DC’s New 52: Sci-Fi Scribe Paul Cornell on the Debut of Stormwatch

on Wednesday, Sep. 7th

The buzz around the relaunch of DC Comics’ entire line of superhero comics has been huge, with practically every major national news organization covering the release of Justice League #1 last week. Yet, that release is just the first of the slate of 52 new and relaunched series which will debut this month. While a team book starring DC’s best known heroes is the closest thing the company had to a sure thing, the publisher is reaching down deep in the hopes of building a new hit series, and rekindling long lost favorites.

Which is where English writer Paul Cornell comes in. Cornell, who is known for smart, supercharged science fiction stories (he’s written his fair share of Doctor Who episodes, just to be sure) has been tapped to launch the series Stormwatch and Demon Knights, two ensemble pieces that couldn’t be more different in set and setting. Stormwatch is in stores today.

“With Stormwatch, these are the guys who aren’t super heros. These are the guys who protected the earth for 300 years and suddenly people in capes come along. If you know Torchwood then you’ll know what this is about. This is the secret organization that fights aliens. In business suits largely.”

Stormwatch has a long pedigree. The cast of characters is largely drawn from the work of Warren Ellis, the writer of an earlier incarnation of the book that would go on to redefine the way super hero comics when the book evolved into the breakout hit The Authority. In that incarnation, the series wasn’t afraid to put an openly gay couple whose power set matched Superman and Batman front and center (that would be Apollo and the Midnighter, both of whom star in Stormwatch), or hinge stories on plot devices ripped from the pages of fringe science journals. All while delivering action sequences that Hollywood still couldn’t afford to produce with today’s CGI.

“We’re taking a beat on all of those,” Cornell says of the relaunched Stormwatch. “So I would say: dollop of widescreen action, because we’ve got dirty, great science fiction monsters, and a bit of that old Authority arrogance. These are the professionals and super heros are the amateurs.”

“I’m a huge fan of Warren Ellis. I think people who know Warren Ellis will feel that this is me singing some of his songs. But at the same time you absolutely don’t need to know anything. I come from the [Science Fiction] world. I’m an SF writer. So is he. He’s got a very specifically hard SF feel to his books. Which, you know, you really tune into if that’s what you’re into reading. And you can see him playing really SF tunes, and using the science fiction mechanisms of doing things.”

“He clearly knows real physics as well, and that’s something that I’ve always really loved: that genuine sense of wonder from his books. That strange sense suddenly with a super hero universe that ‘Oh, with the way he’s telling it feels like it might be possible.’ Instead of romantic, or fantasy or mythological. Whenever we do deal with science we’ll do it in that kind of ‘shiny’ way. That sense of wonder way.”

Take, for example, the character of Jenny Q: “who used to be called Jenny Quantum, but isn’t all the time right now because her powers are based on whatever the physics of the 21st century turn out to be. So right now when we don’t know anything about Dark Matter or Dark Energy or even if these things are real, she’s in a bit of a state of flux. As a Century babe, what she does is about what the physics of that century is. So, when some big discoveries come through, that’s what she’ll turn out to be.”

“I love that medieval shape almost,” says Cornell, “and I’m speaking very specifically that medieval cosmological shape of a lot of these characters. Like Jack Hawksmoor, being the God Of Cities isn’t a specific power set. It’s a function, a descriptor. that’s something else I got from Warren.”

As the description of Jenny Q attests, Cornell is known for his wild sci-fi ideas. His recent pre-relaunch run on Action Comics, which put villain Lex Luthor in the role of protagonist, was a roller coaster of mad science. It felt at times that every few pages a new and wondrous twist would arrive from an oblique angle. It’s a trait that more than a few British comic book writers share. Cornell traces some of that to the difference in format between American and British comics.

“The fact is that all our comics are anthologies with short weekly stories. That is to say you’ll get three pages of Judge Dredd, and then you’ll have to wait for the next three pages next week. That means to say we’ve all grown up on and started to write stories that have to take you from beginning middle to end very swiftly.”

The first issue of Stormwatch is in stores and available for digital download now. We’ll have more of our interview with Paul Cornell next week, on the eve of the launch of Demon Knights #1. Wondering where a comic book store is near you? Use the Comic Book Store Locator or dial 1-888-COMIC-BOOK.

Corey McCall with the video game controller that measures the level of excitement in the player. Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

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