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Wildstorm: Stormwatch - Team Achilles Cancelled
Reported 15/04/2004
Source Newsarama

The other shoe that many feared would, has indeed dropped. Along with the cancellation of Wildcats 3.0 DC Comics has confirmed for Newsarama that StormWatch: Team Achilles has been cancelled. The series' final issue will be July’s #24.

We spoke with series writer Micah Wright for more.

Newsarama: When did you find out the book was being cancelled?

Micah Wright: Well, I started to suspect something was up two weeks ago when I learned that the third trade had been removed from the schedule for August. The series cancellation became official late last week, but I promised Wildstorm that I wouldn't comment on it until it had been made public and I keep my word about things like that.

NRAMA: And #24 is the final issue, then?

MW: Right. The last issue will be #24, on sale July 14th. It's being solicited right now, so be sure you order a couple of copies because you know how hard to find the last issue of a series can be... the retailers cut back on their orders and no one ever gets to read the last chapter!

NRAMA: For a lot of people, the timing of the cancellation news seems odd. After all, like Wildcats, StormWatch got a boost from Coup D’etat, didn't it?

MW: Oh, yeah... we almost sold more copies of the Coup crossover issue than we did of #1. Almost 300% of what we sell on a month-to-month basis. Everyone sold more, even The Authority, which was already the best-selling book in the Eye of the Storm lineup.

NRAMA: To the best of your knowledge, was the decision to end the series made before or after Coup?

MW: To the best of my knowledge, the decision was made after the Coup. I mean, to be honest, the company had known for a while that the books weren't selling all that well and we were steadily dropping month after month after month. Everyone hoped that the Coup D’etat crossover would get people excited about the books and that sales would pick up. I guess sales picked up, but not enough to justify keeping the books around.

NRAMA: Away from sales and on to the story side of things - how will things end? Will you be able to put the team in a "good" place, or are things going to have to be dropped like you’re running out with the house is on fire?

MW: Well, their house is on fire to a certain extent... they're on the run from the WS Universe's strongest group of Super Powered Beings, The Authority. The storyline in issues #22 through #24 was tying up a lot of the loose ends from earlier in the book... the prisoners in Project Entry, whatever happened to Baron Chaos, whatever happened to Citizen Soldier, that kind of thing.

My book will end at a place which feels a lot more organic than the ending to Wildcats, I think. Joe had a big 36-issue storyline to tell, whereas after doing the 9-part Citizen Soldier storyline, I had just committed to writing a series of one-and-two issue stories in order to allow more jumping-on points for the series. That was the big complaint that I heard during the Citizen Soldier run... "this books sounds fascinating, but because 4 issues have gone past, I'm going to wait for the trade." I wanted to get a bullhorn and shout "stop waiting for the trade or there won't be a trade."

Sure enough.

I've already written the last page. It's a callback to a joke from #8 and long-term readers are going to find it a nice moment to go out on.

NRAMA: What kind of support was the book getting from inside DC and Wildstorm?

MW: Well, I really enjoyed working with Alex Sinclair, my Editor at WS. Sinc rode herd on a really complicated book which had 11 artists in 24 issues. He was a consummate professional and we never shipped a single issue late, which I'm proud of. Since Joe announced the cancellation of Wildcats yesterday, I've seen some crazy Conspiracy Theory stuff online, but I think WS really put their all into pushing the Coup D’etat... but retailers and readers didn't order more of the issues which followed it, so what can you do?

As for DC proper, I'm not sure what else they could have done. Maybe if there had been more Eye of the Storm ads in Vertigo books to attempt to reach out to their readership? There were maybe things which could have been done, but I'm not a marketing expert, so I can't speak to that.

NRAMA: Speaking about the art, since you brought it up - from the start, there were some issues with the art on the series. In retrospect, could things have been handled smoother?

MW: Well, first off, I'd like to say that I could have handled things smoother... I'm a big fan of complicated comics... complex storylines, multi-faceted characterizations, heroes who aren't nice guys--I mean my comics creator heroes are people like Howard Chaykin and Warren Ellis... prickly personalities who create great, complicated work.

