by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
If there’s an aesthetic that could define all of comics — perhaps we’d call it a medium-defining aesthetic — it’s that of simplification and omission. Those acts are simply built into creating comics, where characters, settings, objects and ideas have to be depicted in two dimensions. That is, even the most detailed, photo-realistic style is a simplified representation of the 3-dimensional space it aims to represent. But the rigors of a monthly deadline put even that level of simplification out of reach, leading many to an even more simplified line-art approach. And then, of course, there are storytelling choices, as only a finite number of panels can fit in a given comic — some moments must be omitted. The choices of which moments to include is really what the art of comics storytelling is, whether it’s this character’s face versus another’s hands, or picking up on these conversation a beat or two later, or even omitting a scene altogether. That aesthetic often comes together in a way that prioritizes clarity, simplifying designs and actions and omitting needless details to make sure every beat is understood by the audience. In this way, we might understand a given comic to function as a kind of schematic — a simplified version of the world it depicts. This is certainly true of The Wild Storm, which is brimming with truly schematic, almost clinically clear sequences, though it puts them to use in ways that are far more complicated than they may initially seem.
Take, for example, Michael Cray’s fight with the IO wetworks team sent to kill him. He recognizes the threat immediately, so as he prepares for their entry, artist Jon Davis-Hunt slows down time to really detail what it is he’s doing.
There’s tons of mini stories in this page alone, but Davis-Hunt largely sticks to the 9×9 grid to group them — that is, the first two rows cohere as the story of Michael watching (and reacting to) the door being open, the next row is the story of the immediate reaction to his two fired shots, and that final image is the first beat in Michael’s fight with the bearded guy. The point is: even when there’s tons of panels and little moments, Davis-Hunt is using the structure of the page to break them up into more digestible beats. All of which makes the fight — which goes on for six mostly dialogue-free pages — remarkably clear, which is essential as it asks us to keep track of where all of the guns are, even as dudes’ necks are being ripped open.
My point isn’t just to praise Davis-Hunt’s clarity (though it is decidedly praise-worthy), but to emphasize how clear Davis-Hunt and writer Warren Ellis have made the moment-to-moment beats of this story. Even if we don’t fully understand how all of the discrete parts of this series fit together (though this issue goes a long way towards putting IO and Skywatch in perspective), we can intuitively understand the actions on the page in front of us. We might not have the motivations straight in our heads, but the how and what are crystal clear. Which gives us patience for what we don’t know. Or rather, it gives us confidence that this creative team can and will make things clear when they chose to. They’re building a schematic, even if we can’t see how all the parts connect just yet.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?