We’re in the final two days of my Indie Comics Month now, but I still have a few more guides up my sleeve for all Patrons of CK. While it might seem as though I’ve already created guides for the flagship titles of each of the six founding imprints of Image Comics, that’s not entirely accurate. That’s because Jim Lee’s WildStorm imprint actually had two flagship team titles for the two halves of its camel-cased name. The “Wild” half is already covered in my Guide to WildCATs. Now it’s time for the “Storm” half, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this month! Welcome my Guide to Stormwatch!
To me, Stormwatch has always been the best of the Image Comics imprint flagship titles. That’s not just because I have forever been obsessed with the flash-forward gimmick of its “Images of Tomorrow” issue #25. It’s also because it was always the Image book with the most-obvious hook and clear stakes for me both as a young reader in the 90s and today.
Stormwatch was an answer to the question of “Who Watches the Watchmen,” a superhero book that could at time feel slightly akin to Avengers or Justice League but which had its own distinct tone. Stormwatch kept an eye on all of Earth and its many super-powered residents from its orbiting Skywatch station. Yet, this wasn’t a book purely about peace-keeping force. From the earliest issues it became clear that Stormwatch had as many internal threats as external ones, both from its captured foes to dissension within its ranks.
That came to a head in issue #25, telegraphed an entire year early, which revealed that everything about the title as we knew it would be torn to shreds.
It was one of the best-executed flash forwards in the history of comics. Seldom has a series so perfectly set up a dreaded inevitable future state and then carefully steered into it with no sleight-of-hand involved. Every bit of the tragedy unfolded exactly as promise, setting up a desperate climax.
I’m convinced it also set Stormwatch up to fail – or, at least, it set up future success but smothered any future nostalgia for the title. [Read more…] about New for Patrons: Guide to Stormwatch
It’s the grand finale of my daily read of the first three years of WildStorm Comics – WildStorm Rising!
WildStorm Rising is the first direct crossover between any WildStorm books. Just like here at CK the WildStorm crew doesn’t do anything halfway – their first crossover hits every one of their eight ongoing titles, adding a prologue and a pair of bookends for 11 total issues:
- Team 7: Operation Hell #1
- WildStorm Rising #1
- WildC.A.T.s #20
- Union (1995) #4
- Gen 13 (1995) #2
- Grifter #1
- Deathblow #16
- Wetworks #8
- Backlash #8
- StormWatch #22
- WildStorm Rising #2
The crossover is really only meaningful to a trio of them – dual flagships WildCATS and Stormwatch, and the debut of Grifter. Everyone else is merely a bystander in the culmination of a year-long plot launched in Stormwatch to alter the struggling status quo in WildCATs.
There are pros and cons to any linewide crossover, and WildStorm Rising is no exception.
On the pro side, the event manages to accomplish something that few Marvel crossovers could manage back in the 90s (and still can’t today): Each chapter worked well as an issue of its own book advancing some of its own themes. That’s true despite the fact that many books weren’t written by their typical authors and many of them continued directly to the next title in the crossover sequence.
Plus, we really do get a new status quo for several books, none more so than WildCATs!
On the con side, WildStorm Rising squanders Defile’s long-running infiltration of Stormwatch in favor of him chasing a McGuffin of power discovered in Team 7: Objective Hell. Many of the pillars of plot that support this crossover were built from Defiles machinations, so it feels like a massive cheat to see his master plot lose steam just as WildCATs and Stormwatch come to blows. He almost literally says, “Screw my plans that have been built up in Stormwatch since issue #6, now I’m going to focus on this other thing.”
Even worse, in a hairpin final turn of plot it turns out the McGuffin has no real meaning. It was merely a red herring to bring back a fan favorite character squandered too early in the life of the line!
What is this amazing McGuffin? It’s both a key and a symbol. It’s about the balance of power in the ruling class of Daemonites. When they arrived on Earth in a space ship chasing the Kherubim, there was a natural division of power between politics, military, and (sort of) transportation. A representative of each held a key to the ship that also signified their unquestionable ruling power. All three would need to align their keys to activate interstellar navigation technology so none could shift the balance of power too far towards government, military might, or (one would imagine) commerce and colonization.
