Edited by Sam Thielman
PERHAPS YOU'VE READ the critical smash hit REIGN OF TERROR, now available in paperback. Maybe you found some aspects of it compelling. Other parts, maybe not. But you might have come away from the book with a question: How would REIGN OF TERROR's reported narrative about the destabilizing effects of an unleashed-but-internally-fractious Security State work in a superhero universe?
In November, you'll have an answer.
DC Comics is publishing WALLER VS. WILDSTORM, a four-issue miniseries that's a year-one for Suicide Squad mastermind Amanda Waller. You can think of Amanda as the Director of National Intelligence of the DC Universe. She's one of my all-time favorite comic characters. Viola Davis plays her in the movies/TV shows. Absolutely no pressure there.
For those unfamiliar with the term "year one," it means we're telling a story from the dawn of a character's career. It's not quite an origin story, but something close—a chance to see a character early on the path to their full power.
As the title suggests, we're setting Amanda's rise within the context of another of my all-time comics faves, Jim Lee's WildStorm Universe, an imprint that from 1992 to 2010 filtered superhero action through Security State depravity, government duplicity and corporate rapaciousness. I know, you're all shocked this would appeal to teenage/young adult me. (Why, yes, I was a Kickstarter backer of Joseph Hedges' Wild Times: An Oral History of WildStorm Studios.) You see that gorgeous Jorge Fornes (!!!!!!!) cover? Yes, one of our main characters is Jackson King, A.K.A. Battalion, the field leader of StormWatch.
You'll also notice that chessboard-and-knight logo on the cover. That's right—this is also a Checkmate book. And that's because WALLER VS. WILDSTORM falls under DC's prestige Black Label imprint, which allows me to place Checkmate, another of Amanda Waller’s secret organizations, within the WildStorm security apparatus, where I think it's a pretty natural fit? We're not doing strict continuity, we're doing vibes. Along those lines, I couldn't write this story without making use of another character that fits the WildStorm vibes—Deathstroke, whom the mercenaries' lobby insists I call a "private security contractor." But this book is more about Deathstroke's (now-ex) wife, Adeline Kane.
Finally, Jorge's cover also displays our other major protagonist: Lois Lane. I simply cannot believe this is happening. I got to write DC's titan of journalism, a character every bit as much an avatar of truth and probity as Wonder Woman is. (This also meant I got to apply influences from Greg Rucka's Lois maxiseries and his Checkmate series.) Issue 1 is a big Lois issue, and the book as a whole allowed me to work through some things I experienced during some of my early-career reporting from Iraq. I don't mind saying my treatment of Lois is personal as well as aspirational.
I DIDN'T BELIEVE I would ever write comics. I've been a comics reader for as long as I can read. But about a decade ago, a switch flipped in my mind that made me begin reading comics for craft, as I started wondering if I had it in me to write comics. A lot of false starts and difficulty gaining interest from editors put that aspiration to the test.
In 2018, I prevailed on one of the comics critics I respect the most, Evan Narcisse, to let me take him to lunch. Evan had just taken the leap into Big-Two comics writing with what I think is one of the best comics debuts you will ever read—the splash page of the first issue is an instant, enduring classic—Rise of The Black Panther, a Black Panther year-one. We became friends, and when I needed feedback on my pitch for this book, I turned to Evan—to the point where it made sense for him to co-write WALLER VS. WILDSTORM. That's a gift to the reader, but it's also been a gift to me, as I got to learn from Evan how a truly gifted comics writer scripts these things. And because everything's better with friends, it was just announced yesterday that Evan will be co-writing the second issue of the soon-to-be-released Wakanda mini-series with our other friend, Adam Serwer. (Also don't miss Evan writing Batman—Batman!!!—in the forthcoming Gotham Knights: Gilded City!)
The third author of WALLER VS WILDSTORM is the artist Eric Battle. I could rave about Eric's work and career, but I think a better testimonial will come in the form of his variant cover for the first issue. Get ready for this:
Yes, that's right, Eric's referencing Jim Lee’s 1993 cover for the very first issue of StormWatch. I wonder why!
This book—and my entrance into comics writing—would not have happened without Black Label editor Chris Conroy, with crucial assistance from Marquis Draper. Chris reached out after seeing a tweet shamelessly asking if anyone would be interested in an Amanda Waller year one from a national-security reporter that I knew was cringe the moment I ill-advisedly posted it. Did that ever pay off! Chris championed this project relentlessly—you'll notice in an earlier iteration it was a Suicide Squad book even though the story was always going to occur before the Suicide Squad—and convinced DC to produce it. He's a great guy and I can't thank him enough for making a literal dream of mine come true.
Here's Chris' capsule summary of the book, from the official DC announcement:
In the early 1980s, as the Cold War stubbornly refuses to thaw, a new battle heats up...for the soul of the intelligence agency Checkmate. As the agency’s super-heroic public face, Jackson King—a.k.a. The armored Battalion, former leader of Stormwatch and the symbol of American might—has long suspected that Adeline Kane is up to dirty tricks overseas, engineering horrors that betray everything he believes about service to one’s country. But King doesn’t know that Kane has a clever new ally—an ambitious young woman named Amanda Waller. She has her own ideas about how metahumans can serve their country. And honor, dignity, and long lives don’t factor into them... National-security reporter Spencer Ackerman (The Daily Beast, Reign of Terror), comics and video game writer Evan Narcisse (Black Panther, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Batman: Gotham Knights - Gilded City), and veteran artist Eric Battle (Aquaman, Kobalt) celebrate WildStorm’s legacy of espionage-flavored superhero morality plays, pitting Stormwatch against the deadliest people in the DCU—including Deathstroke himself!
THERE WILL BE MORE TO SAY about WALLER VS. WILDSTORM as we get closer to the release. Remember how Ta-Nehisi Coates used to take you behind the scenes of his classic Black Panther run? I want to do something like that with FOREVER WARS. This miniseries is by no means a departure from the work you see in this newsletter. It's every bit an extension of it, and when the time is right, I'd like to discuss that here.
But for now, please, pretty please, go to the nearest comics shop and ask them to pre-order you a copy of WALLER VS. WILDSTORM #1. Comic-book economics are really strange, but this is a crucial step to ensuring (a) you get your copy of the book and (b) the book doesn't flop. Comics stores have to order their—non-returnable—inventory in advance, which means they have to hear interest from readers like you in order to take a risk on a new title.
If you're someone who doesn't normally read comics, I'd ask you for one more thing while you're at the comics store. Browse around. Immerse yourself in a medium of boundless and varied creativity. Find something from one of the great American art forms that seems to speak to you, and buy it from one of these independent comics shops rather than Amazon, since every one of these shops is run by people who love comic books.