WiLDCAT #12: JOURNEY’S END

This Vanyo cover with lead character Turbo Jones is an exciting mystery, begging the question of how he ended up in this predicament after the conclusion last issue. The ever-changing colours of the Wildcat logo bring us this variant, almost matching the creature below it. It’s a great start and I’m sure it thrilled me at the time, not knowing of the sad news within. There’s no clue here, and there isn’t until the end of our first strip, so let’s start there and see how things pan out, shall we?

Brought in front of the Burroids‘ leader, The Brain, Turbo faces a trial for supposedly defecting to the other side, The Arglons. Of course, he was actually captured and forced to work for them, but he escaped and made it back to help his friends. However The Brain, for all of its apparent knowledge (it is a big floating brain in a glass sphere after all) isn’t too hot when it comes to assessing the situation, or indeed holding a fair trial. Simply deciding not to believe Turbo, he’s sentenced to walk the Valley of Death.

The first of these obstacles is the creature from the cover, who Turbo eventually dispatches by decapitating two of its heads and strangling the third. It’s a great, action-packed sequence and begs the question, if this is the first obstacle what are the rest like? He ends up trapped in the deadly vines of a fruit tree as he tries to take some food but thankfully Robo finally catches us with his master. Oh sorry, I mean friend! There’s a nice moment between the two when Robo apologises for having emotions and worrying about Turbo, and Turbo telling him he’ll never complain about his robot friend having emotions.

This was a complete shock, especially at only 12 issues in.

Their friendship has always been an interesting one and at times surprisingly sweet among all the action and excitement. As they make their way deeper into the valley Turbo plunges into a trap, crashing through branches laid out on the ground over a hole, so clearly there’s someone else here. It’s a great action episode while still maintaining the characterisation we’ve come to love. The Turbo Jones story has never forgotten that and has always achieved the perfect balance, testament to its writer (and the comic’s creator and editor) Barrie Tomlinson. However, in the corner of the final panel are the words, “This story continues in the first issue of Eagle & Wildcat – on Sale April 1st.”

As a child I was devastated; not again! I obtained my free Wildcat Preview issue with the final edition of OiNK which had crushed me because I’d never had a comic cancelled on me before. As I’ve mentioned previously it had felt like OiNK was passing the baton to Wildcat and so this was a complete shock, especially at only 12 issues in. As usual the news was promoted in as positive a light as possible and on the next page was this advert for the first of the combined issues.

As much as these ‘Great News For All Readers’ kind of messages tried, it was always sad for those collecting the cancelled comic. There would be an attempt to make it sound like both titles were merging into one awesome comic, but in reality it was always clear one was getting cancelled and a little bit of it was going to appear in the other. So, just as with OiNK when three of its characters joined Buster, I didn’t continue with Wildcat in the pages of Eagle, but I’ve some news on that front which I’ll get to below.

For now though, let’s continue with the final colour episode for Joe Alien (in Eagle he would be in black and white). Facing down the oncoming storm of murderous vegetation and seeing the roots encircle his men, our peace-loving alien has no choice but to do the one thing he hates the most, he resorts to violence and picks up a laser to free his team. They retreat into a cave that has walls covered with eggs belonging to the Dargonlites, the giant slugs from previous issues. Happily for me (because I think they’re a brilliant creation) there’s one left guarding the eggs and they take to the trees with fervour in defence of the unborn young.

This one slug takes care of the advancing hordes and just as Joe and his men leave we see one of the hatchlings burst out of its egg with the promise of survival after their devastating loses last time. But this is Wildcat, we can’t be having too much of a happy ending, so as they continue their search for the missing shuttle the mossy floor itself comes alive like an evil turf, rolling up to engulf them. It’s certainly an imaginative cliffhanger, I’ll give you that!

The story would continue in Eagle but we’d have to wait, the little box at the end promising the story will continue in a future issue. As you saw in the promo only Turbo and Kitten would be in the comic to begin with, what with limited space available for the merge. This was another reason I didn’t carry over my comic order. Yes, there’s only so much room for the Wildcat strips and nothing could be done about that, but for young me I only wanted to read about these characters and didn’t like the fact I’d only get a small portion of the contents every week.

Joe does go out on a high though. His plight on the planet has been huge fun. Originally drawn with the fervent imagination of Massimo Belardinelli it wasn’t long before the incredible Ron Smith took over and I’ve loved every single panel he’s produced. Even when the plot slipped a little (just for an issue or two) his art still made this one of the best strips every single time. Joe remains very much an enigma and it’s such a crying shame we won’t get to see him develop and find out about his mysterious past.

