Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Stormwatch Sourcebook #1 (January, 1994)

The original Stormwatch series was begun in 1993 by schoolmates Jim Lee and Brandon Choi, joined by artist Scott Clark in his major debut. Since they were all the children of X-titles and other spin-offs, the series began at a point when the titular team was already an established entity with reams of unrevealed continuity. Five months into the series, a #0 issue filled in some gaps, followed by the Stormwatch Sourcebook less than a year into the run. It took Marvel and DC Comics decades to accumulate enough information to warrant their own encyclopedic handbooks, so these Image editions tended to be long on pin-ups and "story bible" information they often failed to convey in the actual comics. I thought I might skim this first sourcebook to touch on background going into the new Stormwatch series, although the relaunch is clearly far closer to the spin-off title The Authority, so I doubt this will prove immediately relevant. However, since I plan to start coverage of the series with Warren Ellis' run on the book in 1996, one feeds into another.

Team One was the original retroactive Wildstorm super-team. Members included Regiment, Marc Slayton, John Colt, Lord Emp, Henry Bendix, Lucy Blaize, Mr. Majestic, and the mysterious Mason.

"The United Nations first orbital space station, Monitor One, was staffed by an international crew of scientists, technicians, and military personnel. Shortly after the station's completion, it was caught in the tail of a previously uncharted comet. Strange radiation from the comet's tail penetrated the station's defense shields and caused the majority on board to die a grisly death." Those who survived became inhuman, power mad beings who collectively tried to conquer the Earth as the Warguard.

"The radiation penetrated the earth's atmosphere in weakened form, touching others with the same rare genetic makeup as the WarGuard. Those affected in this way came to be known as Seedlings. They carry within them special powers which require an additional activating agent before they manifest." Or, in DC Comics terms, these people had a metagene.

SkyWatch was a satellite successor to Monitor One, "tasked with the observation of the Earth's surface and some of its sub-surface to detect early indicators of acts of terrorism, counter societal activities and technical ill-use (primarily nuclear). Skywatch is empowered with aggressive self-protection and limited but decisive ground-directed precision intervention."

Weatherman One (Henry Bendix) worked with Team One and for the N.S.A. before becoming the Stormwatch Control Officer. Living on SkyWatch and cybernetically enhanced, the Weatherman monitored the plethora of information collected as part of the program and dictated the activities of the Stormwatch teams. Stormwatch Prime was the first active Stormwatch group, "a crisis intervention team assembled under the auspices of the United Nations SkyWatch program. They are on constant alert to take any action SkyWatch deems necessary to maintain world peace and to enforce international law." Stormwatch Prime consisted of:

Backlash (Mark Slayton) of the United States was a member of Team One and the top secret Team 7 commando squad before transferring to Stormwatch. Trained the members of Stormwatch Prime. The sourcebook contradicts itself as to whether Backlash was team leader or mission adviser during the final Stormwatch Prime mission of their original iteration. Regardless, Backlash chose to step down to act solely as trainer to incoming members. A martial artist who "can generate an energy coil which he uses like a super-charged lasso."

Battalion (Jackson King) of the U.S.A. was known for his cool head. The son of Team One and WarGuard member Isaiah King, Battalion had psionic powers which enabled him to energize and control his armor/weapons, as well as generate a shield. Fronted Stormwatch Prime until a disastrous mission in the closing days of Desert Storm in Kuwait, from which only Battalion and Backlash managed to escape.

Flashpoint (Foster McClane) of South-Central Australia was a racist/sexist/etcetera with optic blasts, who lost out on leading Stormwatch Prime because of his anger issues. Believed dead by Skywatch after a disastrous mission, but actually held captive with his teammates.

Nautika (Maya Royko) was an original Stormwatch member with aquatic and electrical powers. She kept the peace between Battalion and Flashpoint until becoming a prisoner of war.

Sunburst (Karl Hansen) of Sweden wielded solar powers as the final member of Stormwatch Prime, added as an additional buffer between Battalion and Flashpoint. Hansen soon fell in love with Nautika, and they married shortly before their capture in Desert Storm.

The Mercs were the villainous soldiers for hire who defeated Stormwatch Prime and continued to plague the subsequent incarnation of the team. Consist of Brutus, Deathtrap, Kilgore, Razer, & Slayer.

Stormwatch One replaced Stormwatch Prime, and consisted of the returned Battalion as field leader, along with:

Diva (Alessandra Firmi) of Italy, second-in-command with sonic powers that enable her to vibrate, manipulate, and destroy objects, as well as fly.

