StormWatch Vol. 3: Change or Die by Warren Ellis and Tom Raney – Comic Review [Bellarius]


Moving away from the big two, Bellarius begins looking into Wildstorm’s best with Warren Ellis’ StormWatch: Change or Die.

“An excellent, criminally overlooked story which executes its fascinating ideas perfectly.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields

StormWatch always was one of those series which was constantly overlooked even at the height of its strength. Having a beginning in the Dark Age of comics which was the early 90s, the series really never garnered serious attention for being one of many dull xtreme antihero clones which saturated the market. Even once Warren Ellis took control many of its stories suffered from low sales and were overshadowed by its more popular successor: The Authority.

What we’re looking at today is one of the best collections of the series: Concluding the biggest arc of Ellis’ tenure, foreshadowing the future and giving some insight into what would follow.

The High, one of the three most powerful metahumans ever to have lived, suddenly re-emerges from exile with one goal: To completely rip down all of society and start anew. Combined with a band of superpowered individuals with the same goal, the High seems unstoppable even when facing the United Nations metahuman taskforce: StormWatch. However, as they prepare for battle many of its members begin to ask the same question: Are they really on the right side in this conflict?

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Change or Die on the whole is its antagonists, the Changers. While far from being deep or complex characters, with more than one obvious Justice League analogue among their number, their methods are what make them stand out. Rather than being the usual “nuke everything and god will sort it out” mentality which comes from fresh starts (or worse the “technology is the root of all evil” tripe) the Changers methods are ultimately peaceful. Rather than focusing upon destroying governing bodies, the group utilises simple facts and desires to win over the public through far more effective means than usual. Simple acts which proceed to undermine the need for religious faiths, positions of authority or even a class system which required specific individuals and decades of planning.

The way the High’s plan unfolds and what ultimately happens to it as a result of his optimism is what makes this a truly fascinating comic to read. There’s no ulterior motive here, no malice on the High’s part and its failure openly gives reasoning for the actions of Jenny Sparks. Both her ideals to forcibly change the world for the better, StormWatch’s later efforts following the arc and the more violent approach of the Authority. The natural progression of the story is for the High to fail, but Ellis highlights the ideas behind the team well enough to make them memorable despite a very short appearance.

Also assisting in the comic is artistic talent of Tom Raney and Oscar Jimenez who give an interesting mixture of styles to the comics. While there are some obvious 90s influences in the art beyond just the costumes, the semi-realistic appearances of the characters and detailed tones lend well to the tale. It definitely helps readers take the story of themes more weighty than the average supervillain story and gives the comic an oddly distinctive look.

While the biggest point of interest might be the Changers themselves, StormWatch leaves a good impression as a team. Unlike previous writers, Ellis made an active effort to utilise their link to the world’s governments and resources on hand. The only time they are ever seen rushing into things head first is due to the desires of weatherman Henry Bendix and an opportunity which would quickly slip them by. Beyond that they operate far less like a superhero team and more like a paramilitary force, planning each action in turn with active use of various military support teams, reconnaissance and scouting prior to launching attacks.

StormWatch as an organisation and its tactics are better examined in the accompanying tale Strange Weather. While a seemingly odd accompaniment to Change or Die, it does serve its purpose in displaying how the characters reacted to the upheaval and change in the status quo which was the conclusion to the last arc. It does far more to show the politics the group has to deal with, the resources on hand and the sorts of procedural investigations they occasionally had to follow. More importantly, it actually introduces the characters and gives better insight to their personalities. As great as Change or Die was, it was an event different to the usual sort StormWatch dealt with and little of it was focused on the characters beyond Jenny Sparks and Henry Bendix. As such it makes for a very good accompanying tale and, despite following on from it, helps make Change or Die feeling more meaningful for those involved.

Beyond the odd hiccup in the art and lack of real character focus upon StormWatch’s members, there is very little to genuinely criticise here. The volume definitely works better if you read the proceeding instalments of Ellis’ work, but that is the point of it. It’s supposed to have been something built up towards, and even then when reading this volume alone the story is still very good.

As both a prequel to The Authority and a display of what stories can be told by governmental teams like StormWatch, Change or Die is definitely a collection worth getting. Seek this one out if you have the time or any plans to start looking into the Wildstorm universe.

Verdict: 9/10


Long time reader of novels, occasional writer of science fiction and critic of many things; Bellarius has seen some of the best and worst the genre has to offer.
Find more of his reviews and occasional rants here:

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