Frankly, I think I made the first three issues too complicated and didn't go about things introducing all of the characters in a really clear manner... a lot of readers said "this book is too much work" and stopped buying. In addition, a lot of people were offended at the "high testosterone" aspect of the early issues, but there was a reason for that as well... there were nine people on the team who needed to be introduced and fleshed out in 44 pages... so I had to be shorthand with the characterization and slowly round everyone out as the series moved forwards. Readers seem fine with that when you're talking about a team of superheroes, but reacted really negatively when it was nine human beings... probably because although we don't know any superheroes, all of us are surrounded by human beings. Some readers decided early on that Team Achilles were really creepy people and why should they read about human beings they wouldn't want to eat dinner with?

There were several lessons learned on those first few issues, I can tell you.

As for the art, I really liked Whilce Portacio's new style... I know that it wasn't the most popular with some of the internet fans, but I think he did a solid job. We lost inker Scott Williams with issue #4 - he left to go ink Jim Lee on Batman and who could blame him?

Still, some people got really upset and stopped buying the book. Then Whilce needed to take two months off after killing himself on issues #1-6, and we brought in Mark Texiera and Tomm Coker for fill-ins, but I think people thought we were changing the artist issue after issue, not that Whilce was taking time off. So some people who believed that Whilce had left they book stopped buying the book. Then when Whilce returned for #9 and #10 I was seeing people say things like "I thought this guy was gone?" and they stopped buying.

Worse yet, was the fact that although Whilce wasn't doing the interiors, he was still doing the covers up through #15, and while I thought he was knocking it out of the park every single issue, a lot of people who had already left the book thought that he was still doing the interiors so they were missing out on the new artists inside. By the time that Michael Golden came on with #15, we were halfway through a new story arc and everyone who had been missing out said "oh, looks good, but I'll wait for the trade."

That's gonna be a long wait...

When CP Smith came on the series as the new regular penciller, Bill Sienkiewicz - I got to work with Bill Sienkiewicz! inking him on #11 and a lot of people liked it... but then didn't like it a month later when Bill had to drop out as the inker and Eric Nguyen came onboard with #12. I'm proudest of the job that CP and Eric did on issues #12-#20 because they were both doing their first monthly series ever... it was a book by an entire team of rookies, essentially, me included. It was amazing watching the fan reaction online as it went from "I hate these guys" on #12 to "how dare these guys leave, I love them!" on #21 when Clement Sauve came in for two issues. #23 and #24 are being drawn by Carlos D'anda, the man who drew the Coup D’etat crossover issue, and people really responded well to that issue, so maybe sales will be good on these last two issues in June and July.

So now CP is at Marvel, where he's going to be drawing and inking the new Invaders series which comes out this summer. I think in five years, people are going to look back at this series the same way they do with the Warren Ellis/Brian Hitch StormWatch and say "Were we crazy? Why didn't we buy this great book when it was coming out monthly?"

All in all, what I learned the hard way is that consistency is what the fans want to see. Every time we changed a penciller, an inker or a cover artist, the book's sales really reflected it... sometimes up, sometimes down, and it affected how people pushed on their friends or retailers. I wrote the book the same way all through the series... but people say that it's like four or five different books and I guess I can see that. Next time I try this, I'm going with one artist forever and if he tries to leave, I'll cut off his pinkies.

NRAMA: Is there anything that you really liked coming up that you won't be able to get to do?

MW: Yeah... there were a lot of things. I was slowly replacing everyone on Team Achilles with Superhumans, so that by issue #36 Santini would look around and say "hey... I'm the only human being here!" I liked the idea of the change being so gradual that he didn't notice it until it was a done deal... it was my literary critique of the comic book marketplace in a way and the way that superhero books have pushed everything else out of the direct market. I was also going to play with Giant some more... in issue #21 - out today! run forth and buy it! - we see Santini having to make nice with Giant who has been a plague on the team since issue #2. Recently we had Giant "re-brand" himself as "The Hallibastard," a corporate-sponsored superhero who works for Hallibusker Oil. We had some good stories coming up with Hallibastard invading a Middle Eastern country for his bosses and getting really angry when the inhabitants greeted him with Islamist Supervillains and machine-gun fire instead of honey & flowers.

Eventually the plan was to make Giant see the error of his ways and rename himself Born Again, the first really self-righteous uptight Baptist Superhero. Giant was my ongoing commentary on the concept of the Superhero and I was going to just keep having him come up against StormWatch again and again.

