Friday, April 10, 2009

Revamping The Wildstorm Universe

Looking at the sales for DC's Wildstorm imprint, it's obvious things could be a little better. Recently, there has been some rumors that their Gears of War book sold significantly better than the highest selling books in the direct market. Now, there has been no official confirmation, as it was sold in video game stores and other untracked locations, but I wouldn't put it out of the realm of possibilities, with how popular the Gears of War franchise is, that these rumours actually ended up being somewhat close to being true.

This got me thinking of ways Wildstorm could expand its line and broaden its focus. There are a number of different things I could see Wildstorm doing to increase interest in their brand while simultaneously tackling new areas and I've summarized them after the jump.

Another Cog In The Machine

Continuing with the success of the first Gears of War comic, as well as the knowledge of how well Marvel's foray into video game tie-in comics with the Halo franchise was, I'd like to see Wildstorm continue with the video game tie-ins. They seem to be a good source of revenue and, if utilized properly, can be a great gateway comic to introduce people to other Wildstorm books.

This could be accomplished with ads and suggestions to check their website for more details or even promo codes for free online versions or discounts on trades. This also means they would need to rework the Wildstorm website a little. Have a link that leads to some trades to check out, similar to DC's recent After Watchmen promotion.

Some great books to introduce people to would include the likes of Warren Ellis' Authority and Planetary, Alan Moore's America's Best Comics imprint and more recent works, like Brian K Vaughn's Ex Machina.

More Creator Owned Properties

The next step towards fixing the Wildstorm Universe is to offer more creator owned work, similar to Jeff Parker's and Tom Fowler's Mysterious: The Unfathomable, which has been getting a lot of positive buzz recently. Another example of this is the critically acclaimed Ex Machina. Creator driven content is a great incentive to attract higher profile creators to the line and would help add more relevancy to the flagging line.

A recent initiative on Wildstorm's behalf saw the announcement of a new line of creator owned work that shows me Wildstorm has a firm grasp of this concept already. The only one that I'm a little worried about is the Garrison title, which looks to be a straight genre book right now, but that could change when more info comes out. The rest definitely look interesting and do have a chance to stand out from the crowd.

Another option is to go with similar ventures to the recent The Ferryman miniseries, which was written by Marc Andreyko, but was credited to Joel Silver, presumably with the intent to turn it into a movie at some point. This another way to go with creator owned properties - as a testing ground for possible movies. Not the most dignified thing to do and can possible lead to a stagnant line of comics imitating what people think would make good movies, but it doesn't mean there are no good ideas that could come out of it. Plus, if it does become a movie, the trade would be another way to attract more readers to other titles in the Wildstorm stable.

Ongoing Miniseries

A drastic, but necessary change I'd implement is to have the line stick to doing miniseries over monthly ongoings. I feel that it would help prevent lackluster arcs that seem to crop up every so often in their line of titles that only serve to dilute the works in favour of keeping a steady stream of cash trickling in. Strengthen the line by cutting the fat and these mini- and maxiseries will pay for themselves and then some.

Just think back to how the original Authority series were, which the Ultimates later copied. Imagine filling in the gaps between Ultimates 1 and 2 with lackluster filler for the year or two gap between the two series as they built up to the next big arc.

Another major thing this would help alleviate is the current rut of delays affecting their titles, such as the Grant Morrison/Jim Lee WildC.A.T.S. series. Separate miniseries could come in earlier or during lengthy runs if need be without an outright stoppage in work or replacement writers and artists. Obviously, these series of miniseries could be supplemented by one-shots.

Failed Relaunches

A huge problem with the Wildstorm recently is that their bread and butter Wildstorm Universe franchises, such as Authority, WildC.A.T.S., Gen 13 and Stormwatch, have been floundering because of too many failed relaunches and new directions. My solution, put them on hold for a year to two. Simply take them off the market completely. No minis, no one-shots, nothing. Make people miss the characters and, after a year or two, relaunch the universe with a complete restart, abandoning all previous continuity while you're at it. While I said too many failed relaunches were a problem, I think a complete fresh start would work since all of the other relaunches where basically new status quo changes, not new relaunches. You would relaunch with the four core titles listed above with some fresh talent given carte blanche to run wild, much like how Warren Ellis and Mark Millar did back around 2000.

