It’s a little odd for this title to launch before the second issue of “First Wave” has even shipped, but “Doc Savage” #1 hits the ground running, jumping into the story right away and explaining things as it goes, which is a positive. Paul Malmont’s script is constantly pushing forward, giving the issue a real energetic and dynamic feeling that is hampered by Howard Porter’s awkward, angular, overly-posed art. But, paired with Jason Starr and Scott Hampton’s “Justice, Inc.” second feature, it makes for a solid first issue full of action.
Returning to New York from his latest adventure, the Doc’s blimp is besieged by lightning bolts that are also striking at various points in the city, wherever his associates happen to be. Doc Savage saves a couple of boys and then has to get them out of his headquarters before it crumbles from the damage inflicted by the lightning. In an effort to distract him, Savage asks them questions and answers their own about him. This allows Malmont to give new readers a quick history of Doc Savage in a way that feels integrated into the story.
The story is fast-moving with quick cuts between Savage and the boys making their way down an elevator shaft, and Savage’s associates, all targeted by the unexplained lightning wherever they are. No answers are given, but it almost assuredly has something to do with the first page of the comic, which showed the end of one of Savage’s adventures in a truncated fashion. The emphasis on action makes the story fly by and sets up the issue-ending cliffhanger well, but there isn’t a lot of character work here beyond what little we learn of Savage’s past.
Worse is the art of Porter, which is wildly inconsistent throughout the issue. One of Savage’s associates, Remy, is meant to be so ugly that it causes one of the boys to react in disgust, but Remy’s face doesn’t look any uglier than the faces of the other characters. Eyes move around faces at random, heads change shape, and limbs grow and shrink from panel to panel. Porter has always been an artist that can be counted on for energy, but his art here is flat with awkward poses and unclear storytelling.
Porter’s art looks especially bad when compared to Scott Hampton’s in the “Justice, Inc.” eight-page back-up story. While Hampton isn’t painting his art, Daniel Vozzo’s colors have a painterly quality similar to Hampton’s usual work. He has a blocky, sketchy style with soft shadows, colored with pale, muted tones to go with the bleak, misanthropic perspective of the book. It’s not bright and flashy, but very subdued and subtle.
Jason Starr’s writing is equally subdued, though coming at the concept from a similar perspective as Malmont approaches Doc Savage: some unseen, unknown threat is attacking Justice, Inc. to get at its leader, Benny. Narrated by Benny, the writing is dark and moody as he seems to loathe humanity and the world, helping people out of a twisted desire to make bad people suffer: “So I keep my emotions to myself and devote my life to making scumbags feel the pain I feel every day. Suffer the way I suffer.” It’s a very different sort of character from Doc Savage despite a similar concept, making them oddly compatible in the same book.
While the “Justice, Inc.” second feature outpaces the lead story, “Doc Savage” #1 is a thrilling ride of an issue that doesn’t slow down. It follows up on the promise of the “Doc Savage/Batman” special and “First Wave” #1 nicely.