Other than the new DC reboot this is probably going to be most people’s jumping on point for the Stormwatch franchise. Although we are 36 issues in, only the arrival of Warren Ellis as the new writer prompted the release of graphic novels.
This is a good point to join the story as the aftermath of a big crossover event and a change of writer shake things up. Ellis does a great job of introducing everyone giving a lot more characterisation to this large cast than you would have thought time for. There is a lot of jargon and unexplained references and you are not sure if this is to do with what has gone before, foreshadowing things to come or just world-building. It never leaves you lost or alienated just wanting to know more.
The premise is that the UN has assembled and funded a super-team to deal with international threats. Due to the recent passing of a comet a dormant human gene has given a select few super powers. Stormwatch makes sure these people (and any other despots) don’t get out of hand. Everyone lives on a big spaceship and waits for the alarm to go off.
The structure reminds me very much of another Ellis work, Fell. Each of the issues within this volume are self contained, introducing and neatly wrapping up the crisis of the week. As the issues pass by you get a peek into a wider world and go deeper into each character’s personal details. It works very well, particularly as Stormwatch is split into smaller teams and so not everyone needs to go on every mission.
Part of the Ellis shakeup is introducing new heroes. These aren’t just fast, strong, flying people but complex anomalies. Jack Hawksmoor has an empathic connection with cities. They talk to him and show him what they see hear and feel. Jenny Sparks is the “Spirit of the Twentieth Century” having been alive and a superhuman since 1900. Even the Monster-of-the-week is the embodiment of Nietzsche’s philosophy or the summation of Japan’s self-identity crisis after WWII.
The art is classic Image Comics fare. The contrasting colours and ever-present outlining make the characters pop off the page. It does have a rapidly drawn feel with some of the figure work looking a little quirky. The characters are well differentiated and you never lose sight of who is who. The layout and lettering are enthusiastic but definitely play second fiddle to the rapid pace and great dialogue.
There is a lot going on in this book. Big ideas, bold characters, twisting drama, and solid laughs are all delivered at a cracking pace. The single-minded leader of Stormwatch, Henry Bendix, drives the narrative forward at a hell of a tempo but it never derails, just makes you hang on tighter for a great ride. Definitely a Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Stormwatch Volume Two: Lightning Strikes – Warren Ellis