Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Why yes, I did have one more of these. Even more ironically, I seem to be more or less striding alongside the zeitgeist insofar as examining the influence of the Image guys as we stand on the precipice of twenty years after their advent.

Guess it had to happen sometime. No, not the 20 years--me actually being part of the zeitgeist.

Anyways, last time we looked and laughed and looked and laughed some more at WildC.A.T.s and--

Dammit, I hate when it does that. Anyways, we took a look at them and their somewhat headache-inducing four issue debut which featured about 8 zillion plots and twice as many characters rampaging through a story that made plenty of sense . . .provided you didn't try to y'know, read it.

Before that, we looked at Cyberforce, which was just goddamn zany and, like WildC.A.T.s, featured about 19 plots going on all at once, some rubbish poetry, and a lot of fighting and shooting of guns and guys with four arms and . . .yeah. Cyberforce's four issues were slightly less coherent than WildC.A.T.s, but Cyberforce also had the panties-moistening awesomeness that is WARBUK (women want to be with him, men want to copy his drink), and that goes a long way.

Nevertheless, these were books with plenty of things in common--for one thing they were both printed on paper--yeah, good start. Oh, and they were both printed on Earth, and the people who made the books were all carbon-based lifeforms, Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri, the creators of WildC.A.T.S. & Cyberforce, respectively, shared a studio, and oh yeah--they were both highly polished, high-energy, and incredibly muddled stabs at superhero comics from folks who ate, slept and breathed superhero comics with all the good and bad that entails.

Well as the initial flourish from Image's first wave rolled back and it came time to ramp up for the second, it was time to take stock of the first few mini-series and turn them into ongoing series. In theory, anyways--you see, Image pioneered the concept of a comic being so late that, like Schrodinger's Cat, it was actually available for sale and never at the comic store at the exact same time (And it's still going strong today--anyone see Battle Chasers #10 yet?) This was generally ignored as a bad thing at the time because whenever the books could be bothered to come out, they still sold like hotcakes, and if there's one thing the comics industry is very good at, it is fiddling while things are on fire.

Anyways, not only was it decided that Cyberforce and WildC.A.T.s would get ongoing series (Cyberforce starting with a new #1 and WildC.A.T.s started with #5, because shut up, that's why) but they would cross over in a story so awesome, so mind-boggling, so utterly gnarly, that they just had to call it . . .Killer Instinct:

Yeah, it has nothing to do with Fulgore, Jago, or Orchid, but why are you reading these, if not to enjoy me being all silly around the margins? Anyways, Killer Instinct would feature Cyberforce and the C.A.T.s teaming up because it turned out each had a member that shared a past--in this case Ripclaw from Cyberforce (who, you may remember, was the stereotypical Native America poet/Wolverine clone who had liquid metal hands or some shit and called himself a "bear." Doesn't that play entirely different now?) and Warblade (who was just a Wolverine clone with liquid metal claws and didn't really call himself much of anything) That people only thought of Riplcaw as "kinda kewl" and Warblade . . .well, not much at all, was set aside.

Anyways, let us cut right to heart of this thing. We begin with WildC.A.T.s #5, the beginning of Jim Lee's continuing love affair with big ass gatefold spreads. Zealot and Grifter are infiltrating the island of Gammorra (Image was and is many things. Subtle's not one of them) by the stealthy means of flying a giant-ass hang glider into their main building, smashing the fuck out of the window, and killing the hell out of everyone inside.

What, they were supposed to sneak in in a cardboard box?

Credit where it's due must go to Lee's use of the gatefolds here, because he draws the action so big and bold it almost feels like the pages can't contain them without expanding outward (which is why it's such a disappointment that every other time he's used this gimmick, it's always with very boring static shots of people standing around looking at stuff) and it really does make the book feel like it'd dialed up to 11.

I could have done without Grifter paraphrasing "Whoop! (there it is)" but in fairness, this is 1993, and there was no escaping that fucking song.

Anyways, Grifter runs into their target, Richtoffen, whose design I must say (especially in light of the "Jim Lee is an awful costume designer" meme that's going around as of late) is sublime, because his consummate evil is demonstrated because he wears an eyepatch and a monocole at the same time. Seriously guys, it is the equivalent of WARBUK, it is that awesome.

But Richthoffen has an ace up his sleeve--Misery, who has some ill-defined mind-control powers and frankly mind-boggling measurements. Like all gingers, she is consummately evil and demonstrates this by beating the shit out of Grifter. The rest of the WildC.A.T.s show up and demonstrate that after the first four issues of the book have merged into an effective team by splitting up, fighting Misery, letting Warblade go off and fight Misery, leaving him behind, and then blowing up the place they were supposed to infiltrate. Our Heroes, ladies and gentlemen!

Cut to Cyberforce #1, wherein we begin with Ripclaw having a nightmare about being gutted by Warblade and engaging in an interior monologue only vaguely more coherent than the Ultimate Warrior:

See, it wasn't the same clip I use for Liefeld articles this time. In this way I reward the longtime readers of this blog.

