WiLDCAT WiNTER SPECiAL: GLOSSY GALACTiC GAMES

With this review we tie up the Wildcat real time read through. Yes, there are two recent graphic novel collections and the merge with Eagle to round up, but for the original comic this marks the end and I can’t help but feel a bit sad about that. The Wildcat Winter Special has a lot to live up to then, it’s been a long time coming after all. The comic finished in March and we’ve had nothing since the Holiday Special in May. So did it satiate the cravings for fans?

Earlier in the year Eagle announced there would be a Wildcat Holiday Special and an annual. While the latter never materialised I think it’s clear the content for it ended up in the Winter Special instead. (Just like the OiNK Winter Special in that regard.) Things kick off inside with a reprint of the preview issue’s cover and strip, a black and white reprint of a formerly gorgeously coloured Joe Alien pin up by Ron Smith which results in his eyes looking hauntingly dead, and then two whole pages are taken up with a ‘Spot the Difference’, which boils down to a page from Eagle (I presume, I’ve never seen it before) reprinted twice.

In fact we don’t get anything new until page 16! Not a reassuring start for a special which cost a little less than the thicker, hardback annuals but it does come on lovely glossy paper throughout and a nice, thick (even glossier) cover, hence the price. I suppose we could call it a premium special of sorts (like the Super Naturals Adventure Book from the previous year) and various titles in Fleetway’s range would get one of these over the next few years. It’s strange reading the preview strip again, before the character of Turbo Jones softened and developed in the fortnightly. Here he comes across as a bit of a nonce.

The gorgeous new Ian Kennedy cover portrays the first original strip inside which stars all of our team leaders, the first time this has happened since the preview issue in fact. The Games, drawn by John Gillatt (Jet-Ace Logan, Billy’s Boots, Ring Raiders), is a six pager that is annoyingly split into two-page chunks throughout the first half of the issue. It quite clearly wasn’t written to be read this way, meaning it keeps stopping mid flow. Still, it’s nice to see the whole team together and the first couple of pages do get the blood pumping.

Unfortunately it never really develops beyond this initial excitement. The idea of aliens forcing the humans into a death match against their will isn’t original even for Wildcat. In the Holiday Special Loner was already put through something similar in a quite brilliant prose story and later in this special the same thing happens to him again, so the fact he’s caught up in a similar plot for the third time is damned bad luck on his part.

Pitted against some suitably retro-attired warriors, each member of the Wildcat crew takes it in turn to see off their individual opponents by using the weapons or skills we’ve seen in the regular comic. This and the reprint of the origin story seem to be introducing new readers to Wildcat, which is grand if this were indeed a big, fat annual for an ongoing comic. But by this stage only Loner’s story still continued in the pages of Eagle, so it feels like a lot of this special it so far isn’t really aimed at established fans.

At least fans do get to see more of Loner’s bullets at last. We knew his modified antique six-shooter Babe has a variety of different futuristic bullets so it’s fun to see the boomerang one here. Of course, we could’ve seen more of these in the pages of Eagle but I haven’t read those stories yet. I’ll explain more about that at the end of the review. In between the tiny chunks of this story are other complete tales.

First up is Turbo Jones who by this point feels like a completely different character to that in the preview’s reprint, such was his character development. Off on another mission illustrated by Vanyo, set some time after his first adventure, he and Robo are plucked from the air and dragged underwater by a mad alien who forces them to help him. One thing that immediately stands out here is the amount of story crammed into the six pages it takes up. It’s like the exact opposite of The Games.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say every couple of pages here could’ve been made into a full chapter in the original comic without feeling too padded out. It does feel a bit rushed as a result but that’s probably only because I was so used to the slow build and ever increasing drama of the fortnightly serials. That’s not an issue unique to Wildcat. I remember when I used to buy 2000AD how I’d sometimes feel a bit underwhelmed by some of the strips in the annuals or specials because I was so used to epic storytelling.

So Turbo and Robo have been captured to help this crazed alien with his insane plan to destroy the off-world mine where the materials to make the planet’s currency comes from. Initially I was confused. The comic told us way back in the second issue how a planet-wide lung condition stopped anyone from being able to live above ground level, so how could their currency be mined off world? Well, this is actually only one source of this material.

Anyway, the nefarious plot is right out of Goldfinger, which is not a complaint at all by the way. If the material, and thus the currency, is contaminated the economy tanks and the value of anyone’s own personal stash skyrockets. It’s an insane strip! It suits Wildcat perfectly and I’d have loved seeing this mystery play out over a serial. It’s fun and shows the potential of Wildcat to really tell any story it wanted to. This comic had no limits to its imagination.

