WiLDCAT #4: TREE-RIFIC FUN

I love this Ian Kennedy cover based on the Wildcat Complete tale inside. We’ve had deaths in pretty much every part of the anthology series so far, but this shows us there’s a ferocious animal-like killer on board, running rampant amongst the last several hundred humans in existence. The claustrophobic horror of being in that situation is perfectly captured here with this work of art by the incredible talent that is Ian.

This issue we’ve got man vs dinosaur, alien vs murderous plants, woman vs robotic tribesmen, man vs crazed newt and spacecraft vs Mr Hyde. So a busy issue of editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s creation then. We start off as always with Turbo Jones and the first page is no less thrilling than that cover. Turbo has decided he’s going to tame the untameable Terrosauron and over the course of the first couple of pages the huge beast underestimates the tiny opponent time and again. Using his small weapons in clever ways, Turbo manages to outsmart his opponent and soon he has his steed of choice.

The ‘Next Issue’ promo last time was just an image of The Great Ark, leader of the Arglons. It appears they were just one of a handful of animated corpses. A row of skeletal beings led by The Ark itself bark orders at their minions, killing one of their top military leaders for their apparent failure. Some close up angles of this council (like the one used for the promo a fortnight ago) show what look like mechanics behind their jaws. Could it be they’re all dead? Is this all going to lead to a Wizard of Oz moment later in the series? That’s my guess at the moment although I’ve no recollection of the story beyond this point.

From here the story cleverly flips back and forth between Turbo training the Burroid army and the Arglons using giant mantis-like creatures to dig a tunnel right underneath their enemy, straight to their capital city. There are no captions to explain the back and forth between the two scenes, which to be honest I’d have expected in any comic of mine from back then. But writer Barrie and artist Vanyo credit the kids reading with the intelligence to not need their hands held.

The cliffhanger sees giant cracks appear in the roads of the city and it feels like it’s all building up to an epic climax. It isn’t though. Each character’s story is one ongoing saga rather than being split up into smaller individual tales. So if they’d spent a year on this planet each character would’ve had a 26-part epic, which was an original way to go about things! The tension is building however and by the end of these five pages it’s palpable.

The tree is an alien being that plucked him off the ground and is now holding him hostage.

Our pinup jumps from the back cover to page seven and this issue it’s my favourite character, Loner and his new found friends the little fuzzballs. Reading the black and white strip I (for some reason) made the assumption these little balls of fur were a sandy colour but here David Pugh has decided that’s not the case. More from Loner in a bit.

On to Joe Alien now, who we last saw stuck up a tree. Well, it’s a lot more dramatic than that. The tree is an alien being that plucked him off the ground and is now holding him hostage. Joe’s dislodged brain pack is in the hands of his teammates so he’s completely incapable of helping himself. But what about that rather horrific cliffhanger? It’s washed away with a quick douse in a nearby pool of water which luckily (as stated by one of the team) seems pretty normal for once. That is, until some form of seaweed starts to crawl out of the water and wrap itself around their limbs. It seems danger really is lurking everywhere.

Easily able to break free, they’re still at a loss over how to rescue Joe, precariously help high up in the air. To me, it looks like this tree could be planning on using Joe to communicate but maybe that’s the wrong assumption on my part, because his team obviously don’t agree. Their solution? Blow it up, of course.

As you can see it makes a piercing scream as it comes crashing down, so the silent killers from previous issues aren’t quite so silent after all. With his brain pack clicked back into place, Joe has had enough and orders them all to quickly retreat back to their shuttle and return to the Wildcat. This is no place for them to plant their feet (boom) and put roots down (boom, boom) but on their way back they hear another cry, this time a cry for help from deep within a hole in the ground.

What they see down the pit is a two-headed alien covered in bright blue feathers. Speaking our language (able to translate other tongues quickly explained as an ability of his race), Joe and his team set about freeing him from the roots that appear to have trapped him. I’ll admit alarm bells went off for me the second I saw this and it slowly dawns on the team all is not as it seems.

A line of huge trees marches up to surround them, seemingly to make a final stand but suddenly stop. Forming a wide circle around the landing party they just stand there, unmoving. The final panel shows our team looking out at the killer jungle, knowing something is wrong but they can’t quite put their fingers on it, while we the readers see the alien is but a suit and it’s being quietly ripped open. Inside are a few plants playing the part!

This must mean they’re able to communicate properly (beyond painful screams) as they were able to impersonate this fictional alien creature and, maybe more importantly, decipher our language. Does this mean I was right when I guessed it looked like the tree earlier was attempting to use Joe to communicate? Out of all the strips so far this feels the most alien (suitably enough given its name) and this is in no small part thanks to the highly original artwork of Ron Smith.

I don’t quite know what to make of the Kitten Magee strip this issue. It begins with Kitten receiving the life dust from her robotic pet Crud via something beneath her collar. Whether it’s a device, an injection or an opening in her skin isn’t clear in the shadowy forest and I’m guessing it’s been left deliberately ambiguous by artist José Ortiz at this point, so hopefully a future issue will clarify.

So the tribes from previous episodes to whom Kitten proved herself by fighting their leader are now attacking her team, and to begin with we think it’s some form of mind control by the fat men hovering above. But when Kitten returns to rescue her teammates one of the aliens is blasted open and it’s revealed they are actually robots. At this point I had to remind myself this was the 80s, because having fully organic beings revealed as being robots on the inside is a cliché I’ve grown very tired of over the years. But this was written a few decades ago so I have to remember that context. But why would the fat men (one of whom gets the name ‘Hobos‘ this issue) go to all the bother of creating them?

