By Warren Ellis, Jon Davis-Hunt with Ivan Plascencia, Steve Buccellato and Simon Bowland
Review by Luke Williams
The Wildstorm line changed considerably since its conception in the early 1990s. Moving on from its beginnings populated with flashy X-Men clones toting guns, posing in swimsuits, the introduction of some high profile writers later in the decade brought critical respect and gave the line a shot in the arm.
Just as it was purchased by DC Comics and ending its relationship with Image Comics, the line moved further away from posing superhero teams and into more sophisticated territory, with titles such as Stormwatch, Planetary and The Authority written by Warren Ellis, and work from other creators such as Joe Casey, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.
The line also underwent a number of reboots, notably the short-lived “Eye of The Storm” mature line rebranding, the false start of the Grant Morrison led reboot of The Authority and Wild C.A.Ts, and the integration of the characters into the New 52. Since this turmoil, the line has lain fallow.
(Last August, Newsarama broke the story that DC’s Wildcats series by Warren Ellis and Ramon Villalobos had been delayed, but that the publisher intended to re-solicit them at some future date. The relaunch was formally announced in May 2019 for a 28th August 2019 debut, with Ellis talking about it online as far back as March 2017. ComicsBeat noted that on Twitter, Villalobos assured fans that WildCats was indeed still coming, pointing to missed deadlines as the culprit for the delay).
In 2017, Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt had the unenviable task of clearing the decks and restarting what has become a convoluted continuity. Hunt is best known for his excellent work on the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, 2000AD, and its sister Judge Dredd Megazine, whereas Ellis is an old hand at dealing with the denizens of the Wildstorm universe, and is responsible for the death of quite a few of the universe’s inhabitants.
Power within this rebooted universe is divided between IO (International Operations), as run by Miles Craven and formerly by John Lynch whose domain is Earth, and Skywatch, run by the unhinged Henry Bendix, who controls outer space. There is an uneasy truce between the two organisations, redolent of the real-life Cold War between the Western Powers and the USSR and its allies, with the Earth and its population in the middle.
In amongst all this the leading consumer electronics company HALO is headed up by Jacob Marlowe (think a 4’ 10” Steve Jobs), who is one of a number of aliens from various races that have infiltrated the Earth over thousands of years.
This infiltration has benefitted both Skywatch and IO. Both have developed enhanced human programmes, using alien biology or technology to create enhanced humans, with varying degree of success.
IO employee Angela Spica has been stealing technology from the organisation to develop a sub skin “drysuit” which covers her from head to foot just by her thinking it. Whilst passing the headquarters of the HALO organisation, Spica saves Jacob Marlowe from an assassination attempt by Michael Cray (aka Deathblow), acting on the orders of IO. In the process, she reveals the stolen technology and the interest of Marlowe and HALO. It also draws the attention of IO and Skywatch. Although Spica’s technology was stolen from IO, it has origins within Skywatch, increasing tensions between the two organisations and the Cold War begins to turn hot.
In the meantime, Angela Spica pinballs around the universe, being recruited temporarily by the HALO organisation, as Marlowe reveals he is not of this planet and he and other members of his race are here to help with humanity’s development. Marlowe’s Covert Action Team attacks an IO depot escalating tensions further. Spica is picked up by Shen Li Min, the planet’s new mystical defender aka the Doctor and Jenny Mei Sparks, part of the planet’s defence system. Together, they begin to recruit other very familiar enhanced beings to protect the planet.
Former IO Director John Lynch comes out of retirement and travels the US contacting the alien biology augmented, often mentally damaged, members of Project “Thunderbook”, a black ops programme. In the meantime, other alien races start to make themselves known and Jacob Marlowe’s mission to Earth is revealed to have not been altruistic after all.
These plot threads dovetail into a climax of team ups, body horror and large scale urban destruction. The series establishes a new status quo and should set up a line of science fiction and espionage based superhero comics. None of which have appeared, save the Michael Cray spin-off series, and even the Ellis/ Ramon Villalobos Wild C.A.Ts series has been cancelled.