Winter (Nikolas Kamarov) was motivated by familial shame and a wish to escape his frigid homeland of Siberia to train for the Soviet Olympic team. A failed attempt to defect while on an exhibition trip to Florida ended with his forced induction into the military. Honed by years of service in hostile regions like Afghanistan, Winter's powers were activated by SkyWatch after he was acquired by the program after the fall of the U.S.S.R. Winter absorbs energy in one form (positive/negative) and utilizes it in its opposite form. Known for bouts of depression and a fatalistic worldview.

Fuji (Toshiro Misawa) of Japan was the son of an extraordinarily wealthy industrialist whose abnormal growth led his to sumo wrestling as a teenager. Upon being activated by SkyWatch, Fuji became a lethally radioactive plasma being. Now contained in special armor, Fuji "is a being of immense size and strength" who could control his density within the suit.

Hellstrike (Nigel Keane) of Ireland worked for Scotland Yard before having his powers activated as part of Stormwatch. Deathtrap, leader of the Mercs, caused Hellstrike's body to slowly loose cohesion until it broke down into a pure energy form. Hellstrike managed to reconstitute himself, and is now a living weapon.

There was also Stormwatch Two, a B-team led by Cannon (who could fire himself like a cannonball) with Fahrenheit (who could create heat and fly,) Ion & Lancer (both killed at Chernobyl by the alien menace Regent.)

Synergy (Christine Trelane) of the U.S. was a SkyWatch regular who helped form the various Stormwatch teams and could activate the powers of Seedlings. She had a love-hate relationship with Battalion.

In the early issues of the series, the Mercs' clash with Stormwatch One caused the death of Jackson King's friend, United Nations delegate John Windsor. Battalion's troubled brother Malcolm King was introduced, and the Seedling was activated by Synergy, eventually codenamed Strafe. Regent made short work of Stormwatch Two before his defeat by a combined force. The WarGuard were released from their cryogenic prison on Skywatch by evil Daemonite aliens, and defeated with the assistance of Backlash. Over the first six issues, only the artists received cover credits, a backhand to writers in general, but not entirely unwarranted by the writing quality across the line.

The book used a guest appearance from Ripclaw of Cyberforce as an excuse for a backdoor pilot to Gen13. It was learned that the members of Stormwatch Prime were alive, held captive and tortured by Deathtrap and the Mercs in the outlaw island nation of Gamorra. Rescued, the original members were asked to prove themselves as a unit again. Taking a cue from Valiant Comics' Rai #0, Image jumped a batch of their second tier titles to their twenty-fifth issues as part of "Images of Tomorrow," previewing future events while locking in over a years worth of obligatory lead-in. The story by Steven Seagal saw the Battalion of the present fight his own brother and WarGuard member father, Despot, before returning home.

Ron Marz and Mat Broome took over the book, in which Battalion struggled with his awareness of the future. Battalion contemplated killing his father before the events to come, but eventually appeared to due himself in an explosion. The team under new leader Diva visited Rwanda, Synapse replaced an embattled Henry Bendix as Weatherman, Undertow and Pagan joined the team, and Stormwatch were manipulated into a conflict with the WildC.A.T.s. that ended with that team's seeming demise. Believing Stormwatch to lack the power to defeat the Daemonite Lord Helspont, SkyWatch released the WarGuard, who of course turned on everyone. Spartan joined Stormwatch, Despot killed Diva, Battalion turned up alive, and Despot was shot in the head by the returned Henry Bendix.

Various writers (was H.K. Proger an Alan Smithee?) and the consistently awful artwork of Renato Arlem saw the book became a poor man's Alpha Flight. A push to gather up droves of Seedlings as potential resources following the casualties against Despot saw the creation of one of the largest casts of characters absolutely no one cared about in comic book history. Notables who remained with the team included the winged Swift of Tibet, invulnerable Flint of Kenya, shapeshifting Comanche and Blademaster. Stormwatch was one of nine books that took part in the 21 part "Fire From Heaven" crossover, Image Comics' closest attempt to recreate the widespread pointlessness of DC's Millennium.

Prior to Warren Ellis' run, Battalion and Synapse finally became romantically involved. Henry Bendix was restored as Weatherman One. Flashpoint was revealed to be a longtime mole for Deathtrap and killed by Battalion. That should be everything you need to know before we get started looking at the run here...

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