Welcome to Image30, Comic Watch’s celebration of three decades of Image Comics! Throughout 2022, each week we’ll take a look back, chronologically, at the comics that built the publisher into the powerhouse it is today, and changed comics forever! In doing so, it’s our hope to paint a clear and definitive picture from a finished product perspective how the company originated, grew, evolved, and changed into the diverse juggernaut it is today.
Image30 Chapter 11:
By March of 1993, Image Comics was a certifiable commercial success as a company and critical esteem was beginning ramp up as more and more titles began to round into form. Jim Lee’s imprint, WildStorm, already had success with WildC.A.T.s– a covert, privately funded team full of aliens and half-breeds fighting a centuries-old war– but it was clear that this team needed a bookend in order to create a fully integrated universe with it’s own, internal continuity. Enter StormWatch. While the WildC.A.T.s. dominantly gained their powers extra-terrestrially, the members of StormWatch were enhanced humans. The private funding of WildC.A.T.s. gives way to StormWatch’s United Nations sanction, with all the good and bad that comes with that. The two teams are polar opposites in composition and structure yet extremely similar in their mission statements and tactics. Like WildC.A.T.s. StormWatch was started by Jim Lee, Brandon Choi, and Scott Clark but would soon see the likes of Ron Marz and Brett Booth carrying on the first volume.
The characters out of the gate were international, similar to relaunch of the X-Men in Giant Size X-Men. An Irish cop, an ex-Spetznaz officer, a gaseous Japanese man and a loud Italian woman walk into a satellite and you have Hellstrike, Winter, Fuji, and Diva of the original StormWatch lineup. Add in Weatherman, Henry Bendix, who essentially ran communications and intelligence, and Batallion, the telekinetic field commander Jackson King, and you’ve got a team ready to strike at superpowered threats across the globe at a moment’s notice. And so went the early days of missions and freak-of-the-week type encounters.
A watershed moment occurred for WildStorm in 1995. While Marz was on StormWatch and James Robinson was writing WildC.A.T.s., a two-issue mini-series launched that would forever change the face of the imprint. Team One: WildC.A.T.s. (written by Robinson) and Team One: StormWatch (written by Steven Seagle) explored the early concepts of both teams in the mid-1960s. The team featured mainstays of both later teams, from Zealot and Backlash to Bendix and Jackson King’s father Isaiah, and created a depth of shared history in the WildStorm universe as yet unseen. In uniting the two flagship titles with said shared continuity and attention to detail, the WildStorm Universe as many of us have come to know it was truly born in this moment, paving the way for much of the critical acclaim that we would see later in books such as The Authority, Planetary, and Sleeper among others.
And speaking to that later critical acclaim, we come to the moment in which we must talk about the elephant in the room. In July, 1996, the UK based writer Warren Ellis takes over StormWatch vol.3 with #37 and completely revolutionized superhero comics of that era. Given the revelations of the past several years, it would be irresponsible not to raise the problematics of Ellis as a person, with dozens upon dozens of women coming forward with accusations of grooming, sexual misconduct, horrific power dynamics, gaslighting, and harassment. After a lengthy hiatus, Ellis has been slowly returning to the public eye of late and one can only hope that he has been genuine in working with these various victims in making atonement for his behaviors but I can’t speak personally to that. What I can speak to is Warren Ellis the writer, though, and what he did with StormWatch over the next several years was alter the course of the superhero in the 1990s and effects of his work from that time can still be felt, for better or worse, today.
Much of the American superhero genre had begun a slow spiral towards the anti-hero, understandably so after the great acclaim for the works of Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Larry Hama and many more writing darker, grittier, solo heroes that are willing to bend the rules to ensure the proper outcome. I’m reminded of the recent HBOMax DCU series, Peacemaker, where our titular protagonist says his mission is “to ensure peace… at any cost.” As more and more titles became inundated with similar philosophies, however, the concept began to lose it’s teeth. Ultra-violence and big guns reigned supreme but the why of it was slipping away into the homogeneous masses of titles. What Ellis and Tom Raney (initially on art during this run) did was embrace the ultra-violence but simultaneously question it’s efficacy. It was a seeming understanding that the world was a very different place than the Golden or Silver Ages of Superheroes. The face of evil was no longer the black and white of a Hitler or a Pol Pot but more the structures, policies, economics of a world where the value of diamonds in a nation yields dozens of brutal warlords with no global notoriety outside their own war torn territories. After approximately twenty-five issues of pruning these notions in two volumes of StormWatch, Ellis would write The Authority, carrying over Jenny Sparks, Jack Hawksmoor, Apollo, the Midnighter, and several other concepts he created in his previous run to write a book that is widely considered one of the greatest superhero stories of the past fifty years. But we’ll circle back to that later.
StormWatch continued to have a legacy even after Lee took WildStorm to DC Comics in 1998, but never quite to the heights it reached in the mid-1990s. You would see StormWatch: Team Achilles, a team of all human operatives, in an interesting but ultimately slow series that was never finished. StormWatch: Post-Human Division (PHD) was a later DC attempt to relaunch the original concepts and resurrect several deceased characters that received mixed reviews, along the rest of that universal relaunch. In the New52, DC attempted to fully integrate the WildStorm Universe with the DCU with… varying results. This newly launched StormWatch team would tie in to fellow New52 title Demon Knights as a continuation of a long-standing team of watchers over the earth. It read more like a watered down version of the Authority with the main link to the DCU being the presence Martian Manhunter on the team. Compared to other WildStorm-centric titles, such as Voodoo, Gifter and Team Seven, New52 StormWatch fell significantly short of it’s legacy.
With recent appearances by Grifter, Zealot, and the WildC.A.T.s. In current DC titles, it remains to be seen if a new attempt to resurrect StormWatch will be coming sometime soon. One can only hope that an attempt is made, though, as StormWatch is one of the cornerstones of the WildStorm Universe and played a significant role in the evolution of Image Comics.
NEXT WEEK! Image flaunts its growing A-list status as Spawn and Batman team up! PLUS: Whilce Portacio at last publishes WetWorks, as the final Image founder to release his own comic, the haters decry so-called “Image purge” as proof the company’s days are numbered, and Image X-month confuses just about everybody.
For Chapter 1: Youngblood, click here.
For Chapter 2: Spawn, click here.
For Chapter 3: Savage Dragon: click here.
For Chapter 5: ShadowHawk, click here.
For Chapter 6: CyberForce, click here.
For Chapter 8: 1963, click here.
For Chapter 9: The Maxx, click here.
For Chapter 10: Deathmate, click here.
Image30 Chapter11: StormWatch
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