SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Stormwatch #1

A comic review article by: The Firing Squad
The Moon is angry! There's a giant worm! Apollo doesn't want to play nice! Midnighter beats everyone up! ... and introducing the Martian Manhunter as himself!

Shawn Hill:
Chris Kiser:
Jason Sacks:
Dave Wallace:




Shawn Hill:

Oh, the Authority. Warren Ellis's way of freaking out the powers that be, symbolically, figuratively and literally when it came to DC Comics. Ever since stumbling to the extent that they did with the initial series, they've had a hard time recapturing the magic by neutering all the subversion that was such an integral part of it. Seems like everyone has tossed their hat in for awhile: Keith Giffen, Ed Brubaker, Grant Morrison, Christos Gage -- Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning even did a run I never even noticed, apparently. Of them all, Morrison made a promising but abortive restart, and I thought Gage acquitted himself well in a carefully limited playing field.

But I ended up doubting that DC could find anything of worth to bring into the New 52, and somehow merge with the more iconic Justice League (or at least Martian Manhunter), who seemed from the iffy preview art to have been shuffled off to the outskirts to try and sell a minor title. I mean, how well could they work in a universe where the Justice League is taken seriously, since they are pretty much a parody of such traditional virtues and values?



But Cornell and Sepulveda surprise me, first by taking it slow. The Authority has gotten their reboot, too, in that they haven't formed yet. Or at least Stormwatch (which was their parent organization in the original incarnation) hasn't recruited the full team yet. This issue we see them trying to go after the rogue Apollo. And Midnighter also seems to be off their radar, though we've got the Engineer and Jenny Quantum and Jack Hawksmoor (none of whom you'd really want to mess with if you mean to recapture anything of the original), plus a few newbies and J'onn J'onzz.

Cornell has an idea of how to capture their absolute poise and confidence, giving them a clandestine version of the "authority" they once wielded so openly. They're super-hero secret agents, as Stormwatch was always meant to be.

The new characters don't grate, but what really makes an impression is Sepulveda's sense of scale. He has to make J'onn scary, show the moon threatening earth, and depict a god-like artifact in the Himalayas, and damned if he doesn't channel a bit of the old Authority-style sense of widescreen awe. Some of the figure work is a little stiff, but it's nothing much worse than the early days of Mike McKone or J. Calafiore, both of whom eventually turned their cartoonish qualities to great advantage.



Of course, the basic question is one of subtext, and one that the promotion for the title studiously ignores: are Apollo and Midnighter still gay? There was a time when DC was very skittish about a sun god and a knight guardian falling in love, but according to Cornell, that time has passed. Though Midnighter has a silly new costume and Apollo is a scrappy loner, the author promises that they we will see their love story unfold. While this reboot jettisons their origin story as heroes on the run from those who injected them with alien tech and meant to exploit them, it may be worth it to finally see such a story unfold in the mainstream DC universe rather than in a neglected alternative reality.



Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.



Chris Kiser:

When DC announced Stormwatch as one of its new, post-relaunch series, it seemed almost a given that the book to come wasn't going to much resemble the Warren Ellis version once published by Wildstorm, nor its evolutionary descendant, The Authority. Even in a world without the Comics Code, the libertine sexual promiscuity of the characters in the initial run was unlikely to pass muster in a book marketed as mainstream. More importantly, however, was the incompatibility of Ellis's biting commentary on superheroes (that they were either too dangerous or too ineffective, depending on your interpretation) with DC's overarching goals as a publisher. After all, you can't exactly be trying to convince the public at large of the coolness of superhero comics while simultaneously making fun of them.

From the looks of this first issue, Paul Cornell realizes the need for adaptation in bringing Stormwatch to the DCU, though he thankfully doesn't throw all of Ellis's original contributions out the window. The redesigned concept for the team puts it forth as a secret line of defense for the planet Earth, not a band of would-be conquerors as it was during the Wildstorm years. Still, Ellis's voice for the group remains intact, a sizzling, snappy dialogue that keeps the book stylish and smart. The members of Cornell's Stormwatch quibble with each other nonstop and regularly brag about their largely abstract power sets (in turn expositing them for the reader). They're the kind of folk whose idea of a good time involves "killing every evil bastard on the planet."



