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Weekend Weltschmerz

I’ll save you looking it up. Weltschmerz is a delightfully rude-sounding word for a certain kind of world-weary disappointment, a feeling that translates roughly as “nostalgia for a place you have never actually been and probably will never get to go.”

This seems like it should be a familiar state of mind to superhero fans.

What got me thinking about it in this particular case was how everyone I know in and around comics keeps asking me what i thought of First Wave #1.


Um... so far, not terribly exciting.

Everything old is new again? Or the other way around?

First Wave seems like the kind of comic book I ought to really love. I keep trying, honest.

On paper, this looks pretty awesome, I have to admit.

On paper, this looks pretty cool, I have to admit.

I figured I was obligated to check it out at some point just because I’m kind of the designated pulp-fiction guy around these parts. So when First Wave #1 came out I dutifully picked it up… and I’m afraid what struck me, reading that first issue, was, “Huh. Okay, here we go again.”

See, this has — sort of — happened before, starting in 1972 or thereabouts, and continuing throughout the seventies.

I guess you could say that the cycle had its beginning a few years earlier, starting in the mid-sixties with the publication of Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes.

Try to get this edition, the one with all the comics reprints in the back.

Try to get this edition, the one with all the comics reprints in the back.

Feiffer’s book, which by the way is a great book in and of itself, talks at great length about the wonders of the Golden Age of comics. This was soon followed up by Lupoff and Thompson’s All in Color for A Dime and The Comic Book Book.

These books told us young fans that the Golden Age was made of awesome and frosted with genius. Really, they did.

These books told us young fans that the Golden Age was made of awesome and frosted with genius.

And of course there was Steranko’s very strangely-designed and hard-to-read but nevertheless magnificent History of Comics volumes one and two, that came out in 1970 and 1972 respectively.

You'd think there would have been better book design going on here. A giant tabloid with tiny columns? Still an invaluable history to have. But hard to read.

Well, if STERANKO said the Golden Age stuff was cool, obviously, it had to be so.

So all of us kids that found these books in the library or perhaps sitting on the display table at the bookstore already had kind of a rose-colored view of Golden Age comics, especially the wonder of the superheroes created in the 1940s.

It didn’t take long for DC, with its vast archives and no need to pay royalties to anyone, to start experimenting with Golden Age reprints.

My God I loved this book to death. There were hardly any newer stories in this one at all.

Example? In these two comics, of all the different stories advertised on the covers only the Justice League lead story and Superman-Red/Superman-Blue were done after 1950.

At first they were just putting 1940s strips like Starman or the Boy Commandos in the back of the 25-cent “Bigger and Better” comics that were partially composed of reprint material, and then eventually DC was building entire 100-page collections around Golden Age stories. Most of these were hand-picked by E. Nelson Bridwell, who had a good eye for this sort of thing.

First time I saw Plastic Man. I adored Wanted. It was like a cheap history lesson every issue.

This was my generation's first exposure to these characters, and Bridwell made sure to give us the Good Stuff.

There were even a couple of tries at an all-Golden Age reprint series and those did okay. Clearly, there was an interest.

It was also right around this time that DC acquired the rights to the old Quality Comics and Fawcett comics characters, and it didn’t take long for them to start capitalizing on that.

First with the Justice League, and then on their own. This is about where I lost interest.

First with the Justice League, and then on their own.

Nor was Marvel about to miss a piece of this action. Roy Thomas, who’d already been sneaking Golden Age references into The Avengers for years, gleefully launched The Invaders, featuring Marvel’s Golden Age heroes fighting World War II, and followed that up with a tryout for The Liberty Legion in Marvel Premiere. Both were obviously books he’d been waiting his whole life to write.

Roy Thomas lands his dream job. I liked these books a lot, for sure. But I daresay I'd have snooted the originals.

Roy Thomas lands his dream job.

There was another pop-culture phenomenon fanning interest in the heroes of the thirties and forties right around that same time, and that can’t be emphasized enough. During that same period, paperback fiction publishers had discovered the joys of the pulp-magazine reprint.

Some folks don't count Conan as being part of the 1970s wave of pulp nostalgia, but I do. I loved this series of paperbacks.

