Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Borg Match--Marvel/Malibu Vs. DC/Wildstorm

Tweets, conversations, quarter bin finds and other ephemera have put me in a mood to examine this particular question:

Nearly twenty years ago, Marvel bought and absorbed Malibu comics. It's been nearly 15 years since DC gobbled up Wildstorm. So how do those compare?

One popular theory is that the real reason Marvel purchased Malibu was to get access to Malibu's then high-tech coloring studio. Perhaps that's true, but Marvel surely made a pretty big effort to integrate Malibu, although that was obviously unsuccessful.

Almost immediately after the acquisition, Malibu launched the Godwheel event, bringing Thor over for a visit and establishing the Malibu universe as an alternate dimension in Marvel's cosmological scheme:

Not too much later, Marvel cancelled the existing line, and used an Avengers/Ultraforce series to re-launch the Malibu Universe:

Marvel made sure to seed a number of their own characters into the reborn universe. The Black Knight became the new leader of Ultraforce...

The Juggernaut came over to join the "All New" Exiles...

Adam Warlock became a regular in Rune, with a quest for the Soul Gems being the focus.

Then they had a multi-company crossover, the Phoenix Resurrection, which was essentially AvX 16 years early...

And we had a whole series of one shot inter-universe team-ups:

There were plenty more of those...

So it's hard to say that Marvel bought Malibu just for production reasons, as they made a pretty game effort of using Marvel intellectual properties to draw attention to Earth-93060.

But to no avail, as most of the Malibu mags were cancelled again within a year, never to be seen again, as undefined contractual issues have kept them from resurfacing.

Now, DC played the long game with their acquisition. For the first several years, they were merely publisher and distributor, leaving the Wildstorm books alone (although their are stories of editorial some interference).

After years of Wildstorm never finding continuity with creators or directions, DC began to assert itself, first with a few crossovers, and eventually they the Wildstorm Universe to be Earth-50. And of course, DC used Flushpoint to end that Wildstorm Universe, and integrate it as part of the all-new, all-different nu52 (no word if Earth-50 is still the "pure" Wildstorm Universe...).

So, now a year after the creative merger, let's ask: has DC been more successful than Marvel with their newly integrated universe?

I think the jury is still out, and to understand why, we need to see where Marvel went wrong, and where DC may--may--be repeating their mistakes.

Obviously, Marvel's careening towards bankruptcy at the time and the chaotic instability of the editorial staff were major contributors to Marvel-Malibu failing. But DC's not going bankrupt any time soon, and having Wildstorm's founder Jim Lee as co-publisher would seem to ensure that there is no lack of will to make it work.

Marvel also erred by keeping Malibu a separate imprint, I think. Many comic stores still shelved the books in the "independent ghetto," blunting the benefits of the crossovers, and guaranteeing lower sales compared to Marvel's own comics. So another plus for DC there, for avoiding that mistake--Wildstorm IS DC now, no one can miss it, and the books benefit from that.

But not so fast...DC is still repeating some of Marvel's miscues. Look at those covers above: almost all of the crossovers occurred under the Malibu imprint, and not in actual Marvel titles. Similarly, the characters who got ported over to the Malibu books were hardly the most impressive, or the most likely to drive sales. Black Knight? Really? Most people didn't care about him when he was with the actual Avengers, let alone Ultraforce. Juggernaut?? Adam Warlock? Those guys have never moved a lot of books.

No, Marvel's approach was too one-way, in the wrong direction, and needed bigger stars. They should have had some of the crossovers occur in Marvel mags, and not in one-shots, but in the proper titles. Have Prime guest in a couple of issues of Avengers. Heck, restart Marvel Two-In-One and have Ben Grimm team up with a different Malibu star each month. And they should exported some real stars to Malibu books. Have Kitty Pryde or Nightcrawler join the Exiles. Have Hawkeye or Namor or Cyclops end up leading Ultraforce. Have Iron Man & Prototype switch universes for a bit.

