Review: Stormwatch #1
Stormwatch #1 is part of one of the more interesting moves in DC’s current line-wide relaunch, with the official integration of the Wildstorm titles into the DCnU proper. This could be seen as following up on hints already dropped in the likes of 52 and Final Crisis that it was yet another neighouring alternate earth. So far we are only seeing Stormwatch, Grifter and Voodoo, but, with any luck, other concepts from Jim Lee’s stable will be revamped. Sadly, with the current idea of the relaunch focusing on a five-year public presence of superheroes, there’s probably no room for Gail Simone’s excellent Welcome to Tranquility, given that the entire premise is based around senior citizen superhumans.
When Warren Ellis took the ailing Stormwatch title and reinvented it as The Authority, the series was transformed into a thrilling raised middle-finger to the tired cliches of the late-90’s superhero comic scene. Jim Lee’s original title had been pitched as a ‘darker’ version of the JLA, whereas Ellis kicked the game board over and asked the question what if a group of superhumans decided to change the world by force?
As such, this is the third major reinvention of Stormwatch premise, with Paul Cornell saddled with the unenviable task of trying to wrap these characters into DC fold and live up to the promise of Ellis’ book where the nominal heroes were super-fascists – and they were the good guys! Sadly, he does not quite manage to achieve either.
Stormwatch wears its ambition on its sleeve, with a number of plots being launched simultaneously out of the gate. The team sets about trying to recruit Apollo, described by J’onn J’onzz as the Superman-expy the team needs (somewhat on the nose given the character is usually described as ‘the gay Superman’). They in turn are being tracked by the Midnighter, who has his own plans for Apollo. Meanwhile, the rest of the team are attempting to monitor a situation on the Moon, where new character The Eminence of Blades has come face to face with an alien entity. It also appears as if a plotline from the *other* Superman title from George Perez and Jesus Merino is being followed up on here as well.
So, plenty going on here for a first issue, but it is instructive to compare Stormwatch with Jonathan Hickman’s Ultimates #1. The key difference between the two books? Exposition! Whatever break-neck momentum this book was aiming for, it is repeatedly grounded by prosaic asides to the reader, with characters describing their own powers and what their role is in the team. When Ellis first introduced Jenny Sparks she impressed us with her no-nonsense attitude and pyrotechnic abilities. Her successor, Jenny Quantum, is lectured at in this issue by a mentor figure, explaining the nature of ‘century babies’. This entire approach to the world of Stormwatch feels like the mad, bad and dangerous notions of the Ellis-era have been straitjacketed by concerns over not confusing the fickle comic reader.
Another point of concern is the brief mentioning of the Martian Manhunter’s career with the JLA. This raises questions as to how secretive Stormwatch is supposed to be. Jack Hawksmoor explains to Apollo that they are not superheroes – they exist in secret and use different methods. But if J’onn is with them, hasn’t his absence been noted? Would it not have made more sense for him to have never been a superhero himself? Given that Stormwatch is established here as being a centuries-old organisation, he could have joined them decades ago when he first arrived on Earth.
Now, criticizing anything by Cornell feels like kicking a puppy. An eloquent, well-meaning puppy. But, even if it was the case that he was forced to labour on this script under restrictive editorial conditions, a greater effort could have been made to accommodate all the elements in play here. One positive I took from this book was a brief glimpse of a shadowy organization that lies behind the fairly-shadowy-in-their-own-right Stormwatch. Could we soon be seeing the return of Planetary to comics? I also love the typically whimsical notion of Cornell’s that Apollo receives his name from a work of slashfic.
It is not too late for this book – surely now that the exposition has been dealt with the meat and potatoes of mind-bending plots can be unleashed – but the concern is that, instead of being made less confusing for readers unfamiliar with the Wildstorm universe, this relaunch has only succeeded in killing off whatever interest the premise held.