This review was due on 25th February, click here to find out about the delay. More catch-ups to come this week.
It is with a lump in my throat that I picked up this latest issue of editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s superlative Wildcat comic from 1989. My initial reaction was thinking it was great to have an Ian Kennedy cover again to kick off proceedings, only to be reminded how just very recently we lost the great man himself. A giant in the comics industry, his artwork always astounded me as a kid and no less so now. His work features on many covers on the blog in the Ring Raiders, Super Naturals and of course Wildcat series.
Barrie brought Ian on to design the Wildcat craft and the characters who would lead humanity down to the surface of the planet, and the Wildcat Holiday Special would show some of his original designs. Released on 27th May 1989 you can look out for that review (which will definitely include Ian’s designs) on that date this year, and check out his gorgeous full-colour, hand-painted introductory strip for the Ring Raiders Mini-Comic given away free with Eagle.
A talent who worked right up to the end, Ian was 89 when he passed and will be missed by a legion of fans across the world. You can read an obituary for Ian on Rebellion‘s Treasury of British Comics website here.
Ian drew the very first episode of Turbo Jones but ever since #2 he’s been in the more than capable hands of Vanyo, and after some darker episodes we’re back into the realm of far-out dinosaur and spacecraft action. But not before Barrie writes in one more shocking scene, in which the Burroids being sacrificed to the Arglons‘ god are given a chance to escape. But only six of them. Swooping down on Robo‘s new pal, Turbo obviously wants to save who he can, but we end up with desperate soldiers clambering for position, some falling back to their inevitable death.
It’s the kind of thing we’ve seen in war films or even on the news, so to see it in a children’s comic is all the more shocking, which makes for excellent reading and shows how Wildcat never talked down to us kids. It threw surprising scenes like this at us and we lapped them up. Advertised at the time as a comic for the younger siblings of 2000AD readers, it’s no wonder in the years since I’ve read of people discovering Wildcat and wishing the “younger” label hadn’t put them off at the time.
Commandeering a shuttle craft to take after the one allegedly on the way to hijack the Wildcat, Turbo and Robo find themselves back in space when they discover the real intentions of the Arglons. It’s actually a robotic crew sent on a suicide mission to blow up the entire spacecraft and end humanity! But with the robots confused over whether to defend themselves against Turbo or attack the Wildcat first, we’re left wondering who’ll make the first move.
With the stakes being raised so high it feels like we’re on our way towards a climax for this first adventure of Turbo’s, but I don’t remember it coming to a conclusion by the time of the comic’s cancellation. So maybe for any other comic this could be the beginning of a grand finale, but for Barrie it was just another episode!
Joe Alien is still stuck down the slimy hole leading to the home of the giant slug creatures that saved him and his men from the killer vegetation. (There’s a sentence!) Fortunately, Joe’s original assessment of these slugs being friendly appears to have been correct. These Dargonlites, so superbly designed and drawn by Ron Smith are vegetarian enemies of the plants and in a funny moment they tell Joe all the slime was produced to break their fall, and they thought the humans would find it pleasing!
Joe’s brain pack has been placed securely back on to his head but it appears some of the slime got in. This makes it malfunction and he starts to go crazy again, extended limbs flailing everywhere, even bopping the slugs on their heads as if he’s playing a giant, slimy piano. His legs spring him into the air and he ends up in one of their mouths, much to the surprise and disgust of the alien slug, producing this funny panel below on the left.
This doesn’t exactly build bonds and as you can see the cliffhanger is even more shocking than Turbo’s. Affronted at Joe’s indiscretions one of the slugs pushes a long, thorny sting out of its rear end and electrifies the slime, sending our team into twists of agonising pain. For the life of me I don’t know why I can’t remember more of this strip because it’s just so much fun.
These being the only colour pages helps of course, with Ron’s art and colour palette leaping off the page. His designs and a real kinetic energy make Joe’s pages (split over two different sections of the comic) hugely exciting and it seems every single chapter is introducing brand new elements and twists to what was already a highly original (and way out there) story. It’s absolutely perfect children’s sci-fi and I’m not ashamed to say at 44 years-of-age it’s making me feel like a kid all over again. I love it!
Kitten Magee and her team finally make it to Hoboan City, despite Hobos‘ various attempts at offing them over the last few issues. Placed aboard floating transports they’re flown over the metropolis while he boasts about his people’s accomplishments. Only when they enter a great council chamber and he formally announces his entrance with, “I, Hobos the Murderous, return” to the other members does the penny finally drop all the way for the humans.
A magnet on the ceiling relieves them of their weapons and when their transports flip to toss them down a trap door below, Kitten’s robotic pet Crud ends up flying off in the opposite direction. I have to say I’ve really enjoyed the comical moments for Crud in recent issues. They’re never overdone and at all other times he’s been a real help to the team and a proper character in his own right, so these moments are genuinely funny when they happen.
All pretence is gone and as the team are flung out into the open air they’re captured in giant nets and shown the Hoboan version of fishing, where electrical shocks are used to torture the aquatic life in their city’s pools. The cliffhanger has the women being tossed towards the water and their ultimate fate. I have to say I’m glad to see the story leave the jungle after a few monster-of-the-week episodes, although I’ll admit last issue’s was a highlight of the whole story so far. Hopefully we can start finding out more about the history of Hobos’ people and this part of the planet, but if not it all makes for some daft fun anyway!
