I really can’t understate how influential Wizard was to me as a budding comics fan. I’d been going to the comic shop for a few years by the time I discovered the mag at a mall book store. I started out reading Superman and Batman comics and added other DC comics because I knew about them from the house ads, but it wasn’t until Wizard that I really began to learn more about comics as a whole. I’ve always been pretty risk-averse and budget conscious, so it took an extra push to spend my limited funds on something new. With Wizard, I found a group of writers who opened up my world to all sorts of new books I’d never heard of including, but not limited to Hellblazer and The Goon, both of which I’m writing about here today!
Even though this week’s Trade Pile isn’t quite as robust as others, I still wanted to get a few thoughts down on three books that I read this week that I thought were pretty darn spiffy. One set an established character out on his own in a way that really worked for me while the other two featured brand new characters, one set in an equally new world an one rooted in a far more familiar one!
WILDCATS 3.0 YEAR ONE (Wildstorm/DC)
Written by Joe Casey, drawn by Dustin Nguyen
Collects Wildcats 3.0 #1-12
WILDCATS 3.0 YEAR TWO (Wildstorm/DC)
Written by Joe Casey, drawn by Dustin Nguyen, Sean Phillips, Pascal Ferry & Duncan Rouleau
Collects Wildcats 3.0 #13-24
Wildcats 3.0 is kind of a tough nut to crack. If you’re a scattershot WildCats fan like myself (in order to read the James Robinson and Alan Moore stuff, I read everything up to that point and then almost everything after 3.0) it might be a little confusing (you’ve got Grifter, a changed Spartan and a little bit of Zealot in addition to lots of other new characters). Essentially, I missed all of the second volume, so I have no idea where all the other characters are and aside from the ones I already mentioned, Ladytron and Emp, no one else is mentioned (nor are any other WildStorm characters for that matter).
The idea behind the book is that Spartan took over the Halo Corp from Emp and has decided to make it this huge, privately owned conglomerate whose main goal is to make the world a better place. It starts with batteries that never die and go on to cars that don’t need gas. Essentially, a good chunk of this book is corporate melodrama in the vein of an Aaron Sorkin behind-the-scenes TV show that happens to be set in a world with superheroes. It’s a really interesting take on the characters and the world that only seems to have been referenced a little since then (I remember Halo batteries being a hot commodity in the post-apocalyptic world of WildStorm leading up to the imprints cancellation, but also doesn’t take full advantage of the world it’s set in (like Sleeper did). This volume also just kind of ends without tying up too many loose ends. Since I wasn’t paying attention when these issues were coming out, I have no idea if the book’s end was performance based or an effort to move into other territories. I have read Wildcats: Nemesis which followed this series and I remember liking but don’t know how it all fits together. I’m going to flip through that, Captain Atom: Armageddon and Coup d’Etat again to get a better idea.
It’s too bad, really, because Casey really had some interesting ideas going on here. I think one of the problems with WildStorm was that they had all of these ground breaking stories written by excellent creators in books like Wildcats, Authority and Planetary, but they were still trying to keep everything together in a cohesive universe, which is difficult to do when one book is trying to change the world through a company and another through superhero actions. Sometimes combining the groundbreaking and the cohesive don’t always work.
You might be able to tell by this meandering review that I’m not quite sure what to make of this book. I liked it while I was reading it, but the ending was a bit strange and left me kind of flat. Making matters worse is that, it felt like there was a lot of wheelspinning in the first volume that does not play out at all by the end of the book. There’s this dude who’s an accountant that also has some hidden killing abilities. We never find out where these abilities came from. We also never really find out why we’re supposed to care about his former partner who had a lot of personal problems working for Spartan and having his company sold out from under him. So what if the dude wound up being in charge of a front for assassins if it’s never mentioned in the second volume? I had to read this annoying loudmouth for ISSUES and for what?
I’m also not completely sold on a lot of the new characters in this story. You’ve got this secret agent named Wax who bangs his bosses wife while under hypnosis and then makes her forget it, a spook named C.C. Rendozzo who’s supposed to be a pretty huge badass, but doesn’t do a whole lot, an incredibly annoying gangster hacker and a pair of BDSM killers who aren’t explained nor are they all that interesting. I’m sure I’m missing a lot by not having read the second volume, but it also seems like a more complete story would have that information slipped in here and there.
