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It’s the grand finale of my daily read of the first three years of WildStorm Comics – WildStorm Rising!
WildStorm Rising is the first direct crossover between any WildStorm books. Just like here at CK the WildStorm crew doesn’t do anything halfway – their first crossover hits every one of their eight ongoing titles, adding a prologue and a pair of bookends for 11 total issues:
- Team 7: Operation Hell #1
- WildStorm Rising #1
- WildC.A.T.s #20
- Union (1995) #4
- Gen 13 (1995) #2
- Grifter #1
- Deathblow #16
- Wetworks #8
- Backlash #8
- StormWatch #22
- WildStorm Rising #2
The crossover is really only meaningful to a trio of them – dual flagships WildCATS and Stormwatch, and the debut of Grifter. Everyone else is merely a bystander in the culmination of a year-long plot launched in Stormwatch to alter the struggling status quo in WildCATs.
There are pros and cons to any linewide crossover, and WildStorm Rising is no exception.
On the pro side, the event manages to accomplish something that few Marvel crossovers could manage back in the 90s (and still can’t today): Each chapter worked well as an issue of its own book advancing some of its own themes. That’s despite the fact that many books weren’t written by their typical authors and many of them continued directly to the next title in the crossover sequence.
Plus, we really do get a new status quo for several books, none more so than WildCATs!
On the con side, WildStorm Rising squanders Defile’s long-running infiltration of Stormwatch in favor of him chasing a McGuffin of power just inserted into Team 7: Objective Hell. Many of the pillars of the crossover were built from Defiles machinations, but it still feels like a massive cheat to see his master plot lose steam just as WildCATs and Stormwatch come to blows. He almost literally says, “Screw my plans that have been built up in Stormwatch since issue #6, now I’m going to focus on this other thing.”
Even worse, it turns out the McGuffin has no real meaning in a hairpin final turn – it was merely a red herring to bring back a fan favorite character squandered too early in the life of the line!
What is this amazing McGuffin? It’s both a key and a symbol. It’s about the balance of power in the ruling class of Daemonites. When they arrived on a space ship chasing the Kherubim, there was a natural division of power between politics, military, and (sort of) transportation. A representative of each held a key to the ship that also signified their unquestionable ruling power. All three would need to align their keys to activate interstellar navigation technology so none could shift the balance of power too far towards government, military might, or (one would imagine) commerce and colonization.
The transportation key was lost in the ship’s crash, which left the political and military arms of the Daemonites stuck in a two-party struggle for planetary power for 2,000 years with no means to escape. Now, the two pieces of the lost key have showed up in possession of a rogue Daemonite and a member of Team 7, and both sides of the Daemonites are racing to collect them – while the assembled might of our heroes try to defend them while resolving their inter-squad squabbles.
Is WildStorm Rising worth a read? As a self-contained event it’s nothing special. However, if you plan to read any other WildStorm books from 1995-1997 – like Grifter’s solo series or Alan Moore’s WildCats – it’s a good primer. It’s far back enough from Ellis’s takeover on Stormwatch to be relevant there.
The rest of this post is split into two sections. The first reviews each issue of the crossover (w/links to purchase) with relatively few comments on plot. The second second offers a plot recap of each issue so you can fill in the gaps of your read.
WildStorm Rising – Issue-by-Issue Review
For a review of Team 7: Objective Hell #1, see yesterday’s post!
WildStorm Rising #1 (eBay / Amazon) is a shock to the system. No WildStorm comic has looked or sounded like this before, thanks to a collaboration between James Robinson and Barry Windsor-Smith on the story and Windsor-Smith on both “drawings” and colors.
The narrative style is heavy, with boxes filled with portentous language about storms. Brandon Choi has attempted this metaphorical work, but he can’t carry it off like seasoned pros like BWS and Robinson. Also, he never had BWS’s stately art to support such arch prose.
Barry Windsor Smith’s broad, emotive faces are disorienting from page one on. His art is a welcome change-up from the typical WildStorm house style, broad where WildStorm artists are wiry, dark and clouded where WildStorm colorists go bright and reflective.
