Best Shots Reviews: THE WILD STORM #1, BATMAN #17

Batman #17
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

The Wild Storm #1
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Jon Davis-Hunt and Ivan Plascencia
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by DC Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

The Wild Storm is a Warren Ellis comic book, so that means it’s full of spies and covert missions. It also means that there are hard men and hard women who scowl even as they’re being very professional in their killings. The Wild Storm #1 unveils a world of secret organizations who are at war with one another, even as a couple of wildcards are introduced into the mix to disrupt the careful balance that exists between these organizations. Ellis and artist Jon Davis-Hunt provide a rebirth for Jim Lee’s WildStorm universe on the occasion of its 25th anniversary that re-establishes it as a covert and morally ambiguous world that’s on the cusp of something new.

Ellis’s lean story eases into this reintroduction rather than providing any kind of big-bang revelations. He doesn't even show any covert action as the book opens mere moments after a woman code-named Zealot has completed a wetworks operation. It’s an almost disappointing start to this reinvention of the Wildstorm Universe until you notice that Ellis and Davis-Hunt have snuck in an image of Zealot’s target that is not quite right. It’s almost too easy to just accept what you think you’re seeing on the first page and miss the suggestion that there’s something more to this world than just the spies and covert actions.

This restraint carries through the whole issue so that it feels as if not much happens in this issue, even as Ellis and Davis-Hunt massively disrupt the status quo of a world where they’ve barely established what is normal. As Ellis reimagines his Authority character the Engineer, Angie Spica ends up being the true wildcard in this issue, looking to save the world and overstepping the bounds of whatever the rules of engagement are between these shadowy organizations. Like so many of Ellis’ comic books, The Wild Storm #1 is about finding new ways to save the world when the old ways prove to be just that - old and tired.

Ellis doesn’t seem to give Davis-Hunt and colorist Ivan Plascencia much to do this issue than draw characters standing around and exchanging that patented Ellis dialogue. Since so much of this issue takes place in the moments after the action, Davis-Hunt and Plascencia’s artwork establishes the normality of this world. This doesn’t look like an old-fashioned Wildstorm comic book, with their larger than life characters and superheroic melodrama. This issue looks like it’s about normal people trying to clean up the world and the artwork, like the writing, feels constrained by the pressures of this world that are already in motion.

But if this book is about finding those new ways to challenge the status quo, Davis-Hunt and Plascencia break out of their own constraints when Angela Spica, a mousy scientist, reveals her discover and/or curse, an exo-suit that tears through her to expose itself. In this moment, the creators of this book show the potential for change and the pain that change can bring. As so much of this issue is about covert action teams being all secretive and dangerous, Angela shows all new possibilities to both the readers and the characters in this comic. So set in their way, these secret organizations think the old ways are the only ways but Angela shows them that the limitations of their imaginations are not the limitations of the world.

In The Wild Storm #1, Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt declare that the future of Wildstorm begins now. As the issue opens with what is understandably another kill and another salvo in a war of secret organizations, it ends with the various sides of this war realizing that they’re on the verge of something new and revolutionary. This issue itself isn’t the revolution but it does hint at the future and it promises that our old ways of looking at the world will change just like the characters’ views have to update with the changing times.

Credit: DC Comics

Batman #17
Written by Tom King
Art by David Finch, Danny Miki and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by John Workman
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Tom King’s oddly operatic run continues in the theatrical Batman #17. Shaken by the shocking ending of the last issue, Bruce is now on the defensive, sequestering his headstrong wards in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. But while the Robins and former Robins are safe, Bruce’s flank is exposed, as the rest of his allies are soon facing down a pair of Bane’s over-the-top henchmen.

Though King’s overall plotting has been mercurial since the start, the second act of his Bane saga has taken a more indie approach, employing heightened dialogue and a neat shell game plot. This issue also shows a nice bit of range from returning artist David Finch, along with inker Danny Miki, and colorist Jordie Bellaire.

Moving away from the fast-paced action of their first arc, the team delivers a more grounded take on Gotham and its inhabitants, peppered with nicely flamboyant sound effects and flair in their panel staging. While Batman has ran hot and cold here as of late, #17 goes street level, strange, and stands as a great example of the title’s latest upward trend.

“It’s him or me. No one else.”

Batman has four days to stop Bane from getting to the Psycho-Pirate and, of course, the Bat has a plan. Employing another nice bit of plotting slight of hand reminiscent of the Santa Prisca gambit in "I Am Suicide,” Bruce takes a complicated route to get Gotham Girl back in front of the Pirate in order to get her mind right. In order to do this, King gets Alfred in on the mission, continuing both his dryly funny take on Bruce’s faithful butler and positioning him as an active participant in the defense. But as we know, being a moving piece on the Bat’s chessboard isn’t always the safest job.

While Dick and the rest of the active Bat Family are safely in status and under Superman's watchful eye, Gordon, Selina, Bronze Tiger, and Duke are unprotected and leads to the issue’s stylish and harrowing ending, which we will get into a bit later. Though King’s prosaic structuring hampered “I Am Suicide,” the way he’s tackling this story has honed the urgency of it and turned Bane into a legit threat without ever really featuring him on panel. Batman stories usually just coast on telling readers that Batman's backed into a corner or that he’s engaged in some grand game, but King actually shows that in this issue and that, along with his cheeky plotting and strong characterization, puts his run back on solid ground.

As for the art, I have a confession to make; even when he’s very good, like in the first bits of New Avengers, David Finch has always just been okay to me. His work on Batman thus far has been decent enough, sometimes even great with the laser focused inks of Danny Miki and the rich color spectrum of Jordie Bellaire behind him. But in #17, Finch showed me a level of style that I was frankly taken aback by. Starting with cold, almost sterile sets like the Fortress of Solitude and the super-max Joker vault in Arkham, the team starts quiet and then gradually ramp up the tension as the story is detailed in delicately hung panels that seem suspended in a void that easily guides the eye across them.

But it is the cry of an hawk that gives Batman #17 a thunder bolt of style. As Bane and his forces slowly dismantle Batman’s defense, a bold yellow “CAW” pierces through multiple action sequences building to a wordless showdown between the Bat and Bane, lit by the harsh red-orange light of a flare and all the while the bird screaming through the panels. Though the scene wouldn’t be anywhere nearly as powerful without the fine inks of Miki and the garish colors of Bellaire, its a nice showing from Finch and one that reveals an often un-flexed muscle in his visual output.

At times the "Rebirth" era of Batman has felt more like an odd Legend of the Dark Knight-like freakout instead of the main Bat solo title, but Batman #17 has finally struck a nicely entertaining balance between the two. Tom King may not take the most direct route with his plots, but always finds a new angle for superhero storytelling stocked with strong evocative characters. David Finch, Danny Miki, and Jordie Bellaire provide another strong showing after their return to the title, but #17 shows another side to Finch that I hope continues throughout this arc. Though it may not be the easiest title to get into at times Batman #17 puts the series back into the win column with a stylishly tense installment.

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