From a short-lived, poorly-selling pulp magazine to paperback sensation. Some folks don't count Conan as being part of the 1970s wave of pulp nostalgia, but I do.

Without question, the king of the 60s and 70s spinner-rack pulp revival was Doc Savage.

Doc did well in his pulp-magazine incarnation... ...But he RULED the drugstore paperback spinner racks in the late 60s and early 70s.

Doc did well enough in his pulp-magazine incarnation, but he RULED the drugstore paperback spinner racks in the late 60s and early 70s.

Doc Savage was a sensation, an unprecedented sales phenomenon. Pulp paperback series sprouted like mushrooms, as various publishing houses suddenly were flailing around for their own pulp-hero series to reprint so they too could start raking in the big dough. It seemed like a simple formula — find some pulp magazine character to reprint, commission a new cover with really stunning art, and lean back and watch the money roll in.

Not even Steranko covers could push this set of reprints past twenty books or so. The Avenger did better in paperback than he did as a pulp, honestly.

Even Steranko covers couldn't get the Shadow much traction, but the Avenger actually did better as a paperback series than he had as a pulp hero.

And likewise, it didn’t take long for publishers to start trying original material with the same pulp sensibility. When Warner ran out of original Avenger pulps to reprint, they commissioned Ron Goulart to keep the series going for another dozen books, and Avon experimented with paperback originals starring Flash Gordon and the Phantom.

Suddenly hero pulps were BACK! Suddenly hero pulps were BACK! Suddenly hero pulps were BACK!

This was also around the time when Byron Preiss launched his Weird Heroes series, billed as “A New American Pulp!” and also when Philip Jose Farmer’s Doc Savage biography came out in paperback. It was rumored there would even be a Doc Savage movie scripted by Farmer and directed by George Pal.

All of this nostalgia swirled around us comics fans of the time, filling our heads with visions of a mythical Golden Age where every magazine and comic book published in the 1940s was made of awesome. We were intrigued. We wanted more. You can’t blame DC and Marvel for trying to give it to us.

DC tried heroically with this one. I did enjoy this one a lot. Ben Grimm works paired with almost anyone, really.

The trouble is, though, there really was no good place for them to go with it. Should they try and do adaptations of already-published pulp stories?

Well-done, but suffered badly from deja vu. This was likewise well-done, but fans of the paperbacks had already seen it.

DC and Marvel tried that with their respective runs of Justice, Inc. and Doc Savage, and both series tanked. Fans of the paperbacks had already seen that stuff.

Pastiche in the style of the originals? That’s a better bet, but it wasn’t terribly successful, either.

This really was as great as everyone said it was. This is my favorite comics incarnation of Doc, it has to be said.

Maybe crossover, shared-universe stories? Some of these were terrific and some were just kind of embarrassing, but the bottom line is that none of them really set the world on fire.

LOVED THIS ONE. This one not so much. My favorite of them all, though it's a pity Kaluta only did the cover.

Really, the beneficiaries of this odd little fad were the original, new characters that launched out of it. The only real success stories out of the 1970s pulp/Golden Age nostalgia boomlet that I can think of are The Invaders over at Marvel, that introduced Baron Blood, Union Jack and Spitfire, and at DC it was the reimagined Justice Society– Power Girl and the Huntress in particular. (No, I don’t count Conan’s success in comics as part of this — the paperbacks, sure, they were riding that old-pulp-with-new-cover-art wave, but the comic very quickly became its own thing.)

I love the Huntress, especially the old Earth-2 version. It was the new characters that made this interesting.

But as far as reviving the characters of a bygone age is concerned, it always seems like a better idea in concept than in practice.

Here’s something I’ve always thought about the massive success of Doc Savage in paperback that I never see anyone bring up. Those books were deliberately designed to be not evocative of their pulp magazine origins. It wasn’t nostalgia that sold them. It was the aura of cool. And that aura came not from the content, but from the cover art.

Fred Pfeiffer, James Bama, whoever, it was the COVERS that sold these things. Look at that. How is it not awesome in a box?

Not just the front cover but the back, as well. Every Doc paperback had this picture on the back —

Doc and the Five Greatest Brains Ever Assembled In One Group.