BWS’s women, especially, are solid and muscular compared with their typical thin-waisted appearances. This is the best Diva and Fahrenheit have ever looked, and Void’s suit takes on a new oil slick rainbow sheen instead of the typical silver white.
He really sells the sooty air that rises up off of the battle between WildCATs and Stormwatch. The battle between the two teams contains so much raw savagery that it’s uncomfortable to watch, given how much we love these characters by this point.
WildCATS #20 (eBay / Amazon) is the last hoorah for the stellar Robinson/Charest/Stubbs creative team. Despite a sort of awkward cover with the long-necked Hightower growling down at the time, the interiors are gorgeous, although Charest is again falling back on a series of attractive pinups rather than panel arrangements that convey motion.
James Robinson has the thankless task of dumping all of the exposition about the strange artifact, which means the only significant writing of the CATs he gets to do is Grifter quitting the team. As walking out in a huff after backhanding your employer goes, it’s a pretty stellar moment.
It’s a pity this is all we get of Robinson on the title, although with Alan Moore incoming next issue we’re sure to be in for a memorable ride. Even if readers skipped the rest of the crossover, they’d still be able to pick up the gist in the following issue based on this one.
Everything Benjamin draws here approaches being the best it’s ever looked. Best Union. Best Savant and Majestic. His plainclothes Grifter is indistinguishable from Jim Lee’s. A splash of the WildCATs in action hunting down Defile is pure thrill, as is Robinson’s device of zooming in on each of them to eavesdrop on their thoughts.
Robinson also gets into Synergy’s head, for the first time explaining the purpose of all of the cybernetic prosthetics she’s festooned with. With just two panels of her standing in silence, both visually and narratively it’s by the best page of Synergy we’ve ever seen,
However, the issue probably read flatly for Union’s regular readers, considering the only outside influence they’ve been exposed to is Stormwatch and this is yet another Strong Flying Dude Beat’em’up. You can safely skip it.
Campbell is back in control of his muscly characters and their proportions, especially on a toned Fairchild and a beefcake Grunge. He draws a totally wicked Defile, too.
Brandon Choi is still pushing to extend the team’s rogue’s gallery while fleshing them out as people. He manages to sneak in a character moment for each of them, including Rainmaker’s now infamous pass at Roxy. Their glibness and disorganization in the midst of pitched battle is perfect.
Credit where due for being bold in declaring a major character to be a lesbian back in 1995, but Roxy’s unreserved reaction of screaming “gross” and “that’s just disgusting” plays the moment for a laugh at Rainmaker’s expense.
Seagle doesn’t get off on the right foot here, either, failing to pick up Robinson’s story of Grifter tracking down Cray in person – here, he just picks up a phone and gives him a call.
I like Seagle on later work, but he simply doesn’t have the touch for Grifter. The best character in WildCATs feels like a generic Wolverine/Gambit mashup despite page after page of stunning Ryan Benjamin artwork. It will be interesting to see where this series heads without WildCATs for Grifter to interact with.
Deathblow #16 (eBay / Amazon) finds Seagle relieving Brandon Choi of his duties after three crackling issues, though Trevor Scott is intact on art. Scott slightly simplifies his style here, keeping it more in line with Sale than before.
Seagle can’t keep the plot handoff from his own book straight here, but what he does deliver is finally, finally having Deathblow cause some widespread death and destruction on a large group of enemies. This issue is half Rambo, half Home Alone, with Deathblow using every trap around his house to keep the Daemonite forces at bay.
There’s not much narrative , but it’s crazy to think we went #16 issues without seeing this sort of display when it’s what we’ve been told Deathblow is capable of since the first issue.
Seagle’s taciturn caption boxes fit the humorless Dane better than Grifter, and his script manages to reveal a few new aspects of the team. In general, his dialog and character interactions are a lot more fulfilling than the narration we’ve seen on solo stories.
