Welcome to the 1950's. . .where they have cell phones, laptops, and dirigibles! Welcome to DC's failed and forgotten attempt to start a new pulp-influenced universe. Welcome to FIRST WAVE!
BAT MAN/DOC SAVAGE SPECIAL
So what we have here is the one shot introduction to what was supposed to have been a new DC pulp-influenced universe. From what I understand, DC had the license for some of the pulp characters for a short while (with the glaring exclusion of The Shadow. . .who was already a DC character in the past. A shame) and were trying to figure out what to do with them.
Coming into this, I wasn't very familiar with Doc Savage, who (according to the helpful Cliff's Notes in the back) is supposed to be this universe's "Superman", and despite the notes, this one shot doesn't help much with introducing Doc Savage. Batman (or, in this universe, Bat-Man) is based on the original gun-toting detective version instead of the later superhero caped crusader. I REALLY liked this version of Batman!
Azzarello gives a decent, if somewhat thin, tale of Bat Man trying to track down an organization called the Golden Tree, getting wrongly accused of murder, and Doc Savage coming to Gotham to take him down. They end up as. . .not friends, but not enemies at the end of it all. The art by Noto was pretty good for this story. I didn't like his art on Jonah Hex, but it's a better fit here, even though his backgrounds are practically non-existent.
All in all, I don't think this was a great introduction to the First Wave universe. The only character I got a good handle on was the pulp version of Batman. That said, it was still a pretty darn good story.
If the "official" introduction to the DC First Wave pulp alternative universe didn't do a great job, then this first issue of the universe's rollout didn't do much better.
Once again, Doc Savage is barely sketched out. The Spirit fares a little better, but not by much. Now, I'm not going to say that I love repeated origin stories every time a character gets a new series, but I'm thinking a little more origin might have been nice here. I'm a big fan of The Spirit and so the lack of information on just who this crazy guy in the blue suit sleeping in an open grave and making coffee with a mask on was didn't really bother ME. . .but I'm a little vague on Doc Savage, and the Cliff's notes from the Doc Savage/Bat Man special were missing. I can only imagine what someone coming in with absolutely no knowledge of these characters would have thought. No wonder this new universe didn't last long. . .
To make the lack of introduction a bit more confusing, this First Wave universe seems to occupy a strange corner of reality where high tech exists in a late 1940's/early 1950's world. Cell phones, robots, and jet planes exist alongside dirigibles and autogyros. What it REALLY reminds me of is the universe that Batman The Animated Series was set in. That's definitely not a bad thing in my book.
ANYWAY. . .this issue.
Mostly pretty thin introduction and world-building. Some sequences away from Doc Savage and The Spirit set in South America made absolutely no sense, but look like setup to another forgotten pulp hero (heroine, that is), Rima the Jungle Girl. The Blackhawks also make a last panel appearance, so it looks like this series will have a pretty big cast of characters.
All in all, it was a pretty good read. I won't call it great, but it wasn't bad at all. I might think different if I came in without any knowledge of the characters. The art looks very nice. They picked the right artist for this series.
Another issue of thin introductions and world-building. We meet The Spirit's friend and helper, Ebony White. . .transformed in this new universe from a racial stereotype man into a racial stereotype woman. Well, at least this version of Ebony looks better in the shower. . .
We also are introduced to the First Wave version of The Blackhawks. Quite a bit more brutal and mercenary than usual. Looks like Azzarello took a bit of inspiration from Howard Chaykin's Blackhawks, although Janos hasn't shown up yet. We learn a bit more about the man running through the jungle. A scientist working on some sort of project in a high-tech floating city called Neolantis who stole some information. Rima The Jungle Girl is still little more than a lurking presence. Also introduced is another pulp character I'm vague on and would know nothing about if not for the additional Cliff's Notes information at the end of the Batman/Doc Savage Special. . .The Avenger. Some sort of master of disguise and private detective.
I'm really liking The Spirit's part in this (He takes an epic nut kick from one of the Blackhawks, and still cracks a joke when he wakes up!) So at least on that, Azzarello is hitting the mark. As far as the other characters, they're barely sketches.
Overall, I liked this issue. . .but mainly because of The Spirit. Hopefully, some of these threads will begin to weave together soon.
