'Stormwatch' returns this July

[Stormwatch: Team Achille's #1]Fans of DC/Wildstorm's "The Authority" have had to weather quite a storm with regards to their favorite title in recent months. The attacks of September 11th prompted DC Comics to temporarily pull the book from their schedule over concerns it would be insensitive to publish it at the time. Eventually the book found its way back onto the stands, but the future of the book is still uncertain. Whether it will continue as is or as a series of one-shots and mini's has yet to be fully revealed.

The title, known for it's in-your-face deconstruction of super heroes, has been surrounded by controversy since day one and fans have eaten it up. "The Authority" grew out of the ashes of the old "Stormwatch," in which Warren Ellis threw out all the dodgy bits from "Stormwatch" and rebuilt the book into what would become the power house that is "The Authority." But the question of what's next still remains.

Well, this coming July you'll get the chance to fit some of the pieces back into the puzzle when a new team in the Wildstorm Universe emerges in the new monthly title "Stormwatch: Team Achilles." Written by newcomer Micah Wright the series also signals the return to monthly comics by artist Whilce Portacio of "X-Men" and "Wetworks" fame. The creative team is rounded out by Scott Williams on inks, Portacio will also color the series, while Comicraft will handle the lettering chores. John Layman is editing for Wildstorm.

Wednesday afternoon CBR News spoke with Micah Wright about his new monthly series.

"'Stormwatch: Team Achilles' deals with human beings in the Wildstorm Universe, specifically how human beings retain their independence and right of self governance in a world filled with super-human beings who can impose their will upon us at any given time.

"This Stormwatch is all human beings. The way I look at it is it's a reaction against the Mark Millar 'Authority' by the governments of this world who think, 'Wait a second. So, now anytime anybody wants to kill all the soldiers in Tibet, they can?' So, they put together a group of people who they can theoretically control, since they're human beings, and use them to police the super humans. And obviously we're going to deal with how the super human community deals with the idea that suddenly somebody Human is telling them that there are limits on what they can and can't do."

Micah Wright is new to writing comics, but has spent years in the animation industry. He wrote for Nickelodeon and was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for his work on the show "The Angry Beavers." He's also served four years as an Airborne Ranger for the U.S. Army and feels that experience helps him bring a lot of perspective to this book.

The genesis of this project begins in San Diego a year ago. Wright went to Comic-Con International in San Diego with a story idea. His friend, artist John Cassaday, introduced Wright to some of the Wildstorm editors whom he pitched his idea to.

"One of them asked me what it was about and I told them it's a 'G.I. Joe' type thing. I didn't realize there was a 'G.I. Joe' series coming out soon and that a lot of people were very interested. When I said 'G.I. Joe' their eyes lit up!"

Wright was asked to send in a written proposal. He left San Diego, wrote up his ideas and sent them back to Wildstorm. Originally this concept was meant as a creator-owned book to be published under the Homage imprint, but that was soon to change.

[Stormwatch: Team Achilles concept art]"They looked at it. They liked it. But they didn't like it enough to say 'Yes, let's go for it.' They felt that it would be a very tough sell given today's tough climate [coupled with the fact that] I'm a new writer and have never worked in comics before. They asked if I would terribly mind revamping it and setting it in the Wildstorm Universe."

While Wright agreed, he's quick to clarify his reason for doing so.

"I've explained this before on-line to people. People think this means I'm selling out somehow or I'm just doing this to advance my own career. I thought, how stupid is that? Do any of these people think that Warren Ellis did 'Stormwatch' for any other reason than to advance his career? And the minute it became career advancing for him he threw the book away and started it over again? Some strange naive types live out there in the wonderful world of comic books! In order to break in I said sure! I'll dance your jig this time and then next time we'll talk about something of mine."

Wright began researching the old Stormwatch, throwing himself into the history of the Wildstorm Universe reading back issues of the original "WildC.A.T.S." and "Stormwatch." While many of those original stories he wasn't fond of, there were a few issues that caught his imagination by Alan Moore and James Robinson and later the Warren Ellis issues. In the early stages he described the book to an editor at Wildstorm who mentioned that there was a team very similar to the one he was creating, Team Black Razor. So, originally this new book was to be called "Team Black Razor" featuring those characters, but even that would undergo some changes before things were finished.

"I wrote an outline for a six-issue book and it generated a little bit of heat at the company. [Former Wildstorm editor] Aaron Watanabe wanted me to meet Whilce Portacio. I knew his stuff vaguely and they sent me a bunch of reference, which I perused. I was talking to people who said if I could get Whilce on the book I'd have an automatic green light. So I went down and met with Whilce. He had read the outline and at the time was committed to work on an "Everquest" book, but something went wrong with that and suddenly he wasn't busy anymore. So he decided to throw his lot in with me and the book got picked up because Whilce got on board. I owe him for that, most definitely!"

