(This review first appeared on the Weird Science DC Comics website.)
The last month has been a Wild Storm free time, but, with last week’s issue of Michael Cray and now a new issue of the parent title on our hands, all that is over and it’s time to dive back into the rich, complex and slow-burning narrative that we’ve come to know and love. I hope that, like me, you’ve fruitfully used the month’s hiatus to meditate on the realities of life and death and the endless struggle that stretches out all too briefly before us as we shuffle through this veil of tears. Or perhaps you’ve instead been wondering just what the implications of the events of issue 12 of this wonderfully involving series will be: whether Mitch’s death will go unnoticed and/or unavenged, whether IO will be able to make use of the data they’ve just filched from Skywatch, whether Skywatch will do anything else to punish IO for its indiscretions. Or perhaps you’ve been wondering just what John Lynch has to do with any of this. If so, then welcome to issue 13. Answers await…
Whether they’re answers we want is a different matter, mind you. The issue opens with Mitch’s corpse still in the car in which the hapless IO programmer made his final journey to the great hereafter. Jon Davis-Hunt draws many things well and apparently this includes likeable characters with bulletholes in their heads and brain matter splattered across the rear windscreen behind them. It is hard not to feel a twinge of sorrow here. Mitch was a decent character who, through no real fault of his own, paid the ultimate price for getting caught up in the machinations of two absurdly powerful organisations. At least Jackie King looks upset. Miles Craven and his assistant director are more concerned with the implications of Mitch’s assassination and Craven’s response suggests that the ‘cold war’ that has existed between IO and Skywatch for decades is about to turn horribly hot.
Unfortunately, Henry Bendix (presented unflinchingly here in all his skinny-bald-old-man-in-an-open-bathrobe-wearing-only-his-underpants glory) has much the same opinion and the conversation between him and Lauren Pennington is big on the kind of overconfidence and underestimating of your opponent’s will that invariably spell all kinds of trouble. The sense of a balance of power that has been painstakingly delineated for us over the previous twelve issues being irrevocably upset is very strong.
Having spent just enough time to keep that particular plot plate spinning, Ellis and Davis-Hunt move on to the meat of this issue which is former IO director John Lynch and his mission to warn his former operatives that the current management of IO may be aware of and interested in them. His first port of call is Marc ‘Backlash’ Slayton and to say that the meeting doesn’t go entirely as planned is an understatement. Ellis and Davis-Hunt do a grand job here of building up a sense of unease and wrongness in the opening stages of Lynch’s encounter with Slayton. The way the conversation plays out is not exactly unexpected, then, but it is extraordinarily disturbing and, as might be expected with this book, points towards a whole new plotline that I’m intrigued to see unfold.
Having spent most of the previous twelve issues in the background, this issue shockingly brings the Daemonites to the fore. They’re involved not only with Slayton, but also with a sleeping Voodoo and, perhaps most surprising of all, with Emp’s Wild CAT. I’m not going to go into details here because some things shouldn’t be spoiled, but the final few pages raise all sorts of questions about the nature of Emp’s original mission to Earth, why it was scrapped, who was on it and what exactly the relationship between Kherubim and Daemonites is. To be fair, these questions have been percolating in the back of my mind for a while anyway, but Ellis reminds us that he’s not forgotten them either and that the answers may just be… ahem ‘wilder’ than we might have been expecting.
It feels like I’m repeating myself in these reviews, but this issue really is excellent. The action sequence featuring Slayton and Lynch is beautifully done; Davis-Hunt’s set pieces continue to impress and, partly because of its location, this one has its own distinct gritty and brutal feel. The snippets of insight into Project Thunderbook and Lynch’s involvement with IO are welcome and only add to the overall sense of a vibrant, detailed world with a secret history whose slow uncovering is immensely satisfying. What is also impressive is how the creative team has, seemingly without breaking much of a sweat, multiplied the range of potential threats the Earth of the Wild Storm universe now faces. Skywatch and IO were already morally questionable organisations, but now that Lauren Pennington’s talking about “destabiliz[ing] life on Earth, break[ing] IO’s control over the planet and mak[ing] it impossible for any global order to replace it”, the sense of threat to the planet has been intensified significantly. Now, is definitely not the time for that end of issue reveal about John Colt!
Special mention must go, again, to Steve Bucellato, whose colours continue to lend subtle shades of meaning to the narrative and, on a purely aesthetic level, look absolutely gorgeous, and letterer Simon Bowland whose lower case dialogue contributes significantly to the title’s distinctive and classy look. The Wild Storm remains a quality production and essential reading for anyone who likes their comic books with a five-minutes-into-the-future sci-fi sensibility or, indeed, just appreciates extraordinary art and mature, intelligent storytelling.
This issue skilfully opens up the ongoing storyline of the series, giving us insight into the Wild Storm universe’s past and clues as to its future direction. A new character is introduced and old ones are adroitly revisited; answers to old questions beget a whole host of new ones. This issue is a powerful reminder that this series is not the story of a team or a character but of a world, a rich and storied setting steeped in conspiracy and intrigue. Davis-Hunt’s artwork continues to be the perfect vehicle for depicting that richness; Ellis’ story continues to sink its hooks deep into the reader’s imagination. Another outstanding issue.