Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Wild Storm #11 - Review and Spoilers

About To Be Fixing To Start To Begin To Commence To…

Written by: Warren Ellis
Art by: John Davis-Hunt
Colours by: Steve Bucellato
Letters by: Simon Bowland
Published by: DC Comics
Price: $3.99

Warren Ellis might just be the biggest tease in comics right now. With the delicacy and lightness of touch of the most exotic of dancers, he has unpeeled the various layers of the Wild Storm universe, each revelation accompanied by narrative moves of pulse-quickening, breath-taking skill, enabled by the extraordinary art of Jon Davis-Hunt. There is, of course, a fine line between teasing and frustrating. It's a subjective judgment and individuals' mileage varies considerably with this sort of thing. Some readers are undoubtedly frustrated with this series' apparent reluctance to bring the building tension between IO and Skywatch to a climax and, if they were expecting things to start here, they'll be disappointed. For, yes, this is another issue that, despite its somewhat misleading cover, is concerned principally with set-up and background.

To be fair, the set-up is leading to something big and the background is both interesting and relevant. The issue starts with Shen and Jenny naked under a Wonder Woman duvet, their clothes strewn around the bed they're currently sharing – although Davis-Hunt draws them with a significant gap between them, presumably to indicate that their sex has been casual rather than serious. Their pillow talk is, handily for us, mostly concerned with the ongoing situation between IO and Skywatch and their speculation about those super-powered humans who don't work for either organisation. They decide to go and find these theoretical rogue actors. But not, presumably, this issue as the action moves to our somewhat put upon IO tech guy, Mitch, who's getting out of his Uber (or whatever its equivalent in the Wild Storm universe is) just as Zealot is crossing the road behind him. A nice bit of synchronicity, although Zealot is still one of the most maddeningly enigmatic characters of the series to date.

Mitch, of course, is fab. He's team lead for Jackie King on the off-the-books project to hack Skywatch's mainframe and steal their secrets. That he's got scruples and a somewhat naïve belief in the treaty between IO and Skywatch only adds to his charm. The fact that he's actually very good at his job also helps. He remains one of the best characters in this second story arc, and I am fervently hoping he gets out of it alive. That remains to be seen, however. His plan to hack Skywatch's database looks like it might work. In theory. In practice, of course, it could be a different matter. Nevertheless, Jackie gives the go-ahead and this particularly significant piece of stage dressing is complete.

Ellis and Davis-Hunt then give us a bit of a treat. Up on Skywatch's satellite, Bendix and Lauren Pennington are discussing the treaty and Bendix gives us an insight into just why it's so important, as well as a slightly clearer understanding of how IO and Skywatch operate in the wider world. What follows is a beautifully drawn flashback sequence set in the 70s with 50s style Skywatch flying saucers attacking an IO base whose ground to air defences are powerful enough to give the Skywatch craft some real trouble. That it's all lovingly rendered in monochrome is a nice touch, although I should (perhaps a little churlishly) point out that there was colour video back in the 70s. The sequence is seven pages long, though, and the sense of the narrative dragging at this point is palpable. While I understand that this is an extremely important bit of back story, I can't help but feel it's distracting us from the main story.

But, then, as has been so often the case with this series, there's not much of a 'main story' to begin with. Or rather there is, but it is moving with almost glacial speed and an almost contemptuous disregard for the conventions of superhero storytelling. (Neither of those things is necessarily bad, incidentally. They're just features of this particular story to which the reader needs to adjust if they're going to enjoy it fully.)

The rest of the issue is taken up with what can perhaps best be described as characters preparing themselves for battle. This is an important convention, I suppose, and one that here Ellis and Davis-Hunt deliver with their customary downbeat aplomb. Angie has improved upon her original suit design and now, when 'suited up', looks a lot more like her original design in The Authority. Unexpectedly, the issue ends on a somewhat ominous meeting between Cole Cash and Zannah that hints both at their shared history (the two were lovers back in the original WildCATs series and they clearly have some sort of connection in this universe too) and, for Cole at least, a dangerous future about which Zannah attempts to warn him.

And with that, the stage is finally set for what I suspect will be a big old actionfest next issue, a term that can definitely not be used to describe this one. The flashback sequence aside, there is no action whatsoever in this issue, but it remains absorbing and entertaining reading all the same.  Ellis simply doesn't put a foot wrong with the characterisation here and, although it could be argued that the flashback is a bit too long, the comic as a whole is well-paced and structured.

When asked to provide the name of my favourite artist for the Weird Science DC Comics end of year poll, I put Jon Davis-Hunt's name down without much deliberation. His work here continues to be of the highest quality – most obviously in the flashback battle (the panel in which a hapless Skywatch saucer crew gets sliced in two is grimly magnificent), but also in his ever-impressive character work. Angie, Bendix, Cole and, particularly, Zannah are all rendered incredibly well and Davis-Hunt manages to hint at the complexities of Zannah's relationship with Cole beautifully. The central panel of the final page ("Because you belong to me, Cole.") is just perfect. Slow the pace of this comic book may be, but it's worth slowing down to take in the detail and artistry of Davis-Hunt's work.

Bits and Pieces:

Another issue, another set of slowly paced scenes that set the stage for action that, one presumes, will be forthcoming shortly. In the hands of any other creative team, this comic would have given me an aneurysm by now, but the story is so well told, so deftly handled that I can't help but admire – and recommend – it. While it might not be quite as memorable as any of the previous three issues, it is still a highly enjoyable and, at times, surprising read. If you want a superhero comic that's intelligent, witty, exquisitely drawn and confident enough to tell a story in its own sweet time, there really is only one game in town.


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