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Today we’re tackling the first WildStorm book to deliberately connect their various franchises – The Kindred mini-series.
We’ve seen many hints dropped throughout WildStorm’s books about International Operations and Team 7. It’s obvious that it has some resemblance to the retconned Weapon X program, which turned out many more characters than just Wolverine.
The Kindred capitalizes on these dropped hints to tell a new story that isn’t just expositional history, but that ties several pieces of information together along the way.
The book is more memorable for those revelations than for its plot. For a title starring the electric Grifter, the badass Backlash, and the mysterious Lynch, it seems like it could have escalated to a considerably higher-intensity.
Maybe the simmering intensity level is a good thing – it corrects the pacing issues that hurt the opening arcs of both WildCATs and Deathblow, presenting easy-to-follow rising action with a definitive end-point.
There’s no single credit for scripting on this book. At points it shows in the torrent of gently conflicting information. Also, while Grifter and Backlash bumping heads ought to be a teeth-gritting delight, somehow their combined prickliness slightly waters them both down.
Backlash is a character whose coolness isn’t fully justified by what we’ve seen from him so far on the page. He’s lithe, gray-haired, wields a whip, wears a slick black suit, and can dematerialize into fog. It’s all dangerous, but altogether it doesn’t suggest a terrifyingly deadly character we ought to be scared of. He definitely qualifies as “the most arrogant man alive” for all his bragging and complaining, but not the deadliest. Kindred doesn’t really do him any favors – he gets beat up more often than not, here, and he’s a lot of bark with relatively little bite.
(Grifter, on the other hand, just keeps getting cooler now that we know he went AWOL from Team 7 thanks to his unrequited love, is hated equally by Backlash and Lynch, and was the softy who tried to save his teammates who got left behind. Also? Still no hint of his powers.)
The villainous elements of the mini-series are needlessly complex. The Kindred’s leader Bloodmoon isn’t even a Kindred and the result of a totally separate Team 7 caper, which leaves a lot of questions and ultimately makes The Kindred sort of window dressing in their own story. It also leaves a lot of open questions about Bloodmoon that a little dose of simplicity could have solved better than more explanations.
Art from Brett Booth is solid and enjoyable. All of the characters are recognizable and Booth draws clear action that’s easy to track. His characters can have a slight Spider-Man rubbery-ness to them that calls back to earlier Eric Larsen or even Todd McFarlane. That this would become somewhat of a trademark of Backlash rather than a more muscular stance is definitely down to Booth’s early influence on the character.
The biggest reason to include this in your WildStorm read? Context, glorious context. We finally understand Director Lynch’s place in the WildStorm Universe, and how Team 7 and IO are linked with the history of Stormwatch.
Want the full details? Read on to learn more about the connective tissue of the WildStorm Universe. Here’s the schedule for the rest of this month’s WildStorm re-read. Tomorrow we head back to WildCATs to see Jim Lee reunited with his X-Men co-conspirator Chris Claremont on WildCATs #10-13!
Need the issues? This is a rare early WildStorm title with a TPB collection! Look for it on Amazon and eBay. Also, the single issues to this series tend to be pretty cheap – try eBay (#1-4) or Amazon (#1, 2, 3, 4). Since a second Kindred mini-series hit these same issue numbers, be sure to match your purchase to the cover images in this post.
When we last saw Grifter, he received a one-word text (actually, it was a PAGE on his BEEPER ) that caused him to flee from Zealot in WildCATs #8 – CYBERJACK. Meanwhile, Backlash confessed to Battalion that he was taking his leave from SkyWatch in Stormwatch #8 to hunt the Daemonite that splinter his lover Diane’s psyche – and he thinks his old Team 7 teammate Cyberjack might hold the answers!
In Kindred #1, Backlash is ambushed at Cyberjack’s by a Black Razor team who Director Lynch has sent to retrieve him. He fights them for the better part of the issue before finally agreeing to go along with them. After he departs, they move to execute Cyberjack – a loose end – only to be interrupted by another Team 7 vet – Grifter! Cyberjack summoned him because someone ran a search on old IO files that triggered a virus they had left behind.
