Posted by: erikmona | September 16, 2011

NEW 52 REVIEW 13: Stormwatch #1

Stormwatch #1
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artist: Miguel Sepulveda

When I first heard about DC’s New 52 “soft reboot,” I figured it would more or less be the same sort of summer mega-crossover event that I grew so suspicious of during my years away from comics. I appreciated the audacity of starting everything over with new #1s, and I was a bit curious about how they might update classic characters, but the thing that really kicked my interest into overdrive was the notion that with this event, Jim Lee’s Wildstorm universe would be pulled into proper DC continuity.

Long after I’d essentially given up on mainstream superhero comics, the Wildstorm universe kept me interested. I’d long been a fan of Stormwatch specifically, and remember it as the stand-out series of the original Image comics. In large part due to its huge cast of characters and willingness to knock off some of them from time to time, Stormwatch featured some of the coolest costume designs and character concepts of the early 1990s.

Jackson King, the psychic who started the series as the team’s field commander, eventually became the leader of the entire Stormwatch organization that supported field operations, taking over the role of Weatherman from a floating mega-HQ. Notable characters like Fuji and Winter came across as something more substantial conceptually than a lot of characters in, say, Youngblood, which were mostly derivative of existing Marvel and DC characters.

And along came writer Warren Ellis, who gave the neat character designs actual character in a memorable run on the series. Ellis famously murdered the entire Stormwatch field team (off camera and in an Aliens movie tie-in, no less) and replaced them with newer agents of his own creation. These characters evolved into their own super-team, the Authority.

In what I consider the definitive take on a modern super-hero team, Ellis’s Authority was full of big ideas and imaginative action that had a huge influence on comics for many years. Though diminished by Ellis moving on to other things, the Authority remained the spine of Wildstorm’s universe for years, right up until the end.

Now, Stormwatch is a part of the official DC Universe as a sort of covert action team (heh) that has existed for centuries. In fact, they’ve existed so long that one panel showing scenes from the team’s past incarnations shows that the Medieval team currently starring in Week 2’s Demon Knights was in fact a past version of Stormwatch.

The same montage reveals some new details. Stormwatch are not cast as heroes, but rather as warriors. And as a new twist, they’re now managed by a mysterious cabal known as a “shadow cabinet” of the dead. Lots of possibilities there.

Since the UN Superteam role that defined the original Stormwatch has been filled by Justice League International, this team looks and acts almost exactly like the Authority. Almost exactly like the Warren Ellis Authority (as opposed to other more recent slight variations on the theme), which I consider a great thing.

Team member wise, we’re basically talking about the Authority as well. We’ve got the nano-machine cyborg woman known as the Engineer, “century baby” Jenny Quantum (whose powers are tied to the dominant energy source of this century, whatever that will turn out to be), an immortal named Adam (who I suspect is actually the Biblical Adam), a new energy-sword-wielding hero named Harry Tanner, media-elemental the Projectionist (also new), city-manipulator Jack Hawksmoor, Superman-level metahuman Apollo, and combat expert the Midnighter.

Oh, and Martian Manhunter.

“I AM known in some quarters as a hero,” says the Manhunter, “I can wear that shape. But when I need to be a warrior, I do it with Stormwatch.”

It’s established that Martian Manhunter is a member of the Justice League, or at least was at some time (presumably in the “five years” between this week’s Justice League #1 origin story and the modern day of the new DCU).

Cornell’s script brims with the kind of big ideas that set the Authority apart from other superhero team books and made it something special. You see, the Moon is growing a giant claw to menace the Earth because it has been inhabited and animated by a giant eyeball. The eyeball has come in advance of some terrible cosmic menace, and he wants to temper the planet with fire and destruction to make it strong enough to face what is next.

Awesome. There’s also a subplot about a giant worm in the Himalayas, but it’s clearly set-up for the next issue. The rest of the book features Jack Hawksmoor, the Projectionist, and the Martian Manhunter attempting to recruit Apollo, who is very possibly the most powerful creature on the planet, but who has been squandering his talents roughing up wife-beaters and such.

The art never reaches the heights of Bryan Hitch’s beautiful imagery from the original Ellis Authority run, but it’s up to the challenges of the script and occasionally looks quite nice. Sepulveda seems equally comfortable drawing fistfights and swordplay as he is drawing facial expressions during conversations, which makes me think he’s a good choice for the book.

In terms of visuals, the Engineer looks exactly the same, as does Jack Hawksmoor. Martian Manhunter looks slightly more menacing, with a Star Trek Voyager kind of look to his head that’s a hybrid between his traditional look and his “alien” appearance. Projectionist, Jenny Quantum, and Adam don’t really wear costumes. Harry is in a sort of space suit (but his energy swords look cool).

Apollo’s costume is a variation on the original, but the Midnighter has taken a pretty significant step backwards in terms of look. I’m hoping he reverts to his more traditional look, complete with the trench coat when appropriate.

The multi-century backstory will strengthen the bond between this new Stormwatch and the DCU proper, and I suspect we’ll be seeing all sorts of historical characters who could have been members. The Viking Prince. Enemy Ace. Stuff like that. Plenty of possibilities, there. Thanks to Demon Knights it looks like Stormwatch’s past members already include the Demon Etrigan, Madame Xanadu, the Shining Knight, and Vandal Savage, so the past of the DCU got a whole lot more interesting with Stormwatch in it.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this incarnation of the team develops. So far it’s a good fit despite the changes, and I think this will ultimately be viewed as one of the more successful elements of the New 52.

Status: Safe.

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