The transportation key was lost in the ship’s crash, which left the political and military arms of the Daemonites stuck in a two-party struggle for planetary power for 2,000 years with no means to escape. Now, the two pieces of the lost key have showed up in possession of a rogue Daemonite and a member of Team 7. Both sides of the Daemonites are racing to collect the pieces while the assembled might of our heroes try to defend them (while resolving their inter-squad squabbles).
Is WildStorm Rising worth a read? As a self-contained event it’s nothing special. However, if you plan to read any other WildStorm books from 1995-1997 – like Grifter’s solo series or Alan Moore’s WildCats – it’s a good primer. (It’s far back enough from Ellis’s takeover on Stormwatch to be irrelevant there.)
The rest of this post is split into two sections. The first reviews each issue of the crossover (w/links to purchase) with relatively few comments on plot. The second second offers a plot recap of each issue so you can fill in the gaps of your read if you don’t own every issue.
[Patreon-Nov16-Post-Bug][/Patreon-Nov16-Post-Bug]Finally, we’re back to Stormwatch! This is the last batch of issues prior to WildStorm Rising – Stormwatch (1993) #17-21 & Special 02, plus a pair of stories in WildStorm Rarities I missed earlier in the month.
This run finds Stormwatch disintegrating without Battalion as the glue to hold it together. No one seems especially interested in obeying Synergy unless it suits them, and Diva has only marginally better luck. That lends an extra layer to Timespan’s egging Battalion on to his death – maybe the real goal was to destroy Stormwatch, and the only way to do it was to convince Battalion that he was fated to die?
Writer Ron Marz is still ably steering this ship towards certain doom and he’s now managed to differentiate the voices of the entire cast. Despite that, this run lacks the urgency of any prior portion of Stormwatch. It feels like a mismash of loose ends being tied up and chess pieces being maneuvered.
It’s hard to put a finger on why. Is it the lack of Battalion as our main point-of-view character leaving the book to feel adrift? Or, is it that with the future already glimpsed in #25 that the motion of the pieces to their appointed destinations feels too slow, and the side stories feel too unimportant? Diva’s encounter with Argos especially feels pointless, and Winter’s Russian adventure is a complete redux with little to improve upon the prior version. I suppose all will be revealed soon enough.
On the art side, this is also the weakest portion of the book so far. An amalgam of pencillers on Stormwatch #17 makes for the weakest art on the book to date, though they could afford the soft spot on an all-talking issue. #19 is back to all Mat Broome and looks strong.
Issue #21 is from fill-in from Terry Shoemaker, a Marvel fill-in artist, and it’s great! I always expect fill-in artists to leave us with an issue of big muscles and gawky faces, but he does a terrific job on keeping Winter, Cannon, and Bendix distinct in the midst of a lot of action. (I checked ahead, and he’s the artist of Zealot’s mini-series – I’m psyched!)
Stormwatch Special #2 plays out effectively as #20.5, showing what Stormwatch Prime is up to after their side mission in #20 – and addressing the subplot of their manipulation by Defile via their captor, Deathtrap. Of course, we all understood that was happening already, so this issue brings nothing new to the table with some wildly inconsistent art that’s far outside of the WildStorm house style. All you need to know is that Flashpoint may have finally shaken loose the subliminal programming that made him an effective mole (but it hasn’t stopped him from being an asshole), but Sunburst and Nautika are as deep as ever!
Also, in reading WildStorm Rarities yesterday, I realized it contained a pair of Stormwatch stories drawn by Jim Lee that I should have read earlier in the month! (Sadly, we never get more than a tiny glimpse of Lee’s Diva, but his Battalion is massive.)
Want the recap? Keep reading for the details of how our team is inching ever closer to their doom. Here’s the schedule for the rest of this month’s WildStorm re-read. I’m not looking forward to the next two days – another mercifully short trip through Backlash for #6-7 a new arc on Deathblow #13-15. Then we’re so close to WildStorm Rising!
Need the issues? You’ll need to purchase single issues – try eBay (#17-20 & Special #2) or Amazon (#17, 18, 19, 20, 21, Special #2). Since further series reached these same issue numbers, be sure to match your purchase to the cover images in this post (and, note that #21 was misnumbered simple as “1” on the cover). The two older stories were only ever reprinted in WildStorm Rarities (Amazon / eBay), a perfect-bound book with a spine.