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The Mental Wizard by Kenneth Robeson

 


The Mental Wizard was my first experience with a Doc Savage story. I grew up on comic books and still love them, so I had heard the name Doc Savage over and over again as one of the precursors to superheroes. I had picked up a few tidbits of information about him from interviews with comic book writers and artists, and from books on the history of comic books. (Yes, I am really that big a nerd.) But I still didn't really know the character. So when I saw a copy of The Mental Wizard (labelled on the cover Doc Savage #53) at a used bookstore I snatched it up.

I'm not going to bury the lead. I was really disappointed with this book. Not just the story either. The characters, up to and especially the main character of Doc Savage. Doc Savage is a character with no faults, and no weaknesses. I guess this made him attractive to young kids during the Depression, but now it makes him boring. He has 5 sidekicks who are all the top of their fields. But the thing is, Doc is better than them at everything, including their respective specialties. So they are not really there to help him, but instead to make sure that we know just how remarkable Doc is.

Doc and his aids all have little quirks that are supposed to come off as idiosyncrasies that make them more relatable, or something. Most of the characters instead come off as at least mildly annoying, Doc just comes across as humorless and weird and unlikeable. The guy who likes to use big words to show off his intelligence is most fond of saying "I'll be superamalgamated", a bit of nonsense that just makes him sound idiotic. They travel around with more unbelievably convenient gadgets and supplies than Adam West's Batman.

The story itself could have been interesting. The main antagonist was interesting, and sort of unique in his deceiving blandness. There is a mystery deep in the Amazon that involves the Pharaoh's of Egypt. There are people with mental powers that can make people see and hear things that aren't there ( or not see and hear things that are). There is a scandalously underutilized rebel faction amongst the mystery people in the Amazon. The story was well structured and for the most part well paced. It could have been good. But it was brought to ruin by the terrible characters and the inept dialogue. And it's a shame, because as a comic book fan I really wanted to like this.

I am leaving the door open to trying another story at some point in the future, but if I do and it's this bad I will probably give up on this franchise. The main point that I can give is that it was a quick read, so it was over very soon. And just to be clear, I love H.P. Lovecraft and the John Carter stories, so it's not just that I have an issue with the way fiction was written at the time. The conventions were slightly different then, it is true. But even in the context of other fiction of the period this just wasn't good. I know there will likely be Doc Savage fans out there who will be upset with me for being so hard on these characters and this story, and all I can say is the great thing about art is that different things resonate with different people. This really did not resonate with me at all.



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