…Meet Oceans Eleven. Have You Kids Met Oprah?: Team 7 #0 Reviewon September 13, 2012 at 9:00 am
During the mid-90s, when Wildstorm was an independent publisher run by Jim Lee and before it because a launching-off point for Warren Ellis’s groundbreaking writing on Stormwatch and then The Authority, I knew it less as an imprint known for publishing creator-owned comics, and more as “one of those X-TREEM Image-type publishers that’s fucking up comics,” while I spent three or four years in mostly Vertigo-fueled superhero comics exile. Oh sure, I’ve read some of the old Wildstorm stuff in reprints, and have become familiar with some of the “classic” characters via the more recent Ellis and Ed Brubaker-written stories, but when it comes to a lot of the stuff from, say, 1994 through 1998, I’m what you’d call tabula rasa.
And having read Team 7 #0, by writer Justin Jordan and artist Jesus Merino, that is going to simultaneously bite me in the ass and make me wish I hadn’t spend my mid-20s sneering so hard at books that weren’t named Preacher, Transmetropolitan or Jonah Hex.
Team 7 #0 takes place a few months after the debuts of Superman and the Justice League, five years ago in current DC Universe continuity and somewhere around the end of the first arc of Action Comics (got that? Good, you can fully explain it to me when this hangover goes away). The government has reacted to the emergence of superhumans fighting for Truth, Justice and The American Way by shitting their pants. So the government, embodied by floating 2001-style monoliths sporting HAL 9000 eyes, has entrusted intelligence operative John Lynch with building a team capable of controlling superhuman activity. Lynch charges his top agents, Dinah Drake (Black Canary eventually) and Kurt Lance (I’m guessing Dinah’s eventual husband… although I don’t remember seeing him in Birds of Prey) on a recruiting mission, bringing in colorful characters, some familiar and some apparently new.
And when I say “colorful,” that’s what I mean: we see Cole Cash (Grifter) being selected after a bar fight with French soldiers over a billiards hustle, and pilot Summer Ramos’s (Fucked if I know who she is) official description is “Pilot. Probable crazy person.” So we have a colorful cast of mercenaries with a crazy pilot; I’m wondering when we find out that one of the team can’t fly without a glass of drugged milk.
There is plenty of action in this book – see Grifter’s bar fight, and the initial recruiting scene with Deathstroke and Alex Fairchild that occurs during a shootout – but none of it is team action. This issue builds of the team, and Jordan tackles it in a way that is very reminiscent of George Clooney and Brad Pitt hauling themselves across the landscape to interview specialists for their heist teams. All the elements of a light heist film recruitment sequence are here, from humor in he face of danger, to meeting team members in unexpected and unlikely locations, to learning differing motivations for joining. The only thing missing is the zen dude who initially refuses before being convinced to leave retirement and join up… but I guess Jordan needs to save something for the next issue. It’s satisfying, but it wears its influence on it’s sleeve; by halfway through the issue, every time I saw a new character, I heard the bass line from the Oceans Eleven theme.
But be aware: there are a lot of characters and references here that you won’t get without being familiar with old Wildstorm comics. The team’s name is obviously a reference to the original Wildstorm series of that name… the latest of which dates back to those days when Liefeld was king, feet were verboten, and I was bemoaning the cancellation of Peter Milligan’s Shade The Changing Man. So I don’t know much about that team, which means I don’t know anything about Alexander Fairchild, I know enough about Wildstorm to get that “The Majestic Project” is some kind of reference to the Wildstorm Superman pastiche of the same name, meaning somewhere along the line I’m guessing we’ll see Lynch overseeing the creation or discovery of a Superman deterrent… but some of these characters I am in no way familiar with. Which is fine in and of itself – after the New 52 reboot, none of them will be the characters they once were – but this book is clearly a love letter to old Wildstorm comics…
…which was a problem for me. Like I said, I didn’t read these books when they were new, because frankly? I didn’t believe they were that good. And part of that opinion comes simply from my age; I grew up at the end of the Bronze Age, and 80s books like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns kept me in comics through my adolescence when I should have been putting them aside to troll for chicks like my father, and his father before him. So seeing Wildstorm come out with X-Treme books like WildC.A.T.S., Gen 13 and Majestic, which looked like not much more than steroid-driven knockoffs of X-Men, Superman, et al, signaled to me the death of story in favor of attitude. And while Wildstorm has introduced some excellent characters, and have had killer runs like Ellis’s Stormwatch, Millar’s The Authority and Brubaker’s Sleeper, we’re talking about an imprint that, for me, started with 90s excess and ended with the abominable World’s End crossover. So a loving paean to Wildstorm isn’t going to cut a lot of ice with me; this book is going to need to live and die by its own merits.
And it generally does that. Jordan’s dialogue is funny, and self-aware to the point that he delivers the necessary exposition for an origin story with a wink and a nod to that reader that exposition is, in fact, what he’s delivering. While we only get a page or two with each character, Jordan generally shows us what each one is all about (seeing Grifter in a bar fight, wearing an Allman Brothers t-shirt and refusing to submit to the cops until he finishes his beer, tells you all you need to know about the character to start with if you’ve never seen him before), and does it using entertaining circumstances that are winks and nods to big action movies and stories that Jordan clearly is hoping the book will recall – meeting James Bronson (again, you got me) while climbing a mountain screams Mission: Impossible, and Amanda Waller foiling an aerial attack on a stadium is Black Sunday. And while the references to older Wildstorm comics are there, they the story doesn’t hang on them. If you’re an old Wildstorm fan, you’ll probably be delighted to see them… but if you’re like me, you’ll mutter, “That’s a Wildstorm nod, isn’t it? Wait, let me put the book down and go to Wikipedia…”
Jesus Merino’s art is a solid match for this book, in the sense that it bridges between the 90s style books Team 7 references, while maintaining a more modern, less extreme, sensibility. While the art has faces packed with more fine-lined crosshatching marks than a Chris Brown neck tattoo, his figures are generally more realistic than you’d see in the 90s – these people are in good shape, but not so jacked that you expect them to have an ass bruise from steroid injections. Merino’s panel layouts are absolutely clear, his faces extremely expressive (albeit with his dudes’ faces more inked up than an enforcer for The Latin Kings), and unlike some of his contemporaries who also traffic in fine detail work, he makes it through an entire issue of a comic with a female lead with only one ass shot. This is a good-looking book… although I’m at the point where I would support an initiative to knock a buck off an inker’s page rate for every crosshatched face line.
All in all, this is a pretty solid first issue for a team book. Yeah, it owes a lot to Oceans Eleven in its recruitment scenes, and it riffs on some well-known action movies, but considering it seems Jordan is going for an action movie feel, those things make sense. The characters are as well established as can be expected for a book that’s introducing about 10 of them in 20 pages (Although Dean Higgins, strategy expert, gets short shrift with about a page and a half showing his strategic genius by kicking a window in while one of his men gets shot right in front of him), and it makes those characters interesting enough to make me want to come back for the next issue… even if it’s not totally clear what, exactly, the team is going to be doing. If you’re a fan of 90s Wildstorm books, there are references that will probably deepen your appreciation of the book… and if, like me, you’re not a fan of those books, well, those references won’t get in the way of your enjoyment of this particular story. Let’s just hope that the references are as far as the 90s Wildstorm influence goes.