The classic pulp character Doc Savage will always be powerfully connected to the era in which he was created…the 1930’s. He was in many ways a consummate man of that time, countering the dark days of the Great Depression with stories of high adventure blended to a practical idealism for society and technology.
Since the original pulp run came to an end in 1949, there have been various updates to the “present day”. Most persistently this has been done in comic book adaptations of the character, with some intriguing results…but most often the updates simply have not taken hold. Marvel Comics attempted to bring Doc Savage forward to the 1970’s for just a single issue before changing course and returning him to the ’30’s…a decade-plus later, DC Comics made a more determined effort to update him to the late 80’s, but they too ultimately rolled the character back into the Depression era.
The updates have taken about an even split of those that used plot devices to slow or arrest his aging, and those that simply ignored his past literary history and rebooted him in the present. Since the Millennium turned, each method has been used again by companies obtaining the rights to do Doc Savage comics. DC Comics (again) in 2010, and Dynamite in 2013. Both were ambitious…and their success (or lack thereof) can certainly be hotly debated.
In 2010, DC Comics launched a project called the “First Wave”, in which some classic heroes, including their own, were portrayed in alternate histories. One of those was Doc Savage, who was teamed at first with an alternative Batman and then shortly afterward with Will Eisner’s signature character The Spirit, and the “jungle girl” character, Rima, from W.H. Hudson’s classic novel Green Mansions, which DC had done as a comics series in the 1970’s.
The Batman/Doc Savage comic kicked off DC’s First Wave, done by the creative team of Brian Azzarello and Phil Noto.
It was set in a somewhat ambiguous alternate present-day, which also included anachronisms like dirigibles and autogyros. Batman is portrayed as more devil-may-care than his frequently-grim mainstream personality, and Doc, shown below ruminating on the death of his father, is more introspective than the 1930’s version of Clark Savage, Jr.
Doc, who usually strove to avoid publicity in the early pulps, has a higher public profile, and soon is touted by the Gotham City newspaper as taking on the problem of the more-rogue Batman.
There is some clever play on the tropes of the pulps, with a scene showing a dirigible preparing to dock atop a Gotham City building (as the Empire State Building mooring mast was originally intended to do, before the concept was determined to be unsafe). For those still unsure of the present-day setting at this point, no doubt is left by the presence of a TV in the lower panels of the page below.
At the Gala itself, Doc once again presents himself in a higher profile (quite resplendent in a tux).
Bruce Wayne, also attending the Gala, baits Doc into an intriguing conversation that contrasts their styles, and ends with Wayne (pretending to be drunk), testing Doc’s strength and reflexes by throwing an abortive punch. Doc, however, is not quite taken in by the drunken act. The scene, though brief, is an instrumental one, giving the reader a clear look at these new characterizations for Doc Savage and Batman.
Those characterizations are reinforced in the scene that follows…as Batman, Wayne breaks into Doc’s room, only to run into Renny, who gives him a bruising fight before going down. Doc arrives with Vicki Vale accompanying him for an interview, and Batman escapes by the very un-Batman-like act of threatening, then groping her as a “distraction”…a scene which might well have gotten the author into hot water in 2021.
There follows another fight scene between Doc and Batman, then Doc looks into the mysterious death that has gotten Batman branded a killer, and determines he is innocent. In the final scene of the story, the two talk…with some interesting insights into each character.
Quirky but stylish, it was an interesting effort, with more depth than the usual “team-up” story. The concept of an “alternate present” which allowed established characters to be updated instantly into the 21st century, was a fresh take on trying to vault Doc Savage forward from the 1930’s. It set the stage for more of the “First Wave” experiment, which was soon to follow.
to be continued…