Sunday, October 9, 2011

Reviews of Diabolu: Stormwatch #2



Stormwatch #2 (DC, 2011, $2.99)
I enjoyed this second issue well enough, in spite of the fact that it worsens the flaws of the debut, and in part because my expectations have been lowered since then.

I was a little put off by the newly DC exclusive artist Miguel Sepulveda's so plainly tracing/shopping from Mongolian Death Worm that DC had the pages redrawn for the second printing. I still like the basics of his style though, and since he mostly handles the monsters/alien landscape pages, he's in his element. However, the real surprise was supporting artist Al Barrionuevo. While I enjoyed the guy's work on the 2006 Martian Manhunter mini-series, he was still rough around the edges, and aping Bryan Hitch a little too hard. For that book, Barrionuevo insisted on long, narrow, "letterboxed" panels for a supposed "widescreen" effect, but it just made everything look like it was getting squashed in a compactor. Today, Barrionuevo has really opened up his page layouts so that they have more energy and variety. Barrionuevo clearly loves following in Hitch's footsteps on Stormwatch, but he's also picked up a strong Phil Jimenez influence which makes for a quite palatable union. The guy gets another shot at the Manhunter from Mars, and while this is also a deviation from the more familiar model, it's close enough to classic to please me much. I hope Barrionuevo sticks with the series, since he slides in very well with Sepulveda. He may not have quite the same razzmatazz, but he's a a better storyteller with more fluid figures, balancing each other's strengths and weaknesses.

The scripts are where I find my ambivalence toward this book. When it was announced that the title would be at the forefront of the Wildstorm integration into the DC Universe, I was concerned about it starring a bunch of Warren Ellis creations, new characters in a similar vein, and the one doofy DC 1950s sci-fi super-hero. I thought the Martian Manhunter might be the book's Jon Kavanaugh or Seth Bullock; a white knight corrupted by circumstance, or an inflexible objectivist on a morally subjective team. Instead, the Martian Manhunter is about the only pre-existing character who seems consistent. The Authority were a bunch of self-justifying puffed-up jackasses, but they were of the likeable John Constantine mode. The new Stormwatch, to date, has been more like a Justice League consisting of Triumph, Guy Gardner, Vibe, Orion and Maxima. In other words, they're a bunch of jerks, and I not only do not recognize them, instead finding them derivative of DC counterparts. Apollo is the isolated, unsure pre-Superman Clark Kent. Midnighter was pretty much always the very model of the ultraviolent Über-Batman, but now he's an extra-creepy Queerstalker to boot. I don't recall the Engineer being a backbiter, and the pleasant enough new characters from last issue are either abandoned or take a nasty turn this month. It's bad enough that the book is so new reader unfriendly, mired as it is in a complex backstory-in-development, but do the characters have to be so irritable as well?

That said, the new issue flowed pretty well, despite some backpedaling and pacing geared toward the trade. Paul Cornell's writing isn't inherently bad, so I'm hopeful that he'll eventually catch a breath and properly introduce Stormwatch to its readers. The threat is getting fleshed out, twists are promised for the next issue, and this is supposed to shape up into a lynchpin title. I can see the seeding for interesting events down the road, but I'm already impatient for the book I expect this to be, and I feel like I'm reading a second or third story arc instead of the first. Onward with fingers crossed, then...

By the way, since market analysis posts are very dry and niche, I thought I'd offer a bit on Stormwatch #1 at the tail end of this review. It was the 30th best selling book of the DC New 52 in September, placing it squarely at middling for the launch. Technically, that put it in a statistical dead heat with The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men #1 (hi Shag!) and behind such books as Red Hood and the Outlaws, Birds of Prey, The Savage Hawkman and Superboy. However, every single one of those comics was ordered with the knowledge that they would be 100% returnable for a full refund. Stormwatch was the ninth most popular non-returnable book of the launch, ordered with full awareness that retailers would have to eat unsold copies. That's a serious vote of confidence in my book, even if orders were only about a quarter of the best-seller of the month, Batman #1.

19 comments:

LissBirds said...