Backlash is debriefed by his former colleague Colby at IO – Director Lynch has been kidnapped, and there’s an indication the perpetrator is after more of Team 7. (Cray AKA Deathblow is apparently indisposed). To help convince him, they reveal the Daemonite that WildCATs and Youngblood expelled from Dan Quayle in WildCATs #4.
Here’s the most interesting part – Daemonites release a pheromone when they’re near each other similar to what Team 7 members experience when they use their powers while close to each other. IO promises to turn over all of their findings to Backlash to help in his quest to save Diane if he helps to bring back Lynch.
Cyberjack and Grifter infiltrate the perimeter of the base, and Grifter slips inside in time to catch the tale end of Colby and Backlash’s conversation. Another intriguing detail: he’d just as soon kill Backlash as work with him.
(He also mentions “Alicia,” who we haven’t yet seen elsewhere at this point, nor does the story confirm that she’s who was with Lynch when he was kidnapped (though she obviously is). It’s a weird coincidence of misalignment that makes me wonder if we were supposed to see some other Grifter story first.)
Grifter predictably hitches a ride to South America, but thanks to the information about Team 7 and their proximity to each other, we know that Backlash knows he’s there – and we know that Grifter probably knows that Backlash knows that he’s there.
Kindred #2 opens with the transport closing in on the island of Caballito. Backlash briefs the Black Razor troops, who aren’t fans of a costumed Stormwatch freak giving them instructions. They parachute out over the island. Grifter makes a move to do the same, but along the way kills a terrifying batlike humanoid who was about to lunch on one of the soldiers remaining on the transport. They both leap from the transport just before it explodes, which is observed by Backlash and the surviving Black Razors on the ground.
(A detail – it seems that Grifter has been to this former IO base (“Eden’s Gate”) before, but the know-it-all Backlash has not.)
We flash to Lynch and Alicia held captive by more anthropomorphized animal villains. Alicia’s psi powers are jammed, and their capture doesn’t appreciate her interruptions – he knocks her out with a backhanded blow and they take Lynch from the cell to a crude arena. There, another freaky person of indeterminate animal origin named Bloodmoon explains that when IO left behind a base on the island, they also left animals who had been experimented on with the “Genesis Serum.”
Backlash’s team infiltrates the Eden’s Gate base, but the tech is so old they’re having trouble firing up the com system. Grifter chooses this moment to ambush the team. He proves to be a match for Backlash, but Colby gets the drop on him to end the fight. Unfortunately, the Kindred got the drop on the rest of the Black Razors and tore them to shreds while they three men tussled. Backlash, Colby, and Grifter circle themselves again the press of Kindred, but Backlash’s powers aren’t working and the monsters easily take out Colby. The issue closes with Backlash and Grifter, guns blazing, weakening in face of the assault.
In Kindred #3, we resume Lynch’s kangaroo court trial by Bloodmoon, but it’s interrupted with news of the three new captives (one guess at who those are). Bloodmoon shouts down his servant, who whimpers in return that, “there was something unusual about them, I sensed that our blood runs within two.” Indeed, when Backlash and Grifter are unmasked, Bloodmoon is overcome with recognition (even though we thought Backlash hadn’t been to this island before).
Grifter gives us some useful exposition, but not before pointing out that Backlash was an errand boy patsy who never cared enough to get his hands dirty with useful information. (Sounds accurate.) Team 7 was subject to some form of experiment to unlock “superhuman potential.” Some of those experiments extended to the animal kingdom, but something awful resulted and the program was shut down. His very useful information is interrupted by a big bruiser who insists if they don’t surrender the “female prisoner” dies. Backlash reveals that it’s Alicia Turner, and Grifter immediately folds like fresh laundry to ensure her safety (seemingly unaware she was on the island).
