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DC’s WildStorm Shut-Down: What’s At Stake

Yesterday DC Comics made a long expected announcement that they will be moving part of their offices to Burbank, California, to be closer to the movie studio that is looking forward to exploiting their characters for box office proceeds.  As a part of that announcement, they also mentioned that they will be shutting down WildStorm, one of their relatively independent imprints. And so begins the speculation of what, exactly, will happen to the WildStorm Universe, a specific superhero setting with its own rules and concepts, much as the DC and Marvel Universes themselves.

I can pretty much guarantee that if you don’t read comics, you won’t recognize many of the titles that I’m going to mention below (although you might use it as a recommended reading list).  If you do read comics, you’ll notice me mentioning quite a few examples of the most interesting out-of-the-box superhero stories of the last 20 years.  They’re all Wildstorm titles, and they’re all being indefinitely boxed up at the end of this December so that they can maybe be incorporated into the DC Universe.

But before I get into what Wildstorm titles will be affected by the editorial apocalypse, a brief history lesson is in order, for irony’s sake if nothing else.

WildStorm was one of the original six houses of Image Comics.  Image itself was founded by six ex-Marvel freelance artists who were looking for a place where they would actually have creative control over their characters and their licensing.  Although Image was (and still is) mostly about publishing independent creator-owned comics, each founding member set up their own imprint under Image.  Jim Lee‘s (currently one of two co-publishers at DC Comics) was WildStorm, named from the merging of two successful series WildC.A.T.S. and Stormwatch.  In the nineties, when comics were doing particularly badly all round, WildStorm was sold to DC Comics.  This was right around the time that some of their best titles hit their peak, like The Authority, Top 10, Promethea, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (acquisition by DC is directly responsible for the short-lived nature of those last three titles).

You may recognize one of those titles as a movie adaptation.  RED, the imminent star-studded action film, is also based on a WildStorm comic.  There have even been recent (very dubious) rumors of an Authority movie.  One might wonder why DC would end an imprint that had produced movies for them while at the same time moving half their business in order to make it easier for them to make movies.  Unless, of course, they’re just looking for properties to exploit and are now tired of WildStorm’s commitment to the publication of creator owned properties.  ಠ_ಠ

Anyway.

The main difference between the WildStorm universe and the DCU is one of tone.  Superficially, they seem as similar as DC and Marvel.  They’re all earths where people with fantastic powers decided to use them to help those around them, usually through acts of violence.  The difference is that the Wildstorm universe is home to characters who are refreshingly self-aware.  Their Justice League/Avengers equivalent realized that they have the power to destroy governments that stand against them … and do.  They realize that evil men might do more good for the world by ruling it than they might do by denying them that power … and then kill them anyway.  And then they deal with the consequences.  The tone is going to be a tricky thing to bring over, because the DC universe is fundamentally more optimistic and fantasy based than WildStorm.

So, it might be best to keep Wildstorm characters out in the multiverse; a parallel Earth, like so many other parallel Earths before.  But this is already true.  In 52, it was made canonical that the heroes of WildStorm live on Earth-50, a parallel earth of the DCU (and a parallel earth of reality, but that’s another post entirely).

So why do you need to say that “bringing those characters in, working them in with the rest of the line, I think really helps grow and expand the line.”  Why specify that they need to be brought into the continuity, when they already are, unless you intend to bring them in further than they are now?  This that simultaneously puzzles and worries me.

Because retaining the tone of the WildStorm universe is only half the battle.  The majority of WildStorm’s popular titles were published under a Mature Reader stamp.  Issues of censorship aside (and that is a BIG aside, when you consider the simple things that really motivate the “Mature” label in comics) taking these so-called “mature” elements out of stories in order to fit them with larger DC continuity would neuter, if not completely remove the most interesting aspects of many WildStorm titles.

Just to use one example of how difficult DC might find this aspect of WildStorm integration: If DC is so uncomfortable with a single, lesbian superhero who shares part of a name with their #2 guy that it takes them four years to go between creating her and giving her her own title; how well do you think they are going to handle a realistic, ass-kicking gay couple that are clearly homages both of their top two guys in a mature, stable relationship with an adopted daughter?

To Sum Up:

I hope they can do it, but I am not holding my breath.

Almost Completely Off-Topic Post Script: I think we can all agree that in a fair fight WildStorm’s Authority would wipe the floor with the Justice League in a matter of minutes.

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Susana Polo thought she'd get her Creative Writing degree from Oberlin, work a crap job, and fake it until she made it into comics. Instead she stumbled into a great job: founding and running this very website (she's Editor at Large now, very fancy). She's spoken at events like Geek Girl Con, New York Comic Con, and Comic Book City Con, wants to get a Batwoman tattoo and write a graphic novel, and one of her canine teeth is in backwards.