So Sayeth the Odinson: StormWatch: A Retrospective

Greetings from the Odinson,

DC Comics: The New 52 and its new take on the DCU have the Odinson feeling a bit nostalgic when it comes to comics lately.  I know first hand what this new generation of comic fans is experiencing – the thrill of discovery, the excitement of something new.  By the time I got into comics the Marvel Age was already over a decade old.  Like most young boys, I latched on to Marvel’s premiere super hero somewhere around Amazing Spider-Man #157.  But I was in on the ground floor with this new teenage super hero called Nova: The Human Rocket.  I was there in the very beginning when Rom the Spaceknight arrived on Earth to protect us from the evil Dire Wraiths.  I was there when Marvel launched the ambitious and highly underrated New Universe.  I was finally lured to DC Comics when in the wake of Crisis of Infinite Earths the DCU re-launched Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, SHAZAM, and presented Batman: Year One.  There’s something really special about discovering heroes, new worlds and watching them develop before your eyes.  This is a subject that I have talked about at length in previous columns (see The Odinson Looks at New Beginnings and Talks about the New DCU).

Wanting to have the feeling of discovery once again, the Odinson has started to review the back issues and try to find comics that I’ve never read before for one reason or another, and attack them with an open mind.  This is what led me to the original Guardians of the Galaxy series (see The Odinson Rediscovers a ‘90s Classic).  This past weekend I decided to try the Image title StormWatch.  And much to my surprise, I really enjoyed it.

I was in college when StormWatch #1 hit the stands.  As a huge WildC.A.T.s and Jim Lee fan, I was thoroughly on board to try out my man’s new team of heroes.  I remember enjoying the concept and story of the book, if not the art.  StormWatch, at the time, was at the beginning of the ‘90s comic book trend of “big pecs, big guns, super model super heroes” that ruled the comic racks for most of the decade.  So I quickly lost interest in the book around StormWatch #8.  I do remember the Images of Tomorrow event which I found really interesting, but more on that in moment.

So, like I said, recently I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic and since I’ve read everything else in my extensive collection a dozen times over, I’ve decided to try stories and series that I’ve never read before.  I decided on StormWatch because I knew that I had an interest in it at one time, and I knew that it is the series that eventually leads into The Authority.  I just didn’t know how.  So I wanted to fill in the gap and see how that tale unfolded.

Co-created by Jim Lee and his partner in crime Brandon Choi, StormWatch right out of the gate presents a very interesting take on the super hero genre.  It’s a mishmash of several different concepts, but with slight tweaks.  StormWatch, like Youngblood, is a government sponsored super human strike squad.  However, StormWatch is sponsored by the United Nations and their jurisdiction encompasses the entire world, not just one country.  Like the Justice League, StormWatch made its base of operation high above the Earth in synchronous orbit aboard a satellite.  Like the Avengers, StormWatch is led into battle by a take-charge, tactically sound super soldier that demands the best from those around him.  And like the X-Men and New Mutants, there is a hierarchy of rookies, trainers, and field operatives.  Trainees are promoted to the big leagues of super heroism from within the organization.  Lee and Choi took bits and pieces that they liked and added their own unique ideas to produce a really interesting take on the genre.

What really drew me into the storyline were the characters.  There’s Battalion, field commander, empowered with psionics and armed with a battlesuit that gives him the firepower of his namesake.  Fuji is a mountain of a man from Japan whose super human strength is only matched by his great heart.  Diva is a South American beauty with alabaster skin and a scream that can literally shatter steel. Hellstrike is super-fast and can project powerful force bolts. Winter, a hero from Russia, can absorb and manipulate massive amounts of energy.  And residing over them all, high above in the orbiting space station SkyWatch, is the Weatherman, a cybernetically enhanced commander with eyes all over the world, ever vigilant and uncompromising when it comes to planet Earth’s safety.  Along the way we meet other members, like Fahrenheit, a pyrokinetic beauty with flaming red hair.  Cannon thinks he should be leading the team but he’s the typical cocky rookie with immense power and a five-cent head.  And there’s Strafe, Battalion’s younger brother whose burgeoning psychic powers may one day surpass Battalion’s own.  But no one is as cool as Backlash, the team’s combat instructor and veteran of a thousand battles.  Backlash proved so popular that Image actually gave him his own spin-off series.

In the world of StormWatch, in the recent past, a mysterious comet passed by very close to the Earth and planted within many of its inhabitants the potential for super powers.  Some people immediately developed their abilities (as good of an explanation for the many super heroes and villains walking around as any).  Some people have their powers lying dormant within and that is where Synergy comes in.  Christine Trelane, codenamed, Synergy, has the ability to awaken the dormant paranormal abilities in others.  She turns ordinary humans into super humans.  Synergy and Battalion share a strong romantic relationship.  They balance each other nicely and keep each other sane in an insane world.

