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In 1994 there were just a handful of comics writers you would pursue if you wanted to read a terrific war comic. Chuck Dixon was likely at the top of that list (along with Larry Hama).
Thus, after two years of WildStorm when it was finally time to expose the Team 7 connective tissue shared by almost all of WildStorm’s books, it was Chuck Dixon who Jim Lee and Brandon Choi tapped to pen it.
The original Team 7 operated in the 70s consisted of this list of eleven largely familiar names:
- Team Leader John “Topkick” Lynch
- Stephen “Wraparound” Callahan (whose death we saw on the first pages of Gen13)
- Cole “Dead Eye” Cash (AKA Grifter)
- Phillip “Bulleteer” Chang (father of Gen13’s Grunge)
- Michael “Deathblow” Cray
- Jackson “Arclight” Dane (of Wetworks)
- Alexander “Slaphammer” Fairchild (father of Gen13’s Caitlin Fairchild)
- Andrew Johnson
- Richard “Boloround” MacNamara
- Marc “Backlash” Slayton
Team 7 was a vastly different comic book from WildStorm’s norm up to this point. No heroes, no brightly-colored spandex, no supernatural threats.The mini-series is part war story, part psychological thriller as the elite team is subject to experiments against their will, pushed to the very limits of survival, and pitted against each other in a series of psychological tortures. In fact, though it includes super-powers, they ease their way into the story and are treated as an extension of interpersonal conflicts rather than weapons to be casually wielded.
Penciler Aaron Wiesenfeld starts off with the gritty realism that marked Dixon’s run on Marvel’s ‘Nam, but by the final issue he is channeling Barry Windsor-Smith in a series of dynamic full-pages and broad faces. Seriously, issue #4 is so darn pretty that my review could just be posting its pages in their entirety. Check out this marvelous opening sequence of Deathblow’s mutiny told in four full-page splashes:
Aside from Deathblow’s familiar wide face, it’s nearly impossible to tell apart the team of white men (even the one Chinese man is drawn Caucasian) until you’ve committed their various facial hair and face paint symbols to memory. That’s not a weakness, but a subtlety – just as is Craven being drawn to resemble our modern day John Lynch while Lynch’s own face gradually morphs into that shape.
As a standalone story, Team 7 would be marginal – a bunch of stooge soldiers get set up again and again as their team shrinks from attrition. In the scope of what we already know about so much of the cast, it’s fascinating – explaining relationships and filling in detail that had only been implied. For me, this is the reason to read this (and other) Team 7 miniseries in order of its release rather than in order of continuity.
Without knowing the future story of these characters, all you’d get is that Cash is the golden boy and Lynch is under Craven’s thumb, while missing Dane’s early killthrill that must eventually transform into the cool-headed company man, Slayton’s deadly quiet under pressure (his best characterization yet), and Chang’s easy-going nature (presaging his way chill son).
Dixon and Wiesenfeld perfectly shoulder that burden, aside from the team stumbling headfirst into four traps will stretch your disbelief to the max, burden. They keep the book readable while only deepening the mysteries of Craven’s intent and how the team eventually splinters into the heroes we know and the dead men we don’t.
Want the play-by-play? Keep reading for a summary of how these soldiers became super. Here’s the schedule for the rest of this month’s WildStorm re-read. Tomorrow I’ll get my first taste of WildCATs without Jim Lee, and it’ll be a big bite – issues #15-19. After that, the second arc of Wetworks, Warblade’s miniseries and a Grifter one-shot!), and then finally back to Stormwatch!
Need the issues? This series was collected in a 1994 TPB (eBay), or you can grab the singles – try eBay or Amazon. Since further series hit these same issue numbers, be sure to match your purchase to the images in this post.
And now, onto the story!
Team 7 #1 opens with the team descending into a war zone, guns blazing. They’re meant to be saving hostages, but find only stuffed dummies tied to chairs. They’re so deep into enemy territory that Lynch calls in carpet bombing right over their heads and they retreat to the depths of a sub-basement bunker to survive. They’re a volatile bunch, especially Cash and Cray, an outspoken pair in constant conflict with others and between themselves.
Who would send the world’s best team of mercenaries on such a deadly mission with bad intel? The man in charge is Director Craven, the same as today – only here he’s uncannily drawn to resemble our modern-day Lynch. He claims they were burned by a bad informant who has conveniently since been killed. Craven shows Lynch a silent video of the team’s next objective – investigating some form of torturous device in an African nation that sent a room full of prisoners into a feral rage.
