WiLDCAT #8: THE MORE THiNGS CHANGE…

Ron Smith kicks off this issue of Wildcat with his fun Joe Alien cover and I have no idea what’s going on here. Joe’s story has centred around killer plants but it appears there’s more to the region he’s found himself in. I’ll get to that below. Inside, everyone has shifted back to their original places after editor Barrie Tomlinson shook things up a bit last time out, so first up is Turbo Jones and we pick up the story with the Arglon leaders having captured him and demanding he lead their army to victory against his friends.

I have to say this issue’s Turbo chapter is by far the best yet. That’s not to take anything away from the previous seven instalments, but this one takes a somewhat dark turn which I love. It contains some genuine shocks and a very surprising turn of events for one set of evil characters. Robo also really comes to the fore here. As the Arglons believe Turbo has defected they assume Robo is a traitor too and capture him. Their leader The Brain demands he tell them where Turbo is (Robo doesn’t know, he had a system shutdown during the whole debacle) and he’s taken away to be tortured.

For a comic marketed towards a younger demographic than Fleetway‘s other action titles this is really quite dark. Transformers got away with quite severe violence because the characters were robots, it simply wouldn’t have if the characters had been human. Along the same lines, here we see Robo being tortured in very specific ways relating to his robotic parts. Even so, it’s quite heart-wrenching because Robo has been such a loveable character so far. The final panel, when they callously suggest throwing his apparently dead body on the rubbish heap is the darkest the whole comic has got so far, which is a shock to read in the usually safe, action-orientated Turbo Jones story.

I love it!

In the end Robo’s back-up battery was overlooked and he’s able to use it to recharge himself and get back on his feet. He commandeers one of the flying dinosaurs and takes off to find Turbo after overhearing some Arglons saying he’d defected to the other side. He knows it isn’t true and heads off to find out what’s going on. As we check in on Turbo himself we find him tied up in a prison cell and we get something of a revelation about the grand council and The Great Ark!

Up to this point we’ve only seen the council behind their lofty pulpits, armour shoulder plating giving the impression they had full skeletal bodies. The mechanics inside their mouths hinted they were more than just decomposing bodies. I’d thought maybe they weren’t alive, that they were controlled by someone else behind the scenes but it appears I couldn’t have been more wrong. Suddenly we see one confronting Turbo and they’re just a skull and spine, yet appear to be alive! This is a much creepier revelation. They’re even the star of the pin-up. What a fantastic chapter in this story and a brilliant start to this issue.

Ron Smith‘s cover star Joe Alien is up next and his five pages are taken up with his team’s escape from their predicament last time and not much else. But that’s okay. Every issue of Wildcat is perfectly balanced. Each of the four serials can have chapters which are more character focussed, or which develop the plot or further mysteries in the overall story, or concentrate on some action instead. This means we’re guaranteed to get at least one example of these elements across each issue, bringing depth to the action every fortnight.

As the trees tighten their grip on Joe and encircle his men, he uses his extendable limbs to reach through the thorns and grab one of the lasers, killing the plant that has him captive. We then get this amusing panel (below left) showing him helping his men to escape, before they spot commotion in the distance where a giant caterpillar is being attacked by the trees. They pick it up and throw it to the side as they chase down the landing party, but then Joe has an idea. Still a few miles from their shuttle craft they climb on board the giant insect and throughout this increasingly dangerous situation Joe can’t help but be enthralled by it all.

In the end the caterpillar starts to chew down on the attacking trees and the team take their leave, now much closer to their landing site. But when they get there the shuttle is missing. Of course it is! Escaping death from plant life, a crazy human god and from atop a giant caterpillar obviously wasn’t enough. The story continues next issue, but for now this was a fun diversion and the perfect accompaniment to the darker Turbo story.

Kitten Magee and her team are still being led by Hobos but surely what happens this time will finally make them realise what’s really going on. Leading them to a cave where he claims they can take shelter from the dangerous animals in the swamp, they find the ground covered in bones, stripped bare by some savage beast. Hobos claims the creature was killed long ago and the team just accept that! However, Doc takes a closer look at a skull as the others gather wood and thinks to herself it couldn’t have been there for more than a few days. She doesn’t get to air her suspicions before things kick off.

The rest of the team follow, lasers ready and are attacked by a swarm of bats which are easily fended off before the creature reveals itself iil the final panel. Thing is, the cliffhanger image was already used as the Next Issue promo last time, so the big reveal isn’t new. This is a bit disappointing because the whole strip has been leading to something monstrous by artist José Ortiz but we’ve already seen it. However, what I did really enjoy was Crud, Kitten’s little robotic pet. After being absent in the previous chapter for some reason he’s really making up for it here as a true member of the team. As you can see above and below he even gets some genuinely funny comedy moments.

