Men of Bronze and Shadow

Batman Doc Savage Special

Written by Brian Azzarello
Illustrated by Phil Noto
Published by DC Comics

I am a fan and writer of pulp fiction. That’s pulp fiction in lowercase letters. Not the movie, although I like that too. If you frequent my website you’ll see my influences and my love of the stories that predate comic books, which is why I had mixed feelings about this comic. It’s published by DC Comics, which means it will have some bigger backing than other companies publishing the same content. It’s written by a guy who knows his crime: Brian Azzarello, who wrote 100 Bullets. But in recent interviews he’s talked about changes. Was he just pulling our leg for fun? I put this up for discussion on the Pulp Tone Facebook page, and pulp fans were not happy.

In the end it comes down to the finished product. Would it be worth the five dollars or would the creative team crap all over what’s come before? It’s a risk for what is a prologue of a six issue mini-series, with maybe more to come if it sells.

When you look at the cover, it’s evident that J.G. Jones knows what he’s illustrating. He’s either a fan or he’s done his research. Usually when an artist adds his own two cents you’regoing to get something you either like or don’t. I like the cover. I think his Doc is a good mix of the original Savage, the more human/normal looking version, with Bama’s book cover MAN OF BRONZE helmet head. People may hate me for it, but I was never a fan of Bama’s look. J.G. has the widow’s peak, but it looks like natural hair. Not a helmet. The design work does nothing for me; it’s not horrible, but it seems like an afterthought.

Then we turn to the first page. This is Batman, so the entire opening scene is based around a rather bloody murder and Batman is ultimately framed for it. Throughout the comic we come to find that the story takes place about a month into Batman’s career. He’s in his early twenties and we get the billionaire playboy before the needless angry brooding version. He even comes with gun holsters and yes he uses a gun. Two guns, in fact. Pure pulp. Brian nailed it.

Phil Noto does a decent enough job. I’m a fan of his work, but it just doesn’t fit the bill here. I think Batman, and, yes, Doc Savage, and I think gritty black and white pulp illustrations with deep blacks and shadows, a no-brainer for this kind of pulp fair. Yet in this special we get his signature “Playboy cartoon” style, as I describe it. There’s nothing wrong with the work. I just think he was poorly cast in the role.

His Doc Savage is indeed the Bama helmet-head I don’t like at all. Why they went this way, I couldn’t tell you. The really great thing about this comic is that, in the back, there are a few pages of concept design with Brian’s thoughts (but I’ll give you the run-down in a bit). The Doc design from the cover also appears. Moving forward, I can only hope they go with that version.

In Doc’s timeline we’re just at the point where he comes back to America. His parents are dead and he’s a few days from forming his team, but first he needs to get away and jump into a good mystery to clear his head. He goes to Gotham and plans to arrest the Batman. One would figure that the big tie-together would be the death of both sets of parents, but it’s only briefly mentioned. Doc has no issues with his life being in the public eye whereas Batman subscribes to the less they know, the better. (I only say briefly mentioned because it’s up to the reader to figure this all out. I’d be hard pressed to find somebody who doesn’t know of Batman or his origin these days, but a few captions could have helped here if you want to get a broader audience.)

Doc is essentially Superman and even has a Fortress of Solitude, so we get that Superman-Batman dynamic throughout the issue. Why we didn’t get the Shadow instead could more than likely be attributed to Batman bringing in more readers (as well as character rights). Does anyone even know who the Shadow is these days? Did you know about Doc’s Fortress? Maybe I’m just the oldest 30-year-old I know. I’d like to hear your thoughts on the characters even beyond this comic.

We get to see the early days of Gordon, as well as of the Gotham Police Department and its thoughts on the two “heroes.” Doc is put on a pedestal, but everyone thinks the Batman needs to be taken down. We see how each is portrayed in the public eye: Doc doesn’t have a secret identity, and in the case of Batman/Bruce Wayne we get both sides as well.

Of course, Doc figures out that Batman is framed in the end, but it seems like that plot is an afterthought. Let me correct that. It’s just not important. The most important aspect of this comic is characterization and I think Brian pulled it off brilliantly. Natural dialogue and, contrary to the worry of many pulp fans, I think he treated the characters with as much respect as he could. Nothing is changed for the sake of. All we need to know about the characters is the core of what makes them tick.

There is a reason why this comic is part of the First Wave line. It brings everything back to basics. It doesn’t strip down the so-called superheroes, it just shows why they’re still awe-inspiring and relevant after all these years. Folks, in some cases, these are the characters that modern-day comic books are based on. There’s always talk of updating them for the modern times, but maybe it’s not the characters who need updating. Maybe it’s us as readers. Regardless of the technology in some of the stories, the core themes of the characters are timeless. I’m not a fan of changing for the sake of change or for the reader to feel comfortable. I’d rather expand their horizons a bit.

The concept sketchbook in the back contains Batman, Doc Savage and his crew, Justice Inc. (with the Avenger), The Spirit, Black Canary, Rima the Jungle Girl, The Blackhawks, and some villains, as well. If that doesn’t wet your pulp appetite, I don’t know what will.

Is this the best pulp we’ve ever had? Probably not. But as a creator that is known for his love of the genre I can honestly say that it’s true to its roots. I couldn’t pick out the esoteric faults it may have but it sets out to do what its made for. It entertains us and shows us the majesty of these by-gone characters.


Anthony Schiavino can be found talking comics, movies, television and all things pulp at his Pulp Tone website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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