It turns out that the Kindred’s justice system is survival of the fittest, though it isn’t clear what crimes the gladiator’s Lynch faces off again have committed. He’s outmatched three-to-one, and in a moment of desperation he accesses “The Rush,” which is what Team 7 calls their various psychic powers. But, the Rush comes with a price – for everyone except Backlash, apparently, who uses his powers constantly.
Interesting. Lynch’s power involves a massive wave of purple energy emitted from his eyes which guts all of his attackers, but he’s unable to maintain his control of it and he loses his Rush. Grifter bluffs Bloodmoon to bring Alicia to the arena to control Lynch’s powers before he explodes and kills them all. She arrives (with Colby) and does just that.
(Don’t you love how ever supporting WildStorm female character outside of WildCATs is blind and perhaps has some sort of non-violent powers-manipulation powers? Synergy, Diane, and Alica are all virtually identical and interchangable!)
(Also in the “is anyone editing this book” category, Backlash’s costume is now without a scratch.)
With all of our protagonists in one place, Bloodmoon reveals himself – he’s not an animal at all, but Robert Diaz! Um, who? Apparently someone that Backlash left for dead in a pre-powers Team 7 mission to South America (though Grifter plead to go back and save him).
Kindred #4 makes a few narrative leaps in the interest of expediency. Backlash is tossed over a waterfall and left for dead, although that’s apparently as much up to him as anyone else as his powers mysteriously help keep him alive. Meanwhile Grifter is stuck in a tank in a lab, where Bloodmoon wants to reverse engineer a sample of the Genesis formula from his blood so they can make more Kindred.
(Fanwank Theory: IO only experimented on male animal fetuses, so there is currently no one with which the decades-old Kindred can breed).
It turns out, Bloodmoon (why is he called that?!) totally randomly shipwrecked on Caballito after being left for dead by Backlash, made friends with the Kindred, found some Genesis Formula, drank it (even though he was from pre-powers Team 7 – were they already being dosed?), then created an intelligent monster society, and finally kidnapped Lynch even though it seems clear his major vendetta is with Backlash (though the Kindred hate Lynch more) (though, really Bloodmoon’s big problem is that he’s run out of the formula and in danger of regressing, though none of Team 7 seems to have that problem).
(Also, that makes everyone’s reaction to the Kindred kind of puzzling, since it sounds like before Bloodmoon they were just a bunch of semi-sentient animal toddlers.)
In his cell, Lynch exposits that IO began their experiments as a response to the Monitor One disaster that spawned Stormwatch and the rise of more super-powered beings that came with it. Then, when Grifter is deposited back into a cell with Alicia, they exposit that it was her who helped him go AWOL from Team 7. That’s part of why Grifter always wears a mask – somehow, Lynch doesn’t know who is behind it (though Backlash obviously does).
Lynch figures out how to blow a power source in his cell and he and Colby manage to take out guards and snatch their weapons. They free Alicia and a newly-masked Grifter. Oh, and Backlash is obviously not dead, and he’s back, and his powers are working fine now (???).
The four men and Alicia fight their way out, killing Kindred but not Bloodmoon. Grifter feels just awful about (really) and he says he’s figure out how to help him (with what?). They’re on the verge of exfiltration when the guard Grifter saved back in issue #2 comes back with a helicopter, but Bloodmoon catches up to them.
There’s a rope bridge, a lot of drama, Grifter trying his damndest to not let Bloodmoon fall into the chasm below, and Backlash being a complete asshole and psychically electrifying Grifter with his whip to force him to drop Bloodmoon so they can all finally leave. Lynch now knows who Grifter is (so much for the mask), but he’s more concerned that his boss Craven has ordered an orbital strike on the island now that all of his assets are freed.
Bye-bye, Kindred. Also, Lynch comes off as having a tiny shriveled heart in there somewhere between his anger over killing the Kindred and his giving a disc full of Daemonite information to Backlash in thanks for saving him. Grifter has kind words for his long-lost love Alicia, but none for Backlash – who he considers to be worse than Lynch himself.