Cornell Dissects "Stormwatch" #1

Tue, September 20th, 2011 at 11:59am PDT | Updated: September 20th, 2011 at 1:55pm

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Kiel Phegley, Staff Writer

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When they were first announced, the relaunch titles of DC Comics New 52 were shrouded in secrecy as to how their stories would play out. Now that many #1s have finally hit the stands, readers have more questions than ever. And one title in particular drawing lots of attention both before and after its debut was "Stormwatch" #1 – the Paul Cornell/Miguel Sepulveda series which is first to bring the denizens of the WildStorm Universe into contact with DC's classic lineup of superheroes.

The former DC imprint started by Co-Publisher Jim Lee was best known for boundary-pushing superhero stories like Warren Ellis' original run on "Stormwatch" and its successor "The Authority." Both those titles found heavy influence in the new ongoing series which matched the sharp tone of the former with the cast and worldwide threats of the latter. Meanwhile, new characters including the Projectionist and the Eminence of Blades joined the fray along with former Justice League stalwart Martian Manhunter. The mix between those new pieces and WildStorm staples like Jack Hawksmoor, Midnighter and Apollo appear to be a driving factor in the book's future.

To help unpack all the mash ups, shake ups and change ups presented by "Stormwatch," CBR News spoke with Cornell about how he approached the entire task of merging two worlds, and below the writer explains how the entire affair is a modern love letter to Warren Ellis' WildStorm work, how the ideas and influences of classic titles like "The Authority" impacted mainstream comics as a whole, why finding new readers and writing to their expectations is key for the comic and how familiar icons will be remade as the series progresses.

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"Stormwatch" #s 1 and 2.

CBR News: Paul, "Stormwatch" #1 was not only one of DC's new books, but it was also the first fans of the WildStorm U got to see of how those characters would integrate into the DCU proper. On top of that enviable task, you chose to play with a lot of The Authority's cast in a slightly different way than we've seen before. How did you shuffle all those elements to find the clearest version of what Stormwatch is and who all these characters would be?

Paul Cornell: Well, I think it's largely about introducing the characters to new readers while keeping that feel of the WildStorm books. There's a WildStorm atmosphere, and I think honestly you could view this book as a distillation of "Stormwatch," "The Authority" and "Planetary." It's a love letter to Warren Ellis, basically. To some extent, the mainstream superhero universes have caught up to where WildStorm was and have copied WildStorm a lot. And so it wasn't that big a hop from one place to another, but at the same time we needed to find a schtick to hang that WildStorm atmosphere on. And what it ended up being was that the whole Authority arrogance is still in place for this Stormwatch – the sense of being better than and indifferent to the world, especially being better than superheroes. That's what we've mutated that idea into. I think people were expecting it to be an awkward fit, but that lasted about a second upon contact with the issue. That's great, and that's #1 job done.

But I'm mainly interested in talking to new readers. I think that old readers will hopefully be satisfied naturally through the progression of the story, but new readers need a little attending to. So really it's a question of "Are we telling a story in a very interesting way? What makes this different from all the other books?" I think we've got a different speed. We go hyper fast. There's going to be – and people have noticed this, and it's not going to change – regular catch-up captions at the top of each issue. There's going to be people as unobtrusively as possible – but still pretty obtrusive because we're not writing for the trade anymore but for single issues – saying "I am so-and-so, and this is what I do." We're making once again a comic that people can join at any issue. We expect people to join in on issue #3, and this is what it takes to find the mainstream audience again. You can buy issue #5 of "Stormwatch," and it should be easy enough to just go from there, or you can buy the back issues if you like.

It's an interesting brew all-in-all. It's a very interesting time to be a comics writer. We're changing everything very, very fast, and there's a lot of people out there who haven't read a comic in decades or at all who are reacting to this. Some of them don't know how to read comics, or they aren't used to the speed of the stories or just what's going on. We're here to make sure we catch those people as well, and that we come to suit them.

There are elements of the book that do play with the larger elements of the DCU – mentioning Superman or the Justice League – but also it never feels like you have to worry whether Stormwatch having been around for centuries will impact what Grant Morrison is doing in "Action Comics." Is part of the challenge here finding the big threats and conceptual ideas that will only work in this book?

Hugely. We deal with the big cosmic alien stuff, and that gives us a field to play in much like in "Demon Knights" where the whole of the Medieval DCU is a huge field to play in. And we are connected to the whole of the DC Universe, but at the same time we are very much our own thing. You don't need to buy any other single book to get all of your Stormwatch experience. One of the things I really like about the books of the New 52 is that they're all spaced out from each other. They're all different in their own unique ways, and you don't need to buy anything else if you don't want to. That's very attractive.

I think when people see our connection to "Superman" #1, they'll go "Oh...that was simple!" You certainly don't need to buy one to appreciate the other. That's the world we live in now - not great big inter-title crossovers. It's all here and now, and I love that.

