Collecting all six issues of the Wisdom miniseries.
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artists: Trevor Hairsine, Manuel Garcia (p), Paul Neary, Trevor Hairsine, Mark Farmer (i), GURU eFX (colours)
Wisdom is one of those pleasant surprises that don't come along very often. I had absolutely no expectations for the series before I read it. In fact, I didn't even know that it was going to be released.
I had no prior knowledge of the book's central character, sometime X-Man Pete Wisdom, and I had no previous experience of the work of writer Paul Cornell (whose Dr. Who stories I have since enjoyed hugely). However, upon reading the book's first issue on a whim, I found myself hugely entertained. As I continued to pick up the series, I continued to be impressed by how much I was enjoying a title that had at first been such an unknown quantity for me.
Despite being published under the "MAX" imprint (for “mature” readers), Wisdom is actually a fairly gentle and peculiarly charming miniseries. Yes, it occasionally punctuates moments of high emotion with the odd swear word or two, but it provides far more in the way of character comedy and silly, offbeat story ideas than it does “adult” diversions.
Cornell creates a fully-realised world from the very first issue, situating Pete Wisdom in a secret agency of the British government (MI-13) which is tasked with solving the more fantastical problems that the country has to face.
Wisdom's team is made up of four other characters, newly created for the book by Cornell: Captain Midlands, a middle-aged British version of Captain America with a Brummie accent and a grumpy attitude; Tink, a "Fairy Dissident"; John the Skrull, a Skrull double of John Lennon; and Maureen Raven, a psychic.
All of these characters have their moments to shine (often to comedic effect) over the course of the six issues, and Cornell's skillful writing also manages to render each one of them sympathetic and well-rounded as Pete takes them on various adventures throughout the miniseries. In some ways, I was reminded of Warren Ellis’s Planetary by the constant stream of outlandish ideas and unpredictable plots that Cornell seems intent on working into his stories.
However, there's levity too, as the writer successfully mines a very British seam of humour. The result is a book that never seems to be taking itself too seriously. (My favourite moments come from the Beatles-related antics of John the Skrull, but there are some other great comedy moments and references in there too.)
That said, the plotlines aren't completely flippant or glib either--and, as the miniseries begins to draw to a close, the stakes become higher and there's a genuine sense of jeopardy that makes you realise how invested you've become in the characters.
What initially seems to be a series of unconnected one-shot issues soon shows itself to be an unexpectedly well-constructed tale. The development of Pete's romantic relationships with Tink and Maureen is deftly developed as the series progresses, and the surprise reveal of the final issue's villains is actually subtly telegraphed a few times earlier in the story.
When the final heartbreaking revelation comes, it's as surprising for the powerful feelings it evokes as for the unpredictable nature of the plot development itself, and the ability to balance the delicate mix of comedy, drama, character work, and action should mark Cornell as a writer who deserves to find bigger projects that are worthy of his talents.
The artwork for the first couple of issues is provided by Trevor Hairsine. I've become a fan of Hairsine since reading his work on Ultimate Six and Ultimate Nightmare, and his style fits Wisdom perfectly, with his realistic visuals (his work invites comparison to that of Bryan Hitch) enhancing his writer's wacky concepts by always playing things dead straight--and thus making all the silliness even more fun.
Whether illustrating a surprise raid on the fairy kingdom by a military attack force, or a fight between giants who have tiny countryside villages perched atop their heads, Hairsine copes with the bizarre demands of Cornell's script with aplomb, turning in some very memorable visuals that always do the larger-than-life concepts justice.
From issue #3 onwards, however, Manuel Garcia takes over the art. Even if his style is a little more slick, it's also more cartoonish and exaggerated, and it somehow doesn't fit the material quite as well as Hairsine's. However, Garcia still has a strong handle on the characters and an ability to pull off the offbeat humour, which allows the book to continue along the same path without too much disruption.
Garcia is also accomplished enough to handle the numerous new characters and concepts that Cornell throws at him without any noticeable drop in quality (all the way up to the perfectly-judged final scene between Pete and Maureen), and the colouring of GURU eFX keeps the texture of the book consistent during the transition between the two artists.
I'd encourage anyone who enjoys the imaginative excesses of comics but who also looks for a level of emotional sophistication to check out Wisdom, as it marries a old-fashioned Silver Age exuberance to a slightly more adult tone to create a series that is fun on more than just one level.
I don't doubt that Cornell will go on to bigger and better things, and the artwork is strong enough that even casually interested readers will find themselves sucked into the book if they give it a glance. Wisdom is one of Marvel's lesser-trumpeted successes, and it deserves to find a wider audience in trade paperback form.
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