The producer of all the Batman films Michael Uslan and The Shadow artist Giovanni Timpano team up on Justice Inc #1 in which three of the greatest pulp heroes The Avenger, The Shadow, and Doc Savage team up to fight a mysterious villain. Or not. Uslan decides to play with time and space in this comic and explore the conflict between science and capitalism through the invention of time travel. Basically, wealthy industrialist Richard Henry Benson (aka The Avenger) is using his company’s funds to hire a team of “experts”, including Enrico Fermi, Albert Einstein, H.G. Wells, and Doc Savage to split the atom and end humanity’s reliance on oil for energy. When things get dicy, The Shadow shows up. Uslan’s plot can get a little confusing with the switch to different time periods and the Shadow’s reason for being on the scene other than owing Howard Hughes a favor or looking cool. However, he and Timpano do a good job setting up the overall atmosphere for these characters to have adventures with lots of (cover artist) Alex Ross-like posing and a real “lived in” feel. These characters have had many adventures, and Uslan doesn’t waste time explaining their origins again.
Michael Uslan has a real feel for these old pulp heroes. The Avenger, Doc Savage, and definitely The Shadow have different personalities and ways of speaking. Doc Savage is a hero’s hero and isn’t afraid to jump off his plane onto another plane that is getting sucked into a wormhole. He is also interested in science and provides most of the technobabble in Justice Inc #1.The Avenger only appears as his civilian alter ego Richard Henry Benson, but shows a real passion for using his wealth for science and progress and not personal gain. Giovanni Timpano gives him some dramatic facial expressions in a board meeting scene to expand on this. He is a family man with a sense of humor as well. The Shadow is as scary as his civilian identity Lamont Cranston is foppish. Some of the dialogue he exchanges with Howard Hughes seems straight out of a “great white hunter” story from the turn of the century. Even if the plot veers off into some crazy directions, Uslan keeps things entertaining with the character interactions as well as the underlying themes of the strengths and weaknesses of capitalism and scientific progress. (Benson is quite a wealthy man, but he speaks out against other big companies. Time travel would be great, but is it really worth ripping a wormhole into all of space and time.)
Giovanni Timpano’s figure work is staggeringly realistic and evocative of Alex Ross. However, his photorealism doesn’t lead to stiffness as his characters have different reactions to the situations around them, and science-y things fly everywhere include outside the panel. Timpano gets really creative with his layouts during the most pivotal scenes, like the first page which acts as a diagram of Doc Savage’s secret hideout and diagonally drawn time travel sequence. He has helped by colorist Marco Lesko, who balances the 1930s Golden Age of comics elements with science fiction using pulp-cover style colors when he depicts characters talking or driving cars/flying planes in 1939 and more “digital” colors for the energy ripples from the wormhole or the lab science scenes in the present. To keep things from getting boring, Timpano varies the shot angle of his art to draw attention to certain things, like having a close-up of Benson’s heated meeting with his fellow captains of industry and then pulling back to show Doc Savage jumping between two planes.
In their art and writing, Uslan and Timpano mix Silver Age of Comics science fiction tropes like time travel and fear of enemy sabotage with heroes, who fought crime and had adventures years before the Golden Age of Comics began with Superman’s 1938 debut. The mixture of these two things along with some fun dialogue and realistic figure work from Timpano make Justice Inc #1 a strong start to this miniseries. There are lots of unanswered questions at the end of the issue, like the whereabouts of The Avenger and the motivation of The Shadow. It is also worth reading Justice Inc. #1 a second time to get a hang of the different timelines (The planes are great orienting points.) and checking Wikipedia summaries of these character’s origins if you are unfamiliar with them. But for fans of the pulp revivals that Dynamite has been putting out over the past decade, Cold War era science fiction, and well-posed and laid out interior art, Justice Inc. #1 is definitely worth a pick up.