In June 2016, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
UPDATE: With a new year comes change. Going forward in 2017, Alex and Kyle will be alternating articles weekly in order to give each other a breather after 7 straight months of going tandem. A little break is always good! This week, Alex takes charge with Davey Nieves on tap to offer additional thoughts on The Wild Storm #1.
Note: the reviews below contain **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writers: Marguerite Bennett & James Tynion IV
Artist: Steve Epting
Colorist: Jeromy Cox
Letterer: Deron Bennett
Over the years, Batwoman has proved to be one of DC’s most creatively fertile, yet underutilized characters. Whenever the spotlight shines on her, the pages run red and imaginations turn loose, yet she always recedes back into the supporting cast after one sea change or another. Could Batwoman: Rebirth finally keep the most visually striking and morally complex bat-family character on center stage? Marguerite Bennett, James Tynion IV, and Steve Epting certainly make a strong case for it here.
At this point, we’ve seen just about every permutation of a “Rebirth” title possible. We’ve seen faux-first issues and origin stories that range from the mundane to the astounding. Batwoman: Rebirth joins Deathstroke: Rebirth as one of the few Rebirth titles that chooses to go with a tableau approach to laying out its thesis. The book shows us Kate Kane’s life in broad strokes from her early childhood to her traumatic teenage years to adulthood and even gives us glimpses of her near future. From what I’ve been told, some of the elements introduced in this issue echo plotlines explored in previous Batwoman runs, but not having experienced those for myself, I have to say that I am very intrigued by what they have to offer.
The most striking thing about this book is the way it’s paced. The creative team behind Batwoman: Rebirth structures events in a non-linear order. Scenes from Kate Kane’s origin are tied together through thematic resonance so in one moment, we see her and her twin sister as a child, being kidnapped from their car by a group of armed men. After a transitional page that cleverly distorts time by only including dialogue and the sound of firing guns, Kate’s an adult– finally being rescued by her father. These shifts in chronology serve to highlight the contrast between Kate’s youth and her adulthood, giving us a clear picture of why she is the person she’s become without resorting to clunky tactics like caption boxes or expository dialogue. These jumps in time could easily jolt and confuse, but it’s to Epting’s and Cox’s credit as visual storytellers that the book flows in a seamlessly coherent manner (with one puzzling exception at the tail end of the story).
I’m interested to see what Batwoman’s new creative team has to offer us. Structurally, narratively, and visually, Batwoman: Rebirth was a strong, albeit not groundbreaking start to what could very well become one of the most socially conscious books in the DC Rebirth lineup given Kate’s sexuality and family history. We’ll see if the creative team is up to the task in the months to come.
Final Verdict: Buy
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Jon Davis-Hunt
Colorist: Ivan Plascencia
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Alex: It’s always interesting to come into a book like The Wild Storm #1 because while this is ostensibly the start of a new series, it’s one that has a rich history of pre-established lore behind it. I’ve never read a Wildstorm story before, so many of the nostalgic tricks (or crutches) a creative team might use to hook a reader with rose-tinted glasses won’t register to me. All there is is what’s on the page. Luckily for Warren Ellis, Jon Davis-Hunt, and Ivan Pascencia, what’s there is relatively strong, albeit slightly underwhelming, stuff.
In essence, The Wild Storm #1 is a story focused on the feud between Miles Craven, director of the “deep black government service” International Operations (IO), and Jacob Marlowe, CEO of the innovative technology company HALO. At the climax of this issue, we witness Michael Cray, an IO assassin, blast Marlowe out of a window in an attempt to assassinate him. Marlowe nearly falls to his death but is saved by Angela Spica, an IO researcher who has created an endoskeleton that can be pushed outward to transform her into a bionic weapon reminiscent of Marvel’s Iron Man. Angela is unaware of the feud between Marlowe and her boss, but the use of her innovative technology unwittingly puts her at the center of their war.
What’s immediately apparent to me is how strongly The Wild Storm #1 reminds me of other recent comics. Perhaps it’s because books like Planetary have had a marked influence on the development of modern comics. Or perhaps Ellis himself has been influenced by the people he inspired– the dialogue of art is funny that way. Regardless, in this story I see elements of sci-fi comics like The Filth and Nowhere Men. There’s an underground government agency tasked with cleaning up undesirables. There are two feuding scientists whose rivalry has turned deadly. There’s an overwhelming sense that the world is on the brink of a massive change. Davis-Hunt’s light linework and Plascensia’s generally muted color palette even look like they could have been taken from Nowhere Men. The Wild Storm #1 presents a bold opening salvo, but it’s a little unfortunate that we’ve seen similar ones so recently.
On the bright side, when you stop comparing The Wild Storm #1 to other non-DC Comics titles on the shelf, it stands out quite strongly. Even though the Rebirth line has introduced a healthy amount of energy, its stories and usage of classic characters makes the lineup relatively conservative. Young Animal is a breath of fresh air, but generally geared towards young adult themes of self-discovery. Through The Wild Storm #1’s unrelenting exploration of its characters’ various neuroses and ruthless tone, Ellis and Davis-Hunt clearly carve out an uniquely mature space for themselves in the DC lineup. Who would have expected any less? This is the guy that wrote Transmetropolitan and an exceedingly violent run on Moon Knight, after all.
