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LARSEN, VEITCH CONFIRM DC TO BUY WILDSTORM

It may not quite be the end of an era, but one of the upstarts who bucked the DC/Marvel monopoly early in the 1990s to form Image Comics has sold his line of comics to DC Comics.

Jim Lee has sold Wildstorm Comics, along with its specialist creator-owned imprints, Homage and Cliffhanger, to DC, according to fellow Image Comics founder Erik Larsen.

The story broke Friday morning, when Newsarama (http://www.mania.com/newsarama), quoting an unnamed source, reported the rumor that negotiations were underway. A firestorm of speculation ensued, and it wasn't long before it was revealed that not only were discussions were underway, but they were over and the deal was done. Larsen learned of the rumor online, then called Jim Lee personally.

"Ultimately, Jim Lee will do the best for Jim Lee," Larsen told the Comic Wire. "I think it's a shame that he found it necessary to sell his characters. I couldn't do that. I can only assume that his characters don't mean as much to him as mine do to me and I think that's too bad as well. Image will continue to put out solid entertainment for your funnybook dollar just as we always have. There will be a couple less cool Image books but we'll cope. New, exciting projects get pitched to Image all the time and for creative people -- we're the best deal in the biz. I don't honestly think this will affect me or Image a whole lot."

Before helping to start Image, which now publishes the work of his Highbrow studio, most notably "The Savage Dragon," Larsen worked for both DC and Marvel Comics, drawing both "The Doom Patrol" and "The Amazing Spider-Man." He's currently taking over the reins of DC's "Aquaman" and Marvel's "Wolverine."

"As for the other studios -- I have no idea what they're up to," he said. "This move took me by surprise. I know that none of my characters are for sale -- at any price. I've never even considered it."

"It ain't a rumor, but a fact," Image artist Rick Veitch posted at the COMICON.com message board Friday afternoon. "It wasn't supposed to be announced until Tuesday, (and I sure as hell didn't have a clue) but as I now understand it, Warner Brothers is buying Wildstorm, lock stock and contracts in some multimillion dollar deal. As briefly explained to me by Wildstorm, with promises of more info after Tuesday, Wildstorm will remain autonomous and in California. The comics will not have the DC bullet but DC will be in charge. I don't think Alan even knows yet, since he's off on holiday. My bad blood with DC is well documented, but I'm holding off judgment until I get the full story of the deal, but I can't say I like what I've heard so far!

"This situation doesn't really surprise me, since it just reflects another death rattle of the old Direct Sales Market."

This isn't the first time DC has bought out another company's stable of characters: Plastic Man, Captain Marvel and the Blue Beetle are all part of comic book universes the company has picked up over the years. But the Wildstorm deal is different: While those other characters were picked up in fire sale conditions, after their popularity had peaked, the Wildstorm characters, including Gen13 and WildC.A.T.S., are still successful properties. And by publishing the creator-owned "Kurt Busiek's Astro City," "Danger Girl," "Battlechasers" and "Crimson," they've acquired a mix of some of the most acclaimed and most successful new series on the stands.

Although details haven't yet been officially released, Jim Lee and Wildstorm will gain from the deal as well. Animated television shows, like the short-lived "WildC.A.T.S." show, will likely find an immediate distribution channel on the WB network, owned by Warner Brothers, which also owns DC Comics. Warner Brothers has also produced the Batman and Superman movies, and with a "Gen13" animated movie the first of potentially many more movies, Warner Brother's distribution channels might have played into Jim Lee's thinking as well.

But the effects of the buyout go beyond just DC and the Wildstorm titles. Wildstorm includes two creator-owned lines, Homage and Cliffhanger, which publish "Kurt Busiek's Astro City," "Danger Girl," "Crimson" and "Battlechasers." Rumors say that those titles, along with Alan Moore's upcoming "League of Distinguished Gentlemen," will experience no change under the new management.