In the Holiday Special there was something called a Robot File, a four-page feature of images from several different Wildcat stories all featuring the various futuristic companions humans are living alongside in their search for a new home, with small panels detailing each one. A fun recap for fans and a way for new readers to see some of the interesting storylines they’d missed out on so far. We get something similar here with the wide variety of friendly and not-so-friendly aliens the crew have met along the way.

It may be reusing panels from Wildcat and Eagle but it doesn’t feel like filler. In fact for me there’s some new material here from after the merge, like the end of the war and the fact The Brain had a body. This really would’ve been perfect in an annual too. I have to say that’s a fantastic selection of allies, friends, creatures and monsters, isn’t it? I’m going to miss this comic.

But let’s cheer up, we’ve got more goodies here and The Wildcat Complete (this time not given its own name) was always something to look forward to. This one even refers back to the stories in #6 and #8. In the second of those tales loveable Gliz sacrificed himself after piloting a shuttle to the far side of the first moon and getting hijacked by pirates. In the first we found out multiple crews had disappeared on the near side when they’d eaten poisonous fruit which mutated them, ensuring they were seen as threatening aliens and killed by rescue teams, who in turn would eat the fruit and continue the cycle.

Due to the horrendous weather pilot Tovey crashes on the surface just like Kurby did in #6. He notices he’s accidentally killed a lizard-type alien and then finds himself inextricably drawn to a distant hill. Everything seems very familiar but he can’t place his finger on it. Captured by aliens who plant a device on his head to speak, it’s soon clear they don’t exactly see him or the Wildcat as friends.

More horrifying is the side effect the translation device has on him! Breaking free, out of desperation Tovey discovers a dimensional portal generator the aliens happen to have nearby and throws himself through it. Flicking between different realities he finally seems to choose the right one. He’s back on the moon and sees a craft approaching. He’s saved! The Wildcat must’ve sent another rescue team. But as it approaches it’s clear it’s also been caught up in the weather conditions, and this isn’t the only bit of de ja vu for Tovey.

He sees it’s his shuttle craft, with him at the controls. As the caption points out time is the fourth dimension and it was on his fourth attempt that he ended up here. Again, the cycle will be never ending as he crash lands, kills himself and then ends up right back in his own path again. It’s similar in some ways to that earlier Complete, although it wasn’t time that repeated but rather the actions of the humans. It’s very, very similar to the final Scary Cat Challenge in Super Naturals #9 (also from editor Barrie Tomlinson) when a greedy boy wishing on a genie’s lamp ends up in a repeated cycle of time.

It’s a well worn story trope, I know, but to see it in two of my comics so close to each other, and when this was a sequel to a tale with a similar ending, it feels a bit underwhelming, the twist not really a twist anymore. Such a shame, because I’ve loved Joan Boix’s art on all of the Complete tales they’ve illustrated over Wildcat’s short life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad story, it just feels a bit recycled.

The same plot being used for two of Loner’s stories in a row (and also two strips in this issue) is a real disappointment

What’s much more exciting is seeing a brand new Loner strip written by editor Barrie Tomlinson and drawn again by David Pugh! Barrie’s prose story in the Holiday Special was excellent but I missed having new art from David (the illustrations were lifted from previous issues) and by this stage in Eagle he’d moved on to drawing Dan Dare, an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up but which meant Loner, who had been created with David in mind to draw, had to be passed on to another artist.

Ah yes, that does look lovely, doesn’t it? Welcome back Loner! Regular blog readers will know he was my favourite character in Wildcat and his first adventure was absolutely riveting. Unfortunately his second was less so, but here we’ve got a brand new one-off tale of him exploring the planet’s surface and once again he’s fallen into some trouble. I do like the way the sequence of him falling down that wheel mechanism is shown through clever use of a main panel and some smaller ones overlaid on top.

In the Holiday Special he’d found himself the prisoner of a group of aliens who captured creatures to force them into a kind of gladiatorial combat. (Just like The Games, above.) So what brand new adventure do we have here for our former mercenary? The hole he’s fallen into leads him to a group of aliens who sit on a kind of observation gallery, then behind him a trap door opens up and a huge, tentacled beast appears who they want Loner to fight in a kind of gladiatorial combat. Um…

Oh come on now, this is getting a bit ridiculous. While it’s wonderful to see David’s art again and there are some genuinely funny moments, such as Loner cursing the fact his first reaction to new alien beings often lands him in trouble and the quip above about arm to arm combat, the fact the same plot has been used for two of his stories in a row (and now two strips in this issue) is a real disappointment. It takes the edge off seeing him back in strip form. But that art is wonderful, especially when the big bad looks this good.

