Shelf Life: Casting a Glance Back at "StormWatch"

Thu, May 22nd, 2014 at 3:42pm PDT | Updated: May 22nd, 2014 at 3:51pm

Comic Books
Ron Marz, Columnist
1

Casting a Glance Back at "StormWatch"

Group photo of the comics lunch attendees, along with a few spouses, How many do you recognize?

A couple weeks ago, I attended a lunch about an hour downstate from me. The dinner tables were seated with comics royalty. Joe Sinnott and Terry Austin were seated across from me; to my right, Todd Dezago, Dan Green and Joe Staton. To my left, Jim Starlin, Tom Palmer, Walter and Louise Simonson, Fred Hembeck and letterers Janice Chiang and Jack Morelli. John Byrne had to cancel that morning, because of torrential rains in Connecticut.

The gathering happens every few months, and I always set aside that day's work to make sure I can be there. Because... well, who wouldn't? It's a honor even to be included in such a group, and listening to some of the tales told is a rare privilege.

Most of the group went back to Terry Austin's house for pie (there's always room for pie). There was fishing and baseball talk with Jack Morelli and Joe Sinnott, a convention chat with Janice Chiang, commiserating over the Mets with Fred Hembeck. I got to take a look at a glorious Bruce Timm commission that Terry received after years of waiting. The piece was absolutely worth the wait.

Jack told a great story about meeting Gil Kane for the first time, as well as his account of holding lights for the famous (infamous?) "naked Stan Lee on the couch" photo. According to Jack, in the first version of the photo, Stan was holding a copy of "Giant-Size Man-Thing" demurely over his, um, man-thing, but then thought better of it. The substitute book that appears in the photo is a "Batman vs. Hulk" treasury edition.

I got a good look at Jim Starlin's upcoming "Thanos" graphic novel, which is gorgeous. You need to pre-order it. Jim also gave me, and most other people at the party, a copy of his "StormWatch" trade paperback that was just released. Paging through the collection got me thinking about my own "StormWatch" run for Image back in the '90s.

Being invited to the party that was Image Comics was an enticing offer. Image's introduction had changed comics in substantial ways, and being part of it was exciting. Everybody wanted in. My invitation, however, came about in unexpected fashion.

Jim Lee's WildStorm Productions had hired editor Bill Kaplan away from DC Comics. I knew Bill from DC, where he was an assistant to Archie Goodwin, who as far as I'm concerned remains the best editor to ever work in comics. I got along well with Bill, and once he was settled at WildStorm, we chatted about the possibility of work. I expressed interest in taking over "WildC.A.T.S.," if there was going to be an opening.

Ron & Jim Starlin at Terry Austin's house (top); Jack Morelli and Joe Sinnott

But I found out I was writing "StormWatch" by seeing my name in an Image sales catalog at a New York convention. Bill handed me a copy of the catalog, then got involved in another conversation as I flipped through it... and saw my name listed as the writer of "StormWatch," along with Dwayne Turner as artist. Good news, obviously, but a bit of a surprise.

"Hey... Bill? This says I'm writing 'StormWatch' and Dwayne is drawing it."

"Uh, yeah, is that okay? We had to get the catalog ready in a hurry, and we had talked about it, so..."

Yes, it was okay. It was more than okay. For a span, I was writing monthly titles for Marvel, DC and Image all at the same time, having a good time on all of them.

I started making plans for my "StormWatch" run, finally getting to scratch the "team book" itch I'd had since reading "Uncanny X-Men" and "Avengers" as a kid. Dwayne Turner and I spent a fair amount of time on the phone with each other, kicking around ideas. I felt like a lot of the current StormWatch members were too similar -- they could all fly and shoot energy bolts -- so I wanted to remove a few characters and add some new ones.

Then I learned that "StormWatch" #25 would be released just before Dwayne and I took over the series with issue #10. It was part of the "Image of Tomorrow" initiative, printing "future" issues ahead of time, hooking the audience into sticking around to see how we got there from here.