Let's talk about some of the brand new elements you're introducing here because they do help make this more than simply "Authority in the DCU." For one, you've created some new characters in the Projectionist and Harry Tanner.

Harry's codename is the rather ridiculous Eminence of Blades. I think he picked that himself. [Laughter]

New elements like the Scourge of Worlds threat and character the Eminence of Blades evoke Warren Ellis.

Who are these characters in terms of being people who can fit that Ellis-inspired milieu?

There's a particular kind of character in the Warren Ellis universe. Warren Ellis superheroes in the WildStorm mold, I always say are kind of based in a Medieval cosmology. But that sort of takes a bit of unpacking. They come from what feels like a pre-scientific background. Jack Hawksmoor is the god of cities. But the way Warren plays it and with his SF background, it feels like we're dealing with a science that we don't understand at all. We can only understand it intuitively. There is some way in which Jack talks to and interacts with cities that we can't understand, and the reader isn't asked to understand it. So I wanted to create new characters who felt like that.

The Projectionist has an intimate relationship with all media, and she's proving surprisingly popular. I ran a poll on my blog where she came in as the most popular of all the new characters, which was pretty surprising. Harry has much the same thing when it comes to swords and the business of blades. He is all about the blades in a conceptual way, and we'll see more of that later on. So it was a bit about finding new characters who felt like Warren created them.

On the other side of the fence, we've got one piece of the DCU that's very established in Martian Manhunter. He's always been able to play a bit of a cloak and dagger figure, but was it hard for you to find a way to make him bounce off this cast in an organic manner, or did you have to have his public face and JLA background rub up against them some?

Well, I like that rubbing. I like the fact that being a shape changer he can be what he likes when he likes. It's nice to be able to say, "He's not always the same thing, you know." I think that being the last of a warrior race, he'd like to express his warrior-ness every now and then. And what I think is the best thing we've done is that before the book came out, everybody was going "How on earth could he possibly fit into that?" and once the first issue was out, they were saying, "Well, of course he fits into that. Job well done." [Laughs] We always knew that was going to work because he does fit into the book.

He's a very interesting character. I really loved the whole Giffen and DeMatteis "Justice League" run, and what people forget from that run is that J'onn J'onzz is only gradually revealed to have a soft heart. He was on that team to be the bad ass! He's meant to be the one other people feel. You only eventually reveal that he loves Oreos and find that soft center to him. It took many, many issues, and we're just bringing the bad ass back here. It's obvious that he's one of the most powerful character in the DC Universe, and we want to reflect that.

On a nuts and bolts story level, you've established this book very quickly as a "crazy things happen" kind of comic. What do you do to keep that pace moving forward when issue #1 is "A giant hand is coming out of the moon"?

[Laughs] We move very fast. The situation changes hugely in #2, 3, 4 and 5. These could almost be single-issue stories of a continued serial [rather than parts of an arc.] There's an enormous, extreme science fiction menace straightaway, and the nature of that changes on the run very fast. With where our heroes end up, the reason this title is called what it is will be very clear by the end of the fist six issues. There's quite a few reveals to come, and one of the lovely things about "Stormwatch" is how many surprises you can pull. There isn't a status quo, really. Let's just say that.

"Stormwatch" #s 3 and 4.

One of my favorite comics of all time is Peter Milligan's "Shade, The Changing Man" where the entire idea of who Shade was, what he did and the format changed every few issues. We're a little bit like that. The team largely and its feeling will be intact, but there are surprises every issue, and I'm very pleased with that. You'll see what I mean when we get to issue #2. The experience you expect will be back every single issue, but every issue will be quite different.

What really hit strong in this book was the very last page. We've never seen the origins of Apollo and Midnighter, and reading the dialogue there, it makes me wonder if the story here is really one of a great love story.

Yes. Absolutely. I wanted to see them meet. One of the things that struck me rereading the WildStorm Universe is that Apollo and Midnighter are just there. It's like there's a big arrow pointing at them going "Look! They're a bit like Superman and Batman, but they're GAY!" They weren't often treated as people, but the question you ask of a couple you've just met is "So how did you two meet?" I wanted to know how they met, and I think actually showing the romance is much friendlier to the gay audience than a sign pointing at them that says "Gay." But there is a slight difference here. With any heterosexual couple, I'd probably go "Will they/Won't they," but here, they will. I don't want to let that audience down, and there'll be some nice romantic ups and downs along the way. It's a pleasure to write that. And I've got to say, DC has been on board with this from day one. There's been no resistance. That's the world we live in now, and it's great.

Stay tuned later this week as Paul Cornell takes CBR inside the cast of "Demon Knights."

TAGS:  dc comics, new 52, stormwatch, paul cornell, warren ellis, miguel sepulveda

 
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