I just can’t quite wrap my head around the decision to basically rerun the same story twice over. As a kid I never had the two specials so I can’t say for certain if I’d have been as disappointment, or even have noticed, what with them being months apart. But as an adult fan the Winter Special isn’t measuring up to the incredibly high bar of the regular comic, not with reprint material and reused plot lines. Damn.

The second half of the issue has a full colour Joe Alien story split up into little two-page pieces just like The Games. While David Robinson‘s story isn’t technically a reused one, it does set itself neatly into the serial from the fortnightly, seeing as how Joe and his team were captured by the alien plant life on more than one occasion. Basically, they get captured again, Joe’s brain becomes disconnected again, then they escape again. But I find it strangely enjoyable.

I think because it’s more honest about the fact it’s not a new story, that it’s an additional chapter to Joe’s main strip. This approach is much preferred over the other strips so far. It also shows a lighter side to the character. He quips and shows proper affection towards the men he’s been fighting alongside. We also see how he eats through the vines when he’s lost his brain pack, making us wonder if there’s still some form of intelligence in there, only for us to realise he was just hungry in his crazed state!

Instead of regular Joe artist Ron Smith we have instead Keith Page and, while I do like his very alien main character, I miss Ron’s sharp lines and exaggerated action. José Ortiz returns for Kitten Magee though, his scratchy visuals once again the perfect fit for the jungle-based action written by James Tomlinson. This time our heroic female team are entering an area apparently guarded by the terrifying Ikarzeytak. But searching for a new home for the human race is more important than local legends, especially when it’s apparently already long dead.

In Kitten’s regular story she and her teammates would come up against a never ending array of imaginative alien creatures, each one displaying some kind of innovative ability that they’d have to outthink on the fly in order to survive. From monsters with heads for hands, to gigantic leviathans with multi-headed pet dogs or beasts with see-through stomachs. The Kitten Magee strip also had strong ongoing stories and mysterious character arcs, however a big part of the fun was seeing what kind of monster would be thought up next!

I never expected a one-off strip in the special to advance any of the ongoing arcs but the Kitten Magee story certainly doesn’t disappoint with its always enjoyable characters and the next in its long line of original beasties to fight. In this case that skeleton was indeed the Ikarzeytak, which can regenerate from nothing but rainwater much to the surprise, and then horror, of the team. It’s ludicrous. But it’s ludicrous fun! That’s what Wildcat was all about and so the Winter Special ends on a high.

Kitten’s friends Cassandra, Bonnie and Aurora also star in the four-page Weapons File which follows the same formula as the alien and robot ones and then that’s it, Wildcat’s real time read through comes to an end. As I’ve previously said I never followed the characters into the pages of Eagle and, with over 50 issues of it to collect before I can read the end of all the stories I wanted to complete the read through of the main comic first. It felt right.

The Winter Special feels very much like a publication of two halves. Perhaps I’d overhyped it for myself in the intervening months, but there’s a disappointing amount of reprint material or reused story ideas, however even in those the art is superb and the remaining stories are all as excellent as we’ve come to expect. It feels like a premium comic in my hands and I think giving Wildcat this glossy treatment for its final ever edition was a great idea; the original was a lot bigger and brighter than its contemporaries after all.

Next year I’ll finally be able to see what happened next for Turbo, Loner, Kitten, Joe and the Wildcat, beginning with the Turbo Jones and Loner graphic novel collections, before I focus on those Eagle issues with the remaining Kitten Magee, Joe Alien and Wildcat Complete tales. Plenty to come then, but it’s still a sad moment to close the final issue from the 80s that’s 100% Wildcat from cover to cover. A childhood favourite originally aimed at younger readers it holds up incredibly well and I’d highly recommend any adult comics or sci-fi fan to jump in and take the ride.

OiNK! #41: POP-OUT COMiC

It’s been a long time since we’ve had the pleasure of a Jeremy Banx cover, the last one was way back in #19 at the beginning of last year. His covers hold a special place in my piggy heart since his was the first one I ever saw in #14. For this issue’s front page Burp the Smelly Alien is giving himself an all-over body workout, quite literally. But despite Burp’s starring role, the biggest headline is given to Pete Throb of Pete and his Pimple.

