The Wild Storm 4

Alternating Currents: The Wild Storm 4, Ryan and Drew

Today, Ryan D. and Drew are discussing The Wild Storm 4, originally released May 17th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

What a day. What a motherfuckin’ day.

Alonso Harris, Training Day

Ryan D: I recently re-watched Training Day and damn, what a good film. While there are plenty of things which stand out in the film, one of its best features is that all of the events of the movie take place in one day. By the end of the running time, the audience really gets a sense of exhaustion which matches that of the characters because so darn much is crammed into a day. Similarly, in The Wild Storm 4, I realized by the end of the issue that all the events in the series thus far have taken place in the course of one day. After a very action-filled issue 3, I enjoyed the change of pace as the events of the day start to sink in.

The opening pages resolve the cliffhanger of last issue as IO’s team encounters the wild CAT while they both seek the Angela Spica in an abandoned base. After narrowly escaping being blown up, Grifter and his crew take stock of what just transpired. There’s loads of easy exposition here, such as Adrianna’s powers (she’s never called Void) seem to be unclear to even her team, which writer Warren Ellis sneaks in without being heavy handed in any way. I’d say that Ellis’s ability to develop the world organically without huge exposition dumps or using caption boxes to explain this dense universe is one of the strongest parts of the title. In our discussion of issue 1, I admitted to being a bit overwhelmed with the bevvy of characters who I didn’t necessarily recognize at first glance, but by this issue, I’m starting to get a grasp on how all the pieces fit together.

Ellis uses Miles Craven’s husband, Julian, to get in a lot of catch-up while developing what might otherwise come across as a nefarious billionaire into a character with three dimensions:

Julian as a device for exposition really works for me, as he stands in for the audience in the lulls between corporate espionage and assassination attempts. And these conversations which casually mention events of the past really helps to develop the lore and mythos of the world. So much has happened off-page before this current iteration of Wild Storm began. For example, the piece of technology mentioned, which clues us in a bit on the nature of much of the future tech being used in the world, the Breslau. The name didn’t mean anything to me, and found out that Breslau was a once-German town which, after the end of the Second World War in 1945, experiences a horrendous post-war ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Soviet Red Army as the territory was ceded to Poland, where it now exists as Wroclaw. While this information surprised me, I was in no way surprised that Ellis would work in such a nugget of historical fact; he’s not half-bad at that, I’ve learned.

This mythos precedent plays a huge part in this title, and I love it. In this issue we finally meet the much-discussed Henry Bendix and get to see his relationship his assistant and confidante, Ms. Laura Pennington (who is also known as Fahrenheit, if I’m not mistaken). Bendix’s characterization jumps off the page, his churlishness a treat to watch. With him, we also get a bit more of the teased idea of aliens being (fairly) comfortably living amongst  the humans of Earth, with Jacob Marlowe being the first we’ve seen. The banter in this scene reads as genuine and was a pleasure to read. However, what was particularly stunning was learning that the two are conversing on a huge space station orbiting Earth:

I loved this visual reveal because 1) that’s a gorgeous page from artist Jon Davis-Hunt and 2) after learning that the events of the past four issues have been crammed into one day’s time, this pull-back offers an incredible amount of perspective. Yes, this is a story about a woman who sacrifices her body to science and is now paying the price; yes, it is the story of a man developing a brain tumor which seems to be giving him powers, etc., but it’s also a huge story about the state of the science, competition, all with ramifications for the world.

This strikes me, from the bits of Wild Storm comics I’ve read in the past, exactly in line with the theme and thesis of the original series. I take my hat off to Ellis and Davis-Hunt thus far for doing such an admirable job with such a large task. Drew, how are you finding this methodically-paced sprint of a comic? I didn’t have time to talk too much about how Davis-Hunt tells this story visually, and I’m also curious to hear what you think of the art’s role in the world building next to Ellis’s trademark narrative flares.

Drew: I think you nailed it when you mentioned perspective, Ryan. Indeed, Davis-Hunt quite literally pulls the camera back for a page and a half before we get to that double page spread of the space station.

HB-210

It’s a perfect visualization of the slow, deliberate zoom-out Ellis has been using to reveal the narrative to us, but it also changes the context of that double page spread. We might expect a big page turn like that to reveal a big surprise, but with an entire page devoted to showing us that the previous scene took place on a massive space station, there’s not a lot of information conveyed in that final spread. We get a better sense of the shape of the station, and see where it is relative to Earth, but those are far from the shocking reveals we might expect of a big spread like that. In that way, it’s really all about the pacing. This sequence isn’t necessarily about conveying new information, but driving home the information we already know while placing it in a broader context. It’s a great microcosm of the series as a whole, as well as every character’s experience of this world.

I mean, seriously, this series — and this issue in particular — is all about feints and revelations. There are explosions and high-tech gadgetry, sure, but the conflict is pure parlor drama, as rivals discover each other’s machinations. Miles Craven’s newfound knowledge of the wild CAT is a great example, but this issue also finds teammates being surprised by one another. Nobody on the wild CAT team knew Adrianna could survive what should have been a fatal wound, and Cole didn’t know about Kenesha’s “freaky handloads” that blew up that dude in the previous issue, and Kenesha didn’t know that Cole would be so pissed about discovering that. The limits of everyone’s knowledge is a central part of this series, which makes our own confusion markedly more palatable.

It also makes the reveals more natural. Ryan is right to praise how casually the exposition comes off here. All of our characters are learning new things, so the exposition isn’t just in showing us those new things, but in detailing the reactions of each character to put that knowledge in context. Building characters and their motivations alongside the decidedly convoluted sci-fi corporate espionage is a daring approach, but Ellis capably pulls it off, giving each of these characters distinct voices and values.

wild CAT

Here again, I think Davis-Hunt is literalizing some of Ellis’ thematic material. I can’t help but note that Miles Craven’s scene with Julian is built around a nine-panel grid, while Henry Bendix’s scene with Ms. Pennington is built around a six-panel grid, and the wild CAT team — avatars of Jacob Marlowe’s will — slips between both. There’s an obvious utilitarian explanation, that the scene between Miles and Julian is simply denser than the others, requiring more panels per page (while the dialogue-free sequences following Angela Spica can largely be conveyed in three panels per page), but I think even that is telling. Bendix and Pennington’s relationship is entirely professional, so their interactions are clipped and almost clinical, Miles and Julian have a real relationship, so their conversation is just wordier — they actually enjoy talking to one another.

That may ultimately be too glib a reading of either relationship, but I think there’s something to the dynamism of the pacing here. This is a creative team that clearly has a command over pacing, so every choice about panels per page and pages per scene is deliberate. There’s clearly pleasure to be found in the cadence of these scenes, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s meaning in there, too.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

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