Catching the First Wave: Rags Morales on His Upcoming Gig

UPDATED: DC - Doc Savage & The Spirit

Doc Savage from First Wave, original concept art by Brian Stelfreeze

In May, DC announced that Brian Azzarello was working on a new project for DC that was so "massive" that Executive Editor Dan DiDio wondered if he could really do it.

As DiDio soon after revealed to Newsarama in his "20 Answers" feature, the massive project is First Wave, a comic that includes Doc Savage, The Spirit, and other characters in a pulp-inspired world of non-powered heroes.

The artist who will bring these heroes and their world to life will be Rags Morales, who hinted at the project in the first part of our interview. Hot off the heels of his Indigo Tribe story in Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps, Morales is now sketching out the many characters who will be involved in First Wave, which is slated to begin later this year.

Newsarama talked to Morales about the world he's creating for the Azzarello project.

Newsarama: Now that you're starting to work on the project, what can you tell us about the idea behind First Wave?

Rags Morales: It's a world of heroism at its most innocent. We're talking about, essentially, a universe where superpowers don't exist. There are no people flying in from Krypton; there are no New Gods; there are no people swimming up from the ocean or from Paradise Island. We're talking about the heart and soul of what it means to be heroic, where people are left more to their wits and their intestinal fortitude rather than any fierce other-worldly technology, or even inner-worldly technology.

NRAMA: So is this a modernization of the stories told about Doc Savage and Spirit and other pulp heroes?

RM: Well, it's not really accurate to call it a "modernization" because this is going to be enough of that original flavor to feel like it's old-school, with fedoras and women in high heels and the cool things about what's gangster and pulp, like Tommy guns. But it's going to also be enough of an advancement to feel fresh. Tommy guns will exist in a world where computers exist. We're going to be dealing with a world that is kind of like the Batman Adventures from The WB, where you have dirigibles next to jetplanes. That's basically the visual interpretation of the atmosphere I'm dealing with.

NRAMA: Have you started sketching out the characters?

RM: Yeah, although we're in the preliminary stages, so they haven't been approved to the point where I can share them. But we'll have Doc Savage, the Spirit and The Avenger in there, and I'm working out how they're going to look. Doc Savage won't have that exaggerated widow's peak, but I'm going with the classic looks on the characters with some updating. And in this world, Doc Savage is Superman. I mean, after all, Superman was derived from Doc Savage, along with Buck Rogers and Popeye and some others. But Doc Savage was the original guy with the Fortress of Solitude up in the arctic. He's an inventor, and he's got a very moral ethic. In a world of non-powered heroes, he's going to be our focal point.

The Spirit along with Doc Savage will provide an interesting combination, because Denny will be played with a little more humor. And The Avenger's going to be this grizzly kind of Tommy Lee Jones character. He'll be a little more heavy handed, but at the same time, he has a high moral ethic.

And we're going to try to add a little more juice to the supporting cast. We're dealing with other people's licenses, so for the most part, it's going to ring true to what's always been there. But some of the supporting cast hasn't really been fleshed out, so we're working on bringing them to life.

I've also done a reimagining of the Blackhawks, who are going to play a part in the story. I've been working on how they'll look, giving them more of a look of a modern-day air force.

We've also re-envisioned Rima. I really like her. As much as I love Nestor Redondo and the work he did, we're going to get away from that whole animal hide/tunic thing. I actually was watching a lot of Apocalypto and was enjoying the beaded work that was done with the Mayan civilization, so I kind of riffed off that. All the fans today with their piercings -- this character should appeal to them.

Those are the main characters. There are some other hooks in there that, because we're talking about the heroes of DC, I'm going to reserve judgment on whether we should bring that out. But I'm sure you'll hear more about it eventually.

NRAMA: Wait, is there a chance we'll see some more well-known DC characters showing up?

RM: Well, theoretically, any non-powered DC hero could show up in this world and have some form of involvement. And there are some characters that we're going to address that are going to be reinvented, one of which is a very cool villain who's going to get a makeover. But remember, I haven't seen all the scripts yet, so it's not like I can guarantee what's coming. But I do have the bible that outlines the main characters.

NRAMA: You got this bible from Brian?

RM: Yeah. It's got all the characters of this world outlined. It gives me everything I should know about them.

NRAMA: Where do the stories take place? Is there a Gotham City in this world?

