Bits of Everything: The Wild Storm (And why you should care)

Alright... and welcome back to the bi-weekly event that is one man cracking his skull open and letting you all enjoy what seeps forth. I hope that you all took some time over the last two weeks to give Sense8 a try and I hope that those who did loved the finale as much as I did. Sometimes it's not so much about how long a series lasts but how it's allowed to end. Which brings me to my topic for this week. And I think that my head cracking metaphor that I opened with is kind of the best way that I can think to describe anyone talking about the works of one of the finest creators of this age... Warren Ellis.

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As a creator he first came to our shores in 1994 working on Marvel's Hellstorm: Prince of Lies and shortly thereafter penning Doom 2099. That his early work contained a look into the future is hardly a shock given the way that his career has continued. He is perhaps best know for works that contain a great deal of futurism at their core. Transmetropolitan began in 1997 and was many a reader's first look at the whack-a-doo kind of future that "Internet Jesus" (one of Ellis' many colorful nicknames) had in mind.

But a year before that was when he began what might have been a far more important work. One that would have a larger impact on the comics industry than I think that most people were really prepared for. Especially given it's relative lack of relevance prior to his taking over the title (not to speak ill of Ron Marz). Warren Ellis took a different approach to Stormwatch than any other writers had done before and it would eventually become the formation of one of the most important comics of the last decade of the last millennium. 

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The Authority. A team of superheroes who had reached the end of their patience with the way of saving the world they had been taught. They were going to, instead, do whatever it took to save the world and the largest portion of humanity that they could from the threats they encountered. The Authority had a huge impact on the comics industry when it first hit the shelves. And for a variety of reasons. One because it seemed to put an interesting spin on the kinds of characters that one might typically find at one of the other bigger publishers (even though DC was actually publishing the book [the Wildstorm imprint was largely seen as a separate entity at the time]).

And while I could spend another 10,000 words talking about just the 12 issues that Ellis wrote of The Authority or how his work on Stormwatch ushered in other great works like Joe Casey's work on WildC.A.Ts, Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips' work on Sleeper, and even how it paved the way for another of Ellis' masterpieces, Planetary..  I've not started this article for that purpose.

I think that what Ellis did with Stormwatch and how it lead in to The Authority showed that he knew how to take a thing that already existed and how to make it shift and morph and become more than what it was. But with Stormwatch's transition into The Authority he was still working with costumed superheroes. And while Ellis has told some truly remarkable stories with costumed superheroes I think that his more personal and more impactful work often comes when he can approach things from another angle. When he can deal with characters who are interesting without being overly colorful. When he can create heroes that don't have to wear spandex. I think that Ellis is best when left to his own devices. I think back on series like Planetary, Transmetropolitan, Fell, Jack Cross, Desolation Jones, Global Frequency, Ocean, Gravel, Freak Angels and that's not even getting into his novels and I think that those are the works that I often find myself digging out to tell friends who are asking about getting into comics about. Those are the kinds of titles that make my blood pump. That get me excited.

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So, when DC announced that Warren Ellis was going to be given the whole of the Wildstorm universe to do with whatever he wished you can imagine that I was, conservatively speaking, quite thrilled. And they were going to call it The Wild Storm, which is a mighty catchy title.

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He spoke about how he was going to roll things out slowly. He talked about how he was going to write or oversee all the titles that were launched. He talked about how he had a multi-year plan. And all of that is incredibly exciting. But what was most exciting was that the characters didn't look like superheroes (perhaps with the exception of John "Grifter" Cole, but given what's going on with his story it's hardly a surprise that he wears a mask when he goes into the field). This was going to be a book about a world of characters, it was going to be a book about intelligence agencies in conflict, it was going to be a story about a futurist who wants to change the world for the better, it was going to be a book about an alien invasion that happened so long ago that we missed it entirely, it was going to be a book about secrets...

And the 12th issue came out not too long ago (actually issue 13 has also come out now but I was going to write only about the main title and focus on the first year of releases... So... there) and so I thought i would give it all a re-read and talk about it here. 

This is a really great comic that is happening at a pace that I think is very well suited to Ellis. Characters are plotting and planning and machinations are coming to fruition in some regards while they spoil on the vine for others. And interestingly he's managed to sow in the seeds of so many characters that long time readers of the Wildstorm universe will recognize that the anticipation builds more and more with each issue. Jon Davis-Hunt has done a great job with the artwork as well (considering that many comic artists have been gifted with characters who wear spandex, making them measurably easier to draw page after page, while Davis-Hunt has characters that wear actual clothes and suits and stuff... much less easy). 

What has been great about the first year of The Wild Storm is that Ellis has managed to keep his promises. He's made a series that is revealing itself, month to month, to be a criminally overlooked book. He's got characters who deliver the kind of ridiculous threats and comments that he came to be famous for with characters like Spider Jerusalem from Transmet and he's also got the kind of characters that are calculatingly brutal like he crafted in books like Jack Cross (criminally overlooked title by the way, go dig those issues out of a quarter bin and do yourself a huge favor). At the core of the book are 3 organizations, I.O. (International Operations, the organization that is responsible for keeping Earth safe from itself, basically), Skywatch (the organization that is responsible for keeping the world safe from otherworldly threats), and the ragtag group at  HALO (a futurist tech firm that is trying to democratize tech to make the world a better place for everyone). But I.O. and Skywatch have long been at cross purposes (much the same way that the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. often find themselves fighting over how to use particular intel... but both of these organizations have exponentially larger budgets) and only fragile treaties keep them from each other's throats. Meanwhile HALO is causing problems for both of them since their quest to democratize technology will inevitably lead to democratization of information... the last thing that secret intelligence organizations want. And meanwhile there are alien species on earth as well as a growing cast of characters who have a great deal of power but whom have not yet backed any of the factions in play.

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And there is representation of so many of the different titles from the Wildstorm Universe of old already, and with the revelation in the final scene of issue 12 we've certainly not seen all that he has yet to reveal. 

I think that even if you have not the slightest idea of the past of the Wildstorm Universe that picking up the first two trades of this series would be a great introduction. And there's a trade forthcoming for the first of the spin off titles, Wild Storm: Michael Cray, next month. 

Alright friends. That's enough of Everything for this transmission. You've got plenty of Bits to pick through from this one. Lots of great comics to go check out. Get thee to a comic store and ask the folks who work there to point you in the right direction.