–and this copy, underneath it:

To the world at large, Doc Savage is a strange mysterious figure of glistening bronze skin and golden eyes. To his amazing co-adventurers – the five greatest brains ever assembled in one group – he is a man of superhuman strength and protean genius, whose life is dedicated to the destruction of evil-doers. To his fans he is one of the greatest adventure heroes of all time, whose fantastic exploits are unequaled for hair-raising thrills, breathtaking escapes, and bloodcurdling excitement.

Try to forget everything you know about Doc Savage and his pulp beginnings, the comedy stylings of Monk and Ham, all of that. Take that copy at face value and think about what it promises. There’s no hint of nostalgia there, nor a whisper of the campy humor that infused George Pal’s Doc movie. It’s selling a story that’s just pure adrenaline.

And that’s why it was those book covers that first caught my interest. Now, I loved the books and I enjoyed the comics, but somewhere, in the back of my head, what I hoped for and never quite got was the truly apocalyptic Doc Savage adventure that the Bantam paperback cover illustrations and jacket copy created in my head. The amazingly badass one that never quite existed.

It’s that same sort of nostalgia for something that never really existed that hangs over First Wave. (Did you think I’d forgotten?)

It’s early days yet, admittedly. But I’ve sampled this thing twice now, the Batman/Doc Savage crossover and First Wave #1, and both times I’m left with the impression that the whole project sounded the hell of a lot more exciting at the concept stage.

Um... so far, not terribly exciting.

I read what Brian Azzarello and Rags Morales say they’re hoping to do, I look at the concept art and character sketches in the proposal, and it sounds great. It gives me the same anticipatory vibe as the old Bantam paperback jacket copy did for Doc Savage. And then it shows up and it’s…

…well, it’s most everything that’s annoyed me about modern comics for a while now. References that are lost on anyone not steeped in decades of pop culture history, glacially slow pace, paper-thin plot padded out to a length three times what it needed to be, and most of the important things being talked about rather than shown. And both books were priced way too high for what we got.

And what did we actually get in First Wave #1, anyway? So far it looks like we’re getting a loose adaptation of The Man of Bronze but combined with a shared-universe crossover and an updated ‘re-imagining.’ Sort of a one-stop shop for every revival technique anyone tried in the seventies.

Want to love this. But I just don't.

I dunno. I want to love this. But in addition to the expectations that fans of the originals are already bringing to it, for me the project is burdened with the problem of living up to the image of coolness the preview pages created in my head, and all my preconceptions about who Batman and Doc and the Spirit are supposed to be.

I think maybe the story might have been better served for Azzarello and Morales to go with completely original characters, the way Moore and Gibbons did with Watchmen or Ellis and Cassaday have done so often with Planetary. At least then it might have had a better chance at people judging it on its own terms.

Like I said above, it’s early days yet. I could be wrong. But I have a hunch that this latest foray in bringing the heroes of the thirties and forties to a new comics audience is probably only going to do about as well as all the previous ones. Which is to say, not very.

I’m starting to think that for these vintage pulp and comics characters — the Spirit and Doc Savage, in particular — it’s one of those things where you just had to be there, and if you weren’t, maybe it’s better to let it go. Without a lot of wallowing in, well, weltschmerz.

See you next week.

37 Comments

Still not sure why the Spirit is being exploited and used for such ridiculous projects (like the movie) that don’t fit with the tone or, for lack of a better word, spirit of the original. DC would likely make more money from issuing more reprints of the old Eisner strips.

Greg, you captured my introduction to Doc Savage exactly.. The spinner racks, the blurb on the back, the front cover. And reading the whole series and wondering which book I missed, because certainly, I didn’t quite get it all…something was missing.

But I don’t understand why I don’t count Conan’s success in comics as part of this — the paperbacks, sure, they were riding that old-pulp-with-new-cover-art wave, but the comic very quickly became its own thing. Will you expound?

Oh, and I forgot to mention….The All Star Squad was my introduction to DC’s Golden Age heros. I loved them, and they made the JLA-JSA team-ups SO sweet. And Infinity Inc. those first 50 issues or so continued that success…proving your point about the old heros pulps needing new infusions.