I have to say I wasn't too impressed with issue #1. (Haven't read #2 yet.) Because I don't know who any of these characters are, pretty much everything went over my head. Because everything started in medias res, I had no idea who these characters are, how they related to each other, etc. It felt like a pretty standard "let's assemble a team" issue to me. Not enough to drive me away...yet.

J'onn seems a little dull to me--maybe it's because he doesn't have any familiar characters to play off of? (Sometimes I think he does best as a foil for stronger personalities.)

Interesting to see they redrew that panel, too.

Verification word is "toxism." Hope that isn't an omen.

mathematicscore said...

I was pretty down, although I was high on the fact that MM was only being teased as jobbing. Adam One is like hippie Max Lord; forced on you by the writers, and you might end up liking him, but no way were you asking for him.

This really is going to be more JLI than JLI.

You are dead on about the overly-busy-probably-should-have-been-a-single-issue-before-going-apeshit-like-this plot, but it could turn out to be charming. It at least feels like more is happening than in Justice League...

Diabolu Frank said...

Liss, have you gotten anything out of the Wildstorm content I've posted here? I haven't gotten to any of the preexisting characters in the new Stormwatch yet, but I'm wondering if the stuff I've done so far has been of any use to Martian Manhunter fans. Regardless, I'd recommend tradewaiting the rest of the story arc, because all signs point to SOL for uninitiated readers on an issue-by-issue basis.

M.C., even setting the Martian Manhunter inclusion aside, I'd much rather read Stormwatch than Justice League. That's one of those books I can easily follow by osmosis, since the plot and characters are thin, the beats obvious, and I don't wrap pages of Jim Lee art around my johnson like a gym sock. I'm fairly comfortable with Stormwatch so far, but I'm not going to lie and say I'm 100% sure on exactly what's happening or where it will all end up. I'd much rather read about Apollo and Midnighter's early courtship (unsettling as it seems to be so far) than Fractal Tech-Armor Superman and DigiBatman expressing their unrequited manlove through fisticuffs for the 4,573rd time. I want to get to know the Projectionist and Harry Tanner rather that revisit Angry Aquaman, Runs Fast Man and Token in a Tin Can, especially in five minute big panel adventures. I'm not sure which Max Lord that Adam One will turn out to be, but I'll take either over the true scourge of the DC Universe, Blah Jordan.

Ryan said...

I did enjoy issue #1 and I liked #2 even better. I'm a Stormwatch fan from Ellis' early issues, before PLANETARY and THE AUTHORITY. I think Paul Cornell is doing a terrific job of bringing a sense of spectacle and frenetic insanity to this book that does what a good sci-fi adventure should: show me things I've never seen before!

On the other hand, yeah, I'm not sure why Martian Manhunter is on this team. It feels like he's there for fan service, but getting lost in an ensemble of characters Cornell is a lot more interested in. Hopefully, we'll explore his character a little more as the series progresses and find out exactly what he's doing on Stormwatch. Otherwise, DC should put MM on Justice League International. Or, you know, Justice League.

mathematicscore said...

Frank, well said re: Justice League. It's decompressed too the point I can't care. Thankfully, it seems Action, Batman, and a number of the vertigo books seem to be getting it more right than wrong. I'm even guardedly hopeful for Red Hood and Catwoman; this from an amateur feminist. I paged through JLI, and it seems a tad better than Jurgens original run, Although the fact that interracial-human-element are NOT Jackson King and Christine Trelane is such an obvious missed opportunity Plastic Man is rolling in his grave.

Diabolu Frank said...

Ryan, nooooo! I agree with much of what you said, but please don't subject me to another round of Jurgens JLI or this bland new Justice League. I don't feel like J'Onn is getting less exposure in Stormwatch than any other character, and I much prefer the new company over the S.O.S. I do wish we'd started with Stormwatch and slowly brought in the Authority, though. It's kind of been the Apollo and Midnighter show so far.

M.C., I'm all for taking the contrary position, but you'll stand alone in paying good money for Scott Lobdell and Judd Winick scripts. I'm tradewaiting Azzarello on Wonder Woman, so Starfire never had a ghost of a chance to win me over. You totally went over my JLI-less head on that last line, too. Is Vixen dabbling in vanilla vinyl or something?

mathematicscore said...

