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Doc Savage and The River Extraction

(Originally published Sunday, May 6, 2001, in The News Herald)

Cover Art by James Bama

As a youngster, one of my greatest literary heroes was Clark Savage Jr., better known as "Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze." A millionaire, surgeon and inventor, Doc traveled the planet righting wrongs with the aid of his World War I buddies, Monk, Ham, Johnnie, Renny and Long Tom (and sometimes his cousin Patricia Savage).

Written by Lester Dent under the pen name "Kenneth Robeson," Doc's adventures were set in the 1930s and featured in pulp magazines of the day. I became familiar with him in the 1970s when Bantam reprinted the serialized stories in the form of paperback novels, Marvel Comics published illustrated tales and Warner Bros. produced a campy movie starring Ron Ely.

Without doubt, Doc was the template on which other superheroes and adventurers were built. Clark Kent owes more to Clark Savage than a first name. (A "biography" of Doc released in the 1980s linked him by blood with the English nobleman called Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes and Lamont Cranston - "The Shadow.")

Ron Ely as "Doc"

Doc's base was on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, but he also had a secret "Fortress of Solitude" in the Arctic where he exercised his mind and body to the pinnacle of human perfection. Invariably Doc's physical exertions and hand-to-hand battles resulted in his safari clothing being reduced to tatters. (The number of shirts he went through was used to comic effect in the film.)

That image came to mind this week when I heard the tale of Ebro dentist John Savage ripping off his clothing as he dived into the Choctawhatchee River to pull a patient out of a sinking car. (Call it an emergency dental extraction.)

"It was strictly an immediate reaction," Savage said later. "They asked me if the water was cold and I had to say I never even knew if it was cold or not. There was just too much tension and too much tragedy about to happen.

John Savage, DDS

"I tried to get my socks off, but there wasn't time to get them off."

The car had raced out of control and bounded between trees and over a sand bank where Savage's riverside office (and Fortress of Solitude) sits; the driver initially had trouble getting out of the car and then struggled to swim while wearing steel-toe work boots.

"I'd try to help anybody in that condition," Savage said. "I didn't have time to think about it."

Once again, "Doc Savage" was the hero of the moment. Now he's back at his day job - fighting for tooth, justice and the American way.


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