1934-12 The Annihilist

Cover Date: December 1934
Volume 4 # 4
Copyright Date: November 16, 1934
Author: Lester Dent
Editor: John Nanovic
WHMC: The collection contains thirteen folders for this story, f.224-236
Working Title: “The Crime Annihilist” and “The Crime Annihilator.”
Recurring Characters. The entire Iron Crew are all present in this story.



The Crime College:
December 1934 proved to be a blockbuster story with “The Annihilist.” Here, for the first time, some of the secrets of the Crime College are revealed. We learn that the strange hospital is in an isolated spot. Crime, it is revealed, comes about from a glandular disorder, which is corrected by treatment at the facility. There is even a drug, a crime drug as you will, discovered during research that will cause men to become criminals.

There is little doubt about where the facility lies in regard to the letter of the law. Dent makes it clear that the courts are the legal mechanism for processing criminals. He also makes it clear that Doc Savage does not use the court system.

But the law doesn’t concern itself overly much with this unorthodox center. By the story’s end, Inspector Hardboiled Humbolt had a pretty clear understanding of just exactly what the remote mountain facility was. As a duly constituted law officer, he professes ignorance but as a citizen he openly wonders if he can send a few a few special friends over. Inspector Humbolt has joined the club.

Doc calls Pat Savage and invites her into the adventure. That’s a big departure from other occasions. 

Another thing in the story is the nickname Lizzie gives to Seco Nandez. Lizzie calls him “Nanny”. Seco in Spanish means “dry”. So Lizzie is something of a dry nanny.

Lewis J. Valentine was police commissioner for New York City during the time this story was printed. Valentine was known for his tough stance on crime and police corruption.

The Shadow:
There are some interesting items. A couple of times I could close my eyes and imagine I was reading about some other character besides Doc Savage. Then there’s this expression: “

  • Basenstein reporting,’ he repeated over and over. “Basenstein reporting.”
    “Report,” directed a voice over the receiver.

At this point in the story the reader does not know exactly to whom Basenstein is reporting. It turns out to be Hardboiled Humbolt but it reads like something that Maxwell Grant penned.
Here’s an example from The Shadow – “The Crime Cult” (July 1932).

  • “Burbank reporting,”” he said.
  • “Report,” came the voice.

This shouldn’t be surprising as the first story Dent wrote for Street & Smith was a Shadow story – “The Golden Vulture.”

Pulp hero aficionados may recognize another item appearing in this story. “The gun he brought out was not the regulation service revolver, but a lean-snouted .22-calibre target pistol.” This is the same weapon Richard Benson favors as The Avenger few years later in his own series.

Spanish Influenza: It is interesting to note that the “pop-eyed death” is mentioned in the same breath as the influenza epidemic. Clearly the story is referring to the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic which was only a scant sixteen years in the past.  Indeed, the term “Spanish Influenza” appears in many newspaper articles reporting on illnesses in the time before and during which the story was written.



Many years back Doc fan Jerry Cooper sent me a copy of an article titled “Crooks Cured by Surgeon’s Knife” from the July 1930 issue of Popular Science. The article centers directly on the idea that crime has distinct physical causes due to glandular disturbances:

In other words, it now seems not only possible, but highly probably, that malsecretion (that is, a secretion which is too large or too small, or chemically unbalanced) of some gland is responsible for the greater part of the crime in the world.

The article specifically talks about rehabilitating offenders — even habitual criminals — through medical treatments. As Jerry aptly pointed out at the time the article has a lot in common with the theories later espoused at Doc’s Crime College.

Batman: Years later, another Doc trademark is incorporated into the Batman comics in “Batman #2”. Now the idea that crime is a disease cured by a brain operation is one that is central to the Doc Savage mythos.

  • Robin asks, “What’s your plan Batman?”
  • Batman replies, “My plan is to abduct the Joker from the hospital before he becomes strong and wily enough to slip through the hands of the police.
  • Then we’ll take him to a famous brain specialist for an operation, so that he can be cured and turned into a valuable citizen.”

Text from “The Vanisher” Manuscript

Text in the manuscript cut from the published edition of “The Vanisher” explains that Doc Savage was politically connected with the governor. Doc was able to obtain pardons for the men he had surgically rehabilitated. Many years ago on one of the older discussion groups, someone suggested that Doc might be a federal judge. He could be a special United States Prosecutor and the Crime College could be a very special federal prison. But none of that is really necessary. Doc Savage was a medical doctor and probably a psychiatrist. He would be able to have criminals institutionalized whereby they could be cured of their mental imbalance.

There was a Jack London story titled “A Thousand Deaths” which was published in 1899. The narrator is held captive by a scientists and subjected to multiple deaths followed by resuscitation.  A 1939 move titled “Torture Ship” was advertised as being  based on this Jack London story.  However, it has more akin with the Doc Savage theory of glands than anything Jack London ever envisioned.  In the movie, Dr. Herbert Stander is a medical doctor and famous glandular expert.  He charters a ship and skips out of town ahead of a grand jury’s pending indictment. Once at sea, he begins conducting experiments using a group of criminals he enticed aboard.