Those of you who remember the brash 90s version of the WildStorm universe (or even its noughties iteration) might well be rather bemused with Warren Ellis’ character-driven intrigue-heavy take on it so far. Up to now, we’ve had two issues in which, while there has been some incident (the most important being Angie ‘Engineer’ Spica saving Jacob ‘Emp’ Marlowe’s life), much of the panel space has been devoted to groups of people sitting around talking to one another, all presented rather beautifully in Jon Davis-Hunt’s immaculate art. Well, if you were worried that this series was going to become a cerebral, over-talkative snoozefest (albeit a smartly scripted one), you can breathe a sigh of relief. All that talking was necessary to give this issue’s action context and emotional impact. And, dammit, it is good.
The issue opens with the kind of sequence that reminds you just how good a writer Warren Ellis is. In IO’s headquarters, important people are talking about the developments of the last couple of issues, while a rather attractive young Asian woman, whose casual dress comes complete with a tastefully understated union jack tee-shirt, moves from screen to screen taking in the conversation as she goes. All the while, the IO employees are completely oblivious to her presence.
As a way of introducing readers to a new character while reminding readers of the ongoing fall-out from the last two issues, it’s both economical storytelling and wildly imaginative. Not only that, but Ellis uses this opening as a way to tie the book into the (or at least a) wider DC Universe with references to Commander Steel, Martian Manhunter and Ted Kord before showing us the enigmatic young lady back in her apartment. It is here that she has a notice board on which post-it notes with the names of the major players we’ve encountered so far are stuck with thread linking them to each other and intriguing labels like “Hyperstitional Warfare”, “Nine Treaties” and “Human Property Schism”. While her identity is not entirely clear, it seems likely that this is either Jenny Sparks or Jenny Quantum. She appears to have the attitude, idiom and memorabilia (including a lighter engraved with the words “Mars Expedition 1955”) of the former and the ethnicity of the latter. In any case, this is all we get of her this issue.
Because we’re back to Angie who’s holed up in her disused IO facility, tinkering with her flight equipment, when she’s visited by our rogue three-person CAT (Covert Action Team) of Void, Grifter and Kenesha who complete the teleportation they began last issue. They start a conversation with Angie but are rudely interrupted by the IO CAT we saw Miles Craven deploy last issue, too. Things kick off.
Look, if you’ve been a comic fan for any length of time, you’ve seen this kind of thing hundreds – if not thousands – of times before. A team of bad guys take on a team of good guys while the big bad guy watches remotely from somewhere far away. This is done so very well, though. For one thing, there’s no posturing or trash-talking. There is just an exchange of fire between two highly professional groups of killers, rendered beautifully by an artist who is at the very top of his game. Important details are shown without interrupting the ongoing flow of the fight. Craven’s commentary draws attention to one or two of these details, but, again, the brief interruptions reinforce the sense of excitement and tension rather than disrupting it. In short, this fight is well worth the two and a half issues we’ve been made to wait for it. Ellis absolutely knows what he’s doing here.
And, to top it all off, there’s a gut-wrenching development at the end (which I won’t spoil) that suggests that not all the characters Ellis has introduced us to are destined to last the full twenty-four issues. The sense of jeopardy in that final page is powerful and I’m rather miffed I’m going to have to wait another month to find out what happens next. All of which is a sign of a very assured, accomplished bit of writing.
This issue was a remarkably quick read, particularly in comparison to its wordier predecessors. That is not to say, though, that the story is in any way slight or superficial. The art is not just beautiful (although it most assuredly is that); it is an integral part of the storytelling – important details are highlighted clearly and faces are both consistently and pleasingly expressive. In terms of pacing and development, the Ellis’ plotting is spot on; his dialogue is naturalistic but never superfluous. In short, this is comic book storytelling right out of the top drawer. I’ve been re-reading Ellis’ initial run on StormWatch and, as good as that is, this blows it away. It’s mature – both in its portrayal of super-powered characters and the moral universe they inhabit. If that interests you at all – or you have even a passing interest in the fate of characters you may have enjoyed a couple of decades ago – this book is a must-buy. It is effortlessly involving, dramatic, witty and intriguing stuff.
