Stormwatch Vol. 2: Enemies of Earth is another of those DC Comics New 52 books juggling creative teams; after the first volume, Paul Cornell is out, and Peter Milligan takes over for this and the next trade before Jim Starlin will come on and essentially reboot the title in total (nearly the same thing is happening with Jeff Lemire on Green Arrow).
That the creative team is still in flux may give some readers pause to pick up Stormwatch just yet. Indeed Enemies of the Earth reads like a “getting settled” trade. The seven issues here make up five stories (two two-parters and three single issues); an occasional “done-in-one” is fine, but with three, Enemies feels like a collection of Stormwatch stories and not necessarily a Stormwatch book.
That quibble aside, Milligan does seem to understand these characters and depicts them well. These are good (if not necessarily great) Stormwatch stories and should entertain fans of the characters, even as the book still tries to find its place.
[Review contains spoilers]
The best of the stories collected in Stormwatch: Enemies of Earth is the fifth chapter, in which the team has to gain control of a piece of errant Stormwatch technology that’s possessed an archeologist (ancient rogue Stormwatch aspects factor, repetitively, into at least two other chapters as well). The plot isn’t the high point here, but rather Apollo and Midnighter’s relationship, which Milligan writes with grace and subtlety: Midnighter knows by virtue of his powers that he and Apollo are destined to be together, which Apollo believes but seems slightly creeped-out by, and this creates a good push-and-pull between them that Milligan presents well.
The topic du jour is Stormwatch’s secrets — that they’re a clandestine organization, which grates on new member Apollo, and that at one point Stormwatch did go public, but with disastrous results. The kicker, however, is at the end, when Apollo reveals that after having had to hide his sexuality for so many years and finally coming out, he now dreads having to hide his superheroic activities on behalf of Stormwatch. This is a good point, true to the characters and to the title, and it gives a nice resonance to the story (if only, perhaps, the issue’s actual plot were stronger).
Second best is Milligan’s two-part Stormwatch/Red Lanterns crossover. Milligan has the benefit of writing both titles regularly, so everyone’s in character and the story feels more “real” and not diversionary, like the Justice League International’s stint into Firestorm. The plot does seem to establish more for Red Lanterns than it does for Stormwatch — and even then, it’s mostly that the two groups fight over a misunderstanding and then go their separate ways.
If, however, we’re meant to take some benefit from the combining of the DC and Wildstorm universes in the New 52, then surely part of that joy must be in watching Apollo and Midnighter fight Red Lanterns Atrocitus and Dex Starr. (Best line of the book: “Midnighter to Stormwatch. I’ve just punched a cat.”) That’s what the reader gets here, with an indication the story is picking up in Milligan’s Red Lanterns, and that’s again good enough if not great.
Paul Jenkins contributes an interesting two-part story that digs into Stormwatch’s connection with the Daemonites; the Daemonite threat seems largely to have been forgotten with the cancellations of Grifter and Voodoo, but Jenkins offers some compelling history here and moreover, he creates a rivalry (bordering on grudging friendship) between Midnighter and Jenny Quantum that echoes throughout the book. Indeed the best thing about the stories Milligan tells are the interpersonal dynamics he creates between the team members, whether Apollo and Midnighter, Midnighter and Jack Hawksmoor, Engineer’s struggles as team leader, and especially the final chapter in which Martian Manhunter betrays his teammates.
What Enemies of Earth lacks, however, is the same thing that Paul Cornell’s Stormwatch: The Dark Side did — scope. The title says “Stormwatch,” but with the Engineer, Apollo, Midnighter, Hawksmoor, and Jenny Quantum, this title is really the New 52’s equivalent of the Authority. The threats that Milligan has the team face, however, are small-time — an out-of-control metahuman, a rogue weapon, and so on. In comparison, the first three arcs of Warren Ellis’s Authority title (helped handily by artist Bryan Hitch) saw Moscow and London decimated, the invasion of Earth by thousands of aerial ships from an alternate dimension, and then the Authority fighting, in essence, God.
While it’s fun to see the Authority characters in the DC universe, neither Cornell nor Milligan’s stories stretch the characters quite as well as Ellis or Mark Millar after him. The book still reads like Authority-light, a watered-down version of Authority meant to be palatable for the DC universe (much as some may be concerned the new Constantine series will be). There probably isn’t a good way to offer Authority-size adventures in a universe that already contains the Justice League, but I wish one of the writers would try; I’d like to be able to say that the New 52 has earned having Stormwatch among its list, but so far it hasn’t.
The Wildstorm fan who has everything should also have Stormwatch: Ends of the Earth; it’s not badly done by any stretch, and it actually makes me rather eager to check out Milligan’s second Red Lanterns volume not too long from now. But this title is surely not reaching the potential it should, and I’m of two minds whether next writer Jim Starlin can get it there either.
[Includes original covers]
More reviews coming up!