illustration (c) José Villarrubia 2000 digital
illustration (c) José Villarrubia 2000
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Past Glories

Art by Chip Zdarsky. Copyright 2002.

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Before the Authority.

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artists: Tom Raney, Oscar Jiminez, Michael Ryan, Randy Elliot, Chuck Gibson, various
Colorists: Gina Going, Laura DePuy, WildStorm FX, and Mike Rockwitz
Letterers: Bill O’Neil and Clem Robbins
Trade Paperback
Published by DC Comics/WildStorm 1999

Reviewed by Matt Singer

Calling Warren Ellis a popular comic book writer would be an understatement of gross proportions. It would be like saying that a nuclear missile is a mildly destructive weapon. The guy’s hot. I thought I’d start this review with a list of his monthly titles, but turns out he’s got more than I’ve got fingers, so I lost count. Let’s just say he’s popular. Which brings us back to that initial understatement. Are you dizzy yet?

One of Ellis’ first long-term mainstream gigs was his work on Wildstorm’s STORMWATCH. After Ellis’ recent WildStorm work hit big (THE AUTHORITY, PLANETARY), they started reprinting this, his earlier work. If you’re a fan of Ellis, or of real-world-relevant super-heroics, it behooves you to pick up this trade.

StormWatch is sort of like the Avengers if the Avengers were all a bunch of jerks and Captain America was a megalomaniacal bastard hell-bent on controlling the earth. A U.N. sanctioned strike force equipped to handle just about any emergency you can imagine, StormWatch is comprised of about a dozen members plus assistants and trainers, etc.

This trade is actually the third (in the STORMWATCH chronology) of the four that WildStorm has released so far. But if you pick this one up, you shouldn’t be lost at all, for both stories featured in CHANGE OR DIE are fully self-contained. Jenny Sparks, Jack Hawksmoor and Shen Li-Min from the current ongoing WildStorm series, THE AUTHORITY, are all StormWatch members, and several of the characters from the first storylines are predecessors to other Authority members (The Engineer and The Doctor, to be specific).

This reviewer recommends this trade primarily on the strength of its titular three-part story, which is only about half of the actual book. In ‘Change or Die,’ a Superman-esque character named The High brings together a group of super-powered beings in order to make (what else?) a finer world. Much like THE AUTHORITY’s recent ‘The Nativity’ storyline, The High’s team wishes to fix the problems of the world proactively, instead of sitting around, waiting for superhuman menaces, then returning things to the status quo (as is StormWatch’s mission and purpose). These guys sure don’t sound like villains, even though StormWatch head Henry Bendix thinks they are.

‘Change or Die’ incorporates elements of the best of Ellis’ later work on THE AUTHORITY and PLANETARY. The High and his team foreshadow a lot of the characters and philosophies of The Authority. The High himself is a thinly veiled representation of Superman, who Ellis explores in wonderful inner monologues and flashbacks. He successfully captures the style of Golden Age comics, which the artists accurately illustrate, right down to the color of the paper (slightly more yellowed than the rest of the trade). By the end, the reader is affected and upset by a very bloody conclusion; Ellis, as usual, pulls no punches.

The rest of the trade doesn’t live up to the standard of ‘Change or Die’, but it’s still solid superheroics. ‘Terminal Zone’ and ‘Strange Weather’ introduce the new StormWatch team as they face off against the United States military, a frequent nemesis of StormWatch. Seeing the United States as the villain in a story is good for a grin, but Oscar Jiminez’s art isn’t as smooth or polished as Raney’s (who illustrated ‘Change Or Die’), and the story doesn’t flow as well from panel to panel. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that four different individuals ink Jiminez’s section of the book.

No matter; CHANGE OR DIE is still a strong collection worth checking out. Ellis is on his game working with some of his favorite themes, super heroes trying to make a difference in real-world situations, politics on a global scale, and violence. Lots of violence.


Matt Singer contributes regularly to PopImage and to the effort to control the pet population by having his pet’s spayed or neutered. Goodbye everybody..

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