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.
I don’t know what it is about the 1990’s, but there seems to be an overload of special-edition/limited-edition stuff overflowing from that decade. One that reared its head in the 90’s comic industry, were Variant Covers.
It used to be that one would buy a comic book, and that was it. That was all you got. But somewhere in the early 1990’s, the gimmick of specially bagging comic books with extra incentives (like promo trading cards), or giving them alternate covers came into play.
In February 1994, the Wildstorm Productions arm of Image Comics released the beginnings of a 4-issue miniseries titled Gen 13 (originally titled Gen X, until Marvel Comics came knocking on their door).
The comic dealt with a group of super-powered teens, who after their powers manifest at a secret training facility in the desert, go on the run from the group I.O. (International Operations). Joining them is former I.O. member John Lynch, who has defected, and becomes the group’s mentor as they work out their life and new powers in La Jolla, California.
The series proved to be a surprise hit, and even ended up adding a 5th part to the storyline, and serving as a launching pad for up-and-coming artist J Scott Campbell (also known these days for his art on Danger Girl, and Wildsiderz). As it neared the end of its run in 1994, word spread that Wildstorm would make Gen 13 into an ongoing series, with the first issue released in March 1995.
I remember eagerly walking into my local comic shop, only to be greeted by a surprise. Along with 2 regular cover variants, I noticed 4-6 different covers for issue #1 sitting behind the counter (with much higher price tags, courtesy of the shop owner). Now, I had encountered variant covers before (they were a staple of the whole death/return of Superman saga DC Comics did), but Image had taken the promotion of this new release to insane levels.
According to the comic shop owner, as well as Wizard magazine, a total of 13 different covers had been released. Even though I salivated over these covers, they cost much more than a 15-year-old like myself could afford (my Dad also wouldn’t pay the $25+ per issue they were asking). Though somehow, over the course of the next year, I did manage to obtain all 13 of the covers. Nowadays, pricing on the variant covers is not as extreme as it was in 1995 (I attended the San Diego Comic-Con for the first time that year, and a couple sellers were asking upwards of $70 for a couple!!), but still, it can take a little jumping around to find these. So, let’s take a little stroll down memory lane, and look at the 13 different variant covers, and a few other odds and ends. Also, if you want to see what the covers look like at a higher resolution, simply click on the image.
I never did find one of the super-rare Do-It-Yourself variants, but over the years, I have been very fortunate to get a couple Do-It-Yourself covers drawn on by several members of the original Gen 13 crew:
But wait, that’s not all!
Btw, in case anyone is wondering, no, these are not for sale!
Now that we’ve blown through 13 covers, it may surprise you to know that there is an unofficial 14th cover. This cover was never released on retail shelves, but is part of a collected box set. Adding more wood to the collecting fire, Wildstorm released a slipcase box set containing all 13 variant covers.
The incentive to purchase these box sets was the 14th cover, signed by either Jim Lee, Brandon Choi, J Scott Campbell, or Alex Garner. Each signature set for each of the creators was limited to a numbered edition between 1500-2500. Unknown to a lot of people, there was a super-rare ‘Artists Proof’ red-box of the variant cover set that was released. If you were looking to get that exclusive 14th cover without a signature, this was where you’d find it.
Through an online source, I was able to obtain one of these rare treasures, though I was surprised that unlike the black box set, the red one does not give a number of how many were produced (mine just has the number “294” on it). I have a vague recollection of the comic store owner I used to go to in Iowa, telling me that he heard one was going for $500 (and this was in 1995!). Since then, I’ve never seen a proper price guide amount for the ‘Artists Proof’ set, which I guess just goes to show that these sets are incredibly rare.
I will admit even with the promise of an unsigned Chromium Cover inside, I have not been able to bring myself to open my set. I’ll blindly trust that the “legends” are true (and that possibly, there may be a drawn-on Do-It-Yourself cover inside too!), and keep my set sealed.
But, the fun doesn’t stop there.
Later the same year that Gen 13 was released as a regular series, Image released the trading card set Wildstorm Archives I, which was a 99-card set showcasing cover art from various comics under the Wildstorm Productions banner. These included art from comics like Wildcats, Stormwatch, Deathblow, and more. Every card series needs some chase cards (aka special incentive cards) to make people keep buying, and that’s where Gen 13 came into play. 1 out of every 6 trading card packs contained 1 of 11 holofoil cards that showed one of the variant covers.
Over the years, I have often wondered which of the covers is the most popular, as I’m sure everyone has their favorites (mine is Cover 1J!). Sometimes when I visit random comic shops, I’ll leaf through the Gen 13 back issues to see what’s sitting around. Aside from covers 1A & 1B, I often found cover 1F to be the one that would pop up most often. Of course, sex appeal does sell, and that explains why covers 1G & 1H are almost never seen in back-issue bins. Sometimes, you can get a good deal on a set selling on eBay, or in some shops (I saw a 1C at a shop the other day going for just $2!).
Keep in mind that this was not the only variant cover gimmick that Image took part in. There was an 8-cover variant set that came out in the fall of 1994, with each of Image’s main titles getting a special issue that showed all of Wildstorm Production‘s main characters front-and-center, creating a connecting image that spanned across all 8 covers. In August 1996, a spin-off from Gen 13 was created, with the series DV8. This series followed a second set of super-powered teens, although moreso a bad-guy version, and led by John Lynch’s former partner, Ivana Baiul. The release of the DV8 series was heralded with 8 variant covers. Along with a group-shot, the remaining 7 covers featured one team member partaking in one of the seven deadly sins. Unlike those from the Gen 13 release, prices for the extra covers barely reached above $10, and it was pretty easy to obtain a full set at release time from local comic shops.
After leaving Gen 13 to pursue greener pastures, J Scott Campbell and Andy Hartnell then created the Indiana Jones/James Bond homage comic series titled Danger Girl, which continued the trend of multiple variant covers. However, collecting the Gen 13 #1 variants was a cake-walk compared to all the exclusives that were released for Danger Girl (from merchant-exclusive releases, to foil-tinted cover-art, and even one cover release that was recalled!). I almost got into the hype, when my pre-order for the issue #1 Chromium cover netted me one on that issue’s release date. I held onto it for a couple years, before selling it to fund part of my trip to Comic-Con 2000. In the end, I didn’t really regret it, as my heart wasn’t quite into this new series like it had been with Gen 13.
All these years later, Gen 13 has been the only comic series in my collection that I was there for the start of. Though I can vaguely recall some of the story points all these years later, it was mainly Campbell’s art that kept me coming back for more, and by the time his art duties began to wane around issue #20, I began to pull away. It was a fun part of my teenage years collecting the series, and I still have a fondness for this little Variant Cover gimmick that Wildstorm pulled during the 1990’s.