NRAMA: From the books' very inception, you made no bones about it making some political commentary, and the characters took some controversial stances, especially in the hyper-patriotism following 9/11. Did you walk too close to the fire, in retrospect, and that could have alienated some readers?

MW: Looking back on the era when the book was running, perhaps I was a little ahead of the curve with making fun of President Bush. It's easy now... I mean David Letterman made several anti-Bush jokes last night and even a 9/11 joke and all I could think of was those first few shows after the World Trade Center was hit and Dave was just a wreck, crying on-camera and all... and for a long time, he would take offense if his guests even poked fun of Bush. He and a lot of the Media held off taking potshots at Bush for the next couple of years and are still being very gentle when they criticize his policies. That press conference on Tuesday night was one softball question after another. So here I am during this "let's go easy on Bush" era and I was out there openly mocking his ideas and policies in the Wildstorm Universe. A lot of people weren't ready for that yet, I guess. They're looking for American Power or something from their comics. I've discovered that comics readership on the whole is a very conservative one. I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised that a 50-year-old who reads Shazam is conservative, but I guess I didn't think about it going in.

At the same time, taking someone like me with a strong opinion and straightjacketing them isn't going to result in a good book that sells well, either. I think the biggest shame of the last month was when CrossGen pulled American Power. I would have loved to see Chuck Dixon's right-wing conservative feelings unleashed on a book like that... but if you took Chuck and made him write Liberal Commie Man, he'd probably chafe under those restrictions and no one would enjoy the book.

Lastly, though, I think a lot of people blew some of the politics in StormWatch way out of proportion. I take a gentle poke a GW Bush's speaking pattern and people online are calling me a traitor? Calm down, fella... it's just a comic book. Him talky funny and it's fun to poke fun of it... Tuesday night he said that one of his jobs as president is "consoling family members who have died." How could you not have fun with a President who says things like that? It doesn't mean I hate him or that I hate America or any of the other garbage people posted online... it was a book which took place at the United Nations... I couldn't very well ignore that simultaneously in the real world, GW Bush was making the United Nations out to be a hotbed of America Haters and Saddam Coddlers... it wouldn't have rung true to anyone, despite their political bent.

NRAMA: But, speaking in terms of approach you’ve publicly wondered about the state of “mature readers” titles in the marketplace, and here was StormwWatch as a mature “something different” than what was being offered elsewhere, and it didn’t catch on…

MW: Yes, and I wonder sometimes if that wasn't a big part of the problem. The entire idea of "Mature Readers Superheroes" seems to be getting a lot of pushback from the audience, the retailers and the companies. I know that there are people in the industry who feel like adding adult themes to superhero comics is some kind of abomination. The comic news sites are filled with stories about Marvel and DC making all of their superhero titles "kid friendly" again... as if that will somehow spontaneously make kids want to read comics. A lot of readers are also just looking for white-hat-black-hat stories where you can tell the good guys and bad guys apart easier.

Again, though, for all of those people who sampled the book and didn't continue to read it, we're still faced with the fact that the most copies StormWatch ever sold in a month was a scant 30,000. When you look at the number that Jim Lee's Batman sold on average versus how many copies of Coup D’etat that Jim Lee drew one month later, it's like 200,000 versus 30,000. It's one month later... Jim's still the same guy, and Ed Brubaker is one of the best comic writers out there, so this isn't a problem with the talent... so what is it? The marketing? Coup D’etat had the cover of the Previews... how can you get more prominent than that? It's definitely a resistance in the marketplace.

There are probably a lot of reasons for this: some retailers aren't comfortable with carrying Mature Readers comics, some readers don't want to read profanity or sexual situations, some people think that comic book violence is cool... but don't want to see what would really happen if someone got punched through a wall. There's also an interesting phenomenon lately... as the economy has gotten lousier and lousier, comic sales have gone down on all of the mid-and-bottom-rung titles and it's really hurt "non-core" books. Your X-Men and Batman comics are as strong as ever, but anything with a New Character or a new idea in it has been taken to the cleaners. I'll tell you something... if Joe Casey had told the exact same storylines from Wildcats 3.0 and he'd used Iron Man and Stark International as the setting, it would have sold 60,000 copies a month. There's a lot of resistance right now to new books.

