Wildstorm was Jim Lee’s imprint under Image Comics. It was begun as a home for his attempt at creating his unique comics universe, which had three great ideas early on:
1. Make every character origin be about technology and/or government secrets
2. Print holographic, foil, and other gimmicky covers
3. Give up control and invite the best creators in the industry
That last part lead to Wildstorm being bought out by DC in an event they cheekily called “Shattered Image.”
Since Wildstorm got off to a bit of an awkward start, we’ll occasionally be starting on volume 2 or even 3 of a title. This is partly a creative choice, and partly because DC has allowed a number of those first volumes to lapse from print (even they seem to want you to start later). But if you feel the need to be complete and you have an archaeological team handy to help you unearth the original issues, you’ll get some real, uncut 90s artwork as your reward.
As said above, this early stuff is really rocky. But it can be useful for the purposes of contrast.
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Because it really is quite remarkable how far they managed to get from such a rough beginning.
Collects: Wildc.A.T.S #0-4
This “Covert Action Teams” book comes from a bygone era in which everyone wore singlets or bikinis. No exceptions. Government agent? Grab your foot of spandex and file that audit. Giant robot? We have awkward trunks in your size. Oh, you’re leading a team? Here’s a leather jacket to go over your v-wire top and hi-cuts. You’ll all need combat boots, though, because you’re at war with two alien races. Speaking of which, take a pile of swords with you on the way out.
This is kinda what makes these early issues good: They feel like a time capsule to when one could launch a book with nothing more than a goofy title and flashy style, and figure the rest out on the fly.
Unfortunately, that’s about all this series had going for it. So we’re including this only for the contrast.
Collects: Deathblow #0-12
Michael “”Deathblow”” Cray is many things. A former member of Team 7, Stormwatch, and International Operations. An expert marksman. An immortal telekinetic soldier. An all around 90s gun person. I’m very sad they didn’t call him “”the Unkillable Mind Gun.””
But seriously, what can make Deathblow comics great are just how perfectly of a time they are. The stories are filled with big, self-serious action set pieces. They’re filled with plots that are always top secret and hundreds if not thousands of years old. And every once in a while, some intern sneaks in a bit of social commentary that keeps the whole thing from collapsing under the weight of its armaments.
So if insane action movies are your thing, you should dive right into ol’ Mind Gun here, because Lee does this better than most anybody.
Alan Moore and The Real Beginning
Wildstorm was struggling. Somehow, they convinced Alan Moore to come lend a hand.
And while Moore didn’t exactly produce another V for Vendetta for them, he did right the ship and set the course for much of what was to come. Not only by bringing in his patented big ideas, but also just by being Alan Bloody Moore, the man everyone wanted to rub shoulders with. His name on the masthead was a neon sign saying it was both safe and cool for people to work for Wildstorm.
Alan Moore: The Complete WildC. A. T.s
Collects: Wildc.A.T.S #21–34 And 50
Like a lot of comics in the 90s, WildC.A.T.s’ approach to characterization began and ended with the figure study. Everything else felt slapped on at the very last moment before they took the stage. At which point “”Grifter,”” or “”Deathblow,”” or “”Ambiguous Gerund”” had to explain to readers just what the hell was going on with the alien conspiracy this week.
Then along came Alan Moore to fix it. Which he did in just over a year. The results are mixed. On the one hand, this is far from “”peak Alan Moore,”” with dialog and ideas that don’t always land as powerfully as, say, Swamp Thing or Watchmen. And at times, it really feels like Moore is trying to figure out how to write “”an Image book”” (a thing that was still new at the time).
On the other hand, Moore’s WildC.A.T.s an absolute masterclass on how to add meaning and stakes without loosing the spirit of the book. Moore took a confusing (and I suspect unplanned) source material that was going nowhere and turned it into a character and concept driven book that could still deliver on action.
It’s easy to point at WildC.A.T.s and say that it’s Moore cynically coasting rather than taking the opportunity to truly do the unexpected. And those are some very solid points of criticism, make no mistake.
But doing that ignores the ultimate purpose of Moore’s WildC.A.T.s: namely, to re-establish an ongoing series. Swamp Thing floundered after he left. Watchmen and V for Vendetta took decades to progress after his runs (and with limited success). Even Killing Joke and For the Man Who Has Everything remained pristine and largely untouched for the most part, like walled gardens inside of continuity.
If Alan Moore had given his all on this book, it is extremely likely that it would have ended with issue 50. Which wasn’t the point.
So while this book is imperfect, I can’t help but think that was exactly what was needed here.
