Gimmicks of Yesteryear – The Wildstorm Universe’s 1994 Variant Covers Release
In the early 1990’s, some of the policies and practices with some of the big-name comic studios, didn’t sit well with some artists. This reached a head when several artists working at Marvel Comics staged an exodus, to found their own self-publishing label, which soon became known as Image Comics.
Of the artists who joined in on the new venture, such names included Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Rob Liefeld, and Erik Larsen.
Image Comics was meant as a place where creators could own their own work, and also work outside the norms of The Comics Code Authority. And thus, the different creators started their own little sub-divisions for their titles, with the likes of Todd McFarlane Productions, Top Cow Productions, and Wildstorm Productions.
Probably out of all of the different Image divisions, it was Wildstorm Productions that seemed almost like a stepchild to Marvel Comics‘ brand of X-titles (such as The Uncanny X-Men, and X-Factor). Jim Lee and several of his cohorts developed a number of titles that interlocked due to a number of characters who possessed the Gen-Factor, a genetic abnormality that causes powers to manifest. Within a few years of the founding of Image Comics, there were multiple titles serving under the Wildstorm banner. These included such titles as Wildcats, Gen 13, Deathblow, and Wetworks.
During its first few years, not much had really been done in the way of variant covers for Wildstorm Production titles. A few of the normal releases did have some specialty cover types used, but a title-wide variant cover blitz, would soon blanket all the Wildstorm titles in the Summer of 1994.
Artist Whilce Portacio had just begun his own series titled Wetworks, but was also tasked with creating a large mural of all of the Wildstorm characters, and up-and-coming inker/artist Alex Garner, was tasked with the inking of the final design. The result was an in-your-face piece of art that would span across 8 different issues, over the summer months of 1994. Each title would have their lead(s) displayed in front of a phasing background, of magenta and blue.
These titles included:
I first encountered a few of these covers on comic store shelves during July of 1994, when I saw the alternate covers for WildC.A.T.S. and Stormwatch. I didn’t consider collecting all of them, until I then got the variant covers for Wetworks #2, and Team 7 #1.
Release-wise, Team 7 #1 would be the last piece of the puzzle, when it appeared on shelves in September of 1994. The issue also marked the beginnings of a major backstory for many of the characters, in that it would finally reveal how several of them gained their Gen-Factor powers.
Of course the expansive image Portacio created would not just be relegated to a collection of variant covers. It was soon after spun off into several different permutations.
One of which was a landscape-style poster with the Wildstorm logo on the right-hand side, featuring the complete image (a recreation of which can be found at the end of this post).
There was also a portfolio set (as seen on the left), with the image broken up into 8 separate pieces, and polybagged. There were 5000 numbered sets, with the promise of one of the pieces in each one, having Whilce Portacio’s autograph.
The images would also figure into the second series of the Wildstorm Archives trading card release, becoming the series’ chase card set. The strangest thing about this variant set, is that it numbered 9 cards, with the Wildcats variant cover taking up two chromium cards. This design really throws off any attempts to try and recreate the image in card form, and I’ve never found out why it was done (unless there’s some unwritten rule that chase card sets had to number at least 9 at the time?).
Much like my post on the Gen 13 variant covers, this one was another about remembering how Wildstorm Productions‘ gimmicks (and some of their comics) has kept itself on my mind even after almost 20 years. The company would have several cross-title storylines in the next few years, from Wildstorm Rising, to Fire From Heaven. However, my memory is moreso enamored with the artistry of Wildstorm’s endeavors, and Whilce Portacio’s work is one that sticks with me as much as the work J Scott Campbell did on Gen 13.
There would be many Wildstorm Productions group pieces, but this is still the one that rings through greatly in my mind.