Wildstorm Comics: Then and Now
A survivor of the early 90's comic boom.
I chose to do this article because I got into this comic company since it first came out and have followed it ever since. More so than any other company, this is the one I consider "my universe". Meaning, it's the one I follow no matter what because I feel I know it so well.
(BTW, I'm trying to summarize 16 years worth of comics here so bare with me if it gets a bit long. All the pics will make it seem long as well)
First off, what is Wildstorm Comics?
Wildstorm came from comic creators Scott Williams, Whilce Portacio, Jim Lee, and Joe Chiodo. Lee and Portacio were two comic book artist best known for their work on X-men in the early 90's.
Wildstorm began as Homage Studios which was part of Image comics. Image comics is one of the companies that came out of the comic industry boom of the early 90's which saw tons of new comics and several new companies come into the market. Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio were two of the founding members of Image Comics which formed in 1992. It consisted of some of Marvel's most popular artists of the time leaving because they believed Marvel was not treating them fairly.
Each of the artists at Image formed their own little studios where they produced their own titles featuring characters that they not only created, but also owned. Jim Lee along with his friend Brandon Choi released their first title-WildC.A.T.S: Covert Action Teams that same year:
This was the birth of the Wildstorm Universe. The success of the intial release led to other titles that soon joined and expanded the fledgling universe.
The titles WildC.A.T.S and Stormwatch are where the inspiration for the name Wildstorm came from.
Even though Wildstorm was enjoying success it had it's share of problems. Critics panned the titles as being all flash and no substance. And many claimed that these characters were nothing but cheap rip-offs of Marvel and DC characters.
And if those negative statements weren't enough, the creators themselves started falling behind on their schedules. Books were coming out late and sometimes not at all.
But dispite the negative barrage, the universe still continued to thrive and expand. Wildstorm started a Talent Search that yielded some of the industry's more well-known artists. One artist was Brett Booth who did lots of work for Wildstorm (including co-creating the character Backlash with Jim Lee) before leaving comics for a time. He returned recently with the Dabel Brothers Productions' comic adaption of the novel series Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter; done in conjuction with Marvel comics.
Another artist to come out of Wildstorm's Talent Search was J. Scott Campbell who helped develop one of Wildstorm's most popular titles-Gen 13. Campbell would later go on to do other well known work such as his creator owned Dangergirl series and his work on Marvel's Spiderman, as well as countless variants covers for various comics.
Wildstorm was enjoying success as a comic company and tried to venture into other media as well.
In 1994, a WildC.A.T.S.: Cover Action Teams cartoon series was produced by Nelvana. Unfortunately, the cartoon was heavily watered down compared to it's comic counterpart in an attempt to make it more family friendly. It also could not compete with Fox's X-men: Animated series which aired around the same time. The show only lasted 13 episodes.
There was a large collection of toys in stores to coincide with the show and a DVD collection would be released in 2005.
A more adult-oriented attempt was made at making an animated Gen 13 movie. Although the movie was completed, Disney acquired it but has never released it in the United States, only in a few foreign markets.
Wildstorm continued to enter other markets producing some figures with McFarlane toys, releasing trading cards, and even getting into the Pog craze of the early 90's.
In 1995 Wildstorm created the imprint Homage Comics which was meant for more writer-driven books. This included such titles as Kurt Busiek's Astro City and James Robinson's Leave It to Chance.
Two years later in 1997, Wildstorm would create Cliffhanger Comics-a line of creator-owned titles which included J. Scott Campbell's aformentioned Dangergirl. It included several up and coming creators including Joe Madureira's Battle Chasers, Humberto Ramos' Crimson, and Chris Bachalo's Steampunk.
Though Wildstorm worked on opening new avenues with projects such as Homage Studios and Cliffhanger, they did not forget the titles that had started it all.
Jim Lee had left WildC.A.T.S but returned in 1997 with a new series called Divine Right: The Adventures of Max Faraday.
It was fun a series that introduced new characters to the Wildstorm Universe but soon succumbed to issues with lateness. What was originally scheduled to be 24 issues got cut back to 12. But despite the problems, the story did have a conclusion.
The WildC.A.T.S got a much needed tweek when writer Alan Moore took over the title. His stories took the team further away from the dynamics that people accused them of copying from Marvel and DC characters. His run helped define the WildC.A.T.S. for the rest of their existence.
Meanwhile, another of Wildstorm's titles was getting a similar face lift courtesy of writer Warren Ellis. He had taken over writing chores on Stormwatch and quickly started to lay the groundwork for the series that would eventually come to be one of Wildstorm's most popular titles-The Authority.
Wildstorm was coming out swinging again. Even titles like DV8 which storywise was considered the anti-Gen 13 team, grew in popularity and enjoyed a decent comic run.
The late 90's were not kind to comics in general. Dispite various success stories early on, the industry as a whole saw a decline through the majority of the rest of the decade. Then in 1996, Marvel Comics filed for bankruptcy. These factors led Jim Lee to begin to look for a buyer for Wildstorm. In 1998, DC Comics acquired Wildstorm and it became official in January 1999.
The move gave some of their existing titles a chance at a fresh start while making room for some new ones as well. WildC.A.T.S: Covert Action Teams had ended and was given a second volume simply titled Wildcats. It was initially written by Scott Lobdell but Joe Casey picked up writing chores with issue eight. Casey also penned a new series for Mr. Majestic. Stormwatch had also ended but was replaced by The Authority whose members had been introduced in the pages of Stormwatch.
