Tuesday, October 30, 2007

IMAGE COMICS WEEK – WILDC.A.T.S


WILDC.A.T.S #1 – August 1992


Resurrection Day
Credits: Jim Lee (writer, penciler), Brandon Choi (writer), Scott Williams (inker), Michael Heisler (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist)


Summary
Void rescues a homeless dwarf named Jacob Marlowe from a group of thugs. She tells him that he has a great destiny to fulfill, and within two years he is a multi-billionaire. He has assembled a team of super-powered characters called WildC.A.T.S (Spartan, Maul, and Warblade) in order to alter Void’s visions of the future. Helspont, the leader of a villainous group known as the Cabal, has learned of the location of “the third gifted one”, while the mysterious Gnome gives Marlowe the same information in exchange for a future favor. The gifted one is an exotic dancer named “Voodoo”, and she is also being tracked by the mysterious Grifter and Zealot. A member of the Coda (a group of female assassins) and two aliens disguised as humans infiltrate the club where Voodoo dances, and are confronted by Grifter. The WildC.A.T.S soon arrive and rescue Voodoo. Marlowe asks Grifter and Zealot to join him, as the Coda awakens and detonates a bomb inside the club.


Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority
The word “ass” is censored, but “bitch” is not. There’s a reference to wet dreams, and the bulk of the action in this story takes place in a strip club.


Gimmicks
There are two trading cards bound in the middle, one of Spartan and one of Voodoo. You learn more about the characters from the cards than from anything in the actual story.


Review
I decided to start with WildC.A.T.S because it has the most obvious connection to the X-Men franchise. Jim Lee began his run on Uncanny X-Men in 1989 (as a fill-in artist who became so popular he was given the book permanently) before moving over to its spinoff X-Men in 1991. By the end of that year, he was plotting both titles while still penciling X-Men. By the summer of 1992, Lee was gone from Marvel and WildC.A.T.S was on the stands. WildC.A.T.S is an amalgam of the X-Men (characters born with super powers), Transformers (two alien groups taking their fight to Earth), and a little G. I. Joe (cool vehicles, lots of military-style acronyms). Combine that with Jim Lee’s art, and this title seemed to have more commercial potential than the rest of Image’s line-up. WildC.A.T.S did go on to have its own CBS cartoon show and action figure line, but neither lasted for very long. Spawn turned out to be the most commercially successful property from the early Image line, but even that success faded by the end of the ‘90s.


The early Image titles were heavily criticized for lacking any plot, but that isn’t really the case with WildC.A.T.S. If anything, there’s too much going on. Once again, Lee falls into the trap of introducing too many characters too quickly without properly establishing who they are or what they want. I’ve looked through this issue three times and can’t find the word “WildC.A.T.S” anywhere inside the story. If you can’t get around to naming your team in the first issue, something’s probably wrong. The story’s just too busy racing along and introducing one group of characters after the next. In a way, it’s nice to see a creator so excited about his ideas and not dragging things out, but Lee just introduces too much, too quickly. The script (written by Choi, I assume) seems to be heavily inspired by Chris Claremont. I won’t say it’s needlessly verbose, but it reads more like something from the early ‘80s than what you would expect from an early Image comic. When the narrative captions shift to Grifter’s inner monologue, the script suddenly turns into a bad Frank Miller homage.


The early promise of Image was that you were going to see your favorite Marvel creators doing whatever they wanted without restrictions. Lee pushes the envelope a little bit, but it seems pretty restrained. It’s about as violent as his Marvel work, with a little more sexuality; one of the main characters is a stripper, which did seem daring at the time, and Lee gives Zealot outrageous proportions in her debut appearance. The paper quality doesn’t have the shiny and slick look that Image is known for, but it is nicer than what Marvel was doing at the time. The coloring is much more sophisticated than anything Marvel was doing in 1992, thanks to digital separations. There’s also twenty-eight pages of story, six more than the industry standard of the time, at Image’s standard price of $1.95. I should also point out that Lee’s art has improved since his later X-Men issues. Lee had a lot of enthusiasm about this book, and it shows. Unfortunately, the story is just too chaotic.