On the Wildcat Time-Warp Data Link pages (letters pages to you and me) the answer to this reader’s question stood out. When asked about possible character profiles in future issues the answer mentions the Holiday Special and an Annual. Unfortunately, the twelfth issue would be the last before the comic merged into Eagle but it’s interesting to know even at this stage the fate of the comic may not have been known. The Annual didn’t materialise of course, but a Winter Special did, the contents of which I always thought was intended to be in an Annual originally. Perhaps this was the case.
On to our shrunken Loner now and while David Pugh‘s art is always the highlight of an issue, again I feel the story doesn’t really know where it’s going. In this chapter Loner has been attacked by an alien creature that’s clinging to his face, but before he can shoot it with Babe another creature attacks his arm. He’s able to free himself using a rock, hitting the creatures with it and they just pop open, no blood or guts visible. This asks questions, obviously. Then a larger version appears, leaps on one of the smaller ones and begins to eat it, then another larger one appears and does the same to that one… like a vicious family of cannibalistic Russian dolls.
I’m intrigued by these creatures. Their designs are wonderful, they’re somehow hollow and this apparently never-ending cycle fascinates me, but just like the wonderful spider and ants they’re forgotten about when Loner makes his escape. He then spots the floating blob that shrunk him to this size in the first place, but before he can get to it a horse-like alien is taking a drink from the river and doesn’t spot the tiny man who ends up in its mouth, about to be swallowed. Maybe as a child I loved the endless stream of dangers he faced as he tried to return to normal, but now I’m craving more story.
As you can see with those creatures the action is imaginative and exciting but over the course of the first seven issues we had all this plus a proper plot for Loner to sink his teeth into. Now instead it’s like he’s just stumbling from one danger to another, which is all the more frustrating when some of those dangers have real potential to be a main story element. Maybe I’m being harsh, after all it was aimed for a much younger me who may have loved it just as much as the earlier stories, but I can’t help but feel the comic has spoiled me up to this point, and proven time and again it can produce dynamic, interesting and deep stories to match David’s incredible artwork, leaving the current story feeling somewhat lacking.
The complete tale this issue simply gets ‘The Wildcat Complete‘ as its banner but at the top of every page artist Joan Boix has written “Earth 2” so that’s the actual title. This correlates with the front cover, which would have us believe a planet called Earth 2 has killer robots on it. (Quick note: This was six years before the short-lived TV series of the same name.) But the planet the landing parties are exploring is called Targon-5 (not actually named in the strips, it was named as part of the free gift with #1 and mentioned in its Next Issue promo), so what’s this all about? Colour me intrigued.
It kicks off with more Space Madness infecting humans aboard the ship, something which has been a problem since #2. Aboard a cramped tin can in deep space, unable to leave and far from their home (which blew up!), some people’s minds just can’t cope and they go loopy. Here we have someone jettison themselves out an airlock where their body explodes in the vacuum, and the equivalent of space fire fighters called the ‘Emergency Squad’ start emergencies! But Doctor Jedd Gruber thinks he has a solution, a vast holographic simulation of life back on our long lost planet.
Soon, across the whole ship people are being given tokens to allow them two hours a week inside the simulation and at first it appears to be working. Reports come in that people’s madness is being properly managed, some have recovered completely and many sane people are visiting it as a preventative measure. But of course this is the Wildcat Complete story so we know it all has to go horribly wrong.
Two individuals hold up the doctor at gunpoint and destroy his robotic assistant, demanding to be let into ‘Earth 2’ (as it’s become known due to how realistic it is) and to have the doors locked after them. The doctor tries to explain none of it is real and asks what they’re going to eat, but consumed with Space Madness they’ve become addicted to Earth 2. They call the doctor stupid (“blitz-brain”); they’re going to eat the berries on the beautiful bushes and fruits from the trees! Fearing for his life the doc has no option but to close them in. Looking on from outside he summons the security droids.
I love those last words, how it was so realistic it ended up going the same way as the actual planet. It’s definitely one of the better anthology tales (they’ve all been very good) and Joan’s art is a superb fit, their depiction of the space madness is just perfect. This is one of the most interesting aspects of this series of stories. While they’re all individual, there are some themes that pop up now and again, with this sickness being the most prevalent and one which I’m sure would’ve played a huge part in the ongoing saga of the Wildcat if the comic had carried on.
The ending reminded me I’ve been remiss with my Wildcat Death Toll of late. In the Christmas issue not one person died (suitably enough) and since then I haven’t picked the count back up again. So, with three dead in this story alone, and all six human characters killed off in last issue’s Complete, where do we stand? Going back and adding up all the deaths from all strips, in all issues, with only several hundred humans left alive in the universe editor Barrie and his team have seen off 32 already! (Plus the wonderful Gliz alien character.)
Would the spiralling death toll have been referenced in later issues? Who knows. But for now I close another superb issue and with only two regular ones to go I await with bated breath what’s in store for the remainder of humanity. Our penultimate fortnightly review will be on the blog from Friday 11th March 2020. Just before we finish here though, as I turned the final page (after the Next Issue promo below) I was transported right back to 1989 with this Weetabix advert. I remember collecting those very cars. Even though there was nothing particularly different about them from the other toys I had, the fact you had to collect tokens and send away for them made them feel exotic and rare! Did you remember these?