As of this interview Whilce has completed an eight page mini-story that will run in the Wizard Magazine available this April, and the first full issue is almost fully completed. Wright's worked closely with Whilce on the book and has seen an evolution in his artwork since we last saw Whilce in action.

"His use of color has gotten a lot more sophisticated," said Wright. "He's taking advantage of the computer color capabilities available today. He has a totally different color palette, it seems, than he had when he was working on 'Wetworks.'"

So now Whilce is on board and it's time to start finalizing character and story details.

"The main theme of 'Stormwatch' being a multi-national team is still there. Once Whilce got on board we started talking about making the new Black Razors a U.N. team, then someone pointed out that's the same thing as 'Stormwatch,' so I felt 'Why don't we just call it 'Stormwatch?' Less confusion there! Since 'Stormwatch' is essentially defunct, yet so very obviously needed, it makes perfect sense in the context of the Wildstorm Universe to start it back up again. Who's responsible for starting it back up again is something that's up in the air, something I'll be exploring in issues 4 through 6 pretty in-depth.

"The leader of the group is a character James Robinson created in Wildcats #16," continued Wright. "A Guy named Benito Santini, the leader of the Black Razors. He appeared once before as the leader of the Black Razors and was shot in the knee by Jacob Marlowe in Wildcats #2. In the James Robinson book he's this guy filled with hatred and vengeance, who really wants to get his for getting his knee shot off by this midget! In that book it's him in charge of this group, none of whom trust him, none of whom think he can do the job, and then him trying to rise above it and do the job."

This is in sharp contrast to Team Achilles where Santini is very much the guy in total control. He's older, more mature and has a solid reputation.

[Stormwatch: Team Achilles concept art]Wright uses a few other characters from those early James Robinson issues like Blake Coleman and Luis Cisco. All the pre-existing characters were aged as it's been a while since we've seen these guys in action. Wright's also created a frenetic back-story that we'll see in issues #4 that explains what's happened to the team in between their last appearance and the formation of "Stormwatch: Team Achilles." And yes, Benito Santini still has a bum knee.

"He's got a big giant metal knee! I told Whilce to make it look like a door hinge or something really inhuman. And that's one of the things [Santini] is struggling with. In the first issue Blake and he are running and Blake asks if it hurts him and Santini says it's fine. Blake then says 'If it works so good you should just get the rest of the leg replaced.'"

That idea unnerves Santini completely and is a part of the story that will be explored later. Santini has a pathological hatred for super humans and the thought of becoming something less that human is not one he's at all comfortable with.

Wright's rounded out the team with characters pulled from some of the real worlds A-List counter terrorism units:

  • Charles Cotesworth Pinckney - English member of the group who's a sniper that's been demoted to being Team Achilles' member Galena Golovin's spotter, a fact he's none to happy about. He described Pickney as a Ronald Coleman type, referring to the Academy Award wining British actor from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
  • Galena Golovin - Russian female. Sniper, ex-member of the Spetsnaz, the Soviet special forces unit.
  • Yvonne Gruier - French female who is the team's psychological profiler and field medical technician who comes from the French anti-terror police. Her first appearance should be in issue #3.
  • Jaeger Weiss - German member who hails from GrenZschutzgruppe 9 (GSG 9), the worlds first and probably best counter-terrorism squad.
  • Luis Cisco - Former Black Razor member who in the intervening years has been working as an MP.
  • Jukko Hämäläinen - Specialist in hand-to-hand combat with super-humans. As a result of one too many battles his head is extremely misshapen and he's covered with thick, ropey scars and pretty much every bone in his body has been crushed at least once. Wright shared a bit of the back story he's developed for Jukko. "During the cold war Finland was Neutral between Russia and America. In the Wildstorm Universe they created a large self-defense force of super humans to keep Russia from rolling over and annexing them. Once the genies out of the bottle it's hard to shove him back in and when the cold war ended these guys all went nuts! Basically they turned the country into a death camp. Jukko's group is based on Finland's Osato Kahusta, the Bear Force, Finland's anti-terrorism group."

    Wright actually spent a year in Finland as a foreign exchange student while in high school. The name of the character comes from a friend he went to high school with who bears no resemblance to the, as Wright calls him, "mutilated freak" in the book.

