By Sara Century
Wetworks is a concept created by longtime WildC.A.T.S scribe Brandon Choi and former Uncanny X-Men artist Whilce Portacio, who had left Marvel and joined the Image Comics team without actually becoming an official partner in the company. Intended to debut in 1992 alongside the other core Image titles (Cyberforce, WildC.A.T.S, Youngblood, Spawn, and Savage Dragon), Wetworks was put on hold until 1994 due to a death in Portacio’s family. At last count, it had two separate series at a combined fifty-eight issues, which is a fairly lengthy run in the world of superhero comics.
Yet it barely made a mark on the Wildstorm imprint to which it belonged. The characters seldom appeared in crossovers with the greater Wildstorm Universe, which placed it squarely within and beholden to a continuity that it barely interacted with outside of its Team 7 origins.
Of all the early Image releases, Wetworks is an easy one to overlook. It is one of the last books to come up in discussions of the early days of Image, and it is a series that its creators quickly outdistanced creatively. From beginning to end, it feels like a bit of an anomaly. Still, reading this comic is a lot like watching a goofy action movie from the same time, so it’s not without its era-specific charm.
The debut issue follows an obviously doomed mission led by former Team 7 member Colonel Dane, who, despite his history, does not possess the foresight to decline an obvious suicide mission. The cast of characters is difficult to tell apart from one another physically outside of haircuts, a problem that is only exacerbated by generic code names like Crossbones, Flattop, and Dozer. They enter a facility that they have been sent to destroy only to discover that they have been double-crossed by their own standard clearly malevolent overseers. Yet, the base holds within it a secret – a non carbon-based lifeform.
This is a golden symbiote that merges with the team to save their lives when the room explodes. This turn of events leads the team to declare revenge on the people that sent them to die with a “they’ve taken their best shot – this time, it’s our turn!” thrown in for good measure.
These story beats are nothing that you couldn’t find outside of any action film or comic of the time, but the merge of so many tropes into one might have made for a more interesting series than we ultimately got. Instead, Wetworks mostly meandered through its run, with both Portacio and Choi departing by the time the thirteenth issue of the book hit the stands. In the modern age, with Wildstorm having been merged with the DC Universe, Wetworks has all but vanished. Still, The Pilgrim did make an appearance in the CW’s Legends of Tomorrow, so it can’t be said that there was no impact at all.
Among the many baffling things about this first issue is the name, which I had to look up in order to understand. The term “wetwork” is apparently a military term that refers to a job that entails the spilling of blood, and finds its home with the KGB’s Spetsbureau 13, “the operation of wet affairs” that existed to kill those considered to be traitors of the Soviet Union.
There is a CIA counterpoint to this, but, unsurprisingly, both organizations are fairly difficult to find much information on.
This is certainly a wild thing to draw a name from, but it suits the incredibly pro-military vibe of the book (and of early Wildstorm in general).
Unfortunately, there isn’t really much else to say about Wetworks #1. Like so many early Image releases, it feels rushed despite its late release. It draws from a handful of conflicting tropes, managing to be both anti-authority and pro-military in the same breath. It is dialogue-heavy despite being light on plot and characterization, the word bubbles are too full alongside the detail-heavy art, the characters all look the same, and the pages are a bit of a mess.
At the same time, this was a comic that was meant to capture a moment rather than stand the test of time, and for kids in comic shops in 1994, it’s easy to see why this issue would have been a top seller. The vibe does fit with the other Image titles of the era, which were incredibly successful despite their many flaws.
In the end, Wetworks might go mostly forgotten for good reason, but it can’t be said that it didn’t meet the demands of its market. Looking back on it as a critic is almost to miss the point of the in-the-moment excitement of its release, but as a cohesive story, suffice it to say that it leaves something to be desired.
Plot & Pencils: Whilce Portacio
Plot & Dialogue: Brandon Choi
Inks: Scott Williams
Letters: Bill Oakley
Colours: Joe Chiodo
Sara Century has written for several websites, but is most prominently one of the writers over at SYFYWire and co-hosts the Bitches on Comics podcast. You can find her website here which has more links to her work, and follow her on Twitter here!
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