The Warren Ellis run on Stormwatch was the first long term run on a series that I genuinely connected with. The idea of a UN-controlled superhuman crisis intervention team was always an attractive one but under Ellis the book became something tighter, more mature than it had been before. Ellis wrote Stormwatch officers as humans, people with ideals and agendas and flaws all struggling against a job which often seemed designed to stop them doing any real good in the world. That constant struggle, between what was right and what was necessary ultimately spawned the sequel book, The Authority, and indirectly changed the visual and intellectual grammar of Western superhero comics for most of the following decade.
For me though, Stormwatch was always a more attractive concept than The Authority. Stormwatch were mortals, normal people with abnormal abilities trying to do their best and often failing. They were human as well as superhuman and that humanity was one of the book’s most important elements. It’s also one of the elements that Paul Cornell’s relaunch of the book keeps in place.
Cornell reimagines Stormwatch as something closer to the Knights Templar, an organisation that has existed for centuries and which has tasked itself with protecting the Earth from superhuman and supernatural threats. Cornell cleverly weaves his other book, Demon Knights, into the background, establishing them as an early iteration of Stormwatch and in doing so neatly moving the book into territory closer to Jonathan Hickman’s excellent Marvel series SHIELD, than Ellis’ previous run on Stormwatch.
This historical context also provides a broader canvas for Cornell, and he clearly relishes exploring the idea of Stormwatch being something closer to a monastic order than a small fire team of soldiers. Adam One, one of the new characters is a good example of this. An immortal strategic advisor, Adam is equal parts priest and general, a man who has advised world leaders but can’t quite remember some of their names. History but with the corners knocked off, superhumans who were suits to work instead of capes. Stormwatch was always a curiously English type of superhuman comic and under Cornell’s reign that only looks like it’s increasing. He’s aided no end by Miguel Sepulveda’s clean, rounded, expressive art.
The first issue does a neat job of exploring what Stormwatch does in this new iteration, as one team is sent to Moscow to try and recruit a new member, a second is dispatched to investigate a mysterious artifact and, alone on the moon, Harry Tanner discovers something impossible just as something impossible discovers him. If the book has a weakness it’s that it tries to do too much in one issue as Cornell introduces established characters, a modified status quo and newcomers at the same time as moving three linked plotlines along. They all work, and will no doubt all dovetail but all three could benefit from a little bit of extra space. Harry Tanner, the splendidly named Eminence of Blades, in particular is a fascinating character in a difficult situation and I could have stood to read a lot more of him. I suspect, as the series goes on, we will.
Interestingly, this minor reservation actually gives the book a different feel. There’s a real sense of Stormwatch being a global organisation dealing with global threats and the fact that each of the missions presented here is equally important drives home how impossible their job is. Stormwatch are the line between us and chaos and the line as it’s presented here, is stretched pretty thinly, even with the addition of DC mainstay the Martian Manhunter and newcomers like Harry and Adam One.
Stormwatch feels idfferent to every other book in the launch. There’s a cautious altruism to the way the characters are presented, a desire to do the right thing even though they may not be thanked for it, that’s tempered with the pragmatism of working in the military. That’s ultimately the glue that holds the book together, through three plot lines, moments of gleeful pop culture invention and the combination of two universes’ worth of characters; the greater good. Stormwatch have been reimagined as the guardians of humanity and I can’t think of anyone better suited to the job.