On the other hand, there were definitely elements I loved. Casey went into brand new territory as far as I know with the corporate angle, I just wish I could have seen where it was all leading. Casey also took one of the WildStorm’s biggest badasses, Grifter, and put him in a wheelchair which didn’t make him any less dangerous. I like seeing characters out of their element, but still figuring out a way to do what they do, and without giving too much away, he certainly does. There’s even a solid amount of action and pacing at the end of the second volume that’s a joy to read as GrifterTron and some of his new friends lay siege on the Coda warrior women to save Zealot.
Reading these two volumes reminded me a lot of Ex Machina. Both books take superhero elements but are more about other kinds of drama (corporate and political respectively), both involve lead characters (Spartan and Mitchell) seemingly with humanity’s best interest in mind and both have weak endings. Unlike with Ex Machina, though, I’m definitely keeping these books in my collection. I still have that collecting mentality when it comes to WildStorm U trades. I don’t need to keep them all out on a shelf, but I like to keep them. It’s kind of appealing the idea that most of this universe, from beginning to the-end-for-now is collected and can be read. I’d like to do a reading that’s in chronological order somewhere down the line. Like, maybe when the kid goes to college.
CRIMINAL VOL. 3: THE DEAD AND THE DYING (Icon/Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips
Collects Criminal Vol. 2 #1-3
I’ve read Criminal here and there. I know there was a push at some point during the first volume to try and convince people to read the book in single issue form instead of waiting for the trade. I’m a big fan of the monthly comic book format, but I’ll be honest, I think most of Ed Brubaker’s comics work better in trade form, and usually reading several trades in a fairly short time period. You don’t have to do that with Criminal because it works in an arc system that doesn’t really crossover (maybe a few names here and there, I really can’t remember names from the first volume or if I even read the second volume).With that in mind, a Brubaker trade is usually something I really look forward to because it’s been so many months since I last read one. Unfortunately, this book was a pretty big disappointment. In the three issues, you see a heist from three different perspectives, the problem though is that, by the last issue I knew all the important parts of the story and didn’t really care about how crappy of a life the girl in the story had. I’ve read enough crime and mystery fiction to get where it was going from page one.
I will say that Phillips’ art is top notch as always. He really sets the mood and tone of the stories with details that go unnoticed at first. Plus, I liked the first issue, which followed a black boxer as he tried to set his life straight even though his former friend and current white gang leader started causing all kinds of trouble. Even that, though, felt familiar. Not like it was swiped from somewhere, but like I’d seen it or it’s parts elsewhere. If you haven’t seen or read a lot of crime or mystery movies, books or comics, I recommend checking this out. If that’s not the case, go check out the first volume of Criminal or, better yet, Brubaker and Phillips’ Sleeper for WildStorm. That’s one of the best mystery/crime/espionage/superhero comics of all time.
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER VOL. 4: TIME OF YOUR LIFE (Dark Horse)
Written by Joss Whedon and Jeph Loeb, drawn by Karl Moline and Georges Jeanty
Collects Buffy #16-20
I’ve gone back and forth between not really caring about the Buffy comics and loving them. In the beginning, the whole story seemed a little off, but then the missus and I rewatched the whole series and I like where Whedon and Co. took the story with there being tons of slayers and Buffy being in control of all of them. And, for the most part, I’ve been pretty impressed with how well all the different writers have been at nailing that tricky Whedon-esque dialogue. Every time I pick up one of these comics, it can hear the actors and actresses’ voices easily tossing off the verbal calisthenics. My big problem has been the art. It’s not bad, but I’m often left scratching my head when a supposedly big reveal happens. “Who the hell is that?” I’ll often ask myself.
With this fourth volume of the Season 8 comics, that’s not too much of a problem as Buffy’s transported to the future where she teams up with and faces off against the future slayer Fray who starred in her own Dark Horse mini back in 2001. I will say that Whedon’s future dialogue is a bit too much at times, but all the other future stuff is pretty rad and the story fits well into current continuity while also wrapping up the Fray-verse. There’s also a big villain is interesting to see, but I think, with the end of the book, that won’t be a problem anymore. The trade also includes the one-off Jeph Loeb issue which finds current Buffy in the world of the animated series universe that never was. I actually ignored this issue the first time around because I don’t really care for Loeb’s writing generally and it seemed like a throwaway, but this time it was probably my favorite of the bunch because it put Buffy back in the early seasons of the show, but with her current thoughts, so it was kind of cool to see where she had come from and how much she’s made it through and changed (and not changed). It’s a funny little issue that’s definitely worth checking out.