Ripclaw demonstrates how shaken up the dream has made him, by going off to scare the shit out of and kill Velocity, because he's mad that people like Velocity better than him, I guess. It is here that we encounter a page that has gained some minor Internet meme as Ripclaw somehow manages to blather out an entire essay while jumping from a tree. Oh Chris Claremont, even when you're not here, it's like you are.

The rest of Cyberforce is all like "what the hell, Bro?" and Ripclaw is all like "Don't sass me, y'all. I'm going off to write more poetry!"

Meanwhile, Stryker goes to talk some sense into Ballistic. Ballistic kicks him in the balls after trying to kill him by throwing drinking straws at him. This was time well spent.

Meanwhile, Ripclaw's hallucinating that Warblade and Misery are trying to kill him and tries to call on the spirit of the bear. But since this is not the Chuck Norris epic Forest Warrior, he gets his ass kicked, and sits bolt upright (man, he sleeps a lot) and decides they're alive even though they're both supposed to be dead.

Back to WildC.A.T.S, where so soon after making the place they were supposed to be quietly infiltrating go kaboom, they manage to get their ship kaboomed as well (they are not good at this superhero thing at all, are they?) run into Misery, who gains a couple more superpowers thanks to plot convenience, and kidnaps Warblade. The WildC.A.T.s sit back and let it happen because they, like us, don't give a shit about Warblade either.

Misery takes Warblade to the Island of the Dead, which is an island that is also a graveyard so she can stage a fight between Warblade and Riplclaw, because the three of them had some kinda hot love triangle that ended under peculiar circumstances which you'd think the story would try to explain to us, but (SPOILER) will not because it's not that kinda party.

Cyberforce tries to give us some of the backstory, but it's all a bit muddled and confusing--apparently Misery sold Warblade, Ripclaw, and Cyberdata out for reasons as yet unclear (and only made marginally more clear by stories end) and Ripclaw, who refuses to listen to Warblade that Misery's trying to get them all killed, gets stabbed by Ripclaw and thrown off a cliff, because if we didn't do that, we couldn't have a big fight, now could we?

Cut back to the present and the boys are at it again, and horror of horrors--apparently Misery is a poet as well. Must be where the name comes from.Cyberforce shows up to beat up Warblade some more (The WildC.A.T.s, ladies and gentlemen--the most successful least successful superheroes ever!) and we flip back to WildC.A.T.s for round 1 of the big Cyberforce/WildC.A.T.s fights, because even in neophyte comics companies, there is no more reliable cliche than "heroes getting into a fight because of a misunderstanding."

So they have a big fight that pitches this way and that and hey, Stormwatch shows up for one panel to . . .er, remind us that there is a book called Stormwatch and Jim Lee would like it very much if you bought a copy, I guess. The fight spills over to the final chapter in Cyberforce, Warblade and Riplcaw fight again, Cyberforce and WildC.A.T.s fight even more and it becomes painfully obvious that Misery is controlling Cyberforce, so Warblade stabs her in the gut, which as you might imagine, breaks her concentration a little.

If this was all it took, I don't know why he didn't do it earlier either. I guess he just forgot he could do it. Apparently being stabbed through the gut also solves Misery's nuttiness and is no handicap to her delivering REAMS of exposition (I always thought gut-shots were really incapacitating--I mean, even Mr. Orange shut up for awhile there) which makes frighteningly little sense. The gist of it is that Richthoffen was going to build an army of artificial people using Spartan's arm, which was torn off back in WildC.A.T.s #2 (I have to say, for an early Image book, that's some tight continuity--he said, damning it with the faintest of praise) and Richthoffen promised to make Misery effectively immortal, and if you can't believe an evil German with an eyepatch and a monocle, then who in this world can you trust, I ask you?

We close with Cyberforce and WildC.A.T.s being all chummy and pally, because that's how these crossovers tend to end. Sadly, this particular team-up is never done (or even referred to) again, which seems to be a missed opportunity, as you'd think a decent story could be made from this once the respective books had had time to get a handle on the characters.

I have such fond memories of this crossover, and of the feeling of excitement it generated, most especially among the little rag-tag group of artists that comprised my high school art class. Sure it was utterly daft and had about as much depth as a kiddie pool, but it was exciting and really seemed to us like boundary-pushing stuff. I remember we actually tried with our comics to mimic the big gatefold things Jim Lee did in that WildC.A.T.s issue and seeing if we could make it work (we could, but the more you read it, the more the paper tended to come apart on the fold lines) and pored over this stuff like it was the Zapruder film. True, we could have probably picked more worthwhile stuff to use as a guidepost, but when you're younger, you're the sum of influences more than most, and I would plead for a little clemency and indulgence--lord knows everyone has a period they go through where they don't know shit about shit and carry on anyways.

Looking back . . .well, it hasn't aged well, but it has a certain naive charm. Plus, there's a reassuring feeling of continuity that the Image guys were cranking out stuff that wore its influences on its sleeve, and we would read that and do comics where we wore our influences on our sleeves. It was kinda nice to be told it was OK to do that and it was a phase everyone goes through (and judging by Keith Giffen's ability to become a Jack Kirby cover band, is a recurring condition) and it was a part of growing up.

Still . . .I wish it had more WARBUK.

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