WiLDCAT #2: STiCKiNG AROUND

We all know the risks of buying classic comics on eBay and that’s why I always check either in the description or with a message to the seller that all the pages are included and intact. This was listed as being in mint condition and it really is, but what the seller failed to mention was that it also came complete with its free gift. In fact two copies of the gift. To go along with that lovely depiction of the Wildcat spaceship by Ian Kennedy are stickers also drawn by the man himself.

These were to be attached to the free poster that came with the previous issue, which I haven’t been able to acquire yet, but even on their own they’re a cool gift. None of the aliens (at least in these stickers, there were more given away with the first few issues) relate to any of the stories inside, so this was simply a case of Ian’s imagination running wild. I think you’ll agree his they’re great and very typical of his work. Brilliant stuff.

With this being only the second issue there’s another recap page to kick things off with for new readers who missed out on the preview and issue one, although the comic does ask them why they missed it! The page itself feels a bit like an 80s tabloid layout which is a nice touch, giving the headline news of the story an immediacy I’m sure was appreciated at the time.

After this it’s on to the second part of Turbo Jones‘ story and unfortunately it looks like Ian is no longer the artist for the leader of the daring planetary expedition.

But you needn’t fear because in his place the regular artist goes by the name Vanyo (Death Wish, Storm Force, Ghost Squad), which was actually the pseudonym used by two Spanish brothers, Vicente Vano Ibarra and Eduardo Vano Ibarra. I asked Barrie if he remembers which brother drew Turbo but because they worked through an agency he was never sure which one was contributing which art to his comics. However, on their work he did say, “I do know they kept up a very high standard of artwork and I am a great fan of their work.” I think we can all agree on that.

Their line work brings dramatic facial expressions to Turbo that really humanise him, and adds a real solid feel to the ground-shaking action throughout. In this part of the story we find out the aliens who captured Turbo last issue are called the Burroids and they want to be a peaceful race. Their war with the savage Arglons however has been raging for so long now they were instantly suspicious of these new human aliens. Their leader is a giant brain suspended in a large glass dome, who tells Turbo of the history of their races, the war and of the planet itself.

A radiation storm, not unlike that which Turbo predicted for Earth (coincidence?) struck the planet a millennia ago. The resultant conditions upon the world resulted in all species developing a lung deformation and the inability to survive for any length of time above ground level. This rules out air travel and with giant monsters and raging seas stopping travel across the oceans each continent was thus cut off from their neighbours. It also explains the interference in communications prevalent in all of the strips.

This is the perfect set up for the comic. Each continent evolved across a million years separate from all others, meaning each of our landing parties (and our strips) can discover completely different environments and inhabitants, and are all cut off from simply calling for help, meaning they must explore. It’s quite an ingenious idea by Wildcat‘s creator and editor Barrie Tomlinson. It’s like having lots of different planets to explore all at once.

The Brain explains the two races signed an anti-nuclear treaty to ensure their war wouldn’t destroy the planet or negatively impact those on other continents. But the Burroids are still losing and need a new military leader. Guess who they want? That’s the set up to Turbo’s initial story arc complete and it’s an original one. Let’s see how it develops.

The scenes of murder and mayhem feel like they’re drawn with real relish.

Joe Alien is up next and his team aren’t really having the best of days. Confirming contact with the Wildcat is being disrupted, I like the fact this only happens after Turbo’s strip has given us readers the explanation why (Loner was cut off last time but we figured it was just the area he was in). It’s just one way in which each strip feels connected to the larger story, which was the whole point of the comic in the first place.

The bad luck continues as he loses another team member, all the while taking shelter from their stalker among the thick vegetation, unable to work out that this is actually the source of their woes. Joe himself keeps sensing danger all around them but continues to be just as confused as his men. When they see something move in the shadows they open fire and hear a scream but find no body. It was the tree that screamed, unbeknownst to them.

I know I’m making a bit of an assumption here but the scenes of murder and mayhem feel like they’re drawn with real relish, like artist Massimo Belardinelli is really enjoying drawing this strip with its weird and wacky antagonists. I do hope that was the case, as it’s such gruesome fun so far. A real classic gem.

