Every so often, I forget. I forget how vast and positively bubbling with potential the Wild Storm universe is. Warren Ellis, though. Warren Ellis does not forget. As can be seen from the really quite outrageous turn this issue takes about halfway through. With the exception of one or two moments here and there, the series so far has concentrated on delineating the nature of three major players in the Wild Storm universe – IO, Skywatch and the Halo Corporation. Up to now, it has been a series steeped in early 21st century obsessions with technology, power and the clandestine activities of organizations rich in both. This issue, however, Ellis reminds us that, as intriguing and fascinating as those organizations are, they are not the sum total of the Wild Storm universe. Far from it.
The Doctor is in, ladies and gentlemen. And she will see you now…
Last issue promised us an infodump of Kherubim lore and the opening of this issue fulfils that promise rather nicely. Marlowe tells Angie a tale of an ancient alien research vessel stranded in Earth’s prehistory and the occupants’ decision to stay and guide humanity past The Gaian Bottleneck, a real world scientific theory that seeks to answer Fermi’s Paradox (which points out that, with the number of worlds in the universe potentially capable of sustaining life, the lack of evidence for the existence of alien life is mathematically extraordinary) by arguing that developing and sustaining life may actually be considerably harder than simply producing it. Marlowe and his fellow crewmembers (which presumably include John Colt and Kanesha) are dedicated to ‘uplifting’ the human race past the point at which, it is theorised, most alien civilizations have destroyed themselves. And indeed Jon Davis-Hunt’s magnificent, melancholy-tinged art gives us brief glimpses of alien civilizations that have done just that.
Angie accepts this at face value and gives Marlowe permission to access data from her suit in exchange for access to his facilities and the freedom to use them as she sees fit. It is clear, however, that Marlowe hasn’t told her the whole story. Even to only a moderately observant reader, the gaps are obvious. Marlowe glosses over his apparent immortality and also sidesteps the issue of what exactly he’s been up to for the last few thousand years. Who else was on that Kherubim research ship is also left conveniently unclear, as is the full extent of the research team’s mission. So, the infodump actually serves to deepen the mystery around Marlowe. Fancy that.
Kanesha’s conversation with Marlowe after Angie leaves only confirms our suspicions. She’s relieved that Marlowe hasn’t told Angie the whole story and Marlowe admits to wanting to “use” Angie, although it’s clear that his intentions are considerably more noble than, say, IO’s. The action segues nicely over to the formidable Jackie King who comes off here as a slightly more benign, but no less authoritative, Amanda Waller.
Ellis takes a gentle swipe at corporate culture here. I find myself sympathising rather deeply with Mitch who, after last issue’s late coffee escapade, here finds himself firmly reminded of company policy when it comes to speech patterns in the work place. Jackie’s team makes a breakthrough in their attempts to work out exactly what’s going on with the rogue CAT, Jackie theorising with Miles Craven that they could be working for Skywatch. This, in turn, leads Jackie to asking Mitch to set up a “working party” dedicated to hacking Skywatch’s mainframe, an action that would be in clear violation of the treaty between IO and Bendix’s outfit. Mitch is unhappy about this but doesn’t have much choice in the matter. “Yo Ho!” indeed.
The final section of the issue deals with Shen Li-Men, a character who, in the old WildStorm universe, underwent a number of significant changes. Here she is this universe’s Doctor, a being of tremendous power whose brief is to heal the planet Earth.
Rather skilfully, Ellis chooses to introduce her from the perspective of a minor character, allowing us to see her in her ‘day job’ as psychedelic super-healer, prescribing her patients drugs that, it seems, allow them to pass through the Bleed (whether physically or mentally isn’t entirely clear) into a clear, greenish-yellow space in which she can ‘heal’ her patients. Well, except for one, who turns out to be something other than she seems. This is Jenny Mei Sparks who we first saw in issue 3. Sparks has attended Shen’s healing session in order to check her out. Having got the information she requires, she evades Shen’s questioning through a clever trick similar to the ones we’ve already seen, this time involving Shen’s mobile phone.
It’s all handled with considerable panache and Ellis gives us a sense of both women as extraordinarily powerful, resourceful and intelligent. Davis-Hunt’s art is customarily magnificent. By keeping the aforementioned minor character’s hands in the foreground, he evokes the sensation of surreal movement, as he takes us on a trip through the Bleed that manages to be both disturbing and hauntingly beautiful. We’ve seen the weird lymphocytic beauty of Davis-Hunt’s Bleed before, but here he introduces us to a huge Titanic-like liner from whose portholes gaunt, emaciated alien faces stare at Shen’s patients, their spindly fingers pressed against the glass.
Nor is this the only object of sheer bizarre wonder Davis-Hunt presents us with. When Shen takes a trip into Jenny’s mind, literally walking through memories of her past incarnations, do we really see pre-historic Daemonites forging a proto-Jenny in their heart-shaped machine? Just what the hell is going on here?
The issue ends with Shen making a visit to the after-life world of the Doctors, another excellent example of entertaining exposition wrapped in colourful characterisation. As always, Ellis delights in layering mystery on mystery, but there is at least the sense that these mysteries are significant, that the reader is on the verge of finding out something fundamental about this Wild Storm universe. Answers, of course, will have to wait, but that’s the beauty of this book. Ellis and Davis-Hunt are in no hurry to reveal the deep underlying truths of their universe – and the series is all the richer for it.
This issue is, as the previous one suggested, largely concerned with fleshing out more background and detail of the Wild Storm universe rather than advancing the series’ plot in any significant way. It is to the creative team’s credit, then, that The Wild Storm #8, rich in mystery and effortlessly engaging characterisation, is so incredibly entertaining.
With mature sophisticated plotting and beautifully detailed – and imaginative – art, this is a gloriously confident book and the surprising way in which its focus has shifted and expanded with this issue has imbued it with renewed freshness and unpredictability. In short, The Wild Storm remains a must-buy title and this is as good an issue as any to jump on board.