Plot-wise, this debut is split into two parts, with one half of the team investigating a cosmic threat originating on the moon while the other tries to recruit the superhuman powerhouse Apollo into its ranks. The former thread in particular is packed to the brim with wild, heady concepts explained by the characters very manner-of-factly, much like it was in Grant Morrison's JLA. This may not be the ideal place for it, but it's nice to see at least one of the New 52 functioning like a quality Justice League comic.

Miguel Sepulveda is a fine addition to the book, a solid artist who doesn't really imbue the work with a high sense of personal style. His approach is one of realism and high detail, like something you might have expected coming from Wildstorm in the early 2000s. The texture of his stuff appears highly susceptible to Allen Passalaqua's colors, though, suggesting that a bit of digital inking may have been performed for at least some of the pages. Under ideal circumstances, the process would have been kept under tighter control so as to better hold the book together visually, but the finished product is certainly acceptable enough.



On the whole, Stormwatch doesn't break any new ground, but it certainly doesn't feel like something old, either. This isn't another '80s or '80s rehash, and that alone separates it from the middle of the DC pack. Like Ellis before him, Cornell shows us all that he definitely has the chops to create 21st Century comics.



Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found as @Chris_Kiser!



Jason Sacks:

I gotta admit, I'm a little bit crazy. Or perverse, Maybe masochistic is the word for me.

But when I took five minutes out of my busy workday on Wednesday to decide which of the new DCnU titles to download from Comixology onto my iPad (yeah I love the digital comics, not least because I don't have to worry about filling my longboxes -- but that's a topic for another essay), I looked at the three-page preview of Stormwatch and kind of shuddered. Could the comic possibly be as bad as it looked? Could the whole comic be so insanely full of exposition as the preview pages? If the full comic was that exposition crazy as that wee preview, this comic had the potential to be the most incredibly awesome trainwreck of the DCnU, a complete creative stillborn clusterfuck that would instantly sink to the bottom of any blogger's list of best DCnU titles.



I'm equal parts sorry and happy to report to you, dear reader, that this comic is neither as bad nor nearly as good as it could have been. I hoped that Stormwatch #1 would either be transcendently awful or awesomely transcendent, but this comic is just kind of an inert, weird, dull blob of exposition occasionally punctuated with some vaguely interesting and mediocre scenes.

In other words, Stormwatch #1 is just a really, really blah comic book.

The thing of it is, in a week where Grant Morrison elegantly created scene and setting with a minimum of exposition in Action Comics and Jeff Lemire did a beautiful job setting up family relationships in Animal Man, Stormwatch brings us Paul Cornell hammering readers over our soft little skulls with an overwhelming flood of exposition.

Exposition, exposition, exposition. Everybody explains every damn little thing in the book. It' so new-reader-friendly that it drove me away.



The overwhelming amount of exposition totally sucks the fucking life out of this book. Cornell has enough trouble trying to convince readers that we should be interested in this collection of vaguely interesting characters for whom those of us in the cult of comic book geeks have fairly pleasant memories of transgressive awesomeness that appeared not just before 9/11, but actually during the second Bill Clinton administration, when everything wasn't completely political, the economy wasn't fucked, and we actually all liked transgressive super-heroes instead of ones that are reliving our old childhood memories again and again like a bunch of fucking emotional retards.

And now Stormwatch is part of that vague refresh of our childhood memories, or for some of us our memories of our 30s when our kids were young but that's okay because they're now starting college. It's a repeat, a rerun, a recapitulation of all that we found transgressive and exciting and dangerous back in 1999, only now it's safe because we've had more transgressive comics appear since then. The center of the old Authority comics, which this is vaguely a reboot of, famously had at its center a gay relationship between a Superman analogue and a Batman analogue. Back in the day that sounded exciting and cool, a spit in the face of fucking Frederic Wertham, saying yeah, asshole, you said that comics were dangerous because wearing a superhero suit doesn't mean you can't be gay, but now that message or point just feels kind of plain and mainstream.

And then what does Paul Cornell do with that one bit of characterization that people really care about in the former Wildstorm Universe? Not a damn thing. That might come as this series, I guess, but in the goddamn exhausting exposition hammering that Cornell delivers like Gerry Conway on '70s writing steroids in a misbegotten super-hero slugfest reminiscent of about a hundred old issues of Marvel Team-Up (ooh, how refreshing) , we get everything but an exploration of our heroes' sexuality.