We return to Kitten Magee next, drawn by José Ortiz, and she finally meets some of the locals. First they befriend a cute little furry eight-legged creature, only for it to be eaten on the very next page by flying blobs with big teeth. Her team fire back to scare them off, Kitten stopping her team from killing them, pointing out this is just nature’s way and their lives aren’t in danger. This is a nice moment because after the action of last issue it could’ve been easy to make these characters trigger-happy. Instead, the readers were given all-out action in issue one to draw them in but now things are settling a little more and proper exploration and research is beginning.

There’s quite a funny moment here when two of the team members are talking about when the next attack will come. They draw the conclusion it’ll be a while because their initial actions probably scared off the animals, when this happens.

The two-headed, three-mouthed tiger and its dinner disappear as quickly as they appeared, not even noticing the humans, making for nothing more than a fun piece of comic timing. The laughs soon stop when a tribe of multi-eyed men walk out of the shadows, not flinching when warning shots are fired in an attempt to halt their advance. Cassandra wants to fire directly upon them, based solely on how scary they look, but she’s told by Kitten she’s assumed incorrectly. The tribe are instead conveying a message through a form of sign language.

They wish for their leader to fight Kitten, who they’ve observed as the leader of this strange new female tribe. Accepting the challenge, it doesn’t go her way but despite the cliffhanger of a giant rock held over her head, ready to crush her, she tells her team they can’t interfere if this is the custom of the local people. With what seems like an endless array of weaponised jewellery, we’ll have to wait 14 days to see which one she pulls out of the bag (figuratively speaking) to get herself out of this one.

The art here is suitably creepy or suitably action packed when it’s called for. José’s use of dark shadows and scratchy lines is a great contrast to the glorious full-colour assault on the eyes that is Joe’s strip. In fact, I think Kitten’s really benefits from being in this place in the line-up right after Massimo’s work. The sudden change almost forces us to read this differently. The contrast is striking and helps the story convey the darker tone it wants to get across.

There are then two pages of reader’s letters and drawings, although most likely not by actual readers of the comic yet (I explained where these came from last time). One of the alien designs stands out, although not for the reason you might think. Take a look at ‘The Mighty Mouth Monster’ by Paul Ramsey. The second I saw it I recognised it from the myriad of marketing images for The Real Ghostbusters, a franchise which had only just launched in the UK (complete with its own comic) at the beginning of the same year. Here’s the image in Wildcat alongside one of the TV tie-in novels. Notice anything similar?

The question about the destruction of our home planet being different to that predicted by Turbo is raised here as well, answered with the hope that six pages will be devoted to explaining it in a future issue. Intriguing, although I do know from speaking with Barrie that this story was never developed in the comic’s short life. What a shame.

On to my favourite strip now and former mercenary Loner uses his modified six-shooter Babe to fire flares into the air, scaring off the cute-but-deadly little furballs from last issue’s cliffhanger. Loner was created by editor Barrie Tomlinson and written by both him and his son, James Nicholas (Johnny Red, Storm Force, Ring Raiders) and I think you can tell they were having a blast with the scripts here. As he tries to run for his life, Loner jumps into the water but there are floating versions of the little balls of fluff. Then on higher ground he gets attacked by cute and cuddly looking bat versions!

It doesn’t descend into farce but it’s still quite comical without ever losing its edge or drama. Quite the feat considering how they look. What I particularly like is how he recognises himself as the intruder. He laments having to use his gun to scare them and he refuses to open fire. Again, Wildcat lured its younger readers in with the action but is now showing them there’s more to being a hero than fighting. Constantly getting stung, becoming weaker and weaker he’s unaware of a pair of lizard eyes watching his every move and reading his every thought, or that this creature is controlling the furballs with his mind.

When Loner comes up against a wall of the little creatures the image makes the reader stop and take notice! It’s a great looking page; the wall of electrified death is the background, the panels leading up to that moment on top. I especially like the perfectly aligned little row of eyes between the two groups of panels. But nothing could’ve prepared the young version of me for what was on the next page.

