First Wave #1

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Rags Morales
40 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

I’ll admit that even after reading First Wave #1, I’m still not entirely sure why DC is publishing this comic. I’m not saying that because of quality, but rather the general idea behind it all. I normally applaud publishing initiatives that have generated lines like Vertigo, Minx, Helix, and Vertigo Crime, and a pulp-adventure line of comics from DC sounds like a lot of fun. But to do so by mashing up characters like Doc Savage, the Spirit, and Batman is such a strange hook for a book that I’m so far not convinced that this is a hook that will work beyond its initial curiosity factor.

It’s not the first time that we’ve seen something along these lines from DC and pulp comic characters. I remember back in the early ’90s reading The Shadow Strikes! and having it and Doc Savage have a story crossover between the two titles. But while there it was a momentary fun, "let’s have them meet" sort of moment, this is something that in theory is a little more long-term. The three character concepts don’t seem to entirely match up in my mind right from the beginning; the pulp hero of Doc Savage versus the superhero nature of Batman and the crime-fighting Spirit. I can’t imagine fans of The Spirit or Batman every month wishing that those books would start connecting with one another.

In this first issue, in fact, Batman’s nowhere to be seen. Instead it focuses more on Doc Savage as he returns home following the death of his father, and the Spirit getting lured into the middle of a body theft. It’s odd, because I think that each half of the story works well on its own. Brian Azzarello has a clear understanding of what makes Doc Savage tick; the mystery solving, the strange beings in the jungle, the general sense that this is a jump back to the old adventure stories of old. I’ve never been a big fan of Doc Savage in general, but reading his half of First Wave #1 makes me think that Azzarello might be the sort of writer to make me want to give Savage another chance. Likewise, Azzarello seems to get the Spirit; while I still need to sit down and read Darwyn Cooke’s take on the character, these pages show a certain understanding of the character (with his humor and general nonchalant attitude) that few others have done in the past.

The problem for me, though, is that at the end of First Wave #1 I feel like I’m reading two different comics sandwiched into the same comic. Sure, it’s easy to see where the plot connects the two, but tonally it’s not quite right for me as a reader. I’m not convinced that these characters are somehow living in the same world, and the eventual appearance of the old-school Batman down the line makes me fear that it will confound the problem rather than fix it. It’s a strange mix that just isn’t going down quite right.

On the bright side, Rags Morales was a good artistic choice for First Wave. Recent fans of his are probably more familiar with his work on superhero titles, but he’s tackled all sorts of genres over the years, from the fantasy adventures of Forgotten Realms to the Lost Land dinosaur hunting of Turok. It’s his work from the latter that made me initially think he’d work well here, and sure enough Morales doesn’t disappoint. The opening scenes of a chase through the jungle are well paced, and I love how Morales often draws characters as lanky, gangly people instead of the normal superhero physique. He’s good with the smaller moments too, though; Doc Savage walking silently past reporters through the rain is great, as you see the disdain just drip off his face while they ask for comments about his father’s death. Even Dolan from The Spirit looks on target here, while at the same time still looking like Morales’s own take on the character.

It’s odd, because while I think First Wave #1 has problems, I don’t think it’s something that is even remotely the fault of the creative team. This is at the end of the day a problem that I think exists with the very concept of the series. I hope Azzarello and Morales prove me wrong and that it’s an idea that can come together before too long. Right now, though, it’s a comic by two skilled creators that seems destined for just a touch of failure.

2 comments to First Wave #1

  • Gabriel

    I’ve read the comic (first issue) and concluded something similar to your conclusion. In fact, Azzarello don’t gets the right tone, and I only can think of one reason to try publish this comic: another pastiche trying to do the same thing Alan Moore has done with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen… the problem is Azzarello is not Moore, and the characters chosen to try that are maybe not the best selection.

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