Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wildstorm is Dead: Long Live the Dream...

Wildsorm is Dead: Long Live the dream of what Wildstorm could have been.

A few weeks ago DC Comics announced that they were folding the Wildstorm brand. People have been voicing opinions on the issue since then but I think most people are missing the point.

My position on Wildstorm is like: “Your favorite band made a few good albums back in the day and had kinda been limping along ever since.”

IMO for any publishing imprint to survive in this market, it has to do 3 things well:

  1. Have a clear purpose in the market
  2. Publish it’s best titles regularly
  3. Not over saturate the market

Let’s take these things in order:

  1. Have a clear purpose in the market. WS was very well known for publishing titles like WildCATS, The Authority, Stormwatch, Wetworks, and Gen 13. These books generally had a shared Universe called the…”Wildstorm Universe” and the difference between the WSU and other books on shelves in shops was supposed to be that the WSU was an edgier, modern and more dangerous place, not constrained by clear black and white norms like, “Heroes Don’t Kill” etc. In the WSU, heroes were just got the job done and bad things could really happen to good people. This is really all well and good until you look around and find out that both the Parent company (DC Comics) AND the main competition (Marvel Comics) have been upping the ante on Anti heroes and drama in the years since WS was acquired. As soon as Apollo and Midnighter stopped having an overt same sex relationship, the Authority was done. As soon as Batman started spying on every other super person, the paranoia of Stormwatch had no purpose. There are now more comics on the shelf about super powered Teenagers and the drama they bring, than one can shake a stick at. Good luck to Gen 13.

Wildstorm showed the market it needed to live on the edge and the market went right to the edge and danced all over it. Then the market got really tired of that edge. If people thought that the DC Universe got too dark a few years ago (and the Marvel Universe as well) then how in the hell was the WSU going to recapture what it helped model?

  1. It could be argued that the best titles offered by WS during its history were books not involved in the WSU. Astro City, Planetary and Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics once were the standard for monthly comic book excellence BUT these were really…irregular in their shipping at best. It is basically assumed that when a comic is considered a series, it will be released every month and fans have really come to accept this. It is also assumed (wrongly) that when a creator releases a new title that same creator will produce this title and fans can enjoy it for years.

Some titles by WS were produced as the creators were able to get them done. It’s not like they didn’t have other books to do anyway, just not Wildstorm books. Fans that were really into Planetary needed to be patient and wait YEARS for the conclusion of the series. Fans that were really into Promethea needed to buy it while Alan Moore gave enough of a damn to make it because soon enough, he’d be onto something else and that would be that. Either way, WS never produced anything of the standard of Astro City, the ABC comics, Planetary or even Paul Smith’s Leave it to Chance (published before the company was owned by DC).

I’d have loved it if WS had made the commitment to the talent level of the non WSU titles. I get that not everyone is Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, or Kurt Busiek but DC certainly employed Greg Rucka, James Robinson, Darwyn Cooke, Ed Brubaker, and Paul Dini during the last 10 years so…

Essentially what I’m saying is that WS identified that it could do more than just be 90’s era edgy and could raise the bar for quality comics and somehow just never made the decision to continue raising the bar. This is not how you bring it every month.

  1. The last thing that a publishing imprint needs to do is to not over saturate the market with products that DO NOT distinguish themselves from the competition. WS published its superhero fare which had lost its edge, rarely published non WSU material that was of high quality and then, because someone had to do it, began publishing loads of video game related comics.

I get it. DC found itself holding onto the rights to make video game related comics and if all went well, it would draw gamers into the comics market but for the life of me, I can’t see why it had to be WS that these books were published under. It’s not like there were only a few video game comics either. There were PLENTY over the years and for the most part, these books just weren’t that interesting to the established comics market or the bulk of the gamer market.

Wildstorm spent a lot of time and money making LOTS of comics that took up space on retailer shelves without offering up anything that set them apart from what they were competing against. They just crowded shelves and this was a shame considering the pedigree of the company.

As far as I’m concerned, DC should have created an imprint called “Joystick” and put all of its video game comics there.

Now I know Wildstorm has its inside problems. I just don’t care about them. I don’t care that Paul Levitz pissed people off. I don’t care that Alan Moore is a crazy person who worships a sock and hates comics. I don’t care that Jim Lee may have been busy furthering his career within DC Comics. These things really don’t matter when it comes to identifying who you are in the Market over all and how you can be the best at what you do.

I know there are people out there saying, “But what about The Boys by Garth Ennis”? Fuck the Boys. No company really wants to put out a comic that makes the company look like complete idiots. While the Boys had strong sales before changing publishers, most of it was due to people wanting to see DC being made to look like asses in the pages of one of its own books. Marvel didn’t even do that with Kick-Ass, Supreme Power or Nemesis. In any other instance we’d be telling people not to bite the hand that feeds them but when it’s an irreverent and ultra violent comic we like, we get all, DC is afraid to grow” and shit. Please. That’s a bunch of garbage. No publicly traded comic book publishing entity is going to “grow” in a way that’s going to make lovers of post modern comics happy so therefore not being able to let the young and hip The Boys take the stodgy old DC out behind the pub and do naughty things generally reserved for German porn is not a reason why Wildstorm was doomed to get the axe.

Wildstorm got the axe because it began to blend in with the comic book background. Retailers couldn’t believe in it. Fans had no reason to support it and eventually, just like that band you love so much that used to just kick so much ass on its first two albums but has been phoning it in now that they’ve practically started a movement, they need to just go away. It’s for the best.

I’d also love to say that the best thing for the WSU properties is that they’ll now be published under the DC banner but again, the banner was never the problem. CONTENT was the problem. DC has 52 Earths and the WSU gets one of them but unless WildCATS, Stormwatch, GEN13 and the Authority can really distinguish themselves, they will look like all the other superhero teams published by DC only without a reason to be supported. Maybe it’ll be like when that band gets back together but now they are just kinda old and crappy but hoping there’s still some of that reunion tour money to be had.

Good luck, Wildstorm.