WildCATS Trade Paperback Review

Reviewer: Jesse Baker
Story Title: Resurrection Day (WildCATs #1), Revelations (WildCATs #2), Reunification (WildCATs #3), Resolution (WildCATs #4)

Written by: Jim Lee and Brandon Choi
Penciled by: Jim Lee
Inked by: Scott Willaims
Colored by: Joe Chiodo
Lettered by: Mike Heisler
Editor: NA
Publisher: Image Comics

To celebrate the release of the first Wildcats V3.0 trade, I figure I would go back to the original WildCATs trade and do a review for it. And no, that wasn’t a typo there. Before the book was cancelled and relaunched into volume two in the late 1990s, the book was technically named WildCATs with CAT (which stood for Covert Action Teams) in capital letters. It wasn’t until the first reboot that Wildstorm realised no one called it “WildCATs” and simply followed what everyone reading the books did and called it Wildcats with no capital letters.

As for the series itself: Besides the fact that this book was one of Image Comic’s launch titles and Jim Lee’s first book after leaving the X-Men, the release of WildCATs was anticipated by those who were interesting in the bitter “who’s penis is bigger” contest going on between Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee over who’s Image book (Todd Spawn, Jim CATs) sold the most copies. It should also note that this was pre-internet, back when Wizard was still a direct market-only publication, the Comic Book Buyers Guide was had zero mainstream visibility (though it did gain mainstream exposure shortly after Image launched due to the feuding between Peter David and Erik Larsen), and back when you didn’t have columns like Lying in the Gutter and All the Rage for people to read about comic industry gossip.

Anyway, the WildCATs were Jim Lee’s big follow-up to his much hyped run on the Uncanny X-Men and it’s adjectiveless sister book and people were looking forward to reading WildCATs. Like his fellow Image creators, Jim didn’t stray that far from his Marvel roots and created a team book based loosely on the cast of the X-Men. For a comparison chart:

Spartan= Cyclops
Grifter= Gambit
Warblade= Wolverine
Voodoo= Jean Grey/Rogue
Maul= Beast
Zealot= Psylockes
Lord Emp= Professor X
Void= Storm

The team itself was a motley crew of outcasts that featured androids, alien immortals, and alien/human half-breeds. The CATs were from an alien species called the Kherubims, who were involved in a long-running war with a race of body-snatching aliens called the Daemonites. One day a battle between the two sides ended with a group of group of warriors from both sides get stranded on Earth several thousand years ago. Forced to intergrate with the humans, the Kherubims passed themselves off as human while the Daemonites possessed humans. Both sides remained at war but for the last thirty years there has been a lull in the battle as both sides have started hunting for an alien artifact of tremendous power called the Orb. The quest for the Orb would be the subject of the first arc, collected in this volume.

Synopsis

WildCATs #1

Basically we get an introduction to the team and the plot, which is your standard “Find the McGuffin” storyline. The Orb, a powerful weapon and plot device, is being hunted down by various factions including the Cabal. The Cable is run by the Daemonites and are led by the evil and powerful energy based Daemonite Helspont. The Daemonites have created a portal to their homeworld but that to activate it, they need the Orb. We then meet the Wildcats or WildCATs as they are called back then. The CATs are lead by the midget Lord Emp, who’s introduced in one of the most confusing and convoluted sequences in comics: when we first see him he is a homeless man but soon he is picked up by a limo and given a make-over and a suit to wear before marching into his penthouse apartment headquarters. Through an alien contact called The Gnome, Lord Emp learns of the existence of a new hero who has powers that can squash Helspont’s invasion plan if Emp gets to her first. The girl’s name is Voodoo, a stripper who has the gift to see Daemonites in their true form when they possess humans and possesses the ability to free those humans who have become possessed by the Daemonites. This leads to the introduction of Grifter and Zealot who, in in the issue’s big action sequence, rescues her from Helspont’s minions (including a female assassin from the Amazonian group calle the Coda, a group that would be a major part of the series later on) who are sent to kill Voodoo. The issue ends with Helspont talking to his mole inside the US Government: Bush Senior VP Dan Quayle.

WildCATs #2

This issue was released with two covers: one foil cover for the direct market and one regular cover for the newsstands. And it also features the first appearance of the mysterious Lynch, a government black ops agent who has connections with just about everyone in the Wildstorm Universe and who would become the reluctant keeper of a batch of super-powered brats called Gen 13.

