To preface: This is all immensely self-indulgent and almost belongs in fanfic territory. Forgive me, it's just stuff I've been thinking about.
A few weeks back, I got the bug to re-read Warren Ellis's Stormwatch, which I think is stronger than his Authority, taken as a whole. Then I re-read James Robinson's Wildcats, and pretty soon I think I'll be re-visiting the Wildcats work of Alan Moore and Joe Casey, and probably the Gen 13 work of Adam Warren.
And what I realized was something I kind of already knew: I like the Wildstorm universe. Sure, it started out as basically a carbon copy of Jim Lee's '90s version of the X-Men, but it slowly grew and expanded and became something else. Lee and Brandon Choi (and others I'm sure I'm forgetting) created Gen 13 and Team 7 and this whole world where there weren't superheroes, but covert ops with super-powers. It was a distinction that didn't really show up in the solid-but-unspectacular early work, but it laid an important foundation for better writers who came later.
Specifically, it laid a foundation for Alan Moore, James Robinson and Warren Ellis, three British writers who brought the usual mixture of nostalgic fondness and absolute loathing for superheroes that drove a lot of the '80s reinvention of DC and Marvel staples (usually for the worse, occasionally for the better, but almost always interesting reading) and Joe Casey, whose particular willingness to tackle the notion of super powers actually changing the real world, was a perfect X-factor in the mix.
And so you got things like Stormwatch dealing with the United States as foreign policy bully, or a superteam so powerful that the only things that threatened them were invasions from other dimensions that would turn whole nations into rape camps or space gods come to reclaim the Earth, or a centuries-long alien war that had long since been over, but nobody remembered to tell the people still fighting it on a backwater planet. Or a superteam deciding to incorporate and use their advanced technology to fix the world, and how much that would scare the established order.
These are all really interesting notions, and the characters that were developed became really interesting. Sure, Warren Ellis had many of them turned into his own British Mary Sue, and sure, we got like four versions of a thinly-veiled corrupt Justice League, but there was a lot of originality in there too.
And then, when DC decided to relaunch the New 52, they decided to incorporate Wildstorm into the DC Universe. In all honesty, I would have done the same thing. It seemed like a good idea. An undercurrent of covert ops and darker heroes made sense, and having Voodoo and Grifter fighting their secret war against the Daemonites, while other heroes like the Justice League had never even heard of them? Interesting. Martian Manhunter being the head of a secret super-powerful team that had been fighting off world-breaking threats long before the Justice League existed? Interesting.
Unfortunately, it failed. And in hindsight, it's easy to see why. In the DC Universe, you have real superheroes, so having covert superheroes just doesn't really work. It makes the real superheroes look impotent if they don't know about them, and the covert superheroes seem superfluous and under-powered compared to the real work being done by Superman, Batman, et. al.
However... looking at what's been done with Earth-2 so far, and it's modern-day reinvention of the Justice League, I wonder if DC couldn't try again and make an Earth-3 where the Wildstorm heroes are essentially the main heroes. Just like Earth-2, you have an event happen where the "real" heroes are wiped out, leaving a vacuum for new heroes to exist. The obvious thing to do is have the Daemonites as a secret invasion force and conspiracy, controlling things since they landed here in prehistoric times, just wiping out the heroes before they could exist. Blasting Kal-El's rocket out of orbit, making sure Bruce Wayne is murdered during his training, wiping out Paradise Island, etc. Anytime a hero popped his head up or even started to have an origin, he or she was coldly and brutally dealt with by the Daemonites, who had agents everywhere.
Until you get John Lynch, and maybe some DC mainstays like King Faraday and Amanda Waller, who realize that to fight a dirty, covert foe you need dirty, covert heroes. So they create Team 7, and create superheroes with power enough to fight the Daemonites and enough training and smarts not to get killed doing it. Instead of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, you've got Grifter, Deathblow and Zealot as your "big three." And as Team 7 begins to spin out of control, factions develop. So that in the '90s (or basically five or ten years before whenever you start your "heroic age") it's a team of 7 people who will eventually go on to basically form seven different factions. Just as a thought experiment, and here I'm also stealing a little from what little I know of Justin Jordan's upcoming Team 7 New 52 book, which I'm very excited to read:
Team 7 - Not actually seven field operatives, but a codename for the seven people who know everything there is to know about the Daemonite conspiracy (The Cabal, I think it was called in early Wildstorm lore, and could be again). Amanda Waller, King Faraday, John Lynch, Henry Bendix, Kaizen Gamorra, T.A.O. and Saul Baxter (secretly Lord Emp, a Kherubim). Each with their own agenda, and with their own agents that they would run.
At any rate, Team 7 would not be an actual book, but the basis for a line of seven Wildstorm books. There could be plenty of flashbacks in the books themselves to a covert war that had been taking place between not just the Daemonites and Team 7, but the various operations run by each of the Team 7 heads. My seven books?
