Shiny Shelf

First Wave #1

By Julio Angel Ortiz on 05 May 2010

First, a disclaimer: I know very little about Doc Savage.

I was always partial to the Shadow myself; I loved the Shadow as a kid, ever since my 5th grade music teacher taught us about the old radio dramas and played an episode from the old series.  I was enthralled by the medium ever since, though I was disappointed that (at that time in 1988) radio dramas were dead, never imagining the resurgence they would enjoy in the new millennium as audio dramas on CDs and digital media.

Nevertheless, I borrowed every book I could from the local library that reprinted the Shadow’s adventures (amazingly, there were several), and even picked up a few issues of the Andy Helfer/Kyle Baker-created DC comic.

Thanks to my interest in the Shadow, I had read up on some of the history of pulp magazines and knew that Doc Savage was one of its sister publications. I found the idea of the Man of Bronze an interesting one, but lacked the mysterious aesthetic that intrigued my pre-teen sensibilities.  The Shadow was the Batman prototype, except he carried a gun, and wasn’t too picky on how he brought down the bad guys.  Doc Savage was just a really smart guy in peak physical condition who went on adventures.

Now, years later, DC Comics is releasing a new series and fictional universe that features a curious mashup of DC heroes (including a gun-totting Batman) and pulp characters (the aforementioned Doc Savage), as well as throwing in the Spirit for good measure.  Dubbed ‘First Wave’ and conceived by writer Brian Azzarello, the eponymous title is a 6-issue limited series the unveils DC’s take on a pulp-style universe.

Going in fresh with limited knowledge of Doc Savage, but looking forward to a pulp version of DC, I found the results from the first issue are rather middling. There is very little to criticize on the artistic front; Rags Morales’ art is very serviceable for the pulp universe Azzarello builds here.  Morales does a good job of capturing the retro flair in particular spots, such in the giant robot and the vehicles, and has a good cinematic eye.

The same could be said for Azzarello’s script; it makes for a passable, but not terribly exciting, first issue.  Take away the conceit that the story features Doc Savage and the Spirit (the cover features Batman, but he isn’t in the issue), and you have a very by-the-numbers plot where nothing of consequence occurs.

Being the first issue, I don’t expect any revelations, but the story is very decompressed, and there is no great hook here to get you to come back for the next issue.  Doc Savage’s father’s body is missing? The Spirit finds himself facing 4 bad guys at the airport? A jungle village is decimated in search of a rogue scientist? I can’t say that I found any of it particularly intriguing.

Another nitpick I came across was with the apparent anachronisms throughout the issue. Perhaps this is intentional, but I found it jarring. Early on, a reporter asks Doc Savage if one of his breakthroughs will mean space flight is finally possible. This would mean the time frame is perhaps 1950’s America. Even the style of dress for many of the primary characters fits this.  But then the reporters are holding up portable microcassette recorders, which were not invented until the very late 1960s.

The cars themselves, while sporting a retro-look, late 50s/60s.  In one panel, a black man walks down the street with an afro and a pick in his hair (a 1970s trend).  The very next panel has a woman talking on a phone with buttons (which looks like it is from the 80s).  In the same panel, one of her kids is wearing a sports jersey and with a soda can, and there are candles on the walls instead of a lamp.

Perhaps I’m not the typical reader, but these anachronisms kept popping out at me, and perhaps these are intentional.  But if not, it takes you out of the story, because the world of ‘First Wave’ just appears wrong.

But the nitpicks are not the biggest failing in this issue; if they were, then they would be easy to overlook.  But there are bigger flaws at work here, and they can only be directed at the script. Azzarello is a highly regarded writer in the industry, and with him being the motivating force behind the creation of ‘First Wave’, it makes this issue even more so disappointing.

Azzarello may be excited to bring us this unique project, but it doesn’t show through in the tepid script. And that’s the issue’s greatest sin of all.

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By Julio Angel Ortiz

Julio Angel Ortiz maintains his collection of curiosities at You can also Like him on Facebook as well and check out his latest writing projects.

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