The Kitten Magee strip is really full of twists, turns and surprises this issue, making the cancellation all the more frustrating. With Kitten knocked out we see Aurora take command of the team and soon they’ve lured one of the large Hoboans on his floating platform to within reach, commandeering his vehicle. In the process he falls off and through a glass window, killing him. This makes our team an even higher priority target, to be terminated on sight. We return to them for the cliffhanger but first we catch up with their leader and her pet.

Crud calling Hobos “mate” raised a chuckle. At first I thought these fishy creatures might turn on their owners like the ones out in the public pools, and that might still happen of course, but for now we’re left not knowing what’s happened to the little metal fella. We catch up on the rest of the team for the final two pages, hiding in a food storage unit full of rotting, stinking meat. We get an interesting nugget of info on the Hoboans here as Doc postulates that given the shape their bodies are in, this may be the only way they can consume food, when it’s already broken down by rot and decay. I really enjoy little details like this, it makes the fantastical feel more grounded.

This is the first time the story has focussed on the team without Kitten and it works so well. They’ve each had a little bit of time in the spotlight in individual scenarios before, enough so that when they’re interacting with one other they feel like well developed individuals and not just cannon fodder. The story ends with the discovery of a hidden doorway and an ancient city, destroyed by the Hoboans a long time ago. The stench, the dust of remains, a whole civilisation wiped out of existence, this is such a surprising twist and these final pages ooze atmosphere!

Damn it, why did more people not buy into this super comic? It should’ve carried on for many more years! The letters page reassures readers a few times that the stories and characters are going to continue, still trying to sell it as a 50/50 Eagle/Wildcat merger. Unlike Super Naturals the address is still here as readers’ contributions would continue and there’s even a guest appearance from Max, Eagle‘s fictional editor.

Loner is our final serial and just like Joe it would be a while before he’d appear again. This is extra annoying because, even though the plot recently hasn’t been all that hot, the cliffhanger asks so many questions! Anyway, you’ll remember from #11’s review how our mercenary friend was plummeting back to the forest fire below. He has a messy save as he lands on and smashes the nest’s eggs. His plan to fly away on the bird’s foot didn’t work out and I’ll admit his next thought as the fire races up the tree towards him made me laugh.

If you’ve been following along with these reviews you’ll know this second tale in Loner’s epic quest has felt a bit too loose, a bit too made-up-as-it-goes-along for my liking. I was prepared for more outlandishness this issue and awaited whatever random event would befall our hero. I could never have predicted what transpires here!

It begins with the wind picking up and spreading the fire even quicker across the forest floor. Of course to Loner in his miniaturised state it feels like a hurricane is trying to pluck him up off his feet and in fact that’s exactly what happens. Clutching desperately on to a leaf to stay put, it’s blown away with him still clinging on as the wind whips up the fire below. This is all good stuff so far, for once it’s something you could see happening in this far-fetched scenario, but what if I told you that very same wind somehow blows him so far up he leaves the atmosphere of the planet? Yes, really.

Frozen in the upper atmosphere, Loner’s unconscious body floats out into space and apparently passes relatively close by the Wildcat itself (the second character to do so in as many issues) before he starts making his descent. The comic has always been a far out there, wild and fantastical ride and I’ve loved it for that as well as for its originality. But this is a step too far for the far-fetched. I can’t remember my reaction to this when I was in the age range of the target audience but this (much) older version of me didn’t like this one bit.

I’m not going to go into detail about logistics or the science, this is a fun children’s comic after all and I’m not about to start taking it all too seriously. But even from a story perspective it just doesn’t make sense and is yet another seemingly random event plucked out of thin air (in this case very thin air) just to be bigger and more exciting than the previous one. Maybe I loved it back in 1989 but I review these classic comics as I find them now with no rose-tinted glasses and I just want another well constructed plot for one of my favourite comics characters, like we had for the first half dozen issues. But back to that cliffhanger I mentioned, when I suddenly found my interest piqued again.

David Pugh‘s artwork shines as always but that penultimate panel with Loner’s understated shock is simply superb. Our unflappable hero, always ready with his quick wit, actually looks almost speechless here. It’s not overplayed, his facial expressions not exaggerated for effect, David’s style is so good he doesn’t need to do that. The subtlety and realism in his drawings of Loner while the character is surrounded by fantastical sci-fi elements of psychic alien lizards, cute furballs and giant monsters perfectly captured this particular hero and why I loved him so much.

