Review: First Wave #1

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(With apologies to Bunim/Murray) This is the story of eleven characters…picked to live in a new universe… work together and have their adventures penned… to find out what happens… when characters stop living in their own universe… and start something completely different in… First Wave.


DC’s Blackest Night and Marvel’s Siege may be the big events everyone is waiting for, but for this comic fan, the one series I’ve been waiting months for has been First Wave and the return of pulp and golden age heroes to the pages of comics.  While I enjoyed the Batman/Doc Savage Special, which served as an introduction to this whole new world, there were some troubling spots.  Now, four months later, readers finally get a peek at this brave new world.  Does it have the same problems as before, or has DC truly created a new universe that works?

firstwave1COVER.jpgFirst Wave #1
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Rags Morales
Cover: J.G. Jones and Neal Adams
Colors: Nei Rufino
Letters: Clem Robins
Editor: Joey Cavalieri
Publisher: DC Comics

Forget What You Know

If you think you know all about the great pulp heroes of yesterday, the first thing you’re going to have to do when opening the pages of First Wave is to forget everything you think you know about the great pulp heroes of yesterday.  Instead of having their own adventures in the pulp pages, the Sunday funnies, or even in the pages of the funny book, First Wave takes these classic characters and throws them together in a setting that is both familiar and new to readers. And because everything appears topsy turvy, readers must solve the mystery of what is going on in this world, and in the story.  One might think this would be a drawback to picking up this series, but in reality it part of the draw.

It all starts with a killer robot in the jungle trying to kill William Harper “Johnny” Littlejohn. And the awesome sauce keeps being ladled on the plate of comicy-goodness.

Brian Azzarello does an excellent job of introducing not only the characters we expect from this series (namely Doc Savage and Crew, and the Spirit), but from the very first page he introduces us to nearly the entire cast of heroes and villains.  Whether it is the as of yet unnamed Rima the Jungle Girl, The Spirit, or the (somewhat of a) surprise appearance by the Blackhawks in the closing page of the story, each character gets a modest amount of page time for the reader to point and say, “Oh Lookie, Lookie! Wow!”  While I may be exaggerating the exclamation, if you aren’t getting some kind of nostalgic glee from this issue, then you may not be the target audience for this series.

In the manner in which Azzarello spins the opening chapter, one might believe each of the characters is being featured in their own story, much like DC Comics did with Wednesday Comics this past summer.  It’s not until John Sunlight appears that everything clicks, and we realize everyone is connected in this story, and will cross paths in the coming issues. Azzarello really deserves a big round of applause for creating a story that has huge amounts of tension and build up, and has the reader eagerly awaiting the next issue.

Because each character’s story is tied to the next, many writers stumble into the trap of having all the characters sound alike.  Here, Azzarello is able to give each character a distinct personality.  Readers know instantly when Doc is talking off panel, when a reporter is filing his latest story, of when readers learn of Johnny’s cowardice in fighting in the war.  Even if readers are not familiar with the characters or their histories, these characters jump off the page and into one’s mind.

Art That Jumps Off The Page

Likewise, Rags Morales’ art is simply stunning.  Even after reading the issue three times, I keep finding myself thumbing through the pages admiring the art style, composition, and layout of each page.  And each time that I reexamine a panel, I’m discovering something there that I didn’t notice before.  There is something dynamic in the way that Morales poses the characters in this issue that brings life to the page – no matter if it is Johnny running through the jungle getting his eye poked out by a giant robot, or Doc Savage standing around holding a hefty bag of gold dust.

Adding to Morales’ style is the coloring by Ruffino.  Each location takes on a look of its own. In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lush environment becomes thick and oppressing, while the rainy cemetery in New York becomes a dark and moody moment of contemplation.  Even The Spirit’s evening pursuit of a van carrying a mysterious body  has a Noir feel to it.

The Downside

But even in the euphoric afterglow of reading this issue, there are somethings that I still take issue with.  As cool as this new world is, I still am troubled by the blending of old and new.  Fedora wearing men, and ‘50s police cars seem like a perfect fit for this type of storytelling, but throwing in modern technology like a mini-cassette recorder, or a full on haz-mat suit throws me off.  This was done previously in the Spirit, and it did confuse and trouble some readers.  Given enough exposure to a concept of idea, I eventually begin to change my thoughts, and in the process grow as a person.  This is the case with the history-blend smoothie that we are seeing in this story.

And what of Batman?

He doesn’t make an appearance in this issue, and that’s just fine. Many might be picking up this series to see Batman shooting it out with gangsters, but until the villainy of the Golden Tree hits closer to home, we aren’t going to see The Batman just yet.

Final Thoughts

After my tepid reaction to the Batman/Doc Savage Special, I was still interested in seeing what would happen in this first issue, but I wasn’t getting my hopes up too high. I’m glad I didn’t because First Wave #1 surpassed all of my expectations, and has now set the bar for all future comic stories that I read at a high level.  Call it the rush of reading my favorite heroes from yesteryear, the joy of getting comics on time, or the buzz from the single malt sitting next to me, but I really enjoyed the hell out of this issue.  If you like a good mystery, mixed with characters that influenced everything you’re reading now, then First Wave #1 is a great start.  This issue deserves everyone of the 4.5 Stars I’m giving it.

Rating: ★★★★½