In Memoriam- Wildstorm: Remembering the House That Jim Lee Built

Posted by Mainline (1157 posts) - - Show Bio

All credit goes to Spike Spiegel of NeoGAF 

In Memoriam... Wildstorm: Remembering the House That Jim Lee Built. #1

With the news earlier this week that as of December, DC Comics would be bringing the Wildstorm imprint of comics to an end, I thought it would be nice to look back on the company's twenty-year history and all of the comics its writers and artists produced, and all of the careers that were made in the process.

So let's begin our wistful nostalgia trip, shall we? :D



If you've ever read comics, chances are you already know the story of how it all began. In 1992, a number of high-profile freelance artists from Marvel abandoned the company as one over unfair treatment, and formed their own, creator-owned company called Image Comics. Among this company's founders was Jim Lee, who along with fellow artists Whilce Portacio, Scott Williams, and Joe Chiodo formed their own label within Image; originally called Homage Studios, the group would later come to be known as Wildstorm Productions.

The first comic series produced by Wildstorm would be Lee's own creation -- WildC.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams), the story of a half-alien superteam assembled by a full-alien midget billionaire, to wage a secret war against his centuries-old, body-possessing extraterrestrial foes called Daemonites. Next was Stormwatch, about a multinational team of superheroes policing the globe, with the support and backing of the United Nations. Whilce Portacio's own creator-owned effort came shortly after; titled Wetworks, it followed a black ops military team thrust by fate into a war between vampires and werewolves, and augmented by living skinsuits of a golden alloy. A few years later, artist J. Scott Campbell created Gen13, a highly-popular series about a group of teenagers with superpowers, on the run from a sinister government agency.

Other notable series from the early days of Wildstorm included: Deathblow, about a government assassin seeking redemption for a lifetime of sins; The Maxx, Sam Keith's strange tale about a superhero/homeless man caught between reality and fantasy; Backlash, a spinoff of Stormwatch featuring the talents of artist Brett Booth; Team 7, featuring a number of Wildstorm characters in their early days, as a military unit experimented upon to bestow upon them superpowers; Union by Mark Texiera, about a militant alien sent to Earth whose powers come from the gem in his chest; and Cybernary, about a woman trapped in the body of a "nympho-droid" modified for heavy combat.

The early days of Wildstorm were characterized mainly by high energy and artistic excellence. But good storytelling? Not so much. That would come later...

In 1995 Wildstorm began taking steps to address reader complaints about its "writing-deficient" comics, with the formation of a sub-label called Homage Comics. Showcasing top industry writing talent, the label produced a number of notable works including: Kurt Busiek's Astro City, an acclaimed anthology series chronicling the lives of heroes and citizens living in the titular metropolis; James Robinson's Leave It to Chance, a light-hearted tale about a girl paranormal investigator and her pet dragon with art by Paul Smith; Red by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, about a retired CIA operative targeted for assassination, soon to be a major motion picture starring Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman (Ellis also helped create DV8, a superhero team book set in New York); and, for a brief while, Homage was home to Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise, the popular long-running indie series about the triangle of Francine, Katchoo and David.

That's not to say that, with this newfound focus on writers, Wildstorm forgot what REALLY made it a popular brand among readers in the first place. In 1998 Wildstorm created a second sub-label called Cliffhanger Comics, this time with an emphasis on showcasing the best "new talent" that the comics world had to offer. Of the three initial offerings, first up was J. Scott Campbell of Gen13 fame, this time with the creator-owned series Danger Girl, a "Charlie's Angels" -styled story about a trio of female adventurers. Next came the short lived fan-favorite series Battle Chasers, by artist Joe Madureira; set in a RPG-esque fantasy world, the comic followed the adventures of a little girl with oversized gauntlets and a big girl with oversized bazongas. Then there was Humberto Ramos's Crimson, about a teenage boy who must adjust to life as a vampire and embrace his destiny as the one to bring an end to vampirekind. Other notable titles to come later included Steampunk by Chris Bachalo and Joe Kelly, a Victorian tale about a boy whose heart is replace by a coal-burning furnace, and Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco's Arrrowsmith about an alternate-Earth where magic exists in modern times.

As Wildstorm continued to grow and build, Jim Lee's role increasingly transitioned from one of talent to one of management. That didn't stop him from lending his pencils to the occasional project, however, and in 1997 Lee tackled the dual roles of writer and artist in the series Divine Right: The Adventures of Max Faraday. It told the story of Faraday, a computer science major and major geek who comes into possession of the "Creation Equation", a binary sequence which bestows upon him the powers of a god. Now hunted for his possession of the equation, Faraday undergoes a heroes' journey and meets a vast array of characters from the Wildstorm Universe.



