Sunday, 26 August 2012

Stormwatch guests in I Vampire with fangtastic results

One of the joys and frustrations of reading comics is that no character belongs to one writer. Depending on their popularity and the internal politics of whatever company owns them, any character is likely to appear across a whole number of titles, either headlining their own spin-offs or appearing as guests in others. This can make for a continuity nightmare – good luck trying to keep up with heroes as popular as Wolverine or the X-Men – but it also means you get to see established characters through the filters of other writers and artists. Sometimes this works, bringing a fresh and interesting take on an established figure, sometimes it doesn’t, leaving you frustrated and annoyed at how ‘Batman would never do that’ (or Superman or the Hulk or whoever…)

As someone who now only dips in and out of comics, I’m pretty much resigned to only ever having a vague grasp on continuity: long years of being an X-Men fan have left me perfectly able to enjoy several different universes where Jean Grey is alive/dead/married to Scott/not married to Scott/any other variant thereof all at the same time; now when I read a book I’m happy if it works with its own internal rules, and don’t worry about where or how it fits into the larger picture. I’m also fairly flexible on characters – of course I prefer certain writers’ takes on a personality, but it takes a pretty big shift for me to actually think, whoa, hang on. (DC’s decision to turn Starfire into a lobotomised sex toy is a prime example).

I’ve blogged before about my love for The Authority (particularly the pairing of Midnighter and Apollo) and my disappointment about its new incarnation as Stormwatch. Sure, the old series could be patchy – my favourite runs were all early in the series, when Warren Ellis and then Mark Millar were helming, as I think both of these writers are great at team dynamics (it’s probably not a coincidence that both did sterling work on the X-Men) – but the characters were always interesting, and the relationship between Apollo and Midnighter I just loved. I loved the fact that it was a long-term relationship – the pair married and adopted a child – and that it always felt real, no matter the insanity of the story around it. So I was always going to be slightly disappointed in DC’s decision to dissolve the marriage in the reboot; their argument was it would be fun to see the pair meet and get together, which isn’t a terrible idea, though I think it makes them less interesting, and less groundbreaking (especially at a time when gay marriage remains a political hot button).

So, I went into Stormwatch with doubts, but ready to be persuaded. Alas, so far I’ve seen nothing to dispel my doubts. 12 issues into the run, the book seems hamstrung by clunky writing and a lack of direction: the old Authority stood outside the DC universe and now, making it fit into a world where no one, not even other heroes, knows they exist, seems to have left the writers struggling for stories. But what breaks my heart most is what they’ve done to Apollo and Midnighter. Sure, they’ve finally got rid of Apollo’s Fabio hair – never a good look – but he’s now, frankly, kinda whiny. Midnighter is SO ENIGMATIC AND TORTURED, and, unforgivably, his nurturing love of children – always a nice contrast to his homicidal tendencies – has been thrown out, as one issue saw him quite willing to kill the young Jenny (as this is the character who was his adored daughter in  the earlier incarnation, this seems especially mean-spirited.) His relationship with Apollo seems to have developed at a rate of knots despite being the least convincing flirtation in history (his initial chat up routine seemed to consist of completing Apollo’s sentences – which I’m sure we’d all find charming). (Though, in fairness, at least they just addressed the controversial chin spike issue in quite an entertaining way... )All in all, I was ready to give up, seek solace in my back issues and leave the characters alone until the next reboot came along and hopefully got a writer who knew what to do with them.
The new Stormwatch: featuring Apollo's new haircut
Then a Twitter friend, Kirke, who shares my Stormwatch despair pointed me to this month’s issue of I, Vampire. A run by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino (neither of whom, I admit, I have heard of), this book this month features a cameo from Apollo, Midnighter and Jack – and it’s great. The interplay between the three characters as teammates and the chemistry between the two lovers is both subtle and fun (clumsily and frequently  spelled out in Stormwatch, lest you accuse the writers of shying away from the gay, here it gets a cheeky nod as Midnighter checks out his BF’s arse when he flies off – well, you would, wouldn’t you? – but the writers see no need to lay it on with a trowel.) Plus Apollo is actually smart and charming in this, not the angsty whiner of the main title.  (“Apparently I’m vampire proof. The things you learn.” Or “Sorry, they bought both the new guys. If it helps, we both punch really, really hard.”)

The heterosexual relationship I think that is closest to the spirit of Apollo/Midnighter is, perhaps not coincidentally (again, the Ellis/Millar connection), Emma Frost and Cyclops – the cool, detached snark of badgirl-turned-good Frost meets downhome, honest-to-goodness, slightly too serious heroicness of Scott, but underlaid with respect, love, and the fact that they both know they can kick ass when the chips are down. These characters are Batman/Superman analogues, remember: you think if those guys dated it wouldn’t be fun? I, Vampire clearly knows it would be: this issue reminded me of why I loved these characters – and it broke my heart a little that the currently don’t have a title that does them justice. So, c’mon, DC; remember why these guys work. Make them fun again. And if you can’t manage that, give them a lot of guest slots.


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