Between 1992 and 2010, WildStorm Productions redefined what superhero comics could be. In the early 1990s, Jim Lee’s Image Comics imprint helped pave a path for commercially successful creator-owned books with series like “WildC.A.T.s” and “Gen13.” After DC Comics bought the imprint in 1998, its influence skyrocketed with ascendant superstars like Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch and Mark Millar. These creators pioneered smarter, more provocative takes on superheroes in titles like “The Authority” that are still emulated to this day. But as that influence and those creators disseminated into the wider world, the imprint faded, eventually ending in 2010.
After years of teases and speculation, WildStorm is back. The imprint’s return will be curated by Warren Ellis, who’s set to write the flagship title, “The Wild Storm,” with art from Jon Davis-Hunt. In the spirit of Rob Liefeld’s critically-acclaimed Extreme Studios revival and Gerard Way’s nascent Young Animal line for DC, Ellis has stated that he plans to reconfigure that and the line’s other upcoming titles for today’s “post-political space madness.” Now, CBR has put together a list of the top series, characters and concepts that seem ripe to be revisited in the new WildStorm. For this list, we’ll be pulling from the old WildStorm Universe, other WildStorm-published titles and some of Ellis’ other DC work.
After being teased earlier this year, WildStorm’s primary title has already been announced as a part of the new line. Over the years, “WildC.A.T.s” has gone through a lot of permutations. From the bombastic “Covert Action Team” that briefly starred on a Saturday morning cartoon in the 1990s to the post-superhero corporation that sought to better the world through super-powered solutions, “WildC.A.T.s” has changed with the times. In all of the title’s iterations, members of the Kherubim, a humanoid species of alien warriors, have played a key role.
After WildStorm was folded into the DC Universe during the New 52, WildC.A.T.s mainstays Grifter and Voodoo both received short-lived solo titles, and Grifter continued to be a minor player across the DC Universe. Other characters like Zealot, Ladytron and the villainous alien Daemonites popped up around the DC Universe, though it’s still unclear whether or not they will continue to appear there. In the new imprint, the Kherubim warrior Zealot will appear in her own title, and Grifter is set to return to WildStorm as well. Given the title’s varied history, the new “WildC.A.T.s” could go in any direction, though the character designs that have been released seem to indicate a more grounded verve. No matter what approach the new “WildC.A.T.s” takes, the title will almost certainly be a better showcase for the characters than the DC Universe provided.
14. First Contact
Like any good comic book writer, Warren Ellis has spent his fair share of time in space. With two of his older works, Ellis presented two tonally different but equally compelling takes on humanity’s first contact with aliens. In the 2004 WildStorm mini-series, “Ocean,” with Chris Sprouse and Karl Story, Ellis penned a thrilling adventure about finding alien life frozen on Jupiter’s moon, Europa. With the 2003 Vertigo graphic novel “Orbiter,” with Colleen Doran and Dave Stewart, Ellis turned the return of a lost space shuttle covered in alien technology into an inspirational tribute to space travel and the majesty of the universe. Both of these stories are among the most compelling depictions of first contact ever put to page.
Even if these completed stories continue to exist outside of the WildStorm Universe, they could absolutely inform the new line’s sensibilities. While Ellis dealt with some similar ideas in Marvel’s Ultimate line, a well-thought-out first contact scenario could establish a solid basis for a cohesive universe. With aliens like the Kherubim and the Daemonites traditionally playing a central role in the WildStorm mythology, an “Orbiter” or “Ocean” influenced take on aliens would give the new WildStorm a conceptual strength that’s absent from many alien-focused comics.
In the early years of WildStorm, “Deathblow” was one of the line’s more interesting titles. Despite a woefully generic name, artists like Jim Lee and Tim Sale elevated the story of a repentant mercenary with inventive, “Sin City”-era Frank Miller-esque artwork. In the new WildStorm Universe, the title will be revived under Deathblow’s real name “Michael Cray.”