Portacio’s artwork is crisp and legible – as great as it’s been since the blockbuster first issue. Since Wetworks was relatively late to the WildStorm party we haven’t had much chance to see Portacio draw other characters. His WildCATs are enjoyable, but his Helspont and Defile are both marvelous. He ought to push his vampires and werewolves into even more monstrous territory.
Backlash #8 (eBay / Amazon) finds Backlash annexed by Stormwatch’s Ron Marz with regular artist Brett Booth. It’s saddled with the worst cover of the entire crossover, an uninteresting shot of Nautika fishing Backlash out of the sea.
This issue is oddly disconnected from the prior one – not only in ignoring Taboo and Defile’s Australian Thundercat friend, but dropping the obvious thread of Diane rejoining Stormwatch.
Marz’s take on Backlash action is similar to what we saw in The Kindred – he’s tough as nails and not that smart, which leads to him getting constantly knocked around.
We’re so used to seeing Booth sketch the wiry Backlash in action that it’s a surprise to see him ably tackle crowd scenes with characters of all shapes and sizes. He draws a lovely Wetworks, a stunning Defile and Helspont, and one of the best versions of Stormwatch we’ve seen to date. Maybe he’s on the wrong book!
“Worst” doesn’t mean “bad.” Arlem is a manga-inspired Joe Madureira clone – and I mean clone. I had to check the credits repeatedly to make sure the artist wasn’t Joe Mad or Roger Cruz. It’s not a terrific fit for WildStorm’s house style – and definitely not for the typically weighty version of the team we’re used to seeing.
Marz makes sure to make the crossover really count in his march to #25. Every panel of Diva seems to put her in mortal peril, which will make you clench in anticipation of her inevitable death. The UN Council informs Weatherman Synergy that the Warguard will be defrosted as a last ditch effort against Helspont if Stormwatch can’t stop them.
WildStorm Rising #2 (eBay / Amazon) by Ron Marz and artists Brett Booth and Kevin Maguire has a certain git’er’done quality to it, especially since the end of Stormwatch #22 completely upended the crossover’s reason to exist.
Booth and Maguire manage to keep this massive cast of characters on-model which in itself is a miracle. Marz is a strong enough writer to find room for several of the little showdowns we’ve been looking forward to, plus he manages to find some resolve in the Defile and Stormwatch Prime plot.
While this is a little disappointing as a grand finale, it’s pretty necessary to reading both WildCATs and Stormwatch, since it sets up major status quo changes for both.
WildStorm Rising – Issue-by-Issue Recaps
For the full recap of Team 7: Objective Hell #1, see yesterday’s post. Here’s the relevant part:
They drop by night into Nicaragua and hike through the forest, where Cray pauses to pick up a curious artifact clasped within a hand-shaped tree root. Unfortunately, their local guides have attracted the attention of armed revolutionaries who don’t take too kindly to American interference. Under heavy fire, Lynch has no choice but to use his power to take down their helicopters.
WildStorm Rising #1 picks up directly from the close of WildCATs #19 and Stormwatch #21, with the two teams facing off over the exploded Coda bar in DC. Without Void to port them to safety the CATs have to engage, but they’re hopelessly outgunned by the Diva-led Stormwatch One. Stormwatch tears at them savagely. Strafe, in particular, is hell bent on killing Maul.
In the noise and confusion, Hightower slinks off to a museum exhibit curated by a rival of Savant. He has the artifact that Cray unearthed back in Team 7: Object Hell #1. Hightower disguises himself as a cop and quizzes the curator on the piece’s provenance with a helping of hypnotism thrown in. It turns out that Cray only made off with a half of the artifact, and the curator has the remainder of it still clutched in the hand-like root.
Void materializes back in DC grown to the height of the street lamps, though she is not sure how. She cradles a badly burned Warblade in her outsized arms, and pleads with the teams to stop fighting – eventually projecting an image of the whole artifact into the sky above their heads. Zealot breaks away from combat, her mouth agape – she recognizes it from her teachings on the home planet, millennia ago. It is a Daemonite key, but she is not sure to what.