But that's not what happened. Marvel did try hard, but in a pretty conservative manner (and it's possible that some of those mysterious contractual obligations played a part in that), and the Malibu Universe didn't catch on. Maybe it still wouldn't have worked, but they should have been more aggressive.

And I think that's where DC and Wildstorm are right now. J'onn J'onzz in Stormwatch is the equivalent of Black Knight in Ultraforce--it's not bold enough a move, and it's all in the wrong direction.

Yes, there have been some crossovers...but again, it's mostly the B and C books and characters. Stormwatch/Red Lanterns? That sounds like a "who's most likely to get cancelled next" contest. Some characters have turned up hither and yon, but probably the biggest name who has turned up in a former Wildstorm book is Green Arrow. So why the hell hasn't Batman or Superman guested in one of these titles?

Whereas in "DC" books, aside from various Daemonite references and some Gen 13 riffs in the Superboy/Titans/Ravagers corner, the Wildstorm influence is pretty faint. But if you want us to believe that Wildstorm is actually a part of the actual DC Universe, we need some heroes in the keystone titles. Why no Wildstorm characters in the Justice League, which DC touts as its "cornerstone" title? Aside from a Daemonite villain, there's been no Wildstorm whatsoever in the Superman books, the Batman books, Wonder Woman, Flash...this is most assuredly not how you build up the popularity of your absorbed universe. And why in the name of Rao don't you have Jim Lee drawing some books with these guys in there?!?!?!?

I'm no big fan of the Wildstorm characters, so I've got no horse in this race, not really. But Voodoo has been cancelled, Grifter reportedly is on the edge, no one seems very interested in the post-Cornell Stormwatch, and a new Team 7 consisting of 60% DC heroes focused on fighting DC heroes seems more like trademark preservation than an actual desire to make Wildstorm an integral part of the nu52.

So one year in, I can very much see Wildstorm going the way of Malibu, unless DC ups their game. Come on, DC--if you want us to take the Wildstorm incorporation seriously, act like it!! Enough half-assed sorta kindas...commit to the idea, or it will die!


Fred said...

"no Wildstorm whatsoever in the Superman books"
For what it is worth Helspont was the featured villain for two of the nDCU Superman issues. He showed that he may, or may not be, more powerful than Superman and tried to recruit him since they are both aliens.

snell said...

I did preface that with "aside from a Daemonite villain," which I meant to cover Helspont's appearance. Apologies if I should have been clearer.

And the larger point still stands--it did nothing to promote any of the Wildstorm heroes.

Siskoid said...

You're absolutely right, even if I really don't want any Wildstorm in my DC Universe.

Wildstorm characters are still in a ghetto and point taken about moving characters in the wrong direction.

Compare to DC's integration of the Charlton heroes in the 80s, because that was a recipe for success. Though Blue Beetle and Captain Atom had their own books, they were quickly integrated into the Justice League, and today are still important names in the DCU (along with the Question).

Wildstorm is being inegrated about as well as Milestone or Red Circle were.

Stephen said...

I am I the only history nerd that thinks "Hellespont" instead of "Hell Spawned" for Helspont? Does he have his greatest power in the narrow strait between Asia and Europe? No...probably just me...

Siskoid said...

No, that's all I hear too. "Hell Spawned" never even occured to me before now. A terrible pun. Wildstorm characters have the most atrocious names.

PCabezuelo said...

I wonder if maybe part of it is since the Wildstorm characters don't really have brand recognition outside of comics (ie. cartoons, movies and I'm guessing video games) DC doesn't really feel like investing too much in them. Consider Cyborg in JL - when it came time to choosing a seventh member to replace J'onn J'onnz (which very easily could have been a Wildstorm character) they went with a character I'm sure they felt non-comic readers might recognize from the Teen Titans cartoon and who had some kind of brand recognition.

Anyway, since it's obvious that much of what's happening at DC is being shaped by what goes on at WB, this may be why Wildstorm is not seen as a priority.

PS. thanks for the history lesson on Malibu - I must have been in a comic coma cause none of that registered at all at the time.