1999 also saw Wildstorm launch ABC Comics with writer Alan Moore. It was here that Moore published many notable works including The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Tom Strong, and Top 10.
In 2001, Wildstorm experimented by launching "Eye of the Storm". This changed all the existing Wildstorm titles and aimed them at more mature readers. The Wildcats became Wildcats 3.0 (with Casey still writing) and The Authority continued their title which eventually led to a second series in 2003. Warren Ellis had a few more issues of The Authority while others such as Mark Millar and even Grant Morrison handling writing chores at one point or another. A new Stormwatch title called Stormwatch Team Achilles by newcomer Ian Micah Wright and a new Gen 13 title both began in 2002. Chris Claremont of X-men fame took over writing the new Gen 13 series.
One of the surprise hits to come out of this era came from writer Ed Brubaker. It began with a mini-series called Point Blank which centered around Grifter and Lynch. It was more of a noir style approach to the characters and led to the critically acclaimed series Sleeper.
A crossover called Coup D'etat occured during this time which saw The Authority overthrowing the U.S. government and taking control of the country. The crossover ran through all the titles and set up a new status quo for the universe. But the event wasn't enough to bring in readers.
Sleeper ran for two "seasons" as they were called. Unlike most comic series, the story had a definte ending. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Joe Casey's Wildcats 3.0 which had a planned ending but was cancelled before they could get that far. Gen 13 was cancelled after poor reviews and newcomer Ian Micah Wright was fired from Wildstorm for lying about previously being in the military. This, as well as low sales, led to Stormwatch Team Achilles also getting cancelled.
To finish up the storyline begun in Coup D'etat, The Authority was featured in a series called The Authority Revolution. It essentially told how The Authority lost their control over the U.S.
Titles that took place in the actual Wildstorm universe became scare for a while. A mini-series featuring Majestic (dropping the 'Mr.') came out in 2004 and then a follow-up series was released in 2005. The mini-series paired Majestic with Superman.
During this time, Wildstorm added to it's creator-owned projects. For example, Brian K. Vaughn's Ex Machina in 2004. And later in 2006 Garth Ennis's The Boys.
The Wildcats returned in 2005 in the mini-series Wildcats: Nemesis which introduced the new character Nemesis to the Wildstorm Universe. Her story would be part of the new direction Wildstorm was planning.
Wildstorm also expanded its licensed properties in 2006/2007 by adding A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and World of Warcraft.
At the end of DC Comic's weekly series "52" it was revealed that the Wildstorm Universe was now Earth-50 in the DC Multi-verse.
This coincided with Captain Atom: Armageddon. This was a mini-series that saw the DC hero Captain Atom traveling to the Wildstorm Universe.
The storyline "Worldstorm" spun out of the events of Captain Atom: Armageddon and was billed as a "soft reboot" for the Wildstorm Universe. It saw new series for a lot of Wildstorm's titles that hadn't been on the stands in a while. This included a new Wildcats drawn by the team's original creator Jim Lee and written by Grant Morrison. Morrison also wrote a new series for The Authority with aritist Gene Ha. Original creator Whilce Portacio returned to his creation Wetworks while writer Gail Simone and artist Talent Caldwell took on Gen 13.
Simone also introduced Welcome to Tranquility which brought in many new characters to the Wildstorm Universe. Writer Christos Gage helped launch a new incarnation of Stormwatch called Stormwatch P.H.D. (Post Human Divison) as well. Deathblow got a new series with Brian Azzarello writing. Even The Midnighter from The Authority got his own solo series written by Garth Ennis.
Unfortunately, problems with lateness began which turned into entire titles no longer being solicited. The two flagship titles Wildcats and The Authority were the two that ran into this problem. Gen 13, Welcome to Tranquility, Wetworks, and Stormwatch P.H.D. continued but left many fans jaded because of the problem with the flagship titles.
Wildstorm began a plan to recover from the problems with the 2006 reboot. They planned a trilogy of series that would lead the Wildstorm Universe into a different direction; a direction that Marvel and DC had used but would never commit their respective universes to.
The trilogy consisted of the following series. First up was Wildstorm: Armageddon. It featured one-shot releases which all centered around a future where the Earth in the Wildstorm Universe was in ruin. There were "Armageddon" issues for Midnighter, Welcome to Tranquility, Stormwatch P.H.D., Gen 13, Wetworks, and Wildcats. That series fed into Wildstorm: Revelations and then culminated in Number of the Beast.
Two tie-in series were also released during this trilogy. The New Dynamix saw some forgotten characters of the Wildstorm Universe coming back and The Authority: Prime set up a story that fed into the trilogy as well.
Now in 2008, Wildstorm has released four of its classic titles in the setting of a post-apocalyptic world that the current creative teams at Wildstorm have stated will be the new status quo. This decision was made to stay competetive with the rest of the industry and to offer something different with it's new World's End storyline. This story brought back titles for Wildcats and The Authority. Stormwatch P.H.D. continued at #13 and Gen 13 continued at #21.
The Wildstorm Universe is one of several companies that sprang from the early 90's comic boom but is only one of a few that survived long after. It has had it's ups and downs but through it all it has prevailed. The World's End story is the current direction for the line and they continue to add licensed properties properties such as the most recently acquired X-files and Gears of War properties.
I've been following this company since the beginning and I hope to continue to do so for many more years to come.