Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Story impact of early Image's inter company crossovers (Part 3)

It takes a bit of context to explain the circumstances behind the most bizarre of Image's inter company crossovers.

As opposed to the WildC.A.T.s, who debuted with Jim Lee's artwork, "Stormwatch" his other Image superhero team could only count on the superstar artist when it came to covers and character designs. This was enough to spin "Gen 13" into a hugely successful franchise thanks to J Scott Campbell's talent, but "Stormwatch" in its original incarnation felt very derivative and of its time. When the initial enthusiasm for Image wore down, the "Youngblood"-like series entered a mediocre period from which it was to revive in the hands of Warren Ellis.

The publisher supported Ellis through his multiple attempts at molding the series into something he felt was a viable contemporary superhero vehicle. By 1998, and entering a third year of his involvement with "Stormwatch", Ellis was already preparing to debut a new creator-owned book to replace the long troubled Image original. At the same time, the company was making plans for a crossover with Dark Horse, the holders of the "Aliens" licence.

In an unprecedented move, Ellis and editor Scott Dubnier decided to dispense with most of the classic Stormwatch characters in the "WildC.A.T.s/Aliens" crossover. The same goal could arguably have been achieved by using Daemonites, whose resemblance to Brood, another fictional stand in for the movie monsters was the main plot point behind the aforementioned "WildC.A.T.s/X-Men" crossover issue. Preferring to do dispense with the Jim Lee created members of Stormwatch in a story featuring the more successful WildC.A.T.s as the protagonists reflects the audacity and forward thinking that helped Ellis reshape the superhero genre for the 21st century.

While their own book was being retooled to return in a slightly altered Scott Lobdell/Travis Charest version, Ellis was being frank with both himself and his readers when he decided to retool Stormwatch by using any means necessary. When it finally came to taking the characters he created and transplanting them to a better book, Ellis was trying to make sure he left nothing behind. There would be no relaunch of "Stormwatch" while he's writing its successor, the genre changing "Authority".

To ensure that his and Bryan Hitch's superhero epic got the deserved attention, with the help of sympathetic editor Ellis transported WildC.A.T.s to the aftermath of an "Aliens" movie, to save what can be saved of Stormwatch. Thematically, WildC.A.T.s weren't a bad fit to the science fictional story, considering their own alien origins, but the overall air of cynicism and finality completely defeated the typical purpose of the crossover. Despite Chris Sprouse's typically clean and excellent artwork, the action scenes seem obligatory with the aliens portrayed as an obligatory threat.

It is perhaps fitting to finish this retrospective with an example of a comic so focused on incorporating the crossover for wider continuity purposes that it fails to portray both sides with equal thought and consideration. Even this far back in his career Ellis was ambitious enough to subvert the notion of an inter company crossover as a tie in product with no story worth mentioning. The writer's arrogance was quickly backed up with the debut of both "Planetary" and "the Authority", which is certainly a far cry from the uninspired script he turned in for the fourth issue of the "WildC.A.T.s/X-Men" crossover.

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