In the 21st century Doc Savage has devised technology that in theory should enable him to access any point in time. Unfortunately, when he tests it an airliner is sucked back to the New York of 1939. It’s an era Savage knows well, having lived through it, his ageing process retarded, and having caused the accident he’s heroic enough to risk his own skin by travelling back also to rescue the plane and its passengers.

The cover promises the Shadow, Doc Savage and the Avenger, but it’s the halfway point before Michael Uslan finally unites the three pulp heroes in 1939, and even then it’s before Richard Benson learns he can manipulate his features to mimic others. By that stage assorted threats have been introduced, and the three heroes are aware they must unite to save the world.

Uslan’s plot is more complicated than it needs to be, and that’s because he’s thrown in so much he loves about both the three heroes and their backgrounds, but also of the world as it was in the 1930s. Increasingly fewer people share these enthusiasms, and by preaching to the converted Uslan ensures the audience won’t be reinvigorated, as so many needless details arise to confuse the uninitiated. Much content ties into the times, and to the foes of the characters, which expands the story artificially, and simultaneously squeezes out explanations. Who is Monk? Or Sunlight? They appear seemingly for no other reason than Uslan wanted to fit them in. Does anyone under forty know or care who Howard Hughes was? He occupies a lot of space in the opening chapter.

It’s a shame Justice Inc is inaccessible without a doctorate in pulp fiction and history as Giovanni Timpano ensures everything looks very good. There’s the occasional crowded panel or problem with perspective, but he’s an artist unafraid of the hours required to tell a story in an exciting way, and he’s done the research to ensure both period and location detail. To look at the pages alone gives the impression Justice Inc is far better than it is.

When the time comes to wrap the story up there’s no more room for cute little mentions or homages, and Uslan finally steps up. There’s are a couple of great Shadow moments, excellently drawn by Timpano, and Uslan makes good on something threatened throughout while ethical disagreements between allies may cause larger problems. If only the rest had lived up to that.