WiLDCAT #3: MiND GAMES

Who else remembers the short-lived toy line and cartoon Dino-Riders? It may not have been a coincidence that they launched the same year as Wildcat, but since they never had their own comic in the UK (and not until a year later in the US) I’m going to go with coincidence. The cover certainly ticked all the boxes for me at that age and inside the action picked up a gear in many of the strips, the death toll continued to climb and there’s some art in here so good it’s stayed in the recesses of my memory all these decades.

No recap page this time, instead we’re straight into the Turbo Jones strip, drawn by cover artist Vanyo. The Brain rather callously believes his people, the Burroids, are all cowards as he fills in Turbo on their situation. I’d say they’re more peace lovers than cowards. There’s a big disconnect between them and their leader, never mind the fact their leader is a giant brain! Why is that? Is there more to this relationship? I seem to recall there’s more to their enemy the Arglons too, that nothing is as simple as good versus evil here. In fact, I think that goes for all the serials in Wildcat.

Turbo really becomes the action hero he’s promised to be since the preview issue, with everything from laser-edged gloves to laser binoculars at his disposal. His companion Robo is also quite the strategist and not the coward he makes himself out to be when it counts. He improvises and uses the alien tech that imprisoned them initially against his attackers. They make quite the team and their camaraderie and trust in each other is very naturally written, surprisingly. I’m glad to see their bickering in previous issues is just part of their relationship, a part of their banter.

One of the Arglons is captured, but when he doesn’t give up any information during questioning a Burroid casually vaporises him, explaining it’s just what happens to enemies. Wait, aren’t they inherently peace loving? Is this The Brian’s influence? Either way, Turbo instantly has him arrested and begins to take command of their armies as requested by the mysterious leader. Choosing two seconds-in-command they set out to tame local dinosaurs to match those of their enemy.

I do like the way the character is developing beyond the single-minded Dredd-type he was to begin with, and this is only the third issue. The story is genuinely interesting, it feels like there’s a lot more than meets the eye with everything in this strip and that I shouldn’t assume anything about anyone. Brilliant stuff. When I think back to Wildcat I remembered the other strips more, so I’m pleasantly surprised at how great this has been this issue.

A quick commercial break before we move on and I wonder what 2000AD editor Tharg the Mighty would make of the tagline used by one of Wildcat creator/editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s other comics in the advert for its annual? Given how they were both published by Fleetway I’m guessing Tharg didn’t say very much.

Our only colour strip, Joe Alien now finds himself in the very capable hands of a new artist, namely Ron Smith who drew the pin up in the last issue. Taking over from Massimo Belardinelli is no small feat and Ron’s style is completely different. At first I approached this with trepidation. I had loved Massimo’s work in the first two issues, particularly his furry man-eating plants. But I needn’t have had any concern.

Ron brings a fresh new style to the comic, reminding me very much of early Geoff Senior from Marvel UK‘s The Transformers. The clean, sharp visuals are a perfect match for this most alien of alien characters and the nightmarish jungle he and his team are trapped in. In fact I’d even go so far as to say the plants look even more menacing and the action more dramatic. This isn’t to take away from Massimo’s work of course, but after reading this latest chapter I think Ron is an even more suitable artist for this story.

The resolution to last issue’s literal cliffhanger sees Joe using his telescopic legs to cushion his fall, the plant which caused it falling down on top of him, knocking him to the ground where the impact on his head causes his external brain pack to disconnect. As explained in the first issue and kind of given away in last issue’s promo, this turns him into a gibbering loony, to put it politely. His race were so obsessed with obtaining more knowledge they had to manufacture artificial brains for themselves, regardless of the risks! I love both these panels above, the exciting landing and the funny craziness.

Joe disappears into the jungle and his team are left to fend for themselves while trying to track him down. As well as having a new artist the writing seems to make a bit of a shift here too. No longer are his men simply unnamed team members used as fodder for the alien plant life. Here, some are finally given names and they’re written as individual characters, complimented by more distinctive looks. Instead of lining up to die they actually rescue each other and they function and coordinate as a proper military team.