DIANA PRINCE WONDER WOMAN VOL. 3 (DC)
Written & drawn by Mike Sekowsky, with Denny O’Neil and Dick Dillin
Collects Wonder Woman Vol. I #190-198 and World’s Finest #204
I’ve talked about how much I love these early 70s depowered Wonder Woman volumes here and here and that continues on with this collection. I’m blown away every issue by Sekowsky who writes and draws all of the Wonder Woman issues in this issue (O’Neil and Dillin did the World’s Finest issue). These comics are filled with the elements that I love about Roger Corman movies: crazy fights, weirdly fantastic battles and mysterious houses filled with potential murderers. I think it’s awesome that DC let Wonder Woman get played with in such a way that basically made her the hero of a different kind of genre movie every single month. I would imagine all of this was because of lagging sales, but I don’t really care, I’m just glad they happened. I will say that #194 falls short as it’s basically a Prince and the Pauper/Dave riff with Diana turning out to look just like the princess of the country. She even takes the princesses place when she gets captured. It’s pretty by the book and not all that interesting, but it’s but one stumbling block in an overall solid collection.
One interesting thing about this collection is that it actually leaves out a big chunk of #191 is missing. Right in the middle of an epic medieval-like war in an alternate dimension, Diana sits down to tell her new friend how she came to be de-powered, but you flip the page and it says “Later.” I thought that might be how the original comic was written until that issue ended after a total of only 5 story pages. I guess it’s kind of cool that they didn’t bother with a huge recap of something in the first volume of this series as I probably would have just grazed it anyone. On the other hand, I did have to go back to the original volume and give it a flip through as it’s been quite a while since I’ve read it.
In addition to the huge amounts of enjoyment I got from reading this story, it also pushed me towards digging into the history of comics a little more. I looked up Sekowsky on Wikipedia and found some really interesting stuff about him and a fellow creator. That got me thinking about a potential story set in the days of comics past. That got me reading Comic Book Artist #9, a TwoMorrow’s mag I ordered a while back and never got around to reading. The issue focuses on Charlton Comics which is freaking fascinating. It’s packed with history and interviews that have given me even MORE ideas. It also introduced me to how amazing Dick Giordano was as an editor from the accounts of his former Charlton co-workers. There’s a 31 page interview in the issue that I was saving for last. The next day Giordano passed away. Weird timing right? Of course, as I was finishing this Wonder Woman trade, I realized I had actually seen some of Giordano’s work as an inker and cover artist. It makes me wonder if he edited this book as well, considering it’s so interesting and eclectic and clearly focuses on the writer/artist’s strengths (a hallmark of Giordano’s editing style from what I’ve read). It makes me wish there was some kind of intro in these books. Hopefully someone’s working on a big book about Giordano like that Kirby book I want to pick up.
As far as comic book universes go, I think the Wildstorm one might be my non-DC and Marvel favorite. Gen 13 was my gateway into Wildstorm back in the day. #14 was my first issue (with Roxy going to school on the cover) and I was hooked immediately. I didn’t really branch out into other Wildstorm books for a long time, but I was really impressed with how historic this new comic book universe felt even back then. Gen 13 were the kids of guys in a group called Team 7, whose members were on all kinds of other teams or hanging out in their own solo books (Grifter, Backlash, Lynch, Deathblow, etc.). I didn’t really know what all was going on, but I was super intrigued. So intrigued that I bought a few other books like a Team 7 mini that came out and whatnot, but not a ton of books.
