Why do we love comics so much? (I know I’m assuming here, but you’ve just started reading a comic book review so I’m reasonably sure there’s some comic love going on in that heart of yours.) I would imagine that there as many answers as there are comic book fans, but for me, it’s the coming together of a number of different factors. First, there’s the whole extended universe thing – the excitement you get from being plunged into a world that is rich and varied and capable of expanding in often surprisingly new directions. Then, there’s the fact that it’s a hybrid medium, a unique combination of image and text. Much has been made of comics’ increasingly filmic qualities and I get excited about that too, but a page of comic art can be studied in ways that a film scene can’t. That each figure is drawn, is deliberately posed, gives the artist greater control and, potentially, subtlety when it comes to conveying meaning (and, yes, we’ll be getting to some specific examples in a moment). Although, like film and television, the comic is a collaborative medium, the creative aspects of that collaboration are smaller-scale, meaning that the story can be created more precisely. Plus, comics are fun. Their potential to surprise, to play with narrative form and structure, is exciting. Anything can happen in comics. Anything at all.
Or anything can not happen. Or be about to happen, as the case may be. We’ve been here before with The Wild Storm. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve pointed out either on this site or in interactions with friends and readers online that this series is essentially one long-form story and we’re not even halfway through it yet. But let me have one more go and try to explain why The Wild Storm #10 might well be the best issue of characters talking to one another and not doing very much you’ll ever read…
The issue opens with a conversation between the four members of Jacob Marlowe’s wild CAT (Covert Action Team) as they discuss what to do about IO’s High Tower facility, from which John Colt (just about) escaped a few issues ago. What’s impressive here is how each member’s distinct personality is clearly portrayed during the conversation: Adriana’s somewhat fey detachment which transforms into something altogether more decisive when Kenesha suggests blowing up the IO base; John Colt’s elegant lounging against the wall in his three-piece suit with glass of bubbly in his hand; Cole Cash’s scruffy action-hero look (think a more laid back Riggs) as he argues with Kenesha first about the ‘computer table’ the team is using to plan the mission and then about how blowing up the base would be unacceptable in terms of collateral damage; and Kenesha herself – casually dressed, but quixotic in nature, almost manic when she gets an idea in her head. Like blowing up the IO base.
What makes this work is simply dialogue and art – the two main foundations of comic book story-telling. The genius is in the detail, though. It’s in the movement of Cole’s coffee mug, in the way John Colt wafts his champagne flute airily about while never putting it down. It’s in Kenesha’s smile, in Adriana’s studying of the map, in Cole’s pause as he takes Kenesha’s idea and adapts it, turning it into a workable plan. The sense that these characters know each other, have worked with each other before, are comfortable with each other is palpable. And thoroughly engaging.
When Angie becomes part of the group, the dynamic shifts again. Cole’s trying to be welcoming – or possibly trying to impress her (has he finally noticed that she’s the most beautiful woman in the book? Hmmm…); Kenesha’s gratitude that Angie agrees with her has a slightly performative air to it. Again, this is subtle stuff, but the sense that this comic, for all its supernatural and super-technological elements, is grounded in the experiences of real characters with pre-existing connections to one another is extraordinarily powerful. It is, without doubt, one of the key strengths of this series.
And then we’re treated to another – admittedly less subtle – relationship. It’s been a good while since we’ve seen Henry Bendix, but here he is in his huge satellite orbiting the Earth spouting dialogue that, while mostly played for laughs, succeeds in being gloriously sinister. Has the creative team forgotten that we last saw Bendix threatening to rain fire on the Earth for IO’s theft of Skywatch technology? It feels like they might have, but then perhaps that’s a situation that is still developing. What we do get, though, is a typically spiky (but affectionate, if that’s not an oxymoron) bit of banter between Bendix and Lauren Pennington and a splash page of Bendix taking his position as the Weatherman high above his control room in a low-tech homage to the gleaming futuristic Skywatch satellite of the 90s StormWatch comic.
The issue is rounded off by an intriguing meeting between Shen and Jenny Mei Sparks, before the creative team (finally!) give us a feelgood glimpse of this universe’s Jack Hawksmoor. That feeling is ruined somewhat by the appearance of Voodoo (finally!) who, having seen Hawksmoor dive off a building and into the road, declares there’s a war coming.
Which we kind of knew already, I suppose, but it’s nice to hear it from someone else. Particularly when that someone else is not only extremely pretty but also seems to be genuinely horrified by the prospect. I sense an explosion coming. Maybe not next issue, but in issue 12? Definitely.
I have read some reviews that have complained about the slow build up of this series. Indeed, I’ve mentioned it once or twice myself. I think that’s an entirely legitimate point to raise about what Ellis and Davis-Hunt are doing with this book, but I can no longer find it within myself to care. The creative team have thoroughly convinced me that they know what they’re doing and, although the misgivings about pacing and the ultimate destination of this story haven’t gone away entirely, I’m simply having far too much fun with this title to pay them much mind. There are creative teams (and particularly writers) I would pay to study this book. In terms of how to introduce characters, the Hawksmoor section is a beautifully crafted example for any aspiring writer. And a writer could do a lot worse than read the first six or seven pages of this issue thoroughly if they wanted a reminder of how to convey a team dynamic and a shedload of plot in a convincing and thoroughly entertaining manner. Davis-Hunt’s art continues to excel and here it’s in the subtleties of facial expression and small detail that he expresses his not inconsiderable talents for characterisation and world-building. I don’t mention Simon Bowland very often in these reviews, but his work, too, contributes to the characterisation very effectively – particularly with Cole Cash’s dialogue.
Consistently excellent and enthralling, this book continues to be a delight. This issue is mostly preparation for what will undoubtedly be an explosive ‘mid-season’ finale, but the trust engendered by the creative team’s deft handling of the story so far means that this reviewer at any rate is happy to wait a while before we get more action. What we do get here is impressive, grown-up comic book storytelling with a laser focus on a grounded, intriguing world and the three-dimensional characters who inhabit it. Quality stuff.