After last issue’s strong debut of the team of Ivan Brandon, Brian Azzarello, and Nic Klein on “Doc Savage,” I was eagerly anticipating the second issue of their run with the cliffhanger of Savage and his aides surrounded by enemies in the Zone, what’s left of a Middle Eastern country after a lengthy war. Unfortunately, the opening scene of issue seven sets the book off to a somewhat muddled and confusing start that it never fully recovers from. While last issue grabbed you from the first page and never let go, this one does the exact opposite, producing a surprisingly disappointing follow-up issue.
The problem with the first half of the comic is a mixture of the writing and art. Ivan Brandon’s dialogue mimics some of the more obtuse and suggestive elements of Brian Azzarello’s, but doesn’t provide enough context at times. While Nic Klein’s art is very attractive and worth poring over, there are some baffling storytelling choices. A big one happens when Savage steals a vehicle, uses an item of some kind to keep it driving so he can use the gun mounted on the roof to shoot mortars from the air, but, at some point, the vehicle stops on its own and he continues shooting them from a stopped position. Where and how the truck stopped is never seen: one panel, it’s driving at top speed on automatic and, the next, it’s stopped.
The mortars and darkness that befalls the Zone at seemingly periodic intervals (though not necessarily) is taken as a given without any explanation of what’s happening at all, leading to extra confusion as you search for one (or assume one is coming) and there is none. It’s not a case of Brandon and Klein relying on the readers to connect the sdots so much as they counting on the readers to shrug and say, “Oh well, I guess it doesn’t matter.”
Once the issue gets going, things pick up a little as time is spent with Savage and their aids, developing a small detail mentioned in the first issue about a friend of theirs thought dead that was photographed in the Zone. The flashback to six years previous, during the war, has Klein using a clean, retro style devoid of the heavy blacks and messier lines that make up the majority of the issue. The two-page scene stands out and catches the eye. However, the mention of McKenna last issue was so brief that, again, the reader plays catch-up to a degree.
One element of the comic that continues its high quality from last issue is the “Justice, Inc.” back-up strip where the second part of Smitty’s quest to take down a mobster on the rise goes askew on him. Jason Starr writes compelling and interesting prose, taking the story in an unexpected direction, while Scott Hampton’s dark, moody art is a perfect fit for Starr’s prose. There’s a cold detachment to the art that’s contrasted with the intense intimacy of the narration. When DC does away with these ‘second features,’ I’ll definitely miss “Justice, Inc.”
“Doc Savage” #6 heralded a strong, new run on the book and this issue doesn’t follow-up as well as it could. The beginning is a little too confusing, but it does begin to recover through the second half and ends on a high note. Maybe it’s a case of an issue that will read much better as part of the whole story, but, taken alone, it’s a let down unfortunately.