I recently read “The Midas Man” and followed that up with the “Mental Monster.” The latter is a rewrite of the former. This recycling of stories is nothing new. What really intrigues me about this is that the recycled plot gimmick is presented as an entirely new concept. This is not unique. There is no prior recollection of previously encountered ideas such as dinosaurs, invisibility, force fields, mind reading, and such as the series moves into the 1940s.
That story provides a distinct break from the prior stories. Doc Savage and his men encounter a prehistoric world filled with dinosaurs in “The Other World.” This is similar to the situation on Thunder Island in “The Land of Terror” from April 1933. The problem is that there is no recognition of the prior story. In fact, the text goes on to explicitly state this is a new experience for Doc.
“Because his previous knowledge was limited to what scientists had been able to deduce from fossilized fragments, specimens found preserved in asphalt pits or elsewhere, the bronze man’s interest in studying the surroundings firsthand was intense.” – “The Other World,” January 1940
This is all a new experience for Doc Savage and his men. Therefore, it is also a new experience for the readers. This represents a clear break from the prior stories – Series I.
Clearly, there are two distinct Doc Savage series. Series I ended around issue seventy with “The Devil Genghis.” Series II began sometime after this but no later than “The Other World.”
The next big question is how do the chronologists reconcile these discrepancies?
To be sure, the editors at Street & Smith had little to no consideration over series continuity beyond how it impacted sales. This is a construct of modern readers who have the luxury of examining the entire series through the multitude of reprint editions currently available.
1939 was a transitional period for the series.
- The Devil Genghis, December 1938 – SERIES I
- Mad Mesa, January 1939
- The Yellow Cloud, February 1939
- The Freckled Shark, March 1939
- World’s Fair Goblin, April 1939 (William G. Bogart)
- The Gold Ogre, May 1939
- The Flaming Falcons, June 1939
- Merchants of Disaster, July 1939 (Harold A. Davis)
- The Crimson Serpent, August 1939 (Harold A. Davis)
- Poison Island, September 1939
- The Stone Man, October 1939
- Hex, November 1939 (William G. Bogart)
- The Dagger in the Sky, December 1939
- The Other World, January 1940 – SERIES II Begins
A Possible Explanation
I spent some time thinking about this yesterday before I finally realized a possible explanation was staring me in the face. Many readers are aware that there is a continuity problem with “World’s Fair Goblin” in that the story appears to occur before the 1939 World’s Fair opens to the public. That story features a machine of incredible power. The gimmick in this story was something called “animal” electricity. The goal was to use this strange energy to create a “Man of Tomorrow.”
In the story, two of the large exhibits at the fair, the Perisphere and Trylon were actually part of a gigantic machine secretly engineered by Dr. Mandroff to capture or create this new type of energy. At the story’s climax, the machine is switched on with terrifying effects. The amount of power is so enormous that only a newly invented device, an atomic accumulator, can store the power.
One theory for the inconsistencies in future stories where previously encountered occurrences are viewed as new could be a result of an unintended side-effect of the powerful Perisphere-Trylon generator. Suppose the cosmic forces created by this machine frayed the fabric of space-time. Then when the machine stopped the elements of time fell back into place but not in the exact manner as before. This would account for the time displacement of the story occurring before the fair opened. Other events such as encountering prehistoric life on Thunder Island, invisibility, mind reading, and such are now connected to some future occurrence. The overall effect would be to change the past and the future in such a manner that it was impossible for anyone to know any such change had occurred.
The events in “The Land of Terror” disappear from the minds of everyone. This particular incident is splintered and now linked to future events that then happen in “The Other World” and “The Time Terror.” The situation in “The Midas Man” disappears from the past and becomes “The Mental Monster.” Past actions that happened in “The Red Skull” reemerge in the timeline in “The Devil’s Black Rock.” The list goes on for other scenarios that on the surface, to the outside observer, appear to be recycled plots. Readers are aware of these changes because they sit outside the universe in which Doc Savage operates.
It is just an idea and if you have another one, I would love to hear it.