Savant isn’t sure either, but she’s sure that Hightower making off with it is a bad thing. Defile is equally sure, willing to cast aside his putting WildCATs against Stormwatch to obtain the ultimate power. That’s why Hightower is waiting for WildCATs when they port back to Halo – he wants their help to find the missing piece.
WildC.A.T.s #20 (last arc) opens with the weakened team piling onto Hightower, who claims he just wants to talk while a phone rings impotently in the background. He’s forced to take Marlowe hostage to facilitate his little chat. The team accuses him of being behind the attack that put Voodoo in a coma and the kidnapping of Maul to force him to fight Stormwatch.
Hightower swears neither was his handiwork (though we learn he’s been the murderous fire in the gut of many despicable historical figures, including Gengis Khan). He spins a yarn of Keys of Command, the three physical keys needed to power the Daemonite vessel that pursued Kherubim like Marlowe and Zealot to Earth so many years ago. The ship has enough firepower to level entire Earth cities, but Hightower just wants to use it to go home. The command keys not only operate the ship, but confer great power upon the holder. Defile has one of the keys, as the ships “political lord.” Hightower now has a portion of another. That leaves the key held by the “military lord,”…
…who happened to be Helspont.
Marlowe agrees the team has to help Hightower now that the long-lost third key is in play (and its location is the likely grave of the ship), but Grifter is having none of it. Hightower tortured him and killed his informant, Lonely. He smacks the cigar right out of Marlowe’s mouth and quits the team, off to warn Cray that he must keep the other piece safe.
It turns out the phone call was from Savant. She’s pieced together as much as Hightower has, and wants to call in the WildCATs for help … but they aren’t the only call she makes. The one we get to see is to Weatherman Synergy, who apparently has history with Savant. Savant brings her up to speed, and Synergy (concerned about the moles on her team from her conversation with Flashpoint at the end of Stormwatch Special) decides she only has one choice of who to send to assist Savant (which is obvious Ohmen, based on the events of Union #1-2).
The line cuts out before Synergy can announce her choice and The Mercs crash into Savant’s living room, with Defile’s captain Mr. White in tow. They begin to interrogate Savant’s curator colleague, but are interrupted by a cool, collected Mister Majestic, who shreds The Mercs like paper while Mister White retreats.
Before he and Savant can catch up, Ohmen the Righteous Puppy Dog arrives and immediately assumes he’s there to fight Mister Majesetic, because sure, why not?
Union #4 (last arc) opens 2.7 seconds later with a knock-down, drag-out fight between Ohmen and Majestic. Majestic has the upper hand in experience and sheer power, but Ohmen’s puppy-like eagerness to beat up potentially-evil people helps to level the playing field.
Savant eventually catches up the the two of them to break up the fight. While everyone else is looking for keys, why don’t they locate the ship – and destroy it? Sure, Nicaragua is a big place and Hightower stole the field notes, but she has a few artifacts up her sleeve that might help.
Elsewhere, Grifter drinks and pursues Cray, and the WildCATs chase Defile along with Hightower. As for Defile? He wants the other half of Hightower’s key, and he knows someone on Team 7 has it – so he’s going to have his men hunt down each of the four remaining members.
Gen 13 #2 finds Grunge and Burnout enjoying some time at the skate park. It’s not like they have any missions to go on! Except, Lynch has dual problems barreling down on him at the moment – an old foe Helmut who has just broken out of prison, and Defile’s plan to rough up each remaining Team 7 member to find the artifact.
Fortunately, it seems that Lynch’s wipe of the IO computers in Gen13 #0 also threw a monkey wrench into Defiles surveillance capabilities, because he can’t get bead on Lynch. His rage is interrupted by the tall dark stranger who nearly seduced Roxy at the club before the inter-dimensional mercs showed up. He knows where Lynch is, and in exchange he wants “the secrets of Miles Craven.” Defile is happy to direct his minion Helmut directly to his jailer.
