Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Longbox Junk - New Wave + Batman/ Doc Savage Special

Welcome back to another Longbox Junk "Rescue Review"!  I'm blowing the dust off of some older reviews of mine that I did for a very well-known comic site that doesn't really care much about actual comics any more and putting them back in the sight of people that still LIKE comic books right here at Longbox Junk.

This review is one I was REALLY interested in revisiting.  I have a real love of comic heroes that are more on the human side of the equation.  Less SUPER-Hero and more Super-HERO as it were.

The Shadow. . .Captain America. . .Green Hornet. . .Zorro. . .Tarzan. . .Conan. . .Punisher. . .Black Widow. . .Lone Ranger. . .The Question. . .Sgt. Rock. . .The Spirit, and Batman (among others).  The last two characters are major stars in the comics at hand, which were the initial offerings from DC in a short-lived effort to create a new "pulp" comic universe with more "grounded" heroes such as those I mentioned above.  Given my love of more human superheroes, one would THINK that "First Wave" (DC's name for their new universe) would be just what the doctor ordered.

BUT. . .

Yeah.  Unfortunately, there's almost always a "But".

Although I REALLY liked the Spirit ongoing series that came out of First Wave (possibly coming to Longbox Junk at some point), there wasn't much else to it.  The aforementioned Spirit series (17 issues), a Doc Savage series (also 17 issues) and the following First Wave 6 issue mini and Batman/ Doc Savage Special.  Only 41 comics over one single year and then the First Wave Universe just sort of went away without anybody really noticing, and hasn't been revisited since.

I'm not sure exactly what happened, since I can find very little information on First Wave on the internet beyond a bit of sketchy outline. . .mostly having to do with the Spirit and Doc Savage series.  The IDEA was solid.  There was a LOT of premium talent on board.  It SHOULD have worked.  But First Wave came and went with barely a blip on comic history's radar.

So like I said above. . .this was an older review that I really wanted to re-visit.  I was pretty harsh on New Wave at the time.  On reading the review again, I now wonder if I was a little TOO harsh.  Once again, this was a review I wrote at a time when I was becoming disillusioned at working for a major comic site and I sort of can see some of that bitterness coming through many of the reviews I wrote during that time.

The thing is that I absolutely LOVE the idea of a 1930's - style gun-toting detective Batman and The Spirit sharing space in a comic.  I still have all these issues, so I gave them a re-read when I shined up this old review a bit.  Except for a few changes, I've left the original review alone.  I'll let you know what I thought about the re-read in the conclusion.  Is this really as bad as I originally thought it was?

Let's find out!


Welcome to the 1950's. . .where they have cell phones, laptops, and dirigibles! Welcome to DC's failed and forgotten attempt to start a new pulp-influenced universe. Welcome to FIRST WAVE!

DC (2010)

SCRIPTS: Brian Azzarello
PENCILS: Phil Noto

So what we have here is the one shot Preview for what was supposed to have been a new DC pulp-influenced universe. From what I understand, DC had the license for some of the pulp characters for a short while (with the glaring exclusion of The Shadow. . .who was already a DC character in the past. A shame) and were trying to figure out what to do with them.

Coming into this I knew some basics, but I wasn't very familiar with Doc Savage. He is (according to the helpful notes in the back of the issue) supposed to be this universe's "Superman". Despite the notes, this one shot doesn't help much with introducing Doc Savage to the uninitiated. Batman (or, in THIS universe, Bat-Man) is based on the original 1930's gun-toting detective version instead of the later superhero caped crusader. I REALLY liked this version of Batman!

Azzarello gives us a decent (if somewhat thin) tale of Bat Man trying to track down an organization called the Golden Tree, getting wrongly accused of murder, and Doc Savage coming to Gotham to take him down. They end up as. . .not friends, but not enemies at the end of it all.

 The art by Noto was pretty good for this story, but not as good as Noto art normally is.  Backgrounds are practically non-existent (but that's normal for Noto) and Noto's normally-sharp lines are missing.  Faces in particular suffer from time to time through the whole issue.  It all just looks a little off when compared to what I'm used to from Phil Noto.

All in all, I don't think this was a great introduction to the First Wave universe. The only character I got a good handle on was the pulp version of Batman, which I really liked. That said, it wasn't bad at all.  The extra material in the back detailing the new characters coming into the First Wave Universe really interested me in what was coming.  As far as THIS issue goes, it's a decent story, but not really the great introduction it was meant to be.

