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WildC.A.T.s and Stormwatch were the two halves of the WildStorm whole that Jim lee and childhood friend Brandon Choi had dreamed up over several years leading up to the formation of Image comics.
WildC.A.T.s played with the familiar “gifted one” trope of X-Men plus the alien conflict borne out in present day of Inhumans. From the start, Stormwatch was something much more nuanced even if it featured its fair share of X-TREME characters and powers and shoulder pads.
Stormwatch is ostensibly the Avengers or Justice League International of WildStorm. It wasn’t just one team, but a global, UN-sanctioned network of powered individuals governed by a central eye in the sky in the form of the all-seeing Weatherman One. Instead of focusing on a the customary holy trilogy of super-powers as both Marvel and DC’s analogues always had, Stormwatch starts as a personal story of the captain of the most-elite team – Jackson King, AKA Battalion.
The first three issues of Stormwatch are a satisfying blockbuster that compares favorably to the Claremont/Lee opening salvo on X-Men, Volume 2 in 1991. Even if it lacks the deep history of that arc, it has the same sense of scope and constant, kinetic action. The same can’t be said for #0, which is mostly filler wrapped around two or three intriguing pieces of information.
The book looked damned great under the pen of artist Scott Clark, who got plucked from the relative obscurity of producing art for the superhero RPG Champions to anchor this WildStorm co-flagship. His figures have all of the heft of Rob Liefeld’s biggest bruisers with the coherence of overblown anatomy of Jim Lee, plus detailed backgrounds. Brett Booth isn’t quite as good on the #0 issue, but he’s suffering from a too-dark set of inks and colors muddying his line work.
Battalion isn’t the only memorable character here. Headstrong Diva is striking with her chalk-white skin, pink one-piece swimsuit costume, and long blonde hair. She quickly emerges as Stormwatch One’s second-in-command. Fuji is more than a generic bruiser – he’s a mirthful being of pure energy contained in a bulky gray suit that gives the impression of an two-legged elephant. The pair gets only limited panel time, but they connect more meaningfully than the snoozy WildC.A.T.s team before Zealot and Grifter arrived.
In a line of unsteady books from artists turned auteurs and publishers, Stormwatch quickly distinguished itself as a title to watch.
Want the play-by-play? Keep reading for a summary of the team’s debut. Here’s the schedule for the rest of this month’s WildStorm re-read – tomorrow we’ll go solo with Deathblow #0-4!
Need the issues? Stormwatch #1-3 & 0 have never been included in a collected edition! If you see a “Vol. 1” from this run, it’s actually the first volume of Warren Ellis’s later run on the title. You’ll need to purchase single issues – try eBay (#1 & 0, 2, 3) or Amazon (#0, 1, 2, 3)
Stormwatch #1 opens in 1992 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, fresh from the dissolution of the Soviet Union, leaving a power vacuum in Eastern Europe. A UN envoy protecting a seedling – or, potentially powered individual – is under siege, and it’s Battalion’s job to pull them out.
Marvel wasn’t doing much with this brand of present-day geo-political themes at the time, which made Stormwatch feel incredibly fresh and different – which would carry forth to its transformation to the seminal Authority.
Just when you think Stormwatch is going to be all about global conflict, the first issue takes a hairpin turn to follow Battalion to his apartment straight from the heat of conflict.
Battalion happened to be black, and he is unquestionably the star of this book. Not only black, but a keenly observant leader, committed family man, and wielder of both guns and psychic powers. He stands way the hell out from the other prominent black heroes of the period.
He’s roused from slumber by Synergy, an aptly named “activator” who can turn on powers in a nascent seedling. She’s reeled in Battlion’s teen brother, Malcolm, who is in the midst of falling with the wrong crowd of kids.
Malcolm’s introduction turns out to be a red herring. Conflict erupts at a funeral for Battalion’s former UN colleague, and when Malcolm is shot Synergy realizes she can save him by activating him. He’s a seedling!
That places the theme of Stormwatch firmly in the same vein of WildC.A.T.s – organizations vying for control of a new generation of powered individuals. Are these seedlings the same Kherubim-descended hybrids as in WildC.A.T.s, or something entirely different?
At the same time this chaos unfolds, in Stormwatch #2 a powerful being infiltrates the remains of a Chernobyl reaction and Weatherman is faced with a crisis – should he send Stormwatch Two lead by hot-headed Cannon to save Battalion or to intervene in Russia?
The continued pitched battle at the funeral answers the question. The mourning Stormwatch team manages to beat back the generically-named Mercs. Battalion wants no part of a recall to their space station Skywatch Control, but has no choice if he wants to stay with his suddenly uninjured and energy-projecting brother. However, they arrive to more tragedy – Stormwatch Two were shredded by an unknown assailant, and only Cannon managed to port out.
Things get a little scattered in Stormwatch #3 as the focus shifts from the personal to the super-heroic with inter-dimensional villain Regent leaving us readers a trail of dead and wounded members of Stormwatch Two to remember. There are justice stones and nuclear control rods and things start to swirl together in an unremarkable action sequence, maybe just because scripter Brandon Choi doesn’t understand how to give great direction to someone other than Jim Lee.
With things going south on the ground, Weatherman and Synergy are forced to call in a containing airstrike on their colleagues. Meanwhile, mysterious trainer Backlash pays a visit to Malcolm in the infirmary.
The team manages to pull out a win against Regent, mostly owing to the recovery of downed team members. (For me, that always lends a book the sort of rubber-band snap of an old G.I. Joe cartoon, where everyone is always getting better just quickly enough to change the tide of battle). The issue ends abruptly with the airstrike called off in the nick of time.
Stormwatch #0 has a more complex structure than WildC.A.T.s zero issue, which filled in the action directly prior to its debut. Here we get a stultifying training sequence between Battalion and Fuji with multiple “playing dead” reversals (again, the rubber-band snap) intercut by a term of mercenaries cutting their way into the Skywatch space station.
The pair of heroes make quick work of the intruders, one of whom has tangled with Battalion before. It turns out their story was just a feint to introduce Battalion flashing back to his own recruitment and training nearly 15 years prior. That came in the wake of a disaster that wiped out the precursor to Stormwatch, transforming the program’s early heroes into bloodthirsty versions of themselves – including Battalion’s father!
The flashback has the same structure of the main story – a training Batallion handily defeats a team of intruders. However, in this early instance the intruders force the UN’s hand in revealing Stormwatch, which compels competing interests to activate their own “Project: Genesis.”
The issue ends back in the present, with Battalion psychically cloaking his disfiguring scars and resolving to stay with Stormwatch for Malcolm’s sake. Big reveal!