On the plus side, it turns out Lynch’s two problems are the same problem!
Back at the house, Roxy is bemoaning Grunge’s sudden wall of platonic friendship due to his salivating over Caitlin Fairchild. Rainmaker commiserates while she rubs lotion onto Roxy’s back, confession that she knows just how Grunge feels – before giving Roxy more than a playful pat on the rear.
Their domestic scene is interrupted by Grunge being grungy and then by Helmut’s arrival. He shrugs off Rainmaker and Burnout’s blast, and Roxy cannot maintain heavy gravity long enough to keep him down. While Fairchild wrestles with him on the beach, Lynch makes a request of paramount importance to Burnout – can he go get his electric guitar? Helmut’s weakness is loud sounds, and with him distracted Fairchild and Grunge easily wrap him up.
Grifter #1 starts with Grifter making contact with Cray to warn him about the artifact’s power only seconds before he’s blown across a city street by Defile’s assassins.
He slips into an alley they can’t access in their hovercraft, which gives Grifter time to bleed and have a flashback to running away from an abusive stepfather at age 14, leaving his brother Max behind, then another about trying to transfer out of Team 7 before all the Genesis Project badness went down, and a third from when he tried to quit Coda training with Zealot after his first year.
Between fainting spells, he dispatches of Defiles forces and flies off with one of their craft. However, the offensive was just a feint – Defile already knows from eavesdropping on Grifter’s pay phone call that Michael Cray is the one with the key. Now he’ll follow Grifter right to him.
Deathblow #16 (last arc) finds Deathblow facing off against a whole army of bucket-helmeted Daemonites at his remote booby-trapped house in the woods.
They’re a mere distraction. The real action is Mr. White, who first sneaks into the house to try to locate the artifact, and then shapeshifts to look like Grifter. Deathblow hands it over willingly (it was masquerading as an antique dooknob) before the actual Grifter can make it through the woods to his house.
Now Defile has one and half keys! If he can track down Hightower and Helspont’s carcass he’ll have ultimate control of the Daemonites.
Wetworks #8 (last arc) opens with Grifter and Cray interrogating a lone remaining Daemonite for information. When they realize Defile is after all of Team 7, they decide to make sure Dane is okay (because screw John Lynch, I guess)
Dane briefly fends off Defile’s assigned mercenary, but the merc blinks out of sight as soon as it’s confirmed that Mr. White has Michael Cray’s key. Grifter and Deathblow arrives seconds later and bring Dane up to speed on Defile and the McGuffin hunt. He recognizes Defile as the one behind the meet with Drakken his team broke up, so he’s in to disrupt his plans.
Back at home base, the team is worried about Pilgrim’s sudden disappearance, which causes them to abort their last mission. Before they can speculate on her whereabouts, Mother One summons them to their transport.
Wetworks plus Grifter and Deathblow jet to Virginia to search the remains of the nuclear plant from WildCATs #1-4 for Helspont’s key. They arrive at the same time as the WildCATs, who are done shaking down Cabal bases to try to get to Defile. The teams should be working together, but between Wetwork’s animosity for their interrupted op in issue #5 and Grifter’s newfound mistrust of the team it turns into a brawl. (In the midst of the brawl, Void points out that Jester’s symbiosis is different than the others, but the point is lost in the din.)
Hightower is the first to find Helspont’s body partially sealed in concrete used to seal the doomed reactor, one hand holding the key up above the surface of the concrete. Hightower’s touch seems to activate something in Helspont. The Daemonite lord comes to life, breaks free of the rubble, snatches Hightower’s half key, and ports away with his key a second later.
Meanwhile, Defile waits patiently for Savant, Majestic, and Union to dig up the Daemonite ship in Nicaragua, but they’ve yet to uncover anything.
Backlash #8 (last arc) finds Backlash in the Gulf of Mexico on a stealth mission from Diva. She asked him to chasing down Helspont’s newly recommissioned submarine, Behemoth.
