When I was eight years old – in the earliest days of my comic book fandom – there was no one cooler in comics to me than Jim Lee. The guy was the main man behind X-Men #1, a treasure amongst treasures to my childhood brain. He was the person I most closely associated with Marvel’s Merry Mutants as a whole, and they were my everything in my youth. Combine those two ideas, and you have someone who wasn’t just a good artist, but a person I held on the highest of pedestals, in a space typically reserved for luminaries like Ken Griffey, Jr. or Wolverine himself.
So when he and six of Marvel’s other biggest artists departed to form Image in 1992, it was clear where my attention would focus: Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.s, the coolest of all the Image launch titles.
Looking back on it, that might not have exactly been the case. While it had Lee’s exceptional art and appealing characters that sure seemed like the X-Men in a lot of ways, WildC.A.T.s might not have been the well-written comic early on. It was cool, but was it good? Maybe, maybe not, with your answer likely depending on what you were looking for.
That was the 1990s in comics for you, though. The early days of what would eventually become WildStorm was long on style and short on substance to match. That was largely the case for the launch titles Image Comics, even if I did – and in some cases still do! – enjoy them. Big ideas, for sure, but not always the most fully realized ones.
And yet, if you ask the right person, they’ll swear to you that WildStorm wasn’t just an imprint that eventually found substance to go along with that style, but one of the most underrated comic houses in comic book history. A place where an uneven start and unpredictable release schedule managed to mask a line that discovered new artistic voices and delivered modern classics, all springing from the same ideas and ideals that were present at the beginning.
I know that because I’m one of those people, with every fellow WildStorm fan I find being someone else I can endlessly converse with, as if the imprint’s history is a secret language we share amongst our number.