Stormwatch Vol. #1: The Dark Side (The New 52) Review

Stormwatch Vol. #1: The Dark Side (The New 52) Review Operating in secret in order to protect the world from external threats, the team starts off practically falling apart.

What They Say:
As a part of the acclaimed DC Comics—The New 52 event of September 2011, Stormwatch returns, but this time to the DC Universe! Jack Hawksmoor, Midnighter, Apollo, The Engineer and Martian Manhunter comprise a dangerous super human police force whose existence is kept secret from the world. Collected here, this covert team of sci-fi Super Heroes must not only battle the Earth’s moon, but find a way to hide its monstrous metamorphosis from the rest of the Earth! Featuring writing from Doctor Who and Superman: The Black Ring scribe Paul Cornell, and art from rising star Miguel Sepulveda.

The Review:
When the New 52 launched, Stormwatch was one of those polarizing titles for a lot of reasons, between the artwork, changes to the characters and the fact that it’s another secret organization. I read the first two issues before opting to wait for the trades due to time constraints and I really liked what I saw, but I understood the complaints. I had a lot of confusion in the first two episodes since the series introduces us to a lot of characters, many not mainstream known DC characters as they came from the Wildstorm line, and it added the whole jockeying for position thing with who wanted to lead the team. While I had some familiarity with the Wildstorm universe, I was pretty confused here in single form and when combining the character issues, the leadership side and the large scale invasion idea that’s going on, it felt like it was a mess.

The trade justifies it. Reading these six issues in one sitting showed a very tight and well plotted book that comes across very well and quite engaging. The series introduces us to the Stormwatch team, a group that operates in hyperspace around Earth and protects it from external threats as it has for centuries. We see some ties to the Demon Knights series in here as well that helps to expand the scope and scale of it. The team, disparate as it is, are all unique individuals beyond the norm as you have someone like Jack Hawksmoor that interacts with cities as living creatures and can see their personifications, which continues to be very cool and intriguing. You have Engineer that runs the show at base that interfaces with things in an obvious way and you have Jenny Quantum, a century baby that is able to utilize the science of the times until they’re proven away. It’s a curious and ill defined ability coming into it new and it seems like they don’t have a complete handle on it yet.

The main tie to the DC Universe that the series now inhabits is that of the Martian Manhunter, who in a neat little twist, seems to consider this his main role in life. When he’s with the Justice League, he’s playing the part of a hero and doing what needs done, but in Stormwatch he gets to be a warrior dealing with the truly big threats. In a really amusing sequence, when they start to deal with a new threat coming from the moon, they create a diversion for all the worlds heroes by making it a domestic threat with an unsuspecting villain who doesn’t understand why he’s being taken down so ferociously. While the superheroes do often deal with external threats, at least in the pre New 52 universe, I do like this epic scale scam that’s going on to protect people from the truth so the team can operate freely. Or as freely as possible, since they report to a Shadow Cabinet group that funds and dictates a lot of things for them, including leadership.

The opening volume of the series deals with a couple of plot points to draw things together in this relatively early stage of the world with public superheroes. The first is the unifying threat from the moon, which has one of their members known as Harry Tanner going up there through teleportation doors in order to discern the threat. The threat being an alien presence that tries to cause destruction on various worlds in order to prepare the species there to deal with a bigger threat that’s coming. It’s kind of wonky, but it’s based in a lot of classic science fiction material. Harry tries to do some misdirection as that’s part of his power beyond being good with blades, but his arc takes some wonderfully strong turns as his true nature is slowly revealed, making him one of my real favorites here.

The other story that eventually ties into the threat storyline involves attempts by other members of the team to recruit a mysterious hero known only as Apollo. He’s their potential “Superman” class member that they really need, but he’s not interested in being a part of a team, focusing instead on small threats to people around him. While the team tries to bring him in, making it an offer he can’t refuse, the complication comes when a deadly man named Midnighter shows up and tries to get him to work with him instead, as he’s similar in nature when it comes to their mission, but also sexuality. That part is a bit forced, though it comes from their previous relationship in the old continuity so I’m certainly not against it, but they could have been a bit less forced about it. There’s a lot of back and forth between them all here until they’re all forced to work together, even after some significant reveals about each other.

In Summary:
The narrative of the book is a bit tough at times, notably when take in single form with a month between issues, but I really liked what Paul Cornell did here overall. There are several feints going on in the series about the truth of things and that keeps you on your toes, especially since you’re just getting to know the characters and their abilities, particularly if you weren’t into the Wildstorm books before. What really drew me in to it all though, and wanting to put in the effort before time got away from me, was that it played big in a kind of classic science fiction way. Starting the first issue off with a claw coming out of the moon to attack the Earth was really intriguing, and then getting into the nuts and bolts of it just added to it. Shaking up the cast along the way is a bit awkward but it also shows us a team dynamic in flux that still goes and does what needs to be done. And I really liked the strangeness that came from the entire Shadow Cabinet angle as it provides something above and beyond what we see. Slide in the references to Demon Knights and populate it with rough characters that I want to know moer about and the six issues here constructed a team that works, especially since it really has only one “name” character about it with the Martian Manhunter. Stormwatch is definitely a title I’m looking forward to a second installment of.

Grade: B+