Saving the World on a Budget: Gage Talks "Stormwatch: PHD"

The police are often outgunned by your average street gang member. So, what good is a cop going to do against an alien invasion force? Or a homicidal super powered terrorist? And how many people will die before superheroes arrive to save the day? The stars of "Stormwatch: Post Human Division," a new ongoing monthly series from Wildstorm beginning this November, hope to even the odds and give local law enforcement a way to effectively deal with otherworldly and super powered threats. CBR News spoke with writer Christos Gage about the new series.

"Stormwatch: Post Human Division" is part of the "Worldstorm" event, which will reintroduce and redefine the characters and concepts of the Wildstorm Universe. "'Worldstorm' in general represents a new focus and new era for the Wildstorm Universe - hopefully a return to the glory days when the books were both critical and sales successes," Gage told CBR News. "You've got top talent like Grant Morrison, Jim Lee, Gail Simone, Talent Caldwell, Brian Azzarello, Garth Ennis, Gene Ha, and many more, to say nothing of my all-star collaborator, Doug Mahnke, who is inking himself and doing work on the level of his amazing 'Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein.'

"While Gen13 is starting fresh, I believe most of the other books are what

Jim Lee calls a 'soft reset,'" Gage continued. "In other words, they are being restarted with the goal of making them accessible to new readers, who can get in on the ground floor of the new era without knowing anything about the past, but nearly all of the earlier stories we know and love still happened. There'll just be an emphasis on looking ahead rather than back, at least until the books are firmly established as the big hits we're all hoping and working so hard for them to be."

New readers looking to get in on the ground floor of "Stormwatch: PHD" and the new Wildstorm era will want to pick up October's "Worldstorm" #1, which includes a new, six page preview story. "This story serves as a teaser for the regular book and will contain the first look at the members of the new team," Gage explained. "'Worldstorm' #1 also features a new 'Gen13' story by Gail Simone and Talent Caldwell, as well as art and biographical info on most all the Wildstorm characters. Then 'Stormwatch: PHD' #1 comes out in early November."

While "Stormwatch: PHD" may launch this November, the roots of the series can be traced back to Comic-Con International in San Diego in July 2004 when Gage met Ben Abernathy, Hank Kanalz, Scott Dunbier and the rest of the Wildstorm crew. "They liked my work on the 'Deadshot' miniseries, so I pitched an idea about a team made up of the kind of characters you've always seen in comics, but never as the stars: sidekicks, tech guys, b-list villains, that sort of thing. As the Wildstorm relaunch took shape, we brought in Jackson King and other elements from the classic 'Stormwatch' books, refined and developed the concept, and it became 'Stormwatch: PHD.'"

"Stormwatch: PHD" is a redefined and redeveloped take on the classic Wildstorm series, but old school "Stormwatch" will still find many ties to the old series. "While most of 'PHD' are new characters, there are definitely connections to previous incarnations of the team," Gage stated. "I like the idea of a group with history, best exemplified by Jackson King, who has been with Stormwatch since the start of the first Image issue, and at least 20 years in WSU time."

In the two decades that King has been with Stormwatch, the organization has launched many initiatives and programs, of which the Post Human Division is the latest. "The Post Human Division is a pilot program whose mandate is to come up with cost-effective, clever methods for normal human authorities to take down superhuman threats," Gage explained. "It's not enough to say 'let's get a gun the size of Manhattan to shoot down alien ships' - there's no way a city's budget can afford that. You need to think like MacGyver - figure out how to disable a Daemonite battle-cruiser with Pop Rocks and Mountain Dew. The point of PHD is to stop post-human menaces before they reach the point where Stormwatch Prime, the global superhuman crisis response team, has to intervene. And ideally, the methods PHD comes up with will be used by future Post-Human Divisions throughout the country and the world.

