The covers for "Stormwatch P.H.D." have taken on bit ofÂ graffitiÂ in recent months. The word "Human" (as in "Post Human Division") has been getting spray-painted out in favor of the word "Earth." The tag signifies both the catastrophic events driving the Wildstorm line's recent World's End relaunch that saw the planet decimated beyond repair by way of superhuman nuclear attack, as well as serving as notice to fans that the street-level superheroics that once drove the crime-focused "Stormwatch P.H.D." series have been replaced by wide screen scifi action.
All those changes add up to a new cast of old favorite Stormwatch characters, including Jackson "Battalion" King, Christine Trelane and improbable ally Deathblow, as well as the new creative team of writer Ian Edginton and artistÂ Leandro FernÃ¡ndez.Â
Since taking over the title last August, Edginton -- perhaps best known to American readers for his "Scarlet Traces" series of scifi graphic novels based on H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" and published by Dark Horse -- took the dire platform of World's End to heart, placing the Stormwatch team in situations reminiscent of claustrophobic scifi classics such as "The Thing." But rather than fighting insidious alien threats, team member Fuji and company faced off against giant genetically engineer soviet super worms.
"I've done superhero books in my past, and now I'm more known for doing steampunk stuff at Dark Horse and things like that," Ian Edgington told CBR News. "Stepping back into the spandex had me a bit leery at first, but when [Wildstorm editor] Ben [Abernathy] pitched it to me, I thought, 'Well, basically it's science fiction. It's this team coping in a science fiction world.' That gave me a handle, and it clicked. And that's when I knew what I'm going to do and where it's going to do from there. What do you do with superheroes whose job it is to save the world, and that world is beyond saving? That's really the core concept of it, and I've just run with it from there spinning off with various threads."
In December's "Stormwatch P.H.D." #17, threads from across the entire Wildstorm Universe met in the form of an outbreak of the unstoppable mutating Warhol Virus, which changes recipients into mindless beasts for 15 minutes, on the team's Skywatch base. "The fun of it is the consequences of how do you make an operation and a facility work when you've only got so much water and oxygen and can only hold so many people," Edginton said of the challenge of writing stories set in space. "What can you do when you start to push it to its limit? Christine is always going on about what happens if somebody comes aboard with Cholera or Typhoid and it spreads through the station. Bang. They've had it. It's very real world problems they're facing on the station.
"[Issue #17 is] like '28 Days Later' on a space station. I thought, 'What would happen if that virus touched Winter or somebody?' You've only got a number of people who can go against these things. You've got Hellstrike and Fuji of course. And Fahrenheit to a certain degree because she can create fire walls. And not to mention the fact that these things are built like the Hulk, so they can punch a wall in the hull and get everyone sucked into space. There's a twist at the end where Jackson has to make a triage decision about some of the survivors and you start to see the really hard choices they're having to make in this world. I basically wanted the monster on a space station story but with levels to it where you actually realize the repercussions of something like this with the decision Jackson makes at the end, which is quite chilling."
King's method of dealing with the infected members of the station's crew (no, we won't spoil it for you) brings with it a change in status quo for many of the burnt out heroes whose many attempts to better their broken world are simply not enough. And a splintering of Stormwatch factions won't help any when the book crosses over with "The Authority" starting in the January's 7th-shipping "The Authority" #6 and then in "P.H.D." #18 on January 21.
Edginton promised the meeting of the two series would help drive his longterm plans for Stormwatch. "I've got a long view plotline, but as you go on you start to find that certain characters write themselves," he explained. "We'll start to see the seeds of that starting to be sewn, especially with the two part crossover with 'The Authority.' Some of the repercussions of what will happen there will carry through for the next six to eight issues."
The story kicks off when members of The Authority find a spy from Jackson's camp within the walls of their crashed ship, The Carrier. "Stormwatch basically have recruited a lot of civilian people on the ground communicating by radio and homemade CB sets and that sort of thing. That's how they know where to go and what areas to go to," Edginton said. "But also, Jackson's infiltrated one or maybe several spies onto the Carrier, like civilian agents to keep an eye on The Authority. It's like they say with 'Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.' The Authority and Stormwatch have never seen eye to eye, and he wants to know what's going on with what they're doing. Look at how Majestic's turned out, so who knows what the Authority is doing? They've overthrown governments before, so who knows what they'd do in the name of public good."
The fight between the teams may break Stormwatch apart for good, although Edginton is having a fun time trying to keep everyone together. "The thing about having a team book, it's about keeping the plates spinning for all of those characters and giving them something to say," he explained. "A character I actually quite like and have found my voice for is Link because he's a grumpy old guy, and that's basically me. He's my in to the team because he has no superpowers as such, but he's just a grumpy, middle aged old guy. I asked myself, 'How would I feel surrounded by these people?' And I've played up Hellstrike because I think he starts off as a policeman who's not that far away from being a civilian. It's like exploring degrees of how far away you are from real life. When you're a superhero, how detached are you from the normal person on the street?
"We've got some subplots coming up with Fuji and Winter which kind of span out organically from what I was doing. I'd had something like that in mind but saw a way of working it in early. We have Jackson being a little erratic to say the least. He's good with triage management, but that doesn't sit well with some people because some people are starting to mistake it for sever psychological problems. But he's actually got a long term plan, and we're going to start to see what bits and pieces of it crop up along the way. We'll get there by my twelfth or fourteenth issue, but there's going to be some interesting character development before that.
"We've got a subplot with [the world-destroying superhero] the High who's popping up every few pages with his own little story," the writer continued. "That will swing around over the next few issues, and we have a big reveal of a big sinister going on that makes the stuff on Skywatch look like small potatoes."
With so much going on, nothing seems off the table for the future of "Stormwatch P.H.D." - except of course a happy ending. "The one thing I'd like to avoid is having to reset. 'Oh, they kick their heals together, and all is normal and found another earth. It was all over. La dee da,'" Edginton laughed. "I like that the shit really hit the fan, and the fan's broken, and we can't fix it. Let's follow this thread through to where it leads."
"Stormwatch P.H.D." #17 is on sale now from Wildstorm.