Review: Batman/Doc Savage Special #1

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If you’ve followed Major Spoilers for any length of time you know two things; 1) I’m a big Doc Savage fan, and 2) I’m a bigger Batman fan.  With DC’s release of Batman/Doc Savage Special #1, one would think I’d be in seventh heaven, on a high no other fanboy could achieve.  You can think whatever you want, that doesn’t necessarily make it so.

bmdsav_cv1_copy.jpgbmdsav_cv1_var_copy.jpgBatman/Doc Savage Special #1
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Phil Noto
Sketchbook material and variant cover by Rags Morales
Cover by JG Jones

As I get into this, I think a little timeline is needed to put some things in perspective in regards to this issue. It may explain why some things appear in the issue, and dates on others, but it also causes much confusion.

  • 1905 – Colt semi-automic .45 caliber pistol introduced
  • 1931 – Chateau Marmont reopens as a hotel (reference used as the Gotham Grand)
  • 1933 – Doc Savage debuts
  • 1934 – Cierva C.30 Autogyro (seen on the cover) is introduced
  • 1939 – First appearance of Batman
  • 1939 – World War II begins
  • 1940 – Batman stops using guns with the introduction of Robin
  • 1941 – United States of America enters World War II
  • 1945 – World War II ends
  • 1949 – Final Doc Savage Magazine published (181 issues total)
  • 1964 – Bantam Books reprints original Doc Savage stories, and Doc gets the recognizable James Bama treatment.
  • 1966 – GE’s Porta Color television introduced, one of the early inexpensive color televisions, prompting the broad acceptance of color TV
  • 1987 – DAT Tape introduced
  • 1989 – Construction of Los Angeles U.S. Bank (Liberty) Tower completed

Since Doc Savage ponders the nature of life after witnessing the death of someone during “the war”, and considering writer Brian Azzarello places Batman in his early twenties, and Doc Savage is said to be in his mid-thirties in this series. That would place this story squarely in the late 1950s. Why in the heck would you then include references to story plot points that were already out of date, or items that had not yet been invented? One might explain away all this nerd/fanboy nonsense I’m partaking in, by saying this story takes place in the new DC 52 Universe, on a world where the old and the new mix together in a fantastical way that makes the story timeless.  The creators even went so far as to purposefully not put a date on the numerous papers seen in the issue, but purposefully include ads that show food prices that could lead a really interested reader to a specific date. That timeless concept might actually work if calling out these items in the story didn’t end up pulling the reader out of the story itself.  As much as I wanted to enjoy the story, I kept getting pulled out by these nit-picks and it nearly ruined the reading experience for me.

It took me three readings of the issue and completely ignoring the art by Phil Noto in order to follow the story.  In it, Doc Savage feels he is compelled to go to Gotham City to put an end to the Batman scare that is threatening the city.  Batman is blamed for the shooting death of a local porn film producer, because Batman has been spotted with a pair of .45s, and opening fire on bad guys.  While many, like James Gordon, are excited by the arrival of the Man of Bronze, others, like Bruce Wayne, take the opportunity to play the offended drunk playboy in order to get Doc to take a poke at him to judge how he fights.  Fortunately, Doc proves Batman’s innocence by the end of the issue, and the two have a conversation over their methods of fighting crime. There is an understanding between the two, but this is not an Earth-DOC version of the World’s Finest.

Azzarello does a pretty good job of writing, and trying to show how the two heroes are similar in their focus on crime, but in trying to show their similarities he flips their goals to create an odd moment in the tale.  Doc sees himself as a protector of the world, using his skill and abilities for the betterment of all.  However, he takes time away from a more serious personal matter (that of dealing with the recent death of his father, which places this story before the original Man of Bronze tale written by Lester Dent), to investigate the single murder of a man.  Batman, on the other hand, is concerned about protecting his city, but ends up investigating and discovering The Golden Tree, a global organization that will feature prominently in future First Wave tales.  It takes the two talking at the end to get their priorities back in order and to gain a greater realization on what it means to fight crime.  While Batman says, “Leave Gotham to me, you save the world,” I’m not sure either character realizes there was a priority switch.  I’m probably reading more into this than the normal person, but again I have a great interest in seeing Doc Savage succeed than the normal reader.

The mystery of the murdered porn producer only serves as the MacGuffin to get Doc to Gotham, as it only takes Doc two observations on two different occasions to deduce that Batman is not the killer, and one news conference to convince the people of Gotham.  What is interesting in the issue is how each goes about their particular investigative methods.  The young Batman is all about guns and muscle, while Doc is all  science and observation.  There are some tough spots in the dialogue, especially during Jimmy G’s speech on the nature of Batman and Doc, as one really doesn’t expect Gordon to be lit up.  I like that moment, but it did take a moment to recognize what was going on.  Likewise, I really like how readers are lead to believe the opening monologue is that of Batman, only to turn the tables on the reader by revealing it is the private thoughts of Doc.

While I complained about the visuals of historical elements taking me out of the story, Phil Noto’s work is spectacular.  I like how Doc Savage looks like a cross between a young Steve Holland (the model for the 60s Bama covers), Ron Ely, and Chuck Connors, while Bruce Wayne looks like a very young Cary Grant.  The facial work by the artist is also something to pay attention to, as you can see the younger, and smaller, Bruce Wayne take on the facial expressions of the older, and bigger, Savage in their exchanges.  It’s a nice touch that helps in the character development.  Of course the rest of Noto’s work in the issue is excellent, whether he is drawing faces, cars, or scenery.  It’s just that darn mixing of technology from different time periods that bothers me.

Storywise, Batman/Doc Savage Special #1is interesting in that it flows and features two iconic heroes meeting up, but stumbles in the execution.  I was disappointed that the only member of Doc’s Fabulous Five that appeared in the issue was Renny, but it is understandable given the “timeline” of events.  In the art department, Noto’s work continues to blow me out of the water, and I can’t wait to see if he’s allowed to tackle Doc’s cousin Pat.  While everything we know about Doc Savage and the first month of Batman’s war on crime should put the story in the 1930s and early 40s, the continued time slips bother me.  After reading this issue, I’m a little concerned about what DC has in store for Doc and the rest of the First Wave heroes, as I don’t want to see a repeat of the 1987 series.  DC has a great concept going on here, it’s great to see Doc Savage and a really young (and alive) Bruce Wayne kicking around the pages of comic books again.  With all the positive moments in the issue, the problem parts bring the overall experience down to 3.5 out of 5 Stars.

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