All truly great and legendary heroes are only half the story because – in order for them to earn that ‘legendary’ status – they must have an adversary equal to their strength, cunning, and ability. Only in facing and, ultimately, besting a foe equal to his measure can any champion truly rise up and take his proper place in the society he feels responsible for safeguarding.
Without this ultimate challenge, he can still be a great man -- or a great woman -- but there will always remain that lingering doubt -- that nagging suspicion -- about whether or not he legitimately had what it took to possess ‘the right stuff.’
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last paragraph for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
John Sunlight – a convict who managed a prison break out of a Siberian stronghold – and what remains of the crew of an Arctic icebreaker stumble across a mysterious blue dome, one which holds more secrets and more treasures than anyone could possibly imagine. In reality, the dome is the secret property of Clark Savage, Jr. – aka Doc Savage – and it houses any and all forms of evil science he’s thwarted from being released on an unsuspecting mankind. What starts out as a happenstance discovery could lead to the end of life as we know it unless Doc and his faithful companions can’t uncover the Sunlight’s secret identity as well as his plans to profit from Doc’s good works before it’s too late!
This blue dome is known as Savage’s “Fortress of Solitude,” a haven for one of the greatest minds on our planet … and before anyone gets his or her undies in a bunch the character and property of Savage actually predates Superman by nearly a decade. In fact, there’s reason to suspect that a Superman tinkering co-opting the idea of such a fortress from the annals of Doc’s adventures instead of vice versa, but we’ll leave that debate to scholars who are more ‘in the know’ than I. Doc’s fortress was a secret location for him to go and practice his particular brand of science, and, as thus, he would need to keep all that evil away from the wrong hands … such as John Sunlight.
These pulp adventures were intended to be little more than nonstop adventure – think of them as comic books in prose form – and much of FORTRESS is a joyous romp. There’s action aplenty – with high-tech James Bond style wizardry of every possible stripe – and there are even a couple of tough ladies of Amazonian strength named Giantia and Titania to serve up some surprising fisticuffs. Literally, this is a tale that could be told in bullet points – Sunlight escapes; Sunlight uncovers the Arctic stronghold; Sunlight desires to put Savage in his place; Doc rises up and chases Sunlight and his cohorts; etc. – and the slim, tight prose (not always entirely effective but definitely tight) pushes the reader forward from one ‘point’ to the next.
Inevitably, these yarns were structured to lead to showdowns, and therein lay FORTRESS’s greatest misstep (in my opinion): there isn’t any.
Now, truth be told, there’s a climax, and, yes, it’s fraught with as much action and adventure that anyone would come to expect from any Doc Savage tale … but it’s just that these two great characters – Doc and Sunlight – never really face-off in any respectable head-to-head match-up. Instead, Sunlight’s forces and Doc’s forces clash, and, in the confusion, Sunlight gets away, living to fight another day (which everyone knew was going to happen anyway, most likely).
Still, it’s told with enough vim, vigor, and gusto that this reader of pulp will await the next contest, all the while hoping that our hero will finally give our enemy the thumping that he deserves!
Look, I can be honest about it: these older pulps are not everyone’s cup of tea. But if you know what you like, and you like what you know, then DOC SAVAGE: FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE is a solid non-stop pulp adventure that gives the Man of Bronze a genius-level adversary – one for the ages. Yes, the prose has all the claps and traps so common to the age in which it was written (obvious smarmy jokes, lightly fleshed out characters and situations, etc.), but keep in mind the era in which this style was created, and it’s easy to forgive.
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
What's your opinion on Fortress of Solitude, by Kenneth Robeson...?