As you’ve no doubt heard, WildStorm effectively ceased to exist yesterday; some staff will join DC’s digital initiative, its characters join the larger DCU, and its licensed titles move under the DC umbrella. Over the past 18 years, WildStorm offered many top-flight creators the chance to produce interesting, and frequently amazing, work. We look back at 10 significant moments with WildStorm. This does not pretend to be an exhaustive list, but merely an opening of the door to discussing some of the imprint’s legacy.
America’s Best Comics: Launched in 1999, ABC sprang from the mind of Alan Moore. Fashioned as an imprint of WildStorm before its sale to DC, it became the staging ground for a number of Moore’s critically acclaimed projects. Those books included The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Tom Strong, Promethea and Top 10. General dissatisfaction with DC led Moore to begin wrapping up his various series, but a particular imbroglio involving promotion for the V for Vendetta film led to Moore pulling League (which he created with Kevin O’Neill) and publishing further installments at Top Shelf/Knockabout.
Stormwatch #37: When Stormwatch launched at Image in 1993, it was a decent title about United Nations-sponsored super-heroes. By 1996, the various interconnected WildStorm super-hero titles underwent a shake-up that led to Warren Ellis coming aboard as Stormwatch writer. Ellis totally re-energized the book, breaking the team into squads and introducing a number of new characters, including Jenny Sparks, Jack Hawksmoor, and Rose Tattoo. Ellis employed a more political sensibility, and brought in characters that served as analogues to various archetypal super-heroes as a mechanism for discussing the social upheaval that such powerful beings might cause. When the first volume of Stormwatch ended, Ellis wrote a second volume wherein he and artist Bryan Hitch brought in fan-favorites Midnighter and Apollo. In 1999, Ellis and company did the unthinkable; they killed off a large number of the cast in the inter-company crossover WildCATS/Aliens (yes, he was crazy enough to kill much of the team in a book that didn’t even have their name on the title). The final issue of volume 2, #11, transitioned some of the survivors into Ellis and Hitch’s new book, The Authority (more on that in a bit).
Planetary: Like Moore, Warren Ellis busied himself tearing the roof off at WildStorm in the late ‘90s. Among the many titles that he produced was his collaboration with John Cassaday, Planetary, which kicked off in 1998. Powered by the mystery of “Who is the Fourth Man?” and staged as a tour through basically every corner of 20th Century popular culture, Planetary attracted critical acclaim and a die-hard segment of fandom. Though the series was delayed over time for reasons of business, health, and just occasional bad timing, Ellis and Cassaday displayed a remarkable level of consistency in terms of tone that made the final installment (delivered in October of 2009) a perfect fit with everything that had gone before.
The Authority: Launching from the ashes of Stormwatch, The Authority brought together Stormwatch Black vets Jenny Sparks, Jack Hawksmoor and Swift, teaming them with Midnighter, Apollo, The Engineer and The Doctor (the latter two of which were the latest recipients of powers belonging to two of the archetypal characters featured during the final arc of “Stormwatch” volume 1). The book was an instant hit, depicting as it did heroes that weren’t afraid to cross the line in their quest for “a finer world”. Ellis and Hitch used a “widescreen” approach, making every issue of every arc as epic as possible. When the pair left after issue 12, writer Mark Millar and artist Frank Quitely came aboard and took the crazy, the political, and the action-packed to yet another level. Story elements caused editorial wrangling with DC (particularly in the wake of the 9/11 attacks), leading eventually to delays and substitute arcs. Unfortunately, the Authority lost some of its zeitgeist throttling power during its second volume, partially due to the general darkening of the entire super-hero genre. Ed Brubaker gave it a solid try for volume 3, the 12 issue “Revolution”, before Grant Morrison and Gene Ha came on for Volume 4. Again, unfortunately, Volume 4 was cursed almost off the bat as there was as five-month delay between issues 1 and 2; Morrison and Ha departed, and Keith Giffen stepped in to finish Morrison’s scripts for what became the “Lost Year” series. Volume 5 launched in 2008.
