WiLDCAT #6: ROARING GOOD FUN

On the final day of 1988 there was just enough time to squeeze in one final issue of Barrie Tomlinson‘s Wildcat before the new year. Kicking off with Ian Kennedy‘s interpretation of José Ortiz‘s Kitten Magee strip, the cover includes the tagline ‘The Ultimate Adventure’. I remember associating this with the comic as a kid, so it’s strange to see it appear for the first time only now. Perhaps it’ll pop up again. For now though, let’s see if the inside matches the hype.

The Arglons have dispatched two of their own Terrosaurons to kill Turbo Jones atop his own dino in the opening strip. Controlled by computerised radio waves, these are detected by Robo before they even get close. Very quickly he’s jamming the signal and any hope of control over the creatures is lost. The Ark doesn’t take too kindly to their great plan being thwarted and soon the general in charge is on the chopping block. It appears these skeletal figures have zero tolerance for failures.

Having already attacked Turbo’s Terrosauron and getting a taste for blood, when the commands are interrupted the others attack the nearest target, which is each other. Limbs are torn off, gaping wounds in full view and we young readers loved it. It felt so gory to us.

Now easily able to pick off the enemy Turbo finishes the fight and returns to the main base of operations where he finds out about an underground defence system, a huge electronic fence which is activated and surrounds the city. That’s it as far as plot goes but this episode was all about the fight, the big battle between the three giant Terrosaurons. While I can’t remember reading it at the time, I’m sure I loved it as it would’ve been right up my street!

As an adult I do miss the plot developments, the intrigue around The Ark and Turbo’s growth as a character. But sometimes it’s just fun to have a completely ludicrous, over-sized battle! In the final panel Turbo says the enemy is trapped inside the city behind the fence, so they can pick them off more easily. Has he forgotten they got in via a tunnel? We’ll find out next time I’m sure. It’s throwaway stuff but fun, and I’m only a little disappointed because the comic has set such high standards for itself.

It’s clear power has gone to this man’s head. Does he truly believe he is a god?

More interesting for this old man is another much older man in the Joe Alien story, as the human who seems to be the leader of the killer plant life tells his story. He was the sole astronaut on the first manned rocket heading for Mars. While this is now predicted to take place in 2024, at the time of Wildcat’s publication we never thought it’d happen quite so soon, so his tale takes place in 2079. Travelling through an asteroid belt one of the huge rocks begins to open up, drawing his craft inside like a scene from You Only Live Twice.

He makes reference to it looking like “jaws” and with that word choice I can’t help but make the comparison to the big fish from my favourite movie of all time. The asteroid itself, as drawn by Ron Smith, bares a striking resemblance to Steven Spielberg’s classic movie monster, right down to the oversized jowls (needed on the mechanical shark in Jaws for its mouth to open and close without folding or breaking the rubber skin). I’m really rather thrilled to see this as a fan of the movie and this comic, I love seeing inspiration from one turning up in the other.

Upon arriving on the continent where our adventure is taking place a great war was being fought between the trees and the other vegetation. There’s always a great war behind these stories isn’t there? As you can see in this gloriously illustrated page below he negotiated a peace between the two sides. But how, when the participants in the war couldn’t speak? This question is asked by one of Joe’s men later in the issue. An explanation is given about how the plants can absorb sound as vibrations in the ground through their roots, and how they had spent hundred of years studying our radio waves to learn our language.

As the years passed the man aged very slowly compared to back on Earth, so generations of plant life passed before his eyes and eventually they began seeing him as a kind of god. His word is now law and when one of Joe’s team makes a joke about the plants the old man punches him with the force of ten, sending him flying into the water where he’s attacked by vicious teeth-baring vegetation. It’s clear power has gone to this man’s head. Does he truly believe he is a god? It feels like a story from the Stargate SG-1 TV series, albeit several years before it.

The standout here is Ron’s art. His style perfectly compliments the story and setting, his characters really embody what they’re saying, Joe is the best he’s ever looked and the flashbacks are extraordinary and fascinating. Incredible artwork. Simply gorgeous. While Loner may still be my favourite, Joe’s strip is running a very close second which I didn’t expect when I started this read through. Saying that, all the strips are so good this changes on a regular basis.

