Overview

The Wild Bunch

Lowdown - Article

Share this lowdown

  • Button Delicious
  • Bttn Digg
  • Bttn Facebook
  • Bttn Ff
  • Bttn Myspace
  • Bttn Stumble
  • Bttn Twitter
  • Bttn Reddit

With the Worldstorm re-launch upon us, Broken Frontier looks back at the past 15 years of Jim Lee’s Wildstorm comics.

Jim Lee’s Wildstorm had its beginning with the great Image exodus of the early 1990s. By way of an abridged recap, the early 1990s were a boom period for the comic book industry, with even mid-tier titles regularly selling huge runs and creators gaining celebrity status. Traditionally, the “Big Two” publishers, Marvel and DC, tended to view their characters, rather than the creators, as the most important part of their success.

In this environment, a group of seven comic artists broke away from Marvel Comics, forming their own company – Image Comics. Under this umbrella, six of the seven partners established their own studios; Jim Lee’s being Wildstorm Productions.

The former X-Men penciller made his Image debut with WildC.A.T.s (August 1992), a title that, despite its infrequent publication history, has remained the flagship book for Wildstorm. A Covert Action Team, the WildC.A.T.s were embroiled in a war against a race of reptilian, alien, body snatchers. The book made a strong debut, following earlier Image blockbusters Todd McFarlane’s Spawn and Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood .

While the early Image titles had no shortage of enthusiasm and good intentions, the founders were unprepared for the demands of the publishing business. This, along with a rapid expansion in titles, left the Wildstorm (and Image) titles with a reputation for habitually shipping late.

During this period of expansion, Wildstorm debuted several different titles, all within the same continuity as WildC.A.T.s. The first significant one began as a feature in the infamous Darker Image series (August 1992) – Deathblow. The former Navy Seal quickly graduated to his own self-titled series the next year. In March 1993, Lee introduced Stormwatch, a United Nations sponsored superhero group. Finally, Gen 13 made their debut in Deathmate Black (1994). The team starred in a five-issue mini-series, leading to an ongoing title and several mini-series and one-shots. Featuring the over-the-top art of young superstar artist J. Scott Campbell, Gen 13 was dogged by controversy before the title even debuted.

Originally conceived as Gen X, the book was re-titled after Marvel Comics suggested that it might take legal action for infringing upon their X-Men franchise. Campbell’s sexually suggestive art drew its share of both fans and detractors, as did the inclusion of mature material that seemed designed only to titillate. Of all these titles, WildC.A.T.s continued to be the most popular however, spawning both a short-lived toy line, and 13 episode kid-friendly animated series on CBS. 

      

As the initial chaos surrounding Image’s founding settled down, Lee created a new imprint that undoubtedly helped the studio survive the coming crash in the comic market. Created by seven pencillers, Image had gained the reputation as a company focused on the art of comic books. With Homage Comics, Lee gathered together creators and titles that would focus more towards character-driven titles. Debuting in 1995, the line was built on such titles including Kurt Busiek’s Astro City (a superhero title that focused on what it would mean to live in a world with superheroes), James Robinson’s all-ages book Leave it to Chance (about a 14-year old girl that wants to continue the family’s legacy by being a monster hunter) and Jeff Mariotte’s weird west book, Desperadoes .

Lee carried this trend into his core Wildstorm titles as well recruiting the likes of Alan Moore and Warren Ellis to bring new life to comics such as WildC.A.T.s and Stormwatch. Lee and Wildstorm were also contracted by Marvel Comics to take over Fantastic Four and Iron Man (and later Avengers and Captain America) for a one year run known as “Heroes Reborn.” 

As the comic industry cooled in 1997, Lee continued the evolution of Wildstorm with the launch of another new imprint – Cliffhanger, a haven for creator-owned titles. Much like early Image Comics, Cliffhanger was built around a core group of superstar artists and their titles – J. Scott Campbell’s Danger Girl (March 1998, an over-the-top sexy spy adventure title), Joe Madureira’s Battle Chasers (a fantasy series) and Humberto Ramos’ Crimson (May 1998, a fantasy horror about a young vampire). The books all quickly gained strong followings but, with the exception of Crimson, also struggled with meeting shipping deadlines (Battle Chasers only put out nine issues before quietly fading away in 2001).

      

Wildstorm entered the next major chapter of their existence in 1999, when DC Comics purchased the line. With the departure from Image, Lee was able to reduce his involvement in the managerial portion of Wildstorm and devote more time to his passion for art. Lee has remained the Editorial Director of Wildstorm, as DC looked to the imprint to diversify their catalogue of titles by retaining their unique audience and vision. 

One of Wildstorm’s first hits for DC was the controversial Warren Ellis title, The Authority. This dark superhero comic was built out of Ellis earlier run on the now defunct Stormwatch Volume II title. Set between issues #10 and #11, Ellis penned an inter-company crossover (WildC.A.T.s/Aliens, August 1998) between Image and Dark Horse Comics that, in an unprecedented move, saw the Aliens of motion picture fame slaughter most of Stormwatch.

With Stormwatch gone, one of their old enemies tried to take advantage of the power void, only to meet with a new breed of super humans, willing to take whatever steps necessary to defend the world. The Authority proved to be a runaway hit, offering a distinctive take on superhero comics through their graphic violence and uncompromising attitudes. Since then, The Authority has continued under the guiding hands of different writers, in four separate volumes (volume 4 having debuted mere weeks ago).

      

Ellis, along with artist John Cassaday, also created a new series called Planetary in April of 1999. Billed as “archeologists of the impossible”, the series is effectively set in the Wildstorm universe, but features the lead characters trying to uncover the secret history of the world. Using analogues for many comic book, literary, motion picture and pulp fiction characters, Ellis’ ongoing mystery and Cassaday’s innovate artwork have drawn a strong following to the title.

Wildstorm’s move to DC was not without challenges however. Prior to the deal, Lee had made the suggestion to comic book icon Alan Moore that he create a new imprint for Wildstorm. America’s Best Comics offered Moore and the creators he contracted a fresh canvas to explore their ideas, leading to titles such as pulp hero Tom Strong, the metafictional Promethea and acclaimed League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. What proved to be a point of contention was that Moore had last left DC after a series of disputes in the late 1980s. Although Moore had sworn never to work for the publisher, Wildstorm instigated a buffer system between him and DC. This, combined by the fact Moore had no desire to turn his back on the creators he had contracted, allowed ABC to proceed with few disturbances. 

      

Since that time, Wildstorm (now operating under a single imprint) has provided a unique line of titles for DC – including the likes of Ed Brubaker’s Sleeper, Ellis’ Global Frequency and Desolation Jones and Brian K. Vaughan’s Ex Machina. In 2006, Wildstorm essentially closed off their superhero universe with the series Captain Atom: Armageddon. Featuring the arrival of DC hero Captain Atom in the Wildstorm universe, the series climaxed with the destruction of the Wildstorm universe and a new Big Bang event. Spinning out of this series, Wildstorm is re-launching their superhero comics throughout the final months of 2006.

Fronted by an all-star line of creators such as Grant Morrison, Whilce Portacio, Gail Simone, Gene Ha, Brian Azzarello, Garth Ennis and Lee himself, Wildcats, The Authority, Gen13, Deathblow and Stormwatch are set to make history again.

      

Related content

Related Headlines

Related Lowdowns

Related Reviews

Related Columns

Comments

There are no comments yet.

In order to post a comment you have to be logged in. Don't have a profile yet? Register now!

Latest headlines

READ ALL HEADLINES

Latest comments
Comics Discussion
Broken Frontier on Facebook