From the Rangers to the Beavers, Micah Ian Wright can claim a stranger pedigree than most new writers, and it shows in his debut series, the politically informed and action packed latest incarnation of STORMWATCH.
17 October 2003

Writer: Micah Ian Wright
Artist/Colourist: Whilce Portacio
Inkers: Scott Williams and Sal Regla
Letterer: Comicraft
Additional Colours: Jeromy Cox
Collects STORMWATCH: TEAM ACHILLES #'1-6, and the Wizard preview
Price: $14.95
Publisher: DC/WildStorm
ISBN: 1401201032

Government. Legislature. Politics and politicians.

Like it or not (and it's usually the latter), these things affect and shape our lives in ways both subtle and obvious. We vote; we obey the law as best we can; we mock our elected heads of state. (And for you readers based in the US, think on this: here in Australia, voting is compulsory. So much for democracy.)

Of course, without wanting to seem sensationalistic or mawkish, it's not unreasonable to state that the socio-political landscape has altered radically in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 2001. The threat of terrorism - once considered something of a distant possibility in much of the Western hemisphere - is now a matter of immediate concern. Yet, under the buzzwords and rhetoric, some concerns seem to have slipped under the proverbial radar. After all, what happens to Weapons of Mass Destruction when they do get found (if they were ever there to be found in the first place)? Are they destroyed, or redeployed?

Make no mistake, STORMWATCH: TEAM ACHILLES has a political tone - but it's not being published to put forward an agenda. At its core, TEAM ACHILLES is still a superhero book - or, to be more precise, an anti-superhero book - but it has little in common with the simplistic concerns of four-colour propaganda like CAPTAIN AMERICA. Despite the fantastical elements found here, TEAM ACHILLES feels like it could take place in the real world, concerning itself with readily identifiable issues such as government funding and shifting geopolitical allegiances.

Once upon a time, Stormwatch was a UN-sponsored emergency squad staffed with superhumans, whose mandate was to go in where normal people couldn't - that is, until the UN withdrew their funding. Now, in the wake of the Al Qaeda attacks on the US, a new group has been organised, headed by former Black Razor Ben Santini - but what good is an special forces unit if they have no resources or backup?

The first half of this collection answers this poser quite well, as Santini and his recruits - none of whom possess super powers - attempt to foil a terrorist attack on the UN building in New York. If you've seen any of the DIE HARD movies, you'll get the gist straight away: tough guys against tougher odds. The dialogue is punchy ("We're not superheroes." "We kill superheroes."), the action appropriately visceral, but despite the fresh gloss lent by real-world events and backdrops, it reads a tad familiar. The conclusion, though, well and truly sets the pace for the series - it quickly becomes clear that Santini is not a man to suffer fools gladly.

Things improve in the second half, as TEAM ACHILLES - fully enabled and assembled - attempt to retrieve an 'activator' from Chechnya. However, the op is complicated by political manoeuvring (Vladimir Putin waiting on the border with the Russian Army in tow) and superhero team The Authority waiting in the wings. This sequence features some inventive moments and black humour, and having the Midnighter brought down to size by Jukko Hämäläinen, the Finnish hand-to-hand combat expert, is worth the cover price alone. However, there is a sense that the plot wasn't explored to its full potential, despite the clever denouement - it feels rushed and unsatisfying.

Micah Ian Wright has a curriculum vitae that beggars belief; having served in the US Army as a Airborne Ranger, Wright rather implausibly went on to script such animated series as SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS and THE ANGRY BEAVERS for the Nickelodeon cable network. Oddly, this mix of true grit and cartoonish excess makes him the perfect man to write TEAM ACHILLES, which is essentially GI JOE on a Jerry Bruckheimer scale, with a Aaron Sorkin-style ear for dialogue and intrigue. Essentially a comics novice, Wright displays a talent that has made him one of the up-and-coming writers to watch.

Much of the criticism laid at TEAM ACHILLES has been due to the presence of veteran artist Whilce Portacio. While his style may be a little outré for some, I personally found his work here to be strong and vivid, with a much-improved sense of storytelling compared to some of his earlier works. Granted, in places it can be scratchy and indistinct, and his faces tend to look a tad samey, but Portacio is easily at his career best here. The colour work by Portacio, Cox, et al is also noteworthy.

STORMWATCH: TEAM ACHILLES does work, despite some teething problems in the early stages. If readers are willing to overlook those as part and parcel of the series' evolution, then they're bound to enjoy themselves here. If you want shoot-'em-up action, you'll get that, and if you want some political discussion to chew over, you'll get that too. TEAM ACHILLES favours the former over the latter, but considering that a certain 'action-moofie' star has just been elected Governor of California, maybe that's just as well. After all, we shouldn't be mixing entertainment with propaganda.

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