It’s probably the most unique cover you’re ever likely to see on this blog, that’s for sure! I originally thought it was by Ian Kennedy but he’s informed me it wasn’t, so at the moment I’m at a loss to who drew the giant pud. Even more unbelievably the cover represents an actual story inside this latest issue of creator/editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s Wildcat, and that story is one of the best so far. You’ll have to wait until further down the review before I show you that particular Christmas miracle. After this cover image the next thing that grabs the attention is the paper.

Specifically, the paper quality. Half of the comic is made up of the kind of paper Rebellion‘s modern day 2000AD is printed on (at the time of writing). This issue goes back and forth between this and the regular, thinner gloss paper but basically any sheet that has colour somewhere over its four pages will be of this thicker, heavier, higher grade. It feels wonderful in the hand and gives the comic a sense of high production values.

Moving on to the content and our four main strips obviously aren’t festive tales, what with being ongoing serials (although that didn’t stop Super Naturals, another of Barrie’s). Turbo Jones has a wonderful monster movie feel to it, like the Japanese kind I’d have watched late at night on TV back when I was a child. It’s not just dinosaurs anymore, there are giant mantises and other insects, as well as original creations such as Turbo’s Terrosauron. The imagination on show is wonderful.

The Arglons are attacking the Burroids‘ city from underground and by the time Turbo and his army make it back a lot of it has already been destroyed. The Ark and his cronies are in charge of the enemy army and here we can again see the mechanics within their skeletal mouths. The frequently used alien terms add a nice touch too. Normally a strip might contain one or two such made up words but Barrie hasn’t held back when writing this script and I love that. Where does he get all this terminology from? It adds to the absurdity of the situation, the alienness of this planet and the originality of the story.

There’s a nice little touch there with Turbo tying up his flying beast like a pet, but it’s not long before he’s taking to the skies for more thrilling battles. This particular episode really does have it all. The action is truly thrilling, Vanyo‘s artwork sizzles in the action scenes, conveying real scale in the destruction of the city, creepiness in the council and lots of little background details to pour over again and again. While the action builds so do the questions for this reader, with details about The Ark and the history of this war being drip fed to us. Wonderful stuff indeed.

Joe Alien has had enough in the next chapter of David Robinson‘s story. After falling for a trap set by the trees(!) he draws the logical conclusion this continent they’ve landed upon is not hospitable for human life. It’s simply too dangerous; the killer vegetation can’t be communicated or reasoned with, despite finding out they can understand our language. Resistance is futile, so he orders a hasty retreat for his team but the plant life won’t let them leave. However, they’re not trying to kill them anymore either.

This is where a surprising turn of events takes place. We knew the trees were intelligent, able to uproot themselves and walk, they could communicate with each other and they appeared to be attempting to do so with us. Their murderous instincts were always front and centre but as Joe points out, while he has lost some team members, if the plants wanted them all dead they would be.

A vehicle made of rock glides in over a body of water and from within it steps out a man. A human man from Earth! Our heroes have been corralled, now trapped on an outcrop surrounded by this body of water full of man-eating plants ready to chomp the legs off anyone who attempts to escape. But for this man they spread out their lily pad-like leaves and let him cross to within talking distance of Joe and his men.

I didn’t expect this! I have no recollection of this twist at all. A nice touch is the fact his speech is broken and slow because it’s been so many years since he last needed to do so. The plants treat him reverently, he’s quite clearly in charge and yet very frail, at least upon first glance. It ends with him promising to tell a surprising story. I bet! I have so many questions. But that’s the whole point of the story. It’s layering mystery upon mystery, and just when you think you’ve got one or two bits sussed out it pulls the rug from under you.

Yes, that last sentence was a bit clichéd but there’s nothing unoriginal about this story. Ron Smith‘s artwork really comes into its own too, like he’s had a couple of issues to settle in and is now confidently in charge of the world originally created by Massimo Belardinelli. The rock vehicle feels suitably solid, the old man is an intriguing character even just to look at and the uprooted killers remind me of the tree that came in through the window in Poltergeist. Genuinely threatening. Two for two, the strips this issue have depth, character and intrigue. Shall it continue?

Just before the Kitten Magee strip here’s artist José Ortiz‘s pin up of one of her teammates Casandra Cardeti. While I do really enjoy José’s work and it’s nice to see some colour work from him, I always had an issue with how female characters would be dressed in our sci-fi comics. While Turbo, Joe and Loner are properly equipped for whatever is thrown at them, women always seemed to go up against the same dangers with a lot less clothing. It’s a sign of the times of course but it was always a niggle I had, not just with Wildcat so I’m not singling it (or José) out.

Unfortunately, out of all the strips in this issue Kitten Magee’s has the least development plot-wise. Basically a fight to the death between them and the robotic tribe, there’s plenty of action and a few close shaves until right at the end one of the robot heads pops off and explodes, leaving a crater where Kitten and Aurora were standing. But even within a basic plot this time around there are some really nice little nuggets by writer James Tomlinson to sink our teeth into. Have a look at these two panels by way of example.

The robots have suddenly become rather interesting. Their techniques for dispatching foes get more and more creative, my particular favourite being this ground drilling monster that pops up just when the battle seems over. Then there’s a gaffe Kitten herself makes. In saving Casandra from a dropped explosive by expertly kicking it into the hole from the previous panel, she mentions how keenly she played football as a kid. The thing is, the sport was deemed too violent and banned more than one hundred years ago. Add this to how old she looked in #3 and we’re beginning to get a glimpse into just how much of a lie she’s living. An interesting plot point which I’ve a feeling will become the main thread in issues to come. I certainly hope so anyway.

