Have you ever
looked a word up in the dictionary and found something else that you weren't
looking for but it was interesting? From
The American Heritage Dictionary: Superman:
2. In the philosophy of Nietzsche, an ideal superior man who, through the
exercise of creative power and his ability to forgo transient pleasure, would
live at a level of experience beyond the standards of good and evil and would
represent the goal of human evolution
Nietzsche was a famous German
university professor and philosopher who lived in the last half of the
nineteenth century. The idea of a
superman, or ubermenschen,
as it appears in the German language, is one of his better known ideas.
There is a
lot more to the idea that the simple explanation shown in the dictionary. It turns out that current moralities and laws
do not apply to this superman. He is
above them and makes his own laws and morality.
How does this relate to Doc Savage?
Well, here is a pretty good explanation for the Crime College.
his unique career, Doc Savage maintained an odd institution for the treatment
of criminals. Criminals and evildoers,
no matter how severe or heinous their crimes, were not turned over to legal
representatives of the government. These
individuals were not afforded "due process" as it is so popularly
named today. Their day in court never
Savage was a law unto himself. Crime was
presented to the reader not as a social problem but as a medical
condition. Law breakers where sent to a
secret facility maintained by the bronze man.
There they received medical and psychiatric therapy that cured them of
their criminal tendencies.
initially learn about the institution in The Land of Terror (April
1933). Treatments are described as
psychological. Surgery is not mentioned
as a course of treatment. Episode by
episode, secrets of the mysterious asylum unfold.
have no say in their treatment.
Candidates are drugged and shipped to the facility no matter how great
the distance. The followers of the Cult
of the Moccasin in the Louisiana swamps are sent to northern New York State
just as readily as a native New Yorker.
series we see an expanding course of treatment given at Doc's special
"Crime College". In June 1933,
during The Polar Treasure story, it is explained that graduates also
receive surgically induced amnesia. A
deep hatred of crime in instill in each man.
Students learn a useful trade that provides them with a livelihood upon
graduation and their reentry into the world.
The top men
at the facility, the surgeons and psychologists, are all protégées of Clark
Savage, Jr., MD. Throughout the entire
series Doc Savage is portrayed as an expert in countless fields. However, the author never lets you forget
that medical science is Doc's most accomplished area of study.
institution is expanding. Doc's success
in capturing criminals necessitates enlargement of the facility. Doc and men determine that Captain McCluskey
have no legal claim to the Oceanic
Treasure. They resolve to get it for
themselves and use it to expand the Crime College.
College does not limit itself to the treatment of small-time or petty
crooks. A very unusual group of men head
north, on a long journey from South America, to the Crime College. They are leading men in the local nitrate
industry. They are also criminals. Regardless of their social or economic
standing, they will be treated for their "disease".
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 discovered
during research that will cause men to become criminals.
little doubt about where the facility lies in regards to the letter of the
law. 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.
A few 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:
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
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.
By March 1935
Doc Savage and his men have developed a scary reputation in the criminal
mind. As a means of intimidation, Monk
proposes to kill and cremate a petty criminal.
The threat is merely bluff but Dorgan, the criminal being questioned,
believes it genuine. Doc has a fearsome
reputation with the underworld.
A new wrinkle
is revealed in The Spook Hole (April 1935). Doc sends an injured criminal to a doctor
with a note entitling him to ten thousand dollars. The criminal will get the money but only
after graduating from Doc's Crime College.
Apparently treatments were still being modified. The ten grand cash
graduation gift was a new part of the treatments.
A few months
later in The Majii (September 1935) the reader meets a plum man who is
head of a large psychiatric hospital.
Undoubtedly it is Bellevue but it is not named as such. The doctor turns out to be one of Doc's
mentors. He is one of the many talented
individuals Doc has trained under. The
man makes no bones about Doc Savage's superior knowledge.
Just who is
the doctor? We never really learn
exactly but the question arises as to whether he is the individual referred to
in The Spook Hole. Is this the
man the criminal went to for treatment of his physical injuries? Is this doctor privy to the Crime
College? Alas we can on speculate to
interesting fact surfaces regarding Doc's unusual treatment center. We are told that it has been in operation a
"long time". The Majii
is only the thirty-first adventure. Less
than three years has passed since the first story. That short amount of time hardly accounts for
the operational period alluded to in the story.
In The Men
Who Smiled No More (April 1936) the reader becomes acquainted with the
Domyn Islands. It is a mining facility
operated by a company of which Doc is a stockholder. Many of the rehabilitated graduates who have
no close ties or occupations are sent here to work at well paying jobs.
begin making guest appearances in the stories.
In The Vanisher (December 1936) Doc Savage is wanted by the
police in connection with the murder of a Federal agent. Doc encounters a cab driver who
enthusiastically offers his assistance.
The man is one of Doc's graduates.
the series we are repeatedly told that a deep hatred of crime is instilled in
graduates as part of their treatment. The fact that Doc is now wanted by the
police makes no impression upon the man at all.
