Nov 19, 2018

I Don’t Know Where The Wild Storm is Going

We are eighteen issues out of twenty-four into Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt’s The Wild Storm, the first of three spin-offs closing out at twelve issues, to be reintegrated into the main title’s narrative. We’re revisiting an old established comics universe, the WildStorm universe, much of the trademarked properties of which have been absorbed into the DC Universe, many of which comics remain in print or cycle in and out often enough. So, there is a lot familiar, and a strict timeline, and it is an extraordinarily controlled comic made up of clear, articulated systems. And, I have no real idea where it is going.


I Don’t Know Where The Wild Storm is Going
Travis Hedge Coke


Eighteen issues in, that is, honestly, a glory.

You know that saw from Kurt Vonnegut about the reader should be able to guess that last pages of a book if they happened to be somehow torn out of their copy? Vonnegut wrote audience-congratulatory advertisement fiction. It is good at what it does, for who it intends to do it for, but it is for an audience who would like to not be surprised. By anything.

A lot of commercial fiction follows suit. Some of it is good. This is a decent model.



The current X-Men Black line, every single one of these, you know the end by the first three pages and probably the cover. There are about seven writers, and a small army of visual artists and, even though the Mystique-focused comic is pretty good, in the sense that there’s some wit to her committing mass murder in front of someone and lying to them about it so they won’t worry, it is beyond predictable. God, calling your villains-centric storyline, “X-Men Black.”

Bare plot bones, The Wild Storm concerns the multi-front war between the two true global powers, one handling everything on Earth, the other, everything that happens just off the planet, from their city-sized satellite, and the corporations, pop stars, innovators and aliens who keep that complicated. It’s about innovation and drinks and acceptable casualties and the new wave of a designer phone released in stores tomorrow. The Wild Storm boils the very 1990s skin and fat from a skeleton of perennially cool spy thriller alien invasion secret history rebellion, retaining the ground floor diversity that set WildStorm, the publisher, apart from pretty much all of its big shared universe competition.

I don’t expect The Wild Storm - or its spinoff titles like Michael Cray - to change my life, or blow open my mind. I will be able to read and reread it, and it is likely to show me new things each time, for a long time ahead of us. The character work is subtle, layered, and new information, as we get it, alters how earlier characterization plays. The comic stays in play within itself.

Even the structure of The Wild Storm, deceptively simple, is expanding in ways we could not have tracked from the start. There is a ticker running across the top of each cover, counting us up from 1 to 24, and we know from press releases and could reasonably have assumed regardless, that when it hits 24, that’s all she wrote for the comic. But, the comic’s formulaic grids start to give way as the comic breaks its social, socioeconomic, and cosmogonic forms. The issues contain far more of the old WildStorm universe than anyone was anticipating, to the point that you can go back through the regular reviews or birdwatching posts like the one comparing the two universes, and as soon as someone says, “I doubt we’ll be seeing…” we find out we have been seeing them, or they were hinted at and we missed the cues.

The Wild Storm’s thirteenth issue surprised most of us by “suddenly” becoming about Gen¹³, about “the kids today.” It’s the thirteenth issue. There’s a famous thirteen associated with the universe. Of course they would! But, we did not see it coming and it played completely natural from the start.

Around issue six, we understood that this is a twenty-four issue story framed in four six-part sections, but with six, we also splintered off a divergent track with the Michael Cray solo title. Cray is deceptive, as a character, a riff, and a comic. The character used to be called Deathblow. Jim Lee, his co-creator, did some cool things with him. Azzarello and Bermejo’s After the Fire, is probably one of my favorite pieces from either of them. But, Deathblow is past his sell-by. Michael Cray, which was always his name, is a great name for a hard ass doing his thing. Michael Cray can kick open doors and put two slugs in an asshole any decade, any year you pick.

The comic, Michael Cray, ran parallel, monthly, to the main title, for twelve issues, and the first six were two-issue stories where he took out a variation of a famous DC superhero. Monster-Aquaman. Murdery-Flash. Then, when we are introduced to this world’s riff on Wonder Woman and John Constantine simultaneously, the rhythm shifts to an extended jam and we’re not listening to a standard cover of Little Wing, we’re in Maggot Brain country. The fourth arc runs, not for two, but six issues, folding in and out of rhythms and pitches, growing over itself and getting weird.



We are deep enough in, now, I can tell you that the world we are seeing of The Wild Storm, the one that will soon be expanded by two more branched off titles, is probably artificial. This is Planetary (old WildStorm comic; same writer) from another angle. Planetary was a comic that looked at genre fiction and the interplay between how they’ve shaped a century, how the century shaped stories and story tropes. The universe as a stack of pages, the multiverse as a bunch of books thrown across a coffee table.

This universe, is described by its real-world architect, curator, and head-writer, Ellis, as an “alternate reality story on a parallel Earth.” A number of DC-owned properties of the B and C-level sort, are seen as television programs, pop albums, beers and confections. The “big guns,” like Batman or Wonder Woman are farcical, broke things, letting us see jutting, open angles like a dissected dog. A dissected dog is not a dog the way that George, the lab cuddling by your side at seven pm on Saturday, trying to lick the foam off your beer is a dog. It just lets us see some of the cold structure that, added to other things, could make that dog run.

I don’t think this story is an “alternate reality story on a parallel.” I think this world is an alternate reality story.

There are extradimensional aliens harvesting, correcting, trimming up this universe. Where we start, in issue one, is comparable to a CCTV camera on a street corner, and indeed, some of our first visuals are from just that set up. We move from there to cell videos, cellular calls, and from there to the internet as a global perspective. And, extra-global, as it floats around us and shoots through us simultaneously. Increasingly, when people look in the mirror, in this story, they see something no one can see looking at them. When they talk to themselves it is not always with their own voice. Or, is it, and their own voices only scare them too much?

Perspective is a hard thing to be sure of, even when something is on camera, or on the internet.

I watched footage, the other night, of cops beating the hell out of someone; they’re on the ground, I think handcuffed, and the police are going right for the kidney punches. What I did not immediately suss is that the victim is only fourteen. You go online or bring that up at the grocery store, somebody will tell you in no seconds at all, that she must have done something. “Must have done something” isn’t information we pick up in a moment, in a scene or a photograph or an internet video. That is a perspective we carry with us into a photograph, into a scene or an event. Perspective comes before sight, before interpretation.

I have a perspective on The Wild Storm. I do not, as yet, have a fully-formed or even partly-baked interpretation. I hope my perspective is serving me better than looking at a kid throttled by the cops and seeing “she must have done something” before I see someone beating up a kid. But, I’ve been wrong before, and the beauty of stories is that your perspective can be wrong without injury to anyone, your interpretation can be flawed, wrong, or mixed up without injury to anybody.

Issue twenty may show us the previous has all been a dream. Issue twenty-one could prove that dream had relevance. The world is wide open, because this story is not a scrambled mess, or a free for all, but it is growing in the open. A wild flower is still subject to sky and earth and passing animals. A wild storm, however chaotic or driving it may seem in a moment, as a whole, has structure and evokes interpretation of its dynamics and flow. Hard to know a storm’s path when you’re seeing it coming or up in the eye. Within the eye, you might not even know what the storm is.

And, we have more than half a year to go.

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