Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Doc Savage vs. The Zombies

Perhaps the purchase was inspired by my enjoyable re-encounter with Leigh Brackett's fiction. Perhaps I was simply responding to another ever-dimming echo from my adolescence. Perhaps I needed to top up my Amazon order so I could qualify for free shipping, and this little item fit to a "T." Whatever the case may be, the purchase proved to be a lapse in good judgment.

It's tempting to blame the tempter -- those carefree guys at the tastefully named Bookgasm site, a place devoted to the pleasures of low-brow reading. (Even Bookslut gives these fellas a wide berth -- heh!) Following a link from Michael Blowhard, I caught up on all my favorite "authors" from adolescence: Nick Carter, Don Pendleton, et al ... books that enticed me toward their content chiefly because of the eye-candy on the cover. Rod Lott and his crew remain enthusiastic consumers of this genre, and if you spend an hour at the site their attitude becomes infectious.

Still, I knew better than to buy a Doc Savage adventure. This was pulp fiction I'd been introduced to at the age of 11 (perfect age), but had wearied of by the age of 15. In those four years I'd somehow persuaded myself that I should be collecting something, so I went to work on the Doc Savage novels and comic books. The habit stayed with me for several years after I'd stopped reading them. At some point the penny finally dropped that this passion of mine was, in William Shatner's words, "a colossal waste of time," so I kicked the habit and moved on.

I got a life. Or so I told myself.

There are always ways to lure an addict back, of course, and Bookgasm did it by announcing that Doc Savage adventures were being re-released in their original pulp format, via a publisher named Nostalgia Ventures.

As Captain Kirk's personal hero once said, "People who like this sort of thing, will find this the sort of thing they like." I guess meticulous re-creations of first editions aren't my sort of thing. My first thought, after giving the magazine a quick once-over, was, "How incredibly gay." The front cover of The Lost Oasis presents Doc in a loincloth, chained to a post with at least three of his buddies. Flip it over, and we get a glimpse of the original cover to The Sargasso Ogre (my childhood favorite): Doc, swimming starkers in seaweed. Gentler stuff than the bondage scene on the front, but still: skinny-dipping in the Sargasso?! The Golden Press hardcover I'd read in my childhood at least had the decency to depict Doc swimming fully-clothed in jodhpurs and safari boots.

Mind you, when I was 11 I wouldn't have thought it strange to see a portrait of Doc skinny-dipping, even if the picture had included all five of his "chums." At that age, I still thought a boys-only club that met in a tree-house was a swell idea: the concept of six grown men who met on the 86th floor of a Manhattan skyscraper was simply an extension of that. Thirty years later, however, I have to admit this is not a book I want the Post Office Ladies to see me with. And I haven't even touched on the prose, which includes such howlers as (I'm not making this up) "'Holy cow!' Renny ejaculated."

Perhaps there's a reason why zombies have become predominant figures in Western adolescent culture. In a pornified age when a person can't read or watch or hear anything without thinking first of the unintended double-entendre, zombies are blissfully uncomplicated. There's nothing sexual about a zombie: it's just dead meat that wants you to join the club. After a while, the life of no life starts to look pretty good. Which gets me wondering if maybe this isn't the legitimate reincarnation of Doc and his five fellow adventurers:

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