Will you expound?

Short version? When he made it to comics, and eventually this happened with the paperbacks as well, Conan served as a genre gateway. He opened the floodgates for a whole sword-and-sorcery boom. In short, it created a wave of NEW fantasy adventurers, not a wave of revivals. But as far as the original pulp paperback schtick worked — cool new painting on an old property — I don’t think you can separate the success of the Conan books from Frank Frazetta’s cover art. So I include the original Lancer books as part of that whole numbered-pulp-paperback genre thing.

This is all in my own head, you understand. It’s not like there’s a genre encyclopedia or something. Your mileage may vary.

I’m with you on the reimagining the characters. As I said here:

http://www.bluecorncomics.com/2010/03/indians-in-first-wave-1.htm

Why not update the characters a la “Battlestar Galactica” or the Marvel 2099 or Ultimate universe? Change their race, gender, or origin and make them more complex and multicultural.

Maybe someone can write a pulp comic better than the original magazines, but I doubt it’s Brian Azzarello. As you indicated, this is like a poor man’s pastiche of mediocre 1970s comics. Which were like a poor man’s pastiche of the 1940s pulps.

I mean, compare FIRST WAVE to a series like SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATER or NATHANIEL DUSK. Is it even close? No, I don’t think so.

Sounds like I was right. Because I RULE!

I was really fond of DC’s attempt in the 1980’s, particularly with The Shadow and Justice, Inc. Andy Helfer did some great work with both concepts, aided by such strong collaborators in Bill Sienkewicz, Marshall Rogers, and Kyle Baker. I know, I know, this started with Chaykin’s Shadow mini, but I really adored Helfer’s take.

Is Azzarello writing and conceiving the whole project? Because if so I’ll pass. And warn you it won’t get better.

I wonder how much of DC’s interest in reprinting the older stories in those 100-page issues was the fact that they didn’t have to pay the original writers and artists anything to reprint them? It was probably a nice little profit margin, for a while at least.

And while Doc Savage had a great ad-copy blurb, for my money no one could top the one they came up with for the Avenger paperbacks:

In the roaring heart of the crucible, steel is made. In the raging flame of personal tragedy, men are sometimes forged into something more than human.

It was so with Dick Benson. He had been a man. After the dread loss inflicted on him by an inhuman crime ring, he became a machine of vengeance dedicated to the extermination of all other crime rings.

He turned into the person we know: a figure of ice and steel, more pitiless than both; a mechanism of whipcord and flame; a symbol to crooks and killers; a terrible, almost impersonal force, masking chill genius and super-normal power behind a face as white and dead as a mask from the grave. Only his pale eyes, like ice in a polar dawn, hint at the deadliness of the scourge the underworld heedlessly invoked against itself when crime’s greed turned millionaire adventurer Richard Benson into — The Avenger.

After reading that, how could you not want to pick that paperback up and find out more about this guy?

It seems to me that the problem you have with Doc Savage isn’t that it’s nostalgic, it’s that you simply don’t enjoy Azzarello’s style. Ironically, the problem you have with it is a kind of nostalgia. You want the same visceral excitement of the ’70s paperbacks and are disappointed to find instead a modern style comicbook story.

Dalarsco, that was what I was getting at. Azzarello has a very, very specific style that he applies to everything….world-weary, terse, cynical, depressing wannabe noir, dour writing with bad, unsatisfying closure and a little too much smug self-satisfaction with its own cleverness. So it’s hard to say if it’s the concept that’s the problem because no matter what concept he’s doing, his writing style/tics overwhelm it.

That being said, I don’t think its far to say he dislikes modern style comicbooks. He might just dislike Azarello.

There are some tones that simply don’t go with certain characters, at least during a certain time. I don’t think Azzerello’s darker neo-noir style works with Doc Savage or The Spirt… He’d do much better with The Shadow, I think.

Fortunately, Azzerello’s only connected to the First Wave mini. The ongoings spinning out of it are written by others (I don’t recall the names off the top of my head.

