While we don’t know precisely how big IO and Skywatch are, I think it’s pretty safe to assume their employees number in the thousands, if not tens of thousands. We’ve seen field agents, analysts, engineers, directors, scientists, assistants and desk after desk of office drones.
In other words, IO and Skywatch are massive and would have all the challenges and failings of any other large operation. While those at the top of the ladder wield considerable power, their decisions are fed and executed by the efforts and capabilities of all of those who work under them, and there are a LOT of people who work under them. Agency reports would almost certainly get rewritten and smoothed out by mid-managers and other relevant divisions before they ever made their way to the likes of Henry Bendix and Miles Craven. Everything would take longer than it should, and frequently the work people spent weeks on would get disregarded or tossed out entirely shortly after they turned it in. IO and Skywatch are corporate, faceless entities. They’re dehumanizing and detached. The one thing they’re not supposed to be is personal.
And yet, in THE WILD STORM #11, we learned that’s precisely how Skywatch is being run.
About midway through the issue, Bendix tells his confidante Lauren about a miscalculation that led to a deadly armed exchange between IO and Skywatch that he was a part of. It’s a great sequence, brilliantly illustrated by Jon Davis-Hunt in a style reminiscent of a 1950s sci-fi movie…at least until it turns shockingly violent.
In the 1970s, IO cooperated with the Soviet Union on a “science city” which included launch facilities that Skywatch saw as a violation of their purview. In response, Skywatch launched an aerial mission that included what was supposed to be a casualty-free strike on some of the city’s critical infrastructure. However, IO’s weaponry proved more powerful and effective than Skywatch expected and the whole thing escalated drastically. The city was destroyed and all but 35 of the 20,000 people living and working there were killed. On the Skywatch side, every one of their assault ships were shot down except for one…which happened to include Henry Bendix as part of its crew.
Bendix has proven to be one of the most fascinating and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, entertaining characters in The Wild Storm. He seems to hate everything, but he holds particular animosity towards IO. Prior to now, it seemed that this was just long-held mistrust filtered through Bendix’s always volatile lens. After all, it’s understandable that the people at Skywatch and IO wouldn’t like each other. But Lauren makes it clear that there’s far more to it when she asks him earlier in the scene why he’s so eager to force a break in the IO/Skywatch treaty.
He deflects and discusses the destruction such a break would bring with it, but we eventually do get Bendix’s answer at the end of his story, even if it isn’t a direct one. He wraps things up by revealing that they found out IO’s director at the time, John Lynch, was at the destroyed science city and was badly injured, but survived.
That panel tells us all we need to know. Bendix is clearly furious thinking back on it—he hasn’t let any of it go. When it comes to dealing with Skywatch’s biggest adversary, Bendix is taking things personally.
That’s not what you want in the person who’s calling the shots at one of the world’s two big power centers. Personal bias makes it extremely difficult to make rational decisions, and when it’s coupled with anger, as we see in Bendix here, it all but ensures that cooler heads will NOT prevail when things turn scary. And things in the world of The Wild Storm are getting scarier every day.
Within this sequence, The Wild Storm #11 revealed one additional morsel of information to us. During his recounting of the assault, Bendix mentions that Skywatch was founded with sole access to space to ensure that any extraterrestrial first contact would be met with one voice from Earth.
It’s the first time The Wild Storm has ever touched on either organization’s origin, and you know what? It’s not a bad idea. Other stories have had fun with how much of a difference the nation of an alien’s first contact can make (look at SUPERMAN: RED SON for one great example). Having a group free of international or political interest to initiate that first contact makes a lot of sense and is a pretty noble endeavor.
So how did Skywatch become the mistrustful, calculating and seemingly trigger-happy entity that it is now? It’s a good question and we don’t have all the answers, but I have to think that plenty of it has to do with the man holding their strings.
If he has his way, it’s entirely possible that the science city assault hasn’t claimed its last casualty.