After the spectacular high of Fortress of Solitude, Doc Savage loses some steam for the last two adventures of 1938.
THE GREEN DEATH by Harold Davis (I’m not sure of the artist; all rights with current holder) starts off with Johnny (though he isn’t named) collapsing in the Brazilian jungle, becoming a green mummy. Survivors of the same expedition return to New York, talking of a mysterious “green death” curse. A lot of people seem intent on keeping Doc from investigating or figuring what causes it, but eventually Doc, Monk and Ham (the best bits are some of the Ham/Monk interactions and the antics of their pets, Chemistry and Habeas) wind up in the jungle. They discover a lost city of Amazons and a crime boss plans to take the green death back to New York where he’ll charge his victims a fortune to get the antidote. I don’t think it’s giving you spoilers to reveal Doc puts a stop to that.
Lke The Sea Magician, this fells much more like a non-Doc pulp adventure. Doc uses his share of gadgets but despite that, you could plug in Captain Easy, Tarzan or any other number of two-fisted globe-trotting adventurers and get the same result (all they’d need is a sidekick who can figure out the cure for the green death). But where The Sea Magician still felt to me like a Doc Savage adventure, The Green Death doesn’t (a subjective assessment, but my personal reviews are obviously somewhat subjective). I think part of it is that the green death itself is never as chilling as the murder weapon in, say, Red Snow. And as Johnny’s the first victim, we know it’s not fatal.
Interesting point: Doc actually publishes a popular science book, Atomic Research Simplified. Needless to say it’s selling well, though that’s probably Doc’s celebrity more than the topic (but being Doc, I’m sure it’s a well-written and accurate book).
Lester Dent returns to scripting with THE DEVIL GENGHIS (all rights to cover below reside with current holder), the novel which returns John Sunlight from Fortress. We open with a series of individuals, geographically scattered, going crazy the same way—obsessively fighting an invisible (and non-existent) Something over their heads. One of the victims is the boyfriend of beautiful Riviera-going Toni Lash, who happens to be a spy. She’s recruited by a mysterious figure (Sunlight, as we eventually learn) to take out Doc Savage. And she succeeds, capturing him and some of his team. This takes up much of the novel; eventually Doc lets himself and his guys be shipped off to Mongolia and the clutches of the man behind the curtain, John Sunlight (who we’re told still has a few super-weapons from his previous adventure salted away)
Sunlight traps Doc and makes him a pitch for a team up. The world’s a mess because of endless wars and conflicts: Sunlight plans to impose a one-world government, universal disarmament and a single world tongue. He will “right the greatest wrong of all!” Doesn’t Doc want to help him make the world a better place? Doc’s response: He’ll make it better by eliminating John Sunlight. Who dies more thoroughly at the end of this book, but not so thoroughly he couldn’t come back in both DC’s Doc Savage series and Millennium Comics’ version.
This novel works better read in the original sequence than when I read it in the Bantam paperbacks with 50 stories between it and Fortress. But my reaction is still that this is a second-rate follow-up that doesn’t make good use of Sunlight. His claim that he wants to save the world comes out of nowhere (I could buy it as a lie, but Doc never questions it). He doesn’t have the creepy control obsession he did before: rather than break Toni, he simply blackmails her through her boyfriend. And the insanity is just hypnosis and drugs—he never actually uses any of the stolen wonder weapons. It’s Sunlight lite.
Toni Lash, on the other hand, is one of Dent’s super-competent female characters like Retta Ken, formidable and capable. She’s one of the best things in the book. The other is the early chapter in which Doc plays classical violin and then popular clarinet (both awesomely, of course), a deliberate push back against the over-rational training he lived with as a kid (though it’s hard to believe Doc wouldn’t be prepared for a massive turnout). It’s a cute scene. But overall, I don’t see this one as an A-lister.