Halfway into this series and Azzarello is still making introductions. This time out, Bat Man joins the game. If you haven't seen my review of the "official introduction" to the First Wave universe, this version of Batman is based on the original detective-style crimefighter. . .not the later superhero. He carries guns and isn't afraid to use them or kill with them. He's younger and more reckless than the Batman most readers are used to. I like this version a lot. I see that 2 regular series came out of First Wave, Doc Savage and The Spirit. I would have really liked to see a regular with this version of Batman as well. But then again, that might have been confusing to have ANOTHER bat book on the stands. But hey. . .I'M not the one who wanted to start a new pulp universe. Just saying. It might have been good.
That said, this Batman is barely sketched out. Why is he dressing up as a bat? What is his motivation to risk everything he has fighting crime? So on and so forth. None of it is given a bit of explanation. And so far, that is this series (and by extension, this universe) biggest problem is that they rushed right into the adventure and never properly introduce the characters beyond some additional information at the end of the Batman/Doc Savage Special. I feel sorry for anyone who picked this up who wasn't able to refer to that. . .
Well, it took a while and it was a bit convoluted, but Azzarello finally got his cast of characters in one place. . .the South American nation of Hidalgo and the floating city of Neolantis. We hardly know anything about any of these people, but here they are! Once again, the lack of proper introduction or world building blunts the story. Why should we care about any of these "heroes", especially since half of them seem to be just as big of douchebags as the "villains".
Okay, I realize that pulp and noir are supposed to be about the grey areas, but really. . .I'm having trouble seeing anything wrong with the villain's plan, as poorly sketched as he and it is. A gathering of wealth to help rebuild the world with advanced technology 5 years after a devastating world war? Is there something wrong with that which a group of A-Hole heroes need to take notice of? Okay. . .for some reason, they stole the body of Doc Savage's father and are torturing a fleeing scientist after they recaptured him in order to find out where the information he stole is at. . .but still. World peace through technology. Sometimes you have to break a few eggs and all. . .
All in all, this issue was a bit confusing. I think that so far Azzarello has spent most of his effort figuring out just how the hell he's going to get a bunch of (mostly) city-based back alley and rooftop heroes into the jungle to worry about what they were going to actually do once the gang was all in one place. 2 more issues to go. I hope he figured it out.
This issue is a mess. Like I said in my review of last issue, Azzarello seems to have spent more time figuring out how to get a bunch of (mostly) city-based crimefighters into the jungle that he's just sort of winging it once they get there. And to make matters worse, the one actual jungle-based character. . .Rima the Jungle Girl. . .might as well not even be in the story for all the attention she's given. I had high hopes for this series (and REALLY liked the Spirit series that came out of it), but it has been plagued by poor characterization and a weak villain with a vague (yet probably extremely evil. . .I guess) plot.
This issue is a crazy quilt of epic proportions. Everything from giant lizards to human experiments (on hobos imported from cities when there's a whole damn jungle full of natives), to Doc Savage running around Tarzan-style in a loincloth punching Uzi-toting redshirts. Ever since the gang got together in the jungle, this series has officially gone off the rails.
Well. . .it started off pretty good, but didn't end well. Azzarello tried to cram all the new DC pulp characters into one mini without a clear mission or a worthy villain and wound up at the end of it all with an overcrowded mess. Most of the characters were out of their element, and without a proper introduction to any of them, there was no reason to worry about the fate of any of them. It seems like such a waste and a damn shame.
This COULD have been the beginning of something great if only Azzarello had narrowed his focus instead of trying to force epic onto street-level characters. I'm not sure about the Doc Savage series that came out of this because I never read an issue of it, but the Spirit series successfully lowered its gaze back to the street where it belonged. Batman (sorry. . .Bat Man) doesn't belong in the jungle! That one simple phrase in Azzarello's mind could have saved this from becoming a mess.
Most of these characters don't belong in the jungle. I can only shake my head and wonder why? Why did it have to go that direction? Was it because of Rima the Jungle Girl? Maybe Azzarello couldn't figure out how to get her to the city, so he brought the other characters to the jungle. But if that was the case, why did he barely use her? We didn't even get any decent cheesecake shots! Why have a friggin' Jungle Girl and not have any decent cheesecake in the series? How the hell did THAT happen? Okay. . .I take it back. There was cheesecake for the Ladies with Doc Savage running around like a half-sized sort of incredible Hulk. But that's beside the point. You see how this review has gone off the rails? That's what happened in this issue. I guess I had a point, but now I don't even care. Thanks, Obama.
And there it is. First Wave. A series where epic was forced on street-level heroes and failure followed close behind. A damn shame and a lot of wasted potential.
Coming next. . .GET YOUR HANDS OFF MY COMICS, YOU DAMN DIRTY APES! Boom Studios Planet of The Apes! Be there or be square!
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Annual # 2