For me, and a lot of other fans, Warren Ellis was the defining creator of the WildStorm imprint. While it had a lot to offer followers of great superhero art prior to his arrival, the writing on most of its titles could charitably be described as “total crap.” His debut on “Stormwatch” didn’t change things overnight, but a title that was originally seen as a third-rate “X-Men” knockoff in a market full of them suddenly seemed a little sharper and a little smarter and went on to improve from there. Fans took notice as Ellis introduced characters and concepts -- Midnighter, Apollo, “The Bleed” -- that are still being used in the DC Universe today and which led to the breakout successes of “The Authority” and its contemporary “Planetary.”
Ellis had been long absent from the imprint by the time the final issue of “Planetary” shipped, but you could see the impression he left in subsequent iterations of “The Authority” and titles like “Stormwatch P.H.D.” The WildStorm imprint has been dormant for a while now, but with the success of DC’s “Rebirth” initiative it’s now getting a relaunch of its own. Only now the difference is that it’s just one man re-imagining the imprint’s entire universe and characters. “The Wild Storm” at least has the good fortune to be handled by the creator most associated with its quality and even if this first volume is the kind of slow burn that Ellis loves to traffic in these days it’s at least one of his better ones.
I can imagine that the people who would be most disappointed by this are those expecting the writer to keep as much of the original WildStorm imprint intact as possible. Which would mean lots of superheros on lots of different teams all getting in fights against bad guys and each other on occasion. That’s not what Ellis is doing here. “The Wild Storm” is a from-the-ground-up re-imagining of the imprint’s world and characters. A lot of the characters here have familiar names, act in the ways you’d expect them to, and you’ll encounter plenty of recognizable organizations as well. The key difference here is that all this doesn’t take place in a world filled with superheroes. The world of “The Wild Storm” is essentially our own, only with some very weird things going on in it behind the scenes.
Weirdness is evident from the very first page which has a woman named Lucy Blaze, “Zealot” as she’s called in the field, cleaning the blood off of her face while dispassionately reporting back to her bosses about the gene-editing operation she’s just broken up. There’s a seamless segue into the following scenes which involve Priscilla “Voodoo” Kitaen staking out a New York street for her next video and Miles Craven having coffee with his husband before he’s accosted by one of his employees, Angela Spica.
Angela awkwardly asks Miles for more resources for the research she’s doing and, after she’s turned down, goes on to save the CEO of Halo Industries, Jacob Marlowe, by activating the robotic suit she’s implanted in herself by flying up to catch him when he’s thrown out of his building. The reason Jacob was thrown out of his building was because of a botched assassination attempt on the part of an International Operations assassin by the name of Michael Cray. I.O. is the intelligence organization which runs everything on Earth and is overseen by Miles, who, after seeing video of Jacob’s rescue, recognizes Angie as his savior.
This is all in the first issue. It’s probably also worth noting that Angie’s tech is based on a spaceship I.O. recovered from Skywatch and that Jacob gives the order to wake up the “C.A.T.” as well. There’s a lot going on here even if the pace is fairly relaxed. All of these threads are teased out further over the course of the next five issues as the direction of the series slowly takes shape.
The key word here is “slowly” as while Angela’s rescue of Jacob is the inciting incident which kicks the plot into motion, most of this volume is Ellis introducing the main cast and getting them all into place. As talky setup volumes go, I’ve read better and worse. This is closer to the former as the conflicts being set up are intriguing and the dialogue is enjoyably snarky. He also nails one of the key underpinnings of the original WildStorm Universe in that it was built on secret conspiracies and societies. Both human and alien. That’s brought up again here with the covert cold war between I.O. and Skywatch, with a hint of Daemonite influence dropped in along the way. It gives the impression that we’re going to go on a grand sci-fi adventure with some interesting characters.
Speaking of which, I generally like the cast and the changes Ellis has made to certain ones aren’t bad so far. I can’t claim familiarity with the entirety of the cast prior to this series, so I’m not really bothered by someone like Miles having a husband now. As for the characters I am familiar with, I like that Ellis has pushed Jacob into the quasi-benevolent CEO role that his successor, John “Spartan” Colt, found himself in “Wildcats 3.0” and it’s nice to see that Cole “Grifter” Cash is still the same smartass merc he’s always been. I also liked how Ellis has Skywatch head Henry Bendix fully leaning into the “Patrick Stewart, But Disgustingly Evil” role he set up for him back during his tenure on “Stormwatch.”
As for characters that were originally created by Ellis, Angie comes off as less sociable and secure than when she was introduced to her in “The Authority.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it allows her to serve as a decent point-of-view character for the audience and sets up a potential character arc to follow as she emerges as the confident scientific genius we knew her as in her previous incarnation. As for her fellow “Authority” teammate, Jenny Sparks makes a cameo that implies a radically different powerset, sets up the idea that she’s going to be key to the series, and allows Ellis to tell a “Martian Manhunter” joke that he’s probably had in him for decades now.
Angie and Jenny’s presence also sets up the idea that there will be a new version of the Authority down the line. A surer bet would be to expect new versions of the rest of their teammates and characters Ellis didn’t create but clearly enjoyed writing, such as Hellstrike and Jackson “Battalion” King. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him swipe from Alan Moore’s WildStorm legacy and introduce Tao, but bringing in someone like Holden Carver from Brubaker and Phillips’ “Sleeper” seems like a long shot. A longer shot would be for the writer to introduce anyone from the “Planetary” crew as I doubt that Ellis would want to try futzing around with that title’s legacy. Even in a different universe.
What was the point of all of that fanboy rambling? At this point the series is just getting warmed up and has a lot of potential. With a planned 24-issue run Ellis has a lot of room to explore this re-imagined universe and this first volume suggests that could lead somewhere really interesting. Or, the slow burn could fizzle out and we could be left with a series that is nothing but introducing old characters in new ways with lots of self-indulgent bits, like the scenes from Voodoo’s music videos here, thrown in along the way. It could go either way at this point, but there’s good reason here to be optimistic about its chances.
Another good reason for my optimism is the art for this volume from Jon Davis-Hunt. This is my first encounter with his work, with only an awareness that he was sniped from doing “Clean Room” with Gail Simone for Vertigo before this. It’s clear why they wanted him to work on “The Wild Storm” as Hunt has some really disciplined linework that makes for eye-catching characters and backgrounds. His characters are also very expressive and he knows how to set up a slick action scene as we see in the attack on the Montauk stronghold halfway through the volume. I’m also very sure that Ellis’ enthusiasm for the artist (as he mentions in his weekly newsletter -- no one here is surprised that I’m subscribed to that, right) stems not just from all this, but from Hunt’s willingness to draw as many panels as a scene requires. I appreciate it too as it gives the story room to breathe and more of his art to appreciate.
This first volume of “The Wild Storm” strikes me as being most for people who remember the glory days of the old imprint, but don’t want a straight rehash of them. I’m not sure how commercially viable this approach is given the current draw of nostalgia in the market. It also bears mentioning that any straight-up superhero revival of WildStorm probably won’t work without an artist of Jim Lee’s caliber, or Lee himself onboard. (Then again, anyone with a decently long memory can remember how things went sideways during the one WildStorm revival that Lee was directly involved in.) So if this sounds like your idea of a good time then make sure to get yourself caught in this storm. *rimshot*