The Authority and WildC.A.T.S. would form the core of the line with Stormwatch and Gen 13 as supporting titles. There would either be two miniseries per year that each get six to eight issues or a maxiseries to cover the year's worth of output. These would be titles that explore the edges of the universe or deal with tangential issues from the four ongoing books. As for writers, I'd get two mainstream, high profile names to write The Authority and WildC.A.T.S. and two up and coming writers for Gen 13 and Stormwatch.

A New Direction

As for what direction the new books should go in, I have a couple of basic ideas. The Authority should return to its roots as a widescreen superhero book supported by high concept ideas and real world political scenarios that originally made the book what is was while WildC.A.T.S. would be in the vein of a superhero strike force supported by the government. Stormwatch would be a covert super human, not hero, book and Gen13 would take up the rear as a teen hero book similar to something like Ultimate Spider-Man or Blue Beetle.

Choose Your Crossovers Wisely

Finally, avoid events like the plague since the line isn't big enough to support them. A crossover every now and then should be fine, but no more than once a year and no more than a simple six issue miniseries. Try to go with a Captain America-like bubble continuity for the line that reflects the events in other titles, but doesn't get mired in it either.

One option open to Wildstorm is to promote their books with crossovers with DC Universe titles. This can turn gimmicky really fast and dilute the strength of the Wildstorm titles quickly, especially when teaming analogues, such as the Authority, with their mainstream counterparts. To counter this, they should only crossover if there is good reason to do so (ie story driven) and a solid creative team behind them.

Having them be written by a writer working on the Wildstorm Universe titles would also go a long way to having the Wildstorm characters treated with the respect they deserve as opposed to the mainstream DC heroes' whipping boys.

How Would You Revamp The Wildstorm Universe?

The above reasons are what I think would be a good way for Wildstorm to get back on track and maybe even reach the heights they were at when Warren Ellis and Alan Moore were working there. However, that's all they are - my reasons. I want to hear what you guys think would be the best way to bring the failing line back to its former prominence and relevance.

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Krod said...

"The only one that I'm a little worried about is the Garrison title, which looks to be a straight genre book right now, but that could change when more info comes out."

But there's nothing wrong with a straight up genre book. I think comics could use more of them. I don't see why every comic has to be some crazy high concept! It's all, a western... but with vampires! I just want to read a western, or a war comic sometimes. Without the high concept twist.

The Walking Dead is a straight up genre comic and it's one of the best series you can buy month to month on the stands. And what sets me off about that is Robert Kirkman, the writer, said he had to lie to get the first issue published. They wouldn't take a straight genre comic about zombies. They needed a high concept. So he told them it was about zombies... that were caused by aliens!! and the story leads to a big fight between the surviving humans and the aliens. Only after TWD's success was he able to come clean with Image and tell them that it's just a zombie story.

Good post other than my nitpick. But I think you're being too lenient on the how much crossovering Wildstorm should do. Once a year and a 6-issue mini-series is still 50% of the time in crossover mode. Maybe it's not so much if the crossover doesn't eat the regular titles and the mini-series is just an extra publication.

Matt Ampersand said...

Krod, I had never heard about that story about Kirkman before. It certainly is interesting, where did you hear/read it?

Kirk Warren said...

I recall hearing about it at IGN Comics in a random interview. I'm sure he's mentioned it elsewhere, too.

Eric Rupe said...

Krod - See, the thing is, I'm not a big fan of just straight genre books. I find them to be well, not boring, but I think dull would probably be the best word.

I'm glad you brought up Kirkman though as an example. I've read the first four trades for TWD and while well written and what not, was just kind of dull and boring to me. Same reason why I dislike Criminal and Scalped even though they are technically excellent books. Kirkman in the epitome of a genre writer for me. His work, while well written, is generally boring, unadventurous and entirely unremarkable from similar books.

I mean, if the only reason why I'm reading a book is because its better written than the next book out there, I don't feel a need to come back. Genre books, in general, tend to be incredibly cliched and easy to predict where as with a high concept I'm more likely to come back just to see what the writer does next. High concepts have that hook that keep me interested in the book.

I'd much rather read a high concept book that fails on its execution than a well written genre book simply because the high concept book is likely to a lot more interesting, both in its content and why it failed.

