Jab’s Image Deep Dive: Stormwatch and The Authority!

And now we come to… the absolute most BORING thing Image produced during the 1990s. Like, seriously- while Brigade , Youngblood , Strykeforce and everything else were god-awful piffle, they’re at least ENTERTAININGLY bad. You can have a lot of fun ripping on Liefeld or Silvestri’s absurdities or lack of originality. But StormWatch ? It’s just the most generic “This is a superhero book about superheroes” thing ever- like those bad Indie comics that were just “The O-Men” or whatever, where guys not good enough for Marvel or DC were making generics that were totally uninventive.

When I asked about the book, someone I know told me “It was Yngwie J Malmsteen in comic form- Technically brilliant, but utterly unengaging and eventually just the same old shit.” It was done by Jim Lee’s bottom-tier character designs and Brandon “most boring writer ever” Choi having generic people say generic stuff.

The CONCEPT of StormWatch is fine- it’s a bog-standard “Superheroes run by the United Nations” concept, with various “StormWatch” teams being set up, and we’re reading about “StormWatch Prime”. The overall commander is called a “Weatherman”. Since Lee was too busy to do art, various other guys got the job (Scott Clark doing the same “I’m trying to draw like Jim Lee” thing 900 other artists were doing at the time), and Ron Marz and others became writers. 47 issues in, Warren Ellis took over back when he was still fairly new to the business- as the book was pretty much nothing, he was able to refashion it into what HE wanted, putting in sexual or horror elements (according to Wikipedia anyways)- the Weatherman Henry Bendix was made a supervillain, and more.

The roster of the series has always been vast- way too vast, it turns out. It means that every character has a bio you could write on the back of a matchbook, and 90% of them are either “Vaguely Strong Guy” or “Flying Blaster”, with the latter especially common. So in short, instead of having interesting abilities, they just threw a lot of Big Flashy Powers on anyone they could find. Most of their outfits are so plain as to consist of “1-2 Color Bodysuits”, too- clearly the bottom-tier of Jim’s idea well.

However, WildStorm (Jim Lee’s branch of the former Image-verse, which had now split off into its own thing) cancelled the book, and so an annoyed Ellis spitefully killed off almost all of the characters he himself hadn’t created in a WildC.A.T.s/Alien crossover book, as Xenomorphs invade StormWatch HQ. And then he relaunched everything with a book you may have heard of called The Authority . Sept. 2002 saw a relaunch, but it was cancelled before the final issue (the 24th) could be produced. 2006 saw another version by Christos Gage, and 2011 saw them incorporated into the DC Universe, sometimes including Authority characters.

The book has now largely been forgotten, as few of the characters ever “took”. It’s mainly known these days as the “Origins of The Authority”.

“One of the reasons I turned their STORMWATCH into THE AUTHORITY is that I found out that, despite the fact that no-one was buying STORMWATCH, they kept it going because they liked reading it in the [Wildstorm] office and wanted to keep me employed. And I felt so bloody awful about that, and at the same time had been so struck by Bryan Hitch’s STORMWATCH issues, that the train of thought that led to THE AUTHORITY began.”
-Warren Ellis

-Few comics in the industry went from massively popular to trashed, and from as successful to “not even in consideration anymore”, as The Authority. For a LOT of reasons, it got a hell of a lot of attention in a big hurry, becoming the talk of the industry and a total game-changer, and then got completely destroyed in reality and in-universe, as a hundred voices cried out at once to flatten in even within comics themselves. Their “Take THAT!” approach to lashing out at other companies’ characters bit them in the ass when the most epic rebuttal in history utterly destroyed the very reputation of the series. And the comics fans who once bought scores of Authority books now laughed at DC utterly vanquishing the series… even while its shadow cast itself across the entire industry, forever altering it.