I imagine my face was somewhat similar to Loner’s when I originally read this, the final cliffhanger of the comic’s run. Has he travelled in time? Is that giant the real Loner? Is this shrunken Loner actually a copy? This is the kind of cliffhanger ending I’ve been craving for the last half a dozen issues or so and it just so happens to be in the final issue. It’s not the end of his story for me, as I’ll get to in a little bit, but before we move on to the final strip there are a couple of advertisement pages I thought might interest you.

It’s Holiday Specials time and alongside Mask (which had already folded and by this stage had finished its merge with Eagle), Roy of the Rovers and Battle was something called the Spinechillers. The top corner of the cover has a tiny little Scream logo but in reality there were no characters or strips within that had featured in the short-lived weekly. It was even presented by a new character called Ghoul (instead of the usual Ghastly McNasty) who had presented a strip the year before in Eagle. There was also news of a free gift in Buster but for me at the time the big news was below that.

Finally, just as Uncle Pigg had promised in the last issue of OiNK here was a new edition of my favourite comic! That final OiNK had introduced me to Wildcat and now here was the final Wildcat telling me of the return of OiNK. Everything had come full circle. Although claiming it hadn’t had the chop is a bit of a stretch. Still, it was exciting and a mood booster after the cancellation of the comic in my hands. Speaking of which, time to read the final strip, this issue’s Wildcat Complete and this time it’s drawn by Carlos Pino (TV Century 21, Starlord, Ring Raiders).

I really have my doubts about Turbo’s selection process. We’ve seen horrible xenophobes, serial killers, robot slave drivers and now bullying bosses in these anthology stories. With only several hundred people on board from our whole race, who was left behind to make room for these idiots? Zak‘s bosses are all of this type, shouting and screaming at him just because he gets sick easily, and they certainly don’t care that he currently has a cold. To punish him they force him outside to clean the hull of Wildcat and it’s there the above happens.

We can tell where this is headed, War of the Worlds-style.

Yuggoth, Master of Chaos looks very much like a man in a rubber suit, 80s Doctor Who-style alien which suits the retro futuristic nature of this read through perfectly. He inhabits poor Zak’s body and straight away we can tell where this is headed, War of the Worlds-style. Of course, Zak isn’t believed by anybody and only he can see Yuggoth’s reflection in the mirror, so he gets scolded some more by his bosses before one of them sets him up with a psychiatrist-droid which is clearly programmed to get the results his boss wants. (Again, how did Turbo pick these people?!) It’s only a matter of time though before our visitor has seen enough to make his move.

In the control centre of Wildcat’s computerised systems the two head operators are female, which is refreshing for an 80s comic. However, they also regularly belittled Zak like his bosses and so I felt no sympathy when they’re the first to die at the hands of this alien foe (bringing the Wildcat Death Toll to 38 in its final issue). Seemingly unstoppable, Yuggoth’s victory seems certain when suddenly he begins clutching at his throat and keels over, dead. Later, a scientist concludes the creature caught a virus its body had no defence against. It was Zak’s cold.

In the end Zak becomes a hero but in today’s post-Covid (almost) world that final panel is just plain scary! It adds to the overall thriller feel to the story, with these humans just opening themselves up to pain and misery thinking it’s their salvation, but clearly that wasn’t the intention of the ending at the time. It just goes to show how strips can not only age well over the decades, they can even improve.

That’s your lot. With this story Wildcat comes to an end. At the time I had no interest in buying Eagle (sorry, Eagle and Wildcat!) as I said above so this was where these stories finished for me and only over these past couple of years, over three decades later, have we finally got Rebellion‘s new graphic novel collections of Turbo Jones and Loner so that I can find out what happened. Even though I purchased the books over a year ago now, I’ve been waiting for the whole read through to finish before I devour them. Unfortunately though, it’s looking increasingly unlikely the other characters will be getting similar treatment.

I’m currently collecting the remaining Kitten Magee, Joe Alien and Wildcat Complete stories in the Eagle comics released over the twelve months after Wildcat finished, but that’s going to take a while, so first I’ll be completing my original 80s collection with the Wildcat Holiday and Winter Specials, so look out for them in May and November of this year. Then after that I’ll go back to read the adventures I didn’t as a kid to see how it all ended (not a real time trek through them all though, I’ll be summing up the Wildcat content).

So I’m not done with Barrie Tomlinson‘s Wildcat just yet, just taking a breather. The Wildcat Holiday Special review will be here from Friday 27th May 2022

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