A whole new chapter in Loner‘s adventure on the surface of the planet begins and it takes a turn for the truly bizarre. Finally leaving the underground world he’s been trapped in since the first issue, he finds himself in the jungle, still unable to contact the Wildcat. Frustrated, he goes to kick what looks like a random round object on the ground but it squeals in pain, floats up into the air, expands and surrounds Loner, trapping him inside what looks like a giant jelly. Still able to breathe, he tries to reason with whatever this creature is and apologise. At this point something happens that I have no recollection of from reading this as a kid.

That shrinking panel is expertly drawn by David Pugh and while we don’t get to find anything out about the strange transforming blob as it floats off leaving our hero stranded, there’s a wonderful sense of scale to the final panel on this page. Indeed, in the hands of another artist this might have come across as a somewhat silly outcome for the strip which was, up to this point, the most serious. But instead of roaming into 60s Doctor Who or Land of the Giants territory, David’s art adds a real feeling of isolation and danger.

It does remind me of a certain film though, especially when Loner comes up against this two-headed ant below. But such is the forward-thinking nature of Wildcat, Honey I Shrunk the Kids wasn’t even released until later the same year. Of course, other previous small-people-in-giant-surroundings will have had similar battles before, but for the target audience this was most likely their first such experience.

As an adult it’s initially a bit of a shift for the Loner strip but nevertheless it’s a fun outing with some great imagery of the world around him. But it appears the fun will soon be taking a decidedly darker tone, back to more of what we had before. Suddenly surround by three giant ants who have just watched Loner kill their buddy, he tries to make a run for it and ends up caught in a huge spider’s web. But it’s the Next Issue page that really shows us where we’re headed.

Now that is a monster worthy of David Pugh’s art and a suitable foe for my favourite character! I feel like we’ve been misdirected into believing the strip was taking a lighter approach, only for us to be hit with this image. What a bluff! What an issue the next one is going to be too, what with the Turbo strip’s revelations and tone and this to look forward to as well now. But we’re not quite finished with issue eight yet. The Wildcat Complete tale has a strong message and, while it’s a coincidence, a question on the letters page sets it up for us.

Kathleen probably wrote in while reading those first few issues. As I said at the time, the comic started off with some brilliant misdirection (Wildcat was good at this). As the stories developed, what Kathleen had witnessed would be turned on its head, teaching us all not to judge a creature (or indeed anyone) by their looks alone. Aliens advertised as hideous monsters became allies, scary ones were shown to be simply defending themselves, and often humans were the worst culprits of the horrors to be found in deep space, especially in the complete stories. This issue is no exception.

Just when you think the human race can’t disappoint us any further

Gliz, drawn by Joan Boix, tells the tale of an alien worker on board the Wildcat. With a lizard-like face and two extra arms resembling tentacles he’s the butt of constant jokes from his small-minded work colleagues in the scientific research department, where he works as a cleaner. You’d think scientists would know better. Their constant bullying, just because he’s different, makes him uncontrollably nervous, which results in him being rather accident prone. Of course, when accidents happen the humans only see these as proof that they were right about him all along, even though it’s their fault.

He’s a sympathetic character and quite lovable straight away. His wish to make friends, to fit in with the humans and be the best he can be is endearing. Only one human by the name of Grenzel gives him the chance to be himself and open up about the treatment he receives. But Grenzel’s mother doesn’t take kindly to her son mingling with an alien and in a rather shocking scene punches her son to teach him a bigoted, racist lesson. No pun intended, but it’s quite the hard-hitting start to a story in a children’s comic and I like how it doesn’t hold back. His mum threatens him with a beating from his father and as a result Grenzel ignores Gliz the next day at work.

Depressed more than ever, Gliz jumps at the chance to show his abilities on a dangerous mission to one of the planet’s moons after the pilot becomes ill and Gliz is the only one left who knows how to fly the shuttle. Once there, the crew are set upon by space pirates and the humans immediately try to use Gliz as a bargaining tool. The pirates crash-landed and need to get off the moon, but upon finding out only Gliz can fly the humans’ cowardly plan backfires. Deemed unnecessary, they’re all killed.

On the final page Gliz realises the pirates are going to hijack the Wildcat and kill everyone on board. Setting the controls to self-destruct he consoles himself that at least he’ll die a hero and be redeemed in the eyes of the people he just wanted to be close to. But just when you think the human race couldn’t disappoint us any further the story finishes on this note below.

It’s a real downer to end the issue on and I salute Barrie and his team in doing so. Unfortunately it’s a tale that could be told today and still be just as relevant. Today, we’d probably have the ancient ancestors of those scientists attacking the comic on Twitter for it, but that would just prove its point. It’s a powerful end to what has been a surprising issue of this fantastic comic. But surely questions would have to be asked of Turbo’s selection process. Several hundred of our best and brightest and these xenophobes still get to partake in taking humans to the stars?

Darker stories, surprising twists, fun adventures and a message I can really get behind. I’d say this has been the best issue of Wildcat yet. How can it improve on this? All I know is I’m sure it’ll manage to. Somehow. We’ll find out when the next review hits the blog on Friday 11th February 2022.

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