It's always a somewhat nervous moment when you learn a favorite character has been snatched up by a different publisher. Recently the songs and dances with Lee Falk's The Phantom have been painful to watch at Dynamite after they lifted that venerable character from Moonstone. Robert E. Howard's Conan is something else again these days at Dark Horse. It's always a crap shoot when classic heroes are interpreted for modern audiences.
That said, I was trepidatious when DC Comics got hold of Doc Savage. They had Doc and his Fab Five before and it had been okay, but what did the new regime at DC have in mind for Clark Savage Jr.
We got a hint in the Batman/Doc Savage one-shot special (which I sampled at the time and which is included in this trade) that introduced the "First Wave Universe", a pulpish variation of the DCU in which Doc was effectively "Superman" and Batman was along for the ride as well as Will Eisner's The Spirit. The Avenger, The Blackhawks, and Rima the Jungle Girl were all reinvented to some extent to inhabit this new universe of pulp adventure.
First Wave by Brian Azzarello and Rags Morales was the well-crafted limited series which gave us our first good look at this world. I stayed away from the comics themselves, instead choosing to wait for the inevitable trade because I'm a big fan of Rags Morales. I have it in hand finally and can issue a full report.
The story is essentially a Doc Savage story and begins at the beginning. Doc's dad has died mysteriously and Doc is just back from his Fortress of Solitude and missed the official funeral. Also a new crime fighter, The Batman has shown up in Gotham City and is making a name for himself. The Spirit is working with Inspector Dolan holding down crime on the streets. A gang of well-trained mercenaries called the Blackhawks are trying to get hold of Doc Savage's dad's body for some reason.
With that as the background, the story proper actually starts in the jungles of South America where Johnny Littlejohn is trying to escape a giant metal man. He is attacked, his eye wounded, but escapes thanks in part to the help of a mysterious girl called the "Soul of the Jungle" who takes him to a local house to heal. It turns out Johnny has been working with a megalomaniac who has John Sunlight as a partner. This guy seeks funding from all sorts, including a guy named Bruce Wayne.
There are lots of turns and twists as there ought to be in a quality pulp tale, with Doc trying to stay one step ahead of the action and the Spirit and Batman contributing to the ultimate outcome in their own special ways.
This is a solid pulp story by Azzarello, who gets the nitty gritty vibe down pretty well. The Rags Morales artwork is stunning, just as good as I expected. He draws a lean and mean Doc Savage and everyone else looks pretty on point save perhaps for The Spirit, who seems a bit young.
In fact, it is Will Eisner's creation who seems to be the biggest problem here. Azzarello does a good job on Doc and his Fab Five for the most part given the space considerations, and his Avenger is really well done. Since I'm not a huge Batman fan, this young version doesn't bother me any. But The Spirit seems off. I think it's the humor. Often when dealing with characters who have a comedic element, it's misunderstood that it's the characters who are funny and not the environments they inhabit. The Spirit in this story is too snarky by half, sounding like a smart ass akin to Spider-Man more than the hero Eisner developed for so many decades.
But aside from that criticism, I found First Wave a compelling read. If more of the Doc Savage material from DC's latest run becomes available in trade, I'll likely give it a shot too.
This is recommended, but go into it knowing that some heroes aren't who we remember necessarily.
One annoying thing is that the covers don't seem to relate to the interiors much at all. Here's a gallery of the regular covers by J.G. Jones and below them the alternates by a host of dandy artists.