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Walk On The Wild Side: Doc Savage & King Kong at 80

doc savage and king kong
Octogenerian Birthday Babies Doc & Kong

2013 marks 80th anniversaries for two icons of adventure, Doc Savage and King Kong.

My love for King Kong stems back to the 1950’s when the RKO Pictures catalog first came to television. That group of films was relentlessly screened by WWOR Channel 9 in New York as part of their “Million Dollar Movie” format. It offered proto “monster kids” like myself an opportunity to see the great gorilla trilogy of King KongSon of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young as many as 7 times in one week! What a wonderful way to imprint young brain cells forever.

My early 1970’s film writing professor’s cringed at my glowing critiques of Kong, a film they clearly considered high camp but the ensuing years have looked on it with a kinder skew. The world at large seems now more likely to agree with my view that it is as an elemental example of cinema where unfettered imagination and technical talent converges.

Alternately, I became a fan of Doc Savage fiction back in the 1960’s when Bantam Books revived the series in paperback format adorned with spectacular James Bama cover paintings. At the time I had no idea they were reprints of pulp books from thirty years earlier. Much like the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars and Earth’s Core novels I was devouring concurrently, they were exciting and timeless stories aimed pretty squarely at a boy my age.

Two On An Island…
To celebrate these fortuitous 1933 births Altus Press will publish a pulp inspired tale bringing the two titans of American pop culture together. Scheduled for release in March Doc Savage: Skull Island will be the fifth installment of the company’s Wild Adventures of Doc Savage series and will be penned by neo-pulp and comics author Will Murray (aka Kenneth Robeson). Murray has been the leading legacy author of Doc Savage stories since he completed several of Lester Dent’s outlines for Bantam books.

Cover art will be rendered by Joe DeVito who is no stranger to the octogenarian characters. DeVito previously illustrated Kong:King of Skull Island, which is available for your iPad or Nook tablet, and has supplied art for Altus Press’s previous Doc Savage extrapolations.

The new story will take place in flashback after Kong’s fall from the Empire State building which also serves as Doc’s NY headquarters. Doc relates his first encounter with the outsized gorilla in the 1920’s which Murray notes will interconnect with Savage’s familial backstory. “I knew it had to be written with reverence for both of these immortal characters. So I used the locale of Skull Island to tell a larger story, an untold origin for Doc Savage. It all started back on Skull Island….”

Bama – Lama – King – Kong…
It’s interesting to note that Bama also illustrated the cover of Bantam’s first paperback edition of the Kong novelization. I still treasure my well worn first printing, purchased off the local newsstand back in 1965.

Should you not already own it, Brian M. Kane’s book James Bama – American Realist pulls the artist’s key works (including his art for the classic Aurora monster model kits) under one cover. It’s beautifully printed and offers a look at some of the photographic model poses Bama worked from for the Doc Savage paintings. I was fortunate enough to grab a signed and numbered deluxe slip-cased edition (with DVD) when it was first published in 2007, but hardcovers are still out there for a reasonable price. Highly recommended to say the least.

SkeletonPete Says…
This mash-up of two of my favorite adventure characters is an irresistible lure and I’m personally hoping it’s a grand slam rather than an offbeat footnote in their histories. I will admit to a bit of wariness based on the need to keep the power and mystique of these archetypes unmarred. Nonetheless this is one of the few books in recent memory I can say I’m eagerly awaiting.