Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Egads, y'all. More 90's stuff. Those of you who have been following our somewhat affectionate but by no means uncritical look at the early 90's here recently are either gnashing your teeth in dread at this or gleefully waiting to see what kind of insane shit I say in the writing of this, especially halfway through when it's obvious I've given up making any kind of point and am just cuttin' up for its own sake.

Right, so, Wild C.A.T.S. It was--

As I was saying: It was Image's big thing, as at the time there was no one bigger than Jim Lee. Seriously, Jim Lee in the early 90's if fame could be converted to physical girth would have been our second moon. He was that big a deal. He'd just had huge success with X-Men, which had 8 million covers and sold hand over fist and made Jim Lee a household name, provided you lived in a comic store or a high school art class.

Marvel bent over backwards to keep Jim Lee on X-Men, outlasted the return of John Byrne on X-Men (only to ultimately fall to Scott Lobdell. Yes, Scott Lobdell is +1 Stamina against Jim Lee. I want you to think about that.) and was allowed to be late and grind out layouts and write and draw some . . .well, X-Men from #4-10 is a bit unfocused. As you would be, say, had you downed a gallon of LSD and had your eyes poked out.

On the plus side, Gambit hit Rogue in the face with a pie in one issue.

Anyways, the whole Image thing is happening and Jim Lee gets swept up in it and everyone is like "Oh shit y'all, what will Jim Lee do? Do you think his book will be as good as Youngblood?! [NOTE: Someone actually said this to me at the time, swear to god. Even when I was a teenager and didn't know shit about shit, I knew this was not something people should say out loud] and when it finally rolled out . . .well, Jim Lee had basically filed the serial numbers off the X-Men. Not that he didn't have company--fucking everyone at Image used the X-Men as a basis, and then later on went further back and nicked Superman and Wonder Woman.

Like Cyberforce, the initial concept of WildC.A.T.S wasn't without potential, of course: y'see Goldie Hawn has to take a ragtag football team and . . .oh, nevermind. The WildC.A.T.s (the acronym stands for Covert Action Teams) were corporate-funded squads that enforced the will of their bankroller, and would, it was suggested at the time, be pitted against other teams of a similar bent (I don't think this ever actually happened, of course)

The larger plot (WildC.A.T.s has many layers, not unlike an onion) is that the WildC.A.T.s are agents of the Lord Emp, who is a member of an alien race called the Kherubim. The bad guys are the Daemonites, because this is the level of symbolism we're working at. Generally they go about making vague cosmic pseudo-religious statements and are, by themselves, a little undercooked as far as plot motivators.

The Daemonites are tricky little shits, however, because they can possess people's bodies and take control of their minds, and for so many thousands of years, they have infiltrated many levels of power, and like threats that have penetrated into the upper echelons of power, don't really do all that much. The remit of the WildC.A.T.s is to stop the Daemonites and keep them from screwing things up and also make me grumble every time I have to slow down and put the dots in "CATS" while I'm typing.

So, hey Kazekage, I hear you say, who are these WildC.A.T.S? What is their deal? Is there perhaps some rhetorical device that would allow you to communicate an impression of their character and also score some easy points in quick hit jokes?

Man, I wish. If there were, we would call it a ROLL CALL and it would probably go something like this:

SPARTAN: Thanks to the movie Demolition Man, I keep reading his name as "JohnSpartan," a fact that was only aggravated when I found out his name was actually John. Spartan is the team leader, shoots energy blasts, and has no personality . . .

. . .however, in a rather amusing bit of intellectual aikido on the part of the creators, Spartan isn't supposed to have a personality, because he's just an android. Every time he gets killed, they just download his brain (what there is of it) into a new body and pretend nothing happened. Hence, the idea of him being Generic Uninteresting Leader Guy is entirely by design.

This would ultimately be made far to complex as the Wildstorm mythos went on, but I kind of like the "let's just get on with it"-ness the initial idea had.

WARBLADE: Warblade has liquid metal hands, because Terminator 2 was a fucking awesome movie. Warblade, thanks to his name, killing people with claws, and talking incessantly about killing people with claws, is about as close to the mindset of early 90's comics I can convey to you without us actually traveling back in time to 1992.

Warblade has no real personality either, and the effort to give him one forms the spine of WildC.A.T.S' first arc as a regular series. It's . . .well, you know what they say about good intentions and where a road paved with good intentions will take you?

MAUL: The team brick, Maul is strong and can grow to giant size and get even stronger, only he gets dumber the larger he gets. This doesn't exactly seem to be as much of a handicap as you might imagine, because everyone's pretty dumb in this book.

VOODOO: I think Voodoo is the most overdressed stripper I've ever seen. Voodoo is our point of view character (in that we are, lie her, new to all of this) because WildC.A.T.S is a book written exclusively for strippers who are also Never-Nudes. Voodoo has an astonishingly ill-defined power called "The Sight" (Not to be confused with "The Source," "The Force," or even the "Sight Beyond Sight" from the Sword of Omens) Voodoo was also an early pioneer in having regrettable tattoos, as hers is so regrettable that the damn thing changes from panel to panel.

ZEALOT: Zealot is a Coda Assassin, an ancient race of warrior women who, like all ancient races of warrior women, walk around with their boobs popping out of a unitard and their asscheeks falling out of a thong, because that is a thing that warrior women do. Zealot is the team bitch and . . .really, everything you need to know to understand WildC.A.T.S as she is the only one given any consistent characterisation (well, setting aside Chris Claremont's characterisation of her, which was Standard Chris Claremont Woman #46) Even Alan Moore could think of nothing else to do with her . . .apart from making her the team bitch.

