Channelling the Storm

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What would the Wildstorm Worldstorm be without Stormwatch?  New series writer Christos Gage stops by to talk about past incarnations, reincarnations, and his plans for the new Stormwatch PHD series.

BROKEN FRONTIER: You are originally a writer from television, but now have been working more regularly in comics. Which medium is more fun for you to work in?  Is there anything that you learned that you've taken from one and use in the other?

CHRISTOS GAGE: I enjoy writing for film and TV, but I guess you never forget your first love, and my first love is comics—I've been having the time of my life writing them! 

BF: Is there anything that you learned that you've taken from one and use in the other?

CG: I definitely feel that the lessons I learned as a screenwriter have helped, especially moving back and forth between movies and TV.  You realize that, while they all involve writing scripts, each medium and each genre is its own beast, and you have to be aware of its strengths and weaknesses and react accordingly.  It's so liberating to write a comic knowing that you can blow up an entire galaxy if you want to, without worrying about budget. 

On the flip side, there are some things you can do in screenwriting—such as calling for a subtle look or gesture—that you may have to hit a bit more “on the nose” in comics because you don't have the benefit of an actual, moving human being doing it.  That said, there are a lot of commonalities. 

In both screenwriting and comics writing, you have to get your point across in a pretty economical way, especially with dialogue; long soliloquies don't tend to play very well.  They're both visual media, so you generally don't want to show two people standing in an elevator swapping recipes; better to have them doing something interesting, like running for their lives from man-eating dinosaurs.

BF: You've written for both Marvel and DC.  How did you end up writing within the Wildstorm Universe?

CG: Just by meeting and talking to the folks at Wildstorm: Ben Abernathy, my editor on Stormwatch, Hank Kanalz, Scott Dunbier and the rest of the gang.  I had pitched them an idea that sort of mixed a police procedural with a superhero universe, but focused on the type of characters who don't normally get the spotlight, like sidekicks, tech guys, cops and the like.  They thought the premise might work well as a new take on Stormwatch, and I jumped at the opportunity to be part of the Worldstorm relaunch.

BF: Why Stormwatch?  This book ranks third in the team book hierarchy of the Wildstorm Universe, with Authority and Wildcats the more well known.  Is there any worry that the book might end up not getting its due?  Have you done anything specific with this book that will set it apart from those others?

CG: You bring up a good point in that it could seem redundant to have three team books about superhumans responding to global crises.  That's why I decided to create Stormwatch PHD, a division of Stormwatch that deals with more street-level threats and explores the odd, overlooked corners of the Wildstorm Universe.  I'm going to let Grant Morrison tackle the galactic, interdimensional end of things—as he does so well—while I stick to the mean streets.

As for the book getting its due, well, we just have to do a good job with it and trust that word will get out that it's something different and worth picking up!  Having Doug Mahnke doing the art sure doesn't hurt.

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BF: In going with the idea from the other side, can you take more chances with your story because of its "lower" status in the Wildstorm team hierarchy? How much freedom have you been given in your writing and the direction of the book?

CG: One of the great things about Wildstorm is the level of freedom given the creators.  Part of that is because the characters aren't icons the way Superman and Batman are; if you want to try something daring and unusual, you're not ruining an American legend, so there is a sense of excitement, danger and possibility inherent in everything we do.  Also, Jim Lee and his editorial team seem to feel that they get the best from creators by trusting their instincts and letting them do their thing.  They stay involved and make suggestions, but you're never told “you have to do it this way.” 

It's true that I've been given a lot of freedom, but I don't think that's unique to my book; I think that all the Wildstorm creators can take as many chances as they like, which is a big part of what makes it fun, both for us and the readers.

BF: The last Stormwatch book (Team Achilles) was put together to be the "watchdogs" of the Wildstorm universe, most notably taking down The Authority at one point.  Will your Stormwatch team serve a similar purpose?  If not, what type of role in the Wildstorm U. does this team have?

CG: Stormwatch PHD is less paramilitary than Team Achilles and more like a police department.  They have members with different specialties, including combat, forensics, the supernatural, etc.  I've been describing it as Gotham Central meets the Suicide Squad.  As for their role in the Wildstorm Universe, PHD's task is to find ways for non-powered authorities to take down superhuman threats before they reach the point where only the big guys—Stormwatch Prime, the Authority, etc.—can handle them.  That'll mean being both clever and proactive.  And at some point it will probably mean them running into some of the other super-teams…

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BF: With the Wildstorm Universe having gone through a bit of a reset, how much research did you have to do for this book?  Will you be using past continuity at all or are you going to start completely fresh?