The personalities of this amazing cast are the driving force for the overall story arc.  When the story begins, Battalion is suffering from guilt over a past mission that went very, very wrong.  Apparently a peacekeeping mission in Kuwait saw the demise of Battalion’s first team, StormWatch Prime.  Wracked with guilt, Battalion struggles with his convictions and plans to leave the team.   But when his younger brother, Malcolm, is suddenly activated (Synergy activates his latent super human powers), Battalion finds himself drawn back to the fold.

Then the reader is introduced to the WarGuard.  The WarGuard are extremely powerful members of StormWatch that went insane.  They are extremely dangerous, utterly uncontrollable, and are kept in cryogenic stasis aboard SkyWatch.  They are a Doomsday Weapon only to be released into the world when all hope is lost.  Unfortunately, a trio of alien Daemonites (yes, the very threat that the WildC.A.T.s were assembled to fight) board SkyWatch and take control of three members of the WarGuard.  It takes all the skill Battalion, Backlash and StormWatch have to contain just these three lunatic super villains.  This situation beautifully foreshadows a future situation because as the reader I know the WarGuard will return, and if just three of them gave StormWatch this much trouble, what will happen when the whole lot of them escape?

Next, Battalion is given a chance at redemption when he discovers that StormWatch Prime is actually alive.  It seems they’ve been held captive for months by StormWatch’s malevolent counterparts, the Mercs.  This captivity, it turns out, has had lasting mental and physical effects on members of StormWatch Prime.  Flashpoint blames Battalion and the tension between them escalates to the point where they finally have it out.   Then the most startling thing occurs.

In one of the most ambitious ideas in comics history, Image selects a handful of its titles and presents Images of Tomorrow.  For one month, these titles jump ahead to issue #25.  This allows the readers to get a glimpse into the future of their titles and see what the future has in store.  So after the events of StormWatch #9, the series immediately jumps to StormWatch #25.  A mysterious time-traveler snags Battalion from the present and takes him one year into the future.  Here the stalwart hero arrives just in time to witness SkyWatch fall from the heavens and crash to earth.  His team is battered and all but defeated and under the command of Spartan (yes, Spartan from WildC.A.T.s).  He discovers that in this future he is dead.  Another member of the team is dead and now is little more than a meat-puppet of the villain responsible for it all – Despot, whose vast telepathic and telekinetic powers make him the most dangerous man alive.  Despot also just happens to be Battalion’s father.  Battalion attempts to defeat his deranged father but fails.  Then suddenly a shadowy figure arrives on the battlefield but before Battalion can see who it is he is whisked back to the present. Now back in StormWatch #10, crushed with the weight of the knowledge of the future he now possesses, Battalion struggles with the decision of what to do.

What a wild ride those last three issues were.  Now I couldn’t wait to read the next 15 issues to see how everything leads up to the harrowing events presented in the Images of Tomorrow.  Along the way, Hellstrike evolves into a new kind of meta-human in StormWatch #12.  I witness Battalion’s heroic death in StormWatch #16-17.  And Winter’s past comes back to haunt him in StormWatch #20-21.  But the catalyst for everything occurs during the mega Image wide crossover event WildStorm Rising.   Seeing no other way to prevent the evil Hellspont and devious Lord Defile from destroying mankind, the U.N. unleashes the WarGuard back into the world.  But proving to be as uncontrollable as ever, the WarGuard, led by the uber powerful Despot, turn on their “leaders” and embark on a world-conquering campaign of their own.

At long last answers to so many questions are revealed as we finally learn who the mysterious figure that appeared at the end of StormWatch #25 is.  StormWatch #23-27 is an epic struggle between right and wrong, good and evil, father and son, and it ends when one member of StormWatch is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to stop a madman.  In the wake of these events, the series takes on a whole new tone and veers in a whole new direction.  Enter: Warren Ellis.

With StormWatch #37, renowned writer Warren Ellis (Iron Man, Thunderbolts) takes the reins of the title and launches a page-turning story arc that soon transitions into the most unique take on the super hero genre to date.  He wastes no time in introducing the readers to three new members – Jenny Sparks, an 86-year old woman with the look and body of a 20-year old and electrical powers to match her charged personality; Jack Hawksmoor, a proto-human with super human strength, speed and genetically engineered to live in cities; and Rose Tattoo, a mysterious woman with the uncanny ability to kill any living thing.  Ellis’ new StormWatch has more attitude and take on a more proactive role in the world.  The team is split into three elite units, each with its own purpose and specialty.  The first series comes to a cataclysmic end with the 3-part story Change or Die.

