Jan 25, 2014

Doc Savage: The First Gay Superhero

When I was a kid, I never cared much for Marvel comics, other than the gay-subtext heavy Werewolf by Night, but in the summer of 1972, my eyes were drawn to the gleaming hard-muscle physique on the cover of Doc Savage #1, "the first superhero of them all!"

How was that possible?  We already had Superman, Batman, Spiderman....

Turns out that Doc Savage got his start as a pulp hero, first created by Lester Dent in 1933 (5 years before Superman). His adventures have been reprinted in paperback form from the 1960s through the 1990s.  There have been comic books, two radio series, and a 1975 movie starring Ron Ely of Tarzan fame.

Like Batman, Doc has no superpowers; he relies on his superb physique, scientific gadgets, and medical training to fight evil (when he catches villains, he gives them brain operations to cure them of their criminal tendencies).

Unlike Batman and every other superhero, he doesn't wear a spandex costume; he appears shirtless and bronze and gleaming.

He lives and works on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building in New York City, accompanied by his team, "The Fabulous Five."
1.-2. Chemist Monk (who has the build of a gorilla) and attorney Ham, who feud with each other.
3. Renny, an engineer with a massive physique of his own.
4. Long Tom, a long, thin engineer.
5. The egghead archaeologist Johnny.

The only regular female character was Doc's cousin Pat, who tagged along on adventures in spite of being told to "wait here where it's safe."

Here are some of the plotlines:

Johnny finds a prehistoric egg that may have hatched into a dinosaur.
Monk runs afoul of the mind-controlling Lucky Napoleon.
Ham witnesses "the rustling death" that drops men out of airplanes.
A naked man is fished out of the Atlantic and hailed as a prophet.

Quite a lot of captures and nick-of-time rescues going on, and not a lot of hetero-romance.

Other members of the team occasionally get girlfriends, but as Monk explains, "There won't be any women in Doc's life."  He has a female companion in the 1975 movie, but doesn't kiss her.  Many rescued damsels-in-distress have tried to snare him, but he tactfully rebuffs their advances.  He has, you see, "no time for women."

Yeah, right, no time.

Philip Jose Farmer's A Feast Unknown (1969) gives Doc Savage and Tarzan an abusive sexual relationship.

Heterosexual fans have faced the "accusation" of Doc's gayness for many years, usually with shrieks of "No way is Doc gay!"  But a surprising number of gay kids found a role model in the Doc