In the previous installment, I took a look at the concept and introductory issues of Dynamite Entertainment’s 2014 Justice Inc. limited series, which featured John Sunlight as one of two antagonists (the other being Dr. Mocquino, The Voodoo Master, an opponent of The Shadow).
Sunlight did not appear until issue #3, crashing down from above with a small army of ninjas. However, by the time of that scene the tone of the story had been set. Written by film producer/sometime comics-writer/comics scholar Michael Uslan, it was an uneasy graft of pulp and comics tropes. A team-up story, featuring Doc Savage, The Shadow and The Avenger, it displayed knowledge of their pulp histories, but a very off-kilter portrayal of all three…and not in a good way. They basically became cartoon characters…shallow, given to labored exposition, hollow action sequences, and speechmaking. All three classic characters fared badly, but Doc Savage arguably the worst, with his speech pattern and mannerisms altered through the use of often-clumsy (and even cringeworthy) slang and adolescent behavior.
The series teased better things with its covers — very dynamic compositions by artist Alex Ross (the image below is of issue #5, the only one that displays Sunlight, in the upper right corner) but the drop-off in the story content itself was precipitous.
The visual design for Sunlight actually cribs some stylistic details from the Rocketeer story he had appeared in a couple of years before — primarily a Victorian-style shirt and frilled cuffs — and piles on other costume-like elements. Tinted sunglasses, a duster coat, high boots, a somewhat-straggling red necktie. No effort is made to follow Sunlight’s penchant in the pulps and other comics renditions for wearing monocolors.
The following sequence (which takes place right after Sunlight’s entrance at the end of issue #3) is emblematic of his presence going forward — basically he stands around looking generically evil and saying malevolent things.
The plot of the story involves an artifact that gives its possessor control over the entirety of time — a rather silly SF premise that would have been wildly out of place in any of the pulps dedicated to these characters. It’s the little blue glowing object featured in the panels below.
Many scenes similar to this over-posed sequence take place in the series, but I won’t belabor the point by showing them all. A final discordance to this story is the presence of bloody violence alongside the distinctly juvenile plot elements, and Sunlight meets his end in one of those. After more speeches in the midst of an action sequence, Sunlight takes aim with a shotgun, only to be shot in the back by The Shadow.
All in all, this was perhaps John Sunlight’s least memorable appearance — an ill-conceived tale that is probably mercifully forgotten.
There would be just one more appearance of the John Sunlight character in a mainstream venue — from Dynamite Entertainment again, but in a much better story, going full circle back to the pulp era.
to be continued…