The plans I'd been making had to be scrapped, since I now had to work toward the reality shown in issue #25 (which had been written by Steve Seagle). I'd need to use the cast as it was, since most of the characters appeared in issue #25. That's often what work-for-hire comics are like; you're given a set of parameters to work within. And that's perfectly fine. It goes with the job.

Then Dwayne Turner was lured away from "StormWatch" after only two issues ("StormWatch Special" #1, and issue #10). Dwayne was leaving to launch "Sovereign Seven," Chris Claremont's new team book set in the DC Universe after his departure from the X-Men franchise. I was disappointed, but I didn't blame Dwayne. It was a hard offer to pass up, though "Sovereign Seven" never gained the traction anyone was hoping for.

The art chores were turned over to Mat Broome, who was working in the studio, and still pretty new to the business. Lots of talent, if not as much experience. I wrote one issue focused on team leader Battalion's kid brother, a character Mat was not enthusiastic about... so the kid brother was only drawn a handful of times in the issue that was supposed to be about him. Awkward. It led to a hurried re-scripting of the issue just before going to press, to cover the character's absence from the visuals. Again, stuff happens sometimes in work-for-hire scenarios.

Starlin handing Ron a copy of his new "StormWatch" TPB brought Ron memories of his own "StormWatch" run at Image Comics

I enjoyed working with Mat on the book, especially watching his growth as an artist and storyteller over our issues together. Once Mat departed, Brazilian artist Renato Arlem took over the book, working in a Joe Madureira-inspired style. Brazilian artists were making inroads to the American comic market at the time, many of them offering a diverse array of styles -- Joe Mad, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld. A few years later at CrossGen, when we hired artists like Ivan Reis and Luke Ross, their first question was often, "Who do you want me to draw like?" Our answer was always, "Draw like you want to draw, not like somebody else."

I got to work on "StormWatch" issues with my friends Cully Hamner and Joe Phillips, as well as Terry Shoemaker, who would later be my artist on the "Zealot" miniseries. (The "Zealot" mini came about because Bill Kaplan had offered both me and Kurt Busiek the writing duties on a "Spartan" mini, something we realized in Bill's office, with Kurt on speaker phone. I volunteered to take on "Zealot" instead.)

Other friends like Jeff Johnson, Dan Panosian and Andy Smith contributed "StormWatch" pin-ups. This was, of course, back in the days of publishers actually having budget for pin-ups. The original art for Jeff and Dan's Battalion pin-up, and Andy's pin-up featuring Cannon and Diva, is in my collection. I still have the limited-edition StormWatch wristwatch that was given as a Christmas gift.

I have a fond memory of walking around the streets of La Jolla with Bill Kaplan, James Robinson and Steve Seagle, plotting out what would become the "WildStorm Rising" crossover. That project gave me a chance to work with Kevin Maguire for the finale issue, as well as a young Brett Booth on a "Backlash" issue. I visited the local studio of Barry Windsor-Smith, who drew "WildStorm Rising" #1 and all the covers, to lend a hand sorting through reference material of characters that were unfamiliar to Barry.

By the time we were approaching the slot for the already-published issue #25, I was feeling creatively spent on the title. For more than a year, I'd worked toward a goal that wasn't truly my own. I decided to step aside after issue #24, once I got the story to the point where it would dovetail with issue #25. In retrospect, I probably should have stuck with "StormWatch" and charted a new course, but other assignments beckoned.

I'm again scratching my team-book itch with "The Protectors" from Athlitacomics, and having a great time. But I owe a big thank you to "StormWatch" for the lessons I learned writing it.

Covers and pin-ups from Ron's "StormWatch" tenure

A "StormWatch" pin-up and an old Christmas gift, a StormWatch watch

Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Witchblade" and the graphic novel series "Ravine" for Top Cow, "The Protectors" for Athlitacomics, his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image, and Sunday-style strips "The Mucker" and "Korak" for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.

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TAGS:  ron marz, shelf life, stormwatch, dwayne turner, mat broome, renato arlem, wildstorm rising

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