In reading Stormwatch #7, it occured to me that the best Stormwatch and Authority stories (and let’s face it: the New 52 Stormwatch is just The Authority with The Martian Manhunter) have been simple sci-fi and superhero comic tropes, only racked up on amphetamines and extrapolated out to their craziest violent extreme. Warren Ellis had them fight God. Mark Millar did great tales of the team fighting “The Avengers” (Sure, it was a pastiche of a famous superteam, but with personal and sexual problems… but up to a point, isn’t that all The Authority was?).
In this, writer Paul Jenkins, in his first issue on Stormwatch (First of two before Peter Milligan takes over), starts with an idea you could pull out of any Doc Savage story or early issue of Justice League of America – The Gravity Thieves! – and spins it out into a very dense-feeling, hard sci-fi(ish) story that, if not in league as the classic Ellis and Millar stories, at least it’s in the same ballpark, swinging for the fences.
The book hits pretty much every mark on the successful Authority story checklist. Weird sciency shit blowing people up in gruesome ways? Check; got that out of the way by the end of page two. Unknown, faceless entity demonstrating its power by taking out Big Gun Apollo? Yup; disembodied energy tentacles, to excite even the most darkly perverse hentai/tazer “enthusiast”. Find out that the threat is potentially extinction-level in nature to Earth? Hell, this one is capable of stealing gravity with their energy tentacles and wiping out all life in the known universe… possibly from being hit at high speed by hentai/tazer enthusiasts being flung through zero gravity in the opposite direction of their penises.
This comic feels dense; in just twenty pages, we have liquefied Russians, a vicious battle happening at the quantum level that involves a 12-year-old screaming, “Their physics are all messed up,” the implied End Of All Things, and occasional pleading for a puppy. When it comes to just sheer high-stakes stuff happening, you’ll get more for your buck than almost any other book on the stands this week.
The one real misfire in this issue comes in a discussion between Jack Hawksmoor and the city of Pripyat – home of Chernobyl. Historically, Hawksmoor’s communication with cities was depicted as real-time telepathic. Here, Jack converses face-to-face with an anthropomorphized city in a hospital bed, dying of cancer, being tended by Hiroshima and Nagasaki – twogeisha chicks with Harvey Dent scars. Even if you accept the humanization of cities for the storytelling purposes, there are questions that pop up when you scratch the surface on this concept: how can Hiroshima be taking care of Pripyat given the geographic distance? Do Nagasaki’s ministrations include a happy ending? And if cities’ avatars look like an appropriate contextual person, does that mean that Baltimore would appear as a twitchy junkie? Whose ministrations include a happy ending?
In all seriousness: the concept of Hawksmoor seeing cities as people is new to the reboot, and is still jarring to this long-time reader of the character. And I get the whole “nuked city as cancer patient” gimmick, but the addition of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as caretakers felt a little precious and on-the nose. I get it, Jenkins: nukes are bad. But this sequence felt forced, especially considering that what little information Hawksmoor got from Pripyat was delivered in better, more cogent detail from J’onn J’onzz just a few pages later. The whole sequence felt preachy, distracting and and unnecessary.
Ignacio Calero’s art has some significant positives, but also some distracting issues that I felt detracted from a generally enjoyable look. His figures are idealized, even for a comic book; he draws The Engineer’s ass in a way that would make Jennifer Lopez wear sackcloth and ashes in shame. However, his environments are spectacular. This is a comic that takes place in multiple locations – some of them completely otherworldly – and none of the settings or backgrounds felt any less than fully fleshed out. On the downside (at least to me) is the facial expressions; they’re certainly expressive enough, but Calero tends toward 90’s style fine-inked crosshatching that is simply not to my taste.
And then there’s the veins. Calero draws every guy in battle with significantly pronounced veins on their arms, necks, backs… everywhere. To the point where I found it less a look of someone expending effort and more just Goddamned distracting. It’s unique, but it didn’t work for me; it’s hard to fully self-immerse when everyone looks like a Hulk Hogan pose. Or a John Holmes pose, if you get my drift.
All in all, this is a fairly solid comic issue that recalls the great issues of The Authority, while not being up to the par of those stories. There’s a lot going on in this issue, and Jenkins does a solid job crafting a high-stakes story out of a concept as ridiculous-sounding as “The Gravity Eaters.” If you can put aside that this book is following in the footsteps of giants and just take it as a better-than-average comic, you’ll enjoy it. Plus, being part one of a two-parter, it’s a great place to jump on. Think about checking it out.