Honestly, I think the writer best suited to a concept like Doc Savage would probably be Geoff Johns. Whether you enjoy his work or not, I think his ability to freshen up old concepts would be a great match for the old pulp adventures, and Blackest Night (the main mini) was definitely pulpy in its structure and overall attitude.

By the way, if anyone’s interested, Nostalgia Ventures has been reprinted Lester Dent’s original Savage and Shadow stories in a magazine format. I’ve been able to find them in the larger big box bookstores and the local used bookstores are getting remainders in bulk. And of course Abebooks.com is a great place to find the Bantam reprints from the 70s. You can pick up a whole pile for less than twenty dollars after shipping costs.

It seems to me that the problem you have with Doc Savage isn’t that it’s nostalgic, it’s that you simply don’t enjoy Azzarello’s style.

Could be. But I think it’s more that I don’t like Azzarello’s style here, applied to these characters in this way, AND the project is trading on nostalgia. Or goodwill, or name familiarity, or whatever you want to call it. DC wants it both ways. They want the pre-sold appeal of Doc Savage, the Spirit, et al, but they don’t want to actually do Doc Savage or any of the others… and truthfully, I don’t blame them. The originals are all readily available, why go there again? Just cowboy up and do a new pulp-adventure genre piece in that style and be genuinely original instead of half-assing it like this and end up pleasing nobody.

When I first got into comics in the early 90s, I encountered Jeff Rovin’s great Encyclopedia of Super-Heroes (and one of SuperVillains, and one of Monsters, too, I think), which came out about 1985. Besides being introduced to Zot, Flaming Carrot and Matt Feazell’s Ant Boy and Cynicalman in entries, there were also the great entries about the Golden Age comics characters and all the pulp characters mentioned above. If the back cover copy that Greg quotes from Doc Savage and the Avenger copy that Perry Holley quotes above weren’t directly quoted in that book, very similar descriptions were used. (And thinking about it makes me wonder, if Rovin was quoting this copy, is it possible he was working for one of these paperback publishers and originally wrote the copy himself?) The encyclopedia entries were so evocative of awesomeness, there’s no way the originals could possibly measure up (well, maybe some of the Spirit, but…).

But I get the point about the amazing stories of these characters that only existed in our heads. The real thing can’t possibly be as awesome. So now I should be doing my own comics and use those descriptions of awesome and try to create my own awesome.

Gotta find that book at the library again.

Great post again this week, Greg.

No, I don’t count Conan’s success in comics as part of this — the paperbacks, sure, they were riding that old-pulp-with-new-cover-art wave, but the comic very quickly became its own thing.

As usual, this is a well-written post.

Unfortunately, your parenthetical that I have quoted above fatally undermines your central thesis. The bottom line is that CONAN did work. Sword & Sorcery was hardly a brand new genre in the ’70s. It was just that Roy Thomas and company figured out a way to bring it to comics at a moment when it was popular in the broader culture. Even so, it was hardly a case where Sword & Sorcery titles were a slam dunk. DC launched CLAW, THE UNCONQUERED. It had a great (all-new !) premise, solid art and was an utter flop.

The bottom line is that most launches have poor chances of making it five years (my personal bench mark of a success), much less lasting indefinitely. That is true of all-new stuff, older stuff with some new element and re-imaginings. Failure is common, but success is rare.

As to your specific reason for excluding CONAN (and I would presume TOMB OF DRACULA), very success is going to become its own thing. A creator might have brilliant, long range plans a new version THE SHADOW, but readers are never going see them if its cancelled after 3 issues. It will look like just another pastiche with a few characters acting strangely, or whatever. After all, Blade didn’t turn up until TOD #10.

As to FIRST WAVE in particular, I walked in with knowledge of neither Doc Savage, nor The Spirit. Some more exposition would have been helpful, but I don’t think that would have addressed your complaint about the pacing. Otherwise, it was fine, but not much more than that.

Ahh, yes. I get nostalgia for things that don’t exist all the time. But I prefer to think of it as nostalgia for things that don’t exist yet– and as a writer, I strive to create them.

I checked out First Wave #1, it didn’t work for me, no. That Shazam comic you have up there, though, I remember buying that at a flea market. And it’s wonderful.

