Another book I pulled up out of the Big Bin of Slightly-Older Comics in my local drugstore. I was a huge Fantastic Four fan, so any time any book would show up with even a cursory connection to the FF, it went into the must-buy pile. This is an issue that wasn’t reprinted for the longest time (though it was recently included in the MARVEL MASTERWORKS collection) due to its illustrious guest star and the fact that Marvel no longer controlled the comic book publishing rights to him. It was also the beginning of a three-issue sequence, which made diving into the remaining two issues a little bit unfulfilling.
Going in, I had no situational awareness of Doc Savage especially. I’m sure that I had seen copies of the paperback reprints of his adventures around, because they were fairly ubiquitous in the 1970s and they all carried covers guaranteed to capture the attention of a young comic book reader such as myself. I wouldn’t sample a Doc book until many years later–and even then, the one I read left me cold. I don’t know quite what it is–the prose style maybe–but while I’ve been able to enjoy the pulp adventures of other characters such as the Avenger and the Shadow, the Doc Savage stories tend to bore me. In any case, going into this issue, it was the presence of the Thing that was the important component.
What was memorable about this TWO-IN-ONE outing was the manner in which writer Bill Mantlo brought the two leads together, given that Doc’s adventures all took place in the 1930s and 40s. For the first chunk of the book, we follow parallel narratives in both 1976 and 1936, in which a mystery woman comes to visit both the FF’s Baxter Building headquarters and Doc’s digs atop the Empire State Building. In the past, this is the mother, in the present, the daughter. The page layouts by Ron Wilson mirror each other throughout this sequence, which establishes the visual rhythm.
In 1936, Raymond Lightner claims to have discovered the secret of immortality, growing cold to his pregnant wife. He’s an award-winning astro-physicist, so he’s got the credentials to back up his claim. And he’s built a huge sky cannon to tap the power of the stars for his process. Fearing the result, Lightner’s wife seeks the aid of Doc Savage. Meanwhile, in 1976, Lightner’s daughter has come to see the FF because her brother, Lightner’s son, Thomas, has rebuilt his father’s sky cannon and intends to use it to complete his work. In each case, the Lightners intend to tap into the energies of a black hole that the father has discovered in deep space.
Respectively, Doc and his crew and the Thing and the Torch race towards Lightner’s observatory, arriving there just as the scientists are about to activate their respective cannons. In each case, the craft carrying the heroes is struck by the blast–and in that moment, time and space are torn asunder, and all of the characters find themselves sharing the same environment in 1976. At the same time, the beams from the sky cannons are reflected back downwards, engulfing both Raymond and Thomas Lightner, merging them into a single being with the power of a black hold that christens itself Blacksun.
For his part, Doc Savage isn’t even momentarily disquieted by the Thing’s rocky appearance–he accepts it immediately as a fact not worthy of further note, which seems a bit strange. (The same goes for Monk and Renny.) But there are bigger fish to fry. Blacksun as gone a bit nuts and is blasting away at our heroes for their interference. As he gets an inkling of just who he’s fighting alongside, Ben Grimm is much more astonished by the fact that this is Doc Savage and his men.
What follows is an extended fight scene in which nobody is particularly effective against Blacksun, despite their best efforts. Ultimately, Blacksun heads towards the sky and the pull of the black hole that empowers him–before overloading on that power and falling unconscious to the ground. This whole ending feels like somebody ran out of pages. Anyway, with Blacksun’s power gone, Doc and crew fade away, back to 1936–and Ben and Johnny make plans to take Blacksun to medical help from Dr. Donald Blake, who’ll be the next issue’s guest star. But I didn’t read that next issue for decades, so this is where the story stopped for me.