Azzarello Pulps Up DCU With "First Wave"

In a world where there are no super-powered heroes, Batman carrying a gun is pretty damn intimidating.

Eisner Award winning writer Brian Azzarello ("100 Bullets") was in Baltimore today at the annual Retailer Summit sharing news of his upcoming work with legendary pulp hero Doc Savage and the world's greatest detective, The Batman.

Azzarello is creating a new universe for DC Comics that launches November 11 with the Phil Noto-illustrated "Batman/Doc Savage Special," which introduces readers to a world where Doc Savage is the ultimate specimen of the human race and a new crimefighter dressed as a bat is patrolling the streets of Gotham. The 56-page one-shot leads into a six-issue Prestige format miniseries, coming in 2010, entitled "First Wave" that will be drawn by Rags Morales ("Identity Crisis.")

"Doc Savage is top of the food chain. He's the Superman," Azzarello told CBR News. "And Batman will be Batman. In the book I'm doing with Phil Noto, Batman is just sort of making himself apparent and that catches Doc's eye. Doc is already established. He's a war hero and an adventurer. And there's a nut running around in Gotham City dressed as a Bat.

Azzarello explained this series really tells the story of Batman from the beginning. And Batman will be referred to as The Batman.

"You can't change Batman's origin," said Azzarello. "But this is Batman with guns. He was originally introduced with guns, so we're picking it up where it started."

While Batman almost never uses a gun in today's DCU continuity (he did shoot Darkseid in "Final Crisis"), he was often seen wielding one in the Golden and Silver Age of comics. In fact, in "Detective Comics" #29, the Dark Knight's third-ever appearance, Batman threatens two thugs with a handgun that falls to the floor during a skirmish.

Azzarello revealed Batman will carry .45s in shoulder holsters under his cape. And it's not so much the fact Batman brandishes guns that bothers Doc Savage, it's that he has a cape (and cowl) at all.

"That's the kind of thing that bothers somebody like Doc Savage, who operates out in the open. Why are you hiding who you are if you're trying to do good? That's a fair question. What's your agenda? If you want to be a crimefighter, why are you hiding who you are?"

Saying he didn't think the fact his Batman carries a gun would ruffle any feathers with devout DC fans, Azzarello added, "I think this a book people are going to want to pick up, even if they hate it."

He also said that Gotham is going to be in a different place than where traditional fans of the Batverse would expect.

"We're moving Gotham. Where do you think Gotham City is? New York? Nah, how would you feel about L.A.?," laughed Azzarello. "The sun sets in L.A. just like anyplace else. And I'm really kind of focusing on L.A. in the '40s, when it was a new town in the '20s, '30s and '40s. It's pretty much a new place. There was certainly a bit of lawlessness going on. And there was a huge, huge divide between rich and poor. And I think that really works well for this.

"There is a major conspiracy apparent - a global threat - that touches on all of these guys. There's a larger criminal element than a hero element. Comics kind of work counter-intuitively to reality. What I mean by that is heroes, create their villains. And I think, in real life it's the reverse. It takes evil to create heroes. So in this ["First Wave"], we've come up with the bad guys and the heroes are going to react."

Besides Doc Savage and The Batman, other classic heroes inhabiting this world include The Spirit, the Avenger and Rima the Jungle Girl.

"The Avenger is dark. He's a twisted character. His motivations come from... they don't come from a good place," explained Azzarello. "And The Spirit is so much of that time. Will Eisner created that character and he was riffing on a lot of stuff. And with The Spirit, now we get to riff on some modern stuff.

"I've got the blessing of the Eisner estate to take The Spirit in a different direction. Not just The Spirit, but also Batman and Doc Savage and we're tweaking all these characters to sort of make their stories work together in one universe."

Azzarello confirmed there will be new ongoing "Doc Savage" and "The Spirit" monthlies spinning out of "First Wave," as well as others series, but he couldn't confirm if he was writing either of them or possibly one starring Batman.

"What we're going to be establishing with all of these books is that there is a worldwide, global criminal element that will connect them all," said Azzarello, who will oversee all the new titles. "It's new. Well, it's somewhat new. Octopus is bald. The characters from Doc Savage will be evolved. I'm really trying to stay away from Batman's rogues' gallery too.

"Is Gotham L.A.? No, but it's on the West Coast. New York is Doc Savage's stomping grounds. He lives in the Empire State Building. And we couldn't move that. And Central City was always Chicago to me. Perhaps I was wrong, but even the name makes me think Chicago. It's creating a national scope for where these characters are operating from."

Azzarello mentioned that he tried to get Lex Luthor for the crime syndicate but leadership at DC Comics ruled against him.

But he did get the original Wildcat (Ted Grant) and the original Black Canary (Dinah Drake), who both first appeared in the 1940s.

"Black Canary is actually the youngest character in this. And she's also going to be a woman of color," revealed Azzarello. "Being able to recreate some of these characters in this noir universe is a lot of fun. But I'm very aware of the fact when these characters were created - in the 1940s - there weren't very many characters of color. We can change that."

In Justice Society of America lore, Wildcat served as a mentor to both Batman and Black Canary.

He's also transformed the very politically incorrect Chop Chop into the leader of the Blackhawks.

"The Blackhawks are all going to be new. These are new guys. And actually, the leader of the Blackhawks is Wu Cheng," offered Azzarello. "And that's different. But don't call him Chop Chop. It happens early on in the series and you'll see what happens. Nobody's calls him Chop Chop. He doesn't enjoy that.

"Most of the Blackhawks are either dead or retired. The original Blackhawk is running things - from afar. There's still Blackhawk Island but we really don't know Prohaska's agenda is. This guy is a mercenary."

Azzarello closed by saying he wanted his and Morales' work on "First Wave" to 'grab readers by the balls.'

"It introduces all these characters. And it sets up the universe without being expository - I hope. This is the world these characters operate under. It's really similar to what I did with "100 Bullets," where you get a feel for the world without being hit over the head with it. All of these characters were created of their time. And to be able to take them and recreate for this time, it's really exciting."

Art on this page courtesy DC Comics' The Source blog.

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