WiLDCAT #9: ALFRED HiTCHCOCK iN SPACE

While we’ve already seen Turbo Jones as a captive of The Great Ark, the latest Wildcat cover still gets the heart to pumping after last issue’s darker turn of events for the lead character. Now he’s going to be pulled in front of the living skulls and I’m excited to see what’s going to happen next. He was ordered to take the Arglons’ army and use his battle tactics against his friends and I don’t think these creatures are going to take no for an answer. But it looks like I’m going to have to wait just a little longer to find out because first up is Kitten Magee.

From the very first panel I’m somewhat captivated because the huge beast they’re up against appears to have a transparent stomach! Inside we see the skeletal remains of animals broken down by the acidic digestive juices swirling about. With Doc and Cassandra in either hand Kitten and the remainder of her team try to shock it into dropping them by firing near it, but this just angers the beast and next thing we know Aurora appears to have met her fate! I’ll admit when this happened I was shocked, I thought they’d killed her off! Until I turned the page that is.

You can’t get much more original action than dangling by a wire inside a monster’s stomach! Outside, the team are at a loss as to what to do, but in the end a bat-like creature they’d captured for Doc to examine breaks free and it seems it and the beast are natural enemies. With its teeth crushed after trying to chow down on Crud it attacks the beast’s neck with its claws while Crud bites at its feet, much to Kitten’s chastising. But it works and it falls over, unconscious.

The final page of this chapter begins with a bit of comic relief as we get Aurora’s speech balloon coming from within the giant jaws, which are locked tight. Not wishing to harm the animal now they can escape, they lament not having any choice but to place small explosives on its teeth to free their friend. What imagination there is on show here! Wildcat has proven several times already how original it can be and if any one strip could be held aloft to prove that, it’d be this chapter of Kitten’s story. Straight after, artist José Ortiz treats us to this issue’s pin up of the manipulative Hobos, and despite his horrid appearance it’s still beautifully rendered in a different style than José’s previous posters.

From vicious monsters with see-through bellies back we go to killer vegetation, only this time there’s a giant slug for Joe Alien to deal with too! (Really, where else would you get this kind of fun?) Ron Smith‘s art truly excels here, like when the approaching trees suddenly stop and Joe starts to pick up words within his head, a telepathic message telling him their execution squad are on the way. There’s little to no hope left. Surrounded on all sides Joe tells his men they have no option but to try and fight their way out.

Suddenly all the trees start disappearing into the ground; one after the other they’re violently pulled down and then it starts to open up. Just when you think things couldn’t get any more out there after the Kitten story, up pops a ginormous slug-type creature, no eyes but all teeth! It moves about in a large circle before disappearing back down the hole, only for its heads to pop back up for a few seconds and then disappear again. Believing it to be a signal that it wants them to follow it, Joe leads his men down the slime covered sides of the giant hole.

I love the look of the slug, with its big mouth full of teeth, seemingly grinning at them. Has it just saved them from certain death? Is it really leading them to salvation? Or have they just gotten themselves into bigger problems? It’s not long before they lose their footing and slide all the way to the bottom, landing in a huge puddle of mucus, Joe’s brain dislodging as they do so. Again.

Yep, this is the cliffhanger. Where they find themselves would’ve been enough in my opinion. Leave the brain falling off until next time, it’s exciting enough and in fact having this happen yet again takes away from the originality and excitement of this episode somewhat. The ‘Next Issue’ page highlights this strip and it looks like the looney version of Joe has gone and flung himself into the slug’s mouth. There’s still no indication he’ll be eaten though, or that the slug is an enemy, so we’ll wait and see. Cliffhanger aside, it’s been a rollicking ride.

Loner‘s shrinking may have seemed like a silly idea to begin with but on the very first page here we can see it’s suddenly being taken a lot more seriously, when the owner of the giant web he got tangled in comes home to feed. The opening image was shown as the Next Issue picture previously, so go and check that out if you’d like a sense of how things kick off for our mercenary friend.

He’s surely done for but at the last moment unlikely saviours appear in the shape of the two-headed ants he escaped. They attack the giant (well, normal sized really) spider, climbing all over its body and chewing on its legs, eyes and basically anything else they can get their mandibles into. The spider isn’t going to let them interrupt dinner though and as you can see its doing its own fair share of killing, taking out three of the ants in this one gruesome panel alone.

This issue it’s basically a big monster movie, or rather a small person monster movie. Loner escapes from the webbing as the spider loses its grip, then kills one of the ants with Babe (his specially modified gun) before it can eat him too. Clearly, they aren’t the saviours after all, the spider was just in the way. They were still out for revenge after he killed one of their kind in #8. Escaping outside, Loner rests up on top of a flower for the night, before being rudely awakened by a benign animal simply eating breakfast.

After this he walks about wondering what to do and spots an even smaller insect than he. He takes comfort in this for a few seconds before it jumps in the air, lets out a shriek and wraps itself around his neck. To Be Continued. Loner is still my favourite character in the comic but his story is beginning to feel a little disjointed, like the writer doesn’t really know where to take it next, after the excellent opening tale. I’ll be disappointed if it’s just going to be a matter of a series of bugs attacking him. The spider/ants had real potential but already they’ve been left behind and another random insect provides the cliffhanger. I’ll wait and see, but with some trepidation.

