Tag Archive | Wildstorm Productions

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.

A picture from the early days of Image Comics. (Back row, left to right: Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri; From row, left to right: Whilce Portacio, Jim Lee, Jim Valentino)

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.

All 8 of 1994’s Wildstorm Universe variant covers, compiled together into their final image (pencils by Whilce Portacio, inking by Alex Garner, color by Joe Chiodo)

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:

Team 7 #1

WildC.A.T.S. #10

Stormwatch #10

Gen 13 #5

The Kindred #3

Deathblow #5

Union #0

Wetworks #2

Wetworks #2

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.

The rare poster image featuring Whilce Portacio’s Wildstorm cover art. It measures 24 x 36 inches at full size.

There would be many Wildstorm Productions group pieces, but this is still the one that rings through greatly in my mind.

 

Gimmicks of Yesteryear – The 13 Variant Covers of Gen 13 #1

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.

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Cover #1A (Charge!) – The ‘standard’ cover of the regular series’ March 1995 release. The image would later go on to grace a chromium poster from Image Comics, and artist J Scott Campbell would use the same 5-figure setup when he penciled a cover for the series’ reboot 11 years later.

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Cover #1B (Thumbs Up) – The second cover image shows us more of a generic group shot of our main cast. Not quite as dynamic as Cover #1A, making it almost like the cool-down session after the action photography of the first cover.

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Cover #1C (Lil Gen 13) – One of Campbell’s influences according to one interview, was X-Men artist Art (Arthur) Adams. When he worked for Marvel, Adams and Chris Claremont created a series based around a younger version of the X-Men, calling them X-Babies. The cover-art here does the same thing with the kids from Gen 13, with Adams making John Lynch look very much like Professor Charles Xavier.

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Cover #1D (Barbari-Gen) – Heavy Metal artist Simon Bisley brings his painterly art-style to the characters of Gen-th Irteen. Bisley re-imagines Grunge as a Conan-like warrior, and Fairchild, Roxy, and Rainmaker as his adoring girls. Burnout it seems, wasn’t endowed with big muscles or panache, and sulks in the corner.

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Cover #1E (Your Friendly Neighborhood Grunge) – One of the most popular cover images from the early 90’s, was Spider-Man #1, released in August 1990, and drawn by Todd McFarlane. That cover’s layout is parodied here by John Cleary, with Grunge getting caught in a web of silly-string.

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Cover #1F (Gen 13 Goes Madison Avenue) – This cover has no original art that it is parodying, and instead, artist Michael Golden pokes fun at the over-commercializing of certain properties. Here, the Gen 13 cast are in danger of being buried alive under the weight of Gen 13 action figures, Gen 13 super-soakers,Gen 13 video games, and much, much more.

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Cover #1G (Lin-Gen-rie) – The 90’s wasn’t without controversy, and this cover was one of 2 that had many a young man’s tongue wagging in the breeze (mine included). Here, Roxy Spaulding (aka Freefall) poses on the cover of a lingerie magazine, that is meant to be a parody of a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. This cover was done by artist Michael Lopez, and is notable because it is original pencil art, with color added later.

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Cover #1H (Gen-et Jackson) – And we’re back to controversial covers. This one is a parody of Janet Jackson’s appearance on the September 1993 cover of Rolling Stone. This time, Caitlin Fairchild has taken the pose (rendered by Jason Pearson), looking a lot more naughty than she normally does.

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Cover #1I (The Gen 13 Bunch) – J Scott Campbell’s pencil fires up to deliver a parody of the clean-cut television family from the 60’s, with inking duties performed by Chuck Gibson. Of course, this cover is funny in regards to how Roxy is portrayed as the youngest Brady girl. The cover also includes the gang’s live-in maid named Anna, and the little green alien pet named Qeelocke, who would be introduced in issue #1.

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Cover #1J (All Dolled Up) – Caitlin Fairchild goes solo on this cover (drawn by J Scott Campbell, and inked by Tom McWeeney), meant as a parody of a paperdoll cut-out sheet. I often wondered if anyone was crazy enough to cut the items out.

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Cover #1K (Verti-Gen) – For those not in-the-know, this cover was a parody of the Vertigo imprint from DC Comics (who were known for such comics like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman), with collage duties/artwork by Joe Dunn. Along with using some art by J Scott Campbell, model Lisa Nation poses as Fairchild’s live-action counterpart.

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Cover #1L (Picto-Fiction) – One of the only covers to forgo any major art, and use a model for the character of Roxy (portrayed here by Sofia Dominguez). As anyone can tell, this is a parody of the Pulp Fiction poster. Btw, that tagline at the top of the comic is true. The mini-series that introduced the characters did win Favorite Mini-Series from Wizard Comics’ 1994 Wizard Fan Awards.

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Cover #1M (Do-It-Yourself Cover) – This to me, was the most unusual cover release, meant to emulate a blank comic-page template. Though Grunge encourages the reader to draw their own variant cover, word was that several of Image Comics’ artists had drawn on several of these, and that they were super-rare variants floating out in the ether somewhere.

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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:

This was drawn on by Jim Lee at the 1996 San Diego Comic-Con. Lee was there promoting the ‘Heroes Reborn’ reboot for Marvel Comics, but I got in line to see if he would sign a couple things. When I handed him the Do-It-Yourself cover, he started just to sign his name. It was then that I asked if he could draw Caitlin Fairchild for me, and in a few minutes, the original curve of a ‘J’ had been transformed into a strand of hair that graced Fairchild’s head (see if you can find it).

But wait, that’s not all!

Since I had first seen the Do-It-Yourself cover, it was my dream to one day get J Scott Campbell to draw Fairchild on one. I saw him several times over the last 15 years, but due to time and long lines, I never was able to get my wish…until I attended C2E2 in 2010. I brought forth my blank Do-It-Yourself cover, and explained to Campbell how long I had been pining for the ‘impossible dream.’ Even though there was a line of 4 dozen people behind me, Campbell fulfilled my wish, and in 3-5 minutes, had gone from mechanical pencil to pen, drawing Fairchild for me!

Btw, in case anyone is wondering, no, these are not for sale!

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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.

Left) The black-box variant cover set; (Right) The super-rare red-boxed 'Artists Proof'' variant cover set.

Left) The black-box variant cover set; (Right) The super-rare red-boxed ‘Artists Proof” variant cover set (Thanks, Sven!).

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.

Cover #1N (Puzzle Cover) - The jigsaw imagery is made up of art contained within the comic issue.

Cover #1N (Puzzle Cover) – The jigsaw imagery for this box set exclusive, is made up of art contained within the comic issue.

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But, the fun doesn’t stop there.

The Wildstorm Archives I chase card set, featuring 11 of the Gen 13 variant covers in a holofoil finish.

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.