Thursday, September 8, 2011

Reviews of Diabolu: Stormwatch #1 vs The Outsider #3

I had 1,600 posts in my queue before starting this entry, of which only about 1,442 had been published. Vaguely auspicious, seeing as how I'm looking to review the last Martian Manhunter story of the old order and the first of the DCnÜ. Best make sure this is #1,443 then, post-haste, rather than working toward unpublished #200. Besides, it's all terribly exciting, and I really wanted to get in on the ground floor for once. I suppose that's why I went into an actual comic shop and bought Stormwatch #1 on its first day of sale, rather than wait for my copy to come by mail order. This is especially true since a change in ownership/management has seen my payments for USPS delivery transferred to hated UPS. Please support the United States Postal Service, since the new comic order I should have received on Saturday arrived midday Wednesday instead. Hell, my girlfriend placed an order with Amazon on Saturday that arrived Tuesday thanks to USPS. Finally, I heard the Irredeemable Shag and Rob Kelly's podcast The Fire & the Water, in which they go on and on about how Firestorm and Aquaman are getting solo series by choice creative teams. Martian Manhunter is not, so at least I can rub their noses in his team book coming out first. Nyah-nyah!

First the last, and there will be spoilers here:



Flashpoint: The Outsider #3 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
I started reading comics years before Crisis On Infinite Earths, but by 1986 I had largely abandoned DC Comics not just as kid's stuff, but plain old bad more often than not. Knowing the mediocrity that came before, I was an easy convert to the Post-Crisis continuity, as some of the finest comic books every made came out of those years. However, if you go back and read Crisis, you'll find it an almost unbearable chore to slog through, with its dense-yet-haphazard storyline, flat characters vomiting exposition by the bucketful, and overabundance of melodrama. Looked at objectively, Flashpoint was the better story, since it was comparatively tight and self-contained, with real shocks and some thrills. A shame then that it felt irrelevant coming out of the gate, and its readability is at least in part down to the baneful decompressed storytelling of the modern era. Basically, it's easier to read because there's not much to it. For the most part, it was like one of those old double-sized Marvel Comics fantasies from the '80s: "What If... The Super Friends were Stupid Murderous A-Holes?"

We will never live in a Post-Flashpoint world, because nobody cared about Flashpoint as anything more than a means to an end. It's not like they killed the Flash, or Supergirl, or it was the first time DC rebooted its entire universe. This is the fourth by my count, and when was the last time anybody referenced Zero Hour? That said, The Outsider was a spin-off of a story that doesn't matter, although if anyone could make it slightly relevant, it would be the Outsider. A more successful Lex Luthor of India with overwhelming invulnerability and Metamorpho's complexion, the Outsider is so smart as to know that there are 52 worlds in the DC Universe and have access to them. If anyone was going to survive the brief flash in the pan that was Flashpoint continuity, it would be him. It wouldn't even contradict Dan Didio's decree that no one remember the "old" universe. Also, it makes me totally expect that in a future issue of Stormwatch, the Outsider will casually tell Nu-Manhunter "I killed one of you once already, so what's another?"

From what I can tell, most of the Flashpoint spin-offs were tasked with making use of all the stuff from the main series' story bible that wouldn't fit into the primary mini-series. That meant a lot of these books were heavy on flashbacks, with The Outsider being the flashbackiest. Much of the story takes place in 1985, which would be all well and good except J'Onn J'Onzz arrived on Earth in 1955. As a big fan of the character, I could go on for paragraphs about that alone, but suffice to say the thirty years left stewing on a plague-ridden Mars hopefully accounts for the Manhunter now being remarkably dumb. The Martian Manhunter is pretty routinely a jobber in DC stories, so taking him out is no big deal. It's just that this whole comic is about various people taking him out and keeping him captive over a span of decades with rudimentary tools. As the Outsider had already jobbed Black Adam, giving J'Onn J'Onzz the business seems quite a letdown comparatively, especially when their final battle comes down to pure muscle over brains, of which the Outsider has all of one and a good deal of the other besides. Essentially, the entire comic book is a build-up of continuity that is irrelevant and a fight that is one-sided to the point of being a foregone conclusion. Hitting par, James Robinson phones in the same purely work-made-for-hire story he's been telling since Rafferty stalked the Ultraverse in 1995. The art by Javi Fernandez is nice though, which when coupled by the coloring of the Hories reminds me of Al Barrionuevo.



