Bleeding Cool broke the story this morning that DC Comics’ (small) line of First Wave comics (First Wave, Doc Savage, The Spirit) has been canceled. Aside from one exception, I can’t say that I’m the least bit surprised. Although I’ve purchased every issue since the line was introduced, I have to say that the core First Wave title and Doc Savage have been nothing but abominable; The Spirit was the only satisfying title of the bunch.

The core problem was the core concept.  Brian Azzarello, sometimes accused of being one of the most arrogant comic writers (in a very arrogant fraternity), decided to “re-imagine” many of the iconic pulp and Golden Age comic characters who inhabit the First Wave universe. Azzarello missed the mark so badly as to render the whole exercise moot; if you’re not going to stay at least partially true to the original character concepts, why bother using classic characters at all?

Posters to the DC Comics message boards are already casting blame as to why the First Wave line failed, citing the bi-monthly publication schedule of the core book as a prime contender. Trust me, the publication schedule was the least of it:

  • Azzarello isn’t an especially gifted writer. He writes in a very disjointed style, and attempts to achieve narrative “flow” by having a character’s utterance trail off at the end of a scene with the final word or three appearing as narrative in the first panel of the next (unconnected) scene. That’s not “flow”, that’s just sloppy cutting and pasting. His books typically consist of multiple disjointed scenes Elmer’s Glue-All’d together by the aforementioned “trick” writing. While some readers view this style as “sophisticated”, in reality it’s just bad writing. After five (out of six) issues of First Wave, I still have no frigging clue what’s going on. And I stopped caring halfway through issue #2; the only reason I’ve hung on this long is my misguided sense of loyalty to the characters and the core concept.
  • DC missed the boat when they didn’t launch a First Wave Batman title. Half the reason I got on board in the first place was because I assumed there would be a book featuring the late 1930’s pistol-packing Batman. Bad assumption. The character isn’t featured all that prominently even in the core First Wave title; the Batman’s participation seems to have been mostly a marketing/sales gimmick.
  • Regardless of what Bleeding Cool says, the Doc Savage book has been an artistic travesty. You sometimes can’t even tell the characters apart; the only members of the “Fabulous Five” who have a distinctive recognizable appearance are Monk and Ham.
  • The Doc Savage setting has also been a real mess. Dirigibles co-exist with cell phones. Characters use modern-day slang (in a recent issue, Monk refers to someone as being “all that”). I remember reading some article in which one of the First Wave writers said this was a deliberate effort to create a “hybrid universe”. I laughed my head off. I wasn’t fooled: the reality is that the creative team has no clue regarding the culture and technology of the 1930’s (beyond perhaps a dimly-remembered high school history class) and couldn’t be bothered to do even the slightest modicum of research. Occasional slip-ups are forgivable, but not this total failure to even attempt to set the comic in a particular time and place. As a historian by trade, I will again repeat my injunction: at least try to get it right, or don’t even bother with a “period piece” in the first place.
  • The Avenger back-up feature in Doc Savage was horrendous. Apparently set in the present day, it had more in common with a 1970’s Charles Bronson movie than with the 1930’s Justice Inc. stories upon which the comic was allegedly “based”. I stopped reading it after the first issue — it was that damned gawdawful. It received a blessed mercy killing when DC went back to the old page count after the “$2.99 rollback”. As a longtime Justice Inc. fan, all I can say is, “Thank you”.
  • The Blackhawks, arguably the most popular of the war hero/aviator comic characters of the 1940’s, were portrayed as mercenaries who possessed nary a shred of ethics.  This is such a monumental failure on Azzarello’s part that I don’t even know where to begin to address it, other than to repeat what I said above: if you don’t intend to stay halfway true to the existing portrayal and motivation of an established character, I feel the need to ask why you’re even using that character in the first place.

I didn’t even bother to mention the pointless (aside from some misguided sense of “political correctness”) change to Black Canary, in which she’s portrayed as being from southern Asia because, honestly, words just fail me on that one. (She’s fortunately not yet been seen aside from in the “character sketches” portion of the introductory First Wave “one-shot” issue at the end of 2009. Let’s hope that Azzarello doesn’t work Black Canary somewhere into the final issue of First Wave).

I could go on, but why bother? It’s dead. Throw dirt on it and we’ll move on. I’ll definitely miss The Spirit, the only First Wave entry which was a true joy to read. But canceling the rest of the line is a merciful end to what could have been a very cool idea if only it had been entrusted to more capable hands.

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2011, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.