Just before Loner there’s another double-page spread of letters although none from the readers. Instead, every contribution has been signed off by an alien being from some distant world. The letters page had been hacked! I asked Barrie if this was due to a lack of letters but he assured me it was probably just for a bit of fun for the Christmas issue. He says he’s a big kid at this time of year (just like myself) so I can believe it.

“The creature is preserving their bodies… so it can eat them when it pleases.”

One of the little furballs

Barrie Tomlinson‘s Loner gets a bit of a new look but whether I’d call it an upgrade is something else. The furry little pets of the extinct alien race told him the weapons he’d found could only be controlled by his mind and thus he was made to sit in a chair to prepare himself for using them. The end result makes for a rather startling image and he’s not best pleased with the finished result.

It’s a bit of an anti-climax when one of the furballs casually says they can change him back afterwards, what with the transformation being part of the cliffhanger last time. But it does mean he’s all set to take to the caverns and hunt down the creature the lizard demanded he kill. There are also some nice humorous touches in the dialogue and you get a sense of the beginnings of a friendship between the former mercenary and these cute little beings.

This episode is all about stalking through the underworld and it contains some wonderful imagery from David Pugh, especially within the lair of the beast.

The detail here is stunning. I love the webs, the rock formations and the skeletal remains of the critters, which is a bit sad with rotting corpses and imprisoned furries strung up everywhere. It’s quite the panel!

As he tracks down the beast we’re treated to a suspenseful atmosphere. Take your time reading this, taking in all the fine details of the art and the fact the lettering of the homing beep gets slightly bigger and smaller as Loner attempts to find it, and it gives off a tense Aliens vibe. As for the beast itself, well I remembered it being a hideous snake-like creature with huge black eyes and long, pointed teeth. An image in a previous issue confirmed my grey cells hadn’t let me down, but I’d assumed it was about the size of a large Earth anaconda. How wrong was I.

In #2 I was under the impression the crazed lizard was a giant beast in itself, only to find out in the next issue he was about twice the size of our hero. With the predator Loner has been sent to dispatch, I’m very glad to say I was wrong in a completely different way. Just look at that final page! What an image to leave in the minds of young readers. This is the best cliffhanger in all of Wildcat’s run so far.

They’re tracking the huge dessert making its way towards them through the darkness outside

How on Earth (or wherever they are) can Loner hope to take on this thing, even with the advanced weaponry? We know it has no brain patterns to speak of, that it operates purely on survival instinct (this is why the telepathic lizard can’t kill it). Is that information in itself a clue? I can’t see how. But isn’t that the best kind of cliffhanger? One where you can’t think of any possible way beyond it, but you know the answer has probably already been hinted at, that it’ll be an organic and ultimately satisfying resolution. Wildcat has proven itself in this respect many times over already. A tense chapter with a stunning final scene.

Our last strip takes us back to that giant Christmas pudding on the cover. It’s the festive season for the last human beings in existence and there’s some nice scene setting, including mention of the fact there’s been no communication with the landing parties, a running theme throughout all the stories and a nice reminder each one is part of a larger whole. We also get to see the bridge and the captain in charge of Turbo’s ship when he’s not around, while they track the huge dessert making its way towards them through the darkness outside.

For such a ludicrous thing to see they take it very seriously. Some crew members joke but they’re soon put in their place. It could’ve been so easy to reduce the whole story to a farce but I’m glad to say the characters treat it very seriously. Various attempts are made to communicate, they see it as an imminent threat, sounding the alarms and even opening fire, but their laser beams go straight through it. As does the Wildcat when the pudding surrounds them. “It’s like being wrapped in cotton wool”, one engineer scanning the impact (or lack thereof) states. Stranger and stranger.

It’s what the Wildcat crew don’t see that elevates the story into being the best Wildcat Complete yet

The lights go out and a mysterious glow signals someone or something beaming aboard. It’s Santa and an elf! With presents for everyone they explain they disguised their ship as something they thought couldn’t possibly be seen as a threat and they apologise. The image of the Wildcat within the actual ship itself is a striking one too and provides an “ahh” moment for the reader after that cover. The captain takes some convincing and they don’t immediately win everyone over. Even after they’ve gone no one is sure it wasn’t some form of mass hallucination.

It’s a fun little story but then the final page makes everything click into place. The large Death Star-esque vehicle morphs into a sleigh and reindeer, another illusion. But it’s what the Wildcat crew don’t see that elevates the story into being the best Wildcat Complete yet. I’m left with just one question. Were they impersonating someone we humans associate with gift giving (apparently what they love to do as a species) or is this Santa’s true form?

It’s left without an answer of course, like all good Twilight Zone twists, leaving the readers much to discuss with their friends. I know I’ve mentioned that show before in reviewing these anthology stories, but to me that’s just the vibe I’m getting. I’m all for it, and even though the stories can be so different from the rest of the comic they manage to fit perfectly. While it can’t be officially confirmed at this time, we believe the artist is Manuel Carmona Ruiz (2000AD, James Bond). The way they so effortlessly blend the hard sci fi with a very traditional way of illustrating Santa Claus in his close up, in a completely different artistic style, is extraordinary.

A wonderful Christmas feast of a story to end another fantastic issue. The way the dates fell in December 1988 there was another issue in the festive period, in fact it’s dated New Year’s Eve. It was probably released early like most comics scheduled around that time but I’ll be reviewing it on the last day of the year. If it’s anything like this issue it’ll give 2021 one hell of a send off. Join me then.

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