Fire From Heaven
Collects: Sword Of Damocles #1
Fire From Heaven #1
Stormwatch (Vol. 1) #35
Sword Of Damocles #2
Fire From Heaven #2
A company-wide crossover for Wildstorm, making it one of the best crossovers in comics at the time. It takes place during Moore’s WildC.A.T.s run (at issue 29)
This actually had some major character growth, with Grifter rejoining the WildC.A.T.s, Gen 13’s finally learning the source of their powers, and a huge development for Stormwatch. All of this and a supervillain from an alternate reality!
Warren Ellis and The First Golden Age
There is a transition of creative power as Moore leaves and Ellis’ books take over.
Stormwatch Vol. 1: Force of Nature
Collects: Stormwatch V1 #37-47
StormWatch began life as a rote 90s x-treme superhero book. StormWatch used to be like that incarnation of the Avengers when they were controlled by the UN… only with less clothing and more cyber-implants.
Then came Warren Ellis, who took this paint-by-numbers 90s comic and turned it into an absolute powerhouse of a series. One with fully developed characters capable of driving a book about sex, horror, and politics. Not only did Ellis save the title, but he turned it into the pre-cursor to one of the best comics of the late 20th century: The Authority.
Vol 1 has the first appearance of Jenny Sparks, Jack Hawksmoor, and Rose Tattoo.
Stormwatch Vol. 2: Lightning Strikes
Collects: Stormwatch V1 43-47
This volume explores the history of Jenny Sparks, “Spirit of the Century,” and her exploits across the 1900s. This book has everything from space travel to pulp detective work.
JLA/WildC.A.T.s : Crime Machine
Collects: Jla/Wildc.A.T.S #1
Grant Morrison takes a crack at the universe. And promptly sends people all the way back to 65 Million BCE where people are then taken into something called “void space.” Classic Morrison.
Stormwatch Vol. 3: Change or Die
Collects: Stormwatch V1 #48–50 And V2 #1–3,
The first introduction of Apollo and Midnighther (of the Authority) as well as the introduction of the fabric between realities called “The Bleed”
Stormwatch Vol. 4: A Finer World
Collects: Stormwatch V2 #4–9
The High, an immensely powerful superhero from hundreds of years in the past, finds himself in the present day… and tries to remake the world in his outdated image.
This book also has the first appearance of Apollo and Midnighter (who return in the Authority)
Stormwatch Vol. 5: Final Orbit
Collects: Stormwatch V2 #10-11 And Wildc.A.T.S/Aliens One-Shot
The big, tragic swan song for the Planetary team as they face off against an existence-ending asteroid.
This book also contains the WildC.A.T.s/Aliens crossover which is not only excellent but also somehow crucial to the Wildstorm universe. Proving once again that Ellis is a mad genius.
Collects: Global Frequency #1-12.
Warren Ellis’ paramilitary thrilled famed for existing “”15-minutes in the future”” and forecasted the use of cellphones as video streaming devices.
The story itself follows an ultra-covert, international organization that sorts out problems too big, too embarrassing, or too weird for an nation-state to handle. Each of the 12 issues feel decidedly sci-fi, but also somehow immediately accessible. As if Ellis got the news a week before anyone else.
Collects: The Authority #1-29, Planetary/The Authority: Rule The World #1, Jenny Sparks: The Secret History Of The Authority #1-5, Authority Annual 2000 #1 And Wildstorm Summer Special.
Warren Ellis’ fresh, re-imagining of the Justice League is an masterpiece. It starts with incredible powers, like a man who could bond with a cities in order to gain powers and communicate, an ersatz Batman and Superman who are romantically engaged, and a modern day shaman. This book is an unflinchig look at what it would actually take to the save the world. It is also my #1 recommendation on this list.
Collects: Planetary #1-14, Planetary Sneak Peak, Planetary/Authority To Rule The World.
Planetary is either a modern update of the classic pulp book, or X-Files taken to the wildest extreme. But that only scratches the surface of the book
It follows an organization of Archaeologists of the Impossible”” who investigate ghosts, aliens, multiverse travel, and other strange occurrences across the globe. They do this partly to better mankind, but mostly out of their own curiosity. This last part gives the book an incredible sense of adventure.
Planetary is its own story, but it’s best when read alongside The Authority. It also contains one of my top-5 Batman stories.
Joe Casey, Ed Brubaker, and the New Class
Collects: Wildcasts Version 3.0 #1-12
Joey Casey brings more fantastic sci-fi, turning the team into a tech business that siphons infinite energy from other dimensions. It’s a radical departure, and yet somehow the idea of “economic superpowers that benefit humanity” makes perfect sense. Especially next to Dustin Nguyen’s incredible design work turning every page into an ad campaign.
Collects: Sleeper Season 1 #1-12
Holden Carter is a deep-cover agent who’s just been infected with an alien bio-weapon. This gives him super powers, a fact he learns when he accidentally puts his government handler into a coma. Now he’s stuck in his cover as a villain. And he’s got Tao, a villain from Alan Moore’s WildC.A.T.s, on him.
