WildStorm 30th Anniversary Special
The 30th anniversary of Jim Lee's WildStorm is here, and DC presents a blowout like no other!
It’s pretty hard to believe it’s been three decades since the audacious, auspicious debut of WildStorm. Part of the initial wave of Image books, WildStorm pretty quickly set itself apart from the other burgeoning Image imprints by having a very sure sense of itself from day one. WildC.A.T.s #1 set the template: superheroes as soldiers, spies, and assassins. None of these individually were new, watershed moments for superheroes, but collectively, as something of a unifying statement for the world Jim Lee and Brandon Choi were building from the ground up…? That was something different.
It probably didn’t hurt that WildStorm was very, very ’90s in its approach: tons of flash, splash pages, big guns, bad boy attitudes, women with broken backs and barely-there costumes. But by that token, WildStorm also helped inform the very tropes it would later be associated with. And by the time of the turn of the century, the widescreen, big-budget approach championed by The Authority became the new visual language of the WildStorm universe, even as it was bought by DC and eventually merged into its own continuity post-New 52. And while waning interest in the WildStorm universe itself may or may not have informed that decision to bolster the brand by merging it with the better-established DCU, the end result was the near-eradication of not only WildStorm’s individual identity, but damn near all of its characters not named Midnighter and Apollo.
Thankfully, as we usher in the ‘Storm’s 30th anniversary, a generation of writers and artists weaned on Grifter, Zealot, StormWatch, Backlash, et al (along with more than a fair share of OG creators from the original ’90s whirlwind) seem bound and determined to replace these wonderful characters to their proper place in their own cool, espionage-laden, high-tech corner of the DCU imaginable. And while the final result would likely be stronger if they were removed from the DCU proper and placed back on their own world, in their own continuity – look, this comic ain’t a half-bad way to celebrate the big three-oh.
With a couple of oddball exceptions that, as I noted, are weighed down by being attached very specifically not just to the DCU but to specific story (Josh Williamson’s Zealot tale is a direct follow-up to “Shadow War,” which seems slightly nepotistic since he was the mastermind and executor of that story), WildStorm 30th Anniversary Special isn’t just a trip down nostalgia lane. It’s a strong, capable statement on what made these original comics so special to begin with. Grifter’s never-ending cool is on full display in Matthew Rosenberg and Stefano Landini’s story; Mr. Majestic gets an oddly moving look back at the lure of nostalgia for its own sake courtesy Dan Abnett and Neil Googe; J. Scott Campbell gets particularly meta in a Gen 13 story that makes zero bones about what a zeitgeisty property that team was and always will be, forever trapped in the ’90s. Campbell, more than content at this stage of his career to whip out variant covers and call it a day, shows he more than has the chops to write an extremely clever story when he wants. For those of us who lived through that decade, it’s pretty cool; for those who weren’t – well, you kids just missed out, but here’s a glimpse of how awesome it was!
Also noteworthy, and even surprisingly touching, is Christos Gage and Dustin Nguyen’s WildC.A.T.s ode, “The Only Constant.” Told as a conversation between Spartan and Lord Emp, the creative team writes a quietly powerful meta-commentary on the changes the team has been through over the years – which tended to mirror different industry vagaries depending on what was popular at the time – and weave them all into a coherent narrative that speaks to the team and its members with a love and reverence reserved for the foundational members of a universe (think: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spidey, the FF, etc.). “The Only Constant” is the best damn story in a one-shot cram-packed with best damn story after best damn story. Pow.
Not every story nails the landing, though. As I mentioned above, the tangling of WildStorm and its characters into larger DC continuity creates a very DC-specific headache: what’s in continuity, and what isn’t? What matters, and what’s being glossed over? If the Authority exists, why didn’t the Justice League interact with them, or literally anything else in the DCU? And so on. To that end, the stories that lean more explicitly into the fact that WildStorm coexists with the DCU are the ones that feel less special, because, well, they are. They’re less in service to WildStorm’s legacy and more about reinforcing the incredibly-murky status quo of DC continuity.
Williamson’s aforementioned Zealot story feels particularly forced and self-indulgent; Ed Brisson’s new iteration of [REDACTED] seems odd and out of place with its mix of characters from both WildStorm and DC – especially [REDACTED]. The Apollo and Midnighter story by Meghan Fitzmartin and Will Conrad is a direct follow-up to the recently-concluded Warworld story in Action Comics, and spends more narrative time following up on that than on their status of one of comics’ first out gay couples. The reverse is true for the Jack Hawksmoor tale, which serves as a slight prelude to January’s upcoming “Lazarus Planet” story. None of these are bad stories (though I’m personally not a fan of Jonboy Meyers’ art style), but the fact that they’re intrinsically tied to larger DC stories detracts from their specialness. And did we really need two Deathblow stories? They’re both good, but couldn’t somebody have provided a WetWorks story?
Now, as for the ugly: there’s an elephant in the room. Well, a couple of them, but the main one is Warren Ellis. It would be an impossible task to celebrate WildStorm without paying homage to his achievements in The Authority (and as an aside, DAMN IT why isn’t there a Planetary story here?!), and his reunion with Bryan Hitch to bring the old school Authority thunder for eight pages is a deft reminder as to why their collaboration was such a big deal in 1999/2000. But the fact remains – Ellis stands accused of some very icky behavior, and has been in the penalty box since. His presence here is a double-edged sword given both of these legacies he carries, but since DC seems legitimately willing to walk that tightrope in service to WildStorm’s history – it seems worthwhile to have him included. I do hope this is the beginning of Ellis being able to slowly come back as a writer; he may never have the shine he once did, but he’s certainly a legendary talent who at least deserves a chance at redemption, given that he’s offered contrition and accepted fault.
In the final assessment, I do wish a few more OG WildStorm talents were present for this celebration, and a couple fewer of DC stable writers and artists. Their presence, while welcome, walks the line between generational homage and corporate group-think. Had this been fully devoted to celebrating the artists and writers who initially made WildStorm great to begin with, I think this could have been a 10/10 effort. As it stands, it’s still a worthy salute to a true comics original – just not quite the note-perfect homage (heh) it could have been.
While not quite perfect, the WildStorm 30th Anniversary Special hits enough of the right notes to leave this old-school fan more than a little buzzed. And if you're not acquainted with the '90s? Now's a great time to see what all the fuss was about.
The WILDSTORM 30TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL is Locked, Loaded, and a Worthy Tribute to a Legend
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Art - 9.5/109.5/10
- Color - 9.5/109.5/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10
User Review( votes)