Eric Rupe said...

Also, forgot to mention this. When launch a new imprint/line you need books that stand out from the crowd, which straight genre books have a hard time doing with is probably why Image wanted a high concept from Kirkman because otherwise The Walking Dead would have been just another zombie.

Krod said...

I don't remember where I heard it but I've read it more than once. Google shows me Kirkman mentions it in this interview. Also, I think I heard him mention it on Word Balloon or some podcast. It might have been said in one of the letter pages of TWD.

"And so I had done a few books with them, so I felt comfortable doing this - I basically just lied to them and said, "Well look, this is how it's going to be: The whole book is going to be as I pitched it, but as the issues progress, eventually I'm going to reveal that it was actually aliens who caused the zombie uprising. And it's going to be leading to this big battle between the humans and the aliens, and the aliens did this to kind of weaken the humans' military forces, and eventually it's going to be this big alien invasion." And so they said, "Oh yeah, that sounds sweet! Let's do that." And so they approved the book based on that."

Sometimes it's nice to read The Walking Dead. Or Team Zero by Dixon and Doug Mahnke, which I also hear was supposed to have superhero stuff in it but they just left that out and did a cool WWII action book. I don't think genre stories can't have any cool pitch. Burn Notice is a genre TV show, but it has enough of a concept to carry the whole series and have gotten dozens of episodic stories out of it too.

I think some of the best superhero comics are just genre works. I think that's how Batman works best. When I struggled to find something in the comic shop, the genre comics that were there were reliable enough to buy on a whim. Maybe that's what I like: the reliability. That's how I found Marvel Boy and the Conan comics being published.

Not saying there's no place for Nazi Super-Scientist Monkeys from the Future, but I think comics, here in America where I buy them, could use more genre works without the... twist!

Krod said...

Another note: ever since I read that Lying in the Gutters that you linked, when it was originally published, I've thought DC must be doing something seriously wrong.

Gears of War is a popular game and that licensed comic is the best selling comic by being available outside of the direct market. But in a year when Batman is so popular, they can't sell a freaking Batman comic?! And the comic is not even the license, it's the initial product?!!

Make a comic that is consistent in quality and appealing to a general audience. THEN MAKE IT AVAILABLE TO THEM TO BUY!

muppet1962 said...

Nice write up. I particularly like your ideas about the creator owned series, returning the Authority to its 'widescreen' roots, and favoring miniseries over on-goings.

Still, why throw away all of the Wildstorm continuity? Marvel and DC don't just throw away their continuities and they're doing ok (some writers may ignore certain details, but that's another topic).

Eric Rupe said...

muppet1962 - Mostly because if you are going to take a whole line off the market for a year, coming back with a fresh start is the way to go, so starting again with old continuity would be kind of weird. Plus, it would allow for some tweaking of concepts here and there.

initiatefailure said...

The one thing that has upset me about Wildstorm since World's End is that despite the high quality of the main 4 books all the attention they ever seem to get is people talking about how they can't wait for Morrison to get back to his run.
I'm glad you only mentioned Morrison once and actually focused on positive things for the brand to do. I think, especially at this point, that Morrison coming back and working on cats and authority again accomplishes nothing but fracturing their current persistent world, which confuses new readers, creates an old-school DC-esque continuity mess and I think would hurt the brand despite his big name status.

And i can't agree with calling for another reboot especially since 2 of the 4 main books have been out less than a year since their relaunch and world's end, despite my mixed emotions on the minis that led to it, has been very successful so far. Forwarding the state of the existing universe in a way that doesn't rely on old continuity but also doesn't abandon it is always a much better option than resetting the world back to zero. Wildstorm's success now verses where they where at during the Worldstorm reboot a few years ago should be an example of that.

Eric Rupe said...

initiatefailure - I would not describe the current Wildstorm books as a success. When the 2006 revamp launched Authority was #27 on the sales chart with WildCATS at #14. This past February, Authority was at #150 on the sales chart while WildCATS was at #167.

Now, I have only read one issue of the current Authority book and two of the WildCATS book which I generally liked. Creatively, there is really nothing wrong with them and they do have something that can make them standout but the problem is that they have had so many problems of late that I think they really do need a true fresh start.

