We got the writer commentary from David Avallone for the recently released Altered States: Doc Savage. Normally we run them in one piece but because of the detail and the number of pages we have to show, we are going to do it in two parts this time. Enjoy.
Last fall I got an email from Joe Rybandt asking if I'd be interested in writing a couple of their "Altered States" books. When he offered me Doc Savage and The Shadow I was particularly thrilled, because they're old favorites of mine.
For Doc, the concept I was given was Doc does an experiment on himself and finds himself reduced to a primal state or thrust into a barbaric past. I decided to do both things, after a fashion.
For general inspiration, I read an old Doc adventure from 1934 that took place at the Crime College (The Annihilist) and I had an old Steranko illustration open on my desktop. For reference, I thumbed through Philip Jose Farmer's DOC SAVAGE: HIS APOCALYPTIC LIFE.
Page 1: Our story opens at Doc Savage's "Crime College". Doc Savage never hands criminals over to the cops: he takes them to his institute in Upstate New York, (probably not far from my Alma Mater) and "rehabilitates" them. This is where I got the idea for Doc's motive for the experiment. He's studied crime and criminals his whole life. This is a way to get at the root of it.
Page 2: Originally I had Doc using some kind of machine to reduce himself to a primal state, but I decided to honor Altered States (one of my favorite movies/books) and have Doc use a South American drug instead. In the pulps, Doc has a long-standing connection to the Mayans, which made this a natural fit.
Page 3: I was very happy to be able to use the title "Doc Civilized". If I remember correctly, Robert Bloch (the author of the novel Psycho) once said, "No one would read a pulp called 'Doc Civilized.'" My father (who was friends with Bloch, thought this was a great observation. Considering the story, I thought it fit nicely here.
I considered whittling down the Fabulous Five to just Monk and Ham, for the sake of economy and ease. A lot of the later pulp writers did this. (Monk and Ham are easily the most distinct and fun of the group.) But I decided to rise to the challenge, and also throw in Pat Savage. On page three we get six little portraits, so that the reader can get a solid grasp on them all.
Pages 4 and 5: I needed a way to show both Doc's perspective and what was happening in reality. This two page mirror spread seemed like the best way to set that up. I didn't want to have to keep doubling up the action all issue. I figured after these two pages I could cut back and forth easily and the reader would stay with me.
Doc's perception is so skewed he imagines the lovely Pat with a beard.
I haven't mentioned Dave Acosta's art yet. Dave is fantastic, and a joy to work with. I couldn't be happier with his work on the book. I love his costume choices for the Five and his gorgeous, tough Pat Savage.
I have her kind of take charge here. I don't know what the precedent is for who's in command when Doc is out of it… but it seemed natural. The Five are all talented screwballs but they're not "leaders" particularly.
Page 8: The top two panels are all Dave Acosta. The split panel, and the triptych of faces were his idea, and I think they're great. I think panel two is a reference (intentional or subconscious) to some of the promo art from the 1970s Hulk TV show.
Page 9: Radar won't be invented for another six years… but Doc is always ahead of the curve. In 1934 there was a lot of research going on around the world into pre-radar technologies, so this isn't such a giant stretch.
We will bring you the second part of the commentary tomorrow.