The Wild Storm #1
Warren Ellis (Writer), Jon Davis-Hunt (Art), Ivan Plascencia (Colorist)
WildStorm (a DC Comics imprint)
February 15th, 2017
Disclaimer: This article was written based off a review copy provided by DC Comics.
Reading Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt’s The Wild Storm #1 is like taking the first bite of a strategically cooked gourmet meal. It’s pleasant initially, although maybe a little faint, and then it hits the back of your palette and unfurls all of its nuanced flavor.
What makes this particularly funny is that The Wild Storm #1 marks the beginning of the relaunch of Jim Lee’s 1992 imprint, Wildstorm Productions. In nearly direct opposition to the new WildStorm (both owned by DC Comics), the original imprint was like eating handfuls of Pop Rocks and chugging Coca Cola. Often known for its superhero teams, the WildC.A.T.S and Gen13, Wildstorm Productions played the teenage ’90s rebel with a love of swearing, sex, and machismo. With all its unbridled energy and unedited stories, its titles never failed to reach new levels of bombast.
Irrefutably, Wildstorm Productions’ contributions to the medium heavily impacted how we think of superhero comics today. Between Lee’s foundations, Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s The Authority, and the introduction of a slew of now well-known artists such as Frank Quitely, Dustin Nguyen, and Lee Bermejo, it reinvented the industry’s aesthetics not once, but repeatedly. Through Quitely and Mark Millar’s The Authority run, it also makes a remarkable historical touchpoint of the British Revolution bringing more adult themes into American comic books. Free of decades of continuity and (until around 2000) strict corporate oversight, the imprint experimented where DC and Marvel comics could not and benefited from it in terms of historical influence, although rarely financially.
The new WildStorm’s first title suggests what a once-teenage rebel would look like grown up. The building blocks of all its characters remain—including several of its essential three-dimensional women—but the overall appearance of The Wild Storm #1 is sober. This stripped down approach is due to intentional branding according to Ellis, who will not only write The Wild Storm title but also curate the entire imprint. Davis-Hunt, previously known for his work on Vertigo Comics’ Clean Room with writer Gail Simone, has established himself as a strong candidate for such a specific role. His layouts are orderly, his facial expressions nuanced, and he has a particular strength in capturing the atmosphere of vast settings (this is likely due to his experience in video game design). His balance of dynamism and restraint cannot be understated as essential—his and Ellis’ styles are a perfect marriage to create an action-filled and conceptually serious title.
The Wild Storm #1 begins symbolically, with Zealot (in past iteration, a member of the WildC.A.T.S) wiping blood splatters off her face that are reminiscent of the face paint from her 1992 Jim Lee design. Her section of the issue is the first of six in this standard 22-page comic, primarily used to thematically establish WildStorm from its old identity and set up a plot point for later. The new Priscilla “Voodoo” Kitaen (in past incarnation, Zealot’s teammate, in this incarnation unknown) follows in her own section with a group of female colleagues. Out of all the characters in this pensive comic, Priscilla shows the brightest spark of life with hints of playfulness between herself and her companions.
Because this fictional version of Manhattan is apparently very small, Priscilla passes Miles Craven (in past incarnation, member of Team One) and his husband having coffee. The interaction between the couple is surprisingly sweet—Ellis flexing some emotional muscles not too often witnessed in his comics nowadays and Davis-Hunt making their touches casually affectionate—until they’re interrupted by Miles’ employee Angela Spica. This is the point where The Wild Storm #1 reveals the heart of its story.
In her past incarnation, Angela was known as The Engineer of The Authority. What is lesser known is that she’s always been a fantastic fucking character. In The Wild Storm #1, she’s in turmoil between the excitement of hitting the edge of a technological breakthrough that could change the future and the agony of the self-sacrifice she has already endured in order to achieve it. She has installed, essentially, robotic machinery into herself that contains multiple tools, such as engines that propel her to flight. The problem is, this machinery is ripping her body apart when she activates it. The incredible thing is, she takes the physical cost in order to save Jacob Marlowe (in past incarnation, leader of the WildC.A.T.S) from falling off his office building to his death.
Between her desires (“I want to make us all safer!” she tells Miles), and her tears (“AND I WANT THIS THING OUT OF ME!”), Angie earns the most sympathy out of all The Wild Storm #1’s characters. Unlike Jacob, she doesn’t own a multibillion-dollar corporation that threatens the economy and unlike Miles, she doesn’t control the world or send out hitmen to kill her opponents. She’s just a normal person who spent her entire life working her way up the engineering field to try to help the world. In connection with her previous incarnation, who, unlike many Wildstorm characters, always had the optimism and compassion of a classic superhero, Angie remains at her core unchanged.
Admittedly, because of the issue’s segmentation in order to accommodate the introduction of a large cast of characters (DC has given Ellis two years to establish WildStorm, so he and Davis-Hunt are hitting the ground running), it can be hard to get a grip on everything it contains on the first read through. Between the multiple storylines and many unknown details, it can also be difficult to start an emotional attachment to some of the individuals featured, with the exception of Angela and possibly Jacob. In addition, there are a number of technical quirks between Ellis’ script and Davis-Hunt’s art.
Ellis’ dialogue has some transition issues from panel-to-panel—nothing major, but enough to make one pause in their reading. Zealot apologizes for reasons not entirely clear to the reader, there’s a stumble while Miles’ husband talks too much about bad wine, Jacob responds to Angela’s statement of his identity with unnecessary confirmation. On the other hand, although Ellis’ strength has never been in differentiating voices, playing with a variety of semi-established characters seems to help in that regard. Priscilla’s voice seems lighter than the rest, Miles’ more clever, Jacob’s softer. There are moments of genuine affection, too, that one will not find in any of his recent Image Comics titles. (“No, he’s definitely cheap,” is a really good line that goes right to the nature of a relationship.)
Some of Davis-Hunt’s choices lead to transition issues as well, with his restraint working as a disadvantage.
In her frenzy, while talking to Miles, Angela knocks over his husband’s glass. Although this glass is the key transition point between one panel and the next—as well as the event that demonstrates just how disruptive Angela is being to the couple—the action itself seems downplayed and almost negligible based on how the panel is framed. That said, Davis-Hunt delivers when absolutely needed: a faraway shot establishes how small Angie feels as she stares at Jacob falling from above and then the next panel pulls in closer to view her determined face as she makes her decision to save him.
Ivan Plascencia’s colors finalize The Wild Storm #1’s aesthetic and he works with a realistic, grounded palette in comparison to many other books on the shelf this week. It’s his work that makes one wonder—perhaps while reading the panel where the fully-activated Engineer’s dark blood seeps out from her gut and blends a touch too closely against the metal shell—if the book doesn’t have more room to pop. “Popping” must not necessarily take the form of those 90s Wildstorm books where everything was loud at all times, but at precise moments it can split up the monotony of a visual medium. More importantly, in our similar dull world—and it does seem to be getting duller every day, doesn’t it—popping matters. It’s a breath and a moment of respite.
All infractions aside, however, The Wild Storm #1 hits impressively deep notes on nearly every page. Few creative teams can weave worlds this intricate in a single issue; its power structures evident and threatening in their relatability, its many characters filling their own unique slots. It’s a comic that has a new detail in every reread and in that offers the exciting prospect of something with its own sort of brashness. That is, a brashness that includes a society similar and relevant to our own as well as characters with interior lives that go much further than we’ve yet to see. This is the first bite of a new fictional world, a new imprint, a new WildStorm. As the meal goes on, it’s quite possible that we will experience a title with taste and texture that will revamp the industry in ways equaling the legacy of its predecessor.