However, while everyone loves to hear about maturity in comics, we have to be careful to distinguish between true maturity and false maturity. It’s the difference between Watchmen, which uses violence and sex as an exploration of humanity, and most books it inspired in the 90s, which used the same tools for gratuitous shock. The Wild Storm #1 falls somewhere in the middle on this spectrum as of now. In the opening scene, we see IO agent Zealot cleaning up after killing someone in a small apartment. He’s facedown in the toilet and there’s blood everywhere. The viscous red splatters that cover his prone form and coat the walls stand out from the rest of Plascensia’s coloring palette, calling even more attention to themselves than Zealot’s own burgundy trench coat. We’re clearly supposed to pay attention not just to the act of murder, but the sheer brutality of this murder. Why, though? We never get more than a cursory answer to that question. Zealot notes the victim was editing his genes– a process that seems to have granted him additional fingers– but it’s not explained why this offense is punishable and more importantly why it is so deserving of such a grisly punishment. This is the kind of opening that draws a reader into a fictional world and teaches us its rules, but it dangerously teeters on the edge of being a hollow kind of opening as well. By not explicitly condoning nor condemning the violence or explaining the purpose of its intensity, but instead letting the moment simply sit on its own, The Wild Storm #1’s creative team forces us to question whether or not this opening act was a creative choice or a marketing choice.
Moving on, though, what I really enjoyed most about The Wild Storm #1— the thing that really pushes my hand towards recommending the title despite my reservations, are the characters. I know this is a reboot and that these characters are hardly new, but they’re new to me. Despite that, within just 24 pages, I feel like i know them intimately already. Ellis has a signature hyper-talkative dialogue style that is as blatantly apparent as Wes Anderson’s usage of affected literary dialogue. It’s a bit of a divisive tool and while some moments of its usage feel hollow here, overall I consider it a boon to the book. Angela Spicer’s lack of social grace, circuitous method of speech, and fervent passion all come through on the page very quickly in an astoundingly nuanced way. Miles Craven’s Wolf of Wall Street-esque manner of speech and witticism are equally as apparent in the short time we spend with him. Ellis knows how these characters speak and Davis-Hunt knows how they move to an extent that’s rare for a first issue and that has to be applauded.
Overall, I’d say that I was pleased with The Wild Storm #1. While I wouldn’t call it the best DC comic on the shelf, I think it plays a strong and unique role in diversifying the tone of the publisher’s lineup. It seeks to explore something different and darker than most DC Comics do and does so with a confidence that even most Young Animal books don’t quite muster. A book like this one has to walk a fine line between being poignant and gratuitous, but for now, I’d say The Wild Storm #1 is shaping up quite nicely. What’d you think, Davey?
Davey: I miss the 90s. CD Walkmans, sneakers with lights, comic book characters with pouches for literally everything they own; I miss inconvenience so I was looking forward to yet another attempt to bring back Wildstorm characters. As someone who read the Jim Lee created universe from its early days at Image, I found myself pleasantly surprised The Wild Storm was nothing like I remembered. You’re absolutely right, this book has an awful lot more in common with recent comics than what the original WildC.A.Ts was about. Giving it a more cloak-and-dagger espionage vibe with a sci-fi twist is interesting and plays to Warren Ellis strengths as a writer. He has a knack for putting idea into simple junk food comics, just look at what he did with New Universal. I love all the potential The Wild Storm has out of the gate, especially with all the names Warren Ellis dropped in the book. I can’t wait to see the new Maul, Warblade, and Spartan.
What the big difference was from anything Wildstorm had ever done was the art of John Davis-Hunt. It’s such a departure from the Jim Lee crosshatch heavy action this universe was founded on in books like Deathblow and Gen13. John’s art was more in tune with an indie comic; economic and simplistic. That’s not to say it was bad by any means, infact, this might be my favorite rendition of Zealot since the 90’s. Even with more subtlety in the panels, The Wild Storm still manages to pop where it needs to. The scene with Jacob Marlowe falling out of the building was straight up superhero comics 101.
This book is an inverse of what the original Wildstorm universe once was. In the 90’s Wildstorm/Image stories were decent but, you really only bought those comics to see gorgeous Jim Lee art. The Wild Storm gets you to care more about the story than the art. If you aren’t going to do a hyper-spandexed WildStorm universe, this is the best way to do it.
Final Verdict: Buy
- In addition to Batwoman and The Wildstorm, Super Sons #1 makes its debut on store shelves this week. Spinning out of Peter Tomasi’s and Patrick Gleason’s Superman, this series focuses on Superman’s son Jon and Batman’s son Damian as they navigate issues of friendship and legacy. It’s a fun romp with relatively small stakes that feels right at home with the main Superman title. It’s not a must-buy in my opinion, but if you enjoy Superman right now you’ll probably enjoy this book just as much.
- The choice to bring Superman into a book like Batman #17 is a bit of a baffling one to me. He doesn’t stick around for very long, but his very presence in a book like this throws off the dynamic because it forces you to think about him. Tom King and David Finch have crafted an interesting action-packed showdown for Batman and Bane. In this issue, the latter forces the hand of the former by capturing four of Batman’s closest allies and lining them up for death on a rooftop. It’s an open challenge to the Bat. You and me. One and one. But why, though? Besides Bruce’s Achillean sense of pride, why would Superman not just swoop down, throw Bane into the stars, and save Batman’s friends all in one fell swoop? “Because comics,” you reply. Well, to that I say, “comics are silly.
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Alex is the New Media Editor of the Comics Beat. He is also a freelance comics editor with previous credits at First Second, Top Cow, and Papercutz. He primarily covers DC Comics and Magic: the Gathering.