WILDC.A.T.S #2 – October 1992


Revelations
Credits: Jim Lee (writer, penciler), Brandon Choi (writer), Scott Williams (inker), Michael Heisler (letterer), Joe Chiodo (colorist)


Summary
Secret government agency I/O detects the presence of the WildC.A.T.S as Void teleports them away from the explosion. I/O sends its operatives to fight the team, but Marlowe recognizes their leader, Lynch, and they decide to team up to stop the Daemonite reunification. Zealot explains to Voodoo that they are descendants of an alien race known as the Kherubim, and that the Daemonites and Kherubim have been fighting on Earth for centuries. The Daemonites are now searching for an orb that will enable them to reunite with their race and destroy the Kherubim. Voodoo uses her power to see Daemonites in disguise to perceive that Vice President Dan Quayle is secretly a Daemonite. The team travels to a NASA base, where Quayle is planning to release the orb. The team is discovered and faces Quayle’s bodyguards, the government sponsored super-team, Youngblood.


Gimmicks
There’s a card-stock, holographic cover that doesn’t look good in any light I place it under. There’s also a coupon for the special Image Comics #0 comic, which was delayed for months (was it ever released?). The coupon is huge and interrupts a two-page spread in the middle of the book.


Imitation and Flattery
The villain Pike looks a lot like Deadpool (who looks a lot like Spider-Man). Warblade turns his fingers into claws, not unlike a certain X-Man.


Production Note
Lee comments that the book is four to five weeks late, blaming the delay on the birth of his daughter. He’s disappointed that he wasn’t able to keep up with the monthly schedule he kept for six years.


Review
Even more characters, none with any real personality, show up. I’m starting to wonder if Lee was in some sort of competition with Rob Liefeld to see who could trademark the most names. The WildC.A.T.S are given an origin that takes up less than one page before the story jumps to another scene. This is a pretty looking comic, featuring nice art and vibrant colors, but it’s not interesting to read at all. The book is filled with dialogue like “a zebra alert psi-storm is coning in on us” and “the rogue psi-op’s power signature in the Q-P field left an echo trail”. It’s like an X-Men comic, only without any engaging characters or relevant metaphors.


WETWORKS


Credits: While Portacio (plot/pencils), Brandon Choi (plot/script), Scott Williams (inker), Michael Heisler (letterer), Joe Rosas (colorist)


Summary
A man with gold armor (or skin?) named Dane kills a group of armed men. When he’s finished, a group of more people in gold armor burst through the wall.


Review
This is a preview of Wetworks, a title that was originally going to be an original Image series, but came out years later after Whilce Portacio’s hiatus. This back-up truly has no plot, but in fairness, it’s only four pages long.


WILDC.A.T.S #3 – January 1993


Reunification!
Credits: Jim Lee (writer, penciler), Brandon Choi (writer), Scott Williams (inker), Michael Heisler (letterer), Joe Chiodo (colorist)


Summary
Maul, Spartan, and Voodoo face Youngblood, while the rest of the WildC.A.T.S search for the control center. They soon discover Helspont and Daemonite scientist M’Koi are preparing to breach the orb. During the fight, Warblade kills M’Koi, but Helspont, Pike, and the Coda are able to defeat the team. Meanwhile, Voodoo uses her powers to exorcise Dan Quayle of the Daemonite possessing his body, convincing Youngblood to stop the fight. Three floors below, the Gnome and his men are making plans to capture the orb themselves. Finally, Helspont breaches the orb, creating a portal in space for Daemonite ships to pass through.


