So, as I was just saying, Mike Carey is one of my favourite writers. And when I was about 13 and discovered Whilce Portacio’s work on X-Factor and Uncanny X-Men, I thought he was pretty awesome; while hindsight and a more mature appreciation of comic art says he’s bigger on scratchy art than he is on coherent storytelling or well-defined characters, I still have a certain fondness for him. And there can be no question that a story involving cyborgs, aliens, vampires and werewolves is kind of cool.
Bearing all that in mind, I have no idea what the hell is going on in Wetworks #1, and I really don’t care. It’s an incoherent, over-complicated, and generally uninteresting mess.
Portacio’s art is much the same as it was back on the X-books, the recent Stormwatch, and indeed the original Wetworks, which I’m not even sure I ever read. There’s very little in the way of artistic evolution, which is kind of disappointing for a guy who never had the automatic audience of Jim Lee or Rob Liefeld. It’s all very 90’s-style Image, but Portacio at least maintained his own style: Lots of lines and grit, and some character designs that were probably cutting edge 15 years ago. He’s not a great storyteller, and he’s got command of about four more facial expressions than Liefeld (which is to say, six or seven). And geez, there’s a lot of empty white space on his pages – not just in lieu of actual back grounds, but in between panels which don’t take up nearly enough of the page.
But while Portacio’s art is essentially what you’d expect, Carey’s story is the real disappointment. It certainly reads like an old Image book, starting in the middle of a story the creator has all mapped out but didn’t bother to share with anyone. Carey seems to be working from the assumption that everyone read the original Wetworks book and will understand who everyone is and what they’re doing. Nothing is really explained beyond some weird stuff happening at a military base and one of the original Wetworks guys recruiting a new team to do something. Portacio’s storytelling abilities – to say nothing of his barely consistent character designs – don’t help a lot, but Carey doesn’t make much effort to explain anything. There’s a time and place for being obscure and letting the audience in slowly, and there’s also a time for clearly explaining what the hell is going on.
The Wetworks relaunch is obviously calling for the latter approach for two reasons: First is that the previous Wetworks series is hardly the sort of landmark with which a majority of comic fans are acquainted. Second is that this is a part of the bigger Wildstorm relaunch (the opening salvo even, thanks to the month-late Wildcats) that’s aimed at reinvigorating a bunch of properties that have fallen from their once lofty heights – the whole point of the big Worldstorm thing is that no one has cared about most of these books for nearly a decade. Writing a story that assumes fairly detailed knowledge of the characters seems to kind of miss the point.
Of course, Wetworks was announced quite a bit before the rest of the Wildstorm books – I remember hearing it mentioned nearly two years ago – so perhaps it was written with a different marketing agenda in mind. Still, it’s hard to imagine this story succeeding on just about any level other than almost immediately following Wetworks volume 1. It’s needlessly obscure and convoluted, and for probably the first time in history, Portacio’s not even the worst offender in his own book.