Comics

No Stranger to Fiction #20: Without Warning

Kevin M. Brettauer

After 18 years of premier publications and a few missed opportunities, WildStorm is shutting down. But it shouldn't.

“Well I’m scared of what’s behind and what’s before.”

-- Mumford and Sons, “After the Storm”

“I loved you from the start...”

-- Fleetwood Mac, “The Storm”

Chances are if you’ve picked up any comics regularly over the last eighteen years, you have, at the very least, a passing familiarity with WildStorm, the former Image imprint that DC acquired from Jim Lee in 1998. Over the last eighteen years, such popular and important comics as The Authority, Ex Machina, Gen13, A God Somewhere, SteamPunk, Crimson, Stormwatch and Planetary, Leave It to Chance, Sleeper, Global Frequency and Alan Moore’s lauded line of “America’s Best Comics”, including such genre‐defining epics as Promethea, Tom Strong and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Writers like Moore, Brian K. Vaughan, Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker, Chris Claremont, Mark Millar were allowed to flourish, producing some of the most beloved work of their careers. Artists as well‐known and highly‐regarded as J. Scott Campbell, Chris Bachalo, Humberto Ramos, J.H. Williams III, Tony Harris, Bryan Hitch, Kevin O’Neill and John Cassaday either got their start or left indelible marks on the industry while working with WildStorm.

With DC’s current restructuring, though--the comics “side” of the business staying in New York City, while all multimedia portions of the company, along with everything else, being sent to Los Angeles--there have been loses. Zuda, DC’s webcomics imprint, has shut down. Early reports indicate an unconfirmed, but seemingly large, amount of staff cuts.

And, finally, WildStorm has been culled.

WildStorm founder Jim Lee made the move from Image to DC

In any major corporate shift in the entertainment industry, production is bound to shift for better or worse. When UPN and The WB merged to form The CW in 2006, many of the networks’ shows were culled in order to help create a cohesive network with a singular identity. Established hits like 7th Heaven and Gilmore Girls were maintained from The WB, whereas UPN’s prior incarnation was represented by programs like Everybody Hates Chris, Reba and Veronica Mars (It’s worth noting that, as of this writing, three former WB shows, Supernatural, Smallville and One Tree Hill are still run on the network, while the only UPN show that remains is America’s Next Top Model. It’s also worth noting that DC owns the Superman franchise that serves as the inspiration for Smallville, and that WildStorm itself published three canon Supernatural mini‐series, totaling eighteen issues over a three‐year period).

While WildStorm has, of late, shifted more towards media tie‐ins by publishing series based on video games (including ongoing franchises like God of War, Ratchet & Clank and Modern Warfare) and television

programs (Fringe, The X‐Files and the aforementioned Supernatural) and been criticized by fans who have said that the studio has lost much of its original identity as an envelope‐pushing imprint, to the bitter end the hearts and souls of the creators were obviously leaking into every page. The recently‐concluded Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris has long been hailed as one of the imprint’s seminal works and one of the best comics of the last decade. This summer’s A God Somewhere by former Gen13 John Arcudi and artist Peter Snejbjerg was hailed by legendary The Question writer Dennis O’Neil as “our first real Super Hero tragedy in the classic sense of the term”. No matter what one’s opinions of WildStorm’s final years are, it can never be said that they stopped producing great work, and that the loss of the imprint that up‐ended and re‐examined the superhero genre – and, indeed, comics as an artform – for much of its existence will be felt for a time to come.

WildStorm was an imprint that was never afraid to take chances.

Where else would you see Joe Kelly and Chris Bachalo taking on a complex, non‐linear old‐ school sci‐fi story like SteamPunk? When Marvel was struggling to appeal to the eponymous kids of Generation X by once again making mutants relatable to the teenagers of the 1990s, Gen13 brought real issues like sexual identity. The bold, fearless work that Moore and Williams brought to Promethea was brilliantly experimental, showcasing the venturesome Moore’s real‐life spiritual beliefs in the form of a fictional narrative. Even in 2010, when the output of the main Marvel and DC lines are criticized for what some see as ham‐fisted political posturing, out comes A God Somewhere, arguably the best exploration of politics in a “superhero” story since Watchmen.

WildStorm Favorites The Authority ushered in the era of widescreen comics

They also had a penchant for predicting cultural trend. Lee’s own Divine Right told the story of a young computer nerd who inadvertently is thrust into the role of a savior...two years before the release of The Matrix, and a year before the release of Alex Proyas’ thematically similar Dark City. Joe Casey’s and Dustin Nguyen’s critically‐acclaimed relaunch of the WildC.A.T.s franchise, Wildcats 3.0, popularized the notion of corporate superheroes before even Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis could satirize corporate America in Seven Soldiers of Victory and Nextwave, respectively.

WildStorm’s origins, that group of artists who were sick of the old and wanted to bring in The New, reminds us that whenever a field becomes creatively stale ‐ even to those working within it ‐ something can be done to revitalize it again, to make it fresh, to remind people why it was worthwhile in the first place. And the studio taught us that when it gets to a point where you don’t know what to do, when the wheel keeps turning and turning and you find yourself stuck in a familiar comfort zone, the best thing to do is to roll the dice one more time, to take that chance and see what works out.

And do it with gusto.

It is my deepest hope that WildStorm’s staff, from top dogs to student interns, find new work soon. They deserve it.

My hat’s off to the studio for eighteen years of sometimes thought‐provoking, sometimes revolutionary, sometimes jaw‐dropping but always entertaining comics. Thank you.

Now, how about a Warren Ellis Unhinges His Jaw and Swallows the WildStorm Universe Whole one‐shot, just to wrap things up? To quote Henry Selick’s film The Nightmare Before Christmas, released the year following the launch of WildStorm, “one more role of the dice oughta do it.”

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