He offers his unconditional support to the bronze man. It is a revealing
scene. Loyalty to Doc Savage supersedes
newfound status as a wanted criminal gives the newspapers an opportunity to
vent their spleen. Doc's never-ending
refusal to grant interview is a source of irritation to many members of the fifth
estate. Newspapers are quick to jump on
the bandwagon. Prominent in the
headlines are questions concerning the many individuals who have completely
disappeared after coming in contact with Doc's organization.
present in the published edition, the original manuscript for The Vanisher
also possesses a very interesting passage regarding the Crime College.
prevent the cured criminals being returned to prison, Doc had a rather unusual
working agreement. The governor of the
state owed the bronze man a debt of gratitude, and by way of repaying same,
managed the issuance of pardons to such individuals as Doc designated.”
This is an
astonishing bit of news and raises questions concerning Doc's unique crime
curing facility. Whether or not the authorities
knew exactly what was going on at the Crime College they were apparently
willing to act on Doc's recommendations regarding pardons.
story was so extensively rewritten that the above passage became
superfluous. It is an important insight
into Dent's unrecorded ideas and it raises some interesting thoughts concerning
the operation and legal angles around the crime college.
February 1937, The Derrick Devil, the Crime College has an unblemished
record. The amount of recidivism is
graduate appears in The Feathered Octopus (September 1937). He drives
the ambulance that carries some captives to the College. A significant portion of this story occurs
overseas. That presents no impediment to
their treatment. A steamer is diverted
to pick up the candidates for transport to upstate New York.
Repel from October
1937 provides an intriguing glimpse of the treatments. Apparently the actual criminal remediation
constitutes a small portion of the overall treatment. It is a painful lesson for Cadwiller
Olden. At the story's climax we are
treated to a fight between Doc and the mammoth mute, Nero.
are the rules?" she asked gayly [sic].
said, "I do not think there are any rules," and turned and broke
Nero’s jaw with his right fist. Simultaneously, Renny and Long Tom went into
threw himself at one end of the men he had lined up so carefully.
turned off the lights.
"bad" Balwins are recent Crime College graduates. Their course of treatment was swift and did
not involve surgically induced amnesia.
More interesting is the attitude struck by Doc Savage concerning the
fight rules. Doc's statement about the
lack of rules is very mindful of Nietzsche's ubermenschen.
in ever increasing numbers with The Red Terrors (September 1938). Doc's yacht crew consists of treated
men. More importantly we learn that many
of the men become operatives in a vast "information-gathering agency"
that Doc runs. It is an important asset
in his life's work of fighting wrong doers.
A month later
the scope of this agency seems to have expanded (Fortress of Solitude,
October 1938). It is a worldwide agency
comprised solely of men processed through Doc's Crime College.
reappears as John Sunlight describes Doc Savage:
scientifically trained young man," John Sunlight continued,
"dedicated himself to a strange career. A career of aiding mankind and of
increasing his own knowledge that he might help the human race.
aspect of the Crime College treatment appears.
Doc Savage offers to perform surgery on everyone. There is a two-fold purpose in this offer. First it would destroy their memories of the
horrible events they have undergone.
There is a strong suggestion of cannibalism during the period they are
marooned in the icebound ship. Secondly,
and more importantly for Doc, they would not remember anything about the
Fortress of Solitude.
Mad Mesa (January
1939) is very insightful regarding admission to the Crime College. A couple of small time criminals are sent to
the institution. One of them is a
waitress who was only a minor criminal but she gets the full treatment anyway. Draconian is an apt description for the
punishment here and it would be such to an ordinary person. But Doc is a "superman" who is
above the standards observed by ordinary mortals.
deviation from the standard treatment, The Dagger in the Sky (December
1939) provides an opportunity to work with a group of men who control much
wealth. Doc explains that they can be
trained to become philanthropists.
make an appearance in The Spotted Men (March 1940). The police take custody of the mobsters but
later turn them over to Doc for shipment upstate to the Crime College. The
police are assisting Doc! This however,
does not appear to be an enduring occurrence.
In The Evil Gnome (June 1940), the police apprehend Doc's
prisoners and thus destroying the men's chance at rehabilitation.
Goblin (July 1940) gives readers a glimpse of the crime college. It is no longer so remote that an unknown car
cannot simply drive up to the gate. The
story begins with the escape of one of the patients.
Jones turns out to be an odd patient.
His hobby, it appears, is killing people. He is a particularly bloodthirsty
individual. He is also the first person
to flunk out of the Crime College. We
learned that Bill Larner whom was introduced in The Evil Gnome was a
particularly vicious criminal. However,
he was successfully treated and became a useful citizen.
Jones' therapy is unsuccessful because of certain head injuries he had received
earlier in his criminal career. He has a
mental short circuit of sorts that blocks any kind of medical treatment.
