After the small taste of Brian Azzarello’s pulp world in November's “Batman/Doc Savage Special,” this week’s “First Wave” #1 provides a broader view of the world, giving glimpses of many of the characters featured in the Rags Morales designs provided in the back of various DC comics over the past couple of months. Doc Savage and the Spirit, in particular, take center stage in this opening issue as the former tries to solve the mystery of his father’s death and the latter continues his quest to clean up his city.
Starting in the jungles of South America, “First Wave” #1 doesn’t begin as you’d expect, featuring a robot and a scientist fleeing to a small tribe indigenous to the area. But Azzarello is smart to establish that he’s not just interested in the crime noir pulp characters and stories. He’s playing with the whole of pulp history, which includes jungle adventure stories and mad scientists and robots. This beginning also provides readers with a good idea of the tone of this book, which is considerably lighter than most of Azzarello’s previous comic work.
Despite the 30 pages of story, this first issue is too scattered to provide much information beyond basic world-building and setting up of three different plots. There isn’t much room to do anything except introduce the characters and get the plots moving -- barely. Azzarello’s dialogue skills do a lot to make up for the scarcity of details, providing glimpses of these characters through what they say, especially the supporting characters. One of the best interactions is between the Spirit and Dolan, the cop now portrayed as shady and crooked, fitting into Central City’s recasting as Chicago stand-in. The Spirit manages to come off as both goofy and serious by sleeping in an open grave, but also never missing a chance to remind Dolan that he’s a greedy, dirty cop.
The initial pairing of Azzarello and Rags Morales didn’t seem like a great match since their styles clash somewhat, but given the lighter tone Azzarello’s writing features, Morales is a better fit than expected. The black and white preview pages in DC books last month were promising with some subtle inking and shading that, sadly, is lost in the final comic. Comparing those preview pages to the finished product, Nei Ruffino’s colors are overpowering and heavy-handed. Morales’ art is much more detailed and textured than it appears with colors and that’s a shame. The colors try too hard to be nuanced in their effects that they wind up simplifying Morales’s line work. While a lighter book, Ruffino’s colors give it a cartoonish look that goes too far.
Despite that, Morales is a good fit for Azzarello in this issue. He draws the action scenes well and manages to make Doc Savage’s associates all look distinct. The Spirit has a carefree attitude about him that comes through visually very well; Morales draws the character with a constant smirk that’s endearing.
“First Wave” #1 is a good starting place, but is too scattered to be effective. Given the number of characters and plot threads that Azzarello is looking to introduce, this issue reads like the beginning of a big event book somewhat. The plots that are here look promising, but this issue doesn’t offer much more than a taste.