Stormwatch #1 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
The first review of this book I read was Rich Johnston's scathing indictment at Bleeding Cool. It was a bit too rough, especially as I read through the rest of his seemingly very forgiving round-up of the first full week of DCnÜ releases. Johnston pushes back Alan Moore's old gray beard to suckle at his teet, and his employer serves at the pleasure of Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis, so I found it all rather suspect. Plus, I'm currently rereading the so-called glory days of Stormwatch, and like most things, it's reputation exceeds it.

The relaunched Stormwatch is thoroughly decent. If you don't have a prior emotional investment in at least some of these characters, you're liable to be confused and disinterested. Imagine reading JLA #1 without Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, or Aquaman. Continue with an inexperienced violent Superman, a diminished role for Batman, and an enhanced role for Martian Manhunter. That's pretty much this book. The Wildstorm initiated will likely be peeved with the slightness of their characters' initial representation and the tweaks, especially to Apollo. Like Ellis' debut on the first volume of Stormwatch, writer Paul Cornell seems most interested in his own new creations, who get the best lines and moments of a very busy book. DC readers are "treated" to forced tie-ins to a Superman book that won't come out for two weeks and some arbitrary one panel guest cameos. As has been mentioned elsewhere, there is virtually no subtext at play here, but simply an effort to make previously successful counterculture super-humans function in the shinier corporate DC Universe.

On the plus side, I enjoyed all of the dialogue, and the new characters are fun in this initial outing. The slow burn of the plot seems to be establishing an epic scale to the first arc, and potentially the series as a whole. Taking a page chapter from Hickman's S.H.I.E.L.D., Stormwatch in some form now represents a centuries old order traced back to at least medieval times, which should hopefull open the door for lots of retro-adventures for Detective John Jones, Team One, and so forth. The book really does seem poised to be the gateway for Wildstorm's integration into the DC sphere. I enjoyed Martian Manhunter's role in the book, established as the bridge between his teammates in the super-heroic Justice League (who wants to bet he turns up in that book's opening arc after all?) and the nitty-gritty soldier/warriors of Stormwatch. Again, having reread the early Ellis issues, I think folks have forgotten how inconsistent Tom Raney's art was, not to mention the many not-read-for-primetime fill-ins on that book. Miguel Sepulveda continues to remind me of a young Mike McKone crossed with guys like David Roach and Barry Kitson. Unlike Johnston, I think Sepulveda is good at differentiating faces and allowing them to "act" without overacting. His figures are a bit stiff, but it's a fair trade for his ability to ground some fantastic visuals in a tangible realty, making them feel that much bigger. I like the book's look and tone very much, and plan to stick with it for the foreseeable future.

19 comments:

mathematicscore said...

I agree with most of the positives you mentioned.

I flippin HATE the ending of the Outsider. J'onn has been shown as able to grow back from a freakin HAND upon separation. this wasn't even his head getting destroyed. In my world, J'onn picks him self up, flies halfway around the globe and punts this outsider into orbit. I didn't actually read the whole series, I mostly paged through it, but outsider's only power is durability and strength. How is he at all tough enough to deal with Adam and MM? I believe I've made my Doomsday rant before.

As for Stormwatch, WAAYYY better, even great, but I'm a little sad at Martian Morphin Monster, particularly when it doesn't entirely make sense. Cool to see MM and Hawksmoor buddy buddy (I feel their personalities are a good fit) and MM taking the punch from Apollo was satisfyingly cool.

My one problem with it is Midnighter making everybody job, especially MM. He's been established as being close to Hawksmoor's level physically, but MM should be on another level. And I've never really bought into conventional KO's for a shapeshifter like J'onn.

Also, the general argument with Apollo not wanting to be a superhero... a little trite. I guess I don't hate that aspect.

Still, immediately jobbing half your team: decidedly lame.

Still enjoyed it, and Martian head doesn't really bother me either!

Diabolu Frank said...

I thought the same thing on the regrowth issue, but I'm saving that degree of nitpicking for the synopsis. So many nits to pick.

I was happy to see a second Apollo takedown, this time in continuity, even if it required shapeshifting. I don't mind the monstery, since it works very well visually and seems to have gained in popularity since Mahnke started playing with tentacles.

Hello again, Morrison Uber-Batman. Blech.

mathematicscore said...

Even Morrison Uber Batman was usually more believable. I'm mostly grousing about unscientific powersets.

VERISIMILITUDE.

Anj said...

Hmmm ... don't know if this discussion has made the book sound so fantastic that I should run out and buy it.

But it has made me want to walk out and sample it. If it on the rack next week, I'll pick it up.

After all, JLI was such a fail that I already have dumped it, opening up a potential spot on my pull list.

Diabolu Frank said...

