Part sci-fi exposition dump, part psychotropic excursion into the mind. This issue is a weird one.
For people that know me this may sound like I’m shitting on a book that I really do enjoy, but issue #8 of The Wild Storm firmly places DC’s reboot of the former Image imprint into Lost territory – but like season 2 of Lost. You know, before it became clear that the writers didn’t actually have any idea what the hell they were doing. In those early years of Lost, the show was actually pretty great at building mysteries that felt meaningful and created a unique lore that felt like a rich tapestry just waiting to unravel. Yet, while Abrams and Lindelof’s hour-long drama more fell apart than unraveled, Ennis and Davis-Hunt’s soaring sci-fi epic seems much more deliberate with its development. It’s a good thing too, because this month brings with it a lot of answers, but poses just as many questions.
So picking up where we left off last issue, Marlowe takes Angela on a lengthy (though abridged) journey through his – and by extension Kenesha and John’s – peculiar backstory. We learn that all three are members of a genetic clade for an alien species (presumably the Kherabim), who crash landed on Earth a long time ago, ostensibly on a mission to ensure the continued survival of the human species. Due to damage sustained to their ship and the general difficulty of interstellar communication, Marlowe and associates decided to make the most of their situation by creating the Halo organization to improve the standard of living for humanity at large. Of course, a conversation with Kenesha later implies that their goals and/or reason for remaining on the planet may not be as altruistic as implied, but as far as Angela is concerned, the Lord Emp is just a nice ET who wants to know what secrets the IO and Skywatch have on he and his people.
Speaking of which, the nerds in the front office of the IO were able to analyze the video from the shenanigans of Issue #4 and identify Cole Cash as The Grifter. Turns out our favorite ginger gunman (sorry you had to hear it this way, Arsenal) was, at one point in time, an assassin working for the competition until a mission went south resulting in his death. I mean, it’s likely he didn’t actually die, but given the nature of the book, why limit your options? Anyway, Kenesha and Void remain anonymous faces to the techs, but Adri’s peculiar cosmonaut-looking outfit has Miles Craven thinking that this random team – this Wild CAT if you will – may actually be tied to Skywatch. That’s potentially good news for our heroes, the Kherubim, as it may throw the IO off the scent – though the fact that they’ve made Cole, almost certainly means trouble.
So we got some good development, answered some big questions even as we learned new mysteries, and set the stage for future conflicts. Guess we can….what’s that? We’re going introduce another re-imagined Stormwatch character? We’re going to do it an ornate, and overtly visual style that will confuse the hell out of readers who aren’t intimately familiar with the source material? Even those of us who DID read Stormwatch may not remember a lot about this side character from a series that launched more than 20 years ago? Let’s have her tie in to another obscure character we haven’t seen in months to add to the confusion? Oh…Ok. Let’s talk about Shen Li-Min, then.
Dubbed Swift back in the day, Shen was your basic bird person turned superhero who became the Earth’s Doctor. Not like Dr. Who Doctor but…well actually, sort of like that, but with a healthy amount of Dr. Strange as well. The Doctor, it turns out, is a magical guardian of the Earth, with vast powers drawn from all of their predecessors, who communes and is in tune with the very spirit of the planet. This version of Shen seems about the same, though her wings have taken on a decidedly more psychedelic appearance and function. Working as a sort of spiritual health guru, Li-Min is patronized by none other than Jenny Sparks, the digital-reality hopping woman from issue #3. Like pretty much everything else in this book, this sequence (brief and funny though it may be) creates all kinds of new questions. What was the weird realm inside Jenny’s forehead? What about the phantom warrior women watching Shen as she moved through the astral plane? What was the deal with that baby in the iron lung? What were those Skeksis-looking Daemonites doing and how did they recognize Shen?
Shen is suitably weirded out by her experience, but when she confronts Jenny about what she saw, the bold Ms. Sparx tricks Shen into opening a digital link to UK and bounces. Now while you or I would probably just sit on the layered craziness we just experienced, Shen uses her abilities to communicate with the previous Avatars….uh, I mean Doctors to see if there was any point in their collective memory that may shed some light on this nonsense. Her former counterparts (a stuffy, Sigmund Freud type, a Lhasa medicine man and a victorian Noble woman) share a few anecdotes about their interactions with the Daemon over the years, and explain that Jenny is what is known as a Techne, super-powered aliens that operate as a planetary defense system. Shen is warned that her appearance (and interest in the modern doctor) is a sign of trouble to come, but she seems more enamored with the mysterious Ms. Sparks than concerned – which is a nice nod to the characters’ past as a romantic couple.
While the subplot about the Doctor and the Techne is a bit left field, this is still a pretty good issue – and the main reason is the artwork of Jon Davis-Hunt. Yes, this is a very dense and story-driven piece, but without the detailed and occasionally obscure artwork, it would have been nearly impenetrable. The Khera’s ship is an interesting and unique take on interstellar travel, as its marriage of squid-like structures and cold-war era space technology aesthetics creates a memorable moment specific to this series. The really powerful imagery, however, comes from Davis-Hunt’s work alongside colorist Steve Buccellato in the psychedelic experience of the Doctor’s powers. Shen’s rainbow wings shifting into sakura petals is a great visual that gives way to a swarm of protoplasmic orbs and our first view of the sort of alien ghost ship that is the Carrier. That the imagery of such an ornate and dreamlike sequence is so stylistically rendered yet clear and readable is a feat in and of itself.