Saturday, February 4, 2012

52 In Review: Stormwatch So Far...

I originally picked up Stormwatch #1 for two reasons. My comic store was having a buy 3, get a 4th issue free, of DC's New 52 offerings - but also because of the connection the series had with another title I was already signing onboard for: Demon Knights. What's the connection between these two very different books, beyond them both being written by Paul Cornell? Well, while Demon Knights takes place during the Dark Ages, and Stormwatch takes place in the modern age -- it's explained upfront that Stormwatch's beginnings began with Demon Knights. It's not a "lets guest star in each others book every week" kind of connection - the two series couldn't be further apart: but the connection between the two instantly inspires appreciation for a much grander tapestry that we are only starting to see woven together.

Stormwatch is a key book in DC's New 52 - as it's the series headlining and using the newly integrated Stormwatch Universe, along with many of it's characters and concepts. I never had that much exposure to Wildstorm's stable of books: their biggest hit, "The Authority", is probably where most of the ideas being used for this new title come from. Characters like Apollo, Midnighter, and the Engineer being stars from that book. Apollo and Midnighter, in fact, being injected into the new DCU Continuity provides an instant dichotomy - as these two character where originally conceived as being, essentially, the gay Superman and Batman. They are gay in this series as well - not exactly my favorite subject in comic books - but it in no way detracts from the grand epic narrative this series is giving us. In fact, this series is probably giving more character and depth to Apollo and Midnighter than they ever had in The Authority; they aren't being written as simply a gay Superman and Batman, but rather as more substantial characters.

Since I came onto this books without much knowledge of Wildstorm or it's characters - this series both worked to freshly introduce everything to new readers, while at the same time make it feel like we're walking into an already living and breathing universe. Stormwatch has been around for a long time. They aren't superheroes -- they are the professionals who have been protecting Earth from alien threats for centuries. And boy - these first six issues are jam-packed with threats from all angles.

The first threat seems to come from a gigantic horn, which loosely ties into Superman #1, where a giant alien blowed a gigantic horn. Adam One (Stormwatch's leader), and young Jenny Quantum are dispatched to collect the horn. Adam One is very interesting - as he's the seemingly immortal and aloof leader of Stormwatch, always with his head in the clouds; like he's seeing things differently than everyone else. Jenny Quantum is an 11 year old girl, apparently being mentored by Adam One. She's referred to as one of the "Century Babies"; I'm unsure what that's suppose to mean, beyond her possessing powerful abilities, like creating force fields, teleportation, and manipulating the laws of quantum dynamics.

The horn is transported to Stormwatch HQ, which is a space station resting in Hyper Space - and is referred to as "The Eye of the Storm". It is a large and impressive facility, which is managed by the Engineer - a woman with immense knowledge and the ability to interface with machine technology. She is quite vocal about her displeasure with the quality of Adam One's leadership - figuring that since she runs the station, it should be her actually leading the team.

The Engineer is tackling many problems at once, coordinating the team and various missions. The moon is of particular interest - as energy is emanating from it. A projection, based on those readings, depict a clawed hand menacingly threatening the Earth.

Harry Tanner, known as the Eminence of Blades, has been sent to the moon to investigate. Crashing through the surface Harry is confronted by a gigantic eye-ball, calling itself "The Scourge of Worlds". This creature explains that a great threat is coming to Earth - and that its mission is to make worlds stronger through devastation. The Scourge of Worlds attaches itself to Harry Tanner's brain and tries to download his memories. The history of Stormwatch, dating back to the Dark Ages, is refeered to. Tanner's mind, though, is not that easy to break into. You see, Harry Tanner's outward skill with energy blades hides his true power: the ability to lie, and make you believe his lies. Tanner is actually a very real threat within Stormwatch, and fights back against the Scourges mental intrusion. Eventually the Engineer comes and helps free Tanner.

Meanwhile, Jack Hawksmoor, the Projectionist, and the Martian Manhunter are on Earth trying to track down a powerful potential ally. Dubbed Apollo, after being witnessed on the news and internet fighting Superman - Stormwatch wants to recruit this man - believing his immense powers could help save the world. Apollo doesn't want anything to do with Stormwatch - having shunned the spotlight, and instead wanting keeping his abilities and vigilanteism in the shadows.

The Martian Manhunter and Apollo get into a fight, trying to get Apollo to listen to them. The Manhunter's shapeshifting and strength are on display, proving himself an equal to Apollo Superman-level powers.

