For the first entry in my “Alpha Male Wednesday” series, I’ve chosen “Brand of the Werewolf” by Lester Dent - featuring Doc Savage – Man of Bronze. I picked this novel up at Half Priced Books, a labyrinthine temple of the written word located in downtown Engleweird; past the Gothic Theater and the paranoid-survivalist outlet store, just around the corner from the creepy Catholic Supply Shop that looks like Sissy Spacek’s living room in “Carrie”. If Mayor Hickenlooper’s office ever chooses Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories for its “One Book, One Denver” program, this would be a good place to find it cheap.
The story begins with Doc Savage and company on a north bound train, headed for some R and R on a nature reserve belonging to Docs’ uncle. En route, the man of bronze receives a telegram from his uncle, stating emphatically that he and his friends are not welcome, making Doc suspicious that there may be trouble afoot.
Why this is the case is anyone’s guess; the man of bronze states that he’s never met this uncle, and he’s headed to his home without ever having heard back that it was okay to do so. It never occurs to Doc, for even a second, why his uncle may be just a little dubious at the prospect of having six well-muscled single men crashing in his rumpus room, eating all his Doritos. Did I mention the reserve is in Canada?
Now, I have to admit, once I committed myself to reviewing these testosterone-laden books, I became concerned that they would appeal, perhaps, to a more conservative audience. Alas, I had nothing to worry about; Doc and his gang (referred to, affectionately, as The FABULOUS Five) are gayer than Senator Larry Craig’s porn collection. His compatriots (represented here with the help of a quick Google Image Search) include:
“Renny” Renwick! – Construction Engineer. Dent continually mentions Renny’s ability to smash in doors with his “enormous hands” (and you know what THAT means…)
“Monk” Mayfair! – Industrial chemist, nicknamed for his simian appearance - the group’s resident bear/daddy.
“Ham” Brooks! – Lawyer and token metrosexual – the requisite ladies man, but possibly bi. He carries a CANE, for crissakes.
(ahem) “Long Tom”! – Electrical engineer and… uh, he’s long. Yeah, that’s about it.
"Johnny" Littlejohn! – Archeologist. He and Long Tom are like the red-shirts on Star Trek, except they never die. You’d think Doc would want to round out the team with a weapons expert, maybe a judo master or something; but… whatever.
Together, they are a crack team of globe-trotting do-gooders, like the special-ops division of the HRC.
Also on the train are Corto Ovejo, his daughter Cere and a “swarthy” man named El Rabanos, who is continually referred to throughout the book as being “girl-faced”; so - while it’s meant to be a mystery - it’s pretty clear he’s the villain. (Again, that would be misogyny, not homophobia, on Dent’s part). If that didn’t tip you off on who the antagonist is, whoever did the copy on the back cover wrote “Stalking them every inch of the way is the archfiend, El Rabanos…” so the mystery is about as thin as “Who is Darth Sideous?” in the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
Cere and her father are on the run from baddies who want to learn the Ovejo family's secret - involving a pirate ship, a hidden treasure, and an ivory cube that holds a map that will lead to both. You know, your typical, run-of-the-mill family skeleton type stuff. To keep the family at arms distance from Doc and company, El Rabanos convinces his traveling companions that the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy gang is trying to kill them.
Not having read the back cover, the Ovejos take El Rabanos at his word, in spite of (or perhaps, because of) Cere’s attraction to Doc. Doc is the prime suspect when the train conductor turns up dead, the image of a werewolf engraved on the victim’s door.
*Spoiler Alert!* or maybe, more appropriately, *Disclaimer!* … at no point does Doc Savage actually go mano e lupine with the werewolf represented on the cover. It’s mentioned more than once in the book that Doc Savage is not a super-human, but a man trained to the peak of mental and physical perfection (which probably speaks to the fact that supernatural skeptic Harry Houdini still captured much of popular imagination at the time of publication) so his adventures aren’t generally of the occult. And hey, the “let’s scare ‘em off with an obscure local legend” thing always got a pass from me on Scooby Doo. But really, the whole werewolf thing in the book is less a red herring, and more just a non-entity; it would be like calling Raiders of the Lost Ark, “Indiana Jones and the Girl With ‘Love You’ Written on her Eyelids”.
Anyway. Doc’s uncle has been murdered prior to the start of the book, because he was in possession of the aforementioned ivory cube. Doc’s cousin Pat ("It’s Pat!”), and her big fat Native American maid (who, like her “half-breed” husband, is treated here with such pathos, sympathy, and dignity, let me assure you) are kidnapped by the bad guys - which of course is a recipe for much high adventure and swashing of buckles.
The main female characters, Pat and Cere, are both described as “beautiful”. Of course, for Pat, that’s coming from the FABULOUS Five, so I’m guessing a few extra pounds and a page-boy hair cut. I concur: hot. Cere at one point attempts to seduce Doc with her feminine charms, and of course, we get the usual story about how Doc remains chaste, to protect potential mates from his enemies. Which is what Senator Craig says when his wife starts hinting around about a Hello, Kitty make-out party. Really! She said so on the Matt Lauer interview.
The climax of the book involves a hidden, booby-trapped pirate ship – if you’ve seen The Goonies, you pretty much know how that goes. Just no Sloth, and they don’t get to keep the treasure… they hand it over to a museum instead. Because Doc Savage is bigger than than anyone else on his team. And if you don’t do the honest, honorable thing while in Doc's employ, he will "Man-of-Bronze" your ass.
So, what did I learn from this book about being an alpha male?
I learned that the alpha male is not born that way. No, the alpha male is forged, from birth; raised from the cradle by his stern, taskmaster parents to become a world-class righter-of-wrongs. He is molded by a two-hour daily mental and physical exercise program; a regime that would cause a lesser man to curl up on the floor in a puddle of his own urine. His skin is baked (some would even say, “bronzed”) by the scorching sun he’s encountered during his travels throughout the exotic jungles and rain forests of the world.
Of course, requiring that sort of pedigree is bad news for the aspiring alpha males out there who were raised on a steady diet of grilled cheese sandwiches and “Thundarr, the Barbarian” cartoons.
But, hey, what are you gonna do? After all, somebody has to write these blog entries.