In the course of this issue, Batman and Doc Savage attempt to convince the Avenger to not kill the head of a crime family. Not because killing is wrong by their moral codes, but because they’re afraid of the next gang in line to take over when this leader dies. On some level, that makes sense. On another, this is Batman and Doc Savage we’re talking about. They actually argue in this comic that the leader of a criminal organization should be kept in power because they’re too scared to take on the gang trying to replace him. That doesn’t sound right to me, how about you?
Jason Starr writing “First Wave Special” #1 seems like a natural choice given his strong work on the “Justice, Inc.” back-up strip in “Doc Savage” before DC introduced their ‘Holding the Line at $2.99’ initiative that eliminated all of the back-up features. He wrote a moody urban noir strip that fit into the ‘modern pulp’ mandate of the First Wave line, backed with art by Scott Hampton that gave a washed-out, colorless effect that matched the writing. Starr’s writing here is less moody than bland with an unexciting plot that centers around Richard Benson, the Avenger, being a single-minded killer while Batman and Doc Savage quake in their booties.
During a war between two criminal organizations, the more established one gets into some problems with Benson, going so far as to try and kill him. That puts him on the warpath, wanting the head of the organization dead. Meanwhile, both Batman and Savage are concerned with the war, but are satisfied with the status quo, because, at least, it keeps the criminals fighting one another, both afraid of having to deal with the newer organization in power. It reads tonally off for those two. It would have been better for the tired cliché of them simply wanting to stop Benson because killing is wrong. Better to be moralistic and dull than scared and weak.
Worse, Benson is so flat here. He has no nuance and no depth. He’s all surface with no character beyond killing bad guys. His narration is stilted and lifeless, but not to a degree that it draws the reader into the mind of this emotionless sociopath. Phil Winslade’s depiction of him on the second page tells you everything you need to know about the character. Starr’s writing never goes beyond that fantastic drawing of the Avenger.
Winslade, while talented, does not seem like the right fit for this issue. Despite a rougher style, he never captures the sense of a world gone wrong that’s so evident throughout this issue. Often, a writer and artist working against one another can produce great results as the clashing styles create a creative energy, but, here, it feels like both are misguided with their approaches. They’re not working together nor at odds; they’re working on parallel paths miles apart. Winslade’s work on “Doc Savage” #10 was much more fitting and his rendition of that character here doesn’t have the same energy or polish.
In a line of books that’s been very hit or miss, it’s not too surprising that “First Wave Special” #1 is a miss. It is surprising that Starr and Winslade are the team that lead to one. Not up to the standard either has set in their previous First Wave works, the special is a disappointing read with a baffling conflict at its core.