GRIFTER: That's Brother Grifter to you. Grifter is a Coda Asssassin, or has been trained by one, which must have made gym class a bit awkward for the Coda. Zealot trained him, which is why all the Coda want to kill the both of them (I think) Grifter is supposed to be all gritty and realistic, which is why he runs around in public with a dishtowel covering his face,

VOID: Never was a character better named. Void is a corporeal version of an Orb, which is the means the Bajorans commune with the Prophets . . .oh, hang on, I forgot which day it was. Void took control of a Russian astronaut and has vaguely defined omnipotence and teleports people around. She also has powers of amazing exposition, none of which clears anything up.

EMP: Jacob Marlowe runs a coorporation called HALO, which you would think would allow him to upgrade his muscle to Master Chief. Marlowe is occasionally called Emp, and has even more vaguely defined omnipotence than Void does, as he is shooting people with energy blasts at people at one point in the book, then shooting a midget's arm off by the end of the book. Occasionally he pretends to be a homeless man for some vague reason which is supposed to be revealing of his character but doesn't make a lot of sense because nothing in this book makes a lot of sense under the merest scrutiny.

OK, that's our heroes let's get to the plot. OK, here it is: They looking for one of the Orbs, which is not a person, unlike Void, and the person who has that Orb is . . .former Vice President Dan Quayle. There are times when comics have striven to provide a mirror for current events--Civil War and Dark Reign pop immediately to mind as two examples. And it never really ends up working that well, because superhero comics really don't do nuanced, thoughtful, politics very well, as their remit is guys in tights beating the shit out of each other. If you want to do a nuanced, thoughtful allegory for the issues of today, to do it any justice you pretty much have to take out the superhero stuff or you end up with a shitty political tract with people in ridiculous outfits . . .or a shitty superhero story with a bunch of mealy-mouthed politics where the fights should be. Either that or you say: "Fuck it, the VP is an alien from space," and spend the next twenty years hoping no one ever brings it up again.

Anyways, Void has a premonition of being zapped by an orb which is held by a midget, which sets all this off. Naturally, Void's prophecy is just clear enough to give us an end goal, but just vague enough to cause a lot of trouble on the way there, because this book is three issues (ultimately 4--decompression was only at stage 1 back then) and you could do that in one. Anyways, this apparently requires a "Gifted One," who is Voodoo, so everyone goes off to the titty bar.

If this seems like a bit of a narrative hard left turn, it is.

Here we're introduced to Grifter, because Grifter likes to go to strip clubs because he enjoys seeing strippers who don't really understand the basic concept of "stripping" and he likes to see people fail. Naturally this leads to a fight, when a Coda assassin (none of the Coda assassins besides Zealot and Grifter) seem to have names. and two Daemonite guys, who are just there to get shot at. The rest of the WildC.A.T.S shows up in time for the titty bar to explode, because that is a thing which happens at the end of your first issue.

Issue 2 intros I/O, who is totally not S.H.I.E.L.D. (or a bad DOS error), and John Lynch, who is totally not Nick Fury. They stand around and yell at each other while the WildC.A.T.s fight the Black Razors, who are I/O's strikeforce. I am really not clear on why intelligence operatives where big goofy metal helmets and have big loud fights and break shit, but it's best not to dwell on it.

Issue 3 has a big fight with Youngblood, because what this book needed was more characters. What do I mean? Well, we have the 7 WildC.A.T.s, Helspont (he's the big bad guy that the WildC.A.T.S. fight. I didn't mention him in the recap because I could care less and so could the book) The Triad, who are like bad guys for the WildC.A.Ts, the Gnome (who is an evil midget who covets the Orb) and another goddamned Coda assassin, Vice President Alien, and they all have their own agendas, and they're all talking and so, of course--let's totally dump six more characters into this.

So a bunch of stuff happens. The Gnome gets an Orb, and then Emp shoots his arm off. Voodoo manages to get the alien out of Dan Quayle, Spartan dies actually accomplishing what they were trying to stop (The Daemonites are trying to open a stargate for their space fleet to come through and invade. I had to flip to the part when the plan actually gets thwarted to figure out what the plan was in the first place) and Spartan gets a new body and everything ends on a high note.

Much like Cyberforce, this book tries to cram so much in to 4 issues that it ends up collapsing under its own weight but is buoyed along by the energy that can only come from people spending every possible iota of energy doing everything they ever thought was awesome in four issues. The end result is not a good book by any means, but one with a tremendous energy to it, and energy and enthusiasm goes a long way, especially when pitched to the right audience of hyperactive 12 year olds.

Of course, we've since learned our lesson and now pitch comics to 30+ year olds and they are flaccid, lifeless, and boring as hell. I'm not saying WildC.A.T.S is the solution to that problem, I'm just saying these are two extremes, that end in dead ends . . .perhaps looking towards the middle is a better solution?

Couldn't hurt.


C. Elam said...

Wow, that song...is absolutely TERRIBLE. Even by the standards of cartoon theme songs, that is an impressive piece of awfulness.

This is in no way important, but Alan Moore altered the name of the villain in the second issue of 1963 from "Void" to "Voidoid" due to the WildC.A.T.s character. A very Alan Moore solution. But then, casting a spell on Jim Lee would have been, too.

Kazekage said...

Spoken like someone who never saw Ultraforce's intro and heard what happens when a very loud person has rough sex with a Casio keyboard.

Is any of this Image stuff important, ultimately? :) I can believe that. The level of coordination between Image's right and left hands during that time was awe-inspiring in its lack of coordination.