The Authority came out at the tail end of the 1990s, with the team forming out of the dead StormWatch book- Warren Ellis, the writer of both comics, placed a few SW characters onto a new team called The Authority, and enacted a “Superheroes in the real world”-type concept where a bold, aggressive team would “Do whatever it takes” to keep the world safe, ultimately controlling it in the process (in a later run, at least). While this had been done before (Marvel’s Squadron Supreme being the most famous example of superheroes taking over the world in order to protect it), this was much more… “in your face” about it, presenting it as a morally CORRECT decision (whereas Mark Gruenwald spent half an issue explaining exactly WHY this notion was awful in his book), and filled it with tons of violence, great art, and Warren Ellis, one of comics’ most gifted writers in terms of snappy dialogue and badass statements of power. There was a very strong sentiment of “We don’t deal with this superhero BOLLICKS” you get from a lot of writers from that side of the Atlantic.

The book starred Jenny Sparks- an ageless “Spirit of the 20th Century” with electrical powers, Apollo & Midnighter- a pair of Superman & Batman analogues who were a gay couple, The Doctor (a guy who could do anything), The Engineer (a woman who could BUILD anything), and Jack Hawsmoor- a “God of Cities”, alongside a bird-lady named Swift. The team, in short, was MASSIVELY powerful, with Ellis showcasing them in a series of brutal fights that made them all look like extreme bad-asses- one issue I have features an army of Flying Bricks dying in the hundreds against them, the team bloodily massacring them. Bryan Hitch’s wonderful, detailed, nearly photorealistic art was a huge stand-out, making comic book action look more “Widescreen” than had ever seemed possible- it was a feast for the eyes.

Almost immediately I recognized the Power-Geeking at work, here- though the book was billed as being mature and violent, it was as juvenile as it could be in terms of the writer saying “I have the bigger dick”- their Batman could kill people in seconds and frequently bragged about doing so immediately before he did it. They had two characters whose powers were “Has every power”. Their Superman flew through heads and fought in the way that BattleBoarders would image Superman would fight if he really wanted to win every battle as quickly as possible. It was very much a book where Ellis was writing “Heroes should/would do THIS” type of stuff. With twelve issues and a lot of hype ( Wizard Magazine declared it the #1 comic of the year), Jenny Sparks died at the culmination of a story, and Ellis & Hitch left.

“Like many artists, Frank Quitely can only draw one female face. Unfortunately, that face is Bea Arthur’s.”
-Someone I know

Mark Millar Takes Over:
-But yeah, in 2002, Ellis & Hitch ended their run. Their replacements… the notorious Mark Millar & Frank Quitely. Frank, who drew every female character as if she were a 90-year old woman, and gave every male a bloated, butter-fed physique, was a “Love Him or Hate Him” kind of artist, while Millar drew a lot of attention for vulgar and puerile writing, at first positive… but then things turned a lot worse. Eventually, Millar ended up the Rob Liefeld of writing (a high-selling, highly-hated creator), but back then, he was hot. Millar’s arcs were WAY more into the “suck MY dick, Marvel & DC!” vein of writing, as Millar would even write parodies of the Avengers as a group of villainous jerks. They fought a mad scientist and his superhuman army, a duplicate team of Authority-lookalikes backed by the G7 nations, and more- the new Spirit of the 21st Century, Jenny Quantum, was adopted by Apollo & Midnighter, and the Doctor, a heroin addict, worked through his addiction. Millar ordered a number of EXCEPTIONALLY gory or graphic scenes to be drawn, and DC editorial demanded a number of them be changed, including showcasings of necrophilia, mass murder and assorted other deaths.

But comics fans seemed to LOVE IT. Especially BattleBoarders, who were busy pleasuring themselves to panels of “A Superman who fights to win”, and two characters who were nigh-omnipotent. “The Authority vs. _____” battle suggestions were commonly made. People gloated and chuckled at scenes of The Authority massacring thinly-veiled copies of The Avengers, all “HAW HAW- they showed THEM!”.

And then, right around here, something wonderful happened…


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