If I Ran DC, part two: The Imprints - Vertigo & Wildstorm
By Michael David Sims
24 October 2007 — Last time in If I Ran DC I told you how I would oversee the creation of Showcase, a new DC imprint. Today I'll make my patented changes to two existing imprints: Vertigo and Wildstorm. Before we get started, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the rules by which I must abide. And they are:
01. All books are monthly, unless otherwise noted.
02. Creators will be given a 12-month head start.
03. No writer can author more than four monthly comics at a time.*
04. No artist can illustrate more than one monthly and one mini at a time.*
05. No one will write and / or draw a comic they're currently working on.*
06. Exclusive contracts are void.
07. With but very few exceptions, no character can have more than one title.
* Creator-owned work excluded.
The difference between Showcase and Vertigo is quite simple: the former exists within the DC Universe (though on the very fringe), while the latter is outside of the DC Universe. In fact, Vertigo isn't a universe at all; it's a line of comics, with each comic in its own pocket universe. (Well, except for Hellblazer and Swamp Thing. Those two titles are forever linked, but they're the only two.) Something else to keep in mind is this: you'll see no creator-owned books listed below. Under my guidance, those would not change, so there's no reason to list them. Lastly, since the Vertigo line has a lot of crossover appeal, I'd work towards fostering that relationship with the mainstream by employing novelists on many Vertigo titles.
Writer: Barry Windsor-Smith
Artist: Barry Windsor-Smith
Just like everyone thinks Alien is a science fiction film, everyone thinks the original Weapon X is a superhero's origin story. Both true, but only half so. They are, in fact, horror epics. Take a moment to reread Barry Windsor-Smith's Weapon X; from the first page it's a moody tale of sheer terror. While Hellblazer isn't exclusively a horror comic, it's roots are in black magic, demons, Earth Elementals and so on — so a creative team that can bring both humanity and the otherworldly to the table is needed. Windsor-Smith takes both spots because, as a writer, he'll bring the dark edge and British slant John Constantine needs, and, as an artist, his pencils are expressive without exaggerating. Should Windsor-Smith choose to render a demon from Hell, you'll see honest dread on the faces of those who look upon it. London would be dirty, but not overly so. John's appearance would be that of a tired, cynical man in his early 50s, not a sloppy wreck who could double for a bum. Windsor-Smith also wouldn't be clever. Too many creators attempt to be cute when writing of Constantine's exploits. On some level it works, because the character is often cocky and always brash. Then again, it can induce eye-rolling when the writer's attitude seeps through. Staying true to the character, Barry Windsor-Smith wouldn't allow his voice to overshadow that of John's, thus allowing us to see a true vision of Constantine.
House of Mystery
As mentioned above, Hellblazer isn't exclusively a horror comic book. House of Mystery, on the other hand, is very much a horror comic book. My vision for it is simple, really: it's an anthology series with stories of varying length. A writer could come onboard with a story that spans one issue, while another might have a tale that needs six issues to tell. Whatever the story and writer needs, it gets. That said, anthology books usually don't sell that well. It's a sad, honest fact. To counter that, to keep interest (RE: sales) high, instead of using comic book writers to script House of Mystery, horror novelists and filmmakers would be given the task: Wes Craven, Stephen King, John Carpenter, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, Charlie Huston and Takashi Miike to name a handful. Illustrating their stories would be comic book artists who are known for atmosphere and pacing: Mike Mignola, Alex Maleev, Ross Campbell, Michael Lark, Erik Larsen, Mike Allred, J.H. Williams III, Sam Keith, Tim Sale, Paul Pope, Steven Pugh, Scottie Young and the list continues! Each artist would be paired with the appropriate story, so the graffiti- / animation-influenced Scottie Young wouldn't work on a story requiring a more grounded look.
Writer: Ed Brubaker
I see Human Target sort of like Quantum Leap; we all know Christopher Chance is standing in for someone, just as we all know Sam Beckett is doing the same, but we go with the flow because therein lies the drama: will he say or do something so out of character, so curious that someone around him calls the bluff. Instead of leaping through time like Dr. Beckett, Chase, a private investigator, impersonates those who have been targeted for assassination. Hopefully he'll uncover the killer before a shot has been fired. If not, at least the intended target will live to see another day. Each storyline would present a new cast (save Chase, the through line of the title) and locale for the writer to play with, but not every writer can handle that lack of consistency. Ed Brubaker, however, accomplishes just that with Criminal and would excel marvelously on Human Target. In fact, I don't think any other writer could honestly capture the torment Christopher Chance goes through better than Brubaker; by impersonating these targets, Chase must truly become them in mind and body — oftentimes losing himself in the process. Because this book never features the same cast or location twice, I feel the artists should also rotate. If the story has an urban flair, Alex Maleev will handle the storyline. If it's a sunnier, suburban tale, you can expect to see Michael Allred. If the target Chase must cover for lives in Europe, we'd give Gabriel Ba a call. If his investigation takes him into the underground art world, Paul Pope takes charge. Each artist would make this book his own, while staying true to Brubaker's story.