Deathblow’s old black-ops unit Team 7 was a cornerstone of the old WildStorm Universe. After International Operations director Miles Craven arranged the team’s exposure to the mysterious Gen-Factor, Cray developed a healing factor and a variation of the psionic powers that his teammates developed. While Miles Craven has already been announced as a character in the new line, Team 7 is one of the few WildStorm concepts that’s been successfully ingrained into the new DC Universe. Although Deathblow briefly appeared in the short-lived “Grifter” series, the new Cray and his relationship, or lack thereof, to Team 7 should be a good indicator of what is and isn’t fair game for the new imprint.
If Marvel’s Purple Man, Kilgrave on “Jessica Jones,” had the organization of the Kingpin and was as smart as Batman, he’d be Tao. Even though he’s been around since 1995, Tao is still one of the creepiest, most intriguing and most compelling super-villains in comics. Created by Alan Moore and Travis Charest during their “WildC.A.T.s” run, the Tactical Augmented Organism was a test-tube baby that quickly grew up and found a place on an incarnation of the acronym-loving WildC.A.T.s as T.A.O. After betraying the team, Tao dropped the acronym and bounced around the WildStorm Universe, using his super intelligence and mind-control abilities to build a criminal empire called the Syndicate.
Although he was used to great effect in the spy thriller, “Sleeper,” the definitive Tao story hasn’t been told yet. Tom King and Tim Seeley gave Tao an extended cameo as a caged, Hannibal Lecter-esque mastermind in “Grayson,” but the character hasn’t had a starring role since the WildStorm line ended. Tao would make a perfect, horrifying antagonist for the new WildStorm, especially if he shows up in an Ellis-penned book, given the writer’s fondness for geniuses and whip-smart dialogue.
11. Tokyo Storm Warning
During his time writing for WildStorm and its various imprints, Warren Ellis wrote several three-issue miniseries that built incredible worlds and compelling concepts in a very short amount of time. One of these series, the espionage thriller “Red,” has already been turned into a couple of decent action movies with Bruce Willis. But the rest have remained untouched since their initial completion. That’s a shame, especially with conceits as exciting as the one established in “Tokyo Storm Warning.”
With art by James Raiz and Andrew Currie, the series takes place in a world where an atomic bomb was dropped on Tokyo at the end of World War II. Later, giant monsters and giant monster robot hybrids plagued the rebuilt city of tomorrow, with the mech-suited ARCangels serving as the only line of defense. The series plays out like a surreal take on the action of “Pacific Rim” with an unexpected super-power at its core. The world and the concepts developed here are too exciting to leave dormant, and these characters should show up again, either slotted into the main WildStorm Universe or in another series of their own.
“Wetworks” has always seemed a little removed from the rest of the WildStorm Universe. Created by Image founder Whilce Portacio and writer Brandon Choi, “Wetworks” followed a paramilitary strike force that bonded with several power-bestowing golden symbiotes, With these new powers, the Wetworks team fought supernatural threats like werewolves and vampires. Like much of the WildStorm universe, Wetworks had deep ties to Team 7 and Miles Craven.
The core idea of “Wetworks,” a golden strike force that fights the supernatural world’s most fanged and fearsome foes, is a brilliant high concept with a lot of potential. Nothing here would be entirely out of Warren Ellis’ wheelhouse either. The golden symbiotes that power Wetworks aren’t all that different from the Extremis armor Ellis introduced with Adi Granov on “Iron Man,” and he created Gravel, a combat magician with Mike Wolfer for Avatar Press. Focusing on some of the more supernatural elements would certainly differentiate the new WildStorm line from its predecessor, and dropping a science fiction concept into the plot of an “Underworld” movie could be an intriguing set-up for ongoing stories.
9. International Heroes
Over two unrelated titles, “The Winter Men,” by Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon, and “The Programme” by Peter Milligan and C.P. Smith, WildStorm deftly dealt with the aftermath of super-powered characters developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. While international superheroes are nothing new, most of the takes on the characters have been perfunctory, save for a few exceptions, like Marvel’s “Alpha Flight” or DC’s ongoing “New Super-Man.” In these books, the cultural differences between Russia and the West actually informed the stories that were brilliantly brought to life with gritty art.