When the innards are revealed all of the other machines stop, as if awaiting instructions. At this point Hobos is spotted and Bonnie tries to take out his hovercraft device with her sniper rifle. Fleeing, he flicks a switch and the tribesmen take to the air, their laser eyes firing upon the women while others take suicidal bombing runs! Where on Earth (well, not-Earth) did all of this come from?

At the time I can imagine I would’ve been thrilled with this sudden change to the situation, but now I found it a bit clunky. But that’s more the fault of the passing of time rather than the comic itself. So who is Hobos? Did his race create these robots? Or maybe they are sentient machines that have been hacked, which would be more original. Perhaps there’ll be some answers next time, although I’ve a feeling I’ll be left waiting for a while longer.


“I still have to go back upstairs and finish off that overgrown newt!”

Loner

There are a couple of interesting nuggets of story information in the Wildcat Time-Warp Data Link pages in response to readers’ letters. One asks how many people are on board since the terms “hundreds” and “over a thousand” have both been used by now and in reply we’re told that it was meant to be around 500 (in the preview it was over 700) but it became clear after leaving Earth an enormous amount of stowaways got on board. No wonder Barrie isn’t concerned about killing so many people off, there are more than we thought! Interestingly, we’re told that, coupled with the animal and plant life, these stowaways have given Wildcat a total weight load far in excess of its original specifications. Will this be a plot point we’ll return to?

Begging for the hallucinations inside his mind to stop, Loner agrees to the terms of the villainous lizard to track down the beast that poses a threat to him. Making his way into the depths of the caverns with the furry little ball creatures in tow, Loner wonders inwardly how he’s going to be successful when all he has is his six-shooter. A voice echoes in his mind, “We can help you” and he’s surprised to find that outside of the overgrown newt’s telepathic range these little critters can talk to him, and are intelligent.

Their backstory is that they were the pets of the people who once lived on the continent, content and happy with their existence and loved by their owners. But the people soon became obsessed with creating bigger and more destructive weaponry, their wars became deadlier and soon they had wiped themselves off the face of the planet, their pets hiding out in this underground world. What’s more, underneath the fur their flesh is poisonous, sending anybody stupid enough to eat them completely crazy, hence our giant lizard friend’s state of mind. (This is a much better development than the humanoid robots.)

They lead Loner to a cave full of the weaponry they gathered and hid away from any visitors after the last war. More than enough to see off the beast and free them all from the lizard but there’s a catch. The people of this continent had built weapons controlled by mental power alone, so in order to stand a chance Loner will have to undergo a transformation or the weapons will destroy his mind. As you can read above he isn’t keen but the furballs don’t give him any choice in the matter.

We’re left with this image of him screaming in agony as a warning rings out, “At the end, you will consider yourself quite monstrous!” I couldn’t remember anything about this but one look at the Next Issue promo at the back of this issue (further below) brought it all back. What I’ve particularly liked is see a slight softening of Loner as he begins to bond with the little creatures.

Boredom and the vast emptiness that surrounds them can, and will, have an effect on the human psyche.

Every five-page chapter of this strip takes a big step forward in developing the story and when something this fun to read is all wrapped up in superlative David Pugh artwork it’s no wonder this was my favourite part of the comic. It’s hard to believe we’re only 20 pages in! I think of that thick trade paperback graphic novel collecting the entire Loner saga together and I can only imagine what will happen in all of those pages! I’ll be finding out the slow way.

I mentioned a fortnight ago how 11 people had already died in the pages of the comic and, although we now know there are more on board than originally thought, the Wildcat Complete on which the cover is based is called Death on Wildcat so I’m assuming the trend is going to continue. But first things first, has that picture of the Wildcat craft been pasted on top of the scene? It certainly looks that way. It could be because it looks like a special technique was used to draw the planet and its rings. It’s a lovely effect and then the spacecraft could have been drawn separately and placed on top. Works for me!

The artist hasn’t been confirmed but I believe it to be Enrique Alcatena‘s work, returning for the first time since the premiere issue’s ghosty story, this time with a Dr Jekyll and Mr Vampire Werewolf tale. The Duty Commander, John Anderson is getting a bit cocky with the fact no crime has been reported on board for weeks. (Obviously some time has passed since the last issue.) Now convinced Wildcat is a safe ship with a complete lack of lawlessness, his statement is predictably followed by an alarm.

The Chief of Security barely has a moment to explain how boredom and the vast emptiness that surrounds them can, and will, have an effect on the human psyche before they’re alerted to a murder on board. It’s a simple tale with obvious clues for the chief to follow and soon enough he’s tracked it down to Dr Timothy Lee who had been conducting experiments on animals back on Earth with the hope of creating an army of controllable killers. With Earth evacuated and all the animals accounted for he had continued his experiments on himself.

The most interesting bits for me are the emphasis on just how fragile the peace is on the ship and the fact there are aliens already on board. They work alongside us, are part of the crew and are helping us navigate the galaxy in search of a new home. With the comic set in 2250 it’s not beyond the realm of believability that we’d have made contact with some races, although this is the first we’ve seen anything of them, when they’re the target of a crazed, bigoted killer.

Wildcat death toll: 14

That’s us for the first of three issues this festive season. The next is the Christmas one itself with a strange cover I clearly remember from the 80s. When you see it you’ll understand why it’s so memorable. How about a Christmas pudding wrapped around a spaceship? Think I’m joking? You’ll see.

Just to finish off this issue is the advertisement on the back page. Sharing these contemporary adverts is part of the fun of this site. This is the first time Wildcat has included one in its pages and it’s for a favourite childhood cereal (which I admit is still bought from time to time today).

The special Christmas edition of Wildcat will be reviewed right here on Friday 17th December 2021.

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