Sorry to hear about JLI, but I passed on it, so not too sorry. Stormwatch reminds me a bit of R.E.B.E.L.S. in its vibe/team dynamic, but without the galvanizing force/charisma of Vril Dox. Lots of smaller teams and bickering among the members, but still professionals getting work done for the greater good.

will_in_chicago said...

Stormwatch sounds promising, but I think that J'Onn and Apollo should be in the same strength and stamina category as Superman. Still, the book sounds promising.

Let's hope that Stormwatch continues to improve -- it already sounds far better than the Outsider. (J'Onn is far from an idiot and should be shown as competent a detective as anyone in the DCnU -- yes, Mr. Wayne, I am pointing at you.)

Diabolu Frank said...

Will, for the second time, Martian Manhunter has been shown to be stronger than Apollo. First was in Dreamwar.

mathematicscore said...

Frank, the R.E.B.E.L.s reference is good call. I haven't yet seen Cornell on a real long run, but I'm optimistic that it will be about as good or better, if not in the art department.

will_in_chicago said...

Okay, Frank, I will have to pick up the book. I wonder if there will be a few jokes directed at some of the other books and characters soon.

Ryan said...

I've read a few negative reviews of Stormwatch #1 and I think they're way off base; I really enjoyed this issue! I read Stormwatch when it first debuted with the original Image Comics launch, and I followed into Warren Ellis' initial run. But I never read Planetary or The Authority and maybe that served me better for this issue. I didn't have any preconceived feelings about most of the cast and no real expectations for this book other than the strength of Paul Cornell's writing on other titles.

As I said, I really liked this. I enjoyed meeting all of these strange brand new characters, I liked the new take on established characters, and J'onn J'onzz was very cool. I liked the kind of frenetic pacing and jumping back and forth, multiple threats, and a sentient moon (!).

Troy Hickman said...

I'm pretty sure you probably meant Jonathan Hickman's SHIELD. My version would involve Nick and the boys eating a lot of sandwiches and talking about how creepy the Life Model Decoys are...

Diabolu Frank said...

Troy, I'm getting old. I'll just say Hickman and let folks guess. Three-quarters of a century of comics, and we end up with two Hickmans running around at once.

Ryan, I did read some Authority and Planetary, and it was fun, but folks have overrated the material in their minds considerably. Ellis and Millar are still trying to one-up themselves if that's someone's bag, but their abandoned characters need to be more than an exercise in political power fantasy thuggery. Once the Authority took over the Earth by force, they ran out of things to do (except someone else blowing up that Earth, which did happen eventually.) Hopefully, Cornell will figure out a more sustainable model. I do think this first arc will work better as a trade, but I liked the first taste.

Anj said...

Went to my LCS to pick up some supplies and bought Stormwatch based on this discussion.

Liked it more than I thought I would. I don't know these characters and their back stories at all. But I like 'big cosmic threat' stories and the art was very good.

Now I need to decide if it is a 'month to month' decision to buy or to follow for a bit.

Diabolu Frank said...

Well, I ran out and bought #1 on the day of release, but for the rest of the series, I'll wait on my mail order copy. I expect it'll build over time, so I'll stick by coverage of it for the long haul, though it'll be 3 weeks after release before any issue gets addressed here. I'll be curious to see how long this first arc runs.

Ryan said...

I pre-ordered all of the first issues for the initial new 52; they were discounted 50% off at DCBS. For the books I enjoy and plan to follow, I'm going to read digitally at ComiXology, and for the series I really, really enjoy, I'll get the trades or hardcovers as they come out. For now, I'll be following Stormwatch digitally and see how it progresses.

mathematicscore said...

If you're ever asked if Sepulveda is a great artist:

http://www.bleedingcool.com/2011/09/12/swipe-file-syfy-vs-stormwatch-1/

Or perhaps I am too harsh; I seems like a DC really put the short notice to everyone involved.

Diabolu Frank said...

I caught that just before visiting here. Chalk it up to the times. It's bad enough to Photoshop/trace human beings, but it's especially sad when the lack of imagination extends to fantasy creatures. Didn't even try to change the positioning or anything. Don't these guys know that you can't get away with this in the internet age? Do they not care anymore? I'm waiting to see if the guy is still drawing the book by #4, given that Al Barrionuevo was already pitching in.

LissBirds said...

Okay, the comparison to R.E.B.E.L.S. *really* piqued my interest, because that was a book that I grew to love. (Took me a while to warm up, but when I did, I really missed it. It was nice to read about some fresh faces.)

My books should've been here today but weren't. Hopefully they'll be here tomorrow, and Stormwatch is the first one I'm going to read.

Diabolu Frank said...

Hope we didn't oversell it. Worse comes to worst, it's going for five times cover price on eBay...