Saturday, August 20, 2016

CBR First Wave

Pulp fiction's greatest heroes united!

Don't miss out my previous pulp heroes-related reviews!

Comic title: First Wave
Written by Brian Azzarello
Drawn by Phil Noto & Rags Morales

Published by DC Comics 
From June 2012
Lineup DC Universe/First Wave imprint
Format: Softcover trade paperback collecting the one-shot special BATMAN/DOC SAVAGE: SPECIAL #1 and the limited series FIRST WAVE issues #1-6.

One is one of comic books' most popular wold-famous DC Comics characters, the Dark Knight detective creation of Bob Kane and Bill Finger. The other is one of the medium's most iconic creations, created by noneother than the legendary Will Eisner!

Yet, somehow, this is the first time these characters have ever crossed path to this very day! (Alright, they also met in Darwyn Cooke's The Spirit: Book One, but that was more of a self-contained event rather than having the two co-exist in the same world properly.)

After an actually fairly popular long-running ongoing series from Darwyn Cooke and Sergio Aragonés, DC decided to relaunch The Spirit as well as a few other similar characters as part of a larger lineup along several others vintage proprieties.

In 2009, DC Comics launched a new separate distinct imprint for their pulp characters. A new banner where all these classic characters would be allowed to live on aside from DC's big usual crossover events. And for this occasion The Spirit was restarted anew, reimagined for the occasion.

This storyline and following imprint were titled First Wave, as in original first wave of comic book vigilantes! It would be a much more realistic and grounded comic book universe, so no aliens like Superman or Green Lantern over here!

First Wave was launched with a Batman/Doc Savage one-shot special by writer Brian Azzarello (100 BULLETS, JOKER) and artist Phil Noto, quickly followed by the actual First Wave 6-issue limited series in 2010 still overseen and written by Azzarello, with art from Rags Morales featuring the trio of main characters of this new universe.

First Wave is an alternate take on the DC Universe, this First Wave is still part of the "52" Multiverse of the DCU though. It's a very mysterious alternate world, events seem to take place some time after the Great War, as there's been a rise of these Golden Age heroes. There are a lot of crimes happening across the US, inspiring a generation of heroes to take matter into their own hands.

The Batman/Doc Savage issue acts as a prologue to the main story. It all begins when Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze himself, comes to investigate a series of murders in the infamous Gotham City. He heard about this new dangerous vigilante and wants to make sure he's not the cause of these murders. What he founds there is a young inexperienced Batman who uses a pair of  .45 handguns!

Doc Savage is currently dealing with the loss of his father.

Batman has been trying to uncover this plot of an evil cabal trying to take over the world.

Meanwhile in Central City, the mysterious Spirit ends up in the midst of their plans, by accident!

Our heroes are all investigating the same plot without knowing it! There's also these so-called Blackhawks mercenaries, but are they heroes or foes? And there's also all kinds of new vigilantes on the streets now, such as this Black Canary and The Avengers! At least Doc Savage can count on his Fabulous Five!

But who exactly is the Red Right Hand who's been plotting this from behind the scenes all along? And can our heroes finally meet and join forces to stop him?...

First Wave is an attempt at a Pulp/Noir DC Universe. It brings into the same fold these different pulp characters DC had acquired as well as some of their own older properties.

At the time, then-editor-in-chief Dan Didio was really interested into give these various characters their own self-contained corned of the DCU.

They also took the occasion to bring a different sort of Batman to this world, closer to his original Bob Kane days. With writer Brian Azzarello they decided to make this new shared universe for these characters then added a few non-super-powered DC characters to the mix. Brian Azzarello would be put in charge of overseeing this new universe and writing the main books (kinda similar to Bendis with the Ultimate Marvel Universe).

Since this takes outside of the previous continuities, Azzarello was able to play with new interpretations of all these characters.

This limited series was supposed to launch a whole spinoff line, more Noir and Pulp, new versions of characters fresh from the start.

There's a lot of strange ideas though. I did like this younger unexperienced Batman, which is different from his usual interpretations nowadays. The Sprit was kind of off for me. The one that came the closest to how he's always supposed to be is clearly Doc Savage. The idea to team them up is great, but the actual plot they embark on is kind of generic, confusing and inconsistent.

For me the problem is that this never truly feels like a proper world where you would see new adventures for these characters, it always just feels like some weird alternate continuity/Elseworld tale.

Here Batman uses guns, he's not your regular hero. This is Bob Kane-era Bats before he would ever have a Robin.

The most questionable change was turning Ebony into a girl. And Azzarello's only explanation is kind of shaky, he's gone to say it's because the character of Ebony is truly problematic and just a leftover from older stereotypes (say that to Darwyn Cooke and Sergio Aragonés!!). But I never really bought that, this girl-Ebony has even more problematic stereotypes attached to her (from her name to her attitude)... And he never really gets Commissioner Dolan in my eyes, he's made such an antagonist towards The Spirit here...

The idea to combine the Bat-vigilante of Gotham, the adventurer/crimefighter/celebrity/genius "man of bronze" and this former cop left for dead now playing masked-crimefighter was great! But was this the story they deserved?

The dialogue is pretty bad. (I mean, really, Spirit's "I'm not in the habit of hitting a woman.. before I know her!"?!?)

Brian Azzarello is usually capable of so much more. Was this because of the time period? Or Dan Didio's doing? Even the narration can be a bit confusing at times. For some reason Azzarello gave the characters these stylish Frank Miller-esque voices. Even in the same issue the voice narrating would change from page to page, it's pretty disconcerting. It's easy to get on the first few issues, but once all the characters are introduced later it gets pretty confusing really fast. You have to guess who's narrating sometimes!

The only positive thing was getting Doc Savage back to DC Comics!

The artwork by Rags Morales was serviceable, but a bit of a letdown from Phil Noto's prologue specially for these characters.

The book also contains a cover art gallery, featuring the works of Rags Morales, Neal Adams, Tony Harris, Lee bermejo, Geof Darrow, Eduardo Risso and Jim Lee.

There's also some behind-the-scenes material, how Brian Azzarello and Rags Morales worked on these characters, this series and this new First Wave universe.

Overall, First Wave is a decent comic, but kind of a letdown for this start of a new imprint and universe.

It could have made a great mature tale or a classic pulp-style superhero comic. Instead we have here a pretty generic world-threatening storyline! Sigh...

Personally it was much easier to get attached to Darwyn Cooke and Sergio Aragonés' much more traditional Spirit, closer in tone to Will Eisner's original. This First Wave can't decide if it wants to be a throwback to old pulp comics or something more modern and edgier.

This First Wave series would give life to the actual First Wave line. Two ongoing series would be published following this book, a Doc Savage by Paul Malmont and Howard Porter, and a new The Spirit by Mark Schultz and Moritat. Both these series would feature backup stories featuring more First Wave Universe characters.

We'll see The Spirit some other time.

Sadly First Wave wouldn't last long, by February 2011 DC would cancel the imprint...

I give it:
1.5 / 3 Plastic-trophies!

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