Sep 23, 2010

DC Ends Wildstorm

So as part of their expansion plan, DC Entertainment has decided to end Wildstorm. Wildstorm was founded by now-DC-co-publisher Jim Lee, one of the all-time superstar artists in comics, and was one of the cornerstones of the creator-based Image Comics in 1992. The main comic for Wildstorm for a while was WildCATS, which focused a team of human/alien half-breeds from the planet Khera and acting as an edgy superhero team, one fit for the then grim and gritty 90s. In fact, most of Wildstorm's concepts are like this - archetypal superheroes, taken to the edgy extreme - in other words, places that the Big Two's icons shouldn't go.

I think it says a lot that George Perez's clean art doesn't fit the Wildstorm Universe.

I had no problem with this concept and still don't at all. I know I'm all for Comics for Kids, but I never once said that all comics had to be for kids, and Wildstorm comics were always meant to target the teenagers, and I won't begrudge them that. Although we got some bad comics out of it, we also got some good comics out of it, which is all I can ask from any comic company, really.

One of the comics that was big in my generation (that being the mid-90s) was Gen13, which was famous for the J. Scott Campbell artwork and the cheesecake T&A. What sets it apart from all other cheesecake T&A comics at the time (of which there was a considerable amount, including, if you look at it, Wonder Woman), was that it was fun. Instead of being dark and gritty, it just poked fun at its obvious gratuitousness. It knew it was blatant. That was the point.

Want to know how fun Gen13 was? In issue 13, Grunge goes to the Land of Sequential Art and runs into a bunch of people, including Fone Bone and the Archie crew!

Wildstorm also published Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross' Astro City, first under its writer-centric imprint (a more appropriate time capsule of the time, I cannot imagine) of Homage Comics, and later on simply under the Wildstorm banner. It must be said that due to contractual preferences, Kurt took Astro City directly to Wildstorm instead of DC. Astro City is about a city full of superheroes, and how the ordinary citizen reacts to them. It's good fun comics, a model and a template - to this day - of how superhero comics can be done to make it palatable and enjoyable for all ages.

In 1999, two things happened. First, Jim Lee persuaded Alan Moore to bring his friends over and create a new imprint for Wildstorm. Moore called the line "America's Best Comics," or ABC for short, and worked off a simple concept: what would comics be like if Superman never came along? So we have the Doc Savage-inspired Tom Strong, the pulp-and-mythology-inspired Promethea (who bears only a superficial similarity to Wonder Woman), the NYPD Blue-inspired Top Ten, the Herbie-inspired Jack B.Quick, the Fighting American-inspired First American, and the Spirit-inspired Greyshirt. Like Astro City, these were good fun comics that really laid the (as yet unused) foundation for mainstream comic book reconstruction (as opposed to the deconstruction that had preceded it). ABC was also the first publisher of Moore and Kevin O'Neill's creator-owned League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which you may have heard of.

Before the first issue of ABC ever hit the stands though, Jim Lee sold Wildstorm to DC Comics, in what was hailed at the time as a wise move. I'll never really understand what happened. Prior to the sale, Wildstorm and DC Comics combined had the majority of the industry's market share, with Marvel Comics still at number one. After the sale, for some reason, Marvel was still number one. If someone can explain these numbers to me, I'll greatly appreciate it.

Wildstorm continued to publish comics in the Wildstorm Universe, consisting of the WildCATS, Gen13, the Authority, Warren Ellis' Planetary, and many more.  In 2007, Wildstorm was formally integrated into the larger DC Comics Multiverse, as it was assigned as the 50th of DC's 52 earths.

In addition, they were also labeled as DC's "commando unit," which really meant that it was the go-to imprint for comics that didn't fit either the main DC Comics line or the more literary (or ambitiously literary) Vertigo imprint. So creator-owned material that wasn't deemed too "mature" or "literary," such as Warren Ellis and Chris Sprouse's Ocean, or licensed material such as the Heroes comic book were published under the Wildstorm imprint. Keep in mind that Vertigo also tends to stay away from anything resembling superheroes, so Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris' Ex Machina, which mixed powers and politics, was also published by Wildstorm until it ended just last month.

My best wishes go out to the staffers working at Wildstorm (and, in addition, to all the staffers being uprooted by DC from New York to the West Coast), and I'm also hoping that the creator-owned books continue to be served well. Kurt Busiek took Astro City to Wildstorm instead of DC for good reasons involving contracts, and I really hope DC won't try to restructure Kurt's agreement now that all Wildstorm properties are being folded into the main office.

With the exception of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, DC now has complete control over all of Moore's ABC properties, and I actually hope they do something with it, more than what they're just doing now.

It's the end of an era, folks. Let's hope that whatever long-term effects this has are beneficial to the comics medium as well as the comics industry.

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