Another month, another rollicking edition of the best sci-fi action espionage superhero book on the shelf, The Wild Storm. This time around we catch back up with Angela “Angie” Spica, the Engineer, as she learns a lot about her newfound abilities, checks in on yet another Project Thunderbook survivor, and….wait, what? No C story? And the book still rules? Dammit, why are Ellis and Davis-Hunt so good? Yes, issue #16 tightens its focus, creates connections between two groups that had been seemingly working on opposite ends of the DC Universe, and gives us another pretty awesome, if somewhat frightening peak into a possible Gen13 reboot further down the line. That last bit may be me reading too far into things, but I don’t care, the thought of seeing Sam Elliot ass superspy John Lynch leading a team of second generation Khera-human hybrids against the resurgent forces of the Daemonites has me all aflutter.
So yeah, Angie’s figured out that her homemade Iron Man suit not only allows her to fly, create insect-sized reconnaissance drones and makes her strong enough to power through several feet of concrete upon takeoff, it lets her access the grid. Yes like Homer Simpson and Tron before her, The Engineer’s drysuit allows her to instantly access all kinds of technical information – including a visual trip (and it is indeed a trip) through the internet itself. Rather than accessing a browser like the rest of us plebs (though Angie would clearly use whatever The Wild Storm equivalent of Firefox is), Angie views the information superhighway as an ornate maze of tunnels and spirograph-quality mandalas…a series of tubes, you might say. It is in this new realm where she draws the attention of the series’ other electro-surfing reality warper – Jenny Sparks, and the two really hit it off. Sparks gives Spica the Reader’s digest version of her backstory and tells the Engineer that her crew is there should things go tits up with Marlowe’s ragtag crew of Kherabim cast offs. Well, Grifter is there too, but with all the aliens and hybrids running around, Cole kinda blends into the background.
Elsewhere, Lynch seeks out Gloria Spaulding, the mother of future Gen13 member Freefall, and hoo boy, is she different than you remember. Now if you’ve been following the series, you know that the Project Thunderbook crew were implanted with the remains of fallen Khera and it has had some…well…interesting effects on the human hosts. While the effects have varied from host to host, the Khera spirit exerts, let’s call it a “STRONG influence” on the human along for the ride. While you’ve got some subjects working in concert with the Khera, as Fairchild has, others have long since given in to the voice inside their head, hence Backlash’s cross-country murder spree. With Spaulding, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, as Gloria is still home, but the Khera definitely has a say in how they live. To wit, she has pushed away her remaining family members and seems to spend most of her time floating on the ceiling, but still has fond memories of Lynch’s role in her time in PT. So much so, that she decides to let him live (awful nice of her) AND heed his advice to hide from the IO who may or may not be on their trail. Indeed she even lets him escape as she literally de-materializes her secretive desert abode into a cloud of debris. Perhaps more interestingly, she suggests that the reason Slayton may be killing so many people could be tied to the Khera’s past – and perhaps even its future.
We wrap the book with a follow up on Angie’s continued development, as we learn that her matter manipulation abilities adapt to her understanding of the mechanism she’s attempting to synthesize. Long story short: girl’s learnin’ ’bout guns. Yep, the Engineer is tired of being a defense and recon super being – and who better to teach her about offense (especially since they both are trapped in the Halo compound for the time being) than the gun toting, Coda-trained assassin known as Grifter? Now why she would stick with guns when I’m fairly certain energy weapons exist in this world, is beyond me, but it’s cool to see Angie literally developing as a character and preparing for the battles that are to come. It’s a situation where I’m happy seeing how the sausage gets made, rather than have Angie just produce a gun out of the blue some point down the line.
This was a fairly exposition-heavy issue, even if there were two wordless multi-page sequences surrounding the Lynch story, and yet the book doesn’t wear out its welcome. All of the dialogue has purpose, with even the little jokes and asides from Jenny Sparks serving to showcase her more congenial qualities. Things are particularly interesting (as has regularly been the case for the past few months) in the Lynch storyline, as we continue to learn more and more about the Project Thunderbook survivors, as well as the Kherabim that lie within them. As strong as Ellis’ words are, though, this is another issue that is largely built around the imagery. Jon Davis-Hunt clearly had a blast on this one, because everything from his typical visual style to his choice of page layout gets its own creative slant – figuratively and literally. The splash page of Lynch interrogating the levitating Spaulding is an awesome cascading spiderweb that really shows the artists’ whimsical understanding of physical space – and the image of Gloria sucking her home straight into the sky is so wonderfully captured, you’d think it was something Davis-Hunt had actually seen before. It mostly makes up for Angie’s journey to the edge of the internet which is well rendered, sure, but a little typical for this sort of sequence.
Still, and you’re probably getting tired of me saying it, but this is another great issue for The Wild Storm. The issue is a bit light on action, but finally bridging the divide between the Halo crew and the corresponding trio of Jenny, Shen and Jack is a great push toward the inevitable conflict between these relative outsiders and the super spy agencies that dominate the rest of the series. Ellis has always had a deft hand at crafting ornate storylines full of sci fi madness, but this issue really highlighted his underrated talent for colloquial dialogue. Jenny and Angie’s conversation feels genuine and lively, making us feel like there are real people behind the crazy powers. Add that to Davis-Hunt’s impressive visual experimentation and you’ve got a continued recipe for success. If we are entering the third quarter of this story, I’m glad to see things coming together like this.
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