It originally took me the best part of a week before I read this free preview of brand new sci-fi comic, Wildcat. It wasn’t from lack of interest but rather the fact it was inside the last issue of OiNK. After realising this I wasn’t in the mood to read my favourite comic, never mind the free gift inside. But when I got around to it I found an original, exciting and yet oh so bleak story awaiting me. A day or two later I was in the shop buying the first issue proper and placing a regular order.
Created by editor Barrie Tomlinson it was very much his baby. It would be a comic with one story told over various strips but it had to kick off with a big, dramatic event, something so huge it would justify having all the strips tied in together. So how about the end of the world? The cover may have Earth at the mercy of meteors but it’s the first page inside, where these have turned into meteorites striking our world that really hit home to me. This was a seriously attention grabbing start.
The first page makes no bones about what the predictions for Earth are and I can remember being shocked as a kid. I didn’t think comics could do this sort of thing and I was instantly hooked into the scenario. It has all the markings of a disaster movie, right down to the government ignoring the expert and as I continued to read I was surprised this awesome Wildcat spacecraft, humanity’s last chance of survival, was only going to hold several hundred of us!
This preview story is all about introducing life on board and the regular characters. Written by Barrie and drawn by Ian Kennedy the eleven pages of strip action cover a lot of ground, move at a blistering pace and conclude with a cliffhanger to get the young readers excited for the premiere issue. Also given away inside Fleetway’s 2000AD, Eagle, Buster, Whizzer and Chips, Roy of the Rovers and Mask it certainly had a large pool of potential readers to pull from.
Predicting the end of everything is our main character, research scientist Turbo Jones. An apparent billionaire through some form of inheritance (being rich allows him to address the governments of the world, so some things don’t change) he buys worldwide advertising space, asking for volunteers to take humans into the stars, but he only has room for several hundred. He mentions picking suitable colonists but not what makes someone suitable, and the whole project is handily funded by more inheritances and lottery wins. While this reads as convenient now, as a young reader these sorts of things wouldn’t have interested us anyway so they only needed glossed over in the first place.
Saying that, Kitten Magee‘s finances seem to have a shady history and later she asks her robotic assistant, Crud (whose voice I always end up reading as K-9‘s from Doctor Who) to ensure her entire supply of something called ‘Lifedust’ is stored safely aboard. Along with animals reacting badly to her presence and even plants pulling away from her, there’s definitely a lot more to this particular character than her colleagues realise.
Given the welcome changes happening in our modern world now, I also like the fact she was once part of the World Campaign Against Male Domination and how she’ll lead an all-female team. Forward thinking for the day, it actually reads as quite topical now.
This is in contrast to all the lovely 80s futuristic spaceships and cityscapes. Think of the best sci-fi movies from that time and the kind of visuals they’d portray for future worlds. We’ve got shuttles that wouldn’t look out of place in Thunderbirds, self-flying taxis, futuristic “vid screens” which are clearly chunky CRT TVs with extra bits added on, as well as references to “massage slippers” (no, really), hi-tech shops, light-reactor engines and more. All this while at the same time Robo tells Turbo he’s successfully videoed the latest episode of EastEnders. It’s all great fun and has a lovely retro feel to it now.
While the purpose of the preview is to set up the main story and make people aware of the new comic, with Kitten it feels like those early episodes of Babylon 5 when hints, questions and mysteries abounded, setting up larger stories for the unwitting audience. Loner and Joe Alien are introduced although their development is kept for the regular comic. Turbo himself comes across as rather self-important to begin with, but given the circumstances this is understandable. He does seem to relax a little when around his new seconds-in-command though.
He has a robotic aid called Robo who appears to be a hybrid between robot and chimp and he can be rather snappy with him, but only because Robo insists on calling him ‘Master’ which irks Turbo. He tells Robo his friends call him Turbo, but his companion has his programming and keeps on using the term. It’s clear this back and forth has been going on for quite a while, which explains Turbo’s responses. It makes for a unique partnership and one I’m looking forward to more of.
The main characters and the Wildcat itself were all originally designed by Ian Kennedy although various artists would take them on for the fortnightly. Above is a small poster which makes up the middle pages and shows just how colourful the spacecraft responsible for the survival or extinction of the human race actually was.
An interesting little coincidence I spotted was how Turbo’s calculations proved the extinction level event he predicted happens to Earth every 67 million years. At one point he even says, “It’s happened before… and it’s about to happen again” which was similar to a popular phrase in Battlestar Galactica. However, Barrie assures me the TV show had no influence over the creation of Wildcat. It’s a nice coincidence though and, given how Earth is to be destroyed by collision with natural forces that orbit our galaxy, it makes more sense in this story.
Or at least that’s true as far Turbo’s prediction goes anyway. But on the last page that suddenly changes, just after the crew finally (after what must have been months of searching) find a planet which could in theory support human life. At this point, a few years before the predicted event our planet Earth just blows up! No meteors, no long-term destruction, no slow deaths by radiation. Just like that the entire planet and the billions left behind are gone.
“I was piling on the pressure, indicating that anything could happen in this story!”Barrie Tomlinson (Editor)
I asked Barrie about this sudden change in the final panels. “It was creating a mystery which perhaps would never be solved,” says Barrie. “Turbo had predicted something different but it happened quicker than he had anticipated. It had a shock element for characters and for readers. I was piling on the pressure, indicating that anything could happen in this story!”
Whether we’d ever have found out what really happened will itself remain a mystery but for now it ends a story which was quite brutal for kids to read. That’s why I loved it so much back then! As as adult I can see how it had to rush through so much in such a short period of time, because the comic was going to kick off its regular strips with all of the teams landing to explore this potential new planet.
I was engrossed as a ten-year-old and now as adult I’ve enjoyed the rollercoaster and am in awe of how much Barrie and Ian were able to squeeze in here. The exhilarating ride of the strip has me hyped for next week and as such the pages of “The Creatures to Come!” aren’t even needed, but I can understand why they’re here. Again, you have to remember the target audience.
I do recall the so-called “Nightmare Alien!” is actually one of Turbo’s allies but this is just one piece of the misdirection the comic would be great as, which you’ll see as its stories develop.
The preview issue was smaller than the comic it was slipped into. It’s about the height of an American comic while being a little wider but the fortnightly was going to be the same size as the monthly OiNK. A small panel on page two of the piggy publication pointed this out, as did the promo on the back of the preview itself.
There was plenty to look forward to including free gifts, lots of strips and The Wildcat Complete tales and all on big, glossy pages that I remember made the action feel epic in scale. That premiere issue of Wildcat will be reviewed on the OiNK Blog in just seven days on Friday 22nd October 2021.
Wildcat had landed. Figuratively speaking for now anyway.