(This review first appeared on the Weird Science DC Comics website. Check it out for reviews, comment, podcasts and fun.)
It’s been a little while since I’ve updated the blog. This is not, I should point out, because I’ve not been writing. It is simply that I’ve not been writing here. Over at the Weird Science DC Comics site, Jim Werner has been kind enough to allow me to post some indie reviews and has asked me to do some reviews of DC crossover titles too. As Jim is such a nice chap and, consequently, is a man to whom it is remarkably hard to say ‘no’, I’ve been more than happy to oblige. Those reviews will turn up here eventually, but I’ve been a little dilatory in transferring them over, for which failing I can only apologise. In addition, I’ve made my podcasting debut on the Weird Science behemoth of a podcast which can be downloaded here. I appear about eight hours in. (Well, I did warn you.) I’ve also got a slightly longer section on their latest podcast. If you want to hear me discuss the Batman/Shadow and Planet of the Apes/Green Lantern crossovers, that’s the place to go (6 hours and 20 odd minutes in for that one).
Apart from that, I’ve been reading some stuff you might be interested in.
I suppose the big new thing I’ve been reading is comics in translation, specifically European comics. Every now and then Comixology has a sale and I bite. Recently, I finished Raptors which is a four volume series about renegade vampires and the two New York cops that become entangled with them. Written by Belgian creator Jean Dufaux and with art by Enrico Marini, the story starts very well with some wonderfully atmospheric moments. The Raptors are a brother and sister team of vampires determined to wipe out the ‘mainstream’ line of vampires who they believe have become ‘soft’ and ‘corrupted’, trading their predatory nature for the ability to walk in sunlight and, essentially, behave like human beings, albeit horribly selfish ones. This is a pretty good premise and the story is indeed rather entertaining. The final volume suffers from being a bit rushed and, consequently, a bit confusing. Lenore, the main character, makes some decisions that are a little difficult to reconcile with what’s come before but, on the whole, this is stylish stuff. The title does contain some nudity and is really for readers aged 18 and over.
Also on Comixology, I’ve acquired Warren Ellis’ original run on Stormwatch which is a useful touchstone when considering his current run on The Wild Storm for DC. The political sensibility is definitely there, but the early stories are still very much rooted in the gaudy action of the 90s/early 00s superhero genre. They are, arguably, the superhero genre taken to their logical conclusion once you factor in real world politics. Henry Bendix may seem to be well-placed to identify and fix the world’s problems, but his interventions do have unforeseen consequences, particularly his questionable decision to include Rose Tattoo on the team. What’s happening with The Wild Storm at the moment is much more subtle and much more character-based. The ready-made structure of the Stormwatch series just isn’t there and, as a result, relationships between characters and factions are less clearly defined, all of which makes for a more engrossing and enjoyable read. There’ll be a review of issue 3 of The Wild Storm up shortly, incidentally. If you’d prefer, you can see it at the Weird Science site now.
Other stuff I’ve been reading is Tim Shipman’s All Out War which offers a very engaging insight into the shenanigans around Brexit. It is not especially interested in the pro and con arguments for staying in or leaving the EU; what it does do is trace the political manoeuvrings behind the scenes and the (some would argue disastrous) steps Cameron took that ultimately ended his career. I’m only a dozen or so pages in, but already it’s proven to be very enlightening. If the ‘inside story’ of one of the biggest political decisions/catastrophes/upheavals of the last few decades is your cup of tea, this is worth checking out. It’s exceptionally readable, well-researched (Douglas Carswell’s dad was apparently the man on whom the character of Dr Nicholas Garrigan in Giles Foden’s The Last King of Scotland was based. Fancy) and rather fascinating.
Well, that’s me done for now.