As for Morrison, more people are probably interested in Morrison's work now than they are in the Wildstorm Universe. None of the new creations from 90s Image (Spawn, Savage Dragon, Young Blood, etc.) have shown any true longevity at this point, IMO. So, in that regard, I have no problem with DC/Wildstorm hitching the line to a famous creator.

G. Harbour said...

Eric, you offer some good constructive criticism here. But, I was surprised you didn't mention much about the World's End books.

I guess, as you say, you do not see them as a 'success', so in that case it would be reasonable to disregard them. And, I totally agree that they have not been successful at all in terms of sales. Conceptually, though, or creatively, could it be said that the World's End experiment has been a success?

I honestly wonder if the sales aspect could have been turned around with a little more marketing? I mean the talent on the main World's End books--Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning (The Authority), Christos Gage (Wildcats, Scott Beatty(Gen 13), Ian Edginton (Stormwatch)--these guys are not light weights. I've picked up most of the titles and found them to be pretty good reads. The advertisement for them, however, has been almost non-existent.

grifter78 said...

Good write-up about the WSU. I agree about brining in the talent and you're probably right about the mini-series approach (more importantly, let the fans know this is the new approach so they don't think the lines keep getting cancelled).
But I disagree with a reboot. To give the WSU the "Spiderman: One More Day" treatment would be suicide to the already suffering line. What has always seemed to attract people to the WSU was the creative teams. First they followed Jim Lee, then people like Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, and Ed Brubaker came in later and gave the universe a shot in the arm. And the same would have been true of the 2006 "soft reboot" as they called it, if the delays hadn't hit.
Another thing unique to the WSU, albeit not a positive thing, but something that has affected it is that WSU creator Jim Lee's attitude toward the WSU is hard to understand. Every other Image founder does venture out to other projects, but they always seem to come back to their original Image creations in some capacity. Jim Lee has tried to return to the WSU several times and has always showed that in the end, his priorities lie elsewhere. This is a hard thing for fans to swallow. So above everything else you mentioned, I think at the core is fans wondering if Jim Lee really still cares about the WSU or not.

Eric Rupe said...

G. Harbour - The reason why I didn't mention the World's End books is because I haven't really read any. As mentioned above, I've read two issues of Gage's WildCATS and one issue of DnA's Authority, all of which I enjoyed. I intend to buy the trades for both of their runs when they come out.

Conceptually, I generally like the idea of World's End. Its a world where the heroes failed but they continue on, something you can't do at Marvel and DC so it could help them standout.

If you wanted to attract more people to the World's End books, I think you would have to go beyond more marketing, you would need a big name creative team, something like Morrison/Quitely for Miller/Lee from DC's All Star books. Writers and artists that both sell on name recognition. Alternatively, you could just put Lee back on WildCATS with Gage and the World's End status-quo but he's way too busy with Morrison's WildCATS, All-Star Batman and DCU online.

Eric Rupe said...

grifter78 - I agree about the talent part but attracting that talent nowadays is probably going to be harder if you keep the World's End status quo because it would be incredibly limiting, hence my suggestion of a reboot. Starting from scratch would give a creator more freedom to do as they please.

As for Lee, I think he really has moved on. He's heavily involved with DC and working on their top tier characters like Superman and Batman. Along with Marc Silvestri, he found success else where in the comics world outside of his Image work.

Todd MacFarlane may have a successful toy line, but what was his last hit besides Spawn? Same goes for Larson and Liefeld. They have to go to their original creations because they probably can't go elsewhere, to be quite frank.

Not to mention, he has generally gotten a lot of praise from his DC work so it is probably attractive to him to do more.

In his latest column, Rich Johnston mentions that Lee may be working on JLA with Johns some time this year. I find it laughable that both of them would have the time this year but, really, how long is it going to before Lee actually is drawing Justice League?

muppet1962 said...

It's very nice to see the discussion being generated here! CBR just did an interview with Wildstorm editor Shannon Eric Denton; he had some interesting things to say about the future of WS. It looks like he's going to try to keep the current continuity running, and have WS stick to their guns on the whole end of the world reality.

Eric, you mentioned that you've only had the chance to read a few of the World's End issues. Would you be willing/have the time to do another feature on Wildstorm if I sent you the first six or seven issues of The Authority? I bought the singles, and with the trade being released this summer, I would be willing to sacrifice them to the blog gods here at The Weekly Crisis, if you think they're worth writing about.

