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Doc Vandal: a Steampunk Doc pastiche

Posted by at 10:00 am Wednesday, July 1, 2020 in Doc Savage, Doc Vandal, New Pulp, Pastiche, Review
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Doc Vandal: a Steampunk Doc pastiche

'The Doc Vandal Omnibus Vol. 1'I am always interested in New Pulp heroes based on Doc Savage. One I had heard of but hadn’t taken a look at is Doc Vandal, created by Dave Robinson.

While Doc Vandal is influenced by Doc Savage, he has some other influences. And a big difference is that his stories are not set in our world, but in the 1930s of an alternate world that has a steampunk element where zeppelins are everywhere, aliens exists (with hidden cities on Earth, as well as the Moon), and there are other science fictional elements.

Doc Vandal is an inventor and adventurer, assisted by three people: Vic, Gus and Gilly. So far the novels are:

  • “Against the Eldest Flame”
  • “Air Pirates of Krakatoa”
  • “Attacked Beneath Antarctica”
  • “Giant Robots of Tunguska”
  • “The Sunkiller Affair”
  • “The Ziggurat of Doom!” (come soon)
  • “The Skyscraper Thief” (further out)

Doc Vandal is James Clark Vandal. In addition to elements from Doc, he also has elements from Captain Future and Perry Rhodan. He was actually born and raised on the Moon by a group of alien AIs (including mental recordings of his dead parents), not returning to Earth until he was 18. So this is a mix of Doc’s and Captain Future’s origins, and like Rhodan, he brought back some of the technology from the aliens on the Moon.

Vandal has several degrees and made his money from his inventions (apparently there’s no horde of gold), and lives and operates from the 87th floor of the Republic State Building. He is a medical doctor, but that doesn’t seem to be a large element of this character. He has a Hudson River warehouse with vehicles, and an upstate New York estate. But other Doc elements are missing.

Vic is really Victoria Frank, a Russian expat who lost her parents in the Russian Revolution. Kind of a Pat Savage analogue, but with other influences, but she’s not a love interest for Doc Vandal, seeing him more as a brother. A pilot and daredevil, almost an adrenaline junkie, she’s one of Doc’s main aides. She actually met Doc when she was still a kid, and joined Doc and Gus. And in the third story we get hints there is more to her background, and it looks like she plays a big role in the fourth story.

Gus is really Augustus Q. Ponchartrain. And most interesting is that he’s a “talking gorilla” from a hidden city in Africa. This makes me think of Gorilla City from DC Comics, except here several gorillas leave the city and are known in the outside world, though their city was originally hidden and secret. Very smart, he has 12 doctorates, none honorary. In the first story we’ll learn much more about the origin of his people.

Gilly is Gilbert Chamber, another member of the team. He is the driver for the team, as well as a diver and a photographer. I think of him similarly to Tom Gentry, one of Jim Anthony‘s aides. He is also black, but that’s never made to be a major point of the character.

While Vic and Gus joke around and do verbal jabbing with each other on occasion, joined in by Gilly, I don’t see the full Ham and Monk dynamic I see in other Doc pastiches. Which is fine. Also, no pets are being dragged around either.

In the first and second novel, the group is joined by the love interests to a couple of the characters. They seem fully involved with the group from that point on. Another individual comes with the group at the end of the third novel, but I’ll have to see how this occurs in the next novels. I’ll let you read them and discover who these people are.

I got The Doc Vandal Omnibus, Vol. 1, which collects the first three stories.

In the first story, “Against the Eldest Flame,” the team is attacked by Nazi gorillas in a zeppelin run by zombies! This leads them to heading to Africa to figure out what the “Eldest Flame” is. Meanwhile they find intelligent dinosaurs, discover the gorilla city that Gus came from, and more. So we’ll also learn more of Doc’s origin, who Vic is, as well as who Gus really is.

Doc is approached by his closest living relative, a second cousin by his mother, to help with an air pirate attacking coffee shipments in Indonesia who has a huge flying wing in “Air Pirates of Krakatoa.” When he is killed, the team starts looking into it, joined by a mysterious Chinese woman. In trying to figure out what is really going on, we also get various giant robots and other high tech of the period. The politics of the era make a big part of this story.

In a tale with Lovecraftian influences, Doc and friends head to Antarctica to look for a lost expedition from Arkham College, Doc and Gus’s alma mater. They must contend with an ancient alien city deep under the ice, and put an end to the threat it has for mankind in “Attacked Beneath Antarctica.” It makes me think of “At the Mountains of Madness.” We get more Nazis, including more Nazi gorillas, dangerous aliens, and more.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed all three novels. I would recommend that people read them in order, as the characters grow and develop, and each of the novels is set after the prior, with new characters coming on board, and references to past adventures. Information on the characters isn’t repeated in each book, so you’ll miss out on information on them. Mysteries are brought up that will play out in future stories, so it’s best to see how it does. I’m not sure if I should wait for the next omnibus, or just go get the next two stories, with the sixth coming soon.

This is a fun series with some interesting characters, so do check it out. As these stories so far have been set in 1937, and we see that Nazi Germany and an expansive Japan exist, it will be interesting to see how things happen as the timeline moves closer to the start of World War II. We in the U.S. think of it starting in 1941, but it actually started earlier when Japan invaded China in 1937 and Germany invaded Poland in 1939.

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