  • Blake Coleman - Coleman's a former Black Razor member who server with Benito Santini and knows that he takes care of those around him. Wright continued, "Blake Coleman is, for me, a composite of a lot of the guys I served in the military with: he's smart, but not so smart that he's going to go out on a limb by himself. He likes letting others do the heavy thinking and then point him in the right direction to blow stuff up. He knows that Santini's got his back covered and that's good enough for him... he's just not real sure about working with a bunch of foreigners. Too bad that's part of the job."

  • Khalid Tesibi - 22 yr old Egyptian male who's with Team Achilles reluctantly. He's never been in combat, doesn't understand it and certainly isn't into it. He's only on the team because Santini's dragged him into it.

As for "The Authority," how will they fit in?

"The Authority will make a cameo in the book because basically ['Team Achilles'] has been set-up to take care of people like them. They are somewhat good, so they're last on the list, but they're on the list, baby, and they've got to know it!

"There will be heat between Jukko and Midnighter because to me those two guys are the flip-side of the same coin. From my understanding of Midnighter he's a guy with a bunch of tricks in his guts. There's something going on there. Fight enhancing technology of some sort. Whereas Jukko is the kind of guy who has pushed himself to the ultimate level of what a human-being can do. He's like a Batman type, only he doesn't have any of those strange compulsions Batman has to put on leather suits and beat up criminals! It's a different kind of psychoses and not necessarily a better or worse one in any way, but having everybody you know killed by rogue super humans turns you into an unhappy sort. Physically he's just a mutilated freak and I play with that a lot because there's another guy on the team who's 'Senor Gorgeous!'"

One thing that should be made very clear is that this "Stormwatch: Team Achilles" is not a replacement of "The Authority," but a companion piece in the expanding Wildstorm Universe.

Art by Whilce Portacio.

Click to enlarge.

"It's not a replacement," said Wright. "I was really afraid that people would see it as a replacement and then of course people went and made my dream come true by being a bunch of jerks about it. That's exactly what some people have been saying online and it's not that. It's a totally different thing."

Originally the book was to be a six-issue series, but that's not set in stone and Wright hasn't been told yet if it will end there. The impression he gets is that it will continue, but that's entirely dependent on what sales are like early on.

When it comes to promotion on the book Wright hopes they can take the book outside the strict, standard comic book readership and is pushing DC to run ads in magazines like "NRA monthly" or "Stars and Stripes," the Armed Forces newspaper. While readers of those magazines may not be your typical comic fan, he believes "Stormatch: Team Achilles" will appeal to those readers. Initial reaction to his proposal from DC was one of shock, but Wright recognizes the reality of the situation, how marketing budgets are small and marketing people at the major publishers are spread thin trying to promote an entire line of books. Regardless, Wright plans on sending review copies to magazines like "NRA Monthly" hoping to be reviewed in magainzes that Wright estimates have larger circulation than all monthly comic sales combined.

In addition to "Stormwatch: Team Achilles" Wright is busy working on two creator-owned proposals that he's shopping around. The first series is "American Cross," which takes place during the American Revolution. The star of the book is Thomas Cross, born on July 4th, 1776 to parents loyal to the crown. Wright described it as a "Count of Monte Cristo-esque" story of revenge, betrayal and "people screwing each other over to get money!" Wright knows the book is a hard sell.

"I say this takes place in the American Revolution and peoples eyes glaze over," said Wright. "'It'll never sell.' Wait a second, I know a lot of comic book readers and by in large we are much more articulate, for the most part, than the average American reader. The average American reader is out there reading John Grisham! So why do all the editors sell the average comic book reader short? The average American reader could never comprehend 'Transmetropolitan,' much less appreciate it, yet it's a good selling comic. It's aggravating! Everyone who's read the proposal loves it, but every editor goes, 'Jeez, historical docudrama.' Come on!"

His other series is a Sci-Fi military series called "Lifer," which follows a bunch of guys who unwittingly sign themselves up for a thousand year tour of duty in the military and are forced to serve those terms out. He's currently talking to a couple of "A-List" artists who are very excited about the project. The original proposal is a four-issue pitch, but it very well could be expanded. "I'm getting great feedback and the deals are in progress," said Wright.

In addition to all the comic work mentioned above, those interested in learning a bit more about Wright's animation background can view the pilot for a proposed series called "Constant Payne" on his Web site. It was originally developed for Nickeloden, but Wright and Nickelodeon had a bit of a falling out (in fact a very public and sometimes ugly feud) that stopped that from moving forward. He's currently pitching the pilot around town.

For now those intrigued by "Stormwatch: Team Achilles" will have to wait until April for their first look at the series in the pages of Wizard Magazine and then this July for the release of "Stormwatch: Team Achilles #1."

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