Their fight is interrupted by a new assailant - an armored man known as Midnighter - who seemingly takes out all the Stormwatch members, and introduces himself to Apollo. Midnighter believes he has a lot in common with Apollo, remarking that with Apollo's help, he can "kill every evil bastard on the planet." The two's perchance for street-level vengeance seem like a perfect fit to Midnighter.

It turns out the Martian Manhunter had used his psychic powers to fake their defeat at Midnighter's hands. They continue their appeal for Apollo's help - the threat from the moon being a significant danger to the whole Earth.

Adam One arrives through a "Door" (their mode of transportation, to and fro) to meet Apollo, and is able convince Apollo to help. Adam One orders the Projectionist to maintain their team's cover - as the energy emanating from the moon will soon be noticed by the likes of the Justice League.

The Projectionist, who has the ability to be wired in to all internet and communication feeds, is able to redirect the energy signal to a picked-at-random villain. The reaction of the Fox, a low rent villain just punched out by Booster Gold, is priceless "The Moon?! What about the Moon?!"

With Tanner rescued the Moon begins to launch attacks - from rockmen, to monsters - to eventually launching a series asteroids at the Earth - all directed to a nowhere location in Colorado. One of the first asteroids smashes down near a farm - with a horrible monster released from it's core. Apollo is sent into the atmosphere to destroy the rest of the oncoming asteroids.

Jack Hawksmoor, who's instantly become my favorite character in the series, senses that there is more to this location in Colorado than there appears to be. Jack Hawksmoor is known as the "God of Cities" - his particular talent being able to communicate and control cities. He has tracks on his hands and feet, allowing him to walk on walls and up the side of buildings. His powers are far more multi-layered than that, though. When trying to corral Apollo into listening to them, Jack "communicated" with the city, asking it to disorient Apollo. An alleyway suddenly turns upside down. Bricks fly at Jack's command, creating a chair -- his abilities seem quite versatile. There is one downside - Hawksmoor will begin to feel ill and sick if he ever leaves a city. A Church can even be found in Stormwatch HQ, just to meet the necessary requirements to consider the space station a city.

What is the most impressive about the so-called "God of Cities", is when Jack communicates with the cities - depicted as avatars. Jack consults with with the City of Paris, the City of Metropolis, and the City of Gotham. All of them are reflections of those locations. The City of Paris is an elegant and gala socialite, while Metropolis is a young well dressed modern woman. Gotham City, unsurprisingly, is depicted as a monstrous bat. Jack enquires of them why he senses there being a city in this location in Colorado. Paris informs him that there was once a city there. A lost city, the greatest, Metropolis informs. Gotham tells Jack not to listen to them, that those cities don't remember this lost city like he does -- that the madness in him was matched, even exceeded, by this lost city. Gotham further suggests that this city might even be able to help destroy this monster.

Using the teleporting doorways, Stormwatch arrives on the scene in Colorado - to find epic-scale destruction, as this massive monster wrecks havoc. Jack Hawksmoor attempts to initiate communication with the lost city -- knowing it is indeed there, as he remains healthy as long as he's in a city. The team begins to fight the monster. Before you know it, though, the immense monster is able to absorb and assimilate the powers of most of the team. Only Midnighter and Apollo remain, with the Projectionist coordinating things from the space station.

To fight back against the creature, and save free the rest of the team, Midnighter devises a plan to utilize Apollo's incredible powers. Midnighter's singular talent is being an unmatched tactician -- able to intuitively and instantly see what lies in the immediate future, based on everything he sees and knows. Apollo had recently taken out the other asteroids - he wasn't exactly in shape to challenge this creature alone. Knowing that Apollo's powers are solar based, Midnighter has the Projectionist redirect solar energy from the sun, and shoot it right down to Apollo's location. This re-powers Apollo like nothing else, enabling him oppose the creature, and force it to free everyone else.

Once free, the group consults on how to finish this monster off. They ask why Jack wasn't able to communicate with the city. Jack tells them that the city has been asleep for so long, that it thinks all of what is happening is just a dream. He intends to force the issue - breaking into communication with the city. Alba Umbra, the name of the city, is personified as an aged woman, Jack is able to convince the city that it that it isn't dreaming. Alba Umbra asks if the "beasts" are back. Apparently all the people in Alba Umbra where killed - and alchemy had been used to hide it. Telling her that it is a different beast - and that it can help to destroy it; urging Umbra that it has to save itself. It has to wake up! From beneath the surface the ground breaks apart as an ancient city springs to life. The alchemic powers of the city are able to be utilized against the creature - transmutating it into glass; ending the threat.