International heroes have always played a role in the universe, especially with the United Nations-run Stormwatch team. Even if these stories stay out of the WildStorm Universe, the kind of attention to cultural detail should absolutely inform it. Given Ellis’ continuing interest in telling stories about cleaning up the mistakes of the past and the central role of paramilitary organizations in the old WildStorm, neither of these concepts would feel out of place in the new imprint either.
8. Global Frequency
“Global Frequency” is Warren Ellis’ perfect story-telling engine. The original 12-issue series saw Ellis work with a stable of artistic juggernauts to chronicle the adventures of the Global Frequency organization, which was made up of 1001 members, each with a highly specialized skillset. These individuals would be called on, as needed, by the mysterious Miranda Zero, to go on specific top secret missions, usually cleaning up the aftermath of old classified government experiments. The series acted as a loose anthology, with different teams tackling different threats in standalone issues, only sharing a connection to the Global Frequency.
After a failed television pilot leaked online in 2005, the concept remained dormant, save for the occasional announcement of another attempt to adapt it for the screen. While details of the new imprint remain unknown, the tactical-inspired character designs seem to indicate that the previous WildStorm’s emphasis on paramilitary organizations will carry on into the new universe. If that is the case, a new “Global Frequency” could fit right in with the rest of the line and serve as a quick way to reintroduce old characters and concepts.
7. Cyborgs and Technology
The WildStorm universe has never been afraid to play with technology-based ideas like androids and bio-cybernetic modifications. Cyborgs like the heroic Spartan and the murder-loving Ladytron have even played central roles in high profile titles like “WildC.A.T.s.” Given the strong interest in bio-technology and body modification Warren Ellis has shown in works like “Mek,” “Transmetropolitan” and even his “Iron Man,” bleeding edge technology seems ripe to take center stage in the new WildStorm.
Perhaps no title is ready for revision than “Cybernary.” Originally created by Steve Gerber and Nick Manabat, the book was a dark technological tale of Katrina Cupertino, a human who became part cyborg in a back-up feature to “Deathblow.” Despite fusing with the consciousness of Yumiko Gamorra, the daughter of a major WildStorm villain, the character eventually floundered in relatively minor roles in the WildStorm Universe and even more minor cameos in the New 52. Under a deft hand, there’s limitless potential here to tackle any of a number of issues that intersect with an increasingly-technologically focused real world.
6. Desolation Jones
“Desolation Jones” might be Warren Ellis’ most well-known unfinished story. With art by a combination of J.H. Williams III, Danijel Zezelj and Jose Villarrubia, the WildStorm-published title ran for a story arc and a half over eight issues, starting in 2005. The series followed former MI-6 agent Michael Jones, who’s forced to live in Los Angeles alongside other former secret agents. Jones’ skin and hair turned gray and he lost the ability to feel emotion after being subjected to the Desolation test, which forced him to stay awake and watch scenes of death for a year. As Jones took odd assignments around town, the series started to become a surreal version of “Burn Notice” about a gray man in a gray world.
As recently as 2012, Ellis had stated that the series would not return. But a reinvigorated WildStorm could prove to be an opportunity to revisit the character, or at least a similar world. With so many former and washed up soldiers, spies and commandos, characters from the WildStorm Universe could easily populate a similar set-up.
Whether it’s the heroic “Gen13” or their antagonists “DV8,” WildStorm has never felt complete without an edgy book about its teenage heroes. With deep ties to Team 7 and the rest of the WildStorm Universe, both books followed teenage characters as they performed super-heroics and acted irresponsibly. Freed from the corporate concerns that constrained Marvel and DC teen teams like the Teen Titans or “Generation X,” the teen books were able to vacillate between being outrageous and provocative until the end of the old WildStorm. One of the last great WildStorm books was Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaacs’ “DV8: Gods and Monsters,” where the dysfunctional teenage leads found themselves in a prehistoric world that worshipped them as gods.
In a world where live-action media like “Misfits” and “Chronicle” have offered compelling takes on teens with powers, the comics industry is ready for an unbridled response. While many “Gen13” characters have appeared in some of the New 52’s teen hero books, they seem redundant in a world that already has several dozen Titans running around. While a focus on younger characters might seem out of place for the new WildStorm at first, Ellis was the first writer on the original “DV8” series, and several of the characters and concepts the teen teams are built on are already set to appear.
