Four Relaunches And A Funeral: What DC’s Wildstorm Line Has Been Through

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Possibly the most depressing thing about the closure of DC’s WildStorm imprint, announced yesterday, was that it didn’t really come as a big surprise. Purchased by DC in 1999, the imprint has found itself casting about for an identity since then, with multiple relaunches, makeovers and false starts along the way. Here’s a quick guide to where it all went wrong… more than once.

2000: The Authority
Already in production before DC purchased the imprint, Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s The Authority took mainstream superhero titles to a new level, and started a craze for so-called “widescreen” comics attempting to compete with the book’s ambitious visuals and storytelling scope. The problems came when Ellis’ handpicked successor on the series, Mark Millar, came onboard and found his attempts to push the envelope in conflict with DC executives. Conflicts between Wildstorm and DC over censorship mixed with scheduling and deadline problems, killing momentum for the series and creating a fan apathy against the imprint that would remain with only mild interludes, for the rest of its existence.

2002: Eye Of The Storm
Buoyed by the former sales success of The Authority and Joe Casey’s run on Wildcats, Wildstorm rebranded and relaunched the majority of its superhero books with “Eye Of The Storm” branding, labeling them for mature readers and moving away from more traditional ideas of superheroing towards more complicated and morally grey areas. The books were critically-acclaimed, but not a sales success. The line was essentially dead within two years, despite the first in a series of “Everything You Know Is Wrong” crossover events, Coup D’Etat, in which the Authority stages a coup and takes over the running of the United States of America.

2004: Wildstorm Universe/Wildstorm Signature
Following the cancellation of the Eye of The Storm imprint, Wildstorm reorganizes its output, bringing its superhero characters together into the new imprint “Wildstorm Universe” – which focuses much more on familiar, costumed characters fighting other costumed characters, superheroics – and pushing new creator-owned material – including Brian K. Vaughan’s recently completed Ex Machina – into the new Wildstorm Signature imprint. These imprints would be quietly retired within a couple of years.

2006: Worldstorm
Arguably the most embarrassing of all the line’s attempts at rebranding, “Worldstorm” literally rebooted the line – Following DC’s 2006 Infinite Crisis formalizing that the entire Wildstorm universe was merely one of 52 parallel earths in the larger DC Multiverse, the same year’s Captain Atom: Armageddon series ended with the Wildstorm universe ending and restarting, leading to something called Worldstorm, a high-profile relaunch of the line with creators including fan favorites like Grant Morrison, Jim Lee, Brian Azzarello and Gail Simone. Unfortunately, the two flagship books – Morrison’s relaunched The Authority and Wildcats – suffered from the writer’s overly-stuffed schedule and only managed three issues between them before being put on hiatus, essentially scuttling any momentum before it had a chance to exist.

2008: World’s End
With sales low and the line lacking any sense of either cohesion of differentiation from other, better-known lines, 2008 saw another attempt at a massive status quo change as a trio of event series (Wildstorm: Armageddon, Wildstorm: Revelations and Number of The Beast) told the story of, essentially, the end of the world as we know it. As the Wildstorm world was devastated by the effects of a superpowered battle, the Wildstorm line became – in the words of editor Ben Abernathy, “a sci-fi/horror direction of a post-apocalyptic setting.” Sadly, sales didn’t rise significantly as a result of this new direction – perhaps because readers didn’t really want to read a line of titles where the world is dying and there’s little hope or reason to smile left to be found – and, with disturbing regularity, two years later, the final change was made to the imprint.

2010: Where Now?
One thing that’s been very clear in interviews with DC co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan Didio following yesterday’s announcement is that, although Wildstorm the imprint may be closing, the Wildstorm characters will live on – after an undetermined period of rest, which is probably a good thing after what they’ve been put through in the last ten years. What that actually means is open to question; DC has been very active in resurrecting other publishers’ characters and putting them into the mainstream DC Universe in the last few years, with superheroes from Archie’s Red Circle line, Milestone’s Dakota Universe and the THUNDER Agents, all being folded in with little sales success or fan interest. Will Wildstorm’s heroes be the latest in this line, or will someone – Lee himself, perhaps? He was Wildstorm’s founder, after all – step in and do something new with them? All I know is that, if they can survive superhero political coups, universe reboots and the end of the world, they can probably make it through whatever’s coming next. No comics character stays in limbo that long, anymore…

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