Adam One has had a peculiar reaction to the city. In fact, his entire behavior during this whole mission has been more "off" than usual. It was hinted at, earlier, that Adam One may in fact be experiencing time differently -- as he might be aging backwards from the start of the universe. There hasn't been any proof of this, but I heard it theorized that Adam One might in fact be Merlin. I don't know if that is true; Adam One is depicted as middle-eastern, while Merlin appears white. They both, however, act very similar -- both of them working on a seemingly higher plane, perhaps aloof to their surroundings.

Whatever Adam One's origins -- his leadership is about to be called into question in a big way. When the team arrives back on the space station, they find the Projectionist with a new visiting guest: a star-like being, claiming to represent the Shadow Cabinet.

The Shadow Cabinet fund and direct Stormwatch. They are the larger-than life bosses in charge -- though what they are, exactly, remains to be seen. This representative has come to Stormwatch, announcing that changes have to be made. New leadership is needed. Adam One's performance has been found lacking, and so this starry man summons a consuming vortex below Adam One, dragging him below to who knows where.

The Engineer questions wether this person is really from the Shadow Cabinet. He says he is, and that he knows them all very, very well. He says that the Engineer is too individualistic to lead Stormwatch. The Martian Manhunter confirms that this person is indeed from the Shadow Cabinet; that he knows what they are, but that he does not wish to lead Stormwatch. Eventually the Projectionist is crowned the new leader of the team.

White the others are pre-occupied with the new visitor, Apollo and Midnighter slipped away, getting to know each other better and looking around the space station. Midnighter says that there's nothing to keep him here. Noticing something amiss, Midnighter convinces Apollo that a proximity alarm has gone off. Apollo goes to an air lock and flies out into the Hyper Space to investigate. This allows Midnighter to come upon Harry Tanner, rummaging through and stealing data takes from Stormwatches library. It seems the prospect of a new leader is bad news for Harry -- as his ability to deceive might have worked on Adam One, and might have worked on the likes of the Engineer -- but the Projectionist was a pick for leader that has sent Tanner running. Midnighter and Tanner engage in a vicious battle. The so-called "Prince of Lies", having shown his true colors, runs into the Projectionist. Explaining that he knows quite a bit about hyper space, Tanner grabs the Projectionist and opens the the air lock, flinging them both out into Hyper Space.

Tanner has planned his escape well - as he had set off an explosion directly next to the giant horn, housed in the storage bay. Tanner teleports away with the Projectionist in tow, while the entire space station explodes.

With the space station tearing apart, its a miracle that Jenny Quantum is able to create a forcefield around herself, Jack, Martian Manhunter, and the Engineer. The Engineer helps support Jenny's force field, keeping them all alive as EVERYTHING comes apart around them! The Eye of the Storm even manages to drop out of Hyper Space and into regular space, making it detectable to the military on Earth.

The station's emergency force fields, though, can contain all of this - but it would mean fully awakening the station. The station, meeting the requirements of being a city, allows Jack to make contact with it. The station, it turns out, was actually a Daemonite creation. (The Daemonites are an invading race, appearing in another DC book "Girfter".) Awakening the long dormant representation of the space station, Jack tries to get the space station to begin repairing itself. The Daemonite representative, though, is not too keen about its current human owners. Why should he repair itself, and allow this station to continue to be used by the enemy of his people? Jack is forced to make a unique deal: in exchange for initiating repairs, Jack offers to keep the Daemonite program awake - and give it a voice on the bridge. Saying that it can lie them, give them false information -- work against them, if it likes -- and make it so they cannot deactivate it at a later date. This seems to be to the Daemonite program's liking - and repairs begin. In almost no time, the station cobbles itself together. Midnighter, who had been sucked into space along with Tanner and the Projectionist, is saved by Apollo.

So, now that the danger has passed - the pieces remain to be picked up. Apollo and Midnighter decide to stay on. With the Projectionist missing, the Engineer is voted to be in charge -- though they don't know wether the Shadow Cabinet would approve. They don't know how to contact them, Adam One having been the only one to know how; it's assumed the Projectionist would have been told before everything went to hell. The Engineer, though, is unsure - not liking that, if she had been picked, Harry Tanner would have stayed on the team. She explains that she had always known about Tanner's lying abilities - but always thought she adequately compensated for any deceit. She now believes she had been wrong.

