It was announced this week that DC Comics is shutting down the WildStorm imprint. On the one hand, I haven’t purchased a WildStorm comic since 2008, having finally lost interest after the fourth or fifth relaunch. On the other hand, I did love me some WildStorm comics in its heyday, and I still have a Wildcats poster hanging in the office and a set of Wildcats action figures on the bottom shelf of my action figure book shelf.
So it is well deserving of a post-mortem.
In the beginning was Marvel. In the late ’80s Marvel hired a handful of artists whose unique styles ignited new interest — and sales — for the company’s books. One of those artists was Jim Lee (no relation to Stan), who was given the primo gig of artist on Marvel’s top comic, “Uncanny X-Men.” Lee was so popular on the book that Marvel decided to launch a second X-Men title with Lee on art.
The first issue of “X-Men” sold 8 million copies. To put that in perspective — that’s a lotta comics. It was a record-setting number but those sales all went to comic book shops, not individual readers, who grossly overestimated demand. In other words, if you’d like a copy of “X-Men” 1, your local comic shop probably has one and will pay you to remove it from the inventory.
After a couple years, Lee and his fellow artists figured they could go off and form their own comics company, create their own superheroes, mimic what they did at Marvel, and make all the money for themselves. So was born Image Comics. Each artist had their own line of books; Lee’s was named WildStorm. In 1998, Lee left Image and sold WildStorm to DC Comics. Yesterday, DC pulled the plug.
The flagships of the WildStorm line were WildC.A.T.S and Stormwatch (hence the name). I read the first few issues of StormWatch but lost interest — mainly because Lee wasn’t drawing it. Stormwatch eventually evolved into The Authority, one of the most overrated comics of its day.
“WildC.A.T.S” launched in 1992 and since Lee was drawing it — I was there. It was the story of a Covert Action Team (hence the awkward acronym) caught up in a secret war between two alien races. Not a great concept but not a bad one and the art was very pretty. I became quite fond of the characters and stuck with the book through its original 50 issue run. Lee stopped drawing the book regularly after the first year but was replaced by the equally awesome Travis Charest. It also featured some strong storytelling by James Robinson and Alan Moore, but I was really losing interest during a loooong storyline that ran the last year-and-a-half. It was canceled before I had a chance to drop it.
The book was relaunched with Charest back on art so I was back as well (At some point they simplified the name to Wildcats). Eight issues later Joe Casey took over and changed the book dramatically. It wasn’t a bad change but I lost interest after a while and dropped the book. It was canceled after a couple years.
Lee then came back for the next relaunch, which lasted a whopping one issue. By the time the next relaunch happened, I was done.
And the rest
The other WildStorm comic of note was “Gen 13.” A blatant X-men rip-off, it’s the story of five teenagers who discover they have super powers and wind up on the run from a secret agency. I avoided it when it first came out and all the hype it got in the early days further convinced me to stay away.
But one day I was at a comic sale and picked up a stack of G-13s for a quarter each. I’ll try anything at that price. To my surprise, I was taken in by the kids and stayed with the book until they were all blown up in the final issue. The book was rebooted with a different cast so I didn’t bite. It was then rebooted again with the original cast but it felt like a retread and I dropped it.
Outside their superhero universe, WildStorm published other comics of note: Alan Moore’s ABC line (specifically “Top 10” and “Tom Strong.”), “Planetary” and “Astro City.”
In This Issue — Someone Dies
While DC has been publishing WildStorm books since it took over the line, apparently I’m not the only one who lost interest. Sales on “Wildcats,” “The Authority” and “Gen 13” are a shadow of what they once were so it’s no big surprise that DC took it out back and shot it.
Of course in comics nobody dies forever so I’m sure after a year or so Grifter and Voodoo and Sister Zealot and Fairchild and Grunge and Roxy and Maul and Spartan will show up somewhere in the DC Universe.