When the "speculators' bubble" inflated by publisher greed and arrogance finally burst in the mid-1990s, the comic book industry as a whole found itself struggling for survival in a changing world. Wildstorm was no exception, and in 1998 Jim Lee negotiated an acquisition of the company by DC Comics. Rather than cannibalize its new property, DC allowed Wildstorm to exist as its own imprint alongside Vertigo Comics, producing its own original series while developing new creator-owned content. Few could have guessed what would come next...

In 1999, writer Warren Ellis and artist Bryan Hitch ushered in a new era for Wildstorm with the wildly popular and critically acclaimed series The Authority. Created from the ashes of Stormwatch, the series focused on a JLA-esque team of superheroes out to save the world by any means necessary. Dark, violent and visually stunning, the series was a runaway success and only gained in popularity when Mark Millar and Frank Quitely took over. But Ellis wasn't done there; also in 1999, he joined with John Cassaday in creating Planetary, a stunning exploration of the superhero genre centered around a trio of superhumans who, as "Archeologists of the Impossible," are tasked with investigating the universe's secrets.

At roughly the same time, Wildstorm succeeded in recruiting legendary comics writer Alan Moore, for whom a new sub-label was created; under "America's Best Comics", Moore turned out some of the industry's best and most critically acclaimed works. These included The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a Victorian era superhero book featuring famous fictional characters; Promethea, a history-spanning series about the living embodiments of a goddess-type figure; Top 10, an unusual crop drama about a precinct of superhero cops policing a city populated entirely with superhumans; Tom Strong, chronicling the adventures of an eccentric "science hero" and his unusual family; and Tomorrow Stories, a collection of short pulp comic stories written by Moore and illustrated by various artists.

While Ellis, Millar and Moore were dominating the scene, the rest of the Wildstorm stable had thinned its ranks somewhat. Much of Wildstorm's lineup under Image had been canceled or lapsed because of delays or creative departures, and long-running mainstays Stormwatch and WildC.A.T.s were cancelled in the transition from Image to DC. But before long a new WildCats series resurfaced, first with Scott Lodbell and Travis Charest at the helm, and then Joe Casey and Sean Phillips; the cast of characters and their history remained unchanged, but the series focus was changed to a less superheroic, more serious and realistic tone. Gen13 avoided cancellation and continued its run uninterrupted, even gaining new momentum with its new writer, Adam Warren. And Wildstorm continued to hold its reputation for developing new artistic talent, with discoveries like Ale Garza (who provided artwork for the short-lived series Ninja Boy).

Not long after its acquisition by DC, Wildstorm began experimenting with comic series based on licensed properties. Over the next ten years, an increasing number of comics were produced covering a wide range of pop culture phenomenon, from video game -based comics like Resident Evil and World of Warcraft, to anime adaptations like Ninja Scroll, to revivals of 80s cartoons like Thundercats and popular sci-fi shows such as Farscape. Some would argue that this licensing craze became a problem for the company, that Wildstorm became too focused on licensed works, and as a result began to neglect or dilute its original role as the home of creator-owned works. Because what happened next was...

Hoping to use The Authority's style of dark, edgy storytelling as a blueprint for success, Wildstorm rebranded its lineup of core titles with the "Eye of the Storm" campaign and a mature-readers focus. WildCats was canceled for the second time and became Wildcats Version 3.0; again written by Casey and illustrated by Dustin Nguyen, the series now focused on the HALO Corporation's goal of "a better world through technology". Gen13 was also cancelled and rebooted, this time with Chris Claremont at the helm. Stormwatch was resurrected; as Team Achilles; the book now followed a powerless UN team of military operatives engaging in clandestine missions against the supervillain community. New titles created under this new branding included the acclaimed Sleeper by Ed Brubaker, about a double-agent working inside a Wildcats villain's organization, and Global Frequency by Ellis, an episodic series about the 1001 operatives of a secret world-saving organization. While many of these series were critically acclaimed they failed to spark reader interest, and declining sales led to early cancellations for many of the "Eye of the Storm" titles.

Toward the end of this period in Wildstorm's history, a new creator-owned series began: Ex Machina, by Brian K. Vaughn and Tony Harris. Set on an alternate Earth where 9/11 happened... differently, it starred Mitchell Hundred, the world's only superhero, and recounted his days as a superhero and eventual tenure as mayor of New York City.

When DC Comics resurrected its concept of a "Multiverse" with 2005's Infinite Crisis miniseries event, it paved the way for the Wildstorm Universe to cross over as one of those alternate universes. In the nine-part Captain Atom: Armageddon series, DC's Captain Atom crossed over into the Wildstorm Universe, effectively trading places with Wildstorm's Mr. Majestic. Atom's arrival precipitated a series of events would ultimately destroy both the Wildcats and Authority, and end with a universal "reboot" caused by Wildcats member Void.

