What strikes me about the first Doc Savage novel is this: how fully formed and complete the character is even at the very beginning.
Sure, Doc shows a little more emotion than we would later learn is normal, and he even killed someone, but nearly everything we associate with and define Doc Savage is here: his tremendous, Tarzan-like physicality, the way he does some little thing that seems unimportant at the time but later on turns out to crack the case, the bickering between Monk and Ham, Doc's lack of interest in women or romance. The plot of "Man of Bronze" is the same formula, already in place, as the archetypal Doc Save story: it starts in New York and ends in a journey to some exotic locale, a murder happens by some unknown supernatural means that later turns out to be perfectly explicable and altogether ordinary and rational, the main villain is a masked leader of a criminal gang who's identity is not revealed until the last page.
In fact, the first book is so similar to the rest, it's something of a disappointment. I was expecting something very much like the early episodes of Star Trek before the series took shape, where Spock smiles and is called a "Vulcanian," people wear wrong-colored shirts, the ray gun props look laughably out of Buck Rogers, and the ship's doctor is a different person.
What It Ripped Off:
King Solomon's Mines.
Essentially, the plot of "The Man of Bronze" is similar to King Solomon's Mines. Doc Savage, hearing about his dead relative, goes to look for his lost treasure, which leads him to a lost city of Mayans, all the while curing a horrific red splotch plague. The villain, just like Gagool from King Solomon's Mines, is a horrifying sorcerer, the Winged Serpent, who turns out to be a faker with no power at all the heroes defeat by beating them at a "wizard contest" they win with trickery.
Weird/Hilarious Sign This Was Written in the 1930s:
The South American henchmen use machetes, which the novel stops to carefully explain is actually just a local name for a "corn knife."
I find that hilarious, since these days that kind of hacking cleaver is known as a machete (or for you CNN viewers, a panga, the weapon of choice of the Rwanda Tutsi genocide), and the term "corn knife" is totally unknown!
Also, there's this bizarre blurb inside the pages, reprinted in the copyright-violating Black Mask reprints (despite their illegality, the highest quality and reprint the original pulp mag's art).
I guess they slipped that in the first page to encourage people who leaf through these mags on the stand to actually buy it.
Weird Doc Savage Skill:
As this is the first story, this is the first time we ever hear Doc Savage's hair is waterproof, shedding water like a duck's back.
Debunk of the Day (Spoilers):
The mysterious red splotch death plague of the story? It turns out to just be virulent parrot fever introduced to an Indian population that had never seen it before. Nothing supernatural about it, but surrounded by irrational fear and folklore – something to remember in this day of wild crazy panic over AIDS and swine flu.
Moments to Mention:
"But this land is all yours."
"In the eyes of civilized law, probably so," Doc agreed. "But there's another way of looking at it. It's a lousy trick for a government to take some poor savage's land away from him and give it to a white man to exploit. Our own American Indians got that kind of a deal, you know."
Doc Savage, like the "hip" Marvel heroes, always seemed more on the bleedin'-heart, humanitarian end of the political spectrum. He avoided killing and his stories expressed a sincere, idealistic belief reform is possible for hardened criminals.
There is an unintentionally creepy moment, in light of the modern anthrax scare, where Doc receives a red envelope covered in plague germs. That's the kind of specific murderous detail that makes me doubt the target audience of this were the young 'uns.