There’s been something of a pulp resurgence in comics the past few years and, now, DC is getting into the business with “First Wave,” a series that will utilize pulp heroes and a mix of pulp-friendly DC characters in a shared universe. As the cover to the “Batman/Doc Savage Special” states, “First Wave” begins this week with a one-shot that pairs the two famous characters and introduces some of the underpinning ideas of this world. While interesting, this issue lacks the flair that one would expect from an introduction of this sort.
The Batman here is a rookie and one that returns to his Golden Age roots as he’s not afraid to utilize guns in his crimefighting. The issue opens with him rooting through an office, a dead man behind the desk, and, when discovered, guns come out blazing. While Batman’s presence had been akin to myth in Gotham to this point, finally there’s proof of his existence and a backlash since he’s apparently killed a man. The news is big enough that it catches the attention of Doc Savage in New York, causing him to come to Gotham to investigate.
There’s a novelty in seeing Batman make mistakes and fire guns, in watching him succumb to overconfidence, and using his Bruce Wayne persona to check up on Doc Savage’s abilities. However, that novelty isn’t enough to carry this story, of which there isn’t much. It’s standard crimefighter team-up fare: two men who are on the same side are put at odds somehow, fight, gain an appreciation for one another... while that appreciation doesn’t result in Doc Savage inviting Batman to his Fortress of Solitude, the story doesn’t deviate from that pattern much.
Sticking to that format isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but the manner in which Azzarello tells the story is muted and not as engaging as it could be. His perchance for wordplay leads to a few awkward pieces of dialogue where normally it doesn’t. The fight scenes also lack a sense of drama, though he does come up with some inventive moves, particularly how Batman narrates his interaction with Savage.
Azzarello isn’t helped by Phil Noto, an artist whose work is absolutely gorgeous, but doesn’t quite fit with the style Azzarello is going for. Azzarello’s best work has always been drawn by artists with a more pulpy, noir feel to their work, something that Noto doesn’t have. His work has more of a cartoonish feel where shadows are grey, not black, and the colors are washed out in an animated look. He’s very talented, just not as suited to this story as others would be, including numerous Azzarello collaborators.
Included after the story are sketches by Rags Morales for “First Wave” with descriptions by Azzarello and, honestly, these do more to entice than the comic itself. It’s hard to judge how “First Wave” will read with the full, larger cast, but if this special is any indication, expect mediocrity.