Written by Warren Ellis
Artist: Jon Davis-Hunt
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Warren Ellis and DC are eager to shake off the former template of the 90’s Wildstorm universe. Ellis makes an ambitious play for reimagining Jim Lee’s famous brand and original creations to reintroduce new concepts with aims of playing on old fan nostalgia and being relevant to new readers.
What You Need to Know: During the first three issues of Wildstorm, Angie Spica, the stalled engineer for I.O. is barred from further research. After she attempts an end run by appealing to superior Miles Craven and is rebuffed she witnesses Jacob Marlowe’s attempted assassination after being ejected through the window of a HALO high rise. Angie’s fateful choice to use a stolen battle suit to save Marlowe sets off a chain reaction of events making her the primary target for I.O., Skywatch, and HALO with Jacob Marlowe sending C.A.T.S to her aid.
What You’ll Find Out: Issue four is almost entirely dialog driven with the characters taking turns sharing thoughts on events up to now and delves deeper into the world of secrets, conspiracy, and black ops. Marlowe’s C.A.T.S less than successful attempt to secure Angie forces them to withdraw, lick their wounds, and do some reflection.
Having finished a really bad day at work, Miles Craven divulges the previous occurrences with his sympathetic boyfriend who was present for Spica’s armored transformation and evacuation of Marlowe. Craven explains that the Engineer stole technology that allowed her to develop a battle suit which she integrated into her body using nanotechnology that originated from Skywatch and the wildcard Henry Bendix. In a botched attempt at recovery, a team of Razor’s was lost (paramilitary troops) during the encounter against C.A.T.S Grifter, Void, and Kenesha.
Meanwhile, the Weatherman arrives at Skywatch. Known for verbally eviscerating his underlings for their failures, Bendix provides a solid tongue-lashing to his teleporting chauffeur before entering executive session with his aid Pennington. Behind closed doors Bendix reveals that his hardened demeanor is a front for a man (though I have suspicions otherwise,) who makes glib statements, despises earth and deduces that the planet has constant flatulence. (No seriously. He spends four panels detailing the measure of how everything and everyone is endlessly whispering from the their backdoor.) Pennington is unfazed and moreover seemingly quite fond of Henry’s disposition and finds his aversions to homosexuality, race equality, and human slavery highly amusing.
Marlowe pays a visit to Michael Cray who despite a fatal tumor feels fine and more interestingly appears to have gained new unexplained powers. Marlowe inquires if he wants to return to action.
What Just Happened? Issue #4 has a ratio of 4 to 28 pages of action versus dialog. If that gives you any overall impression it’s that Ellis is deeply committed to making sure that his vision and delivery of the Wildstorm will be on his terms alone. Though the original universe had a large cast and numerous storylines, it leaned substantially and without apology on heavy action sequences and high caliber pinup style art. Ellis makes a clear effort to explain events making the story more linear and accessible to the reader than previous volumes that admittedly suffered from disjointed, poorly executed plots. In an earlier interview before launch, Ellis states that he wants this version to be a fresh start in which the reader needs no previous relationship with the original incarnation or any subsequent relaunch attempts post-merger with DC. In Ellis’s iteration, occurrences are surrounded by his trademark storytelling, character development, and vast detail.
There is a risk that this particular method may not be successful enough to sustain the franchise through the two-year relaunch plan or if Ellis’s method strays too far from the original source material and style that fans ultimately reject it. It appears the concept to push heavily in an independent direction leaves the writer undeterred despite the potential backfire. In truth, in terms of collecting, one can consider issue #4 to be a filler installment. Ellis utilizes the fourth issue as a vehicle to reiterate all the events, plots, and concepts so that the reader is sure to be informed. The dilemma is that the pacing borderlines on tedious and taxes the ability the remain interested. Much of the dialog could have been filtered in the coming issues prior to the onset of the next sequence of events. There are some moments of true success as depicted in the interaction between Miles and his boyfriend, a shining moment in his writing that achieves a sense of realism depicting the normalcy in an average gay male relationship for 30+ somethings as well as resonates relatable feelings for anyone who has worked in the corporate environment in which I.O., and Skywatch suffer from the same interdepartmental strains and resentments, coupled with criticisms in job performance, and bosses you absolutely hate. The scenes with Bendix also provides some welcome moments of levity.
Jon Davis’ Hunt’s art is also another clear declaration that this is the millennials Wildstorm. Ellis’s decision to charge Hunt with helming art is about as far and away as you can get from the expert hand of Lee and his associates. It is often repeated by fans that DC has a clear lead in this field over its competitor Marvel. However, Hunt’s work lacks the energy needed in delivery and is a direct play from Marvel’s current catalog to establish a dark and gritty tone that lacks detail in the end really is just average, feels contrived, and is truly disappointing considering the talent DC commands within its own roster. The true underdog overlooked is the brilliant work of inker Steve Buccellato who brings the imagery to life through use of vivid color is a desperately needed shot of adrenaline to the heart of an otherwise subpar presentation. Though the story is compelling and original, I almost feel at times Ellis is being deliberately obstinate by either not being aware or realizing the significance that fans expect remarkable visuals when you are working with property that originated at the hands of one of comics’ all-time greatest artists during a period which drastically heightened industry expectations, or simply doesn’t care.
What many who are involved on the executive level fail to realize is that for those who do not purchase the DC line because of its clear contrast in approach from Marvel, Wildstorm is the perfect medium to finally get those readers to walk through the front door. If Ellis isn’t careful and allows ego to prevail over the best interest of the Wildstorm franchise, the projected 2 year reboot could end quickly. The loss of that fan base which consumed the titles that built the empire of Image comics in its heyday could cost DC what is likely to be its sole credible chance to take a permanent lead in overall sales and market share against its longest and chief competitor.
Final Thought: Warren Ellis is driving the newest Maserati way under the speed limit, a criminal act alone, while the passenger says, “Are we there yet?” Nope, not even close.