Review
This is the “big beat down” issue, but even the action is bogged down by too many characters and too much pseudo-scientific nonsense. There are over twenty characters in this issue, which is pretty ridiculous. The Image founders seemed to enjoy crossing over with each other’s titles, I guess in an attempt to follow the Marvel tradition of establishing a shared universe. Lee does a good job adapting Liefeld’s characters to his own style, but he seems to lose interest in drawing them just a few pages into the issue. The idea of Dan Quayle secretly being possessed by an alien is slightly amusing, but it’s only a small part of this story. If this issue was only slick-looking characters beating on each other, this would at least be a fun action comic. Instead, almost every page is weighed down with heavy captions and dialogue like “He has also deactivated the fusion reactors so that we may enter the orb containment chamber”. Zzzzzz….


WILDC.A.T.S #4 – March 1993


Resolution
Credits: Jim Lee (writer, penciler), Brandon Choi (writer), Scott Williams (inker), Michael Heisler (letterer), Joe Chiodo (colorist)


Summary
Youngblood and the remaining members of WildC.A.T.S team up to stop Helspont. Spartan uses his android body to deactivate the reactor relay switch, which fries his body but shuts down Helspont’s stargate. Helspont decides to use the orb itself to kill the WildC.A.T.S, but he discovers that Gnome and his Triad have stolen it. The Triad attacks the team, and Gnome blasts Void with the orb. Marlowe shoots Gnome’s arm off, dropping the orb down a reactor. Before the orb explodes, Marlowe and Void combine their powers and teleport the team away. As the team escapes, Voodoo learns that Spartan is being revived into another cyber-synthetic body.


Gimmicks
This issue is polybagged with a trading card by Jim Lee.
There’s also a preview of Larry Stroman’s Tribe in the back of this issue. I’d review it, but I honestly can’t make any sense out of it.


Review
Well, it’s more of the same. The WildC.A.T.S and Youngblood stop Helspont pretty easily, and then face a totally separate group of villains before more things blow up and they teleport away. Gnome and the Triad are a group of extremely underdeveloped characters with no motivation, so really, who cares that they’ve turned on the WildC.A.T.S? Helspont and the Daemonites have at least been established as credible villains, so there’s at little investment in seeing a fight with those characters. Tossing in four more guys to fight at the very end just feels lazy. Just to confirm that this is the early ‘90s, Gnome attempts to hold Marlowe to the promise he made earlier, only to have Marlowe reply, “Whoever said I was a hero?” Of course, Marlowe stopping Gnome actually isn’t anti-heroic, but he still seems proud not to be a hero. I don’t know how exactly the “heroes who don’t act like heroes” trend came about, but it’s kind of disturbing in hindsight. None of the WildC.A.T.S characters come across as particularly heroic in these issues; even though they are fighting to stop aliens from taking over the Earth, they seem to be doing it mainly to continue their war against the Daemonites. This could potentially be interesting, but instead it just makes the characters more unlikable.


So, that’s WildC.A.T.S. It looks nice, but it’s a cluttered book that’s kind of a chore to read.

4 comments:

evan said...

Yeah, Image 0 did come out, but I have no idea when. I bought it as a back issue years later.

Enjoying the blog, by the way!

De said...

I remember buying two copies of the books with Image #0 coupons but never got around to cutting them out. Maybe I should have my copies slabbed in lucite and see if I can squeeze some poor sap out of $100 on the eBay.

At the time, I thought WildCATs was "the bomb" (as the kids used to say) because it was so slickly produced and had a hint of a sci-fi story that didn't require much effort to read. I think it's kind of interesting that they are part of the DC Universe now, however peripheral that relationship might be.

Justin Boatwright said...

I still have very fond memories of the WildCATs launch and even if it doesn't hold up well these days at least it has the distinction of making possible vols 2 and 3 of the series by Joe Casey, which were excellent. I was looking forward to seeing what Grant Morrison would do with the characters but we know how that turned out...

Luke said...

As a 12 year old I never gave it much thought, but in retrospect, it seems very strange that these 7 guys, who broke away from Marvel for "creative freedom," decided all to do superheroes of one type or another. I never read it, but judging from your commentary, WildC.A.T.s seems like Lee had a lot of good ideas, but he was like a kid in the sandbox with too many toys. The concept is pretty sound at least, since it seems to get revived every few years.

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