Welcome to another edition of Post-Game. As the title suggests, we’re aping a little NFL-inspired post-game coverage for the realm of comics, allowing a slew of creators to come in and examine their work after the fact. Through this rare instance of hindsight, we can all gain a better appreciation for our favorite stories and series and better grasp the truly nuanced creative process. And unlike with football, we promise no (excessively) wacky graphics or needlessly bulky suits.
Title: Doc Savage: The Ring of Fire
Creative Team: Written by David Avallone and art by Dave Acosta
Story Arc: A four-issue miniseries.
Original Release Date: March to June 2017
Synopsis: The “Man of Bronze” embarks on another globe-trotting adventure involving Amelia Earhart and US military bases attacked with volcanoes.
AIPT’s Thoughts: Doc Savage is a major player in the universe of true pulp fiction, and thus some creators may fumble with this larger-than-life adventurer. But in the hands of the two Davids (Avallone and Acosta), Savage is given an update for a new, more savvy audience without impacting the essence that makes Savage a huge presence. It’s a story that’s all about heart and wit without foregoing some of the overt cheese that makes the characters’ chronicles so wildly delicious.
How do you feel now that this story’s been told? Is there a sense of relief, or are there any uneasy feelings? Was its creation/development a “good” experience overall?
Overall, it was an amazing experience. I completed it some years back, but I wasn’t relieved or uneasy, that I can recall. Like with all projects you love, there is some postpartum depression. I had worked very hard on it, and grown close to the characters, and I was sorry that I wouldn’t be spending any more time with Doc, Pat, and the Fabulous Five. I even missed John Sunlight.
Are you the type of artist/writer to go back and think about what worked or didn’t with a story or the overall volume? Is that process helpful at all?
I’m not big on regrets, and even less so when I’m proud of the work. That said, when I was writing issue two (of a four-issue, 80-page story) it dawned on me that the story I wanted to tell was too big for 80 pages, and I started to adjust things: removing scenes, ideas, dialogue that I had planned to use. In movie terms, it was enough screen-time for a first act and a third act, but there’s no second act. I needed at least one more issue, and two would have been great. Still… I think the story works as it is.
Did you have any goals going into the project? Did you “complete” those in some way?
My goal, in an age where revisionist takes are all the rage, was to write a satisfying and mature adventure story that was completely in the mold of the 1930s Lester Dent Doc Savage novels. A “super-saga”, as Philip José Farmer called them. I think we succeeded in that completely, and honestly, without doing a pastiche of the period. Dave Acosta’s beautiful art is, of course, a key component of that. He captured the look and feel of a great 1930s adventure story, like Raiders of the Lost Ark.
What kind of feedback have you received? Has any of that helped shape some of your thoughts on the larger series/story?
The reviews were generally good. A group that’s been holding a Doc Savage Convention for decades invited me to be their guest of honor at “Doc Con” that year, and that felt like the book had been embraced by the “true fans.” There were some die-hard fans who grumbled that I had brought back John Sunlight yet again, and who imagined it was some kind of crass “commercial” decision… rather than what it always has been: writers like writing fun characters, and Sunlight is a fun character.
What, if anything, surprised you about how the story or visual narrative plays out in hindsight? Is there some reaction or emotion now associated with the series that you might not have felt during the actual creative process?
The writing of it, by the end, was more emotional than I had prepared myself for. I had a vague notion it would be: after all, when Amelia Earhart is one of your main characters, even in a fictional story… you just know you’re not going to have a happy ending. In the course of doing my research, I found this beautiful and haunting poem by Amelia herself, called “Courage”, and the last pages play out in “silence” with the words of the poem in the captions. Her poem was about love, but it is also about going through life fearlessly, disregarding the dangers, and it was incredibly poignant set against the sacrifice Amelia makes in the climax. I’m very proud of the sequence.
Now that it’s finished, how would you describe the series/story to someone (what’s your best elevator pitch)? Did that change at all from before publication?
In the original pitch, I had elements that got dropped: if I remember correctly, the set-up was that Doc Savage was hired by FDR to find Amelia, because she was spying for the U.S. government in the South Pacific, and stumbling across this super-weapon that John Sunlight has developed for the Japanese Empire. That’s kind of a hoary old conspiracy theory, and I discovered there’s even a movie that mines that ground (without Doc Savage and John Sunlight, of course.)
When it came to writing the story, it became this: Pat Savage has a prophetic dream that Amelia Earhart – her lost girlfriend – is still alive, and in danger. She pleads with her cousin Doc to mount a search, and by coincidence… (or is it?) an American naval base in the region is destroyed by a terrifying superweapon that activates volcanoes by remote control. Doc and his crew go to investigate, and discover his cousin’s lost love… and the volcano weapon – the Ring of Fire — in the hands of his deadliest foe.
Is there anything you might do differently in writing/illustrating/coloring/etc.? Some things you wish had played out differently?
As above… I wish I’d had twenty or forty more pages. If I’d planned a little more carefully in advance, I might have spent less time on the crippled Navy Cruiser and more time – MUCH more time – on John Sunlight’s island.
I have no complaints about Dave Acosta’s art: nothing I would change. The book is gorgeous cover to cover. Dave and I worked closely together on the look of the characters and I’m incredibly pleased with how it came out. I just want to go back there someday.
Inversely, what do you think are the highlights of the story? What are the points in which you excelled as you’re looking at the whole project from a distance?
I think the hardest thing to do, in a Doc Savage story, is make his five assistants interesting and distinct characters, rather than a collection of identifying quirks. Even Lester Dent often sidelines the more boring and interchangeable characters in favor of Ham and Monk – the squabbling, contrasting “Spock and McCoy” of the series. We put a lot of thought into all five guys, and I feel like we pulled that off perfectly well.
I think the action sequences are exciting. Doc diving out of a Ford Tri-Motor to attack a submarine full of pirates single-handed is fun stuff.
And as previously mentioned, I think the final sequence is as beautiful as anything I’ve ever written.
Do you have any final thoughts or observations on the story/series?
The trickiest thing about writing Doc Savage is that you have an audience of superfans — a very small audience — and then you have the rest of the world. The superfans want one thing, and they don’t want it changed or altered, and that thing may not be that interesting to the rest of the world. To write something so deeply rooted in the 1930s, and to reflect the positive values of that period (rather than the negative) while still engaging a modern audience… it’s a tightrope walk.
I gave that my best shot. But here is the most interesting aspect of that, to me.
In conceiving the series, I wanted to add an emotional element. A love story. I decided, for a lot of reasons, that the love story would be between two women: Amelia Earhart and Patricia Savage. There’s no particular evidence that Amelia Earhart was bisexual, but she was definitely sexually liberated in a way that was uncommon at the time. Patricia Savage, in the pulps, is, among other things, an aviator. Amelia organized “the 99s,” the first organization of female aviators in America. It struck me that they would have met, and possibly fallen in love. That gave me the emotional hook I wanted for the comic.
What struck me as most interesting, in reactions to the series, is that fans of a certain age – who might be more inclined to react badly to that plotline — either didn’t see it, or looked past it, or were fine with it. And younger readers, who knew nothing about the characters prior to reading my comic, accepted it completely and without question.
I have yet to read a single review of Ring of Fire expressing outrage that I made a lesbian romance central to a Doc Savage story. Amelia Earhart and Patricia Savage have some very protective fans, and if I made them angry, they didn’t say anything about it in public. Maybe I just missed it. But there sure wasn’t some big outcry.
Honestly, that was a very pleasant surprise.