With Phil Winslade providing art for this issue, Ivan Brandon steps outside of the current storyline to show us a related tale that takes place several years previously during the war in the Middle East that’s been alluded to during the current story. Since that story revolves around Ronan MacKenna, a friend and ally of Doc Savage thought dead in the war, an interlude featuring MacKenna and the good Doctor in the war is an ideal companion piece. This issue adds some subtextual depth to the regular story and gives us a little more insight into the areas where Savage and MacKenna disagreed, something that is sure to come to the forefront as the story picks up next issue.
Savage is working with MacKenna’s unit over four years into the war as they’re tasked with taking down small encampments, often against superior numbers. The issue starts with a scene that shows off just how awesome Savage is as he catches a rocket-propelled grenade in mid-air, throws it back at where it came from (with the narration “The men would swear it goes back faster”), and, then, rushes the building, shoulder blocking it into collapsing after the grenade weakened its structure.
The rest of the issue is like that, but with Savage not always able to think out every variation and plan for everything. That adds a little bit of humanity into Savage and also makes a larger point about the war, how it’s bigger than even him. So far, Brandon’s run on the book has shown Savage as a near-unstoppable man of action, but watching him do what he meant to and still fail shows how this war could be going on for 50 months with the likes of Savage on the side of the Americans. Sure, he wouldn’t be able to fight every battle, but his mind is one of the best in the world. If even he can’t outthink something so big and horrible, no one can.
MacKenna provides a stark contrast to Savage, a man that goes with the flow and makes things work to his advantage. MacKenna is constantly arguing with his superiors about baffling orders and nearly gives into the brutality of the war by the end of the issue. He’s not someone with Savage’s luxury to take the long view. MacKenna seems much more down to Earth, while Savage just floats above everything, saddened sometimes by the view. The contrast is an interesting one that I can’t wait to see play out when the main story picks back up next issue.
Phil Winslade provides intricately detailed, gritty art that brings home how screwed up and needlessly brutal the war is. He meticulously stages a car chase that involves Savage hopping from one car to another, never losing track of where everything is, while still showing it all in a dynamic, engaging manner. His Savage looks like someone more than mortal, but that grows weary and beaten down as the issue progresses. The Savage at the end is one that looks tired, but holding it together because that’s what expected of him. He needs to be that inspirational superman and Winslade draws him as such.
As far as ‘time out’ issues go, this is one of the better ones I’ve read. Stopping the story mid-arc to tell a related interlude is risky, but Brandon and Winslade make it work by focusing on telling an entertaining action story, and highlighting the relationship between Savage and MacKenna. These scenes easily could have been flashbacks interspersed in a regular issue, but, by putting them all together as a single story, there’s more cohesion and impact.