"The idea for this approach came from my work writing TV police dramas like 'Law & Order: SVU' and 'Numbers,'" Gage continued. "While the shows strive for accuracy, I kept hearing the same complaint from actual cops - that in real life, they don't have the budget for the fancy gadgets we see on TV. They may exist, but it's a very lucky police department that actually gets one. Instead, they have to make do as best they can with what they have."

The Post Human Division will also have to make do with what they have. Since they are a new, untested and unproven program, the Division doesn't have a large talent pool of members to call upon like Stormwatch Prime. "Right now it's a small unit with specialized expertise," Gage said. "The idea is that someday every major city will have its own Post-Human Division, but only if our guys can come up with smart, cost-effective methods that normal human operatives can use to take down superhumans. And, you know, if they can survive.

"PHD will employ anyone who can help achieve their goals," Gage continued. "If you've got super-powers, that's fine, but you'd better also be able to come up with ways ordinary cops can take out bad guys - which is why at the outset, most of the members are non-powered people who have one foot in the superhuman world and one in the normal human world. The team is really more like a police precinct than anything else - detectives, profilers, forensic scientists - though they'll sometimes show traits of both super-teams and military units."

While the public may be aware of their existence, that doesn't mean the members of PHD won't occasionally undertake covert operations. Gage revealed that readers will see the PHD's first covert op in issue #2.

As readers follow the Post Human Division on their operations, they will become reacquainted with classic "Stormwatch" characters and get to know new characters. "Jackson King is back, as the sort of Professor X figure of the team, and Fahrenheit is one of the members of the main PHD unit, though with a major handicap: she loses her powers in issue #1," Gage said. "The rest of the PHD members, at least at first, are all new characters. However, Stormwatch Prime will be supporting/background characters, as we contrast their rock star status with PHD's street-level, lunch-pail, minimally funded nature, and Prime will have a lot of familiar faces. As to why Fahrenheit, Winter, Fuji and Hellstrike are back when they were apparently killed by alien creatures some time ago, there will be no explanations for a while because I am evil, but I do have something in mind."

Gage detailed the remaining characters that make up PHD:

"THE MACHINIST: A washed-up tech villain and three-time loser who is working for PHD to avoid a life sentence. This could be his last chance to make his mark on the world…but for good or ill?

"GORGEOUS: The team's profiler is a brilliant psychologist, but she's never had a real job, instead using her stunning beauty and masterful ability to read and manipulate others to become rich as the kept woman of a succession of super-villains. Needless to say, her loyalties are in question.

"DR. MORDECAI SHAW/THE FREAKAZOID: The expert on post human forensics is a human/Daemonite hybrid who has a tendency to turn into a horrible monster when agitated - yes, there are parallels to the Hulk, but he's really more like Man-Bat or The Lizard if you're looking for an archetype. Supposedly cured, he uses fistfuls of antidepressants, meditation and easy listening music to keep on an even keel, though you can't cut yourself off from the world forever.

"BLACK BETTY is an assistant to a master mystic - think of Dr. Strange's valet

Wong if he were a hot babe. She has an exhaustive knowledge of the supernatural, and her cheerful demeanor hides the fact that she's literally been to hell and back.

"PARIS is a former Special Forces soldier with an instinctive talent for finding and exploiting his enemy's weak spot. This enigmatic figure's origin will be revealed in issue #3.

"OFFICER JOHN DORAN is an NYPD policeman selected to lead the team by virtue of the brilliant tactical mind he displayed in not just surviving the first issue's battle, but taking out a post-human villain or two. Since 9/11, we've had characters in comics saying that our first responders are the real heroes…now we're going to see one in a lead role."

The role of Stormwatch is unchanged in the "Worldstorm" era of the Wildstorm Universe, but its affiliations and hierarchies have changed. "Jackson King oversees both PHD and Stormwatch Prime, though he is not the Weatherman - his role has grown beyond that," Gage explained. "There is a Weatherman, but his/her/its identity is a secret to be revealed in issue #7. Stormwatch is no longer part of the U.N.; reflecting the more fractious international relations of our world, Stormwatch is now funded solely by the US. Neither side is thrilled by this - they've had some pretty bitter conflicts in the past - but for now, they need each other, even if they don't like it."