Eric Rupe said...

muppet1962 - I'm actually planning on buying the World's End trades for both WildCATS and Authority since Gage and DnA are writers who I like to support.

Erica McGillivray said...

Those "what next" books are brilliant marketing and would be great for Wildstorm.

I don't think pulling your big four books off the shelves for a year or two is a good business decision. You have to also consider money. (Though I know Halo has made a lot of that.)

It would be great if those four books could take the World's End plot that they have going on and become their own books. Wildstorm has attracted some emerging, solid talent. They might not be the big names -- like Moore or Ellis -- but they aren't necessarily bad writers or art teams.

I might be in the minority, but I'm glad Grant Morrison isn't writing in the Wildstorm U. His short-lived Authority run was one of the most awful bits of writing on their books.

Also, I'd like to see Henry Bendix RIP as a super villain.

Jeff Mariotte said...

Just FYI, there's an interview with me about Garrison at CBR (

The description at the link you posted is really prettymisleading. It's really an action/adventure book with a very near future setting and a main character who is unique in contemporary comics (I think...hey, I can't read all of 'em). Since WS and I go way back--pretty much to the beginning--I wanted to write something that's not set in the WSU but has some of that early-days WS feel, fast-paced, action packed and kind of subversive all at the same time. Fortunately Shannon found an artist, Francesco Francavilla, who was interested in the same thing, who loves to draw action but can also handle the quiet human moments (which, honestly, are few and far between in this). And he's doing amazing work.

I hope you'll take a look at it whenever WS gets around to releasing it.


Eric Rupe said...

Jeff - Yeah, I have that interview bookmarked but I have not gotten around to reading it for one reason or another yet. Plan on reading it at some point though.

I do plan on checking out all of the new creator owned books from Wildstorm though, unless something convinces me not to.

Rob Worley said...

Cool things happening at The Storm!

Patrick Coyle said...

I'd love a comic about a flying Korean war-era tank. That would really kick ass!

Rob Worley said... RED HERRING

(sorry...posted prematurely)

Sydney MacLean said...

The Authority and StormWatch are mutually incompatible, which is why Warren Ellis killed off StormWatch before launching The Authority. If the two had existed at the same time, they would inevitably have to destroy one another.

The biggest problem with WildStorm right now is DC. The parent company has been incredibly insulting and disrespectful to WildStorm fans. Just read Captain Atom: Armageddon. WildStorm superheroes are being judged in comparison with DC superheroes and it really isn't fair. It's like comparing Star Trek with AKIRA. WildStorm was always supposed to be a dark look at the superhero genre rather than DC's more traditional and simplified approach. Rather than embracing this philosophy, DC continually portrays WildStorm superheroes as blood-thirsty idiots happy to kill any problem they come across.

Let's face it, DC just wanted to buy up some new properties. Pretty soon they will cancel WildStorm and within a few years, the characters will be rotated into the DC mainstream in the next Crisis.

little kon-el said...

Personally, I think Wildstorm is doing what they should be doing: Superheroes at a "Near Apocalypse" that couldn't have happened in the DCU. Super Hero comics as Survivalist Comics.

Christos Gage is doing a wonderful job tying together pieces of the continuity puzzle that is Wildstorm. I like the whole "End of the World" feel to it. You need that to differentiate it from the DCU Main-line. It isn't just that these characters take risks, its that the world that they inhabit is paranoid and scary. The world of the Wildstorm Universe is all about the conspiracy.

But what I do think they can benefit from is using Wildstorm as the "experimental" world for new writers and artists to be tested. Many writers (like Ellis) and artists (like Campbell) made their name through the Wildstorm imprint.

What they need to do is to bring in more people who want to experiment with the universe. Use Wildstorm as the testing ground before they bring them into the DCU fold. Who cares if you want to do a Superman story...everyone wants to do their Superman story. But can you make someone like Backlash interesting? That's where writers should cut their teeth and artists should flourish with experimentation.

Vertigo is the creator imprint for Horror and Crime stuff. DCU is the imprint for Superhero stuff. Make Wildstorm the imprint for experimentation.

- l.k.

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