I completely dodged the initial Image onslaught of comics when the boom hit, which I’m still thankful for, but I did wind up with some random issues here and there thanks to various grab bags I picked up over the years. I also watched the Wildcats cartoon when it was on, because, at the time, I’d watch ANYTHING comic book related. So, with all that I had a basic idea of what was going on in their universe and it all seemed really cool. A big part of that has to do with the artists working on these books. Man, they looked slick and definitely appealed to me as a kid, but I was also into the “super powered kids on the run from adults” story that came along with Gen 13 as it was my first exposure to such a concept. Oh yeah, I also remember Sarah from the Real World Miami being a Wildstorm editor. On the very first episode they showed her getting kicked out of her place after a big party. If memory serves (which it probably doesn’t) her roommates were J. Scott Campbell and another notable who I can’t remember. Her desk in the RW house was also surrounded by comic book pictures, which totally geeked me out back when no one on TV ever talked about comic books.
Skip ahead a bunch of years, I’ve dropped Gen 13 from my list because of Claremont’s relaunch (yeesh) and not really interested in Wildstorm anymore, but I’m hearing a lot about this book called The Authority. I eventually score an internship at Wizard where Rickey recommends I read Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch which leads directly into The Authority. I did and dug it and then read Authority and got less and less impressed as it went on. So recently, I re-read all five Stormwatch trades and they’re really good. Ellis does a surprisingly good job playing in a super hero universe that doesn’t have as many rules as DC or Marvel. I’m looking forward to reading his Authority again soon in the next few weeks too. Ellis’ Planetary is also a lot of fun, but I want the last trade dag nabbit!
Once I started working for Wizard full time I jumped back into the Wildstorm pool and was surprised to see some names that I wouldn’t necessarily associate with the company like James Robinson and Alan Moore who both did stints on Wildcats. I can’t remember how far I got, but I started with Wildcats #1 and read through Moore’s stuff (which includes Robinson’s run). Both Robinson and Moore’s arcs are pretty fantastic (especially Moore’s, no big surprise there). Like with Ellis, it was great to see Moore coming in and picking up elements from previous Wildcats stories and running with them. Moore did a bunch of other stories here and there that have been collected in one big trade that’s definitely out there, but still a lot of fun.
I also read Ed Brubaker’s Point Blank which lead into his Sleeper series with Sean Phillips. Man, this story blew me away. It could have very easily been it’s own stand alone story of espionage and intrigue, but Brubaker set it squarely in the WU, with references to Alan Moore’s Wildcats and plenty of other goings on. It’s a great series and one I recommend to anyone who loves dark and dirty comics.
From there I jumped into more modern Wildstorm as they shook up their universe with the Wold Storm event. Even now I’m not really sure what the deal was. Things were predicated by the Will Pfeifer-written Captain Atom: Armageddon mini which placed Cap in the Wildstorm U. He blew up and so did the WU, but it reformed in similar and different ways after that. I got to talk to most of the creators for the big relaunch (this is when Grant Morrison was announced to be writing both Wildcats and Authority) which was a lot of fun, but as a fan of the existing Wildstorm U, I was left mostly confused. Unlike Crisis on Infinite Earths there wasn’t a “we’re completely starting over” vibe as some teams seemed to be unchanged (Stormwatch PHD which was a great book seemed to be exactly in line with previous Stormwatch stuff) while others were way different (my beloved Gen 13). There were a few stumbling blocks as Wildcats and Authority have only put out one and two issues respectively, but overall Stormwatch PHD, Deathblow and Midnighter were all pretty solid books and Gail Simone added a whole new element with her Welcome to Tranquility series.
But the changes weren’t over as Wildstorm geared up for another big shake up with their trilogy of stories: Wildstorm: Armageddon, Wildstorm: Revelations and Number of the Beast which I liked for the most part though I wish Number of the Beast would have picked up more elements from Revelations. Anyway, now you’ve got the Wildstorm U in a kind of post-apocalyptic Mad Max-like world where everything’s turned on it’s ear and all these familiar heroes are fighting just to keep humanity going.
It’s not an easy universe to break into with over a decade’s worth of stories, but I’ve had a great time exploring the good and the bad of the Wildstorm U, which is a lot more intricate and detailed than you might think at first. If you’re looking to get in, I’d recommend Sleeper, Moore’s Wildcats, the upcoming James Robinson Wildcats trade, Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch and Authority and Stormwatch PHD. I’m really curious to see where they go with this new path and I can’t wait to see what they do and what new creators and characters will pop up in the future.