A Writer’s Commentary: David Avallone on Doc Savage: The Ring of Fire #3, on sale today from Dynamite. Cover by Brent Schoonover, and interiors by Dave Acosta.
We begin with something I knew would be a “controversial” creative decision, among the fans. Lester Dent wrote two novels with Sunlight, and he never met Pat in those stories. (He also suffers a grisly death, but we’ll get to that in a few pages.) Here, Pat and Sunlight seem to know one another… but if you read carefully, I don’t come out and say they’ve met in person. In June of 1938, Doc’s battles with Sunlight are fairly recent. I believe Doc talks to his cousin, we know from the original pulps that the Five certainly talk to her… so I believe Pat has heard everything that there is to know about the most dangerous man to ever face Doc Savage. As for Sunlight recognizing Pat… like Doc, she’s somewhat of a public figure. She has a salon/spa named after herself in Midtown Manhattan, and she’s the cousin of the famous Doc Savage… Sunlight’s enemy. Sunlight would certainly have seen a picture of Pat Savage… and he wouldn’t be surprised that she knows about him. I suppose I could have written this scene in such a way as to make that all more clear… but I always prefer to flatter the audience, and let them meet me half way, rather than spell it all out for them. Also, “loneliness ray” is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. Pat is sassy and sharp and fearless and I love her.
Amelia at last! Her friends called her Millie. Amelia’s about a decade older than Patricia Savage. Amelia spent the late twenties and early thirties giving a lot of lectures to college students, and went to a lot of events with the best and brightest young women in the country. Also… she formed an organization of women aviators called The Ninety Nines. So when I was planning out this story it struck me that of course Amelia would have met Pat Savage (the best and the brightest, and an aviator) and they would have become very, very close. That idea sparked the whole series.
Doc tells the origin story of John Sunlight, for those who haven’t read Lester Dent’s FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE or THE DEVIL GENGHIS recently. (Go read them. They’re awesome.) Lester Dent never named the Siberian Penal Colony where John Sunlight was exiled. Because I’m obsessive about such things, I looked at Google Maps for Siberia and narrowed the possible locations down to Krestovaya. A note about Taylor Esposito’s lettering: in this issue, three languages other than English are spoken. I gave him no other direction beside “think of something to make that clear.” He made the choice to put the dialogue in a variety of colors. It cracks me up that the Soviet judge is speaking in a nice bright Commie Red.
The Fortress of Solitude… created by Lester Dent. Years later, a Superman editor (I can’t remember which one) decided if it was good enough for Clark Savage, maybe Clark Kent needed one, too. The big dude in panel two is named “Civan”, not that it matters. Panel three is Sunlight’s murder of the man who betrayed him to the NKVD (precursor to the KGB) with one of Doc’s crazy secret weapons. I thought panel three was particularly challenging to draw, but Dave Acosta can draw anything I can describe. He’s the absolute best.
Monk speaks for the Doc Savage purists, and commits a massive spoiler for THE DEVIL GENGHIS… but Doc and Ham are a little bit sharper, as detectives, than the chemist. Doc had a tendency to keep a tight lip on his conclusions until he was sure, but here… he’s finally sure.
The sound. In the original pulps, when Doc is deep in thought, he unconsciously emits a strange trilling sound. His men are used to it, but I’m sure Admiral Leahy has never heard anything like it. I didn’t want to use it gratuitously, just for fan service… but this is the moment where Doc really connects all the dots and figures out his course of action.
Morgan Hickman, our colorist, contacted me while Dave was still drawing Chapter Three, and asked about time of day in Chapter Two. He reminded me (without saying it out loud) that this “day” was getting pretty long… and it was just in time for me to tell Dave Acosta that night should be falling on the top of page eight in this comic. This gave us the beautiful sunsets at the end of Two and the beginning of this issue.
You can probably guess what “scanties” used to be slang for. Pat’s lucky that the guard outside the door is holding on to her Frontier six-shooter for her, but I think that kind of makes sense. Pat and Amelia kick ass, and Amelia lays down some 1930s Feminist wisdom. In the real world, that’s who she was, and I wanted to reflect that in this comic.
We bid goodbye to Admiral Leahy and the World War Two cruiser with the same name as my wife. Trivia: the USS Augusta gets fixed up and used by FDR and Churchill to sign the Atlantic Charter. Panel three made me laugh out loud: Dave is very clearly references another 1930s adventurer boarding another Ford Trimotor.
Pages Eleven and Twelve.
The Empire shows up: Vice Admiral Matsui (named after one of my Grandfather’s good friends) and Captain Osato (a relative of a future Bond villain, perhaps.) Captain Osato should be in a summer white uniform, but I got that note in too late… now he’s just a bad-ass rule breaker, I guess.
In panel three, my note to Dave Acosta was “draw whatever you like here for the guards, and leave me room for a couple of balloons. Depending on what you draw I will write something – hopefully funny – for them to say.” He drew them passing a cigarette and so… yak dung joke.
Another note about slavish historical accuracy. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great movie. One of my favorites. It takes place in 1936, and the German soldiers are carrying MP-38s. Which were, you know, invented in 1938. John Sunlight’s men are carrying the MP-28, a perfectly nice German machine gun which was a decade old at the time of our story. I bet a rogue supervillain could pick up a crate of MP-28s for a reasonable price.
Without thinking… I wrote a panel where John Sunlight says, “Excellent.” I didn’t intend for Dave to draw Sunlight tenting his fingers like a certain OTHER supervillain… but it was yet another moment where the art made me laugh out loud in surprise.
Panel four originally had no dialogue. When I saw it, something about the angle of Monk’s body made it look – to me – like he was kind of enjoying himself. Ham, of course, has no patience for his nonsense. So I added the two lines. In panel five, the use of the Bantam cover font for Doc’s name was my idea and when I saw it I was fifty/fifty on “too far” and “it’s funny.” I ultimately decided to keep it because – in context – Matsui is saying a name which represents more than a man: it represents a celebrity, a phenomenon, even a “brand”.
Pages Eighteen and Nineteen.
I wrote this scene a little more civilized, with Doc landing his plane at a dock (sorry) and the fight taking place on the jetty. Dave wanted something a little more rough and athletic and drew that great panel of Doc climbing ashore. Those are his “Mercy Bullets™” he’s spraying them with, so the henchmen will wake up at some point. Machine guns don’t “thok”, they “brakka” or “ratatatata.” (Again, thanks Taylor. )
John Sunlight is not above a pun. I just noticed looking at this page that Dave has maintained the uniform consistency of the Sunlight henchmen from Chapter One, and everyone is still wearing their electro-suicide belts. Nice. So here we are… three issues in, and Doc’s shirt STILL hasn’t been ripped. One issue left, Doc.
Next time: Phoenix Unbound!