Technology may be the ultimate double-edged sword. There’s no doubt it’s made life easier and allowed us as a society to accomplish so much beyond what we once would have thought possible. It keeps us connected, informed and entertained. It can save lives, transport us around the globe and drive national economies. But as we’ve become more and more dependent on it, we’ve found that it also leaves us vulnerable to new forms of attack. Cyberwarfare, malware…even a simple loss of power that keeps us from accessing crucial systems could yield devastating results.
I was reminded of this a few times while reading the thrilling third issue of The Wild Storm, which opens with a surreal electronic trip alongside the newly introduced Jenny Sparks before concluding with a tense confrontation that shows the surprising complexity technology can bring to something as straightforward as a gun battle. Technology is at the heart of everything within The Wild Storm, from the cutting-edge drysuit wielded by Angela Spica to the gizmos and gadgets cranked out by the organization trying to rescue her. If control and domination are the end goals in Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt’s series, technology is the means of obtaining it.
Yet, one of the great things about technology is its tendency to equalize—it levels the playing field. Anyone, regardless of status or wealth, can have a website, podcast or livestream. One savvy person can bring down complex systems or hack into highly protected databases. Individuals can undermine the work of hundreds in the realm of technology, and it’s possible we’re seeing this emerge in The Wild Storm.
While she only appears in a few pages and is never referred to by name, Jenny Sparks clearly knows much about the shadowy organizations battling within these pages, and it’s not hard to understand why. Possessing the ability to travel within electrical screens, she can look in on any place with a computer, tablet, smart phone or television. She’s taking advantage of our reliance on technology in a startling new way, and in a way that the people of IO and HALO likely would never anticipate. She’s not infiltrating their billion-dollar networks, she’s breezing through their personal phones and breakroom TVs. Jenny is using the things we look at for entertainment to peer in on us, and she’s gained a breathtaking amount of information from it.
It’s interesting, and a little scary, to think about the real world parallels of this. The notion of online privacy has been in the news a lot lately, and in The Wild Storm, Ellis is building on the idea that anyone who’s plugged in is never really secure. You never know who might be watching you, and even the most secure facilities, hidden behind the most powerful firewalls in existence, are vulnerable. The attack will come from where you least expect it and will be powerfully armed with knowledge that was provided unknowingly by you.
While Ms. Sparks may prey on people’s unawareness, the two CATs (Covert Action Teams) that go at it in the issue’s climax are prepared for resistance. Both are skilled, trained and fully capable, and if this were a one-on-one skirmish using traditional methods, predicting the result would probably be a coin flip. But nothing is traditional in The Wild Storm, and while IO’s Razor CATs would seem to have the advantage based on appearance alone, it becomes clear early on that they’re greatly outmatched by Kenesha, Cole and Angela (though we can only hope that Adrianna Tereshkova isn’t quite as dead as she appears at the end of the issue).
HALO’s team of agents, referred to as a “Wild CAT” by IO, clearly have abilities beyond that of normal humans. While we don’t know why Cole can redirect grenades with bullets and Adrianna can teleport, their abilities give them an edge that catches IO by surprise. (It’s the second time that IO’s been taken by surprise in this series, and you get the sense that they don’t deal all too well with it.) True, the Wild CAT’s advantage is supplemented by technology—Angela’s suit is clearly not supernatural in nature. However, in this battle, technology by itself doesn’t cut it.
Is Ellis making a broader point with this beyond trying to entertain us? As a reader, I can only speculate. But if there’s a conclusion to be drawn from Jenny Sparks’ cyber-spying and the Razor CAT’s sound defeat, it’s that depending on technology alone can be a losing strategy in this game of extremely high stakes.
Either way, I think I’ll continue reading this amazing series in good, old fashioned print.