Is the Wildstorm Universe Worth Caring About?, or: Bill Reviews the New WS Debuts

A week ago, our own Brad Curran posed the question as to whether people still seriously cared about the Wildstorm universe. Apparently, somebody does, because the comment thread grew to a size usually only seen by Urban Legends and controversial Joe Rice posts.

I'm not sure "Do people care?" is the right question to ask, however. I think, rather, we should ask "Is the Wildstorm Universe worth caring about?" This oft-rebooted fictional world is one that's desperately clinging to life, and has only we gentle readers on which to rely. Will we pull the plug, or can the Wildstorm Universe grow hale and hearty again?

As far as the WSU goes, I'm a neophyte; aside from hazy memories of a pre-Wildstorm WildCATS guest appearance and the 'CATS animated series, all I know of Wildstorm are the three Grant Morrison penned issues from two years ago that actually managed to come out, plus whatever general knowledge I've picked up from internet osmosis. This is a re-relaunch, though! It should be friendly to new readers, right? Isn't that the point? Let's jump in and see how the new issues of Wildcats, Gen13, and the Authority fare. The world's ended... has the WIldstorm Universe?

Wildcats v5 #1 - by Christos Gage, Neil Googe, Carrie Strachan, Wes Abbott, Kristy Quinn, and Ben Abernathy

Christos Gage has basically been handed the keys to the car that is Wildstorm, apparently becoming the go-to writer for unruly weather. Wildcats (or is it WildCATS again? I can't tell, since it's always written in caps) is now a Gage/Googe joint (Hee hee. Gagegooge. Hee hee. Ahem). How does it stack up to new readers?

Well, er, it doesn't, really. Don't get me wrong, I can figure out what's going on-- I'm not as stupid as Burgas (I kid, Gregory! I kid!)-- but it hinges far too much on what's come before, which, in my book, is a gigantic no-no for new #1's. Gage provides us with a prologue detailing how and why the world has ended, setting up the status quo, and that's good: it's exposition that's necessary and welcome. Then it's Action Sequence time, where a bunch of random super-villains come up against the totally boss Wildcats. I can tell they're the Wildcats because Grifter is there. "Das ist Grifter!" He uses the term "post-human" in a non-ironic way (these Wildstorm comics love the term "post-human"). They totally kill the crap out of the baddies (spoilers!), and then it's time to help the distraught and unfortunate human survivors of the apocalypse.

So far, so okay. It's basic comic storytelling, right? But that's what you expect from a first issue about post-human superheroes try to save a broken world, right? So it's cool. It's from here where the issue starts to go off the rails for me. We're quickly introduced to the rest of the cast: Spartan! Warblade! Uh... Nemesis! Backlash! Jeremy! (I think his name was Maul or something back in the day.) And someone named Voodoo is apparently around somewhere. Everyone speaks in exposition and blames themselves for the apocalypse. Mr. Majestic, who used to have his own comic but is now evil, shows up and starts a big fight. To be continued!

I'm not really sure what's going on in this comic. Oh, sure, it's all explained as it goes along-- but I have no emotional connection to it. The characters show off basic personalities-- the quippy gunslinger, the cursed genius, the Scott Summers, the girls gone wild android, the three chicks with swords I can't tell apart-- but nothing has yet made me care about them. Then a major figure, Majestros, shows up. He's tied to the past of several (all?) of these characters, but I'm not privy to anything but the basic details, so I can't feel the impact of the conflict like I imagine an experienced Wildstorm reader could. Combine that with mostly stock dialogue and a constant barrage of exposition, most of which is tied to comics I haven't read, and I'm not really feeling this one.

The art tells the story well enough. I'm not sure how I would describe Googe's style, but he's got one, and I dig it-- he seems a good fit for the book. The coloring's a bit over-rendered at times, but the street scenes look good.

There was a back-up story. I didn't read it.

As the flagship title, Wildcats doesn't feel accessible enough. Sure, it tells the reader what's going on, but I'd rather go on the fun car ride than be told about it afterwards. I can't say I'll be back for #2.

