It’s been a long spell since the last issue of The Wild Storm, Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt’s re-imagining of the once great Image/DC imprint’s expansive cast of characters, and to say that readers have grown a bit restless with the wait wouldn’t be inaccurate. It’s not just the fact that it’s been more than two months since we last followed the circuitous saga of the Kherabim species, it’s that the past 18 issues have presented such a complex and ornate storyline that always offers more questions when it should be providing answers – especially when the cover leads one to believe the series will only run for 24 issues. Seemingly sensing that frustration may be building with readers hungry for answers as to precisely what the hell is going on here, issue #19 was the day the dam broke. Contained within the 23 pages of Wild Storm #19 are the answers to many of the series’ most enduring questions, and though I’m happy to finally understand bits of the backstory that have remained obscure since the series launched in August of 2017, I can’t help but feel this is the weakest outing this team has had to date.
Don’t get me wrong, even the worst outing of this series is better than most books on the shelf, but if there’s one flaw that The Wild Storm (and a lot of Warren Ellis’s work, if I’m honest) has, it’s a reliance on exposition dumps. Like the best pulp writers, Ellis’s oeuvre is a mix of gripping action sequences, no-nonsense resolute characters, tense and verbose conflicts, and long swaths of storytelling explicitly revealed without nuance or subtlety when a character just blurts out important story beats casually with little pomp or build. Now, Ellis has historically balanced these elements beautifully, especially for such an ornate sci-fi world with a deep and complicated lore. This issue, however, has three separate sequences — interrupted by two quick, mostly inconsequential asides — that explain the lengthy backstory of Jenny Sparks, lay bare the mystery of Apollo and “Midnighter” (more on that later) and delve into the complex history of the Kherabim and the Daemon. Each one is presented as a long-winded monologue pointed at one of our POV characters for the story, and it just comes off as a bit much. Honestly, I did enjoy the experience and am happy to know all of this backstory, but there is a limit to how many words can be crammed onto a single page before reading it starts to feel a bit like homework about living machines and space people.
Obviously the most important reveal surrounds the story of the Khera and the Daemon, and while it’s mostly what longtime fans of the Wild CATS would expect, there are a few changes that make things a little more interesting this time around. For one, it appears that the Daemon aren’t actually a malevolent force as they have been in days past. Sure, their particular goals seem to work against the long term drive of the Khera, but as keepers of balance, they honestly don’t sound so bad. Neither does Emp, it turns out, as Marlowe has long since eschewed the more conquest-oriented drive of his species in favor of a more egalitarian and ambitious future for humanity. If it weren’t for his fairly archaic views on the Daemon, he’d be the one to root for in the looming conflict between the four major forces at play in this series. He still may be, given how the opening segment paints Bendix and Skywatch (and how the series thus far has portrayed the leadership of the IO), but the uncertainty surrounding the Daemon and their Shaper Engine (the aforementioned Jenny Sparks) leave enough questions to keep readers guessing till the very end.
The other interesting development comes in the reveal of Apollo and the “Midnighter”…well, Apollo at least. One of DC’s least explored Superman pastiches, Apollo is revealed to have been a solar-powered refugee fleeing the Kheran(?) empire with the assistance of his lover Midnig…oh wait, it’s John Colt, the reimagined Spartan. It’s a neat little twist (honestly, we already have more characters than we can handle as is), and it speaks to Colt’s historically hedonistic persona, but also grounds him. It also gives a bit of a window into Apollo’s personality, as their relationship (and the few anecdotes shared in their brief sequence) tells us a lot about the kind of man he is. Assuming Marlowe’s crew gets more involved in the IO/Skywatch conflict in coming weeks, look for the sun god to be a big difference maker…or a red herring. I could totally see Ellis subverting our expectations for the uber-powerful character just for laughs.
Art-wise, this is a typical outing for Davis-Hunt. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Davis-Hunt is one of the most consistent pencillers working today, and that’s certainly not a negative thing. I’m always impressed when an artist juggling a cast this large can create so many distinct and easily recognizable faces, but Davis-Hunt nails it every time. Without unique costuming to set them apart, you can always easily recognize each individual character and that’s a rare talent that not every artist can pull off. Where he really gets a chance to stand out in this issue is in the abstract depictions of the “Doctor-space” and the flashbacks to the Kheran excursion to Earth. I’m not entirely sure that the vision of a terraformed planet looking an awful lot like Apokolips isn’t intentional, but that feels like a twist too left field for the series. Then again, we already know Shan has Wonder Woman sheets at home, so maybe that’s not the only Earth Prime holdover we can expect in the Wild Storm universe. On a final note, it is a touch odd that the aforementioned Doctor sequence ends with clipped versions of past covers rather than original artwork. It is an effective sequence and does thematically make sense given the context of a flashback, but obviously something new and different would be preferable.
Overall, this is an important issue for the series, as it sets to bed a lot of lingering questions that have hung around the Wild Storm universe for more than a year. In the context of a trade (or series binge if you’ve been keeping up with the issues thus far) it may not appear to be the misstep it feels like from this fantastic creative team. After a two-month absence, however, it’s hard not to be a little let down by a text heavy info-dump that repurposes past covers in place of new artwork. I’m still very much along for the ride with this series, but this was definitely not the book’s brightest moment.