An additional 2019 note:  I suggest not reading the following First Wave mini without first reading the additional character information in the Preview Special (or the internet, I suppose).  Oddly enough, according to the page I scanned above, it looks like Black Canary was also supposed to be part of First Wave, but she isn't found in any of the comics. . .another example of the unfulfilled promise of First Wave.

DC (2010 - 2011)

SCRIPTS: Brian Azzarello
PENCILS: Rags Morales


The one shot introduction to the DC First Wave pulp alternative universe didn't do a great job.  Unfortunately this first  issue of the universe's "official" rollout didn't do much better.

Once again, Doc Savage is barely sketched out. The Spirit fares a little better, but not by much. Now, I'm not going to say that I love repeated origin stories every time a character gets a new series, but I'm thinking a LITTLE more origin might have been nice here for readers unfamiliar with these older characters being introduced to a modern audience.

 I'm a big fan of The Spirit and so the lack of information on just who this crazy guy in the blue suit sleeping in an open grave and making coffee with a mask on was didn't really bother ME. . .but I'm a little vague on Doc Savage, and the extremely helpful notes from the Doc Savage/Bat Man special were missing here.

 I can only imagine what someone coming in with absolutely no knowledge of these characters would have thought. No wonder this new universe didn't last long. . .

To make the lack of introduction a bit more confusing, this First Wave universe seems to occupy a strange corner of reality where high tech exists in a late 1940's/early 1950's world. Cell phones, robots, and jet planes exist alongside dirigibles and autogyros.

What it REALLY reminds me of is the universe that Batman The Animated Series was set in. That's definitely not a bad thing in MY book, but once again. . .for new readers, this might be a hard thing to get a handle on.


The story is mostly pretty thin introduction and world-building. Some sequences away from Doc Savage and The Spirit set in South America made absolutely no sense, but look like setup to another forgotten pulp hero (heroine, that is), Rima the Jungle Girl. The Blackhawks also make a last panel appearance, so it looks like this series will have a pretty big cast of characters.

All in all, it was a decent read. I won't call it great, but I won't call it bad. It rides right down the middle of the road. I might think different if I came in without any knowledge of the characters.  For some readers this would probably be pretty confusing, to say the least.

Finally, the art looks very nice.  Rags Morales puts in a great effort on this job, and the art definitely kicks up my enjoyment of this issue a notch. This could have gone VERY wrong in the hands of another artist.


Another issue of thin introductions and world-building. We meet The Spirit's friend and helper, Ebony White. . .transformed in this new universe from a racial stereotype man into a racial stereotype woman. I'm thinking maybe Ebony White should just be left in the past. . .

We also are introduced to the First Wave version of The Blackhawks. Quite a bit more brutal and mercenary than usual. Looks like Azzarello took a bit of inspiration from Howard Chaykin's Blackhawks, although Janos hasn't shown up yet.

We get to learn a bit more about the man running through the jungle from the first issue. A scientist working on some sort of project in a high-tech floating city called Neolantis who stole some information. Rima The Jungle Girl is still little more than a lurking presence. 

Also introduced is another pulp character I'm vague on and am again thankful for the additional  information at the end of the Batman/Doc Savage Special. . .The Avenger. A of master of disguise and private detective.  Once again, I feel a bit sorry for readers coming into this who didn't pick up the First Wave Special and who don't have access to the additional information.


I'm really liking The Spirit's part in this (He takes an epic nut kick from one of the Blackhawks, and still cracks a joke when he wakes up!) So at least on The Spirit, Azzarello is hitting the mark quite nicely.

As far as the other characters, they're barely sketches, so far.  And 2 issues in without Batman?  He's on the covers.  He's in the hype text.  Well. . .at least this is shaping up to be a decent Spirit story, anyway.

Overall, I liked this issue. . .but mainly because of The Spirit. Hopefully, some of these threads will begin to weave together and start to form the bigger picture that keeps being promised.


Halfway into this series and Azzarello is STILL making introductions. This time out, Bat-Man joins the game. Like I said in my review of the Preview to the First Wave universe (Batman/ Doc Savage Special, above), this version of Batman is based on the original 1930's detective-style crimefighter. . .not the later superhero. He carries guns and isn't afraid to use them OR kill criminals. He's younger, more reckless, and a lot more dangerous than the Batman most readers are used to. Personally, I like this version of the character a LOT.

