Review by Frank Plowright
When Image Comics was founded by seven writer/artists in the early 1990s, the most coherently ambitious of them was Jim Lee, who constructed a whole world of characters with an elaborate backstory and interesting personalities, at least for the era. Over time, however, his attention turned elsewhere, and while continuing to be successful throughout the 1990s, most of his WildStorm cast fell into disuse after he sold the characters to DC. In 2017 Warren Ellis was contracted for a relaunch, and this is the first result.
Lee was incredibly enthusiastic and the characters and situations poured out of him, but that first rush of creativity also spawned some logical untidiness that proved difficult to clear up later. Ellis had his own try, redefining Stormwatch and using it to drag superheroes into the 21st century. Given free reign to redefine Lee’s characters from the ground up for a second time, twenty years on, his changes are largely cosmetic, broadening the cast from white heterosexuals, although as drawn by Jon Davis-Hunt they’re still paragons of physical perfection, but in this incarnation costumes are almost all sidelined. Ellis also eradicates much of the macho bullshit from the characters, some of whom actually question their kill orders rather than revelling in the blood, although the adult element of the book results from the splatter moments.
Ellis introduces a tech-heavy conflict between intelligence agency International Operations, long beyond any outside control, and what’s ostensibly a phone manufacturing company, the Halo Corporation. Both have many secrets, as does Skywatch, another intelligence agency operating from an orbiting satellite. When the head of Halo is saved from an assassination attempt by a previously unknown armoured being a complex set of dominoes begin to fall. This slow release plot is planned to extend over four volumes, incorporating an ensemble cast, some of whom, such as recording artiste Voodoo, have little part to play in this introductory outing.
Davis-Hunt is phenomenal. The Wild Storm is a conflation of the fears we may have about the world running out of control, with submerged technology now revealed, and Davis-Hunt brings that to credible life in plain bunker rooms, anodyne office structures and loft apartments. He supplies fantastic, messy home-made battlesuits alongside the professional versions, and the discussions in the true corridors of power alongside the consequences of those discussions. It’s all in a disciplined panel structure, refraining from breaking out the pin-ups or intrusive layouts. It’s a confined, boxed in look, to reflect Ellis’ view of out of control administration.
Despite featuring people who have super powers, this is very deliberately not a superhero comic, but a tightly plotted spy thriller, which has its widescreen moments. There’s also time for detail and intrigue, and the care and attention to that detail make this a very attractive read promising much for volume two.