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artists: Jon J. Muth and Kent Williams
Choosing a writer for Swamp Thing is a laborious task; no matter who writes the book, a comparison will always be drawn to Alan Moore — he who revitalized the character. One might suggest bringing Moore back, but that seems too easy — plus you risk the "you can't go home again" syndrome. Whoever writes the book has to possess wild, "out there" ideas without confusing the readership. A master of making the fantastical understandable while keeping it fantastical, Neil Gaiman would breathe life back into this dormant character — much like Alan Moore did all those years ago. Often you'll see me speak about artists humanizing otherworldly characters, but not here. Here I want the exact opposite. Swamp Thing is just as alien as Jabba the Hutt, and his world is no more familiar than Jabba's palace. So when I settled upon Jon J. Muth and Kent Williams, it was because I wanted an alien looking world for Swamp Thing. Knowing both men are capable of that (Lucifer: Nirvana for Muth, Wolverine: Killing for Williams) and recognizing a similarity in their styles, I thought it would be wise to bring them both onboard. (They would alternate issues to keep the book on a monthly schedule.) Initially I didn't realize the two men had collaborated on the beautiful Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown from 1988, but now that I do, my confidence in bringing them to Swamp Thing has swelled. No other book on the market would look so foreign, yet appealing.
Writer: David Morrell
Artist: Mitch Breitweiser
The beautiful thing about the Unknown Soldier is that he can be anybody, and therefore set during any war. Bandages wrap his face, hiding the scars which cloak his true identity. Since nobody (officially) knows him by name, the government can send the master of disguise on any number of covert missions. Should he fail, disavowing him would be a snap — seeing as how he doesn't exist. To keep Unknown Soldier grounded, to make sure the action didn't go too far over-the-top, David Morrell would lead this project. As the father of John Rambo, Morrell knows how to humanize veterans while setting them against real world battles. Seeing as how Unknown Soldier is set during World War II, this is very important. Captain America and the Invaders don't exist here, only real men with real lives on the line. Morrell would drive that point home. Yes, some might call it cheating to bring in Mitch Breitweiser, Morrell's creative partner on Captain America: The Chosen, but, when these two work so well together, why wouldn't I do so? Breitweiser's style on The Chosen isn't all that different from John Cassaday; attention is paid to the smallest details, characters look like they could pass you on the street, there's an honest grittiness to his pencils and he brings action with style. Having seen his take on the ravaged Middle East, it would be interesting to see him render war-torn Europe.
More than the proper DC Universe (which is almost too large to contain), I feel the smaller (and therefore containable) Wildstorm Universe should be a cohesive world, with a solid history and continuity running through each title. Despite the superheroes and vigilantes and soldiers running around in the universe, the WU should feel familiar yet alien in a way. Our universe and the WU share roots, but something caused them to splinter apart. That's why prolific novelist Harry Turtledove would oversee the entire Wildstorm line. As the architect of dozens of alternate reality novels, Turtledove is a master at twisting history. He's written about aliens landing on Earth during World War II, postulated how America would have been forever changed had the South won the Civil War (a feat which took him 11 books to tell) and, in an unrelated Civil War novel, he had time travelers deliver AK-47s to General Robert E. Lee. Each of his books might take place in an alternate past, present and / or future, but they're very much rooted in history. If there's one thing Turtledove does right (and he does a lot of things right), he respects the past. He doesn't just write about it, he studies it and then projects his vision of the future from that divergent timeline. Having written about aliens and time travelers, I want to see Turtledove tackle superheroes and how they would truly alter history.
In my Wildstorm Universe there will be four titles (listed below, and all team books), with each taking place in a different era. Each book will feel familiar (save the last) in that they'll reflect the current political climate (as well as pop culture), but they'll differ in a very obvious way — superpowered beings being used as soldiers.
Normally I list books alphabetically, but, in this case, I feel it's important to place them according to the timeline I've established.
Writer: Harry Turtledove
Artist: Lee Weeks
Era: Vietnam War (1959) through the Iran-Contra Affair (1987)
For nearly 20 years Team 7 was America's premier military force. No other fighting force was trained better, supplied with better weapons or given better intel. They were ghosts — myths, really. No one saw them, and even their kill zones were clean (relatively speaking). To better Team 7, the government began to experiment on them, granting them limited superpowers such as invisibility, enhanced hearing and sight, telepathy, healing powers and a few others — all of which would aid the team in the field. Having a 20-year window to play with, Turtledove would scribe the adventures of Team 7 both with and without powers. To establish that this book started in our world, I suspect, Team 7 would remain a true military comic for a few years. Once the Vietnam War heated up, that's when the experiments — and splintering from our timeline — would begin. Art chores would be handed to Lee Weeks, a master in his own right. His pencils have a very retro vibe, in that his characters appear very human. No one is too bulky or overly superheroic in design. This style is what's needed for a retro war comic, such as Team 7. Together these two men would ground Team 7 and the Wildstorm Universe in reality, while driving it towards an alien future.
