3 Formative Works: Wildcats

August 5th, 2010 by | Tags: , , , ,

(with a tip of the hat to Morgan Jeske for this week’s gimmick)

It was Jim Lee and Todd McFarlane that hooked me. McFarlane was on Amazing Spider-Man, and later Spider-Man, around the time I was getting into comics. Jim Lee made a huge impression on me with X-Men #1, to the point where I even still have my issue with the crazy gatefold cover after jettisoning most of the old stuff I owned.

It was only natural that I followed them over to Image, though that was as much a happy accident of trading comics as anything intentional. I stuck with Spawn for a couple of years, inadvertently reading my first Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison stories in the process. WildC.A.T.s… I’m not sure how long I stuck with it. I definitely read it off and on, like I did everything I was into back then, and I definitely read it because a) I loved Jim Lee’s art and b) Grifter had the best mask in comics, outside of black costume Spider-Man.

Years pass. I quit comics at the height of Onslaught and the Clone Saga. I pick up a couple of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira hardcovers on the cheap in 98 or 99, fifteen a piece, and I occasionally browse the racks at my local BX, but I’m not exactly buying anything. I buy my next comic in Madrid, in late 2000, early 2001. It was Norma Editorial’s Spanish language edition of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s 300. I move back to the States in ’02, discover the graphic novels section at Booksamillion in what, early-mid ’03? I pick up Wildcats: Street Smart because, hey, I liked WildC.A.T.s back in the day! I know Scott Lobdell’s name! The art looks pretty neat! In the end, though, it was just okay in such a way that I didn’t bother looking for more.

I picked up Wildcats 3.0 at some point, I think partway its run. I don’t know why–at the time, Joe Casey and Dustin Nguyen were both completely unknown to me. But it knocked my socks off from top to bottom, from the covers to that weird Wildstorm angular lettering, and I was hooked. A few issues in and I backtracked to Wildcats again, this time pushing past the completely lackluster opening arc and picking up Wildcats: Vicious Circles.

And look, Lobdell and Travis Charest are gone, replaced with Joe Casey and Sean Phillips, with a short assist by Steve Dillon. It’s a dramatic change, as the art went from weird and realistic to a fault to being… ugly. I mean, there’s no flash in Phillips’s work, Wildstorm FX was unusually subdued, and cripes, man, there’s barely even any costumes. The panel borders were super thick, too, what is that about?

It took some getting used to, but once it clicked, it clicked hard for me. I got what Phillips and Casey were doing. Wildcats wasn’t a superhero comic, not in the traditional sense. WildC.A.T.s was about a Covert Action Team fighting a war. Wildcats, then, was about life during peacetime. The war that gave all of the Wildcats their reason for being is a distant memory.

Like Winter Men, Wildcats is about what happens next. The answers varies from person to person. Grifter drifts from place to place and job to job, desperately trying to regain old glories and remaining obsessed with Zealot, his former lover. Priscilla is running from life by drowning in leisure. Jeremy’s trying to prove his love for Pris by “fixing” her. Hadrian, always the soldier, stepped into the shoes of his former boss and attempted to run a company in a forward thinking way. Maxine Manchester… well, she’s more or less the same.

Rather than being about any particular bad guy or conflict, Wildcats is more like the chronicles of an estranged superhero family. Hadrian is the father, but he’s distant and troubled. Jeremy is trying to overachieve and win the approval of others. Pris wants anything but to be part of the family, but doesn’t realize that she has no idea how to be anything but part of the family. Grifter needs a cause, and he’s worthless without one.

At this point in my comics reading career, I’d picked up Ultimates and Authority. I was regularly reading Chris Claremont and Salvador Larroca’s X-Treme X-Men, Chuck Austen’s Uncanny X-Men, and I think I was just getting into Grant Morrison’s New X-Men. Wildcats, at the time, was the most “out there” book I was into. It starred superheroes, but actively avoided superheroic action. When it came time for one of the big bad guys to have his big showdown, he’s finished off with a bullet in the back of the head. There was plenty of X-Men-style drama, but very little of the accompanying continuity-heavy action and violence.

Wildcats was necessary for me. It was definitely part of the process that opened me up to different kinds of storytelling. Phillips is a personal favorite now, and reading comics about regular people doing regular things doesn’t seem so weird any more. Wildcats is story driven, maybe to a fault, and running into it face first while getting back into comics was definitely did me a favor. Of course, it’s all out of print now, though easily available used. DC’s printing Wildcats Version 3.0 Year One later this year, which collects the first twelve issues of that run, but I can’t really see them reprinting the run where Casey found his legs and setup 3.0.

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10 comments to “3 Formative Works: Wildcats”

  1. Wildcats, Vol. 2 is probably Casey’s best work. Version 3.0 gets a lot of praise, but the Volume 2 stuff blows it away, I find.

  2. Wildcats v2 and v3 are so excellent that I can’t even really go back to the Jim Lee stuff in v1 and even the Alan Moore work is kind of tough for me to look at. It’s a real shame at v3 (and the rest of Eye of the Storm) actually created a fairly compelling noir inflected universe of black ops and corporate espionage that perhaps an adult may find compelling that was abruptly flushed down the toilet in favor of putting everyone back in stupid brightly colored costumes.

    And yes, Grifter does have the most awesome mask in comics.

  3. I am in the same boat.. I was so in love with the prior “Image house style” that I neglected to look at V2 run early on…it wasn’t until I stumbled upon a trade at my local library and read it that I had realized the mistake I made.

    Did Wildstorm release all of V2 in trade yet? I think I got the last two trades but issues 1-7 (I think) has eluded my grasp…

  4. @Daryll B.: v2 is all collected, yeah. There’s Street Smarts, which is Lobdell Charest, and then 3-4 which are Casey/Phillips/Dillon. Here’s an Amazon search for them. They’re called Vicious Circles, Serial Boxes, and Battery Park. I think just two issues are uncollected, and they’re about Warblade, with art by… I want to say Carlos Meglia? That same kind of chunky style. I don’t think Casey wrote them, though.

  5. OK thx David…I got Circles and Boxes…I shall now hunt for Smarts and Park.

  6. I hope they drop an all-in-one Automatic Kafka soon.

  7. @david brothers: The Warblade issue is all Lobdell, but there’s also an annual done by Casey with Lee Bermejo that fits into the run and has him address Warblade (slightly). Not essential, but definitely worth picking up. Here’s my thoughts on that if you need some convincing. Oh, and there’s also a Ladytron one-shot with Eric Canete worth checking out.

  8. @Chad Nevett: Ladytron is pretty hilarious. I’m probably the only guy who liked Lobdell’s Warblade issue. At least it’s better than that hideous Ridley/Bisley series- a five issue series drawn by Simon Bisley remaining uncollected? For damn good reason.

  9. Ah, thanks for this, David. I’m a big fan of Wildcats Version 3.0 and had always been interested in Casey’s V2 work, but hadn’t really gotten a good taste of it until now.

    You know, I like Grifter’s mask too, but it seems surprisingly hard to get right, doesn’t it? I love the way Dustin Nguyen and Sean Phillips draw it, for example, but I haven’t been too enamored with the way it’s been drawn more recently. It just looks so plain these days. Or maybe the eyes are drawn too big…

  10. I may actually pick this up – the second volume of Sleeper made me wonder if I had missed something good.