The chapter ends with Joe captured by a gigantic tree and his men come under attack by what they initially think are harmless little spiky orbs. But these soon open up to reveal little pollen balls which float on the air and begin attaching themselves to the men. Ron’s art is superb here. We can sense the tiny little barbs piercing the skin of these men and the sense of pain is palpable. The Joe Alien strip has certainly stepped up a gear!

Moving on to Kitten Magee and after she uses laser bracelets (our future selves really love their weaponised jewellery) to escape from death by boulder, defeating the tribe’s leader has her welcomed with open arms by the rest. Having proven herself, she and her team take to eating and celebrating with the locals while the two fat men on their hovering platforms look on. But what they view as a “scientific experiment” between Kitten and her pet robot Crud is much more foreboding.

Kitten’s life dust was first mentioned right back in the preview issue, but this is the first we’ve seen the harrowing effects it’s meant to prevent. I was quite surprised at just how old she looks here (even Crud describes it as “severe ageing”) and artist José Ortiz brings a lovely atmosphere to this nighttime scene in the middle of the jungle. While she’s sneaked away to get her drug, the fat men flick a switch on some kind of mind control device and the tribe begins to attack the rest of the team. Overwhelmed, and with Kitten nowhere near, it doesn’t look well as the chapter ends.

But for me the plot point I’m most eagerly wanting to see picked up next time is the whole life dust situation. While the questions of what happens if Kitten doesn’t take it regularly is answered here, I find myself asking even more. Does this mean Kitten is actually a lot older than she appears? Or is it the result of an illness, or a previous encounter with an enemy? Does the dust only keep her looking younger or does it work on her physiology? What long-term effects does it have on her, and what effects has it already had? Colour me highly intrigued.

The letters pages have town names for the first time, so it looks like Barrie has started to receive contributions from readers. As with all of his titles it’s not a simple case of letters, instead there are drawings, ideas, jokes, questions and designs. One such design is for a digging machine to take the exploration teams from one area to another on the planet while avoiding the dangers on the surface. What I love about this is the honesty in the review of what the young reader has sent in. Marked down for originality and weapons, but with good scores for design and suitability, I like the way Barrie (I would assume) explains clarification is needed on oxygen supply.

It shows how his comics never talked down to their audiences. We never felt patronised by the answers, never treated as little kids. The same could be said of comics such as Transformers and The Real Ghostbusters which would often give sarcastic replies to honest queries. It wasn’t just a simple wish to see our letters or drawings in print, we wanted to see what our comics would say to us! In this case, maybe if Wildcat had lasted a long time we’d have seen more complex designs being sent in as the kids read the feedback from previous issues.

Next up is Loner and given how good the previous three strips have been this issue I was really looking forward to seeing how he would step things up this issue. A quick look at the artwork below will answer that! Our former mercenary meets the lizard who has been tracking his every thought and first of all I was surprised he’s only about twice the size of a human, but this is simply because of that incredible final page artist David Pugh treated us to last time. Things begin here with Loner seeing him for the first time and we get this dramatic reveal through his eyes.

Take a closer look at that first photo and you’ll see the beast isn’t sitting on a chair but on his tail. A nice touch. He doesn’t get named yet but we do find out about his race the Bellari and their history of travelling from world to world to control the minds of whole species. Just for the craic they’d turn populations of whole planets into slaves until they got bored and moved on, leaving behind a galaxy of worlds having to rebuild from the destruction wrought for their entertainment.

But this particular Bellari crash landed on the same planet the Wildcat found, falling through into the same underground labyrinth as Loner. With no way out he took control of the furballs, a task he found far too easy and which kept him entertained for about five minutes. I laughed at the panel above on the right, where he wonders at the miracle of him not going insane, with his wide eyes, his drooling and his finger stuck up his nose. David is an incredible artist and this is a rare moment of humour in the Loner strip, but the highlight is another full page image which deserves to be studied.