Luckily, this story is completely self-contained. As a strip, you don’t need to be familiar with the history of the Wildstorm universe, or any of its (multiple) incarnations. This is the not the flashy superhero universe of the early nineties. This is gritty superheroics, undertaken with black ops, dirty tricks and espionage.
It’s an ambitious undertaking, encompassing so many characters into one 24 issue epic, tying everyone together and giving new origins and identities to major Wildstorm characters, some of whom change gender and ethnicity. The creators have taken component parts of the universe and re-jigged them, whilst keeping the core concepts.
Ellis’s interests in science, technology, biology and their application come to the fore. Black humour, sharp dialogue and characterisation, extreme violence and body horror abound, with a promise for the secret of a retro futurist secret history of the world.
Jon Davis Hunt is certainly not the flashy / boobs / guns / muscle etc type of artist. His style is very European, with a manga influence. Occasionally, his facial expressions look gawky, but his style has a sense of realism and tension whilst his layouts provide clarity. The colour palette is subdued without being dull, fight scenes are a series of silent panels, decompressed violent ballets.
It’s a shame that DC don’t seem to have any plans for building on the foundations that the creators have laid, but in the meantime enjoy what is a compelling stand alone science fiction / superhero / spy story.
• The Wild Storm Volume 1 is available here from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)
New York Times best-selling writer Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Red, The Authority) returns to DC to curate Jim Lee’s WildStorm world, resetting the WildStorm universe with new iterations of Grifter, Voodoo, the Engineer, Jenny Sparks and more!
Everyone is looking up.
A man has been thrown from the upper floor of a skyscraper.
Angela Spica, sick from the transhuman implants she’s buried in her own body – is the only person who can save him.
What she doesn’t know is that the act of saving that one man will tip over a vast and secret house of cards that encloses the entire world, if not the inner solar system.
This is how the Wild Storm begins, and it may destroy covert power structures, secret space programs and even all of human history.
Collects The Wild Storm #1-6.
• The Wild Storm Volume 2 is available here from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)
Jackie King, chief analyst at I.O., tries to make sense of all the pieces scattered across the board since Angela Spica saved Jacob Marlowe’s life. Angela Spica wakes up at Jacob Marlowe’s safe-house and starts to realise how far from real life she’s been thrown since then.
But life is not slowing down, and Marlowe’s wild covert action team has to extract the last member of their number from an I.O. black site. Meet John Colt–moments before he’s either rescued or murdered or dissected to reveal a secret kept for thousands of years.
Collects The Wild Storm #7-12.
• The Wild Storm Volume 3 is available here from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)
John Lynch, once the director of IO, the secret deep-state agency that runs Earth, is on the road. His darkest project, Thunderbook, has been uncovered, and he needs to warn the principals, now scattered across America. Hiding.
Because they were his most successful experiments. And none of them is completely human anymore.
Collects issues The Wild Storm #13-18.
• The Wild Storm Volume 4 is available here from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)
Jenny Mei Sparks has been around for over a century. She s seen a lot of things. Enough bad stuff that she took twenty years off to get drunk. And now she s back, and she has a plan. The problem is that other people have ideas too, and one of them is about reducing the population of Earth by around ninety percent.
Meanwhile, Skywatch intensifies its preparation for war and increases its attacks on the planet. For some of these conflict zones, Skywatch’s greatest threat is not IO or conventional forces, but the people who escaped from its experimentation camps. And the four people in London who it knows little about, but who are preparing to take steps to alter the balance of the world!
Warren Ellis finishes out his reimagining of the Wildstorm Universe with a story that will shock long-time fans not only because of the events of this book but what will come next.
Collects The Wild Storm #19-24.
• Jon Davis-Hunt is online at www.jondavis-hunt.com
Brought up on a diet of Commando, British Boys Annuals and Asterix, Lucas Williams’s day job limits his reading time. Luckily for everyone else this also restricts his writing time.
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