Kitten Magee takes a break from relentless fighting to advance her story a little. She saved herself from the bomb last time by grabbing her teammate and leaping into one of the holes bored by the tribal robots. So the fat alien Hobos decides it’s time to try a different tactic. Pretending to save her life from a threat of his own creation (a destabilising beam making Kitten lose balance just before this page below), he befriends the women and tells them he’ll lead them through the dangerous jungle to his village.

There’s one disappointing aspect of the story here, and that’s how easily the other four members of the team trust Hobos. Only Kitten herself is unsure, thinking he’s too friendly, too nice and appeared at too convenient a time for this all to be coincidence. The other members of the team have all been so capable and interesting in the previous issues that it’s a shame to see them played for fools so easily.

We do get a little bit of action as a torg-lion attacks the group, the one we saw on the cover. Hobos’ plan seems to be to lead them through the most dangers part of the continent, using a scent of raw meat to attract the biggest, most vicious predators out into the open. Of course Kitten wins this battle, pricking the animal with the pointed edge of her poison-filled ring. Just when I thought I’d seen all of her cool jewellery-based weaponry too.

There are still many questions needing answered here, not least of which is why Hobos was determined to kill the women in the first place. Is it a male thing? Are women a threat? Even alien women? I know we’ll get our answers eventually, so don’t for one moment think this is any kind of complaint because it isn’t. The story does feel like it’s heading towards at least some of the answers over the next few issues, which is exciting. Kitten remains an interesting character and the one most shrouded in mystery in the whole comic.

That cover by Ian Kennedy is a fantastic piece of art, as are all of his covers across the range of Barrie’s comics I’m reviewing (Ring Raiders and Super Naturals being the others). He gets a bit of further recognition on the letters page this issue and yes, that monster is one of his designs from the premiere issue.

Loner is up next and if you thought the scale of what he was up against was massive in that final image last issue, then you haven’t seen anything yet, to use a cliché. I can remember this snake-like monster but I had no idea of just how big it was. In fact, it’s so big that in the first panel of this chapter we only get to see a few teeth next to our hero and his now rather pathetic looking new gun.

My overall opinion of this instalment of my favourite Wildcat strip is, just when I thought David Pugh‘s art couldn’t possibly get any more spectacular he blows me away again, and a lot more successfully than Loner’s attempt to do so with the beast above. But just look at that first panel, those teeth and that tusk look so solid, so terrifying that I’m sure I was in awe of it back in 1988. This was playing to everything kids would want from a new sci-fi adventure. However, as always I review these comics as I read them now, without the rose-tinted glasses, as a man in his mid-40s.

And I bloody loved it!

We even get to see the thing asleep at one stage, it’s head full of thick veins, it’s eyes popping open suddenly as the tiny Loner nears. It’s all incredibly atmospheric. I can’t show you it all obviously, that’s what the amazing graphic novel collecting this entire story is for, but I can show you some of the other highlights of this issue’s chapter. Complete with ridiculously large brain hooked up to the equally ridiculous helmet, Loner discovers the ground of the beast’s layer is covered with thousands upon thousands of tiny little skulls.

I actually felt sorry for the little furballs with him, seeing generations of their kind dead all around them. It’s at this point the burgeoning relationship between Loner and these little critters, as unlikely as it seemed a few issues ago, solidifies. Anger fills his very being at seeing the skulls. Whether he likes it or not his cool, hard, cold persona is warming to these little beings and he begins to track down the monster again, which has moved deeper into the caves. Bent on revenge, we’re left with no doubt that the odds against him aren’t relevant anymore.

This friendship and how it developed slowly over the course of the comic’s life is something I still remember all these years later, although I can’t remember any of the details so it’s a delight to be reading it again in real time. Instead of bingeing, I’m getting the developing friendship in fortnightly stages as intended and it doesn’t feel rushed or forced in any way, and that’s pretty incredible when you think about the scenario here and who these characters are! It’s so far-fetched and yet feels so natural, a testament to the writers behind it, namely Barrie and his son James Nicholas.