Moving on to our lead character and cover star now, Turbo Jones. As Robo arrives over the city a carnival is starting below in the city of the warrior Arglons. During this, their enemies are sacrificed to their god by tossing them into a flaming pit and Turbo is in line for such an end if he doesn’t lead their almost-defeated army back against his friends, the Burroids. Below, you can see two Arglons leave their post, thinking the border guards are just overreacting. It’s nice that the characters painted somewhat as cartoony soldiers/henchmen of the Great Ark are being given individual personalities now. Although they’re tossed in the pit later in the chapter for their actions here!

Turbo is taken to the council where they demand his answer, with Robo hidden in the background watching the proceedings. Turbo spots him but ignores him, not wishing to give away his friend’s position. It’s all setting itself up to have Turbo agree to their demands and for Robo to think he’s turned traitor in a clichéd misunderstanding. But this is Wildcat and it takes a surprising turn when Turbo is told they have the ship itself locked in their sights, ready to launch their troops and arrest all on board. This is why he’s letting them lead him to the council.

But seeing Robo shows him he has a chance to escape, so instead Turbo makes a run for it, hoping Robo has a way out. But his treachery is the last straw and the Great Ark orders that the people of the Wildcat are no longer to be made prisoners of war, they are to be destroyed. Now this is how you do an exciting, shocking cliffhanger that still feels like a natural evolution part of the story.

It should really go without saying by now how Vanyo brings the goods with Turbo every single time, but with last issue and this one they’ve done such an amazing job in altering the tone of their drawing to suit the darker elements of the story. I love how the Ark is a bigger part of the tale now and they feel like a real threat. It’s also a story that’s very organically shifted from one scenario to another. While the Loner strip has made quite a jarring transition, Turbo’s is evolving and telling different stories within the same scenario.

His strip is definitely my favourite here. Something I’ve noticed in reading the comic in real time is how my favourite shifts from issue to issue. From memory I thought Loner would be the top strip every issue but they’ve all really taken their fair share of the accolade. This isn’t to take away from Loner of course, it’s just that the others have really excelled far beyond expectations, and my expectations were high! It’s a comic which continues to surprise every fortnight.

Chirpers is our Wildcat Complete this issue and it begins with a man feverishly writing at a (retro style) computer about things tapping at the walls, trying to get in. We begin by thinking it’s someone on board the Wildcat who has gone space crazy. This follows the revelation on the letters page that the Wildcat is only a quarter-of-a-mile long. I had always assumed it was much bigger than that, especially with some of the interiors we’ve seen. I thought this was far too small for nearly 1000 people but then I remembered Babylon 5 had a quarter-of-a-million people on board and was five miles long. So really, Wildcat is a bit roomy.

They strip skin and flesh down to the bone in seconds and the Wildcat death toll continues to rise once more

But I digress. This is why I erroneously thought this man, called Grucker, was talking about things trying to get through the walls. But there’s more to it. Once again the fact the exploration teams have been out of contact since they landed is brought up, but now the crew are doing something about it. They launch a fifth expedition team who land in an exotic jungle and of course they immediately lose their communications (a radiation storm centuries before). But it’s a paradise so they don’t care, they change into skimpier clothing and make friends with little friendly birds they nickname Chirpers.

That is, all except for one of the team. Grucker is busy taking soil and plant samples and the others ridicule him for taking things too seriously. They believe the Wildcat will realise what’s happened and send a rescue team down to pick them up and in the meantime they should treat it like a holiday. But Grucker is adamant they’re on a scientific research mission. For the others the only things that aren’t completely idyllic are the predatory birds that appear every now and again to feed on their cute little friends.

The group leader finally decides to help their little buddies out, against all of Grucker’s protestations. He is of course right, they don’t know anything about the balance of nature here but it all falls on deaf ears. The predators look big and scary, their little bird pals are small and cute, so the decision is made. The results are disastrous. Very quickly over the next two weeks the skies fill with more and more of the Chirpers until suddenly they start to swarm and attack. Like a more vicious version of Hitchcock‘s The Birds, they strip skin and flesh down to the bone in seconds and the Wildcat death toll continues to rise once more.

So in the end it wasn’t a crazy old man going space crazy in the cramped conditions of the Wildcat, threatening to go to the ship’s ammunitions store and cause goodness knows what havoc. It was Grucker, the only sensible person in the entire team, trapped in their shed-like compound writing a diary for anyone who would find his body, knowing he was about to die. In fact the last panel is just his skeleton, with a few Chirpers happily sitting on top. It’s a rather grim ending and I love it. That’s also a clever bit of misdirection at the start. The comic has portrayed people like that before so I instantly assumed I knew where it was going. How wrong I was and how happy I was to be wrong.

Another issue under our belt and it’s been a belter! While three of the four serials concentrated more on action and were plot-lite, their originality and fun more than made up for that. Turbo and The Chirpers then brought a great, story-driven climax to the comic, so I’m really glad the running order was changed about again, with a double dose of great writing after all the action. It’s such a strong comic and it has a confidence in itself that would you think it was going to run and run. We may be nearing the end of that run but there’s a lot still to enjoy.

The review of the tenth issue of Wildcat will be here from Friday 25th February 2022.

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