Everyone knows that Superman is capable of just about anything and one question that inevitably always gets asked is “Why doesn’t Superman just solve all of mankind’s problems?”  Well, Change or Die answers that very question.  It all starts in StormWatch #46 when a mysterious bearded figure that has been sitting motionless high on a mountain top suddenly vanishes.  This instantly vexes Weatherman and he puts the entire 500-man staff of SkyWatch on full alert.  It seems a being known simply as The High (a thinly veiled homage to the Man of Steel), frustrated with the never-ending struggles of mankind, left everything behind and sat motionless for ten years on a mountain top and contemplated how to save mankind from itself.  Now he has returned, and he is not alone.  He is joined by a cadre of super heroes known as The Changers (kind of a faux JLA), and they plan to change the world whether anyone is ready for it or not.

Change or Die is a complex story and really turns the super hero genre on its ear.  It brings to the table questions about right and wrong, absolute power, and does someone have the right to impose their will over another even if that person maybe right.  Needless to say, once StormWatch and The Changers finally face off it’s a showdown not everyone will survive.  Change or Die plants the seeds of where Warren Ellis plans to take his story and it will definitely change the way you look at the super hero genre.

Warren Ellis continues his groundbreaking narrative in StormWatch (1997 2nd Series).  Here Battalion assumes the role of Weatherman, the team’s eyes and ears high upon SkyWatch.  The team, though shaken by their confrontation with The Changers and the betrayal of former Weatherman Henry Bendix, continues fighting the good fight.  In StormWatch (2nd Series) #4-6 Ellis introduces the world to Apollo and the Midnighter, two of the most popular characters to come out of the WildStorm Universe.  It seems that five years ago Bendix assembled a secret team of heroes who on their very first mission met their demise.  Apollo and Midnighter are the only survivors of that team and now they are on a quest to discover the truth about what happened.  Unfortunately their goals and StormWatch’s goals may conflict and this sets the two factions on an inevitable collision course.

The entire saga of StormWatch comes to a head in a 3-part tale that closes the door on this chapter.  It all starts in StormWatch (2nd Series) #10.  When a mysterious asteroid is on a course to pass too closely to the Earth Weatherman (Battalion) sends out an investigative crew to plant charges and blow the rock into the sun.  As the crew lands, they quickly realize that there is alien technology hidden beneath the surface of the asteroid.  Suddenly, SkyWatch loses radio contact with the team. However, the asteroid is blown harmlessly into the sun and the issue ends with the investigative crew’s shuttle silently returning to SkyWatch.

The story continues in the pages of WildC.A.T.s/Aliens.  SkyWatch has been invaded by aliens and the staff and heroes of StormWatch are not prepared for what came back on the shuttle from the rogue asteroid.  The WildC.A.T.s , at this time disbanded, thinking the threat to be Daemonite related reassemble and teleport up to the orbiting SkyWatch.  What follows is a pulse-pounding thriller pitting the super human strike force against the deadliest creature in the galaxy – the Xenomorph.  Warren Ellis takes the best parts of the movie Aliens, and mixes it up with the super hero genre to tell a unique tale of action, horror, courage, and sacrifice.

The saga of StormWatch concludes in the pages of StormWatch (2nd Series) #11.  Warren Ellis cleans up all the loose ends and sets the stage for the premiere of The Authority.  Inspired by the events of Change or Die, Jenny Sparks, Apollo, Midnighter and the surviving members of StormWatch assemble and make it their mission to save the world – whether it wants to be saved or not.

One of my favorite things in life is going into something with low expectations and really becoming pleasantly surprised when that thing exceeds them.  StormWatch far exceeded my expectations.  It’s an action packed, character-driven opus with twists, turns, and a satisfying journey with a beginning, middle and end.  StormWatch set the stage for the more mature themed Authority to follow and really surprised me with how good it was.  This is definitely one back issue series that needs to be revisited or discovered by comic fans everywhere.

The Odinson’s grade for the saga of StormWatch: A++

And now, StormWatch is getting another shot as part of DC Comics: The New 52 bringing everything full circle.

This is Odinson bidding thee farewell

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About Odinson

I am a lifelong comics fan and pop culture enthusiast. Comic books, novels, games, television, movies, I love it all. From fantasy to science fiction, drama to comedy, as long as the writing and execution are interesting, I love it, and I want to talk about it.

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