The mission feels off right from the drop, when the team lands next to a lime pit filled with the remains of the dead. Under heavy fire, the team makes it into a heavily guarded complex – but it’s just a warehouse, not the high-tech lab that Craven’s video suggested. Lynch hears a subtle hissing sound, and realizes too late why Craven omitted the audio from his video – it’s so Lynch wouldn’t know they were being subjected to the save device until it was already too late!
In Team 7 #2 Craven and his creepy old assistant Gabriel Newman land amidst the carnage left in Team 7’s wake to supervise the retrieval and transport of the team – all in comas in the wake of being exposed to “Gen-Factor” (which we first learned about in The Kindred).
Lynch awakens a week later in a hospital unit under observation of Alicia (wow, she’s been around as long as the rest of them!). Craven quickly steps in and pins the team’s fate on a second round of bad intel, exactly as he did the first time. Just down the hall, Berckmann is bleeding from every orifice in a tiled room and MacNamara explodes with rage against his captors – literally. He vaporizes several guards and medics with a blast of energy before he can lay a hand on one of their guns to kill himself.
And then there were 9.
Gabriel has some form of psychic sensitivity and wants Craven to excuse him from contact with Team 7, whose proximity cause him “psychic agony.” Craven insists that Gabriel is the only one who can tell if the program is a success. Not like level nine, Gabriel quickly retorts, though Craven quickly denies that the level exists (later, Gabriel walks by the supposedly non-existent level and something calls out to his mind).
Craven decides to brief the team in person, but his typical slick B.S. routine doesn’t fly with Cash, who insists Craven is lying as he unconsciously probes Craven’s mind for answers. Gabriel quickly shuts down the probe, leaving Cash thinking it was his imagination.
It’s not just Cash who is exhibiting signs of unusual psychic abilities – it’s everyone except Cray (which Craven implies is intentional). Chang can casually field strip a revolver and reassemble it in mid-air.
Despite their burgeoning abilities and questionable mental state, the team is deployed again to a country in the East of the African continent. They blow their way to their target, but Johnson goes rogue, breaking into the President’s compound ahead of the rest of the team and forcing the illegitimate ruler and his advisors to kill themselves.Lynch and Cash catch the end of this display, and Cash guns down Johnson with no hesitation. He seems fully attuned to how much danger their powers pose and he wants to leave no room for potential villains. Lynch threatens to kill Cash but won’t go through with it – so the secret remains with the two of them.
And then there were 8.
Team 7 #3 finds the team exfiltrating by helicopter, another bad tactical call that finds them under heavy fire until Dane causes all of the enemy shells to explode inside their weapons. Back in the states, Craven uses Gabriel to probe Lynch for what happened with Johnson, but he’s already too strong for Gabriel to break through. Rather than alarming Craven, this seems to embolden him. It’s time for a “final test.”
That’s probably a good thing, as the team can barely contain their collective rage during their downtime. Fairchild almost uses his ability to force a woman to kiss him at a run down bar until Cash – the team’s own internal policeman – violently intervenes. While they’re not deployed, Alicia breaks the news to Cray – without any exhibited powers, he’s off of active duty.
And then there were 7.
The team is deployed on a fourth questionable mission. They hike through the desert only to find (in a reference to Deathblow’s opening arc) they’ve been sent to a decrepit monastery rather than the nuclear materials rendering site they were sent to disable. You have to wonder how they’re all so ignorant to Craven so actively attempting to get them killed (or worse), and it turns out Cash the god cop isn’t. He confronts Lynch, and they have a powers vs. powers blowout that shatters the remains of the ancient structure.
Cash wins and checks in with his air carrier support, who relay a message from Craven to stay put. However, Cray (who is riding along the carrier as ops) catches Craven on a hot mic asking to initiate “spoilsport” and also surmises his teammates have been sent headfirst into a trap.
It’s too late – as he’s taken into custody the ship has already fired a cruise missile at the monastery.
Team 7 #4 plays out two tense plots in parallel.
In one spectacularly drawn sequence, Cray stages a one-man mutiny on the ship and fights his way back to the control room to radio a warning to Team 7. Then he holds the ship hostage as a bargaining chip with Craven until he’s sure his teammates have escaped to safety.
In the other, the team languishes, exposed in the desert, wondering how they can stop Craven from wiping them off the map once Cray tips them off. Cash realizes they cannot outrun the missile’s payload, so their only chance is to combine their powers Kumbaya-style and hope they can deflect the blast.
They do just that, and far away as Russia those sensitive to massive scale super powers can feel the shock wave of their actions. The series ends with Cray in military prison, with his only means of escape an unsavory bargain with Craven, and the team in the wind in Nicaragua.