Authority Disassembled: How to Fix Wildstorm

Authority Disassembled: How to Fix Wildstorm

Apr 09

Sometimes I get these itches in my brain, dumb ideas that are just fanboy fantasizing, and I can do naught but share.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Wildstorm Universe is in a bit of a shambles, and has been for a while. This latest tailspin seems to have been precipitated, oh irony of ironies, by the most recent attempt at a star-studded “relaunch,” which saw Grant Morrison putting out a grand total of TWO comic books before his entire involvement vanished. Meanwhile, the few titles that did actually hit the scene were left standing out in the marketplace virtually naked.

Since then, we’ve had miniseries, and the odd attempts at ongoing series, and a few more “events” that I cannot even confess I bothered to steal off the internet. If memory serves, I think there are TWO more “events” stacked up in the near future: The current “Number of the Beast” miniseries, and something by Keith Giffen crossing the Wildstorm universe over into the DC universe.

It’s a mess. I’d like to see it cleaned up.

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First, let’s get clear about why a Wildstorm Universe is even worth saving. It’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again, cause I think it’s important: Wildstorm is a fully creator-driven label. That goes not just for the stand-alone fare and licensed material, but for the books taking place in the WU itself.

That’s because the only reason there even is such a thing as a Wildstorm Universe today is because of up-and-coming, hungry creators like early Warren Ellis and Mark Millar, who came onto the scene and turned Wildstorm into an “anything goes” playground for superhero scribes. (Until Paul Levitz got his pretty lil’ self offended, that is.)

Wildstorm’s worth has nothing to do with its characters or “brands,” even though at this point, both still have maybe a wee little bit of juice in them. Not enough juice to actually sell comics, but still: Juice. The characters are largely worthless, let’s be honest; which means the value of Wildstorm lies totally in its attractiveness to creators who want someplace to go where they can tell genre stories that would have no chance of getting told in the corporate mainstream superhero universes.

So Wildstorm’s all about the creators…and yet, no offense to the teams on recent Wildstorm books, it doesn’t seem like anyone’s bringing an A-game batshit mentality to the proceedings. All the solicitations I read sound like random generic superhero crap starring characters that aren’t Superman or Batman. That’s not a real selling point.

What is a selling point is the promise of exciting creative talent given free reign in an established superhero universe, where fans have enough awareness to recognize the concepts and characters, but not enough attachment to give a shit who lives or dies. That’s a bit of a gift.

Here’s what we do.

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1) Just end it. Now. Stop whatever is happening as soon as possible. If you have to finish miniseries or wrap up ongoings, fine; just get it over with and done. For the love of all that is holy, do NOT unleash any further half-baked books featuring these characters onto an unsuspecting world.

2) Hire an “executive producer” to handle the overall creative direction of the WU. I think this person has to have some kind of established name in the entertainment world, but obviously isn’t going to be one of the BIG names in the comics industry, since they all frankly have better things to do. You also need someone who has the potential, if not the reputation, to deliver edgy stories that walk the fine line between mainstream superheroics and whatever offends the delicate sensibilities of Pretty Boy Paul Levitz.

My nominees? I never thought you’d ask…

John Ridley. He’s written the Authority before as well as the excellent miniseries The American Way. Based on solely my uneducated view of his Wikipedia page, he’s busy, but not so busy that he couldn’t squeeze in a project like this. Much of his work displays an edge and awareness that would serve him quite well in shepherding Wildstorm.

Keith Giffen. So this guy’s always crazy busy, but I would think he’d relish this creative challenge, given that he’s always seemed to be a proponent of telling the stories people need, not the stories people want. Handing Keith Giffen a superhero universe and saying, “Go nuts, have fun, be home by dinnertime” would seem to be a formula for creating raw uncut genius.

Gail Simone. She’s written Gen 13, she’s talented and funny as hell, and she’s got a ruthlessness to her work that perfectly suits this gig. She’s been working hard as a writer on any number of great superhero books for the DCU–it would be neat to see her stretch her creative legs a bit and try a gambit on this scale.