CG: I read every Stormwatch and Authority comic ever published, as well as the majority of the Wildcats issues.  The “reset” allows us to tell the stories we want to tell, but Stormwatch has a proud history and I wanted to respect that whenever possible.  So I am keeping almost everything in continuity, with the exception of the twelve issues of The Monarchy—I'm taking the position that they happened on a parallel world, since parallel universes were a big part of that book. 

That decision came out of necessity, because in The Monarchy, characters like Jackson King just became too powerful to work in the paradigm we were setting up for Stormwatch PHD.  Having said that, while respecting existing continuity, I am taking pains to make the book accessible to new readers.  What has come before will definitely have a bearing on the book; I'll just make sure that newcomers are given all the information they need to know what's going on. 

The idea is to use continuity as a strength when it makes sense to do so, but not to get bogged down in it.  Have continuity serve the story, not the other way around.

BF: Most notably your book stars Jackson King, a former leader of Stormwatch, back again to lead.  Why did you pick him as the biggest character in the book?

CG: Jackson King seemed like a natural choice.  In many ways, he's the heart and soul of Stormwatch.  He was the lead character in the early Image issues, and has been with the team in nearly every incarnation since.  He's also a character both I and my editor Ben Abernathy like a lot, as well as being one of the few surviving Stormwatch members who didn't join The Authority. 

BF: You are bringing back some characters who were last seen pretty dead.  Why make the decision to bring them back?  Did you have to fight at all to get these characters resurrection approved?  And most importantly, will it be explained?

CG: Resurrecting Fahrenheit, Fuji, Hellstrike and Winter was a combination of two things.  One, when most people think of Stormwatch, those are the characters that come to mind.  Second, I felt these were compelling characters who still had good stories left to be told about them.  Warren Ellis has said that he killed them off because he was simply sick of writing about them, and preferred to focus on the characters he'd created, who became the Authority. 

I didn't feel like we were undoing some heartfelt statement he had made or anything like that, the way I would if we'd brought back a character he'd created himself, like Jenny Sparks.  It was Jim Lee and his collaborators who created the original Stormwatch, and Jim was totally behind bringing these characters back, so I felt good about it.  And yes, their return will be explained, starting in issue #5… reserve your copy now!

BF: How much cross-universe continuity will you be using?  Will there be guest stars or crossovers, and how involved in the overall direction of the Wildstorm Universe do you have to be with this book?

CG: I can virtually guarantee that there will be crossovers and guest stars at some point, but for the short term I think each new Wildstorm title is focusing on establishing itself on its own (except Wildcats and Authority, which are both written by Grant and will be crossing over fairly early, I believe).  That said, Stormwatch does operate in the larger Wildstorm universe, and you will see references to that peppered throughout the book.

BF: You'll be working with Doug Mahnke on the title.  Was that just a lucky break on your part or did you request to work with him? 

CG: Anytime you get to work with Doug it's lucky, but he was definitely someone I was dying to collaborate with.  Ben Abernathy is a huge fan of his as well, having just worked with him on Team Zero, so we both pretty much had one name at the top of our list, and we were fortunate enough to get him.  The great thing about Doug is that he can do just about anything you ask of him, as is evident from his body of work.  Humor, superheroes, horror, sci-fi, war - he's done it all and done it beautifully. 

BF: Have you found yourself writing a certain way to take advantage of his artistic abilities?

CG: Sure, there are things he does exceptionally well that I try to cater to—he loves to draw monsters, for instance, and he's great at it—but what he really gives me as a writer is the freedom to do all kinds of different things, from hardcore action to intense character moments, and have the confidence that the art will deliver, often better than I could have imagined.

BF: Finally, how long do you plan to stay on Stormwatch PHD?  Do you have one big story (or a bunch of stories) that you are telling?

CG: I'll be on it until they pry it from my cold dead fingers!  There are so many possibilities with these characters and the Wildstorm Universe that I can't see myself running out of stories any time soon.

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