This series is a mixture of so many genres: Noir, Sci-Fi, Superhero, Spy just to name a few. It’s also both my favorite Brubaker/Phillips joint and my favorite Brubaker book period.
Collects: Majestic #1-4
Mister Majestic is Wildstorm’s version of Superman. Which gets a little complicated when Superman has to help him track down the alien race that stole every human on Earth. It’s a great, fun space adventure with two ridiculous powerhouses.
Collects: Automatic Kafka #1-9
Joe Casey and Ashley Wood’s sleeper hit about the android Kafka, former superhero, current drug addict. Part William Gibson cyberpunk novel, part Grant Morrison style metanarrative, this book felt downright dangerous when it was published. Sadly, it ran only 9 issues, but Casey and Wood had enough warning to make the book end with a fun subversion on a classic last issue….
Collects: Wildcasts Version 3.0 #13-24
More superpowered cyberpunk action from Casey and Nguyen.
Collects: Sleeper Season 2 #1-12, Coup D’État #1
Sleeper Season 2 closes out with the Carter playing a key role in the Coup D’etat event.
Collects: Coup D’État: Sleeper #1, Coup D’État: Stormwatch: Team Achilles #1, Coup D’État: Wildcats #1, Coup D’État: The Authority #1, Coup D’État: Afterword
Ed Brubaker, Joe Casey, and more get together to write this event book in which Tao tricks the US Government into committing an inter-dimensional war crime.
Collects: Desolation Jones #1-8
Warren Ellis and J.H. Williams III dreamed up this brilliant, gonzo, and gorgeous re-imagining of Chandler’s The Big Sleep.
Jones, a washed-out secret agent and only known survivor of the Desolation Test, is trapped in Los Angeles. This is because LA has become an open-air prison for ex-spooks like him and his cohorts.
I don’t want to give anymore away, so I’ll simple say that this book is smart, funny, and utterly stunning. Honestly, William’s work is incredible and presages Aja’s Hawkeye by years.
The Authority by Ed Brubaker & Dustin Nguyen
Collects: The Authority: Revolution#1-12
The Authority is a superteam that’s taken on every conceivable enemy in this universe or any other. Now they’re going to take over the US Government.
Wildstorm’s End and DC Rebirth
The Wildstorm imprint continued putting out great work for some time before being shut down in 2010. Then in 2016, as part of Rebirth, DC folded a number of Wildstorm characters into the main DC continuity.
This book takes a familiar concept in a fairly unique direction.
Eric Foster is the first superhuman born on Earth. Strong and possibly immortal, Foster begins to use his powers for good. But as his power and acclaim grows, so does his detachment from reality. Soon, Foster spirals out of control into a violent, religious delusion and ultimately, tragedy.
This book is probably the darkest on this list. Maybe the darkest on any of our lists. But it’s message about how tenuous our grip on reality can be might make it the most important.
Collects: Dv8: Gods And Monsters #1-8
Brian Wood takes this group group of villainous “deviants” whose claim to fame was getting beat up by Gen 13 and turned their book into a wild, philosophical ride. DV8 goes back in time to pre-history, with each member electing themselves the “”god”” of a different tribe, molding new societies based around whatever drugged up, orgiastic wants these villains could imagine.
This book came out four years before The Wicked + The Divine, and I still think DV8 did it better.
Grayson: The Super Spy omnibus
Collects: Grayson #1-20, Grayson: Futures End #1, Secret Origins #8, Grayson Annual #1-3, Robin War #1-2 And Nightwing: Rebirth #1.
Dick Grayson has had a rough go of it. He spends most of his life either trying to live up to Batman’s seemingly impossible standards or else rebelling against them. But always, Grayson is stuck in Bruce’s orbit.
But when Grayson’s secret is blown and the world knows he’s Nightwing, he’s forced to fake his death. And in death, Grayson gets to become a new man, this time an agent in the service of Sypral, the global spy agency. Unfortunately, that might be the worst possible place to be.
Midnighter from the Authority plays an important role in this book. On the surface level, it’s interesting to see how Midnighter moves back and forth between “”antihero”” and “”villain”” as his and Grayson’s goals change and conflict. But it’s the deeper dynamic that I find the most interesting. Midnighter was conceived of as a proxy Batman. So when Grayson, who has real issues with Bats, comes into contact with this proxy, it sheds brand new light on Dick’s relationship with Bruce (both for the reader and for Grayson himself).
Tim Sale and Tom King pen this fantastic spy thriller and character study. Sadly, the quality tapers off a bit at the end when the two leave, but until then it’s one of the best comics of the era.
