July 8, 2016


Crossover and team-up books are standard in comics. It makes a certain amount of sense: having brightly colored heroes team up to take on large threats make really good illustrations. Making a similar team-up work in a pulp/prose format...might be trickier.

Doc Savage: The Sinister Shadow (available in softcover and Kindle) combines two of the best-known pulp characters in a really great novel....and which exceeds Dynamite Entertainment's Justice, Inc. comic from a few years back.

Now, if you're looking for the traditional heroes meet/they fight/they realize they have a common enemy plot structure....this isn't the book for you. In fact, it's a mixture of styles: Will Murray structuring a Walter Gibson-style plot using Lester Dent's material for a follow up to The Golden Vulture...and all under the "house name" of Kenneth Robeson for the Wild Adventures of Doc Savage line.

And yet Doc Savage: The Sinister Shadow never feels overstuffed....in fact, one of the book's key strengths is how it layers is multitude of influences.

Despite its Doc Savage moniker, the novel is structured more like one of Gibson's Shadow novels, with a lead-off involving Lamont Cranston meeting Harvard-trained lawyer Ham Brooks for assistance. As the story progresses, we learn about a criminal named the Funeral Director who is blackmailing and murdering key individuals. Suffice it to say, Brooks' sudden disappearance spurs Doc Savage and his two aides, Monk and Long Tom, into action.....

This is where Doc Savage: The Sinister Shadow really shines. Most Doc Savage plots tend to be straightforward, piling on incident after incident (after all, Dent perfected that kind of storytelling structure into an art form). But placing Doc in the midst of a Shadow novel makes it deliciously more complicated. Bringing a more optimistic character into a swampy, almost noir-ish setting (don't believe me? Buy and read any of Gibson's Shadow novels via Sanctum Press), Doc Savage: The Sinister Shadow gives the story a bit more of an edge.

There's also a deft intermixing of concepts and tropes from both Doc Savage and The Shadow, meaning that there are some very clever "Easter eggs" for long-time pulp fans...but that engage casual readers without alienating them. (Good example: the Shadow's interest in Doc Savage's "crime college.") As the story progresses, there are elements taken from past Shadow novels, and for the big reveal....it's a little obvious (based on wordplay), but it also flows in a very satisfying manner.

(If you're a relative newcomer, you're not going to be confused. In fact, Doc Savage: The Sinister Shadow will motivate you to seek reprints/new books with both characters).

When I was a guest on Art Sippo's podcast, we touched upon the fact that I had not read Doc Savage: The Sinister Shadow...and was very enthusiastic about reading it.

Now that I've read it, I thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so that I have a large pile of Sanctum reprints to start working through.

This is a must-read in every sense.

Go. Buy it. Now.

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