Stormwatch Vol. 1 (DC/Wildstorm)


Rating: 3.5/5 – Enjoyable team book intrigue from the vault.

Time to step into the time machine and go back to the last century, 1999 to be specific.  In the interests of full disclosure, this was my first exposure to these comics as I had a bit of a lost decade or so in my comic reading from 1993ish to around 2005 or so.  To make this matter even more confusing, Stormwatch was originally a property of the comic book publishing company Wildstorm, which was Jim Lee’s baby.  DC purchased the company and Jim Lee’s name should be familiar to current readers as he is the co-publisher of DC comics.  I am undertaking a fairly comprehensive reading of Stormwatch and its successor the Authority via collected editions.  Going into this matter, I blindly placed my order via Amazon for a series of more than 20 trades.  This is not your new 52 Stormwatch.

Here we start with Volume One.  Volume One collects issues 37-47.  I am sure there are great reasons why volume 1 does not start with the first issue but this is just one more example of how comics make themselves more complicated than necessary. (An aside from Bob: Issue #37 was Warren Ellis’ 1st issue, this is the point that most people regard Stormwatch as “getting good”, thus starting the TPB reprints at Ellis’ 1st issue makes some amount of sense).

The credits for this volume are Warren Ellis, Story; Tom Raney, Jim Lee with Pete Woods and Michael Ryan, pencils; Randy Elliott, Richard Bennett, Inks; Gina Going, Colors.  Stormwatch created by Jim Lee and Brandon Choi.  I have tried to reproduce the credits as listed.  Having missed most of the ’90s the first go around, I often have trouble with some of the visual stylistic tics.  Probably my least favorite design is represented by the cover female figure with the strangely proportioned legs tapering into straight pointed “feet”.  Those crazy elongated thighs normally have a bit of hips, no waist and a preposterous bosom.  The men will have new muscles piled onto of more muscles.  The worst excesses are well noted on the internet (search “Rob Liefeld” and “worst”) On the cover, they do show some restrain on the bust size but it can throw me out of a story.  This volume is near the end of that trend so it is more pleasing to my eye.

All those criticisms aside, I enjoyed this volume.  We are dropped into the middle of a sea change to the super hero group Stormwatch.  Despite no familiarity with the world (and only a passing familiarity with a few of the characters) I was able to settle in nicely and learn about this world without feeling like they were talking down to me.  My assumptions of this world (which may prove to be incorrect as only based on his volume) are that super-heroes are rare but there was some sort of comet that passed that triggered potential powers.  These powers can be unlocked by one member of Stormwatch and a plot point revolves around another similar person but this is a surprising development to the characters.  Stormwatch is the enforcement arm of the United Nations which allows for bearuocratic machinations.  The United States is cast as somewhat the villain with attempts to develop their own superpower agenda.  Again more chances for Ellis and company to play the political cards.  It may seem heavy handed to some but I thought reversing the role and putting the US in the weaker position allowed them to highlight the then current geopolitical US situation (and I would argue in many regards little has changed).  Stormwatch operates out of a satellite headquarters and the leader is Henry Bendix, called the weatherman.  This is my operating understanding of the world from the first volume, but please feel free to correct me via comments.

We start with Stormwatch returning to from a funeral for a fallen comrade. Bendix recruits a few new member, partitions the team into three units and fires the rest of the heroes (or moves them to more administrative capacities).  This allows the reader a quick introduction to the characters through the device of splitting the squad into the teams.  Bendix is shown as a calculating man with perhaps more ruthlessness than would be warranted.  I am not going to go into a blow by blow recitation of the ten issues but there is a nice mix of one and done stories along with stories with more of a flow.  Ellis and company exploit the group dynamics well in the story-telling with various romantic pairings and rivalries played out.  This book has a bit of a Justice League/Legion of Super Heroes vibe to it in the best way.

One thing I do like about this era is we are still in the heyday of creators throwing lots of new hero concepts into the books.  Ellis drops two new interesting characters into this book from the beginning, Jenny Sparks, the spirit of the 20th century, a no-nonsense, chain smoking, heavy drinking, non-outfit wearing bad ass.  She was born at the beginning of the twentieth century and soon stopped aging in 1920.  She can control and transform into electricity but it is her connection to time that allows interesting ideas to be spun out.  As she is to time, Jack Hawksmoor is to place.  He was designed by repeated, unpleasant alien visitations as a youth to exist with and in cities only.  Again the physical design is restrained with him appearing to be a man in a black suit with white collared shirt, no tie and no shoes.  His feet has some sort of strange probes/padding on the soles.  These are just dropped into the book without much fanfare.  My favorite issue is 44, which contains frequent homages to previous comics including the original Superman, the Spirit, Kirby Avengers, Crumb, Watchmen and others.  Jenny Sparks is giving her life story and the art mimics these famous books.  Some are single panel tributes to a few pages in that style.  Her link to the century provides a natural segue to this storytelling.  I really eat that stuff up but some may find it tiresome or if unfamiliar with the sources it will lose some resonance.

I am pleased immersing myself in the Stormwatch universe so far.  The art style is a bit of a bitter pill for me but it is better than some.  Further there must be those out there that love that style who will be displeased that there is not enough.  I enjoy an ensemble superhero book as it opens up not only the various interpersonal relationships but raises the stakes.  Some of the characters may actually suffer significant consequences as there are plenty of characters to spread out the storytelling.  I am already well into the next volume.

Reviewed by: Andrew Sanford – Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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