Saturday, October 22, 2011

Stormwatch #44 (January, 1997)

Jenny Sparks was "too old, too tired and too sober" for another attempt from Battalion to hold a training session. Jackson King explained that wasn't his intention in meeting with her, preferring a getting to know her session. At age 96, still in the body of a twenty year old, the limey had a lot of life to tell.

"The Twenties were an age of scientific romance. I loved it." Wearing an all white outfit complete with Jodhpurs, she entered the Thirties kicking war profiteers in the crotch and having experienced spaceflight in otherworldly "Shiftships." As she put it, "Europe had intellect, but America had madness. I came here looking for it." Things took a bad turn in the Forties, from the primitive excitement of Joe Shuster to the cinematic noir of Will Eisner. Clarence Cornwall had been a friend, but when she learned he was involved in a plot to release Zyklon B gas into a city orphanage simply because "It's full of black kids," she electrocuted him.

Enough of that. Jenny came home in the 1950s, joining the British Space Group, a government cover operation for all the traffic between parallel Earths going on. Sparks flew in Helicars and dreamed of a utopian world made possible by the technology of Sliding Albion. One day, Jenny met Saul Baxter and soon learned that Sliding Albion had entered a Parallel World War One with Sliding Europe. Bacterial warfare meant the whole thing was over in a few hours. As Albion died, it tried to shunt a bacterial attack to our world in a desperate attempt to save themselves. The journey through the Shiftdoor had altered the bacteria though, creating the first generation of English mutant superhumans.

In the Sixties, Sparks tried to write an autobiography, but that was killed. She threw in with the superhuman counterculture movement instead. "And that was a bleedin' bunch. All taking on pseudonyms, dressing as weirdly as possible to make sure the neighbors didn't recognize them... I'm sure they had no idea what they looked like, but their hearts-- and their brains-- were in the right place." Jack Kirby gave way to Neal Adams. Late in the decade, Jenny's group provided security to an Altamont/Woodstock hybrid where macho caveman Abel Eternity agreed to prove his manhood by shooting up with some bikers. Abel went ape, killed scores of people, and his rampage was fatally halted by Sparks. The group broke up, Jenny hit the bottle, and didn't get out of bed until 1982.

Dave Gibbons' U.K. saw Thatcher's government terrified of all the mentally unstable superhumans roaming about. They sobered Sparks up to investigate a series of infant abductions from single mothers. Her investigation determined that the inability of the bacteria babies to reproduce had led a couple into "creating" their own Frankenstein child out of the moldering, sewn-together bits of those that they had stolen. Jenny quit the Eighties after that, right back to the bottle until Henry Bendix came calling a few months earlier. Jackson comforted his teammates, saying that those decades were past, and the Nineties offered another chance to make things right. "You can still see the stars, Jenny."

Warren Ellis, Tom Raney and Randy Elliott thoroughly embraced the metatextual analogue path blazed by Alan Moore by visibly inserting Jenny Sparks into decades worth of American comic strips. Raney did an excellent job of imitating the art styles of the various exemplars of the periods, while Ellis retroactively weaved Wildstorm and real world continuity into those works. The issue even shipped with three different period covers representing EC Comics, Watchmen, and Gil Kane himself revisiting his 1970s efforts. Still political without being shrill, this issue showed the promise of Ellis work to come, and was quite enjoyable without the usual reservations.


Tom Hartley said...

Waitaminnit... this one actually sounds kinda' good. Are you sure this is Stormwad?

(Verification word: yargoolu)

Diabolu Frank said...

Yargoolu to you too, sir!

Stormwatch came out after the initial rush of terrible Image releases, so I initially only read it when there was a crossover between other Wildstorm titles (specifically the Robinson/Moore WildC.A.T.s.) By the time Ellis got started, I tended to have stripped cover returns lying around my shop. Since they were going to end up in the trash anyway, I'd take a nice long soak and read these comics. As noted, many were clumsy and excessively violent, but this was the first one to get my attention that this series was worth watching.