Sleeper: The critically acclaimed title from writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips began life in March 2003. Technically a spin-off of Brubaker and Colin Wilson’s “Point Blank” mini-series, Sleeper very quickly took on a life of its own. The set-up turns on Holden Carver, an agent deep inside the organization run by former hero Tao; a series of circumstances erases anyone’s awareness that Carver is on the inside, leaving him trapped without a hope of extraction by his handlers. The mastery of creative team here is in building a realistic set of philosophical dilemmas for the main character to negotiate. Carver operates by turns as hero and villain, yet everything seems totally organic and makes sense to the character; the complexity of Carver’s personality and the choices that he has to make under duress remain the true heart of the story, and are the primary reason that its staying power.
Gears of War: Was it significant that Gears of War #1 was the best-selling comic of 2008? I think so. Jim Lee noted this at Wizard’s Big Apple Con in October of 2009. This certainly demonstrated that you can have a victory by going outside the traditional delivery model by taking certain products to other venues (like game shops) when appropriate. What has the industry learned from this? You tell us.
Ex Machina: A comic featuring a super-hero mayor set squarely in a world very much like our own post-9/11 society? Sounds like a hard sell. Then again, that’s before you consider the creative team of Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris. Launched in 2004 and running until August of this year (that is, “the nick of time”), Ex Machina followed Mayor Mitchell Hundred aka The Great Machine, the world’s only super-hero, as he dealt with villains, politics, and the machinations of his own friends. Ex Machina grabbed the Eisner for Best New Series in 2005, a year that also saw Vaughan take Best Writer (for this title, Y: The Last Man, Runaways, and Ultimate X-Men).
Kurt Busiek’s Astro City: Though it kicked off in 1995 at Image, “Astro City” became part of Homage Comics, a “writer-driven” imprint of WildStorm. When DC acquired WildStorm in 1998, “Astro City” made the journey as well, eventually grouping with former Cliffhanger titles under the “WildStorm Signature Series”. The book has long been noted for fine storytelling on behalf of writer Busiek and arist Brent Anderson (with covers and frequent character designs contributed by Alex Ross). Over time, the series has won a mountain of awards, including both the Eisner and Harvey for Best New Series in 1996, Eisner for Best Continuing Series in 1997 and 1998, several Eisners for Best Single Issue, Harvey for Best Writer in 1998, and Eisner for Best Writer in 1999. Ross garnered Best Cover Artist honors for both the Eisners and Harveys 7 times between 1996 and 2000 though his work on the book. Dealing with an traditional comic-style big city and its cast of archetypal heroes and villains, Busiek and the gang managed to tell stories that explored the wonder and poignant moments held by characters living in such a world. According to Busiek at The Official Kurt Busiek Facebook page, the series will continue, though the venue and schedule has yet to be decided at press time.
The Possessed: Geoff Johns undoubtedly remains one of the most high-profile talents in comics. His only real significant creator-owned original work remains Olympus (done at DC/Humanoids with Kris Grimminger and Butch Guice) and the 2003/2004 mini-series The Possessed at WildStorm. Co-created with Grimminger, with art by Liam Sharp, the book depicts a group of Vatican-sponsored exorcists battling a demonic infestation. It seems significant to me that most of the biggest writing names in comics today spend at least half of their focus on the creator-owned side of the spectrum, while Johns’ body of work in this regard is still rather small. That makes this one fairly notable.
The Horror Incursion: Well, they can’t all be triumphs. As more horror comics and imprints emerged around 2006, WildStorm managed to obtain some stories New Line licenses that had previously been at Avatar: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th. Though all three franchises either had or would get cinematic reboots in short order, the comics never caught on in a big way. Plans for ongoings were scrapped in 2007, leading to series-of-mini-series that ran through 2008.
The Boys: Profane, rude, frequently hilarious . . . Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s go at super-heroes started off at WildStorm in 2006 but had more than a little trouble with the larger editorial framework. It was actually cancelled in 2007. Fortunately for fans of the series, Dynamite Entertainment worked out a way to bring it over and keep it going rather than allow it to die.
Clearly, WildStorm produced many significant books. You can’t forget Gen-13, Welcome to Tranquility, American Way, Desperadoes, Ocean, Victorian Undead, Crimson (I wonder if THAT would do well these days?), The Winter Men, Red or a few dozen others. What about WildStorm was significant to you? Let us know.