Last week I read Chew Omnivore Edition Vol. 1, which was an excellent example of current trends in storytelling. Chew is obviously written to be enjoyed as both single issues and in the trade. As I thought about it, I wondered if changes in the style of storytelling would be as obvious as I felt it would be, so I decided to re-read what is considered to be an above average story by an excellent writer and see what the differences were. This week I read the STORMWATCH VOL. 1, written by Warren Ellis, and illustrated by Tom Raney, among others, which collects issues 37-47 of the series.
(See all volumes of this series in our TPBs & Graphic Novels category!)
Originally published in 1996-97 by Image, this is a collection of Ellis’s start on the title. Ellis eventually transforms this title into The Authority and you can see the foundation for that change being laid as the characters that would become The Authority, such as Jenny Sparks and Jack Hawksmoor, are introduced and given origin stories. The stories are all stand-alone tales with running subplots building towards a grand confrontation that will occur in the next collection.
In comparison to today’s comics, in which single issues really feel like a larger, grander story, each issue collected really feels like a stand-alone story. There is a clear start to the issue, establishment of the plot, and resolution. There are continuing subplots but they are very short segments within each issue. The tightness of each story with a beginning, middle, and end really stands out from today’s extended written-for-the-trade plotting. You don’t get the impression that you are reading a 296 page story, but a collection of individual short tales.
The stories themselves are noteworthy because you can see Ellis starting to develop all the concepts that will come to the forefront later in The Authority. While that is fun what really makes this stand out now are the ideas that Ellis randomly tosses out. Ideas such as home grown terrorists, prisoners held indefinitely without trial, and others related to freedom are all casually explored. Knowing how these themes have played out in the real world since the series was published makes it even more compelling.
Tom Raney does the majority of the art and it’s functional without being terribly exciting. By ’96, he’d been working in comics for a couple of years so his story telling and basic anatomy skills were very good. Unfortunately, Americanized manga-esqe art was in vogaue and Raney was in the thick of it. Let’s just say the style hasn’t aged well. For Raney, the highlight of this collection is issue 44. The story, Jenny Sparks’ origin, had Raney mimic the art styles of each decade from the 20’s through the 80’s. He does a good impression of Raymond’s Flash Gordon, 1930’s superheroes, Einer’s Spirit, and my favorite a spot-on Gibbons Watchmen. And except for the last issue which was nothing but Jim Lee splash pages, you can’t help but notice about the distinct lack of splash pages.
Stormwatch is a solid collection aimed squarely at readers looking for edgier, grittier superheroes. The question with collections like this is, ‘does the material hold up after 15 years?’ I am happy to say that it does and it’s still highly entertaining. If you are looking for a book in which you can see the seeds of many, many superhero stories to come then this is the book for you.
- David Lee