But Alan Moore in the past has very publicly announced that he would never work for DC Comics again, after a dispute in the 1980s over editorial oversight of "Swamp Thing," which he was writing at the time. Larsen says Lee was on his way to England this weekend to sit down with Moore and talk the move over.

There's no official word from either DC or Marvel Comics yet, with DC giving out a flat "no comment" and Wildstorm Vice-President Jeff Mariotte having only this to say: "My official response is, I'm not at liberty to confirm this story at this time. But if it's true, I think it's a pretty cool thing."

Also potentially affected by the move are the other Image Comics creators. Although other titles, including the wildly successful "Spawn" remain under the Image banner, Wildstorm produces a large percentage of the Image line, and Lee's pulling-out of the company has made some of the other creators jittery.

"I don't see how Image can keep its exclusive deal with Diamond after losing 50 percent of their volume," Veitch said at the COMICON.com message board. He has been drawing stories for one of Moore's upcoming creator-owned books, "Tomorrow Comics."

"Speaking as an Image guy, albeit not Wildstorm, I am a little worried about Image if and when WS leaves, and worried about the future of my book," Brian Wood, creator of "Channel Zero," posted at the Image Comics Message Board at CBR. "But that aside, I think it would be OK to see WS at DC. I trust DC not to [mess] anything up, and I think the books would thrive."

LIEFELD'S 'MARK' REDONE

Although Rob Liefeld's comic book fortunes are possibly the biggest roller coaster ride in the industry, his film fortunes seem to be chugging along just fine.

As previously reported, Liefeld - who was one of the original founders of Image Comics before being ousted two years ago by his partners - will be directing the film version of his comic "Re:Gex." He recently spoke to the Detroit News Comic Continuum (http://www.detnews.com/comicbooks) about the screenplay rewrite on another property he's associated with, "The Mark."

"The Mark" will be produced by Universal Pictures, be produced and star Will Smith and is currently being rewritten by Glenn Morgan and Tom Long.

"They've written all the best 'X-Files' episodes that Chris Carter couldn't write and they've been writing and producing 'Millennium,'" Liefeld said. "They are serious sci-fi and fit the job really well."

"I know for a fact that everybody wants to get this movie out by the summer of 2000," he said. "They're continuing to say they would like to begin production by February or March. Those guys are writing now, and they're really fast, so that could very well happen."

Liefeld said he was not upset that his script for The Mark was being rewritten.

"It's par for the course," he said. "In this day and age there are very few movies written by one person. These guys have a lot more expertise than I do. I would go so far as to guess that they won't be the last guys to touch the script, especially with the committee style in Hollywood."

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CRISIS ONE-SHOT NOT IN NEW COLLECTION

Contrary to a report published in "Wizard" magazine, the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" hard cover compilation will not include the new "untold" "Crisis" chapter being released at the same time, according to Marv Wolfman.

That one shot, first reported here in the Comic Wire, will focus on a previously unseen Earth, where the familiar DC superheroes will get all-new extra-dimensional incarnations. Unfortunately, the fact this new Earth is something of an interdimensional backwater will make its heroes totally unprepared for the carnage to come. The story, set between issues 4 and 5 of the original classic series, will be written by original "Crisis" scribe Marv Wolfman and pencilled by former "Flash" penciller Paul Ryan.

The landmark "Crisis on Infinite Earths" series trimmed the DC Comics milieu of its panoply of alternate Earths, or "multiverse," streamlining it down to one Earth, with all the major characters from each world now having always been residents of this one Earth. Now, 14 years later, "Kingdom Come" writer Mark Waid and "Justice League of America" writer Grant Morrison have begun hinting that the post-"Crisis" status quo will be changing somehow after the "Crisis" collection is released, as part of the fall-out from "The Kingdom" set of one-shot stories that form the sequel to Waid's acclaimed "Kingdom Come" alternate future miniseries.

Both the hard cover "Crisis" collection and the new one-shot go on sale in December.

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