Just when the odds against Loner’s survival (never mind his success) seem stacked enough against him, the beast releases its minions and these aren’t the small, yellow, goggle-wearing kind. These minions of death wouldn’t look out of place in an adult comic today but here they were in the pages of our Wildcat, terrifying the youth. Of course Loner is the cool hero when he wants to be and heskillfully dispatches them with his telepathic weaponry before the beast itself moves in for the kill, and the cliffhanger.

The little pieces of character development and banter between him and the furballs are nice touches and advance things a little in the overall story, but this is really all about the hunt and finally coming up against this monstrosity. But it doesn’t feel like the plot has been left to the side for the action, it’s all nicely balanced. David’s artwork is so incredible I’m completely absorbed in it every issue, and while it’s an exaggeration to say my breath is taken away each time, I have to say that to get across just how much I’m enjoying this.

The Wildcat Complete is called Moon of Terror and concerns pilot Kurby being sent to one of the moons orbiting the planet after a previous crew went missing upon landing. Unable to spare more crew members they have to send Kurby alone. Barrie and his writing team really are stacking up the death count.

Artist Jesús Redondo returns (he supplied the art for #2‘s Wildcat Complete) and his shuttle craft bares a striking resemblance to a certain television show’s fighter craft. I mentioned before about the similarities between the Wildcat story and that of Battlestar Galactica even though that was more coincidence than anything else. Jesús’ shuttle could easily have been influenced by that show’s Vipers. Or it could simply be another coincidence and they were based upon real world jet aircraft. Either way, I like the design.

The cloud cover is so dense all of his computer equipment can’t track the ground and when he comes out of the blackness he’s already too close. After impact his shuttle explodes and so he goes to find the missing crew, hoping the Wildcat will send another rescue ship. At least it’s looking hopeful; they may have just crashed and lost contact for the same reason he has. But as he explores he’s attacked by some form of mutant creature that tries to kill him.


“Don’t want me eating your fruit, eh? One thing I can’t stand is a selfish mutant.”

Kurby

He’s able to break free and shoots it just before being set upon by another. At this stage I’d worked out what was going on. I’m not sure if I would have when I was just eleven-years-old, not having been exposed to many sci-fi stories at that point in my life. A third mutant appears just as Kurby is about to get stuck into some of the local fruit for sustenance. Thinking it’s just another attack and the creature is swatting away the fruit to get to him and kill him, he kills it first. Exhausted, he sits down and eats.

You can see the mutant creatures are humanoid in nature and have a distinct face so I’m sure you can also see where this is going. Unknowingly, Kurby has just picked off the three Wildcat crew members he was sent to save, who had been transformed by eating the same fruit. I do like Jesús’ action man panels of Kurby firing directly towards the reader as he’s attacked. Kurby comes across as quite arrogant in the story but that’s the point I think. We humans are out amongst the stars but still we think we know everything about the world around us, that we are lords of all that we survey.

As you can see the story ends with him slowly turning into one of the mutants himself, the horrible truth about what he’s done becoming apparent. The last mutant swiping the fruit away was doing so as a warning, not an attack. As he transforms he knows the Wildcat will send another team, that he’ll try to warn them, that they’ll kill him and the cycle will repeat. Human arrogance will see the small population dwindle by how many more before it stops?

For now, the death toll six issues in stands at 18 if we include Kurby himself. Maybe this is why the comic stopped at #12, there was no one else to write about!

The Next Issue page is printed sideways and taken over by this picture of Turbo and a Terrosaurus. Is this his dinosaur? I wonder. But given the excitement of the Loner strip I’m surprised this isn’t the story to feature here. Finally on the back cover is this issue’s pin up and it appears these two are continuing their double act for now anyway.

So that’s us officially at the halfway point of the comic’s regular run already. The next issue, the first of the new year will be here on Friday 14th January 2022. This has been a blast and at six issues in it’s already far better than its already impressive start. The next six are going to be phenomenal. I hope.

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