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Peter Milligan gets introspective with the Midnighter in his first issue of Stormwatch, making this not a very strong start to his run on the title. The clunky exposition he peppers into the dialogue for new readers also does not do this issue any favors.
Here’s a little bit of background on me and Stormwatch. I was skeptical when it became known that DC would be bringing Wildstorm into the New 52. Now, I wasn’t a big Wildstorm guy, but I knew enough to know that quite a bit of Wildstorm worked only because it was set in its own universe. There were very few things I thought would fit well into the DC Universe. One of those things was Stormwatch. Lo and behold, Stormwatch by Paul Cornell was announced as one of the New 52 Wildstorm titles. Awesome. Then, the first issue came out, and it was apparent this was Stormwatch in name only. It was more of a messily gutted out Authority, and it borrowed a little too heavily from Jonathan Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D. concept. So that was my first impression of this book. Not really Stormwatch. Gutted out Authority. Less interesting Brotherhood of the Shield. I gave it a few issues to see if it could cobble together something interesting in its own right. It didn’t, and I stopped reading.
When Peter Milligan was announced as the new ongoing writer for Stormwatch, I decided I would come back to give this another chance. I thought Stormwatch was bad but not hopeless. It could be salvaged. My only concern was which Milligan we would get here. He really impressed me on Justice League Dark, which I now consider to be one of the legitimate successes of the New 52. On the other hand, I stopped reading his Red Lanterns after about four issues because the endless introspective droning about rage in it bored me out of my mind. I hoped against hope that Stormwatch would get the Justice League Dark Milligan.
Sadly, I think we got Red Lanterns Milligan.
The issue gets off immediately to a bad start by using the Danger Room opening tactic. That’s where you have a character in some seemingly cool moment of action only to find out he’s really just playing on their own respective version of the holodeck. At this point, it needs to be made a known rule that doing this always sucks. It’s lazy. It’s uninteresting. Are you telling me a little thought couldn’t have been put into this so that Midnighter could be involved in an actual situation? Perhaps one that foreshadows a later story or just built around a fun idea that couldn’t be fleshed out into its own full story? No, we get Midnighter beating up fake people on a holodeck. Exciting.
The story is bookended by this scene and another with the Midnighter’s own internal monologue as narration. Some might think getting into Midnighter’s head would be interesting. But according to Milligan, you are dead wrong. Apparently, Midnighter’s big introspective journey here revolves around the idea that he might like killing people. That’s right. The Midnighter like violence. The guy in the armored, spiky fetish gear might be a bit of a sadist. Who would’ve guessed, right?
The main plot of this issue focuses on the sudden emergence of a former member of Stormwatch from centuries ago. He is the Vitruvian Man, and… Wait, is this book serious? Stormwatch wasn’t borrowing heavily enough from Marvel’s Brotherhood of the Shield? It’s actually bringing in Leonardo Da Vinci. Wow. Anyway, I’m unsure how readers are supposed to take the Vitruvian Man. He was wronged by Stormwatch’s masters, the Shadow Lords — why DC chose to give them a generic name like that instead of the Weathermen, I have no idea — and has suffered without the love of his life for the many years since. But it’s impossible to feel any sympathy for him because he isn’t fleshed out at all beyond behaving like an overdramatic idiot.
The side plot involves Skallox of the Red Lanterns clashing with Midnighter and Apollo. Why? I don’t know. It is something established in Red Lanterns? Was I supposed to read that? I really don’t want to. Also, DC’s new continuity is giving me a headache. Stormwatch comes off as generally aware of the Green Lantern Corps and not much more than that, being surprised by a Red Lantern’s existence. My understanding is that much of Green Lantern’s history has remained intact, including at least the basics of Blackest Night. So how can Stormwatch, supposedly the authority on aliens, be so ignorant about the various Lantern Corps? I don’t know. I honestly don’t believe DC knows its own continuity anymore either.
Truth be told, Milligan doesn’t display a strength for any of the characters here. I remember the days when the strange powers of Jack Hawkmoor and Engineer were treated with restraint and intelligence. Here, Hawksmoor magically repairs buildings brick by brick just because he vaguely can, while Engineer contains a red power ring by generating over a million points of pure rage to distract it. Yeah, that all apparently passes for sense in this book. To be fair, the dumbing down of these characters came well before Milligan. It’s just that this issue doesn’t show signs he’s going to make it any better.
Stormwatch remains a book I really want to like. Despite it not being the ideal Stormwatch I hoped to see incorporated into the DC Universe, there is enough about it that is salvageable. Bring the smart characterizations back to these characters. Stop trying to be so much like Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D. series. This would go a long way. Milligan gives no indication that he’s going to improve this book, though. This reads like a by-the-numbers first issue that delivers exposition in somewhat clunky fashion to famliarize new readers. The Vitruvian Man is only here to make sure we know Stormwatch’s bosses are shady. His ill-defined acton scene just lets each character show their abilities, which are often also ill-defined. The Red Lantern… actually, I have no idea why there’s a Red Lantern. It’s because Milligan writes that book too? Oh, and the Midnighter likes violence.
It’s not a terrible issue, but it is a poor effort for Milligan’s first. Maybe now that he is done reintroducing Stormwatch to readers, he can move on to some actual interesting things. My optimism for that is thoroughly beaten down, though. This reads like Red Lanterns, in which Milligan honestly doesn’t seem all that interested in the characters he’s writing.