So it begins! I can remember the excitement of buying this after the hype of the preview‘s end of the world storyline. This may have been the same size of paper as OiNK, but there was something about Wildcat that just made it feel bigger in my hands. It was such a complete package (the stories, the art, the characters, the scenario) the excitement kind of overwhelmed me, to be at the start of such an epic comic! Of course, with hindsight I know it only lasts 12 issues, but I’m sure as hell going to enjoy the ride again!
Ian Kennedy draws the attention grabbing front cover. Ian was a mainstay of many of creator and editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s comics and you’ll see plenty of his work this winter in blog reviews for Ring Raiders and Super Naturals, my other favourite creations of Barrie’s. As for that brilliant logo, Barrie recalls it was created by him and group art editor Doug Church and its design would be carried throughout every strip. So a mere week after my first ever comic (OiNK, keep up!) was cancelled I was collecting the first issue of its replacement. Hey, we moved on quick at that age!
We kick off with a brief, one-page recap of the preview and then we’re straight into the action. Wildcat is broken down into four five-page strips following the leaders’ expeditions and a six-page complete tale set aboard the spacecraft itself. Our first strip is Turbo Jones, the man who predicted the destruction of Earth (although it did explode instead of being hit by meteors, and a few years early) and as with all the main strips this issue we begin with his landing on the surface of our potential new home.
Barrie takes lead as writer (it’s his baby after all) and Ian stays around to bring the inaugural strip to life and Turbo down to solid ground. With a bump. The first thing I notice is how, after he mellowed when surrounded by his fellow crew towards the end of the preview, he’s reverted to being more hard edged again, particularly towards poor Robo, his android sidekick. In the preview he would snap at Robo when he called him “master”, but only because he believed friends shouldn’t do that, but here their strange relationship reminds me of that between early Judge Dredd and his home help, Walter the Robot.
If memory serves me correct (which is quite the ask these days) Turbo loosens up as the strip goes along, particularly thanks to Robo’s friendship. I have a recollection of warming to him and rooting for him with each cliffhanger. But when you think about it, it’s natural for him to be tense, he’s leading the first landing on an alien world after all and it isn’t exactly going well.
Upon arrival his team is instantly captured by a race of beings who call this region of the planet home and are naturally suspicious of these strange alien creatures called humans. Turbo doesn’t take kindly to this and his inner thoughts are full of plans for fighting his way out. But there are a couple of little hints there’s more than meets the eye here, a key theme in Wildcat throughout all of its stories. Our initial reaction as kids is meant to be of shock, to think the same as Turbo, that these wonderfully designed aliens are frightening and a potential enemy.
However, the comic would teach the characters (and thus us readers) the important lesson of not judging a book by its cover. For example, as they fly over what looks like a dinosaur one of the aliens laments how others treat these “magnificent beasts”. These lessons would play out over several issues, varying from one strip to the next. This was long-form storytelling and, while there was plenty of action and building to cliffhangers, nothing ever felt rushed. Twists and turns kept us guessing and we soon understood things weren’t always as they seemed. More on this below.
The next strip leaps off the page. Joe Alien, written by new comics writer David Robinson (Eagle, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Army of Darkness/Xena and drawn by Massimo Belardinelli (Ace Trucking Co., Sláine and a simply stunning Super Naturals strip) is the only colour strip and suits his style just perfectly. It’s also the right choice for the colour strip, being full of wonderfully grotesque plant life and that intriguing main character himself. Joe is the last of his race, who were all fitted with external brain packs at birth to absorb as much knowledge as possible throughout life to share this with other species. Oh, and they had telescopic limbs.
In this first chapter Joe and his team get acquainted (Joe showing them what happens if his brain becomes disconnected) and notice the landing craft’s scanners indicate the area is rich in vegetation but no other lifeforms at all, so it’s safe to explore. Have they never seen a horror movie in the distant future? It’s not long before a trooper goes missing after encountering a hallucination plant, giving him a vision of his favourite night club, making him want to walk inside without realising the imaginary doors are actually its big, slobbering mouth.
The “burp” just makes this scene. This is a sort of mini-cliffhanger as the strip is split between a three-page chunk and another two pages in the centre of the comic. This was my first exposure to Massimo’s work as a kid and I loved it. The plants feel really textured and the humans themselves have unique chunky proportions to them, bringing a real cartoony feel to proceedings and giving us a false sense of security before the horrors begin.
Our next character is our female lead and by far the most intriguing going in to this issue, Kitten Magee. Between mysteriously avoiding discussion about her father’s death whose money she inherited and telling her robotic pet Crud to make sure her “life dust” supply is packed, the preview certainly piqued my interest in this character more than any other. Refusing to have any men on her team, she and her colleagues land on the planet in a remote jungle swamp area ready for action.
Kitten’s team are the only ones named and given unique character traits rather than being unnamed troopers. We’re introduced to Casandra Cardeti and Doc Barnes in this first chapter and to see the beginnings of a proper team and their interactions as fleshed out characters set this strip apart from the others. It may be all action from beginning to end, but it also manages to cram in enough drama and character development to make for compelling reading.
Encountering a slug-type creature and a giant water-based monster that work together to catch prey, Kitten uses her cunning, physicality and some unique jewellery to cut, slice and burn her way out of trouble just in time. Written by James Tomlinson writing as ‘James Nicholas’ (Eagle, Super Naturals, Scream), the fantastic, almost scratchy artwork of the late, great José Ortiz (The House of Daemon, The Thirteenth Floor, Rogue Trooper) adds a great deal of atmosphere to the jungle and an immediacy to the action. It’s thrilling to look at.
