If you’re going to ask a creator to reimagine your universe of characters and concepts, revitalizing them into a going concern that is distinct and unique, then Warren Ellis is one of the best creators in comics to tap. As the driving force behind DC Comics’ The Wild Storm #1, first release in DC’s latest attempt to reboot the Wildstorm Universe, Ellis has harnessed his obsession with cutting edge science-fiction concepts like transhumanism with his skill at crafting lean and brutal 21st century thriller plots into a debit issue that succeeds on all fronts.
When DC launched the New 52, the company tried to incorporate its Wildstorm properties into the main DC Universe to decidedly little success. Aside from Midnighter and Apollo, most of the Windstorm concepts failed to make an impact, mostly because the tone and concepts at the heart of Wildstorm characters like Grifter, Zealot, and Stormwatch rely on an inherently more cynical and morally grey world than the one in which Superman lives. Additionally, the central mythology of Wildstorm, that of political intrigue, alien abductions and sociocultural commentary, doesn’t mesh too well with the DC style capes and masks.
But with Ellis’ return to the line, he once again shows he has maybe the best grasp on what makes all of the elements of the Wildstorm work. In the late 1990’s, Ellis was brought aboard the “Stormwatch” book, and promptly shifted the title away from somewhat formulaic action-oriented tales in the Marvel mold to a character-driven title that split its focus between huge sci-fi ideas and paranoid conspiracies about new world orders. This would eventually shift into “The Authority,” which would take all of these concepts and add the widescreen super-scale action that title was initially lauded for.
And now, Ellis is paired with artist Jon Davis-Hunt to deliver a new Wildstorm universe for contemporary times. The Wild Storm #1 features new versions of old favorites like Deathblow, Zealot, Voodoo, the Engineer and Jacob Marlowe, with the characters seemingly locked in conflict over control of the world. What makes the issue work so well is Ellis’ pulling all the disparate elements of Wildstorm’s focus (conspiracy theories, alien abductions, black ops, fear of financial oligarchy) into a cohesive whole and then re-shaping those elements from their late 1990s versions into 21st century models. By doing this, The Wild Storm #1 immediately feels fresh and vital, with a lean and sleek sense of menace underlying the whole thing. When I finished the issue I immediately was excited to see what this team has in store for us next, and I got the feeling that a universe was being created that felt unique to itself, not an imitation of DC or Marvel, but yet still a compelling vision of super-heroes for the modern age.
Davis-Hunt delivers some fantastic work here. In some ways it must be tough to match the grounded, real-world style of the storytelling while still delivering heightened action set pieces. Davis-Hunt delivers on all fronts, depicting fantastic elements and action that nevertheless takes place within a world that feels like it exists just outside our window. The way the issue is laid out is interesting, conforming to a tight panel structure that avoids big splash pages or action spilling out across panels. It’s a classical feel, to be sure, but it also feels very cinematic and helps keep the pace moving at light speed. I’m not sure if that’s a function of the script, or a choice by the artist, but either way it speaks to Davis-Hunt’s skill. The always great Ivan Plascencia handles the colors on the issue, and doesn’t disappoint at all, giving us a book that highlights the detail of the art and pops when it needs to, adds depth and shade in the quieter moments. It’s a great looking book.
The Wild Storm #1 might be a bit dense for anyone who has never read about theses characters before, and Ellis’ facility with transhumanist concepts and cutting edge pseudo-science may take some getting used to, but I love how the issue throws you into the world and expects you learn as you go. It’s a book that treats its readers as smart people, and doesn’t worry that they’ll be lost.
In the end, The Wild Storm #1 feels like a new way to re-establish an entire universe by finding a talented creative team with a distinct vision and giving them free reign over a line of books to implement that vision. If the rest of the line turns out as compelling as this issue, then we could all be in for a treat. 9.5/10