Too bad this failed. It had potential.
Not that I am a big supporter of the golden age or pulp heroes. Most of them uninterest me and bringing them back just feels regressive rather than cute. With Brian Azzarello’s voice though, the golden age suddenly peaks my curiousity. I am in no fashion a huge Azzarello fan as most of his work still remains unread by me, but I have experienced the epic 100 Bullets. That comic and its well focused narrative are enough to keep Azzarello’s name in my sight line. Plus, the concepts of power and agenda tossed around in 100 Bullets seem to be appropriate for a story about golden age super-heroes. They walk as gods among men, and being set in some form of the DC Universe (because, you know, of Batman) they represent the first of a new breed. As George Washington would like to think, precedence is everything, and these characters are setting it for the “superman.” Power and agenda have a lot to in that situation. At least, that’s how I see it.
Some of these ideas were brought about in First Wave. Azzarello touches upon being post-human and leaving a good example. The story just falls on its execution, and it sometimes becomes down right confusing. First Wave involves a plot where Doc Savage, The Spirit, and Batman are all brought together to stop a post-war mad scientist, and this scientist’s mad scheme seriously feels like a rip-off of Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor. Not that I even mind a threat similar to something I have seen before. There is plenty of room for a writer to approach common threats from different angles, but the Superman Returns threat, Luthor building his own island, was pretty weak to begin with. A mad man running off to his own land is in no way comparable to a mad man invading the citizen territory. The invasion factor creates fear by taking away the idea of santuary. Mad man on his own island? Oh well, at least he is not bugging the rest of the world. Azzarello then brings nothing new to this conflict. He still directs the characters toward the super-island where they sneak around and fight henchmen. A dinosaur does appear, and it does fight The Spirit – which is kind of cool in a weird nerdy way. That’s the extent of excitement in the fight, though. Especially since Rags Morales brings absolutely nothing to this comic besides artwork I would rather not look at.
Morales likes to split the page horizontally…a lot. Now while this technique can be affective in conveying a widescreen sensibility, a horizontal split can disrupt a page’s ability to build a sense of speed. Smalls panels or large-count grids add something to a comic’s pacing. They can cause the reader to read faster as their eyes do not linger on small panels as long as wide panels. Look at this Savage Dragon example:
Small, little slivers of the page (the whole page can be seen somewhere else on the internet). This example comes from Savage Dragon #168, the conclusion to the book’s “Emerpor Dragon” arc. Erik Larsen captured much excitement from the audience with this story, and this moment acts no different as the conclusion draws close. This point in the plot shows the meeting of Dragon and Darklord, a character important to the series, and it stands as a scene of excitement and pushes the reader toward the resolution. The artwork and panel design reflects that completely. Ignoring the dialogue, you zip through this portion of the comic at a rapid pace. The panels feel like brief flashes, the sense of claustrophobia they carry increases the reader’s heartrate, and the close focus along with the bright flares of red and pink grip the eye’s focus.
Now look at the Morales example:
Long, dimly lit panels that seem to carry a lot in their gutters. For a helicopter boarding a plane, you would think the prensentation would appear exciting, but no…Morales gives us one, measly, wide panel and expects it to completely capture this action in the story. There probably is much more to landing a helicopter within a plane than one long focus shot, but no attempt is made to show it. Instead, the details lie in the panel gutters and the story gains no sense of visual appeal or energy.
The coloring on this book also acts a detriment. I understand that colorist Nei Ruffino is probably going for the “noir” look, but I think the dimness in his colors really adds to the snore factor this comic suffers from. Never did my eyes perk up. Rather, they fell into a state of drowsiness, and I honestly had a hard time finishing this comic because of how unexciting it looked.
Let’s get back to the “confusing” statement I made earlier, though. I jumped over it. Azzarello threads this plot together in a jarring manner. The cast starts out seperated but then must come together, but they come together in a car crash way. I really cannot even remember how Doc Savage meets Batman and Batman meets the Spirit. Why? I don’t even think I knew when I read it. It just seemed to happen. The Spirit is tricked by some scum bag to investigate a suspicious delivery truck, which then turns out to house Doc Savage’s father’s body. Bruce Wayne (Batman) is contacted by the mad scientist to join him, so Bruce ends up on the island. The rest show up at some point. Granted, Azzarello does spend time jumping around the cast in order to show their progression through the story, it’s not like he just literally throws the cast on the island, but the writing makes it feel that way. The subplots never feel fully form, and the main conflict actually feels undetermined until about halfway through the series.
I am also confused as to when this story takes place. Guts tells me post-WWII, around the time the actual golden age of comics took place, but other details within the artwork seem to suggest otherwise. Character designs span from clothing that looks 1940s-esque to football jerseys and outfits that resemble the modern day. It just comes off as inconsistant. Plus, it does not help give this world a visual definition. The intergration of modern day technology could help defne the world. Like a juxtapositon between 1940s apparal and jargon and modern day computers and iPods. The mix and match of clothing and character style seems to take the “golden age meets today” idea a bit far though, and it completely throws it off.
One compliment I will pay: I feel Azzarello did a really nice job capturing the voices of Doc Savage, Spirit, and Batman. Each sounds how I would expect them too. Thier dialogue stands out when they all share a panel. Also, I will give Rags Morales this one page:
I just like the way he draws Batman here, like a big, black sheet that just eats that crook. It’s a cool visual.
I have to say this was poor, though, and I feel Azzarello may have just let this happen. He is the type of writer, like Ellis, to take a corporate gig and just churn out something that is well enough yet does impress. The help of delays and impending doom for the First Wave line may have also contributed to a lack of interest on Azzarello’s part. Oh well. I am not done with the work of Brian Azzarello, and I still remain excited for his next two projects, Batman: Knights of Vengeance and Spaceman, because they involve the other half of 100 Bullets: Eduardo Risso. Those two working together should produce some quality, and speaking of Risso…maybe he should have drawn First Wave?
If he did, I would have automatically liked it a lot more.