Tom Fitzpatrick

April 10, 2010 at 9:16 pm

I’m surprised DC didn’t throw in The Shadow, another pulp fiction character from the good ol’ days.

Enjoyed Howard Chaykin’s rendition of that character, as well as the on-going series that followed up by Sienkiewicz and Baker.

Didn’t like the Shadow Strikes series.

I’m with you, Rob. I hunted down the Shadow series DC did in the ’70s with Denny O’Neil, and for the most part, I enjoyed it.

Granted, Greg, I’m nowhere NEAR as familiar with the character as you are, but for what it is, I found it enjoyable and entertaining. Incidentally, two of these 12 issues were actually written by a young Michael Uslan. And they’re not half-bad. Neat, huh?

Oh, and one more thing…that column on James Bond you linked to a couple weeks ago? Well, I read it and that made it up for me: I was finally going to take a crack at reading James Bond. I checked out Casino Royale from the library (didn’t need no adult to accompany me ;) ) and I’m enjoying it. I mean, the gambling bits are really tedious, but when the action hits, boy it hits!

So, thanks.

Man, I loved First Wave #1 and I know nothing about these characters. Well, I loved Darwyn Cooke’s awesome run on The Spirit, but that’s about it.

But then again, I love Azzarello’s style of writing. 100 Bullets is a personal fave.

What is wrong with Doc Savage’s arm on that First Wave cover?!?! It’s severely dislocated! He must be in excruciating pain.

I read one of Marvel’s Doc Savage issues when I was very young. It was one the my earliest comic books, actually. I had no idea he was a classic pulp hero or anything; I just thought he was a regular Marvel super-hero. And then a short time later, I saw an ad on TV for the movie, which I thought looked a bit scary. I only saw the ad once, and I never heard of the movie again until years later. I still don’t know anything about it, except that I think it starred Ron Ely. I had no idea George Pal had directed it.
Also way back at that age, I would see house ads for the Shadow in DC. I didn’t know anything about his pulp history either, but I don’t think it was long before I heard about the old radio show. I never read an issue of the Shadow, though.

Then in the early eighties, someone gave me a couple of those Doc Savage paperbacks, but I never got around to reading them. I have no idea what happened to them. I read somewhere once that those paperbacks were responsible for the appearance of Doc Savage as he’s been portrayed ever since. Apparently before that, his look varied, and he’d been described in the original pulps as looking like Clark Gable. I don’t know if that’s true; I can’t remember where I read it. But it sure is hard to picture him looking any other way.

Oh, and thank you for teaching us Weltschmerz. That’s a good word to know. I think it might be something that I suffer from frequently.
(If I remember correctly, ‘Welt’ means ‘world’, right? And I believe ‘Schmerz’ is an evil organisation that fought James Bond.)

“DC wants it both ways. They want the pre-sold appeal of Doc Savage, the Spirit, et al, but they don’t want to actually do Doc Savage or any of the others”

No surprise there. It’s their same approach to superheroes. DC owns some of the most iconic, idealistic heroes in the world… but the most written around them these days are steeped in cynicism, even cheap shock. It’s like they ‘d really prefer to write horror or action but just don’t dare to abandon their cash cows. The result are stories that, while not necessarily bad in and of themselves, just feel wrong for the characters.

I’m with you, Rob. I hunted down the Shadow series DC did in the ’70s with Denny O’Neil, and for the most part, I enjoyed it.

Granted, Greg, I’m nowhere NEAR as familiar with the character as you are, but for what it is, I found it enjoyable and entertaining.

Oh, I’m a HUGE fan of the DC 1970s Shadow comics. Actually I love all of the various Shadow books, Chaykin and Helfer and even The Shadow Strikes! by Jones and Barreto. I was talking about sales success.

It’s interesting, I’d always understood Weltschmerz as the realisation that nothing will ever be as good as it is in your dreams. I always thought of it more as hopelessness for an impossible future than nostalgia for a never existent past. But I guess the problem is still the same, the fundamental unsatisfiablity of expectation.