The Post Human Division might be a little bit bitter about their headquarters. The original Stormwatch Prime was based in a high tech space station while the PHD's offices are considerably less fancy. "Initially, PHD is headquartered in a New York police precinct, though they can draw on the resources of Stormwatch when needed," Gage stated. "We'll see how that works out…"

In the first issue of "Stormwatch: Post Human Division," readers will see how the formation of the unit worked out. "The first issue opens with a massive battle in the streets of New York between Stormwatch Prime and an army of villains," Gage said. "The fight devastates a big chunk of the city and leads directly to the creation of Stormwatch: PHD. We'll see Jackson King recruit the team, as we meet our roster of characters and flash back to the battle to see what led King to go after these people in particular.

"Issues #2 through 4 will each be self-contained stories (albeit with ongoing sub-plots), each highlighting two of the team members - like an episode of 'Lost,' we move the larger story forward while learning something about the back story of whoever is in the spotlight," Gage continued. "In issues 5 and 6, PHD must withstand an all-out attempt to destroy them before they've really gotten off the ground. Should they survive that, we will start to explore their role in the larger Wildstorm Universe, as they get more involved with Stormwatch Prime, which will definitely create some fireworks."

The other forces creating fireworks in "Stormwatch: Post Human Division" include the adversaries and obstacles that the team will find themselves up against. "There will be classic villains like Lord Defile, who will be doing less background cackling and more ass-kicking than he used to; Deathtrap and the alien Daemonites, who Doug draws masterfully; as well as new creations like the Ferryman, the Walking Ghost, and others," Gage stated. "Then there are the personal obstacles the characters face. These are not the most well-adjusted people!"

The stories featuring the not the most well-adjusted cast of "Stormwatch: PHD" will take place in the U.S. "For the near term we're sticking to the New York area, though we will have references to what's going on in the larger world," Gage explained. "In issue #3, PHD goes to Vegas to train that city's new Post-Human Division. I would like to explore the international side of things someday, but that's down the road. I believe. Grant is doing that sort of thing in 'Wildcats,' and I'd be crazy to compete with him!"

One thing Gage will be doing in "Stormwatch: PHD" is using the characters and concepts to tell a variety of stories. "The great thing about working with Doug Mahnke is his versatility," Gage said "He's done everything from 'The Mask' to 'Aliens' to 'JLA' to 'Batman', so he can handle whatever I throw at him. I'm going to take full advantage of his talents by trying a lot of different things. One issue might be superhero action, followed by a case involving the occult that leads into a noir crime story. At the

Wildstorm panel in San Diego, I described it as 'Gotham Central' meets the 'Suicide Squad'. For those who remember John Ostrander's classic run on the 'Squad,' you'll recall that it would segue from hard-hitting, brutal action to espionage thriller to humor - often within the same issue. Without getting too crazy, I'd like to try something like that."

Readers won't need to try the other Wildstorm books to understand and enjoy "Stormwatch: PHD". "It's designed to be accessible to readers who have little or no familiarity with the earlier Wildstorm universe or the other books in the relaunch," Gage stated. "Longtime readers or those who buy other Wildstorm titles will get a larger view of the big picture, but if you only buy Stormwatch, you'll get everything you need. In fact, that's not a bad idea - drop all your other books and just buy lots of copies of Stormwatch!"

Gage was joking with his last statement but he's not joking in his appeal to anyone who may even only be remotely interested in "Stormwatch: Post Human Division" to give the series a try with the first issue. "This isn't one of those 'slow build' first issues where nothing happens," said Gage. "You get a complete origin of the team, action, characterization, and the introduction of sub-plots. I guarantee that when you're done with #1, you'll know if you want to buy #2 and everyone involved with the book is working their hardest to make sure you will!"

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