Gen13 v4 #21 - by Scott Beatty, Mike Huddleston, Carrie Strachan, Wes Abbott, Kristy Quinn, and Ben Abernathy

Were the language centers of my brain destroyed, I-- well, I wouldn't be typing this, but I would be recommending it wholeheartedly, if only you could understand me. The art here is gorgeous, though I expected nothing less from Mike Huddleston. His stuff flows like sweet sweet chocolate syrup-- the best of the "cartoony" school meets the best of the, uh, "not cartoony" school in a West Side Story, Jets vs. Sharks duel where instead of dance-fighting they all start hugging, or something. You get my point. It's lovely work; the characters are expressive, the action moves, and the inks are amazing. I also dig the coloring techniques used in the "portal" scenes, where the characters are shown in stark black and white and effects around them exist only as colors. It's pretty.

How's the story? It's fine. I have no idea what's going on in the first two and a half pages, where costumed titans clash in the sky, but then we're thrown into the story of these super-powered kids (they would be Gen13) who undergo a teleporting mishap and don't make it back to the world until six months later, when the world's gone and ended. Then they encounter a fight and find out what's happened. It's set-up, but it lets us see the characters interact, showing us that they're a bunch of smart, quippy, optimistic teens persecuted by something called I/O or the ratcatchers or whatever. I'm not quite sure what any of that is. The bad guy here is a crazy recluse using a dead dude as a battery, though! That's neat!

I'm still not quite sure who's who, what they do, or how they do it, but I'm intrigued enough by the storytelling, and carried up into the story moreso than I was by Wildcats. The premise-- these kids missed the apocalypse and now they've got to find their way around in it-- is a solid one, and it could lead to some cool stories. I think a new reader would pick up another issue.

Again, a back-up I didn't bother with. Onwards!

The Authority v5 #1 - by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, Simon Coleby, Carrie Strachan, Wes Abbott, Kristy Quinn, and Ben Abernathy

You know, I'm digging how these are all colored by the same person but she takes a different approach to the art in each title. It's something that would go unnoticed by most people, but I appreciate it a lot.

I also just realized I'm reviewing these in the wrong order, due to the chronology of the back-ups I'm not reading. But no matter! I'm reviewing them in order of quality! This one's the best of the lot.

Abnett and Lanning give us the bleakest picture of the apocalypse yet, but also the most thought-out. These guys understand their world-building, and they've taken all the possibilities to the fullest extent of logic. They've crafted a comic rife with those "mad ideas" I love so much, and broken characters I can feel for. I knew this would happen from the first word on page two, which is "UNLONDON." Ha ha!

The character of Swift provides our point of view in this opening chapter, detailing the ways in which the world's been broken. She's living in a world of soul storms now, where phones don't work, birds have lost their migratory paths, and no one knows what day it is. One-by-one, she encounters fellow members of the Authority-- an authority in name only. Midnighter battles the Incubites, who suffer from the wonderfully-named Warhol Fever that gives them fifteen minutes of angry, super-powered fame-- like the monsters from 28 Days Later if they were built like tanks and could knock over a house. Apollo lives above the smog clouds, because Unlondon is a sunless place. Electromagnetic pulses have crashed the Carrier and depowered the Engineer, and the guardian of cities, Jack Hawksmoor-- well, you'll have to see for yourself. I don't want to ruin everything.

The world's a mess, the team's a mess, and all that's left to do is help the survivors stay alive. I have no idea where they can possibly go from here, and that's what excites me. In an industry where so much is tired or predictable, a story whose future I'm unsure of is a story worth reading.

The preview pages led me to believe the art would be muddled and boring, but it isn't. In fact, it's perfectly suited to the tone of the comic-- dark and moody, brutal and battered. I really like it. (Also interesting how all the pencillers in these books are inking themselves-- saving a bit of production money, perhaps?)

The Authority is everything I want out of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi comic. The more I think about this comic, the more I like it. Hell, I even liked the first-person narration captions, and I always hate those. This is probably the best work I've ever seen from Abnett and Lanning (I admit, I haven't read a lot of their stuff, but I will now). Dark, dingy, and daring, it's definitely worth picking up, so go pick it up. I'll be back for #2.

There you have it. The New New Wildstorm? A mixed bag so far, ranging from the mediocre to the pretty good to the pretty great, the meh to the mighty. Friendly to new readers? More or less. Friendly to old ones? Sure! There's at least one more title coming out-- Stormwatch: PHD. Will it be blah or bravo? U-Decide!

Me, I think it might just be worth our time caring about the Wildstorm Universe. I look at it there, in its hospital bed, and I think, no, it's not the end, not yet. There's still life in the old thing, and we've got to nurse it back to health. I don't know how long they can maintain this new status quo, but I'm willing to let 'em give it the ol' college try. It's no fun giving up on any comic, so let's not start now.

What do you think?

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