Instead we get characters sharing exposition in their spaceship, characters sharing exposition during a battle with each other, characters sharing exposition as they wander the Himalayas, and a giant eye creature sharing exposition with a hero in the middle of the moon.

That scene with the goon on the moon (bonus points for anyone who gets that comic reference) might be the most painful in the book. Readers as supposed to be overwhelmed and excited by the giant eye and its threats of an alien invasion, but instead we're overwhelmed by ennui as the scene drags and draws to a thoroughly uninvolving conclusion.

There's no artfulness to this comic. There's no grace, no sense of wonder, no chance for the reader to become intrigued by the mysteries, because there really are no goddamn mysteries. All the excitement is killed dead by the endless exposition. There's nothing that makes me want to come back to this comic.



Jason Sacks has been obsessed with comics for longer than he'd like to remember. He considers himself a student of comics history and loves delving into obscure corners of this crazy artform. Jason has been writing for this site for about seven years and has also been published in a number of fan publications, including the late, lamented Amazing Heroes and The Flash Companion. He lives in north Seattle with his wife and three kids.



Dave Wallace:

Of all of the debut issues of the DC relaunch that I've read so far, Stormwatch feels like it's off to the slowest start. That's not necessarily a bad thing: a team book takes a little more setting up than a solo title, and writer Paul Cornell also has the difficult task of incorporating a team of Wildstorm characters into the new DC universe in a way that not only feels natural for long-term fans, but which is accessible for new readers, whilst also making for a good story in itself.

Cornell manages to tick most of these boxes well, but I can't deny that I wish a little more happened in this opening issue.

Don't get me wrong, I think many of the objectives of this first issue are accomplished well. The transition to the DC universe doesn't feel jarring, with Cornell succeeding in immediately establishing the niche of the team in a world that also features the likes of the JLA. The involvement of Martian Manhunter with the group also manages to feel fairly natural, and there are some intriguing hints of links with other DC titles, including Cornell's own Demon Knights (although I could have probably done without a Superman-related footnote on the very first page directing me to read a title that hasn't even come out yet).

There's a surprising and expectation-defying setup of the roles of Apollo and Midnighter in this version of the team, and Cornell also manages to provide a large-scale threat against which the group can react, carrying over some of the unpredictability of those classic large-scale Authority stories into the DCU with a slightly more absurd twist:



However, the book never quite manages to shed the sense that all of these elements are being 'ticked off' in order to set up a book that hasn't really got going yet. Whilst I can appreciate Cornell's skill in putting all of these pieces together, the one thing that's missing is a story I can really care about. Hopefully, that will come in time.

In the meantime, there's some superficial enjoyment to be gleaned from the work of artist Miguel Sepulvida. Whilst his general panel-to-panel storytelling is pretty unremarkable (and virtually indistinguishable in my mind from many other superhero artists working today), he manages to save his best work for the issue's biggest moments--such as the image of the giant horn that's going to play an important role in the story, or the scene in which the Martian Manhunter shows off his powers.



These images suggest that, with time, Sepulvida's work could develop to a higher level at which the whole book will look as good as these individual moments. Who knows, perhaps this could be his breakout title.

For the time being, though, his work doesn't manage to overcome the slight sense of inertness in a story that's otherwise perfectly functional, and which creates a decent enough home for these Wildstorm refugees.

I'm sure some devoted fans of the original Stormwatch and The Authority will bemoan the loss of the individuality of these characters, and will claim that they've been defanged by incorporating them into the DCU -- but for me this is more interesting than simply trying to rehash their past glories. It's not a great book yet, but there's potential here.



A journalist and sometime comics reviewer, Dave Wallace was raised on a traditional European diet of Beano comics, Asterix collections and Tintin books before growing up and discovering that sequential art could -- occasionally -- be even better than that. He has an unashamed soft spot for time-travel stories, Spider-Man, and anything by Alan Moore or Grant Morrison, and has been known to spend far too much on luxurious hardcover editions of his favorite books when it's something he really likes. Maybe one day he'll get around to writing down his own stories that have been knocking around his head for a while now.

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