Collects: Midnighter #1-7
Midnighter isn’t an alien, or a genetic experiment, or a half-angel anything. He’s a normal guy with a completely normal supercomputer wired into his brain. And it lets him win any fight before it starts.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that he’s coming off a break-up with his first love, Apollo, and now he’s extra eager to bust some heads.
Steve Orlando has an absolute field day with this one.
Collects: Midnighter #8-12
Midnighter takes on the entire Suicide Squad as he attempts to retrieve an ancient artifact – a pistol that could destroy the world.
Collects: Midnighter And Apollo #1-6
Apollo, superbeing and former lover to Midnighter, has been sent to hell as part of a plot to break Midnigther. But now the perfect killing machine will fight his way to the literal depths of the underworld to save the man he loves.
Steve Orlando’s violent series about a broken-hearted murder machine won a GLAAD award for the previous volumes, but the payoff in this mini-series feels even better than that.
2017 Relaunch – Modern Starting Point
Collects: The Wild Storm #1-6
After the events of Planetary, Jenny Sparks has been on a 20 year drunk.
Now she, Grifter, Voodoo, Zealot, and the Engineer are going to have to get the band back together to nab a brand new transhuman who’s threatening to upend the world balance.
Collects: The Wild Storm #7-12
International Operations is the new crisis-overseer on Earth. They’re about to go up against the old one, Skywatch.
It’s high-tech infiltration, assassinations, and a brand new war.
Collects: The Wild Storm #13-18
The cold war between International Operations and Skywatch continues as both go after a brand new metahuman group codenamed “Project Thuderbook.”
Collects: The Wild Storm #19-24
The Final Trade (at least for now).
Skywatch increases its attacks on Earth, trying to provoke an all-out war. Meanwhile, someone else has put a plan in place to cut the global population by 90%.
Jenny Sparks is going to need to sober up completely for this one. Especially for the big introduction that’s coming…
WildCATS Vol. 1
We know two things:
1. This is the next reboot after The Wild Storm
2. Ellis finally fixed that stupid acronym.
Roger Goza says
I’m curious why you decided not to include the New-52 WildStorm appearances like StormWatch, Grifter, Team 7, etc or any of the solo series for Grifter
John Galati says
Good question! Writing about WildStorm is a bit like writing about other imprints or bullpens. The real story is a specific talent pool, highly-influential editors, and really, a unique moment in comics.
Si Spurrier did an excellent turn on Hellblazer, but I’m not sure I’d include it in an article about Karen Berger’s Vertigo. If I were writing about the Lee/Kirby days at Marvel, I don’t think I’d bring up Age of Apocalypse.
This article is about WildStorm, the Jim Lee imprint, home of high-octane weirdness and 90s “extreme” aesthetic. I feel the New 52’s focus was more on folding WildStorm into the DCU, and that’s a different thing.
Bryan J Polk says
While kind of scatter shot, it is focusing on the best of WildStorm as well as what is in print, which is exciting to see!
There are a few errors though.
The “Coup d’Etat” crossover occurs between “Sleeper: Season One” and “Sleeper: Season Two” other than that, I don’t see anything that would really affect the reader regarding what has been listed, even if it isn’t the most optimal reading the whole WildStorm Universe line.
The books “Global Frequency,” “Desolation Jones,” and “A God Somewhere” do not take place anywhere in the WildStorm universe. They were just published by WildStorm. Much like “Astro City” and “Ex Machina” are fantastic books published by WildStorm they don’t take place in the greater WildStorm continuity.
The “DV8: Gods and Monsters” book also takes place in the old WildStorm universe, so it is odd that you have it listed where you do with the folding of WildStorm characters into the DCU.
And why neglect the two “the Wild Storm: Michael Cray” trades in the Relaunch section? Best reading would put the first volume of “Michael Cray” between “the Wild Storm” volume 2 and 3, and the second volume of “Michael Cray” between “the Wild Storm” volume 3 and 4. Or maybe both volumes between “the Wild Storm” volume 3 and 4. Not sure, I’ll have to check.
At any rate, thanks for bringing more attention to WildStorm in general. It doesn’t get enough love but has a lot of loyal fans. Anyone looking for some good WildStorm books has a great list of them in this article!
This is brilliant! It’s about time Wildstorm got some love. Are you by any chance planning to expand this to a complete reading order eventually? I’d love to see where books like Number of the Beast and Gen13 fall in the chronology.
Bryan J Polk says
Hey Tim, I (with the help of a few others) have tried to map this out the best we can over at https://weatheringwildstorm.com/ Check it out and let me know what you think!
Bryan J Polk says
https://weatheringwildstorm.wordpress.com/ this link should work
Hey thanks Bryan, that’s great. I had actually just stumbled across your list myself!