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Backlash leaps to his own series after a brief supporting turn in Stormwatch and co-starring with Grifter in The Kindred.
(This clearly comes after WildCats #14 since Marlowe and Savage Dragon are on a first-name basis. It’s also after Wetworks #5, as we’ll see in Backlash #4. A brief scene with Diva seems as though it could fit between Stormwatch #11-12.)
I’m not convinced anyone liked Backlash enough for him to merit his own series, but at this early stage in WildStorm’s life it seems they’re intent on playing out a certain set of plots and Backlash’s Daemonite hunt is one of them.
My main beef with Backlash to this point has been that his fearsome reputation doesn’t line up with what’s on the page. He’s supposed to be tough, but all we see is him getting the tar beat out of him. He’s supposed to be heartless and arrogant, and while he’s got the latter down to a tee he’s more tactical than he is cold-hearted.
This betrays a weak spot in WildStorm’s early scripting. Even when characters aren’t stereotypes, they’re a flat package of clearly labelled traits without much humanity. Backlash is a potentially rich enough character that he can actually portray these seemingly opposed traits, but no one with enough skill to balance it has written him yet – he slipped out of Stormwatch just before Ron Marz could get his hands on him.
Unfortunately, the writing that finally shows Backlash as the dynamic, serious threat he is rife with toxic masculinity that goes beyond any aspect of chauvinism in Backlash himself. In his five issue run, guards whine about their women and try to score with their female compatriots, Diva cries on Backlash’s shoulder, Backlash narrates about guarding his lover Diane even if she doesn’t want that from him (while calling her “kiddo” – super gross), a cop hopes to run into “a drunk starlet,” and Taboo is suddenly sex-crazed for Backlash.
Each taken on their own most of these would slip by me aside from the cop who wants to commit sexual assault, but they’re compounded by a particularly ugly one – Pike threatening Zealot with sexual violence. I think that’s a first so far in WildStorm.
Not only is the Zealot comment disgusting, but it’s the laziest of writing to take the toughest, most-dynamic character in your entire universe and decide the only way to weaken her is to threaten her sexual agency. It rings completely false on the panel, even if Pike is exactly that nasty of a guy.
This marks the first time a WildStorm title has kicked off without Brandon Choi having a hand in the proceedings. While Choi hasn’t exactly been the paragon of writing female characters not named Zealot, he’s been surprisingly even-handed when it comes to women as objects and women in peril. Not these writers – each issue is attributed to the crowd of artist Brett Booth, Jeff Mariotte, and Sean Ruffner. They’re giggling like maniacal pimpled teenage boys every time they can suggest one of their male characters might be able to seduce or assault a woman, and their version of agency for Taboo is her coercing Backlash into having sex.
Is Backlash any good if you can look past its misogyny? It might not be as weak as The Kindred, but it’s still just average tough guy fare, despite a killer first issue.
Backlash #1 starts mid-mission and deftly flashes back to show how Backlash got from Kindred #4 to the present day. Brett Booth delivers his best issue yet for Wildstorm. Backlash still has all of the aerobics we’ve seen so far, but Booth implies a lot more power and muscle behind his movements now. We also see him use his powers tactically, alternating between his psionic whip and his psychic mist state repeatedly to stage not one but two infiltrations.
He’s intent on breaking out a former associate of The Cabal’s from a top-security arctic prison. Her name is Taboo, and she’s a killer who can cover her body with a metallic armor that can change shape and appearance but has nothing to do with the symbiotic suits in Wetworks (we think).
Backlash #2 spends its first third on The Cabal’s internecine feuds. We haven’t seen anything from the group since Helspot disappeared in WildCATs #4, and it turns out that’s at least partially because of a leadership vacuum. Defile sends an agent to make a play for their allegiance, but Backlash’s Daemonite quarry S’Ryn interrupts the gambit and takes leadership in a show of power. (Remember, Daemonites don’t add any special abilities to their host body aside from perhaps increased agility and endurance, so in Alexander Shaw S’Ryn has snagged himself a super-powered being).
Meanwhile, Backlash thinks he’s being clever infiltrating a celebrity event to stalk S’Ryn as Shaw, but S’Ryn is only attending to take out centuries-old foe Jacob Marlowe!
There’s a moment of unintentional comedy when Taboo uses her powers on Backlash to disguise him to seemingly no effect … until he informs us that he “doesn’t look at all like me.” They use his sudden anonymity to sneak into the Chicago gala, where Savage Dragon is running security.
Backlash #3 is mostly fighting – Taboo and Zealot (who arrived with Void to protect Marlowe) against Pike plus the continuing three-way battle between Backlash, S’Ryn, and Savage Dragon.
Pike somehow gets the better of the two women and retrieves S’Ryn so they can escape, but not before the two-in-one of attempting to blow up both Marlowe and Backlash. Oh, and, some mercs are sent after Backlash because his breaking Taboo out of jail makes it look an awful lot like he’s in cahoots with the Cabal.
Backlash #4 is a lot of getting from here to there – it resolves the Chicago situation, gets Backlash and Taboo away from the WildCATs, and sends them out for a drink. One thing leads to another and Taboo impersonates Diane so Backlash will sleep with her.
Meanwhile, Dane from Wetworks (and, let us not forget, Team 7) is sent to check the security at a warehouse that Backlash and Taboo are breaking into to steal a VR device. Backlash and Dane recognize each other midway through a fight and move to hug it out, but a mysterious assailant surprises them with a defeated Taboo in-hand.
Backlash #5 is a one-off adventure we’ve got to endure to get the McGuffin from #4. It turns out that the VR device is pretty desirable to Mindscape, a mind that lives without a body (except for how he has a body). He’s got an army of killer droids that he needs to program from a human psyche, and he’s got an embarrassment of riches to choose from with Backlash and Dane in his grasp. Unfortunately, Backlash is too clever for him and Dane to brutal, and they easily break out. Dane agrees to let Backlash use the VR device for a few days.
I strongly suggest you skip reading this one, and not just because it offended my tender liberal innards. While Backlash’s hunt for S’Ryn is terrific organically-motivated plot to connect the various WildStorm mythologies, the only action of note here is that Backlash is offered a spot in WildCATs (and turns it down only because of Grifter).
Here’s the schedule for the rest of this month’s WildStorm re-read. I might be in for a few disappointing days in a row – tomorrow brings me more of Deathblow with issues #10-12, followed by Team 7’s miniseries, the first WildCATs sans Jim Lee, and more Wetworks. Oh, boy!