I see that 2 regular series came out of First Wave. . .Doc Savage and The Spirit. I would have REALLY liked to see a regular with this version of Batman as well. But then again, that might have been confusing to have ANOTHER bat book on the stands. But hey. . .I'M not the one who wanted to start a new pulp universe and then just sort of left it hanging. Just saying. It might have been good.  It might have actually carried the First Wave universe a bit longer. . .sort of like how Spider Man 2099 carried the 2099 Universe over at Marvel.


Unfortunately, Bat-Man is barely sketched out. Why is he dressing up as a bat? What is his motivation to risk everything he has fighting crime? So on and so forth. None of it is given a bit of explanation. And so far, that is this series (and by extension, this universe) biggest problem: They rushed right into the adventure and never properly introduced the characters beyond some additional information at the end of the Batman/Doc Savage Special. I keep saying it, but I feel sorry for anyone who picked this up who wasn't able to refer to that. . .


Well, it took a while and it was a bit convoluted, but Azzarello finally got his cast of characters in one place. . .the South American nation of Hidalgo and the floating city of Neolantis. We hardly know anything about any of these people, but here they are!

Once again, the lack of proper introduction or world building blunts the story. Why should we care about any of these "heroes"? Especially since half of them seem to be just as nasty as the "villains".

Okay, I realize that pulp and noir are supposed to be about the grey areas, but really. . .I'm having trouble seeing much wrong with the villain's plan.  A gathering of wealth to help rebuild the world with advanced technology 5 years after a devastating world war?

Is there something wrong with that which a rag-tag group of unheroic heroes need to take notice of and stop? Okay. . .so there's some big money connections to organized crime, but it's in the cause of world peace through technology. Whatever.  Bat-Man's gotta be Bat-Man no matter what universe, I guess.

BUT I DIGRESS (again)!

All in all, this issue was a bit confusing. I think that so far Azzarello has spent more of his effort figuring out just how the hell he's going to get a bunch of (mostly) city-based back alley and rooftop heroes into the jungle than he has worrying about what they were going to actually DO once the gang was all in one place. And only two more issues to go. I hope he gets it figured out quick, or this isn't gonna end well. . .


This issue is a mess.

Like I said in my review of last issue, Azzarello seems to have spent  so much time figuring out how to get a bunch of (mostly) city-based crimefighters into the jungle that he's just sort of winging it once they get there. And to make matters worse, the ONE actual jungle-based character. . .Rima the Jungle Girl. . .might as well not even be in the story for all the attention she's given. 

I had high hopes for this series (and REALLY liked the Spirit series that came out of it), but it has been plagued by poor characterization and a weak villain with a vague (and oddly beneficial) plot that probably doesn't even need to be stopped.

This issue is a crazy quilt of epic proportions. Everything from giant lizards to human experiments (on hobos imported from cities when there's a whole damn jungle full of natives), to Doc Savage running around Tarzan-style in a loincloth punching Uzi-toting redshirts.

At least the art is still very nice, and the parts with Bat-Man and The Spirit are good.
As for the rest. . .Ever since the gang got together in the jungle, this series has officially gone off the rails.

A pretty sweet Jim Lee Variant cover on the 6th issue

Well. . .it started off pretty good, but didn't end well.  The ending of this mini is a convoluted, confusing mess that tries to tie up loose ends and STILL introduce new things at the same time.

 Azzarello tried to cram ALL the new DC pulp characters and ideas into ONE mini without a clear mission or a worthy villain and wound up at the end of it all with an overcrowded mess. Most of the characters were out of their element, and without a proper introduction to any of them, there was no reason to worry about their fate. It seems like such a waste of talent and time. A damn shame.


This could have been the beginning of something great if only Azzarello had narrowed his focus instead of trying to force epic onto street-level characters. I'm not sure about the Doc Savage series that came out of this because I never read an issue of it, but the Spirit series successfully lowered its gaze back to the street where it belonged.

ONE simple phrase in Azzarello's mind COULD have saved this from becoming a mess:
Bat-Man doesn't belong in the jungle.

It's not just Bat-Man, but most of these characters don't belong in the jungle. I can only shake my head and wonder why? Why did it have to go that direction? Was it because of Rima the Jungle Girl? Maybe Azzarello couldn't figure out how to get her to the city, so he brought the other characters to the jungle. But if that was the case, why did he barely use her?