For a story
with a Crime College graduate taking center stage The Flying Goblin is a
pretty flat. Birmingham Jones, who has
the potential to be the most interesting character in the story, has a limited
appearance. One of the more debatable
items in the book is the ultimate fate of Mr. Jones. Near the end of the story Doc explains it
Jones, when picked up at the island, will probably never be sent back to the
college. He likes too well to kill people."
understood what the bronze man meant.
sentence is the kicker. Just what did
the man of bronze mean? Was Doc going to
euphemize him? Was Birmingham Jones
going to get an express ticket to hell courtesy of Doc Savage?
appear to be a complex problem but in my opinion it has a simple answer. Birmingham Jones had committed two murders on
the high seas. There is a witness to
At the time
of the novel, murder was punishable by death in practically every major country
in the world. I feel confident that Doc Savage
simply let the legal authorities handle the situation. It should also be noted, at least in the US
criminal justice system, that executions followed close behind convictions
during this era.
later in the September issue the Crime College takes center stage again with The
Purple Dragon. Hiram Shelleck is a
graduate who is firmly entrenched as an upright citizen in a small Colorado
town. Hiram, we learn, has been a decent
hardworking citizen for ten years.
that mean? It means the Crime College
has been in operation since at least September 1930 -- at least two and
half-years before The Man of Bronze.
Then we learn that Hiram Shelleck believes it to be 1929 rather than
1940! It would be logical to assume 1929
was the date he "enrolled" in the Crime College so apparently the
thing has been going on for some years now.
interesting fact comes to light. Doc
Savage is a heroic figure to Hiram Shelleck.
It is mindful of the attitude expressed by the taxi driver in The
Vanisher. This further reinforces
the idea that the Crime College regimen includes a strong indoctrination of
loyalty to Doc Savage.
It is clear
from the events told in this story that the "decriminalization"
process employed at the Crime College followed a regimen of psychological and
chemical treatments. The surgical
aspects of the curriculum dealt only with the removal of past memories.
points throughout the next several issues an assorted mix of criminals are
packed off to the Crime College. The
next notable mention occurs in The All-White Elf (March 1941). Doc's crew heads for a refuge to
regroup. Monk is surprised to find two
men he knew from a previous encounter.
They are Alec and Joe and they are successful oyster fishermen. The significant fact here is that Doc knew
where they were while Monk did not.
College makes another big appearance in The Talking Devil from May
1943. Blackmail is at the heart of the
story that involves discrediting several graduates from Doc's facility. A couple of very interesting things also crop
the facility isn't nearly the secret that it should be. Rumors and inklings of its function
abound. Several newspapers launch an
attack on Doc with questions about the College raising the most concern.
begin popping up all over the place.
Here's a statement by Long Tom: "Sam
Joseph is No.1," Long Tom said. Doc Savage has no idea what Long Tom is
talking about. It turns out that Sam
Joseph is a graduate. This is
astonishing. Long Tom gives Doc names of
several other individuals whom he does recognize. Same Josephs is an anomaly.
remark about being No. 1 could be interpreted in two ways. He may mean that Sam Joseph was the very
first patient processed by the Crime College.
The other alternative is that he is simply the first of the other
graduates who are being framed. These
are the same graduates whom Doc Savage recognizes by name, but not Sam Joseph.
To think that
Doc Savage would forget that Sam Joseph was a graduate leaves one
flabbergasted. It just would not happen,
especially since it appears that Sam was apparently the very first
patient. So what is going on here? One possible answer is that the Crime College
has been in operation much longer than supposed. That it was the elder Savage, Doc's father,
who started up the strange institution and began rehabilitant criminals before
Doc ever became aware of its existence.
Also note the
obvious lack of awe Sam Joseph has for Doc Savage. This attitude is completely unlike that of
the prior graduates we have met in prior stories.
seems to further verify that many of the authorities are perfectly aware of
exactly what the Crime College is but are more than willing to turn a blind
eye. The local District Attorney should
be included in the list of people in the know.
His statement is little more than a wink and a nod. If there were any doubt about it, that notion
is quickly dispelled when the gang leader's fate is explained.
We are left
with the fundamental question of what exactly motivated Doc Savage to operate
such an institution as the Crime College.
Was he a proto-superman operating under the ideals espoused by
Nietzsche? Perhaps, but then again
countless other convincing arguments can surely be made to rationalize such
methods. They only need someone to lay
thing about this business with brain operations brings up a bit of irony. Going back to the pre-Columbian civilizations
of America it should be noted that many of the more complex native cultures
practiced something called trephination. It is a medical procedure whereby a section
of the skull was removed. Causes
necessitating such drastic action might range from head injuries or severe
headaches caused by bad spirits.
Sometimes the patient died, but remarkably, many lived despite the
primitive conditions under which such a delicate operation was conducted.
Let us not
forget that Doc Savage was an adopted member of the Mayan people and perhaps
the last practitioner of a lost art.
Nietzsche was an interesting man.
Besides the idea of the ubermenschen, or superman as it is
popularly translated, he was the father of many famous quotes. Here are a couple of interesting ones:
He who fights
with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze
for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
Out of life's
school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.
Alas to say,
all that serious thinking and philosophizing was not without its cost. Nietzsche developed serious mental problems
and spent the last years of his life in a mental institution.