Wow. This is the creature that’s been in control this whole time and would you just look at this page! The detail here is quite remarkable. I love the little details such as the scars, the veins, the shading giving real weight to the figure and that hand in particular. When you have an artist of the calibre of David Pugh drawing something like this it’s almost criminal to know the likes of 2000AD told its readers Wildcat was for their little brothers or sisters. Well, it was their loss and those of us who bought Wildcat were treated to the very best!

Across the page, under those adverts for stamp collecting that seemed to appear in every comic throughout the 80s is the Next Issue panel. At the end of Joe’s strip he used his telescopic limbs to grab hold of a small plant high up on a cliff, trying to look down and see who was attacking them. But the plant started to unravel its roots from the rocks and Joe realised it’s been the plants all along and they’re more alive than he bargained for. His realisation came too late though as it ended with him plummeting to the ground. Below you can see what happens next.

The second Wildcat Complete is called Space Madness and readers of classic 2000AD might feel right at home with this one. Although not 100% confirmed, my usual sources of help in identifying artists believe this issue’s story was drawn by Jesús Redondo (Dan Dare, M.A.C.H. 1, Nemesis the Warlock). It all kicks off with a DJ at the ship’s radio station being murdered by a robot while he’s still broadcasting to the last several hundred human beings in existence. As his death is played out live one of his listeners suffers the exact same fate in her room somewhere else on board.

Their untimely deaths make the front page of The Wildcat Express newspaper, which now feels somewhat quaint for being set in the far future (there are even horoscopes despite them being in deep space), but I always enjoy seeing how the future was predicted in stories from our youth. Anyway, I digress. Panic hits the Wildcat, which is understandable given the fact there appears to be a serial killer among them when there really aren’t that many people left, and they’re all trapped inside an orbiting tin can.

As the killings continue you begin to realise each one could be a major blow to the mission. For example a professor is carrying out experiments into the thoughts and feelings of plants in an attempt to understand them. I could see that being of particular use to Joe! Remember, as stated in the preview issue everybody was handpicked by Turbo and his team to be the best of the human race and here the story is just picking them off one by one.


“Mad Newspaper Boss Responsible For Wildcat Murders”

Newspaper headline

In the end, a witness to a fourth murder identifies the culprits as printing robots, leading security to the editor of the paper whose sales were failing because everything was so peaceful on board. It wasn’t exactly a hard case to solve but that’s not the point. The editor is diagnosed with Space Madness, “a kind of insanity triggered off by dwelling too long on the fact that Earth is destroyed and we’re in an unknown galaxy”. Apparently it’s happening across the ship.

It sounds similar to ‘Future Shock’ from the earliest 2000ADs, although here it makes a lot more sense. (It always confused me why people in the future would diagnose others as being unable to cope with living in the future. It’s not the future to them!) It would’ve been interesting to have this expanded upon, maybe it spreading across Wildcat could’ve been the basis for future stories. The fact the doc’s experiments could’ve related to Joe’s story is also interesting. Perhaps if the comic had lasted longer we’d have seen plot points from the strips develop, crossing over into others since they’re all part of one bigger story after all. We’ll never know.

The back page pin up is Joe Alien this time and it’s drawn by the hugely talented Ron Smith (Transformers, The Dandy, Harlem Heroes) and I’m happy to say there’ll be more by Ron in future issues. With all the danger inside, it’s nice to see Joe taking a moment to do some alien meditation surrounded by his new, erm, friends.

Just one thing I’d like to add before I sign off. During The Wildcat Complete I reiterated the point about how so few people were actually saved from the cataclysm. This hasn’t stopped Barrie and his writers from killing off plenty of them so far though! Between Joe Alien and the Wildcat Complete stories so far we’ve lost seven of our last survivors already and we’re only two issues in. I think I’ll have to keep tabs on this, just for fun.

Already showing confidence in its scenario and where it wants to take us, this second issue has been a joy to read from beginning to end. If it were in the hands of anyone other than Barrie this is the kind of solid quality we wouldn’t expect until much later in the run, so we really are off to a flying start! Come on back on Friday 19th November 2021 to see where he takes us next.

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