[Patreon-Nov16-Post-Bug][/Patreon-Nov16-Post-Bug] In June of 1993, a fourth title joined WildStorm’s fold, and it was the first whose heroes seemingly didn’t have an explicit connection to the shared backstory of Kherubim, Daemonites, IO, and Stormwatch.
That hero was Union, co-created by Jim Lee and Mike Heisler – a longtime letterer and only occasional writer. (He’d later write a long run of the Gen13 spin-off DV8).
Union has a rich origin that nods to Superman’s, though his Krypton is not an exploding planet but a sister reality to our own that is in a constant state of civil war. When Ohmen, a warrior Relayer of the Protectorate, is shunted through an explosion of energy from his world to ours he crash lands on the Maine coastline.
Union’s mini-series is a pair of parenthesis, two stories opened in the first two issues without the full information we need as readers to understand them, and then two issues that resolve their mysteries in reverse order.
That makes for what is undoubtably the best first issue yet from WildStorm, and even the exposition-heavy final issues is a thrill since they answer so many questions. Union #0 provides a thick spreading of glorious connection-making context to fill in Union’s past and tie him to more closely to another Wildstorm title. It’s a bit leaden told all in one shot, but it makes re-reading the series even more fun.
The real draw here wasn’t the mysterious superhero from another dimension, but the artwork. Mark Texeira was mostly known as a Marvel utility player who launched Ghost Rider and drew Punisher and Sabretooth. His wild, untamed pencil-work and inky blacks were nothing like the high-gloss figure-work of the other Image founders and their proteges, but a near neighbor to Sam Keith and Jae Lee.
Maybe that’s why it seems like the early digital colors are fighting against Texeira’s linework in the first two issues of Union. While some of the gradients help enhance the inherent dimensionality of his characters, too often the colors are garish or overwhelm his rough lines. Despite the struggle, Texiera delivers wild, beautiful work – especially in the domestic scenes that could easily be just talking heads. The colors settle down by #3, and by the end of #4 it’s the best Texiera’s work had looked to date.
Despite the unevenness of the pace and the colors, Union feels like a title that’s truly grounded in a universe that’s already-formed. It’s filled with references to Supreme, Youngblood, and Cyberforce, and it opens by featuring Stormwatch so prominently that the first issue could have easily been Stormwatch #5.5.
That’s a tribute to Mike Heisler, who bucks the WildStorm trend of super-cool action to unfurl an exceedingly human mystery of how much we can trust Union as a reliable narrator. We see him deliberately withhold things from us and from his human companion Jill, and that makes it hard to completely trust him as our protagonist even when he professes to be doing good.
Jill is the most well-rounded character we’ve had yet in a WildStorm book. She’s an actual human being who loves art and sometimes does stupid things in the name of romance. She makes gallows-humor jokes to herself and absent-mindedly explaining why she switched to painting abstracts when she was in a world of beautiful landscapes. Even if her budding romance with Union is rushed, this book is grounded in human emotion more than any of the other Wildstorm material to date. Together, she and Union give off major Lois & Clark vibes from the classic Reeves Superman films.
If Union had pushed forward from this mini-series to continue the story with Heisler and Texiera still at the helm it would have catapulted into must-read territory for me along with Stormwatch! Instead, it was the first WildStorm book to take a brief hiatus and return as an ongoing series (a pattern Gen13 would follow). However, Heisler does stick around for every issue of Union ever published, so maybe I’m in for a treat when I get back to the title’s ongoing relaunch later this month.
Want the full details? Read on to unravel the mystery that begins in Union #1. Here’s the schedule for the rest of this month’s WildStorm re-read. Tomorrow we find out what Backlash and Grifter have been up to in Kindred #1-4.
Need the issues? These issues have never before been collected! For single issues – try eBay (#0-4) or Amazon (#0, 1, 2, 3, 4). Since the ongoing Union series hit these same issue numbers, be sure to match your purchase to the cover images in this post.