Justice, Inc. by Michael Uslan (Author), Giovanni Timpano (Illustrator), Alex Ross (Illustrator)
Justice, Inc. is a complete storyline mashup of three pulp heroes: Doc Savage, The Shadow, and The Avenger. Written by Michael Uslan and drawn by Giovanni Timpano, the end result is a bit mixed, and some of one’s enjoyment will probably be based on one’s awareness of those three in their original incarnations, as well as the ability to pick up on some inside jokes in the text/artwork.
The three are brought together by a major threat from several pulp villains whom I won’t name as one of them is (I think) meant to be a behind-the-curtain “big reveal” kind of moment. What is an interesting twist in this particular mash-up tale is that while The Shadow and The Avenger are their old selves, Doc Savage is the contemporary version, with this time travel thread made possible via a super-collider experiment at Savage’s modern-day fortress in the Himalayas.
There is a lot of story here. We get the time travel, the origin story of The Avenger aka the wealthy industrialist Richard Benson, a visit to the same temple where the Shadow was trained, an airplane lost in time, Nazis, corporate hijinks, murder, and the major villains seeking to turn Savage’s UQM time manipulating device into a world-destroying weapon. Plus, we get cameos from Einstein, Fermi, J. Edgar Hoover, Howard Hughes, and others. To be honest, it felt like a bit too much story, with too much plot crammed into too little space. This left it all feeling a bit jumbled, with several abrupt shifts between scenes and major storylines and with the reader being forced to jump into the next big plot point without feeling fully settled in the prior one. The same story cast over eight issues rather than six might have allowed for a smoother flow and more complete sense of immersion. Adding to this sense of a jumble — and it’s possible this was either an issue with regard to my digital copy on the iPad or my own inherent obtuseness — was the fact that far more often than with most graphic stories I had a difficult time in following the order of panels, having to frequently back up and try and trace out via the text exactly which panel was supposed to follow which.
Beyond the stuffed nature of the story, this is a pretty typical pulp kind of plot, with verbose villains, plots of world destruction, tough-talking heroes, and the like. It’s all in good fun, and of course, if you’re at all familiar with these characters, part of that fun is seeing them in action again and together. What I like about their alliance, however, is how each has his own goal; they work together, but each with an individual underlying philosophy. The Avenger seeks justice and swears a vow to avoid killing as much as possible, Savage is more concerned with human progress and betterment than individual vengeance, and The Shadow pledges his life as a soldier in his ongoing, never-ending battle against crime (this lends a particular emotional weight to an ending panel, if I’m reading it right). It is, therefore, an alliance not without its tensions. Uslan leavens the external tension of the villains and the internal tensions among the allies with some well-placed humor, including a funny running gag regarding Doc Savage’s changing hair style.
Underlying the surface plot is a whole other layer of fun references, of which I’m sure I only caught a few. Obviously, your enjoyment of this will vary depending on your own ability to pick up on them. But since that’s the fun part, I’ll only point to one to give you a sense of what I mean. That flight that goes back in time? Global Flight 33. The plane that goes back in time in The Twilight Zone? Flight 33. And so it goes.
Going back to the artwork, outside of the issue I had with panel order, generally it’s a positive. The color scheme is often perfectly matched to the context, and Timpano does an excellent job in particular with several action scenes, such as the assault on Savage’s fortress.
Despite the over-jumbled plot and my issues with following the art at times, I mostly enjoyed the reading experience. Part of that, I confess, was some nostalgia because my father was a big Doc Savage fan. And part of it was that I liked the time travel aspect in that it allowed for a dip back into history and these characters, for those who like superheroes, are after all the historical precursors to those modern-day figures rampaging through the cineplex (a point this story makes clear with some pointed lines). And I’m always a fan of those in-jokes (when I get them). So your mileage may vary a bit depending on where you fall in any of those possible avenues of enjoyment.