By: Jason Starr (writer), Phil Winslade (artist), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist)

The Story: I think we can all safely conclude the Avenger’s got some major issues.

The Review: With the end of the First Wave miniseries, DC now has the awkward situation of having set up a fully-realized, separate world from their primary continuity, but with only two titles to support it (the underwhelming Doc Savage and the more pleasing The Spirit).  It’s not clear where they’ll take this strictly pulp/noir universe from here.

First Wave Special doesn’t really give a good indication of DC’s plans for this world.  The story doesn’t follow up the series in any way, nor does it tie into any of the related ongoings (except for featuring El Mano Negra and Shonder Zeev, New York mobsters briefly mentioned in The Spirit).  Mostly the issue acts as a character piece for the Avenger, AKA Richard Benson, who played a fairly big role in the First Wave miniseries, but whom you got to know the least.

And overall, he gets a fairly strong showing here.  His gunning for Zeev gives him ample opportunity to demonstrate his utter ruthlessness, which is pretty intense.  I’m not sure even Batman would beat the teeth out of a mobster with a brick, especially after saying he won’t.  Starr does a good job balancing the Avenger’s narration with exposition and his internal broodings, though it gets heavy-handed every now and then.

Besides the angst, the Avenger’s sense of justice is incredibly contradictory.  Savage is correct in his assessment that Benson has a code only he understands; the Avenger spends the issue going after Zeev and his thugs for crippling a client, but when it comes to the atrocities El Mano Negro commits against the innocents of the city, Benson doesn’t “give a damn about any of this.”  But considering his grim origins, it makes sense personal vendettas are the only ones he’s interested in taking up.

The drama gets strong treatment, but the action does not.  Besides the first two-paged brief on El Mano Negra’s senseless crimes (why behead five construction workers?), there’s never a point where the mobsters really get to show their chops.  Zeev goes through the trouble of attaining military-grade, shoulder-pack missiles to counter the invasive gang, but they never end up duking it out.  Makes you wonder if they’re all they’re cracked up to be.

And with the Avenger getting such focus, the more recognizable Savage and Bat Man end up getting very little to do this issue.  Benson gets all the action, Savage does all the meticulous brainwork, and with both men working Bruce’s key strengths, Bat Man ends up playing assistant.  It feels as if Starr writes him in just for the sake of having Bat Man in the story.

Winslade’s sketchy style is perfectly suited for gritty, pulp kind of comic.  It looks credibly retro, but with some contemporary attention to detail, especially in the backgrounds.  A lot of praise has to go to Kindzierski, whose funky choice of colors somehow suit the noir kind of atmosphere this comic has going for it.  If the Avenger comes across foreboding at all, it’s more thanks to the artists’ portrayal of his eerie lack of emotion more than Starr’s plodding script.

Conclusion: Besides a fairly effective insight into the Avenger’s character and motivations, First Wave Special does nothing to flesh out his world or the other characters involved.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Bobby, your boss is a merciless crime lord.  What makes you think you’d be able to live after reporting to him you failed to kill the Avenger as he asked?

– No one likes a know-it-all, Doc Savage, geez.