Edited by Sam Thielman
FOR THOSE OF YOU who don’t care about my just-published comic book, I'm going to be traveling for much of the week, so I am not gonna have much for you until I get back. On Thursday at 6pm ET, I'll be speaking at a major symposium on the Iraq War at the University of Notre Dame. Thanks to Roy Scranton, I'll be appearing beside Andrew Bacevich, Omar Dawaichi and Rosemary Kelanic. If there are any FOREVER WARS readers in South Bend, come say hi, since I've never been to Indiana. For everyone else, the symposium will stream at the link above, and I'm sure I'll post the whole thing in a subsequent edition, since I spent the better part of my Monday writing 1300 words worth of opening remarks. And for those who don't want to wait until then to hear me talk about Iraq yet again, check out Jordan Uhl and Rob Rousseau's Insurgents podcast.
Until then, don't miss this great report Reuters recently did on the Wagner mercenary company. Don't miss Jake Werner's piece for The Nation about how it's not too late to stop the coalescing Cold War with China and what doing so would look like. Definitely don't miss Peter Beinart's video, recorded Sunday night, about transitioning from a mass Israeli movement aimed at saving Israel's democracy-for-Jews to a mass Israeli-Palestinian movement aimed at delivering democracy for everyone between the River and the Sea.
Now I'm going to talk about my comic book.
IT WAS ALL A DREAM until I held in my hands the first issue of WALLER VS. WILDSTORM, now on sale from DC Comics.
Comics have been in my life as far back as I can remember. My mother taught me to read with the aid of Bill Mantlo's Incredible Hulk run in the 1980s. When we would go to my uncle's for holidays, my cousins would let me read their longboxes full of Claremont-Byrne/Cockrum/Smith X-Men, which somehow I forgot to mention on the Beast episode of Cerebro. You read enough comics and you start wanting to make them. As a kid, I even drew comics, and did so with unfortunate levels of monofocus. Then the people who judge art submissions at LaGuardia High School let me know I should find other career aspirations. If you were on that submissions board, consider WALLER VS. WILDSTORM #1 dedicated to you!
Throughout the process of making this book—from the pitch to submitting the scripts to receiving finished art to doing the lettering passes—I've tried to keep in mind that WALLER VS. WILDSTORM could end up never coming out. Publishing is capricious. These things happen, as journalism has taught me over and over again. I spent a year working on a 60 Minutes hour-long documentary that will never see the light of day thanks to Dan Rather, a story maybe I'll tell paid subscribers. Comically little is truly under our control.
But last week I opened a package from DC and found my complimentary copies of the book. The Jorge Fornes cover. The Stormwatch-1992 variant by my talented friend Eric Battle. The Mike "Lois Lane" Perkins variant. All glossy and textured. PDFs can't capture how beautifully the printing process presented Jesús Merino's art, Michael Atiyeh's colors and Dave Sharpe's letters. They definitely can't substitute for flipping through the book to check, in practice, the page-turn panels that Evan Narcisse and I wrote as deliberately as we could.
It's real. It happened. And all of it is thanks to Chris Conroy, the editor of DC Black Label, who, along with Marquis Draper, made it happen. I'm grateful forever to and for Chris and Marquis.
Show-and-prove time now.
SO IF YOU HAVEN'T read the issue, I'm not really going to spoil anything in what follows. I'm going to discuss a character who is neither Waller nor anyone from the WildStorm Universe. But she is a major part of this miniseries, and I want to talk about why I chose her for it.
However, if you want to go into WALLER VS. WILDSTORM #1 without knowing any of that, here's where you should close the email or the tab. I suppose I should mention that here on out will be major spoilers for "The Judas Contract," a story arc from Tales of the Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez (RIP) first published in 1984.
WALLER VS. WILDSTORM is set “out of continuity,” meaning it doesn't depend on strict adherence to the often confusing publication histories of the characters who appear in it. The story is complete unto itself. It concerns an intelligence agency set within the DC/WildStorm Universe. Accordingly, it required a senior intelligence official in a specific role relative to our two main characters, Amanda Waller and Stormwatch leader Jackson "Battalion" King. And so it's here we find Adeline Kane, a character I've been fascinated with since "The Judas Contract."
To summarize one of the defining arcs of a series-defining run: The terrifying mercenary Deathstroke initiates a long-planned endgame against the Titans, picking them off one by one. When things look bleakest, Dick Grayson finds that a stranger has effortlessly broken into Titans Tower and informs him that she knows Grayson is Robin. This middle-aged woman we've never met before explains that she's Deathstroke's ex-wife, and she would love to ruin his plans.
At this point in the Titans story, we flash back to the early 1960s to see Adeline as a U.S. Army captain. "It was before the deaths of the Kennedy brothers and King, when your wildest hopes and dreams were plucked like ripe fruit from the vine," she narrates to Dick, who is now listening to someone who broke into his home trauma-dump. Also Adeline is chaining cigs the whole time.
