DC has been trying to right their creative ship after the lukewarm reviews of publications under the “New 52” and “DC YOU” banners. It began last summer with “DC: Rebirth” to reinvigorate and return classic superheroes to the status quos readers knew them best at, while still being innovative and fresh. This led to the “Young Animal” imprint in the fall, with Gerard Way as the “showrunner” of four books that push the envelope of mature, narrative storytelling with obscure characters, such as the Doom Patrol and Shade the Changing Girl.
With the successes these books have had for the publisher, DC is trying again with a different intellectual property they sit on: the WildStorm Universe. Created by Jim Lee at a time when artistic prowess was valued over storytelling, the Wildstorm characters were hardened heroes who didn’t care about killing villains as long as it kept the world safe. DC tried to incorporate them into the main universe during the “New 52” to middling reviews. Now they’ve decided to revamp the characters into a new imprint similar to “Young Animal.” The flagship book, which saw its first issue released this week, is The Wild Storm, written by “showrunner” Warren Ellis and drawn by Jon Davis-Hunt, and serves as a great entry level book for this newly revamped universe.
If you want a description of what happens in the first issue, look elsewhere – because the first issue is dense and laden with mysteries. What is clear is that Angela Spica, an engineer for an unnamed company, has developed bio-enhancements for humans that allow her to cover herself in futuristic armor. These implants are slowly killing her. Her involvement in saving a CEO falling from a building results in her getting pulled into a shadow war that might just envelope the solar system.
Ellis, who worked on previous WildStorm books before the merger with DC, once again showcases his ability to spin a web of damn good spycraft stories. Like his other books Injection and James Bond: Vargr, the narrative is doled out in small parcels that the reader must then unpack and piece together as if they were solving a mystery. The opening sees Lucy Blaze cleaning herself off after killing someone who had tried to edit their genes. After several pages she drops out of the story in favor of Pris/Voodoo, talking about “The Working” and launching a new record at the place where an alien abduction occurred. Which then folds into seeing Miles Craven and his husband talking about being violently ill after a Clinton fundraiser before Angela arrives to beg for more funding for her project.
The jumping around of the narrative simply adds to the sense of the unknown being woven by Ellis. We get a sense of who the key players will be going forward in the book, but don’t get much in the way of descriptions as to who they are. Jacob Marlowe is the head of a technology company, but he may also be much older than he looks (and possibly an alien?). It feels like details like that will come later – if at all – and that in the meantime Ellis will parse out only the elements we need to know in order to understand the factions involved in the war between the two clandestine factions of HALO and I.O., and save the rest for later issues. In the meantime we are left with snippets featuring dead bodies, armor manifesting from inside a human, and a man who “runs the world.” The long game is once again on display in Ellis’ writing.
Davis-Hunt brings a great look to the world of The Wild Storm. While Ellis’ narrative may be dense and at times impenetrable, the art is crisp, clear, and detail-oriented. The world around the characters appears just like ours does, complete with grimy bathrooms and people stopping to record a man fall out of a building on their phones. Even the coffee cups characters carry have details you would find on a Starbucks mug.
The details really come alive in areas where the narrative reveals the strange underbelly of the story. Perhaps the best scene to detail the art is when Angela activates her armor and transforms. The action takes place over three pages and sees Davis-Hunt change the page layout to utilize tiny panels in order to show the manifestation and “growth” of the armor. It is a visually engaging sequence that relies completely on the intricacies of the art to sell it.
This adds to another detail that helps make the art work so well, in that the layouts of the pages are constantly changing. The opening begins with a traditional nine-panel grid, which shifts to a three panel widescreen layout, and then to the aforementioned tiny panels of suit details. The subtle changes like these helps to keep the reader engaged by both looking at the widescreen action and the details of the world. Like Doom Patrol before it, the flagship book has great art to accompany the story.
The biggest issue I had – if you could call it an issue – was that I grew mildly frustrated as I read from not knowing who the characters were. I haven’t read any of the previous WildStorm books, so I didn’t know if I was supposed to know who these characters were from previous stories. But when push comes to shove, the narrative works well enough that you don’t need to know anything from the previous books in order to enjoy this new story. It’s just the comic geek in me wanting to know everything.
If The Wild Storm is any indication, DC has managed to create another strong imprint for the publisher. With Ellis steering the ship and overseeing a series of books that will hopefully favor dense tales of espionage and alien invasions, The Wild Storm is the perfect book to spearhead this endeavor.