As a child I was wondering if we humans were always going to assume something different was to be feared but then Doc Barnes laments the creatures’ demise. This was another hint for me that this comic was really teaching us something. It was different and it was laying down the basics here before developing really rather quickly.
In the end Kitten and her team walk off, unaware of the fat male presence floating menacingly above them, hidden in the trees. I can remember the look of this guy and his race but nothing else, so I’m eager to get stuck into further chapters of this strip and see where it goes.
“I was delighted to be offered Loner as my character.”David Pugh
After Kitten there’s a double-page spread of apparent reader contributions but how is that possible for a first issue? According to Barrie he has memories of visiting neighbouring families of his, knowing where children of the right age bracket were living and asking them to contribute to it after showing them a dummy issue. I know of only one other comic which did something similar and that was #1 of The Transformers which took a dummy issue to a local school to gather feedback on the comic for letters.
Back to the strip action and the moment I’ve been waiting for has arrived. A former mercenary who always worked on his own, with only his specially modified classic six-shooter ‘Babe‘ for company, a rare black hero in British children’s comics of the time takes centre stage at last. Meet my favourite Wildcat character, Loner.
Still arriving down in a multi-person pod, highlighting the sense of isolation in the very first panel, Loner finds himself in a desolate part of the planet and he isn’t happy about it. Seeking some action he finds a previous radiation storm causes him to lose contact with Wildcat so he takes to exploring the rocky desert landscape.
A wide image really brings home the feeling of him being all alone. At least for now anyway. A falling rock is no accident and he spots some indistinct alien figures in the shadows. It surprised me to read this for this review and spot humanoid beings were responsible because I can only remember the little fur balls and the giant, crazy lizard monster to come. More on him in a later review and believe me, if you think the art here is great it’s incredible in coming issues!
Loner was created and written by Barrie specifically with artist David Pugh in mind. To quote David from 2019’s Loner graphic novel, “I was delighted to be offered Loner as my character. I had perfected a black and white style which I felt had enough texture to not need colour. I enjoyed the challenge of creating a handsome, cool and tough black guy. I was listening to a lot of West African music so my Loner became a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Senegalese singer Baba Maal.” I can see it! Indeed, Barrie told me it was hugely important for him to have both a female lead and a black lead because they were woefully underrepresented in UK children’s comics.
Falling through the ground and discovering a whole hidden world lit by luminescent rocks he finds little furry creatures he thinks could be a source of food. But when one suddenly attacks him, electrifying him, he shoots it dead. Next thing a deafening chorus of chirps erupt from dozens of the creatures surrounding him. One shock may have been a slight annoyance, but this many could kill him. Remembering how these creatures would become his friends later, it’s so interesting to go back to their first encounter.
David says working on Loner was the happiest year in his comics career and you’ll see as we go along how this comes across on the page. For now he’s the main attraction (alongside the free gift) for the second issue in a fortnight’s time. Interesting to see the planet get named here first instead of in one of the strips. Loner was not only my favourite Wildcat character, he was one of my very favourite comics creations from all the titles I collected at the time. I’m looking forward to seeing if he matches up to the memories.
The final strip is The Wildcat Complete. Each issue would end with a slightly longer story set aboard Wildcat itself. Just right, since the comic is named after it. This anthology series would often be of the horror genre with a very Twilight Zone feeling to the stories. For this first instalment the artist is Enrique Alcatena (Batman, Conan, Aliens) and his art brings a suitable spookiness to the Wildcat pilot Lancelot Knight‘s (subtle heroic name) discovery of a strange object outside.
It’s nice to see the inner workings of the Wildcat and get a chance to meet some of the crew. I’m also very happy to see a perfectly 80s sci-fi bridge to kick things off in. What he spots looks remarkably like one of NASA’s Explorer craft, which the young readers would’ve known about at the time. While they were current designs to us, they’re an ancient space craft here.
We find out the one now cruising past the Wildcat famously went missing in 1999, still 11 years in the future to readers but soon enough to make this fantastical tale feel closer to home. With a diverse crew from all over the world this Explorer was sent into space to explode our planet’s last nuclear weapon. We were so optimistic in the late 80s, weren’t we? It has now suddenly showed up again right next to the last remaining human beings in the universe. Naturally Lancelot has to go and explore.
I’ve distinct memories of seeing these ghostly figures and their rotten corpses and the impact it had on me. I knew right there and then this comic was going to continuously surprise me. The Wildcat Complete tales in particular, being an anthology, could be absolutely anything! What a rush that was.
After his own shuttle accidentally disconnects from the Explorer, Lancelot is trapped on board with the souls of the brave crew, who can’t rest until their mission is complete. His shuttle drifts away, as does any hope of ever returning to the Wildcat but Lancelot surprisingly makes peace with his predicament, seeing it as an honour to be able to help these personal heroes. It ends with a lovely panel of the now deceased crew, content at last, with their new eternal companion.
The back cover of each issue would have a colour pin-up of one of the main characters or alien creatures and they kick off with Kitten Magee and Crud, bringing to an end the most original premiere issue of a comic I’ve ever read. A fortnight sounds like a long time to wait for the next instalments of all these great stories but I know it’ll be worth the wait.
I remember thinking the comic somehow kept outdoing itself each issue. Let’s hope it lives up to those expectations now. Remember, remember, Wildcat returns to the blog on Friday 5th November.