Saturday, September 17, 2011
Stormwatch: Force of Nature (1999)
The original Stormwatch series was begun in 1993 by schoolmates Jim Lee and Brandon Choi, joined by artist Scott Clark in his major debut. Those initial creators lasted maybe a year, and then the poor man's Alpha Flight got passed through a variety of hands for another two years. Stormwatch was one of nine books with a role in the 21 part "Fire From Heaven" crossover, Image Comics' closest attempt to recreate the widespread pointlessness of DC's Millennium. This seemed to be the title's breaking point, where they either had to get serious about producing something worth buying or else put the thing down. Alan Moore was leaving WildC.A.T.s around this time, taking a good deal of Wildstorm's cache with him. In the absence of another acclaimed British writer to take over that book, I suppose someone decided to at least give an up and coming limey carte blanche with that book's ugly sister.
After years of daring work on bottom rung Marvel titles, Ellis would finally began building his name in the industry with Stormwatch. Similarly, Tom Raney had several short stints on various Marvel and DC team books without any real impact, but would make a cult hit out of the title. For myself, I thought it was okay when it first came out, and I knew which customers it would appeal to, but it wasn't something I felt any compulsion to follow regularly. Reading the issues in full and in sequence, I find that the title's elevated reputation in some fan's eyes is, well, fuzzy rose-colored memories of the way it was.
The first issue under the new management saw a good deal of changes put into place and the introduction of new characters with some staying power like Jack Hawksmoor, Jenny Sparks, and Rose Tattoo. It was a decent set-up, with a throwaway villain battle besides. However, the next issue was a was a fairly bland, half-hearted police procedural with convenient deux ex machina tarted up in ultraviolence and anti-American banner waving. That last part doesn't bother me a bit, but isn't any more sophisticated than Red State nationalism.
A major problem I have with these stories is that they aren't stories, just premises. For instance, the third issue of the collection was played up using a timeframe jumping scheme that attempted to mask the information dumping needed to convey the premise. Without the device, one would be more likely to notice that beyond the exposition, the heroes simply battered one dimensional evil cops and jailed them, with no serious attempt at characterization or complication. The politics were hamfisted in the same way as a Judd Winick script, and most of the art that round was by a severely unripened Pete Woods.
The fourth issue town, involved a mutant producing dirty bomb and turning a small town into a variety of body horrors to make David Cronenberg proud. Most of the issue is just three characters wandering through the mess, with a mild twist toward the end. In several issues, Ellis displayed a nasty habit of dumping character flashbacks inappropriately into a narrative, instead of offering more organic character-centric narratives. This began to change in the fifth tale, whose first page announced Ellis' intention to write a Christine Trelane story. He surely did, but it seemed like he made that decision without actually coming up with a story. You pretty much immediately know the central antagonist is a creep, so the only mystery is where his deprivations would flow. A good artist could have sold that cinematically with mood, but the art by Michael Ryan was cartoonish amateur hour crap. It was also ill-considered, since Trelane has what was believed to be a unique and essential power to preserve the team, but she nearly gets herself killed on an unnecessary field mission without back-up.
The final tale was more of the same. Ellis must have decided that he was going to write a Fuji story, did lots of research about Japan, and then wrote a story about how his characters could spouted all that research that he had done almost verbatim like they were walking Wikipedia entries. Re-watched "Akira" as well, I'll assume. At least the book was attractive to look at again, with the return of Raney.
"Force of Nature" was the first collection of the Ellis material, and the book was still finding its legs. It's passable enough, but don't expect any material to help you win a fight amongst friends over best writers from the U.K.
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