Writer: Harry Turtledove
Artist: Darick Robertson
Era: The Iran-Contra Affair (1987) through Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003)
Due to the controversies surrounding the Iran-Contra Affair, the United States government needed to direct attention away from the military. Even though they weren't involved in the ICA, Team 7 was a casualty of it — and in 1987 Team 7 was officially dissolved. However, not wanting to give up on a successful idea (RE: a superpowered military team), the government created the dual-purpose Wildcats. Official the Wildcats are the world's first team of superheroes. However, their media showboating is meant to mask their true purpose: the continuation of Team 7's government-fueled agenda. Unofficially, the Wildcats are known as Wetworks — with different individual codenames and powers. If any member of the Wetworks team is captured or killed, their connection to the superheroic Wildcats will never be discovered. Though the team's creation begins with the Iran-Contra Affair and ends with Operation Iraqi Freedom, Turtledove will have complete control over how the alternate history unfolds in a way that's divergent from ours, yet somehow very familiar. For a book that requires frenetic superhero action and covert military operations, a skilled artist is needed. Having drawn The Punisher: Born and Wolverine, it's clear that Darick Robertson is comfortable illustrating wartime conflicts as well as superheroes, but looking past the guns and claws and explosions, one will find a softer side to Robertson's art. Much of Transmetropolitan's success came from his pencils, where he was allowed quieter moments to express feelings through facial expressions and body language. Seeing as how some members of the Wildcats might take issue with the team's covert agenda (or their whoring of the spotlight), Robertson's mastery of faces would excel here. While not a true superhero or military comic, Wildcats, under Turtledove and Robertson, would blend the two into a hybrid — creating something new and different.
Writer: Harry Turtledove
Artist: Joe Madureira
Era: Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003) through 21 December 2012
Feeling the effects of an unpopular war and slipping approval ratings, the United States government disbands the Wildcats / Wetworks project in lieu of a true superhero team: Gen13. To differentiate Gen13 from Wildcats and to boost the nation's spirits, this team is comprised of young, hip, happy-go-lucky teens. America's youth looks up to them, hoping one day to join their ranks, while adults see them as a glimmering beacon of hope. Sexy, but never overly sexualized, Gen13's assorted cast represents America's "melting pot" ideals. Turtledove would shine on Gen13, if only because he'd be able to project where politics, science, superheroes and pop culture will be in a few short years. As the most modern book, the art should represent that. It should also represent the aforementioned "melting pot." The first (and only) artist to spring to mind is Joe Madureira who melds American and Japanese comics with his hyperkinetic anime-influenced style. Gen13 is all about youth, style and superheroics, but with a little political intrigue and science fiction added into the mix thanks to Turtledove.
Writer: Harry Turtledove
Artist: John Cassaday
Era: Onward from 21 December 2012
For the uninformed, the Mayan calendar ends on 21 December 2012, leading some people to believe that a great catastrophe will plague us all. Sadly, in the Wildstorm Universe, this will prove to be true. Governments and civilization will fall; anarchy will rule the land. To bring peace and stability, surviving members of Team 7, the Wildcats and Gen13 will band together to form The Authority. Instead of being a superpowered / -hero team overseen by the government, they will be a superpowered / -hero team serving as the government. Political strife is a given, with non-powered humans questioning who these so-called superheroes are to rule the world. The answer, mankind is told, is simple: The Authority is the only group with the wherewithal to stop the uprisings. Without them, civilization will crumble. Everyone will die. The age of man will end. Since Turtledove wouldn't have to aim towards any real world events, he could go hog-wild on The Authority. Using past uprisings as a starting point, he'd come to make us understand how a true political / societal collapse would forever change mankind. Undoubtedly this book will be harsh and bloody and very distant from our world, but it needs an artist who can bring a human element to it. We need to be reminded that real people populate this chaotic world. John Cassaday, whose work on Captain America and Planetary have prepared him for this type of book, is the perfect man for the job. There's a realism to his illustrations, even those set on alien worlds — and make no mistake about it, The Authority would be a very alien world when compared to ours — but he never forgets that he's drawing a superhero comic book. Gravel and blood and faces and monuments all pop off of Cassaday's pages, drawing the reader in. At the same time, his superheroes can look imposing (as they would need to in The Authority), humble and everything in between. No matter what Turtledove scripts, Cassaday would render it in spades.