Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Wild Storm #20 Review and Spoilers

Midnight Sun

Written by: Warren Ellis
Art by: Jon Davis-Hunt
Colors by: Steve Buccellato
Letters by: Simon Bowland
Cover Price: $3.99

The clock is ticking and the sense of impending conflict between any two or more of the various factions introduced and explored in the first three story arcs of this series is becoming almost unbearable. But there's a UFO on the cover as well as a sly reference to a Justice Society of America that has yet to exist in the current DC Universe. I have a good feeling about this…

That cover. Cardboard boxes floating up to a UFO from a suddenly weightless truck in the middle of a deserted night-time highway. I'm tempted to say that Davis-Hunt might be trying too hard here, but that would be churlish and also inaccurate. It is, as so many of this series' covers have been, just perfect – a knowing combination of low-tech sci-fi and the kind of rural America popularised by Stephen King and countless horror flicks in the last few decades. And consumerism, naturally. Although maybe in this instance, it's the comic book reader's desire to consume a JSA book (and yesterday!) that's being gently satirized here. And now I'm trying too hard.

On with the book. This issue starts with a conversation between Miles Craven and Ben Santini. Santini is an established IO character in the previous version of the Wild Storm universe and it's nice to see him make an appearance here, even if it is to make a number of unpleasant suggestions to Craven. It's hard to view Craven as anything other than weak here. He's misplayed things badly right from the start of this series and his near-whining and indecision does not a good impression make. Santini's advice is hard-headed and strategically sound; Craven's desire to give both Baiul and Jackie King their 'pension plans' just appears cowardly and pathetic.

'Cowardly' and 'pathetic' are two words most definitely not applicable to the characters who dominate the large middle section of this book. Having decided to retrieve some of the sleeper agents mentioned a couple of issues ago, Henry Bendix has sent a Skywatch team under cover of darkness to a sleepy little mid-western town where the aforementioned team has the misfortune of running into Apollo and Midnighter. It is almost impossible to describe how awesome these pages are. From the menacing opening panel of Skywatch UFOs swooping down on the town (and the visuals are deliberately like something out of a 50s B-movie) to the helmeted soldiers disembarking from their craft to the first appearance of Apollo to his destruction of a futuristic tank (a model of which I would love to own) to Midnighter's almost inevitable unarmed demolition of a squad of five heavily-armed Skywatch soldiers, everything just works. Spectacularly. There is a ferocious precision to the action, excellence to its execution, that just takes the breath away. Did I roll my eyes at Midnighter's clichéd "I won this fight the second I looked at you"? Yeah, a little. (At least there was no cack-handed mention of a supercomputer in his head, to be fair.) But the three pages that follow it are so good (the double page spread, especially) that I really don't mind.

During the fight, a panicked Skywatch co-pilot transmits on an open channel and, half a world away, Jenny Mei Sparks takes the opening she's been waiting for and infiltrates Skywatch's satellite headquarters. Doubtless, the implications of that infiltration will be explored soon enough.

For now, though, the moment – and the issue – belong to Apollo and Midnighter. Ellis and Davis-Hunt have done a fantastic job of introducing them (properly) to this Wild Storm universe and I hope to see more of them in the next few issues. We shall, as always, have to see.

If, like me, your belief in Ellis' ability to deliver on his elaborate and meticulous set-up has wavered, this issue should, I think, set your mind at rest. While the overall pace of the series remains fairly slow, this issue presents us with an action set piece that is more or less perfect along with enough hints as to what is coming next to keep this reader at least happy.

Bits and Pieces:

Ellis and Davis-Hunt continue to deliver sci-fi superheroics with considerable aplomb. While the focus is clearly on Apollo and Midnighter this time around, there are interesting signs that, for very different reasons, neither Miles Craven nor Henry Bendix is quite as invulnerable as they like to think. The sense of things building to a conclusion is palpable. Whether that conclusion is satisfying remains to be seen, of course, but, if the evidence of this issue is anything to go by, I don't think there's anything to worry about.


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