Wildcats - Lord Emp's faction, made up of half-Kherubim and half-Daemonite. Focusing heavily on the Halo Corporation, which is trying to undo the damage done by corporate and political evils being done by that branch of the Cabal. Supporting the overt corporate and political maneuvering would be covert ops done by the "covert action team." Heavy blend of Joe Casey's smart anti-corporate Wildcats 3.0 with plenty of action from the Wildcats 2.0 era. The lead would split between Saul Baxter and his team of corporate and political operatives and the action team, which would be Spartan, Voodoo, Warblade, Maul, Zealot and Void, possibly bringing in fan-favorites Ladytron, Savant and Condition Red later. Maybe after you kill off one of the founding members. Why isn't Grifter here? Because you want the "big three" on three different factions.
International Operations - Originally John Lynch's faction, taken over and now run by King Faraday. This is the spy book, and Grifter is the lead operative. Think SHIELD, but dirtier and more realistic. These guys have actual U.S. government ties, and nobody much likes them, because they want everybody else to play by the rules, but they don't have to. Probably would look something like James Robinson's run on Wildcats in general if you're looking for a point of comparison, with a heavy dose of Brubaker's noir take on the Wildstorm universe thrown in for good measure.
Suicide Squad - OK, this is *really* self-indulgent, but go with me on this. What if you took some of DC's characters and put them through the Wildstorm filter? What does a covert version of Wally West look like, for one example? Re-imagine some fan-favorite characters, take a good B-lister or two and make them Amanda Waller's "Dirty Dozen" to take on the Daemonites. This is also where I'd put Zealot, just to have a strong female field leader who could butt heads with a strong female commander in Waller.
Gen 13 - After getting ousted from I.O., John Lynch starts the Gen 13 project to create new superhumans, using DNA from other superhumans once run by or known to Team 7. So you've got either children of or clones of operatives from Wildcats, Suicide Squad, Stormwatch, etc. And you can do DV8 and Ivana Baiul and a darker, sinister undercurrent within Gen 13, suggesting that Lynch is in danger of being ousted again. You are also messing around with teenagers here, and can suggest what it's like to be the youngest generation in a war you never asked for. You go classic here: Fairchild, Grunge (new name/powers/look probably), Freefall, Rainmaker, Burnout and of course Anna the android. And you introduce the DV8 team as new members, slowly subverting and trying to take over so that at some point it's Lynch's proteges vs. Baiul's, and the end result is probably a mix of the two teams. If you want to get real ambitious, you can also have Lynch running side operations with Grifter, Holden Carver and other Brubaker-ish spy stuff, but that's a different thing, and might not belong in this book.
The Authority - Henry Bendix's space-based, U.N.-backed team. The public face of superheroics in this world, so they deal with both Daemonite and non-Daemonite problems, and they look like the public heroes of this world. A little bit of The Authority, but with the undercurrent of Ellis's Stormwatch Black, which was subtler and more interesting. These guys would probably butt heads pretty frequently with the Wildcats. And again, I'd go pretty classic here: Battalion, Winter, Fuji, Hellstrike from Stormwatch and Midnighter, Apollo and Jack Hawksmoor from The Authority. Probably this would be a big team with room for casualties, so you could bring in Flint, Diva, etc. etc. as well. This would be a fun place to bring in Wildstorm "flavored" DC super-villains, too. What does Ultra-Humanite look like in this universe? And doesn't Deathstroke seem like a perfect fit for Wildstorm? You could also have a lot of fun with Superman and Flash Rogues trying to be super-villains in a world where it's OK for the heroes to punch your head off on camera.
Gamorra - This would be a fun one. Instead of trying to fight the Daemonites within the system, crazy old Kaizen Gamorra just creates his own island nation and eradicates the Daemonite influence. He'd be trying to take over the world for its own good, using terrorist tactics against Daemonite threats in the name of expanding Gamorra into a Daemonite-free nation ruling the entire Earth. You'd need some sympathetic people doing the wrong things for the right reasons as his super team, and this would require a lot of new characters and world-building, but I think it'd be a fun perspective. It might be fun if Deathblow were his lead operative, a conflicted killer with ties to Zealot and Grifter.
Stormwatch - And this would be my other "villain" book (although you can argue for Lynch, Emp, Waller, even Faraday being ruthless enough to quality as villains in many cases), as Stormwatch is the covert organization run by T.A.O. Tao, like Gamorra, doesn't want to win the war for any altruistic reasons. However, he also doesn't really have any designs on world domination. To him, it's all just a big game, a distraction for his massive intellect and ego. This is where you'd use more obscure (but popular in the '90s) Wildstorm guys like Backlash, Majestic, Union and The Kindred. Weird genetic monsters, uber-powerful alien super-soldiers, these are the pieces Tao brings to the fight. And he'd have his own public corporation and political arm to deal with Saul Baxter's Halo Corporation, his own underground crime network to deal with Gen 13 and I.O., his own public superheroes (that's where Majestic and Union come in) to duke it out, PR-wise, with The Authority.
These are rough, tossed-off thoughts, and I'm sure you could get much more ambitious with them. But if I were magically put in charge of revitalizing what I think is a potentially commercially and critically successful franchise that DC is currently wasting, this is probably where I'd start.