JMS. He’s in this weird floaty place between Marvel and DC; he’s got Hollywood cachet; he’s already messed around with a relatively untended superhero universe as part of his Squadron Supreme work. He’s not one of my all-time favorites but when he’s on point, he’s on point.

The key here is that this person acts as a creative director in more than just title; they are in the trenches getting their hands dirty on a regular basis with these characters and this universe. They have relative autonomy in their little corner of the comics world. They do not necessarily write alone; they have a team to work with on other books, whether it be ongoings or one-off miniseries where creators come in, do their thing, and walk away. But they’re setting the creative direction for the Wildstorm Universe and overseeing the bigger picture of this experiment.

(I cannot fucking believe this has gone on so long already.)

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3) Bring in a pack of young turk renegades to work with the “executive producer.” When Dan DiDio announced the creative team on Countdown, I was kind of excited. You had a proven “showrunner” in Paul Dini paired with a team of versatile writers, some with experience, all of them relatively “hungry” in terms of their spot in the DC pecking order. Of course, Countdown turned out like shit, but I’d like to see what COULD have been actually become REALITY for my fantasy Wildstorm relaunch.

There’s a lot of young creators working on the fringes of the mainstream, for publishers like Boom! and Red 5 and their own home-brewed outfits, that would be great choices to work cheap and crank out edgy material–they’d be hungry, and they’d know that delivering big-time on a Wildstorm book could provide an instant ticket to bigger and better things. A partial list: Brian Clevinger (Atomic Robo), Kevin Church (Cover Girl), Jonathan Hickman (Nightly News, Pax Romana, Transhuman), Kieron Gillen (Phonogram), Ivan Brandon (NYC Mech), Rick Remender (Fear Agent), Fred Van Lente (Action Philosophers).

That’s a shitload of crazy brains, right there. Imagine just three of them let loose under a mad genius to play in the Wildstorm Universe, anything goes, no holds barred (as long as it doesn’t make Paul Levitz blush like a little schoolgirl).

4) Keep it simple; keep it small. I believe Wildstorm requires three ongoing titles: The Authority, Stormwatch, and WildCATS. Those are the go-forward “brands.” The exec producer would write Stormwatch, and that would be the “core” Wildstorm title. Each title has its own core identity, whatever the EP determines that to be.

Everything that doesn’t fit into those titles is a miniseries. Everything Wildstorm puts out is collected quickly into trade paperbacks–not bullshit $25 hardcovers, but slick tight little packages retailing no more than $15. ($9.99 would be even better.)

The “continuity” would be just enough to give the universe a cohesive feel, but not so much that a reader couldn’t pick up any given title by itself and get a complete experience. There would be plentiful recap pages.

5) Distribute using unproven, shocking schemes. If I were the King of Time-Warner, or if Paul Levitz had any balls, he’d put together this plan or something like it and then LAUNCH IT EXCLUSIVELY ONLINE. Build a quick flashy website with an easy user interface and provide downloadable files, either for free or for a small fee. (Can you imagine the buzz if Wildstorm relaunched with a promise of “quarter comics”? New titles, delivered monthly via download, for a quarter apiece?) Every six months, collect the latest storyline in trade and sell it in bookstores and comic shops.

Or go all manga on our nation’s collective ass and put out the books as monthly fat digests, $6.95 a pop, with one or two issues’ worth of content per “title.” Again, collect up the storylines and sell them in trades.

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The idea: A creator-driven, anything-goes, established superhero universe, challenging existing perceptions of storytelling, characterization, superheroics, and distribution.

I’m in. How about you?

2 comments

  1. Jeff

    You’re a genius, Matt. Something like this is just what the industry needs.

    You have my axe, as it were.

  2. MCF

    This is definitely a bold and brazen idea, and if Jim Lee and Paul Levitz had any sense, they would pounce on this. I’m sick and fed up of the current state WildStorm is in, and it’s high time that they reclaimed their Warren Ellis/Mark Millar glory days.

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