Studied it was, both back in 1988 and today. Just look at that design. I was in awe of David’s work. At this point my comics reading had included the many styles within the pages of OiNK, the simplistic but sweet drawings in Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends and the fun, quirky strips in The Real Ghostbusters. I’d never seen anything like this before in comics though.

All the serials have really upped their game this issue and it’s hard for me to pick a favourite anymore.

The beast wants Loner to hunt down a ravenous snake-type monster that he can’t control because its brain is too simplistic, working on instinct and hunger alone, so it’s a big threat. Loner knows he has no choice and agrees but makes the mistake of thinking otherwise. Since the Bellari is reading his mind he knows Loner plans to trick him and suddenly our hero finds himself in another place and time, three of his enemies firing upon him as the episode ends.

It’s clearly a trick of the mind but still, I remember that snake but can’t remember anything else about this story, and the developments this issue have been genuinely interesting. But then again, even if the story was plodding along David’s art would still have propelled it to another level! While Loner was always my favourite as a kid, the three other serials have really upped their game this issue and it would be hard for me to pick a favourite anymore.

After the wonderful art of Loner’s strip is a rather basic Next Issue promo page. Last issue there was a lot more information in half the space. While I’m sure the Great Ark in the Turbo Jones strip will be of great importance, with so much going on in all of the strips this feels too simplistic, almost like it was a last minute addition. It’s a bit of a wasted opportunity to really hype the next issue of what was still a new comic trying to build its regular readership.


“Diet is unnecessary! Death stops all eating!

The Invaders!

Our final strip, the next Wildcat Complete is called The Invaders! and it’s a particularly bleak one this time. An asteroid is making its way around the planet and the Wildcat is directly in its path. Strangely, instead of simply manoeuvring out of its way (we saw its pilots in control in #1) a team are sent to plant explosives on its surface, a whole decade before that became the plot of what seemed like an endless supply of disaster movies.

No reason is given as to why this was the solution, why the Wildcat couldn’t be moved, which is strange. Anyway, a group of scientists go with them to collect samples and upon their return some of the rocks appear to possess members of the team.

At the end of the story we find out this used to be a prison asteroid, with murderous alien beings imprisoned in rocks on its surface. Now freed and with a huge and powerful spaceship at their disposal they set about making plans to take control, casually killing off all who get in their way. Not that any of the people they kill are a threat. They even see off a garbage disposal man by unceremoniously dumping him out of the airlock. This does prompt a bit of morbid humour when someone on board sees it out of the corner of their eye, thinks the exploding body is a star and makes a wish!

The garbage disposal would be used to get rid of the bodies they’d accumulate, they kill a weapon designer to steal his prototypes, a chef by testing a mass poison out on him first and one of the other scientists who knows the truth. All of this takes our death toll up to 11 in only three issues. I wonder what number we’ll get to by the time these stories are over?

Their mission is to ultimately make their way to the ship’s bridge and use it to get back home and take revenge on their planet. The Wildcat’s crew end up using robots to stun the human bodies instead of simply killing them, fully aware the scientists are innocent in all of this and simply possessed. I liked this solution. It shows the comic won’t be taking the easy way out in its stories, even when it’s a one-off and needs to wrap everything up in only six pages.

Dark humour and plenty of shocking deaths are expertly combined into the script here. It reminds me a little of The Doll from Super Naturals, which is another of Barrie’s comics. The artist who brought all of this glorious death and destruction to our young eyes was Joan Boix (The Phantom, Warrior, Eagle), a name I’ll admit I wasn’t aware of until reading this and seeing his signature, something which was a very rare thing in action comics of the time. With this level of quality I’m glad he did.

The back page pin up rounds things off with some light relief as Robo takes centre stage. So another issue and another hugely enjoyable read. I don’t want to come across as fawning in these reviews, but there’s no other way to write these; this really is a wonderful, quality comic in every way. All of the stories are really opening up, our characters (both main and secondary) are developing nicely and if I didn’t know how long the comic would last I’d say things feel set for a long, epic run.

Issue four will be here in just two weeks on Friday 3rd December 2021 and it really can’t come soon enough (and not just because my tree will be up).

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