This week marks the beginning of creation, a day of genesis in the DC Universe.
First Wave, the new six-issue mini-series from the mind of Brian Azzarello with art by Rags Morales, kicks off a series of comics that will be based in a brand new, modern pulp universe. Occupying one of the DCU's 52 Earths, First Wave features many of the best known non-superpowered DC heroes, like Doc Savage, the Spirit, Batman, Black Canary, the Avenger, the Blackhawks and more.
"It's a world of heroism at its most innocent," Morales told Newsarama. "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."
Azzarello, who's well known for his hardboiled crime series 100 Bullets, brings his sensibility for pulp stories to First Wave , but is placing familiar costumed DC heroes within this new world and its pulp setting.
"What we're doing here is taking these long-established characters and throwing them into this new situation and seeing what happens with them," he said. "It's a timeless world. Technologically speaking, it's the Batman animated series. They have cell phones, but the gangsters use Tommy guns. What we wanted to do was take all these cool design elements from the 20th Century and throw them together, and then put these familiar characters into that world."
The story begins five years after a war that was devastating, painting a landscape of despair. "It was one of those wars where nobody really won. I don't want to get into it too much, because it plays a big role in the story later on," he said.
At the end of the war, a new organization emerged called The Golden Tree. Its activities are what motivate the heroes to take action. "The Golden Tree is a group of extremely wealthy people that have decided that the world can't take care of itself, and people can't take care of themselves, so they're going to do it for them," Azzarello explained. "It's an organization that was created right after the war, so it's have five years to establish itself. But it's a sacred organization as well."
As the story begins, Doc Savage is a well-known, famous hero. "He's an established character," Azzarello said. "He's been around for awhile. He doesn't hide who he is. He's really upfront about things. No secret identity."
At the other end of the spectrum is a brand new hero who shows up in Gotham City and calls himself "Bat-Man." "He's just getting started," the writer explained. "And there are some growing pains he'll be going through."
One of the more noticeable features on the design for Bat-Man in the First Wave universe is that he carries and uses guns, something many DC fans have voiced concern about.
"What a lot of people forget is that Batman originally had guns. There's no denying that. In his early issues, he used guns a couple times. To say he didn't is revisionist history," Azzarello explained.
Azzarello pointed out that Batman changed once superpowered heroes began appearing in comic books. "The genesis of that character was changed once Superman and the Flash and some of these more superpowered characters started being written," he explained. "When he started meeting them, it took that Batman out of what was essentially a pulp world. Batman was pulp, born and bred. Other than wearing a cowl, that character was a pulp character. Then it got into the whole superhero aspect of things, and I think some of that was lost.
"Rather than going down the superhero road," he said, "we're going to go down the pulp road with the character."
Azzarello said there are very few changes to the Spirit, since he already existed within a pulp kind of world. "The Spirit is the Spirit. He's Denny Colt; he operates in Central City," he said. "But he believes he was dead once. You know, there's a little.... I don't want to say there's a screw loose, but you could say there's a screw loose."
The Blackhawks also show up as a paramilitary organization, featuring a few of the old familiar characters, but a few news ones as well. And even some of the old names may change. "The squadron leader of the Blackhawks is Weng Chan, who people might remember as Chop Chop," Azzarello said. "But this is not what they remember. This guy's a bad ass!"
The writer said his goal is to make the stories feel fresh and new while infusing them with an older, pulp feel. And in the meantime, he hopes to create a new universe of DC characters who exist in a world without superpowers. "The directive from day one, when [DC co-publisher] Dan [DiDio] and I started putting this together, is there will be no superpowers and no magic."
Azzarello said that while there's a chance a superpowered character from the DCU could show up as a non-powered character in the First Wave universe, it's not happening anytime soon.
"I think there are enough non-superpowered characters in the DCU that aren't being used that we're going to be able to play with this for a little bit, rather than go after superpowered characters," he said. "I think if we threw somebody in there like, say, Clark Kent as a reporter, that's kind of an Easter egg thing. I don't know if I'd do that. We'll see. We'll see how it's selling. We may have to throw in special guest Clark Kent, 'because you demanded it!' But I don't plan anything like that now."
Morales is designing the First Wave characters and setting while drawing the interiors. The series also gets covers by J.G. Jones. Azzarello said that while he enjoyed creating this new world for DC, the artists are carrying a lot of the load because it is their interpretation that makes the world real for readers. "I can describe it all I want, but they're the ones that have to pull it off," he said.
First Wave will be followed by a new Doc Savage series, with the first arc written by Paul Malmont, the bestselling author of The Chinatown Death-Cloud Periol. The Doc Savage series will have art by Howard Porter and a back-up Justice Inc. story by crime novelist Jason Star and artist Scott Hampton. DC will also launch The Spirit, written by Mark Schultz with art by DC newcomer Moritat.
"What we establish in First Wave ripples throughout the other books," Azzarello explained. "It's all the same world. The different directions we're going with The Spirit are the same as what will be in the book by Mark Schultz. And the pages of the Spirit are beautiful. Have you seen the art by [Moritat]? They're just incredible. And then Howard Porter is doing Doc Savage, which also looks great. And the Doc Savage/Batman special that Phil Noto did looks great. And this book that Rags is doing looks amazing. You know? Rags is definitely bringing his A-game.
"Everybody's really committed to this. It's really invigorating to be a part of something like this," he said.
After this six-issue mini-series, Azzarello may return to the First Wave world to tell more stories, but can't really confirm anything yet. "I might. I have to be cagey about that answer," he said. "We'll see."