Today, Ryan and Michael are discussing The Wild Storm 1, originally released February 15th, 2017.
When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But she had wings.
Ryan D: Transformation stands as a long-enduring fascination for us, as humans. Sometimes, this includes our history with shapeshifting, which goes back to the oldest discovered forms of shamanism, or enduring texts like The Epic of Gilgamesh or The Iliad. The lore of werewolves alone originated way back to 22 A.D. Transformation seems to be ingrained in our collective unconscious, with the superhero genre and comic books to be a very receptive medium for the trope. What surprises me, however, is when the transformation hurts. I remember playing The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and seeing Link put on a transformative mask for the first time, and then being aghast as the little hero screamed in pain as he changed into a Deku Scrub. Another example: the scene in An American Werewolf in London when the protagonist howls in agony as he becomes lupine. The Wild Storm 1 brings to the pages many transformations for its characters, but is also a transformation unto itself — of an imprint and universe left in chrysalis form for six years and being born again. How well, then, have Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt coped with the growing pains with this first issue?
Now, the majority of my experience with the Wildstorm universe comes from reading The Authority, so I am — for better or for worse — coming to much of this with fresh eyes. As soon as the curtains go up in this story, for new or familiar readers alike, we see that the creative team wants readers to see this world unflinchingly:
I expected the rest of the issue to follow this character, Zealot, seeing as the first panel holds our gaze as her own, looking at herself in the mirror. After, I love the way that the standard, regular nine-panel page methodically takes us through the crime scene and her cleaning process, with only one of the panels not keeping Zealot as the focal point. For world-building and tone, though, this page says plenty: this place is violent and at least this character handles that without batting an eye, technology has advanced so far that genetic manipulation is bootlegged, and that the creative team wants to hold the viewer right there in this gritty, complex world.
And this world has its intricacies. To be honest, my first read-through left me confused as to who worked for which company or agency, and how they differed. Upon a closer second reading, I realized that all of the pieces are there to be put together. Now, I’m no stranger with needing to do some heavy lifting while reading a title by Warren Ellis, but seeing a bunch of characters being reintroduced who I did not recognize, coupled with not knowing precisely how their relationships add up in the big picture, left me feeling like I was attending a stranger’s birthday party. When everything clicks into place, however, the conflict between tech tycoon Jacob Marlowe of HALO and Michael Craven, “director of International Operations, a deep black governmental service”, seems like it holds some really rich narrative potential, especially when one factors in the idea that Marlowe is at least a century old and that this universe houses xenobiological entities who pass as human, both of which have only been lightly mentioned.
The real hook of this issue, for me, comes with the introduction of Angela Spica of IO, a research engineer working for Mr. Craven. Angela comes across initially as delightfully clumsy and sporting some very impressive social pragmatics problems; however, when the audience sees the blood on her shirt, we know that there’s something else going on under the surface of this character. As she tries to save a man’s life as he plummets from a building, we see what exactly that something is:
What a page. Davis-Hunt breaks up the established rhythm of the pages by splitting this one into eighteen separate panels, the bottom twelve seeming so irregularly small in comparison to the rest of the comic that I really got that feel of nano-seconds passing. The agony in Angela’s face as the cracks appear — the bleeding interstices filling with future-tech — told me that this title is prepared to do something different than the average “cape” story, one which explores the tormenting side of technology, and one which proves that yes, transformation is painful.
Michael! What kind of prior knowledge did you take into The Wild Storm 1? Did you find the presentation of this #1 to be accessible, or was that just me? And are there any particular opportunities this title has in regards to themes or universe which excite you?
Michael: Ryan, my prior knowledge was exactly the same as yours actually: I hadn’t read much of Wildstorm except for The Authority and Ex Machina — which probably doesn’t count, but is still awesome. Similarly, I think on my first readthrough of The Wild Storm 1 it was a little difficult to get my bearings but still a manageable introduction. The second time through, however, I definitely got a better handle on the characters and stakes. The weird and violent world of Wild Storm 1 reminded of the titles under DC’s “Young Animal” imprint. Doom Patrol and Shade, the Changing Girl existed and thrived in a hazy, abstract narrative reality. For my money (and patience) I found the story that Warren Ellis crafted in The Wild Storm 1 to be a hell of a lot more approachable. Sure, we’ve got a 100+ year-old tech tycoon and a bleeding woman who painfully saves the day but we get a good sense of why these things are happening, even if we don’t know how.
One thing that impressed me about The Wild Storm 1 is how Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt introduce characters in the book. The issue focuses on a specific character for a few pages before handing off the torch to another character who is within earshot. We open with Zealot wiping herself clean of blood and leaving a crime scene as she announces she’s getting coffee. Less than a block away Zealot and Pris are remarking on the streets of Manhattan as we are semi-introduced to HALO CEO Jacob Marlowe via TV screen. Zealot and Pris walk right past Miles Craven and his husband Julian, who avoid their gaze but cannot avoid the rantings and ravings of Angie Spica. Before doing her transformation act and saving Marlowe, she storms off right past the coffee shop where Zealot went to.
Scene transitions in comic books can be expressed in a lot of different ways. A writer can very overtly throw a “One Day Later” caption on the page, there can be a visible change in the time of day or the artist can establish that we are in a completely different place and time altogether. All of these are perfectly acceptable, tried and true methods of establishing a transition, but I appreciated the attention to detail that Ellis and Davis-Hunt took here. The first issue of a comic book typically should accomplish the task of introducing the reader to its characters. Depending on how much story you’re trying to pack in, you might have toss in a lot of interstitial scenes that give the reader a taste of how these characters live. The Wild Storm 1 feels less rushed in the way that it holds our attention on a particular character before Davis-Hunt pulls back a bit and focuses on another nearby character.
Not only is this a fun way to introduce us to the world of The Wild Storm, this coincidental, physical “six degrees of separation” storytelling seems to be in the DNA of the book itself. Jacob Marlowe remarks on how he nearly died but was saved by a metal lady — someone who very literally crossed his path and changed his life. Miles Craven comments on the idea of coincidental run-ins a couple of times in the book. The first time is when he is trying to avoid detection from Voodoo and Pris — one of my favorite past times — and the second is when he recognizes Angie Spica on the viewscreen at the end of the issue.
Prior to this revelation Miles was chastising IO hitman Michael Cray for his botched attempt on Jacob Marlowe’s life. What was supposed to be a covert murder operation turned into a full-blown media event. To add insult to injury Miles discovers that not only did one of his operatives fail at killing Marlowe, another actually succeeded in saving in him. There’s some strange karmic coincidence going on in The Wild Storm 1 that I’m sure will prove to be anything but.
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