In the penultimate(?) issue of the Wild Storm, Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt’s reimagining of the former Image imprint that spawned the likes of the WildCATS, Gen13 and the Authority, the pieces are seemingly in place for the fall of the IO. After our heroes’ quick routing of a Skywatch expeditionary force in last month’s issue, Henry Bendix has activated all of his remaining sleeper agents on earth and sent them after Miles Craven’s crew of crazies. Not one to take things lying down, however, Craven has launched an all-out assault on all of Skywatch’s earth-side bases utilizing his own crop of Kheran agents. Now it’s up to The Sparks Brigade to stop both organizations from burning the world to ground.
The strengths of this issue mostly simmer around the character interactions, but that shouldn’t suggest that they are perfect. The colloquial interpersonal relationships between Shen, Jen, Angie and Jack do allow their easy chemistry and casual demeanor in the face of madness to work naturally, but their interactions with Apollo and Midnighter feel perhaps a touch too familiar. I know these are super people who fight bad guys all the time, but there’s a line between good, compelling dialogue in an action sequence (which the book has typically nailed in the past) and snappy B-movie banter, which this issue does sadly lean toward at points. It would be fine if that type of dialogue were consistently portrayed, but the fact that Apollo’s yukking it up with the gang at one point and then stone serious about dealing with the threat the next just makes some of the conversations ring a little hollow from an emotional standpoint.
As with most months, there are moments of character brilliance as well. I really enjoyed the sequence between Miles Craven, clearly losing his mind amid the open war he is now engaged in, and Jackie King – the IO Agent he sent an assassin after a few issues back. It’s a brief sequence, and I may just be reading between lines that aren’t there, but I really loved the subtext between them. After surviving the attempt on her life, Jackie has to have something in store for the director. For his part, the unraveling of the formerly composed (though always somewhat passive) Miles Craven has been played wonderfully, even if most of the work has been done off screen. I fully expect Jackie to cap him next month, but until then, I was happy to have the fires of anticipation stoked just a bit.
Artwise, this book is well paced and does action well, as we’ve come to expect from Davis-Hunt. I do, however, take issue with the character design of other “experiments” that appear toward the end of the issue. Between the crab-mouthed flame spitter at JFK and the weird vaney meat man who looked like a cross between Uncle Frank from Hellraiser and Captain Atom baddie Major Force, some of the design elements feel like first drafts that were never corrected. Another design element that is more successful, but still not perfect, is the “data transfer” sequence where Shen brings Apollo and Midnighter up to speed via a series of tiny panels flashing back to memorable moments from earlier issues. It’s not bad, and it’s an effective way to cram a lot into a book that only has a few pages to work with, but there are a handful of panels that are rendered so small as to be nearly unreadable. I appreciate that it appears they literally shrunk panels from earlier issues (which is an infinitely better idea than having Davis-Hunt attempt to recreate those images), but given how effective these kinds of collages have been in the past, it’s hard to call this a high point for the book. The cover of this issue, on the other hand, is a joyous throwback to the first issue that I really dig, even if Michael Cray didn’t make an appearance in this issue.
Overall, this is a fine, mostly necessary entry into the larger Wild Storm universe. Character motivations were aligned, intrigue was created, and now we have a reason for (most of) our heroes to band together and do some superheroics. There are a few hiccups here and there, but nobody’s perfect. As we head toward the end game of the series, it’s hard not to feel like we’re missing out on bits of storyline. Though many of those grey areas may be addressed in the recently announced sister series, it would be nice to get some closure on the Wild Storm Universe. Still, that’s all speculation on my part, and the series continues to be an enjoyably wild ride. If issue 24 is to be the series’ swansong, I really look forward to seeing how this all shapes up