And lastly, there were just a lot of people who simply never knew that the book existed... I've heard from a lot of fans who found a copy of the trade paperback at their local Barnes & Noble who had never seen the single issue of the monthly comic inside their stores. That's a retailer issue. At the same time, I've heard from retailers that they'd have a lot of issues left over at the end of the month. That's a readership issue. Or a Micah Wright & CP Smith issue.

The whole issue is a conundrum, that's for sure and I don't know how to overcome it... all I can do is push myself to make better and better comics every time at bat.

NRAMA: Can you be handed a cancellation like this, and not become cynical and jaded toward the market?

MW: Well, it's my first cancelled comic series... so I guess you could say that I lost my virginity on having the book cancelled out from under me... it's certainly not a good feeling, but at the same time, when I look back at what we accomplished on the book, I'm proud of the work. I had a psychic on the team... even after 30 years of X-Men comics, I found things Avi Barak could do with generic "mind-reading" powers that no one had ever done before. I had a lot of fun with the shapeshifter on the team and did some stuff in #24 with his stretchiness that you're never going to see Mr. Fantastic or Plastic man do. Taking superheroes to the next level like that was really fun. Then there was the great mindgames with the audience about what was going on inside Santini's brain... is he or is he not a superhero-hating bigot? Playing Citizen Soldier as both a good guy as a bad guy at the same time... and then revealing his secret identity as the Father of our Nation just made people crazy. I look back on this stuff and I'm just glad that anyone bought it, much less that it lasted twenty-four issues.

NRAMA: Where do you go from here? Do you have your eye on pitching more, or are you going to look at the other media fields you've worked in?

MW: Well, next up will be Vigilante drawn by Carlos D'Anda which comes out in August from the good people at DC Comics. That's going to be a rip-snorter of an all-out action book.

Outside of comics, I normally work with a writing partner, Jay Lender. Jay was a writer/director on Spongebob Squarepants, and we've done all of our film and television work together. We've recently been working together on comics as well, and now we've got four comics in some stage of production: a science-fiction comic titled Lifer that we're writing for Eric Nguyen - my StormWatch inker to illustrate; a graphic novel Duster with brilliant Canadian indy comics artist Kagan Mcleod; a non-superpowers action adventure book called Lucky 13 which I'm still pitching to people, and a comic about a motorcycling stuntman called The Human Rocket which Rick Remender of Blackheart Billy fame is going to draw.

In addition, as anyone who follows online gossip knows, I've always wanted to write a comic at Marvel. So, uh... do you know anyone over there you can introduce me to? I'm throwing my hat into the ring for Iron Man.

Outside of comics, Jay and I have a videogame Shadow Ops: Red Mercury which comes out on June 22nd for the X-Box and a PS2/X-Box game coming out in November; The Dukes Of Hazzard: Return of the General Lee based on the classic TV show.

We just picked up a job recently on a videogame based on a comic property everyone is familiar with and we're up for another game based on a big Christmas 2005 mega-blockbuster. On top of that, we've got two movies which we're trying to finish. It's no wonder that I'm exhausted!

NRAMA: Any final words for your StormWatch audience?

MW: Thank you so much... I really mean that. It's a tough marketplace right now and I'm really appreciative that 11,000 people were showing up to buy the book every month. As for those 3000 book-only readers who were waiting for the trades, if you want to see trades for issues #12-#24, you'd better run out and buy trades #1 and #2 and give them away to friends as gifts or something, because if trade sales don't uptick in a hurry, then we're never going to see those third or fourth trades.

Oh, and for the super die-hard fans, I want you to know that I'm leaving the story in a place such that if the marketplace ever changes again, we'll all be able to step right back into the story without blinking an eye. You know... just in case those trades start to sell really well.

Newsarama Note: Together with the cancellation of Wildcats 3.0, as well as the recent ending of Gen13, there will be only two ongoing series set in the Wildstorm Universe proper this summer, The Authority and Sleeper volume 2. The new Wetworks series by Mike Carey and Whilce Portacio is coming later in the year, as is Joe Casey’s new series, The Intimates.


So that's two of the three Wildstorm whichbooks that I started picking up recently going to be cancelled. Fingers crossed Authority has a good grip on it's position.

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