Stormwatch #8: Supercritical, part 2 (published by DC, written by Paul Jenkins, drawn by Ignacio Calero and Daniel Hor)
Paul Jenkins hasn’t been what I’d call a good writer in some time now. Could be his marginalization at Marvel (where he went from a star writer to working on the useless Front Line tie-ins to their annual crossovers), his health problems, good old fashioned burnout, or some combination of them; whatever the case, the writer of the Eisner-winning Inhumans mini-series, The Sentry, and Peter Parker: Spider-Man hasn’t written anything of that calibre in years. However, I’ve seen that Paul Jenkins surface in little bits and pieces, whether it’s the unexpected humanity of The Darkness video games (including the first game’s famous scene where the player watches To Kill a Mockingbird with their character’s girlfriend) or this issue of Stormwatch: with the black ops Stormwatch team preparing to stop an invasion of gravity-stealing aliens and rescue teammate Apollo, Midnighter (a violent, gay Batman analog who is in love with Apollo) and 12-year old super-genius Jenny Quantum have a brief chat about boys. It’s a small moment, humorous and a bit sweet, punctuated with two pairs of stat panels (where art gets reused), the kind of storytelling Jenkins made his specialty. It also serves a story purpose for later, hinted at when Midnighter quips “I’m just wondering if you understand the gravity of the current situation,” where he acts on a (somewhat justified) paranoid instinct.
The rest of the comic surrounding that moment is Jenkins riffing on the sci-fi themes of fellow Brit Warren Ellis, who was the primary voice for Stormwatch and its sequel The Authority back when Wildstorm was not yet owned by DC. Weird science, shady characters, and nontraditional relationships were the norm under Ellis. The Midnighter/Apollo relationship, which Ellis established, has actually been one of the better depictions of homosexuality in comics: the characters are neither role models (since they kill), nor are they caricatures prancing around for everyone to laugh at how gay they are.
What separates Jenkins from Ellis, however, is his sincerity. Ellis’ take on superheroes is usually to give them detached cool–see his stints on The Authority, Thunderbolts, or Iron Man–making them great action stars but not strong characters with interesting personalities. Jenkins scrapes below this would-be-Zen surface, looking for insecurities, like when the team’s new leader Engineer bemoans how her first day on the job has gone awry while still putting on the appearance of gritty determination. It doesn’t hold a candle to the cathartic laughter Peter Parker had after being splashed with mud at the conclusion of the soul-crushing Peter Parker: Spider-Man #20, brilliantly illustrated by Mark Buckingham, but artists Ignacio Calero and Daniel Hor do commendable work with Jenkins’ characterization, particularly with facial expressions. The issue’s highlight is pages 24 and 25, where Midnighter attempts to play Ellis-cool, only to be visibly dismayed when he finds out a plan of his backfired. In the same scene, look at how they depict Jenny Quantum in this scene as well–a 12-year old doing her best Raymond Burr impression, all glowering and arms folded across her chest–which adds to the series’ black humor. The duo play off Jenkins’ characterization while continuing the series’ visual solidarity with creator Jim Lee’s grittiness and Bryan Hitch’s pseudo-realism, the two defining elements of the Wildstorm universe Stormwatch hails from.
Not too long ago, I’d begun to think that Jenkins was never going to write another good comic, thanks to Batman: The Dark Knight (which he co-writes with artist David Finch) being a slog to get through. This issue, just off the strength of the interaction between Midnighter and Jenny, shows I’d underestimated him, something that I suspect he’s gotten used to in this industry.