Still - the pressing matters of the here and now forge the new make-up of the team. Along with a new mandate. A holographic map displays all the caches and secret storage facilities Stormwatch has amassed over the centuries. It's assumed that everything Stormwatch knew is at risk from Tanner, so they need to investigate everything. Some of the items Stormwatch owns are either valuable or dangerous - some of the most powerful artifacts from the hidden history of the world.

That was quite a trip in the space of 6 issues! While I began reading this series as an extension of Demon Knights - it quickly became my favorite of the two titles. The insane collection of innovative ideas and concepts is almost too much to contain. This is EXACTLY what I like to see in comics - stories that present new ideas, concepts, punctuated by depth and excellent writing. This is a powerful beginning for the new series.

What is most sad, though, is that Paul Cornell announced that he was leaving the title. He has said that he will continue to write Demon Knights, and coordinate with the new writer of the series. Cornell says that him being on the book for only six issues was always the plan - to set up and give the series a firm foundation from which to spring off from. I really can't help but think something else contributed to this decision. There where rumors that DC were demanding too many tie-ins to other DCU books. The enigmatic Pandora (the lady foreshadowed at the end of Flashpoint) is supposedly going to be dealt with in the pages of Stormwatch. Basically, I think DC wants to use the series a hub, of sorts, for all kind of connections to the DCU at large. Already tie-ins to other books where made - and they did indeed seem crammed in for little to no reason. The horn, which made a small and nearly insignificant tie-in to Superman, makes me believe this is true. The inclusion of the Daemonites - though worked into the plot concerning the origins of the space station, also screamed of being a marketing-ordered tie-in. I don't mind DC doing that every so often; what I do mind is Cornell seemingly abandoning the book after so thoroughly creating these great first six issues. I don't know the real reason he left - but for me it really shook the foundation of this title, Demon Knights, and the stability of the 52 Relaunch in general. I don't like signing onto books, and then see writers and artists dropping ship the next minute. Especially considering the price of things these days - the comics I buy, I expect some dedication out of them in exchange for my money.

Honestly, though, re-counting the storyline thus far has actually really helped. It reminded me why I kept enjoying every issue; even when I wasn't completely sure what exactly was going on. I think I'll keep reading the series -- at least for now.

Paul Jenkins comes onboard for a two-issue fill-in. Interdimensional raiders are coming to steal Earth's gravity. That certainly seems in keeping with the outlandish, yet straight-faced fare from the series o far. I had head Paul Jenkins had hoped to be named a new regular writer of the series. I would have liked to have seen Jenkins take over -- he's always been an excellent and deep writer. Yet DC announced they are instead going with Peter Milligan. My main exposure to Milligan's writing is from Marvel's X-Statix, a indy-style series about Celebrity Mutants. It was an excellent, yet less serious, take on the idea of mutants. I personally loved that series -- but Stormwatch is a much more serious book. X-Statix was more a parody of the X-Men than anything else. I do think he'll be able to handle to high-minded sci-fi adventures, and the humor thrown in here and there -- but him being the new writer still makes me unsure.

That being said, I'll still give Stormwatch, and by extension Demon Knights, another shot. I really hope Milligan does workout. I think he's going to still be supported by the incredible art of Miguel Sepulveda - which I hope will give the series a sense of consistancy and continuity. It's going to need it, though. It really was a seriously blow to see Cornell leave the title he started so very early. Here's hoping the epic two-century sided tale he started will continue on well!


  1. Judging Midnighter and Apollo simply as a gay versions of Superman and Batman is akin to saying that Deadpool is a comedic version of Deadshot.

    As a fan of the original Authority, I have to say this series falls short so far, but what can you do if you've got to follow the likes of Ellis, Millar, Morrison, and Ennis and top the new comics off with sub-par art?

    Still, your review has convinced me to pick up the rest of the series to see if gets better.

  2. Well, DC themselves got a bit upset over the similarities between Superman/Apollo and Batman/Midnighter. And Deadpool did start as a comedic version of Deathstroke. (not Deadshot. Wade Wilson/Slade Wilson)

    But they do indeed become separate characters over time. But the Superman/Batman comparisons really never went away for Apollo and Midnighter.