“Even The Shadow Strikes! by Jones and Barreto.” ?
Howard Chaykin’s Shadow mini-series, other than containing one of my all time favourite jokes and amazing art, was a dead end creatively for the concept. It took the inherent nihilism of the Shadow and made it the dominant feature to the exclusion of all the other elements. The on going series by Andy Helfer was a mean spirited failure that took the worst from the mini series and dragged it out to an inglorious length, except for the Annuals which were great. Jones and Barreto recognised that The Shadow cannot be successfully removed from his original context, the series did end on a falling note, which was a shame, and for the most part it was a thoughtful and very engaging piece of work.

funkygreenjerusalem

April 11, 2010 at 4:24 am

Azzarello has a very, very specific style that he applies to everything….world-weary, terse, cynical, depressing wannabe noir, dour writing with bad, unsatisfying closure and a little too much smug self-satisfaction with its own cleverness.

Someone hasn’t read the Doctor 13 series.

Fortunately, Azzerello’s only connected to the First Wave mini. The ongoings spinning out of it are written by others (I don’t recall the names off the top of my head.

That’s whats put me off, and I was reading a Brian Hibbs column where he’s worried it will put most others off as well – I don’t know if I’m going to like this when it’s written by a writer I like, and so I am not that interested in it leading straight into two ongoings written by people I haven’t heard of.
That will probably kill this dead more than anything else.
(It’s similar to Dynamite and Green Hornet – if I’d liked the Kevin Smith or Wager Green Hornet’s, they could have sold me more. Launching 4-5 at once… I’m not interested in any if the product is that generic.)

Greg, you just wrote the biography of my childhood. Bravo!

An interesting thing you touched on here is how important the cover art to those paperbacks in the ’70s was in drawing in (younger) readers. While the comics may have been the main reason I ventured into the Conan books (although those Frazetta covers certainly helped), I don’t think I ever would have started reading the Tarzan and John Carter of Mars books if it wasn’t for the awesome cover art by Neal Adams, Boris Vallejo and Michael Whelan and the overall cool, very non-nostalgic way they were packaged in general. Those really piqued my pre-teen interest back then, and it was only after reading a few of the Tarzan books that I started reading the Tarzan comics (the Marvel series). Before that, my only exposure to Tarzan was the rather campy Ron Ely TV series and a few old (probably Weismuller) Saturday afternoon movies, which made the character seem rather silly.
Nevertheless, I agree with your point, at least in the case of pretty much everything by Burroughs (Howard not so much), that the content of the actual books often seemed to fall a bit short of the incredibly cool packaging…

“I was talking about sales success”

I see. Yeah, I can imagine why it wouldn’t have sold too well in its time. Just thought I’d give you an idea of what some young geek of today thinks of the old 70s’ stories!

Excellent story. Thanks for the history lesson in Golden Age/pulp revival!

I’m excited to see the Avenger in this series because he’s always been a favorite. I’m nervous to see how he’s handled though, because he’s basically a psychopath and that always seems to get lost when adapting him to a new medium.

As for first wave, Doc Savage has never been done well in comics in my opinion, partly because of the James Bama covers. They were SO awesome that everyone tries to draw him as a seven foot tall old man with a dracula haircut, and that’s hard to do without looking stupid (unless you’re James Bama).

I assume Batman is a part of this sell books and to pretend this is the DC universe. I think it’s kind of ugly. Like seeing Mickey Mouse at a tea party with Winnie the Pooh.

Spirit: Darwyn Cooke’s Spirit was amazing, and the rest of the issues were good. That series was a successful relaunch of old characters if you ask me. As for including him in First Wave, I don’t get it.

Note: Aparently DC did try to get rights to The Shadow but couldn’t or wouldn’t afford it.
I recall Didio mentioned it in one of his “20 Questions” segments at Newsarama.

I’ll also add that I LOVED the shadow ongoing that DC did in the 80s, and I thought it was a great/natural progression for the character.
But I also understand why it absolutely totally flopped.

I am very interested in the forthcoming DC Avenger, but so far Fist Wave has bored me to tears and I think I’m going to have to wait for cheap backissue finds.