No, there is a bald black male and a white female who are loosely associated with the UN...but they aren't the bald black male and a white female that worked for the UN and liaison with a superhero team.

Diabolu Frank said...

See, if you're going to bring Wildstorm in, bring it all in. Don't cherry pick only the biggest properties and blow off the rest. Superboy did a nice job of that with Fairchild, although she was pretty big in her day, as well.

will_in_chicago said...

I still have to pick up Stormwatch 1, as I have been swamped. My hope is that we will see more of J'Onn as the series progresses. Possibly some of the characters can be less of the jerks they seem to be from the review.

At least J'Onn does not seem to be shoved to the background. Maybe it will be easier to judge the initial story arc once it is done.

LissBirds said...

To answer your question, Frank, I have gotten a little bit of a sense of what the Wildstorm characters are all about from your writeups. (That they're kind of outsiders who have some parallels to DC characters.)

Reading the actual comic, though, I couldn't get a sense of their backstories from just the script. I hope they give us some flashbacks in upcoming issues.

Rafa Rivas said...

We have to work out a system. I see no point in doing a Stormwatch reviews when you have more insightful anaylsis with the same type of opinion.

I'll be doing articles with brief reviews of whatever I read from the DCnU (October, for instance). For now, I'll just add a link to your reviews in the SW section.

I like Ws characters, but I think they work better as a separate universe. It's like merging the Supreme world with DC, we would just get too many repeated concepts.

Diabolu Frank said...

It's true. Marvel should have bought Wildstorm to get all the Jim Lee-afied DC concepts, and DC should have bought Extreme for all its Marvel retreads.

Rafa Rivas said...

And that's only if we ignore Squadron Supreme and the Champions of Angor (and the other Marvel parodies that Giffen added).

I'm a bit neurotic when it comes to repeated powers. I like the idea of the Earth-2 characters, along with Captain Marvel and Plastic Man (both characters that never worked well after the golden age) in another universe. I can take Charlston and even Milestone with E1, but not Ws.

Diabolu Frank said...

Yeah, we could use four Earths or so. The Fawcett and Quality characters can probably share a planet, and add the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents to Wildstorm. Unfortunately, it looks like the Curse of Shazam will continue to plague Earth-1 (and vice versa.) I think Wildstorm could integrate into the DCU, but not by emphasizing redundant characters like Apollo and Midnighter.

Rafa Rivas said...

You're pretty much the expert on Ws, so I'll go with that. Maybe Apollo, Midnighter and Stormwatch/Authority are the only ones that bother me. My main reason is that it doesn't make sense to take the JSA, GL I and Flash I away just to add another superhero team that operated before Superman and features redundant characters.

Diabolu Frank said...

Dude, I'm only a WS "expert" relative to the number of DC fans who never touched the stuff. I read a fair amount of it in the late '90s, and that's my point of reference.

I don't think moving the JSA to Earth-2 is meant to diminish them. I expect it's to separate them from World War II to make them younger/fresher and from the JLA so that they can be the greatest heroes of a world. I don't agree with it, but I see the logic.

Rafa Rivas said...

You're still a Ws expert compared with me, which is what I meant. I don't know anything about it.

I don't think moving JSA to another earth diminish them either. I don't think placing Ws on E-1 makes it better (but maybe Apollo and Midnighter will shine a bit less).

Diabolu Frank said...

If I have Grant Morrison and Rags Morales writing the adventures of a young, relatively plainclothes superman dealing out rough justice against societal ills, why do I need Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda doing the same thing as a subplot in a team book? The whole point of analogues is a) they don't need a backstory because they're a copy of a preexisting character and b) you do things with the analogue you can't do with the real deal. I don't want or we don't need to be introduced to these guys as rookies. They should have just picked up The Authority at some point before the book went off the rails, and let Stormwatch be its own thing with less redundant members.

Rafa Rivas said...

Agreed.

However, Alan Moore managed to pull that with Supreme. Then again, Supereme didn't live in the DCU and it was really meta.