RM: Yeah, we'll see Gotham. We'll be all over the place. I mean, since we have Rima, we'll be in South America. We'll see a little bit of New York, since Doc Savage is based in the Empire State Building. Of course, New York will be a little different from how it is now, but it's New York.

NRAMA: Let's switch gears to talk about your involvement, Rags. Why did this project seem like a good fit for you at this time in your career?

RM: Are you kidding me? Am I not the ultimate in old-school and new-school cool? Come on. [laughs]

It's funny, because I was involved with Blackest Night, but my involvement was more on the periphery. There were some other things that might have come out of that. But when I saw this opportunity with First Wave, I knew this was something I could really get into. I'm a huge fan of gangster movies. I used to watch The Untouchables when I was a kid. And I'm a big fan of The Godfather, at least the first two. And Good Fellas. My mom was into it, so that's probably where I got it from.

And while this may come as a shock to some people, there was a time when there was no cable, and there were only 13 channels to choose from, so my Saturday afternoons, after the cartoons, were all about the old black and whites. Johnny Weissmuller, Tarzan, the Lone Ranger, the Bowery Boys. I loved all these characters. A lot of my upbringing was black and white TV. I mean, we had a color TV, but that was in my parents' bedroom. So I'd be stuck downstairs with the huge black and white phonograph/TV, this huge monstrosity, and I lived in the world of those old television shows.

And even today, I love old Orson Welles black and white movies, like Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil. And when we went to art school, that was one of the things we used when we were learning how to light a scene or stage a set. If you're doing it right, it should start from the idea of a play. A well-lit and well-choreographed play. That kind of thing was part of my weaning into this field.

So when I got a hold of this, it was a whole new world that just appealed to me. I never really knew much about Doc Savage and the Spirit and the Avenger, and they just called to me immediately.

NRAMA: Have you done some research on the characters now?

RM: Yeah. I've done my due diligence. When Brian sent me the bible, he sent me a lot of links to check out. And I've been doing a lot of reading. So I'm not going to walk in stupid. I hate to go into a new project and not know what I'm going into. So I've done some research and reading, and that's been a part of the process.

NRAMA: Just to clarify, the comic isn't black and white, is it?

RM: No, no. It's in color. But I imagine the type of things you've seen recently in movies with that high contrast. Like you look at what Christopher Nolan did recently with Dark Knight, or what they did with Superman Returns. Or Hancock. There's this deeply rich darkness to it. And I like that. I was speaking with my colorist about keeping things very contrast-y. Any kind of computer enhancement, I think, should be kept at a low level and should only be used when it makes a big impact.

I'll be inking this too, so I'll be adding a bit of wash into my artwork. I did a variant cover for Saint Walker of the Blue Lanterns for the Blackest Night stories. And I added a little bit of wash to that, and I was thrilled with the way it looked.

This will be very different from what I've done before. It will be a very different mindset. Usually you leave things open for the colorist to do, but in this case, because of the nature of the characters, it's going to be much more rendered.

NRAMA: With you saying you're going to ink this, doesn't that take a lot more time? Is there a concern about timeliness of this?

RM: Well, you know, timeliness has been a problem for me, hasn't it? But I look at it this way: My pencils are usually so tight and well-defined, just so I make sure the inker knows every little thing I want. I don't want anything to be questioned. A lot of inkers appreciate that. But when I'm inking my own stuff, I'm not going to be doing my pencils that tight. Instead of inking in pencil, I'll be inking in ink. So my pencils won't be quite as fleshed out. Everything I was trying to do to translate for the inker will be done by me as inker. It'll give me more control of the final product. And I guess then if somebody tells me I suck, I can say, well, I guess I do, because I've got nobody else to blame. [laughs]

NRAMA: You mentioned, when we were talking about the Indigo Tribe, that one of your strengths was your ability to portray emotion and make heroes look more human. Do you think First Wave plays to those strengths?

RM: Yeah, I think the subtleties of these characters in First Wave are going to be something I'm going to enjoy drawing. I mean, Denny Colt is going to be more lighthearted, and Doc Savage will be more stoic, and Avenger's going to be sinister, but a good guy sinister. So there's a lot in these characters.

NRAMA: Is there anything else you want to tell people about First Wave?

RM: It's really going to be cool. It won't be pulp as you know it. It will be only enough that you'll recognize it and enjoy that part of it, but it will also be everything in between.

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