058. Rubber Plants and Death Devices

“The Flaming Falcons” was first published in the June 1939 issue of Doc Savage Magazine. In this story Hobo Jones finds some plants being cultivated under mysterious circumstances in a secluded area of Arizona. As we find out at the end of the adventure, the secrecy surrounds an attempt to develop a new type of rubber plant that will grow in the arid desert country.

During the time this story was written rubber was a strategic item of national importance. The entire supply of rubber for the United States was imported. The world was in chaos. The Japanese Empire was growing in China while Germany was slowing absorbing Europe. A rubber producing plant that could grow in the continental United States would have been an item viewed with great interest. The fact that it would grow in the arid regions of the country was an additional boon. Eventually, synthetic rubber was developed, but until that time, the dependence of the United States imported rubber was matter of national defense.

There is a plant named Gray Rabbitbrush, which contains a high-quality rubber. The fictional plant in “The Flaming Falcons” was yellow. It is possible the basic idea for the story was derived from this little plant.

“The Flaming Falcons” also recycles devices used in prior plots.

  • The first is the idea of a new rubber plant. This idea first appeared in “The Land of Fear” published in the June 1937 issue. This story is attributed to Harold A. Davis. The only material for this story in the Dent Collection at the University of Missouri in Columbia is an outline. 
  • Next is the idea of air-born killing machines embodied in the strange birds that burst into flames once their dastardly work is accomplished. Readers first saw this trick in “The Seven Agate Devils.” This story dates from May 1936. The infernal machines used in that story zeroed on in a victim. Instead of the poison gas used in “The Flaming Falcons,” the machines carried a stabbing device.
  • In both stories, once their work was done, the death instrument burst into flames, thus destroying the evidence.

Even with its bastardized origins this is really an excellent story.

This is not the end of the deadly flaming death devices.  The gimmick appears once more in “The Goblins” from October 1943.