The plot begins with the CATs temporarily teleporting themselves into the headquarters of the top secret government spy organization I/O and killing one of I/O’s top telepaths do to the psychic feedback caused by Void. As the CATs try and restore their damaged jet at one of Grifter’s safe-houses, Lynch sics the Black Razors onto the CATs, who are listening to Zealot give Voodoo and readers a crash course behind the backstory of the series. The CATs fight the Razors until Lord Emp shoots a nameless and featureless facemask wearing Black Razor in the knee and threatens to kill him, which draws out Lynch. Emp convinces Lynch that the Cabal have a mole inside the government and that they find out the mole’s identity when Voodoo is watching Dan Quayle bitch about the lack of family values in society and asks why a Daemonite is pissed off over at Murphy Brown being a single mother. Lynch lets the CATS go after Quayle, who is letting the Daemonites into the top secret NASA base where the Orb was being held. After beating up the Cabal flunkies, Quayle unleashes his secret weapon: Youngblood, America’s Favorite Government Funded Super-Hero team! As the CATs and Youngblood look at each other and prepare to rumble, the Gnome prepares to swoop in and steal the Orb for himself while everyone else is distracted.

And for the record, the nameless and faceless Black Razor who Lord Emp crippled would later be given a name several years later. And that name was Ben Santini, and his rage over him having his knee blown into a million pieces by a millionaire midget would fuel his war against super-powered beings and right-wing conservatives when he became the leader of the new Stormwatch.

WildCATs #3

Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood and part of the CATs team (Maul, Spartan, and Voodoo) brawl with Spartan getting the literal sh@t kicked out of him. The team keep fighting until Voodoo gets close enough to Dan Quayle and depossesses him, causing the Youngblood to stand down and drop the severed left arm of Spartan’s that they were using to beat the android to death with. Meanwhile the rest of the team confronts the Cabal and gets their butts kicked as Helspont uses the Orb to activate his portal for the Invasion force.

WildCATs #4

Another gimmick issue, as Wildcats #4 would be released on the direct market polybagged with a promo card for the WildCATs trading card series put out by TOPPS that consisted of art from the mini-series while the newsstand version was missing the card and plastic bag.

Essentially the CATs and Youngblood square off against the Cabal as Gnome steals the Orb (effectively cutting off the Daemonite invasion force) and nearly succeeds in killing Void and Helspont. Lord Emp then uses his trusty amputation gun to blast off the arm that Gnome was holding the Orb in, which causes him to jump into a strategically placed pit while Spartan sacrifices his life to destroy the base. The CATs flee the explosion and we get the obligated celebration scene which Voodoo breaks up do to the team showing no sorrow at Spartan’s sacrifice. This leads to Lord Emp revealing yet another dux de machina plot device as we learn that Spartan constantly backs-up his memories and that Emp has a new Spartan ready to activate once he downloads Spartan’s memories into the new body.

The Blow

The mini-series was a big hit despite numerous delays and the fact that there was no advance statement that WildCATs #2 and #4’s newsstand versions would be regular comics from Image, causing many would be comic speculators to fume at being jipped. Jim Lee would follow-up the mini-series with a controversial three part mini-series called “The WildCATs Trilogy”. “The WildCATs Trilogy” did not feature Jim Lee on artwork and instead featured art from the controversial up-and-coming artist Jay Lee. The decision to go with Jay Lee as artist for the follow-up alienated readers and the delay after the mini-series for the main book to resume caused the book to drop from the radar. By the time the comic was restarted up with #5, interest in the series was at a long time low and Lee began farming the book out to other writers and artists, leading to Chris Claremont, James Robinson, and even Alan Moore taking over the writing reigns of the book before the book was rebooted under Scott Lodbell and Joe Casey and turned into a corporate drama-style book as opposed to being a standard super-hero.

Character design-wise, the book is hit and miss. Characters like Grifter, Voodoo, Helspont, Maul, and Spartan were cool but Void, Zealot, and Warblade were just nightmare-like in their suckiness. And I qualify Lord Emp as being one of the WORST characters ever. Millionaire midgets who go around sleeping in cardboard boxs and amputating limbs of random people they meet is not funny.

The writing is paint-by-numbers and not groundbreaking, but writing was never really a priority when Image started. The characters are given basic personalities that would later be fleshed out but in the story collected, we don’t get much time to see Jim Lee explore them.

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