I'm not sure what happened. I REALLY wanted to like this series, but now I don't even care.

Thanks, Obama.

And there it is. First Wave. A series where epic was forced on street-level heroes and failure followed close behind. A damn shame and a LOT of wasted potential, given the talent that was put into this project.  I don't know what happened, but it went from "Pretty Good" to "What The Hell?" really fast.


I was pretty harsh on this series when I originally reviewed it.  I can see my bitterness in the fact that I didn't even do a proper story synopsis for each issue, but just jumped right into what I didn't like about it.  I found very few bright spots (the art, the Spirit and Bat-Man were about it), and really that says just as much about my own state of mind at the time as it does the wasted potential of First Wave.  I just REALLY didn't like writing reviews of new comics and not being able to tell the whole truth, and that shows up in my "side" reviews (Like First Wave) as well.

BUT. . .

I'm in a different place now.  I review what I want and can tell it like I see it.  You can agree or disagree with my humble opinion, but at least my frustration at being paid to lie is gone. And no. . .I'm NOT going to do "Rescue Reviews" on the new (at the time) comics I was reviewing.


This isn't about me.  It's about First Wave and what I think about it on another read-through.  Okay then. . .if I had to describe this mini (and one shot) in one word, that word would be: Disappointing.

Yeah. . .sadly, even though I don't find it to be as bad as I originally thought, I still find First Wave to be a disappointing waste of talent and potential.  And there's a LOT of wasted talent and potential here.

First, let's talk about the good things.  The art is great, no complaints there.  The parts of the story featuring Bat-Man and The Spirit are the best parts of First Wave, and make me want more.

Unfortunately, my original assessment still stands regarding rushed (or practically non-existent) character introductions, a weak villain with a vague plot, characters out of their natural element, and just a general sense of too many things being thrown into this mini at once.  These elements all come together in a bit of a mess that overshadows the good things to be found here.

In my humble opinion, Azzarello made an extremely bad choice in making this a jungle adventure in the first place.  Yes. . .I know that jungle adventures are a theme in pulp fiction.  Tarzan being the best and most popular example of Jungle-themed pulp stories.

BUT. . .

When you say "Pulp Fiction" to somebody and ask them to describe what you're talking about, most of the time, you're going to get an answer that involves cities, gangsters, and detectives.  THIS is where First Wave fails.  When you have great urban-based characters like a gunslinging detective Bat-Man, The Spirit, and The Avenger, WHY in hell would you decide the perfect adventure to bring them together would be to take them out of their natural element of dark alleys and rooftops and drop them into the jungle?

The Batman/ Doc Savage one shot First Wave Preview wasn't the best introduction to the First Wave universe, but it WAS a decent urban-based detective story told in a pulp style!  If Azzarello had just narrowed his focus and kept things on the gritty streets, First Wave MIGHT have lasted long enough to start telling jungle stories with a fish out of water angle.  Instead, he jumped right into the jungle before the identities of the First Wave characters had been established enough to BE a fish out of water angle.

You don't even realize the disappointment I feel reading the total mishandling of something that SHOULD have been great! The First Wave Spirit series that followed this introductory mini written by Mark Schultz and illustrated by Moritat (With back up stories by comic legends DENNIS O'NEAL and BILL SIENKIEWICZ!) was great because it EMBRACED the urban nature of the character, and in doing so, actually fulfilled the promise of First Wave in a way that this mini failed to do. 

Unfortunately, the damage was already done right at the start with this weak introduction and that Spirit series (along with the entire First Wave idea itself) didn't last long.  A damn shame.

Overall, this First Wave mini isn't as bad as I originally thought.  It's actually a pretty decent story with a lot of extremely disappointing flaws.  I say go ahead and give it a read. . .but be prepared to feel a bit sad over what it COULD have been.  There's a lot of wasted potential to be found in these 7 practically-forgotten comic books.

Up next. . .


It's another "Rescue Review".
This time out, Boom Studios Planet of The Apes. The whole series!

Be there or be square!

1 comment:

  1. I haven't bought many comics that fall between mid-2003 to mid-2017, a period in which I wasn't actively collecting, but I did find the Batman/Doc Savage Special in a quarter bin. But I haven't noticed any the First Wave series, or the other series that make up this Pulp revival at DC. Too bad they missed the mark, but it was a great review.