed in several languages including ancient Mayan, has an eidetic memory, has levels of endurance exceeding the greatest of athletes, is a classically trained musician, and has a way with technology and the sciences that basically makes him the pulp version of Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Bruce Wayne combined.
7. He is a Real Doctor
Doc Savage’s name isn’t just for show, Clark Savage Jr. is an actual doctor, specialized as a surgeon. While this isn’t surprising given that he is pretty much a suped up Renaissance Man, how he uses his medical training is a bit unusual and (we’re fairly certain) extremely unethical.
In several stories when the good doctor would get his hands on an evil-doer, they would promptly be shipped off to “Crime College” for some experimental brain surgery. Within a cutting-edge lab using techniques of his own design, several of the world’s leading neural surgeons would perform “a delicate procedure” to cure these bad guys of their criminal ways. Once the operation was successfully completed and all memory of their villainous past wiped clean, the reformed miscreants would return to the world as healthy, happy, productive citizens.
6. He is Filthy Rich and Puts it to Good Use
Thanks to a constant flood of gold from a Central American mine bequeathed to him by local descendants of the Mayans, Doc Savage has amassed quite a fortune that pretty much lets him do whatever he wants. This includes building the aforementioned Fortress of Solitude as well as setting up a base of operations on the 86th floor of an Empire State Building-esque New York City skyscraper. He owns a fleet of cars, trucks, aircraft and boats, most of which are stored in a secret hangar beneath the Hudson River guised as The Hildago Trading Company. To connect this hangar to his offices, Doc built an intricate underground pneumatic-tube system nicknamed the “flea run.”
Being the innovative inventor that he is, Doc Savage has also used this vast wealth to develop futuristic devices to aid in his do-goodedness. These include such gadgets as a flying machine, high-speed elevator, answering machine, advanced television, night vision goggles, automatic hand-held machine guns and specialized ammunition including the sleep-inducing “mercy bullets.” Much of this technology fictionalized in his pulp adventures would later become reality.
5. He Formed a Team of Super Crime Fighters
While calling Doc Savage’s Fabulous Five the first superhero team might be a bit of a stretch, they were a group of extraordinary gentlemen who helped bring right to all.
Lieutenant Colonel “Monk” Mayfair was a chemist and former boxing champion, nicknamed due to his monkey-like features. Brigadier General “Ham” Brooks was a Kingsman-esque lawyer armed with a sword cane whose blade was dipped in a fast-acting anesthetic. Ham constantly bickered with Monk and got his nickname after the latter framed him for stealing, you guessed it, hams. The brutish Colonel John “Renny” Renwick specialized as a construction engineer and is known for his signature catchphrase, “Holy Cow!” The sickly looking Major “Long Tom” Roberts was an electrical engineer and skilled fighter. William “Johnny” Littlejohn was an archeologist and geologist, who often exclaimed, “I’ll be superamalgamated!” So, basically the nerdiest crime-fighting team ever.
Doc also had a similarly bronze-skinned, gold-eyed cousin who would tag along on missions from time to time. Pat Savage was feisty, flirtatious and wore daringly low, unbuttoned shirts while flashing her skills as a markswoman, pilot and martial artist. And what would a super team be without their own resident mascot, in this case Monk’s pet pig, Habeas Corpus, who was said to have near-human intelligence and was occasionally used as a hound dog.
4. His Archenemy is John Sunlight
Throughout his tenure as America’s greatest adventurer, Doc Savage battled everything from run-of-the-mill criminal organizations to over-the-top maniacs to Hitler. But of all those, his greatest enemy was the Russian-born twisted mastermind John Sunlight. He is the only villain to appear in more than one of the original pulp stories and is typified as the anti-Doc Savage.
Like Doc, John Sunlight is abnormally strong, intelligent and an idealist who wants to help the planet. The big difference is that Sunlight seeks to combat evil and suffering via dictatorial world domination. After escaping from a Russian prison ship that is located baffling close to Savage’s hidden Fortress of Solitude, the evil genius steals several of Doc’s deadliest inventions in order to kill the lawyer that put him in jail and conquer the world. Of note is that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby used John Sunlight as a primary influence when creating Doctor Doom. It’s hard to believe Shane Black wouldn’t use this villain in the new film in some form or another.
3. This Won’t Be His First Movie
Although Doc Savage is best known from the 181 issues of the original Dark Savage Magazine published by Street & Smith and their subsequent reprints, he would go on to star in two separate radio serials, several comic series and a 1975 movie entitled Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze.
While those other iterations of the character fared moderately well, Doc Savage’s cinematic debut was pretty much universally panned for its unentertaining dopiness. Taking a cue from the success of the ’60s Batman television series, filmmakers thought the best way to revive the pulp hero was with a story filled with self-aware campyness. Unfortunately, it missed the mark. Of course, the fact that it hit theaters the same time as Steven Spielberg’s Jaws didn’t help much either. We’re fairly certain Shane Black, with his old-school style and hyper-masculine stories that skillfully blend humor with action, will do much better with his reboot.
2. He Was Almost Played by Arnold Schwarzenegger
For the few who actually made it to the end of the first Doc Savage film, they would have seen a teaser that Doc would appear again in a thrilling sequel, The Arch Enemy of Evil. That film, along with a proposed TV series, never saw the light of day, thus ending Ron Ely’s tenure as the Man of Bronze.
In the following years, several other scripts made the rounds with little result, including one in 1999 that was set to star Arnold Schwarzenegger in an adaptation by Frank Darabont (director of The Shawshank Redemption) and Chuck Russell (director of Eraser). Arnold then ran for Governor of California though, and that film was shelved.
Arnie wouldn’t be the only big name star attached to the role before Dwayne Johnson finally landed it. The characters most recent reincarnation has been kicked around for nearly a decade, with Screen Rant first reporting on it back in 2010. Originally, Shane Black wanted Chris Hemsworth for the role, since he was a “perfect physical specimen” that would leave audiences overawed. Of course, casting the man who played the Scorpion King, Hercules, and the Tooth Fairy is by no means a downgrade. What’s more, it makes this scene in The Rundown all the more perfect.
1. He Has an Oath We Should All Live By
When Lester Dent was first writing Doc Savage, he wanted to imbue the character with a righteous moral code. This oath, which gives the Green Lantern Oath, Pledge of Allegiance, and Declaration of Independence a run for their money, pretty much provides everything we need to know about Clark Savage Jr.
Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it. Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage. Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens and my associates in everything I say and do. Let me do right to all, and wrong no man.
Words to live by.
Is there anything else we should know about the Man of Bronze? Tell us in the comments.