“First Wave” #2 continues the fragmented, big picture approach to the story begun in the first issue, which seems to be the best way to introduce so many different characters. While the focus here is on the Spirit and the Blackhawks along with the mysterious project in a jungle setting, numerous other characters make small appearances, including the first by Batman. While the larger story isn’t immediately apparent, the scene setting is entertaining, especially Azzarello’s reimagining of the Blackhawks as somewhat shady mercenaries with the money to afford good PR.
Last issue ended with the Spirit intercepting a truck meant for the Blackhawks and, here, we see the fall-out as the group attempts to track down Central City’s crime fighter. The harsher attitude of the group is a nice contrast to other versions of the Blackhawks and fits in well with the pulpy world that Azzarello is setting up. We’re also introduced to the revamped version of the Spirit’s sidekick, Ebony White. Instead of a black cab driver or kid, the character is now a sassy woman, a transformation that Azzarello says is the only way for the character to work and not come off as a racist stereotype. That’s not entirely true as she seems more a type than anything else right now, but she doesn’t appear enough to give off a strong sense of character.
The storytelling is somewhat fragmented as scenes last only two or three pages before moving onto the next, often using a piece of dialogue to carry over to the next page. It’s an effective method that allows for a lot of characters to be seen, but it’s only for brief glimpses. Batman, for example, shows up in one panel, while Doc Savage is only around for four pages. Though, in Savage’s case, he makes such a large impact in those four pages, he doesn’t need anything else.
This method of storytelling is helped by Rags Morales, who uses layouts featuring long, horizontal panels stacked atop one another, usually four or more panels per page. This panel use drives the story forward and also makes Doc Savage’s entrance on the issue’s only splash page that bigger a deal. Only that page and the one featuring Batman have panels that are taller than they are longer, giving each a stronger impact because of the break in the rhythm.
Morales’ art continues to impress as he gives a strong sense of this world and the people in it. There’s a lot of emphasis on faces, Morales playing off of Azzarello’s distinct dialogue skills to sometimes complement what’s being said and sometimes contrast for a more complex presentation. In some ways, his art is a little claustrophobic on some pages because of his rigid use of the horizontal panels, particularly on pages with six or more panels and numerous characters.
As well, Nei Ruffino’s colors continue to overpower the art, going too far in a computer-generated painted effect. Morales’ art needs a softer touch and, here, the use of colors often distracts from the art with characters having bright sheens on their faces, or odd glows. This was somewhat problematic in the first issue and is worse here.
Though somewhat scattered still, a growing picture of the plot of “First Wave” is becoming apparent, particularly with the bold and somewhat creepy ending of this issue. Azzarello and Morales make a better team than I thought they would, working in harmony very well. It will be interesting to see where this series goes from here.