For those of us that never read the pulps, the whole exercise seemed doomed. In comics, those characters don’t stand out. The Shadow is the only one with a visual that can match your better superhero designs. Away from Will Eisner, The Spirit doesn’t have much going for him. I liked the Darwyn Cooke issues, but only because of Cooke’s craft. Doc Savage looks sort of generic.

If you have characters that don’t have much traction with current readers, make sure the comic is good enough to demand attention on its own. I like Rags Morales art, but the story doesn’t have enough to keep my interest.

Word has it Sam Rami has been itching to do a Shadow movie for years (Darkman was a ‘rough draft’ in a way of his first attempt). He recently got the movie rights.
Adjunct to that, I’ve heard some buzz that he wants to do it as a sort of “team book” w/ a bunch of other pulp characters alongside the Shadow.
After his first 2 excellent Spiderman movies I’ve got faith he can do it.
. . . My point, Rami showed he can really distill a character to its universal idealized classic version, while at the same time making it feel really fresh. To use an over used phrase, “breath new life into it”–which is exactly what the whole First Wave seems to be missing.
There’s a hodgbodge feel to the way DC is tossing all these random elements in: A sprinkle of Batman, a touch of Pulp, a little Eisner magic and WALAH! Instead of the sum equaling a greater whole, you can a half-cooked stew that doesn’t really satisfy anyone, let alone want them coming back for more.

One small note regarding this story.

For those of us who are interested enough to try a comic like 1st Wave, but think that the cover price is a lot for a ‘tryout’ book, there are websites where you can get your comics at a significant discount [30-50% off] so that even if you don’t fully enjoy the book, you’re not out cover price.

i did that with the Bats/Doc Savage & 1st Wave #1. i didn’t love them, but enjoyed them enough to pay 1/2 price. i use discount comic book service, and i’m sure that there are others.
DFTBA

I’m a little late to this party, but I also have to chime in that the hodgepodge feel of the FirstWave is one of the many problems wrong with it. Also, whether or not Mr. Hatcher was being intentional, but just how boring those two pages from it are, both in subject material and in presentation. This is what’s supposed to get people excited about these characters?

I’m a little surprised how often these pulp characters are always kept in period setting. I know the Helfer/Baker Shadow went off the rails near the end, but it’s probably my favourite of all the pulp revival comics because it seemed to have had a pretty good grasp on keeping the pulp thrills and filtering it into a modern day setting. Certainly Doc Savage and the Avenger could be updated to the modern day and work like gangbusters if done right. Though that last part is always the tricky part to pull off…

Also, whether or not Mr. Hatcher was being intentional, but just how boring those two pages from it are, both in subject material and in presentation.

I didn’t pick the ‘most boring’ pages on purpose, no. I picked a sample page from Doc’s intro scene and one from the Spirit’s intro scene. Mostly because Jonah already had them as preview pages on the CBR server, so I didn’t have to scan anything.

There is a (very) little action in First Wave #1. The Spirit gets into a minor punch-up, and we see Doc’s aide Johnny getting his eye punched out in the South American jungle by the metal man Ferrios, before being rescued by Rima. (However, nowhere are Johnny, Rima, or Ferrios introduced or even named anywhere in the book, nor is there any indication why they matter. I just happened to recognize them from the sketch/proposal pages in the back of the Batman/Doc Savage one-shot. I think that’s lame for a first issue, but I’m told this is how it’s done in modern comics. I still think it’s lame.)

In fairness, I gave today’s Doc Savage a try precisely because it wasn’t Azzarello again, and I have to say that it was much more entertaining than the other two First Wave efforts. The new Doc book out today was scripted by Paul Malmont, who is also the author of the magnificent pulp-inspired novel The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, a book that as it happens I fell swooningly in love with when I encountered it a while ago. I figured he seemed to have a good handle on the idea of Doc from his novel, so let’s see what he brings to this new try at a Doc comic.

I have to say I think he pulled it off pretty well. At least it was visual and things happened and stuff moved, and to be honest it almost felt like Malmont was trying to evoke that same apocalyptic let’s-floor-it feeling I talked about getting from the old James Bama book covers. The Justice, Inc. backup feature I didn’t enjoy as much– it read like warmed-over Punisher, but with less enthusiasm– but I did still like it better than First Wave #1.

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