NOTE: This article will discuss spoilers for The Wild Storm’s first issue.
TRIGGER WARNING: The Wild Storm contains violence and some body horror.
DC comics formally re-launched WildStorm this past Wednesday with Jon Davis-Hunt and Warren Ellis’ The Wild Storm. Ellis, whose work on StormWatch, The Authority and Planetary played a major role in setting the tone of WildStorm’s previous incarnation, has returned to shepherd the imprint and to write at least one of the line’s new books. If The Wild Storm is any indication, the house that Jim Lee and Brandon Choi founded is in good hands. One issue in, the new WildStorm looks to be a world that blends the paranoia of contemporary life and the covert world, Ellis’ longstanding fascination with technology and its potential, with clean, clear, exciting superhero action. It’s a wonderfully specific book, both a fantastic comic and fresh proof that diversity is vital to the form continuing to thrive.
One of the most rotten things about the worst factions of contemporary comics fandom is their insistence that there is, somehow, a limited amount of space in popular culture. In their minds, anyone who is not a white dude who meets a certain rigid standard of “nerdiness” is unwelcome, either as a reader or a creator. It’s an absurd lie they tell themselves to explain away the fact that their taste in stories is neither as universal nor as exclusive as they would like it to be. To put it another way, there is absolutely space for stories about Superman being lonely, alienated and terrifying. But that is not and should not be the only interpretation of that character. You don’t have to deny the existence of Adam West’s witty, campy Batman to enjoy Christian Bale’s wounded, avenging knight or Michael Keaton’s isolated, spooky champion.
These are ideas. There is no limit to them beyond humanity’s ability to think. Our collective consciousness isn’t a cup. It will not overflow if Marvel publishes both Adrian Alphona and G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel and David Aja, Annie Wu and Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye. There is room for everyone to tell and enjoy every kind of story under the sun. Comics are for everyone. And because comics are for everyone, there is more than enough room to tell stories that are meant first and foremost for specific audiences. The Wild Storm is a science fiction superhero comic whose primary audience will most likely be adult readers with a taste for post-cyberpunk storytelling and tales that dig into the ramifications of superheroism in a contemporary setting. I’d absolutely recommend it to folks who aren’t specifically fans of those stories, but as a fan of them myself, I’m very glad the medium has a place for it. There is room in comics for a story about a group of campers using friendship and the lessons they’ve learned as Lumberjanes to get to the bottom of the deep weirdness surrounding their camp. And there is room in comics for a story about a high-tech secret war in New York that’s being fought in part because of smartphones. It’s rather awesome really.
The Wild Storm begins with a covert operative called “Zealot” washing the blood off her hands and face in the wake of a confrontation with a now-dead man who’d been involved in “home-brew gene editing and some contraband software.” She calls in a clean-up crew from The Division, her employers, warns them not to flush any of the dead man’s contaminated blood, and then goes off-grid to get coffee. Nearby, a young musician named Priscilla “Pris” Kitaen, stage name “Voodoo,” lays the groundwork for the release of her band’s next album, and declares a building where a UFO abducted someone to be of paramount importance to the project’s success. As Kitaen and her collaborators go on their way, they’re noticed by a man named Miles Craven, who is getting coffee with his husband Julian. They are soon interrupted by Angela Spica, an engineer who works for Craven as part of the shadowy government organization International Operations. Spica, who is bleeding from her chest and visibly addled, wants Craven to approve more resources for a major project she is working on. Spica reads Craven’s caution and Julian’s alarm at her bleeding as disinterest and leaves, aggrieved. She walks the streets of New York, emotionally and physically distressed.
She bumps into a man staring at the top of the famed HALO corporation’s offices. She apologizes, and asks what is going on. The man she collided with tells her he saw a flash of light. And then a man gets thrown out of one of the HALO office’s windows.
And so the players are established. Jacob Marlowe’s HALO corporation has been innovating technology (particularly phones) at such a speed that IO is afraid of him. HALO wants to change the world. Marlowe, its CEO, is an alien, and at least one of his employees – a white-eyed woman named Adrianna is not, strictly speaking, alive. IO wants to protect the world, and Michael Cray, one of its best assassins, genuinely believes Marlowe is a threat to humanity. The Division is trying to keep humanity safe, and the one agent of theirs we’ve been introduced to, Zealot, has apparently been alive for a very long time. Pris “Voodoo” Kitaen has bigger plans than people just listening to her music. Angela Spica is missing and probably dying. IO knows who she is. HALO wants to know who she is. A wild storm lies on the horizon.
In terms of pure craft, The Wild Storm is impeccable. Jon Davis-Hunt works off a graph, and breaks his panels down cleanly and clearly. Big moments, like the revelation of Angela’s robotic form, get the space they require to land an impact. Smaller moments, ones that emphasize the expressions and body language of The Wild Storm’s cast, stand well both on their own and alongside the book’s more traditionally superheroic moments. Action and conversation flow equally well, and the story’s scene transitions are elegant, particularly during the introduction of the book’s cast.
Davis-Hunt’s character designs are distinct, and I like the thought he puts into the outfits his cast wear, particularly in how they fit. Zealot’s suit and pants are well tailored, and her distinctive bulky red trench coat recalls the one Midnighter wore in The Authority. Miles Craven’s dressed in business casual with his collar open – he wanted a day out with his husband, but the nature of his job means that he could be called into the office at any time, for any reason, so he is prepared for the occasion. And Angela Spica’s too-big “Heavy Metal Coder” shirt and oversized trench coat emphasize her isolation and disassociation from the world. From action to layout to design, Jon Davis-Hunt’s inaugural work on The Wild Storm is very, very fine.
The Wild Storm marks the first time that Warren Ellis has returned to a world he did major work on before leaving. While he did write Moon Knight in both Secret Avengers and the character’s self-titled book for Marvel, the aims of those runs were very different, and Moon Knight’s tenure in Secret Avengers was more about looking at how he worked with others than diving into his pathology. The Wild Storm is explicitly Ellis’ return to the questions of technological development, international geopolitics and humanity’s response to the world twenty years after he first explored them in StormWatch. It feels similarly anxious and aware, but also, as of this first issue, lacks a clear-cut villain. HALO seems to be more sympathetic than IO, but it is early days yet, and both Voodoo’s plans and the nature of the Division are still an enigma. I am very, very curious to see where The Wild Storm goes, and very, very curious to see how the rest of the new Wildstorm will follow.
The Wild Storm is excellent. I strongly recommend it.
NEXT WEEK: Storm Chasing looks at a better world that might have been in Dustin Nguyen and Joe Casey’s brilliant, frustrating, sadly unfinished Wildcats Version 3.0.