The Incredible Adventures of Doc Atlas
Author: Michael A. Black and Ray Lovato
Release Date: September 2011
I picked up “Melody of Vengeance” several years ago at a Borders in Valparaiso. The writer of the book (Michael A. Black) was seated at a table with several other authors, each selling and signing copies of their work. The guy next to Black said something along the lines of, “hey, you should really check out this guy’s book,” pointing at Black. I’m a sucker for supporting new or local authors, so I happily obliged. The book ended up being a lot of fun, and definitely up my alley as a fan of action and heroics. Based on that book, I spent a few years trying to track down this collection of short stories at different book stores before finally giving in and just buying it on Amazon. The book is comprised of 5 separate short stories.
The riddle of the Sphinx – This story involves Doc helping out his old college sweetheart, as her dad goes missing while investigating a link between Aztec pyramids, Egyptian pyramids and the lost city of Atlantis. If you can’t pick out the bad guys in this story within their first line of dialogue, then you have never watched G.I. Joe or read a Stan Lee comic. Penny’s (Doc Atlas’s girlfriend) story felt particularly forced into this one as well.
Desert Shadows – Doc and the crew investigate UFO sightings in Roswell New Mexico as well as the strange death of one of Ace Assante’s old war buddies. This was the best story in the bunch, with a fairly interesting mystery and the added plus that you could see the twist going either way at the end. Also, taking place earlier in the book, some of the tropes that recur in every story hadn’t ran their course yet.
Killer Gorilla – A death row prisoner is executed, but shortly afterward somebody begins killing his old enemies, and all signs point to the killer being…. a gorilla! I should have enjoyed this story more than I did, as the idea was fun and it was kept from being too ridiculous, but it never really hooked me, maybe due to the short page count.
Arctic Terror – This is basically Doc Atlas taking place in “The Thing” movies, which is even referenced at one point by a character. This story gets hurt by being the second alien story in the collection and not being as good as the first. The characters responses to the fantastic situation are much less believable, and the final outcome unfortunately read a bit like a Scooby-Doo adventure.
The Satan Plague – This was my second favorite story, a clever idea of tying Doc Atlas to the McCarthy hearings of the 1950’s. The rest of the story (a super virus developed by Nazis) was pretty rote, but the McCarthy stuff was well done enough that it hooked me more than most of the other stories, brief as this stuff was.
Unfortunately, this collection is not greater than the sum of its parts. Reading all of the stories back to back show how formulaic they all are. A villain quickly emerges, captures two of Doc’s friends (usually Ace and Penny) and then the other two (Doc and probably Mad Dog) rescue them by a combination of physical force and firepower. Also, the exact same phrases are used so often (“golden Avenger” for Doc, “Errol Flynn look alike” for Ace, beauty with Jet Black hair for Penny) that it reads more like a drinking game checklist than actual exposition.
If Doc Atlas does return, I’m hoping it is in a full novel and not another short story collection.