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Whilce Portacio makes his slightly-delayed entrance into WildStorm with Wetworks, originally previewed in WildCATs #2 in 1992. It’s also the first true origin story of WildStorm other than Gen13 – in no other book this far have we watched as an entire cast of heroes has been created.
Portacio was of the same generation of beloved X-Men artists as Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri and was originally intended to be the seventh founder of Image Comics – with Wetworks as one of its flagship books. An illness in his family caused him to step away from the launch of Image, and it took him two years to make his entry – now part of the WildStorm table rather than its own imprint.
(Since these issues were written as much as two years prior to their release, they occur in story order prior to Gen13. As confirmation, we see that John Lynch is still with IO. They likely fit sometime just prior to Killer Instinct.)
Wetworks is a completely different flavor of team than WildCATs and Stormwatch. It’s a nearer neighbor to Deathblow, or even the Underworld film series. It’s all about big guns, synthetic symbiotes, and bloody ops, but also about vampires!
Back when it was intended to be part of Image’s launch, Wetworks was teased briefly in a four-page back-up in WildCATs #2. All we learned in thie brief story is that the team’s leader, Dane, is bulletproof and loves causing carnage.
Wetworks seems to be exactly the sort of “extreme” team title that Jim Lee wanted to veer away from on Gen13. Every member is dipped in gold from head to toe and festooned with guns, ammo, cybernetic enhancements, and ridiculous gear. There’s a slight hint of Wetworks being an anti-terrorist or maybe anti-war-crimes group, but mostly the our pages are about setting the tone – they’re a team of Punishers.
Wetworks #1 begins at least a few weeks prior to that preview. Prior to their golden years, Wetworks are the modern-day Team 7 – a team of well-armed but decidedly-human soldiers lead by original Gen12 member Dane (who maybe isn’t entirely human – we’ll see).
Portacio along with Brandon Choi on script mines the same geopolitical concerns we’ve seen across WildStorm, including how world peacekeeping has an undertow of political oneupmanship. Team 7 believe they sent to rescue hostages in Transylvania by the omnipresent International Operations (I.O.), but really they were being sacrificed – either to test the efficacy of newly developed symbiotic skins or to test the hardiness of the tribe of vampires infesting the area. Maybe both.
The sacrifice doesn’t go as planned, and the team comes away with nigh-indestructible, golden, synthetic, symbiotic skins seemingly permanently attached to their own. They also come away beholden to a decidedly sketchy member of the National Security Council, who is hip to the vampire threat and focused on destroying them. WetWorks is more interested in destroying the I.O. players who burned them on their Transylvania mission, but they’re happy to kill some vampires along the way.
That first issue is a visual stunner that’s all edge-of-your-seat action – a perfect pilot episode. Whilce Portacio’s style is adjacent to Lee’s, with slightly more penstrokes and slightly more emotive faces. He lends a real world weightiness to high-octane military action that most big-guns books are missing. While #2-3 aren’t quite as perfect, there’s no denying this is a visually stunning book. Portacio does decent blood and gore, but his fight choreography can be a bit stiff. His human moments are better.
My main critique is that the team is just too big and too homogenous for any reader to keep track of – even before they all turn gold! I’m even not sure how many of them there are. Maybe seven?
Choi doesn’t help by switching between their given last names and their call signs. It couldn’t have hurt to throw in more than just a single woman, some different body types, or someone non-white with distinct features. Even after the membership is thinned out by the end of this arc I can’t keep them straight. I’ve maybe got three of them down.
Without being able to tell the team apart, they read as a single lump with a relatively undifferentiated set of personalities. As a result, I found it difficult to get emotionally invested in their success, starting with their evacuation from Transylvania in #1 by the mysterious cybernetic Mother One. So many innocent soldiers wind up dying to abet their escape that as readers we’re almost forced to dislike them, although most of that blame can be shifted to their mysterious collaborator Mother One. Given that she also sacrifices Wetworks members in the name of science in issue #3, I think we’re right not to trust her.
It’s much easier to follow and sympathize with the pair of warring vampire factions, and when your book is having trouble getting the reader to root against vampires you might be having some problems. One faction wants to infect a the attendees of a fictional goth Grateful Dead band’s big show. The band happens to also be vampires from the other faction, whose queen is as obsessed with Wetwork’s leader Dane as she was with Hitler.
In the absence of caring about the team, the most interesting element of the book could be the symbiotic skins themselves. What is their origin? How can some of the vampires communicate with them? What was their intended use?
Wetworks is going to be an intriguing read if it can keep the focus as much on the the vampire-busting gore as on the mysteries behind it. However, it’s going to get old pretty quickly. if this turns into Venom as Punisher vs. Vampires.
Need the issues? These three issues have been collected as Wetworks: Rebirth (ISBN 978-1887279338), which you’ll find cheaper on eBay than Amazon. Or, you can purchase single issues – try eBay (#1-3) or Amazon (#1, 2, 3). Since further Wetworks series hit these same issue numbers, be careful to pick up issues from the 1994 series – an easy way to tell the difference is that Mike Carey is the writer on the later relaunch.
Here’s the schedule for the rest of this month’s WildStorm re-read – tomorrow we read just a pair of issues – WildCATS #14 and Savage Dragon #13, part of the Image X-Over month.