As a high-concept sci-fi adventure, there are a lot of twists and turns to be found in The Wild Storm. Yet while you expect all the spy drama, super science and interpersonal conflicts that have been a hallmark of the series thus far, issue #9 brings about a whole new level of nerdy fan service with a gory samurai fight. It’s a brilliant sequence that really speaks to the storyboarding ability of penciller Jon Davis-Hunt, even if the whole thing is more grindhouse than Kurosawa. It’s definitely reason enough to buy the book, but there’s certainly more to it than all that, so why don’t we run down the story from the beginning.
Our A-story focuses on the IO research team and the new wrinkle of a middle manager with a bad attitude in Deputy Director Ivana Baiul. I don’t know how many strong corporate women I need to keep track of in this story, but with Christine Trelane off keeping tabs on Michael Cray, she adds a bit of intrigue on the IO side of things. Anyway the nerds in the research team have hit a stumbling block in their clandestine prying into Skywatch, forcing Jackie to ask Miles Craven about a mysterious dossier called Project Thunderbook. Thing is, even director Craven doesn’t know a ton about the project owing to it’s legacy as the work of former director John Lynch. Now Lynch, for those who never read titles like Gen13 or Team 7, is the Wild Storm equivalent of Nick Fury; a throwback super spy who has his fingers in seemingly everything, never seems to age and possesses superhuman mental powers from his exposure to the same mutagenic substances that created many of the former Image imprint’s most popular heroes. There’s little revealed about him in this issue, but his presence looms like a specter over the IO organization – with everything from his departure from the agency to his current whereabouts being shrouded in secrecy. It’s purely a bone thrown to those of us who have followed these characters in the past, but it’s a juicy one.
Elsewhere, the IO research team’s prying into Skywatch’s systems has caught the attention of Lauren Pennington, the assistant – and possibly true power behind – the organization’s chief director, Henry Bendix. It seems Ms. Pennington is hip to the surveillance Jackie’s team is running on space-faring organization and has set her top agent, Lucy Blaze (the artist formerly known as Zealot), to put a stop to it. It’s not as interesting a development as the mention of Lynch, but it does propel the inevitable conflict between the two organizations along nicely. There’s also the matter of Marlowe setting the Engineer up with her own workspace and lab, but short of a mysterious mech and what appears to be a Buck Rogers liquid helium water gun there’s not a lot developed here. It’s probably the least interesting story of the bunch but I can tell it’s a means to an end, so I can be patient while the story develops.
By far, the most interesting part of this issue, however, is the development in the character of John Colt. As the cyborg leader of the WildCATS team, Spartan was always a bit of a stick in the mud pre-Whedon Cyclops clone, but as John Colt in Warren Ellis’s The Wild Storm, he’s an immortal alien badass with a taste for the finer things. This issue not only showcases that first part in an almost wordless samurai showdown that Toshiro Mifune would kill to be a part of, it explains a bit of the back story that led to his love of champagne and caviar. See the Kherabim (they’ve never actually been called that on panel, but it’s been 9 issues so I’m going to keep using the name for the foreseeable, thank you very much!) lived in a rigid caste structure somehow related to the length and spelling of their name. Colt, unfortunately, is on the bottom of that caste, with a middle syllable that literally names him as “an individual with no value.” As a member of the warrior class, the dude was an expendable foot soldier, fit only to die for the glory of his race, but not to enjoy the finer things in life. Since he found himself on Earth in the service of the Lord Emp however, he’s taken it upon himself to enjoy all the pleasures denied on his home planet. As such, the man drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney and eats caviar like a James Bond villain trying to prove he’s sophisticated. He certainly didn’t forget how to fight in that time, as he dispatches 6 armed men with ease and what appears to be a short bladed ninjato, rather than a full katana. It appears Colt was attempting to recover a mysterious alien macguffin for Marlowe, and we later see that same item in the Engineer’s workshop. That being said, we still have no idea what the hell that thing is or does, so hopefully something comes of it.
Overall, this is another strong outing for the Wild Storm team, especially Davis-Hunt. His storyboarding for the fight sequence is fantastic, and there’s a lot of detail crammed into every scene – even a barren cityscape in the rain comes off looking like a million bucks. Ellis continues to weave an ornate mystery for the book that leaves readers enthralled, and peppers in just enough reveals to keep you coming back for more. I do wish that there were some clearer developments in the meta narrative – what’s the beef between the IO and Stormwatch that they are trying to work past? Why are the Kherabim really on earth? What are the Daemonites and what the hell are they doing? – but I can let things marinate and mature if it leads to a satisfying payoff.