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Comic Review: First Wave #1 by Brian Azzarello and Rags Morales

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DC Comics is trying something new with their approach to a separate world/franchise than their superhero universe (now equipped with 52 Earths). They’re mixing some pulp heroes like Doc Savage, The Avenger, and others with some of their more iconic (a different take on Batman) and almost forgotten heroes like the Blackhawks and Rima the Jungle Girl. Azzarello is also offering new takes on Black Canary, Wildcat, and the Spirit.

The idea sounds intriguing, but it’s going to take a lot to convince me that the new direction is something I want to pursue as an avid Doc Savage fan. The setting is now Los Angeles of the 1940s instead of New York, and Batman carries guns in shoulder holsters. That was a definite change of pace for me when I picked up the Doc Savage/Batman one-shot, and I wasn’t sold them.

Azzarello is a fantastic writer, though, so I’m going to give him some time to develop the property. I loved 100 Bullets and some of the Batman stuff he’s done. He’s edgy and not afraid to take a story to the limit, and he doesn’t shy away from the dark places in men’s souls.

However, this is Doc Savage, one of the most iconic heroes out there. He’s the original Boy Scout, full of honor and integrity. I grew up on Doc. I wanted to be Doc when I was 12 and 13 years old. He had fantastic adventures in faraway place I couldn’t even imagine.

This initial comic serves to set up the series, and there’s just too much information coming in at once. But it’s a big world, and Azzarello jumps into it with both feet. There’s a lot of switching around, a lot of storylines that get shaken into motion all at one time.

Doc’s dad has just been murdered, and there’s a mystery regarding that event that gets even more mysterious. After John Sunlight was introduced (he’s the only Doc Savage villain that showed up more than once), I understood that the man seen running in the first few pages of the comic was William Harper Littlejohn, Johnny, one of Doc’s regular crew. So there’s a lot of ties to the original Doc Savage series.

The Spirit’s plot line takes him into the path of the Blackhawks, and I’m certain all of this is going to tie up somewhere. Azzarello is a dedicated plotter and master of twists, so I’m enjoying the different takes on various aspects of the mythos.

I’m going to enjoy the series as its own construct, but I can’t help feeling the shadow (pun intended) of the old pulps hanging over this series. I’m glad I’m going to be surprised and occasionally (I’m certain) offended, but part of me (that 12 year old boy) still wishes someone would take a run at Doc in a pure vein. I’m waiting to see what the Doc Savage monthly title springing out of this six-issue mini-series is going to do.

This First Wave feels very much like a roller coaster ride, and I’m looking forward to/dreading each hairpin curve and torturous descent.

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