There’s just one problem with the plan … Diva didn’t give him the mission! It was Mister White, sent by the always devious Defile, so that Backlash would hinder Helspont while Defile continues to play a waiting game with Savant’s team in Nicaragua.
While Backlash infiltrates the ship, a combined Wetworks and WildCATs (plus Grifter and Deathblow) are far above searching for it and all of Stormwatch (save for the imprisoned Flashpoint) prepares to deploy to its location.
Backlash proves to be no match for Helspont, who zaps him with psionic feedback and tosses him into the sea just as Stormwatch arrives. Diva makes the puzzling and unforgivable decision to put a full stop on chasing the rapidly submerging Behemoth so that Nautika can use her undefined sea powers to rescue Backlash from drowning. Now they, too, are headed to Nicaragua.
StormWatch #22 (last arc) opens with the fully assembled team already in Nicaragua and engaging Helspont to prevent him from… looking for the Daemonite ship? I suppose any time is good to stop him in his tracks.
At the UN Security Council, they’re very concerned with what might happen if he isn’t stopped. And, what about the other factors in this battle – WildCATs, Wetworks, and the trio of super-powered beings already on the ground in Nicaragua (i.e., Savant, Majestic, and Ohmen)? Th council wants Synergy to be prepared to take any measure necessary if Stormwatch fails – including defrosting Warguard!
Sure enough, Helspont shreds the remaining members of Stormwatch en route to unearthing his spaceship, which means Synergy (against her and Bendix’s better judgement) are under orders to unfreeze Warguard. That immediately goes badly, with Despot killing all of the guards who set them free and blasting his way out of Skywatch and down to Earth without the slightest care about the Daemonite drama unfolding in Nicaragua.
Back on Earth, our entire cast finds the site of Savant’s dig (save for Gen13, unware of this drama, and Defile, watching from afar). Those that are in the know are shocked to find that the ship she’s uncovered is not the Daemonite craft, but the Kherubim ship it chased down to earth!
WildStorm Rising #2 finds everything going to hell all at once. The combined WildCATs, Stormwatch, and Wetworks (plus Grifter and Cray) conduct an all-out frontal assault on Helspont and his Daemonite forces to hold them back from the Kherubim ship
Helspont makes a play for the ship, and he’s chased by Spartan, Sunburst and Nautika (under suggestion by Defile), Hightower (realizing his ticket home could be departing), and Grifter (whose secondary objective is killing Hightower).
Majestic squares off against Helspont while Hightower and Grifter wrestle outside the ship, leaving Spartan to head inside with Sunburst and Nautika. Spartan thinks they’ve got this wrapped up and takes his time targeting Helspont with the ship’s weapons so he doesn’t hit Majestic, but the pair of Stormwatch members have a different idea … and that ideal comes directly from Defile! They fire on both Helspont and Majestic, and Sunburst melts Spartan down to slag.
With the coast all clear, Defile ports in to the control room of the ship to be flanked by his pair of brainwashed Stormwatch members. He’s about to use it against the assembled heroes when he’s shot by Grifter, who just dispatched Hightower outside. The violence snaps Sunburst out of his trance, and he lights up Helspoint too – only to be brutally cut down by his wife.
In the tussle, the ship’s power core is ruptured, which makes it a ticking time bomb. Defile ports out, eager to start planning his rulership of the portions of the Earth that aren’t ruined by the explosion of the high-tech ship.
Grifter races out to inform the others, and they realize that the only one among them who can pilot the ship is Zealot (why Majestic can’t, I’m not certain). She volunteers, but needs two other crew to launch it off of Earth to where it can safely explode in space. All three of Warblade, Maul, and Voodoo volunteer to go alone, and Void and Marlowe agree the entire team will do so in the hopes Void can port them out before the explosion.
The explosion happens so suddenly once the team is out of atmosphere that none of the remaining heroes believe the WildCATs could have survived.
We close with an epilogue of Majestic and Savant in the Halo building. They are there to assemble a new WildCATs.