Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bookcase Brush Up: Stormwatch/The Authority

Wrote this about a month ago but decided I'd hang onto it given the new STORMWATCH title that was coming with this New 52 stuff. I don't bother to link the two up in this because I want to give that book more than an issue to build up steam, especially since so much is different now, but maybe eventually. But still, this was a fun one to revisit.

One of the things I plan on doing, both for recreation purposes and for bloggy purposes, is going through a good bit of my collection, be it floppies or TPBs, and, well, talking about shit I like. More often than not, it will be my rereading stuff like this, material I haven't gone through in a good couple of years and examining it with new eyes. Sometimes I imagine I'll gain a new appreciation for this stuff, maybe not realizing how good and/or important it was the first/last time I read it. Maybe I'll just realize how rough and "childish" some of this stuff I once thought was "cool" when I read it before. Who knows. I have a crapton of comics and, honestly, there's stuff I have I read once a decade ago when I was still getting hammered five nights a week in college, so who knows what my real feelings are on it. So let the dissecting begin.

THE AUTHORITY was one of the superhero comics that convinced me that superheroes had moved slightly beyond the nonsense that populated most mainstream superhero comics when I quit in the mid-90's. Yes, the violence and slight glorification of it carried over into this book, but it made sense. I'll get back to this later, but I just wanted to point out that it was The Authority that was both the first thing I read of the two series and pretty much my first exposure to Warren Ellis that I knew about (I had read some of his DOOM 2099 and EXCALIBUR issues, but had no idea it was him at the time. Given how he seems to feel about his work-for-hire days, I'd imagine the man would be happy about this).

STORMWATCH I believe was important because it kind of gave a new stake and skew for superheroes at the time. While stuff like Morrison and Waid's JLA and the revival of JSA was giving the genre the big and bold revamp it sorely needed - going off and fighting some fucking god-level shit or playing up the longevity and heritage of the superhero respectively - STORMWATCH was the one toying with the ideal of superheroes actually DOING something socially relevant with superpowers. Or at least putting a bit of a political slant on these high-powered personnel. Instead of donning the tights and going off and fighting the latest being with despotic machinations like the mainstream heroes, the Stormwatch crew were going after bastards and terrorists and toying with the idea of CHANGING the world instead of just saving it. At least it did a good job of laying the groundwork for the build up of that theme which THE AUTHORITY would realize. For that, I remembered Ellis's STORMWATCH fondly from when I last read it probably seven years or so ago.

Rereading it again, I have to admit, it's kind of rough. All that stuff I just said above still applies of course, but the actual execution and quality is a bit sketchy. The dialogue gets a bit expository or - which happens with Ellis - tries a little to hard to be edgy. Also, the art which is predominantly Tom Raney is not what the man has become today. The lines are a little more "warped" when it comes to body features and whatnot. The execution is not what these two have become and I think that's fair to say because they were fairly early into their careers when they go the shot at this I would say. I do appreciate some of the stuff they came up with. Particularly the Jenny Sparks origin issue which gets pretty referential to the eras it covers in comic book terms; like how the 1980's part was done "Watchmen style" and so on. Still though, it played with genre conventions and did its best to pump up the idea of the superhero beyond guys and gals in fetish gear who beat on the same twelve people in a nice rotation of story arcs.

Now, THE AUTHORITY, that was a comic. Everything that superheroes could and should play for, I'd argue, took place in the twelve pages Ellis put out of this wondrous book for us. Sure, it was overly brutal and tried a little too hard to be "edgy" but, y'know what, it all worked. The world is not a pretty place and the book reflected it. If in our real lives people with superpowers and unlimited wealth and futuristic science existed, I'd like to think maybe you'd get a Kaizen Gamorra. Maybe not as James Bondian villain as he, but some terrorist with an army of bastards carving up the major population areas of the globe I could see. The brutality, when taken in context, worked on a level more than just being cool and show-offy, even those were obvious intents behind them.

But it was the love of being a superhero that drove that book and that I think is almost lost today. You think of these feats and you take them in a context of "this book is trying to depict the existence of superheroes and villains in REAL life" and I'd like to think an "OMG! This is teh rulzors" reaction is kind of warranted from someone who can use liquid machinery in their blood to go to the moon. I'm rereading some Morrison JLA right now as part of this refresher course of this type of material around that time period and that's one of the best things about it is seeing the team through the eyes of Kyle and how he's basically become a "god" while working with other higher beings that have been there and done that and become kind of jaded by the feats they accomplish. Perspective, I think we lack a bit of it these days as these books pretend to be all high stakes and grounded but just come off as villain of the week as the big "ground-shaking" experiences happen on a yearly rotation.

I am glad I've started this because all my consumption over the years, especially in recent ones, I can kind of feel some of these memories and experiences slipping out of the ol' brainspace as I cram new ones in. One, it's helping me with some rose-tinted issues as I definitely have been longing for books that are not really as good as I remember them. STORMWATCH especially. I loved the gist and appreciated the groundwork it laid, especially for when THE AUTHORITY came by and ramped it to a way higher gear, but it really lacked in polish on both ends of the spectrum. But there's a lot of good memories in here and there's lessons to be learned and ideas to be appreciated and that should not be forgotten. With the big push that is being made now to get readers in - and chances are they'll be lapsed readers that were too apathetic to look beyond the same old that these companies were pumping out that disenfranchised them in the first place - maybe we'll get back to the stuff that made these books so good a decade ago, and that's just stories being told by people who really have one to tell. Cheers...

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