Anyway: Young Adeline is entrusted with a small-wars Army training program that Wolfman implies is a super-soldier enhancement thing. One of the recruits is Maj. Slade Wilson, and don't worry about him outranking Adeline, because she's ordering him around and it's hot. At one point during a training scenario she fully beats Slade in combat, which leads to them getting together, then getting married, before Slade deploys to Vietnam. There, Slade is wounded, prompting us to learn that a "medical experiment for resisting truth serums" has enhanced him, to the point where becoming a superpowered mercenary called Deathstroke is a viable option after his Army discharge. Hmm, Adeline never got around to specifying when Slade got that medical experiment. I sure found that an interesting ambiguity. Also, you'd have to be Dick Grayson to believe Adeline is telling Dick the full truth.
By far my favorite aspect of Adeline's backstory comes when she tells Slade, "My father was liaison to Mao Tse-Tung's [sic, it was the 80s] Chinese Communist guerilla fighters during the war." (And then, in what must have been the hottest thing Slade ever heard, she says, "I can pass on some of their techniques to you, if you're interested.") I absolutely love the idea that Adeline's dad was part of the controversial Dixie Mission in 1944, an ultimately fruitless effort at establishing a military relationship between the U.S. Army and Mao; and a historical counterfactual for the ages. Alternatively, it’s also fun to imagine that her father is based on someone who wasn't on the Dixie Mission and who succeeded where it failed: American communist and Army GI Sidney Rittenberg, the only American (excluding I suppose Edgar Snow, the only foreign reporter present for the Long March) in Mao's coterie. Kevin Knodell profiled Rittenberg, a unique figure who went from service to Mao to advising U.S. corporations on doing business in China, for this fantastic 2015 War Is Boring piece.
Anyway, one day Deathstroke crosses Carlos the Jackal. Carlos sends his goons to their home and Adeline holds them off—"My training alerted me. I was ready in less than a second"—but the goons still take their son. To Adeline's horror, Deathstroke puts a professional code above his child, leading to the boy getting his vocal cords slashed. When the villains are gone, Adeline, mad with grief and rage over Slade’s betrayal, tries to kill Slade by shooting him in the head at point-blank range, but only partially blinds him.
OK, one spoiler for WALLER VS. WILDSTORM: In our late-Cold-War story, Deathstroke has both his eyes.
What a character Adeline is! By the time we meet her in "The Judas Contract," her military career is over. And since combat arms professions were closed to Adeline's generation of servicewomen—the Army opened them to women only in 2016—the only way to understand what we see on panel is that her career must have been in military intelligence. In WALLER VS. WILDSTORM, we're going to see how Adeline operated with her career in full bloom, her ultimate goal within her grasp.
What would the sort of person who trains and then has children with Deathstroke do with power? What would this sort of person do with power when they are at their most potent? Without saying too much, what was the pre-divorce dynamic like between Adeline and Slade?
And what's the dynamic like between Adeline and Amanda? We get a small glimpse of it in issue 1. We'll get a whole lot more of it starting in issue 2.
IF YOU WANT MORE TALK ABOUT WALLER VS. WILDSTORM, Evan and I did an interview with Comics Beat's Zack Quaintance that talks about our collaboration, how the book came to be, our friendship and our approach to writing both Waller and the WildStorm characters who appear in the book. Evan says some very typically kind things about me, so let me say something I couldn't in the interview, since the Milestone 30th Anniversary book wasn't out yet: Evan's story in that issue—partially drawn by ChrisCross!—is a clinic in ensemble writing and storytelling that builds outward from the central themes of a comic-book universe. I'll echo what I told Zack: it was incredible to learn comics writing from Evan.
Another friend of mine, Elana Levin, did a long interview with me for her Graphic Policy Radio podcast. They're one of the people I most wanted to tell everything about this book to for the two years we developed it, since they're an Amanda Waller devotee. Elana's love for the book is extremely validating. This interview will spoil the book, although we have a spoiler-free section at the top. Yes, we also talk about Adeline Kane.
As we were putting this newsletter edition together, the first wave of reviews for the book rolled in. I'm honored that the early reception is this good. CBR's review is beyond what I could have hoped for, and includes lines like "This book has something to say and knows exactly how it wants to say it." AIPT gave us an 8.5 out of 10. GeekDad gives us 9 out of 10 and calls the book "experimental [and] bold."
And if you live in New York and want to get your issue of WALLER VS. WILDSTORM signed? Well. On Wednesday, March 29, I'll be signing for the first time ever at JHU Comics on Staten Island from 3:30pm-7pm. Then, on Wednesday, April 5—exact time still getting worked out—I'll be signing at Brooklyn's Bulletproof Comics in Flatbush and Anyone Comics in Crown Heights on Thursday, April 6, from 6pm-8pm. I'll probably bring some REIGN OF TERROR paperbacks for purchase/signing, too. Come say hi, and buy stuff from these shops!