4. Automatic Kafka
By any definition of the word, Joe Casey and Ashley Wood’s “Automatic Kafka” is a difficult, utterly bizarre comic book. It’s also a post-modern masterpiece that ended too soon and remains unfinished. In 2002, WildStorm published “Automatic Kafka” as part of Eye of the Storm, its mature readers’ line. The title follows Automatic Kafka, an android and former super-hero, as he searches for meaning in his life and becomes addicted to fame. The book also follows other members of Kafka’s old team, The $tranger$, as they navigate their post-heroic lives. It’s a deconstruction of ideas about superheroes, celebrity culture and even the comic book medium as a whole.
Although nine issues were released, the book was canceled well before its conclusion and it shockingly remains uncollected in English. The book had a few loose connections to the wider WildStorm Universe, which is a good as reason as any to hope for its return. Casey dealt with similar themes throughout his career, even during his run on “Uncanny X-Men,” but his layered, complex storytelling paired well with Wood’s stark, almost abrasive art. In a world that’s somehow even more obsessed with celebrity in the social media age, more “Automatic Kafka” could be more relevant than ever before.
3. Jack Cross
Although it was supposed to be an ongoing series, “Jack Cross” only ran for four issues in 2005. Created by Warren Ellis and Gary Erskine, the espionage series followed the titular Jack Cross, a socially liberal secret agent who brutally tangled with bad guys to save an anti-war demonstration in San Francisco. Since that series ended, Jack Cross has languished; untouched by the wider DC Universe, save for a collection of the series in 2010. As the power and influence of right wing extremist groups have only grown in the decade since the series was published, the leftist Jack Cross is uniquely qualified to operate in today’s world.
The character is still practically a blank slate with a solid premise, and that’s exactly the kind of character who could thrive in a new WildStorm Universe. Again, there’s no shortage of spy outfits Cross could team up with, and Cross seems like a conceptual fit with the new imprint’s espionage tilt.
2. The Authority
Between its stylistic invention and provocative story-telling, “The Authority” is one of the most influential superhero comic books of all time. Created by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch, the series rose from the ashes of the stalwart WildStorm team, Stormwatch, after most of the team was massacred by Aliens from the iconic film series of the same name. The new title pushed boundaries with extreme violence and progressive politics, but is perhaps most noteworthy for developing the decompressed, widescreen action format that most superhero comics still use today.
After somewhat neutered versions of “The Authority’s” characters appeared in the New 52’s version of “Stormwatch,” Midnighter has been the only character to make a successful transition into the DC Universe through “Grayson” and his own solo title. The future of the Authority looks divided, with Apollo and Midnighter reunited in a just-released DC Universe miniseries and the Engineer already announced for the new WildStorm. It’s still unclear how these titles will split the characters up or whether different versions of the characters will simply coexist. Either way, “The Authority” was a revolutionary response to the superhero comics of the 1990s, and could return as an equally provocative response to the heroes-turned-corporate icons of today.
1. The Monarchy
The WildStorm Universe never shied away from storylines that were weird, even by superhero comic standards. “The Monarchy” was so trippy that the entire series had to be written off as a drug-induced hallucination in the old continuity. The title technically started off as a spin-off about members of the WildStorm team Stormwatch that didn’t join The Authority because of their violent methods, but things got deeply strange very quickly. Over twelve issues, the series combined alien dream engines, Norse mythology and spider-human hybrid multiversal guardians in a story not quite like anything else out there. As the title set the old “Stormwatch” heroes against evil alternate reality versions of their former teammates, “The Monarchy” served as a response and counterpoint to “The Authority,” both inside the WildStorm Universe and in comics as a whole.
“Stormwatch” has always been an important title to the WildStorm Universe. Although it was a launch title for DC’s New 52, “Stormwatch” didn’t really do much beyond introducing a tamer version of the Authority to the DC Universe and give Martian Manhunter a place to hang out before “Justice League of America” started. The WildStorm characters work best when creators can stretch them into the weirdest shapes imaginable, and there’s not a better place for old “Stormwatch” heroes to get weird than in a revived “The Monarchy.”
What do you want to see in the new WildStorm Universe? Sound off in the comments below.
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