The next appearance of John Sunlight was in 2014, in a comic book limited series from Dynamite Entertainment. Dynamite had acquired not only the right to do Doc Savage stories, but also the other two pillars of Depression-era heroic pulp fiction: The Shadow and The Avenger. Dynamite’s not-too-surprising decision on the use of those characters was to mash them together into a single story.
A number of things went wrong with this right out of the gate. DC Comics had of course gone the mashup route as well with its First Wave event, and had similar difficulties creating a coherent story with characters never meant to appear together. But First Wave tried an ambitious, more mature storytelling style (at least at first), which allowed for more latitude in portraying these pulp characters, as it was attempting to re-define pulp storytelling as a revitalized genre in the 21st century.
Dynamite’s series, titled Justice, Inc. (after The Avenger’s organization), had no such lofty ambitions. It is in fact a little hard to understand the goal of the series at all, unless it was simply to test the audience interest in these classic characters. Chosen for the writing of the series was Michael Uslan, which seemed to make a little sense on one hand, but on the other no sense at all. Uslan was best known for his role of producer on the Batman film franchises, and he was also a teacher of comic book writing (an interesting vocation). He had written some comics himself, but in total, really very few. One of those had been an issue of The Shadow by DC Comics in the 1970’s — done when that series was in its final decline — which guest-starred The Avenger. Perhaps the fact that he had worked, albeit briefly, with two of the classic pulp characters in the past was a tipping point to his heading up this new project.
Uslan showed familiarity with all of the characters in Dynamite’s Justice Inc., but missed pretty widely on his own characterization of all three. Doc, for instance, was given a distinctly adolescent speech pattern, and basically did very little but spout action-story cliches. The Shadow came off as annoyingly officious and given to B-movie speechifying, and The Avenger had a wisecracking manner.
One thing that was well done about the series was the cover art: done by Alex Ross, it offered some spectacular visuals, including the cover of issue #3, the part of the story where John Sunlight first appears. It is a three-way portrait of each hero along with original pulp supporting cast, and is beautifully rendered.
The interior artwork, by Giovanni Timpano, is unfortunately much less skillful. It had a somewhat generic comic-book feel…the characters and scenes had a cardboard-cutout vibe to them, which was another aspect of the series’ adolescent style. Even that was discordant, as the series also included bursts of bloody violence much more suited to a more adult, R-rated narrative.
Given all that, it was not altogether surprising that by the time John Sunlight does appear, right at the end of issue #3 (the antagonist to that point had been solely a Shadow villain, the Voodoo Master)…he too appears as an over-stylized cardboard-evil character. For the first time in his long history, Sunlight had the gaudy trappings of a traditional comic-book villain.
He appears at the head of an attacking force of ninja-like marauders, moments after Doc, The Shadow, and The Avenger have figured out that he had been an unseen presence in their troubles throughout the story to date. He crashes in from above, after a bizarrely uncharacteristic pronouncement by Doc of “Boys…we…are…screwed!”
Next: the Justice Inc. mashup story continues…