This reboot, under the banner of Worldstorm, would see the core lineup of titles rebooted with new first issues, written and illustrated by some of the biggest names in comics. Wildcats would be written by Grant Morrison, and illustrated once again by creator Jim Lee; Wetworks would return, and be written by Mike Carey with artwork by its creator Whilce Portacio; Morrison pulled double-duty as writer, and joined Gene Ha on a new The Authority; Gail Simone took over the new Gen13, joined by artist Talent Caldwell; Deathblow got a second chance at life, with Brian Azzarello and Carlos D'Anda at the helm, as did Stormwatch with the Post Human Division, by Christos Gage and Doug Mahnke; breakout Authority character The Midnighter got his own solo series, by Garth Ennis and Chris Sprouse. The only new series to join the new Wildstorm Universe was Welcome to Tranquility, by Simone and Neil Googe.

It was incredibly ambitious undertaking, full of all-star talent and an incredible amount of hype. It was also, unquestionably, a colossal failure. Morrison and Lee managed to produce only a single issue of Wildcats; Morrison and Ha, only two on Authority. Most of the other rebooted series lasted only a year or two before cancellation due to declining sales. The relaunch was a disaster, one from which Wildstorm would never really recover.

With the relaunch deemed a failure, Wildstorm's days as a viable imprint were numbered. Warren Ellis's latest creator-owned series, Desolation Jones, went on hiatus in 2007 and never returned. Garth Ennis's own creator-owned series, an unrelentingly crass indictment of superhero comics titled The Boys, parted ways with DC/Wildstorm over content concerns and moved to another publisher. Licensed comics based on video games, movies and TV shows continued to flow through Wildstorm's doors, finding a diminished niche audience. And having given up on Worldstorm, the core lineup of Wildstorm titles were rebooted once more; rebooted versions of Wildcats and The Authority were produced, and joined by retooled versions of the still-running Gen13 and Stormwatch PHD. Now set in a post-apocalyptic world, the heroes of the Wildstorm Universe now faced a bleak future filled with hardship and uncertainty as they struggled to rebuild. How fitting...

And now, here we are. Jim Lee has been promoted to Co-Publisher of DC Comics, sharing the title with Dan Didio, and the comic book label he founded goes on the shelf in December.


Well that's all I've got, as it's midnight here and I've been at this for several hours. I hope you guys had fun reading it. In closing, I ask you GAF -- what was your favorite Wildstorm comic series?

EDIT: Also, I want to give a huge "thank you" to Comic Vine for providing a extensive super easy-to-use resource in finding those cover images. Thanks!
#1 Edited by mrtrickster (2363 posts) - - Show Bio

the house that Jim Lee built and gave up. wildstorm will be remembered because of their unique style. 
as my favorite wildstorm series? Stormwatch v1

#2 Posted by J1ml33 (561 posts) - - Show Bio

wildstorm was the reason I started my web comic ( the concept and execution was something I could only dream of ) it had inspired me to try to do what I am doing right now ( and yes I have a lot of failures in my first couple of stories just like wildstorm so I know in away something could work and somethings could not ,either way their example was aw inspiring for me to learn from their example and I am a writer/artist trying to get his ideals out there without compromise ) .
but to keep this brief I will end this by saying I respect Jim Lee`s decision for what he has done and I probably would have did the same thing by selling my imprint  and see how it would do with the mainstream fishes ,but all in all it`s been a good 20 years I wish it could have been another 20 more if things would have gone another way but not in this life time .
I hope the wildstorm characters will get the respect they so deserve when they are published under the DC banner and in that universe and I also hope that they will still publish the trades and hardcovers of  all of the original series ( and even complete some of them in trade to namely DV8 it`s one of my favorites next to wildcats  and Gen 13 ) I just want everything to be just as it was before the re-boots and re-cons . 
and my favorite series are .
Wild C.A.Ts 

Gen 13
The Authority 
 and lastly 
Wet Works and Stormwatch :team Achilles 

 these are the titles that had inspired me to do what I am doing today and in 
way I feel that there style will never (and I could be wrong ) may never be as 
powerful as it was in the early days but I still have faith that Jim Lee will 
not Abandon his ideals for the sake of commerce (after all he is still my artistic 
hero ) hope you do not think of me waxing poetically about a now defunct imprint this is just me honoring the glorious past memory of Wild Storm`s creative vision . 
thanks for reading this and I hope someone might have found this amusing besides myself .
my wildstorm rise again ( I could only want anything more ) -_-
#3 Posted by fred9101 (144 posts) - - Show Bio

I just want to tell you made a very nice job on your article about Wildstorm, 3 months ago. Thanks for the time you took there, that was really useful for me to know this history! 
Gen 13 is the book that introduced me to this company and it is always my favorite at Wildstorm .   
#4 Posted by digimod (262 posts) - - Show Bio

I'm going to miss all of them but my personal favorite was Wetworks.

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