Shiny Shelf

Batman/Doc Savage Special #1

By Mark Clapham on 18 November 2009

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

I don’t hate this special crossover, unlike a couple of other reviewers, but I’m a little surprised that they didn’t beat it with the most obvious stick to hand – that, as an update of the pulp genre for a modern audience, it is simply nowhere near as good as Brubaker and Philips’ ‘Incognito’.

Whereas ‘Incognito’ integrated the mad scientists, two-fisted heroes and so forth into a contemporary witness protection story with style and wit, this pilot for DC’s ‘First Wave’ – essentially a reboot of the pulp characters DC owns, slotted into a post-war styled but otherwise modern universe – feels like a relatively clumsy mash-up of the pulps and DC’s usual superhero housestyle.

The main problem here is Batman. I don’t really care about the stupid carrying-guns-but-not-killing-with-them thing – after Frank Miller had Batman use brutal indoctrination techniques of the kind usually reserved for the Lord’s Resistance Army on Robin, any dumb thing they do with new versions of this character are better by default than the Bat-Child-Abuser – but his presence in the story is pointless and disruptive. It’s Batman, but a bit different, and this instantly shoves the comic from being a pulp revival into being just-another-superhero-book.

The logic, of course, is that Batman will help bring sales to the book. However, sales of periphery Batman books are not that high, and dedicated Bat-fans are unlikely to be happy with this version of the character.

This leaves Doc Savage a bit pushed to the sidelines of what should be his big revival, and leaves even less room for a plot. Essentially there’s a murder, Batman is accused of it, Doc investigates, they fight a couple of times and at the end Batman is exonerated and they buddy up a bit. There’s some kind of conspiracy, but it isn’t very interesting so far.

What we’re left with is the old ‘two heroes fight, who will win?’ thing, and if you’ve ever really cared how a clash between two smart, rich, brawler detectives would unfold, then Azzarello lays it out logically enough before the inevitable compromised conclusion.

Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of question I’m interested in, and Azzarello’s ice-cold writing style doesn’t make much effort to sell Doc as an appealing character (or Batman, come to think of it, but he needs the help a lot less). Sure, he’s cool, he’s badass, but what else? If I was easily impressed by the tropes of old genres rehashed with a slightly modern twist, I’d go read a Warren Ellis comic. A warmer touch would be welcome here.

This special isn’t a bad comic, as such, and the preview pages at the back are sufficiently intriguing that I’ll definitely pick up the first issue of ‘First Wave’ (apart from anything else, I do like the Blackhawks rather too much). It’s a shame that Azzarello’s behind-the-scenes working is more interesting than what he’s actually put in the script for this issue.

The one major redeeming element here is the art by Phil Noto – it’s gorgeous, with a real sense of mid 20th century cool. Noto balances the grit, the glamour and the action in his art far better than the writing, and he carries it. If you like Noto’s art, then this is worth a look. However, if you’re looking for a great Batman story, or a stirring pulp revival, then this is not that hot.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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