Inside this issue is an eight-page pull-out comic all about one of OiNK’s most popular characters, Lew Stringer’s creation who had really captured the imaginations of the young readers. He certainly had when I was in the target audience, he quickly became one of my favourites and I was hugely excited by this issue. We’ll come back to him in a bit, first up Burp earns his front page stardom with another unique double-page spread.

It’s a delightfully written tale of our smelly friend simply enjoying himself while on holiday. It just so happens that holiday is on a distant, desolate planet made entirely of sand. The first page alone would’ve made for a great strip, with its atmospheric captions and imaginative representations of this wonder of the universe, only for it to house Burp’s holiday ranch! Naturally. But we also have him enjoying his unique vacation before, as always, he inadvertently causes a bit of chaos.

Just try to explain this one and why it’s so funny to anyone who has never read OiNK!

If there was an ongoing theme to Burp’s strips it would be how his good natured intentions always produce the opposite results. Whether it’s his never-ending quest to ingratiate himself with us humans or annoying the large god-like beings of the universe while doing a deep space tour. Here, even on a lifeless planet he still somehow ruin things, even if only for himself this time. This is one of my favourite Burps. It’s just such a unique strip, but then again most of Jeremy’s are; just try to explain this one and why it’s so funny to anyone who has never read OiNK!

At the beginning of the latest Psycho Gran it appears David Leach has decided not to follow the issue’s theme of health and fitness, unless you go down the route of saying an explosion does affect people’s wellbeing. But if we’ve learned anything since her debut in #15, it’s that we should never try to predict or assume with Psycho.

Nice to see another little cameo from Albert, the long-suffering life partner of our little old dear. Also, did you pick up on the gag of what’s really on those papers held by newsreaders? In case you’re wondering what the shout out in the title panel is all about, no David hadn’t finally been let go from a prisoner of war camp. David tells me he’d had an emergency appendix operation in the Prince of Wales hospital in Bridgend in Wales and had ended up in for a week, so wanted to give a big thanks to everyone there.

Regular readers might recall the Scare Boars from #13, the first Hallowe’en issue. They were GBH’s take on the Care Bears, one of the 80s’ biggest toy and cartoon franchises. Ingeniously created, co-creator/co-editor Patrick Gallagher still owns one of them to this day and posted a video of them together last year, which you can see in the review. A year later and GBH are back with more cuddly monstrosities, this time with the Crummi Boars, Spotti, Snotti, Potti and Scratchi.

This time it was a riff on Disney’s Gummi Bears, another toy and cartoon hit, which themselves were clearly inspired by the success of the Care Bears, although officially they were based on the chewy sweets. Of course, once something became a hit with the UK kids of the 80s OiNK was ready to pounce. With a lot of the original names ending with an ‘I’ and each one having a very specific, narrow characteristic it was the perfect franchise to rip into. Again, as with many of the props used in OiNK’s madverts recently, the little details are superb.


“See Janice and John ignore a warning sign.”

Janice and John and the thermonuclear reactor (Mark Rodgers)

The Crummi Boars may have been a spiritual sequel to a previous madvertisement, but in this issue we get an actual sequel to a much earlier strip. In fact, this issue’s story starring Janice and John was mentioned way back in #7! Why did it take 34 issues to arrive? Well, if you’ve been following along over this past year-and-a-bit you’ll know all about their original story leading two people (only two) to complain about OiNK to The Press Council, which the comic then responded to in #28!

While the complaint was rejected these things can take a while to work through, hence why there was a 21 issue gap between the two stories. The editorial team would’ve been just right not to print another until the outcome of the complaint was known. By now more than enough time had passed, even after OiNK’s cheeky rasp to the complainers, so finally here’s the long-promised second part of Uncle Pigg’s Reading Course, Janice and John and the thermonuclear reactor, written by Mark Rodgers.

Unfortunately they wouldn’t return to face the demons from hell, but the two we got were great fun. The first is my favourite, possibly because it was the first and made a bigger impression, or possibly because of the furore it created at the time (which has been wrongly attributed to OiNK’s much later cancellation). Either way, it’s a shame we won’t see any more of Trevor Johnson’s great way of spoofing classic children’s picture panel stories. In fact, we won’t see any more of Trevor at all until the second OiNK Book, which most of us didn’t read until after OiNK’s final issue!

But this isn’t the last you’ll hear of his work, specifically Janice and John, on the blog. There’s a very special post planned for next year which takes a behind-the-scenes look into the complaint made against OiNK and the process between OiNK Publishing and IPC Magazines, thanks to insider information and documents provided to me by co-creator/co-editor Mark Rodgers’ wife Helen Jones! For now though, let’s take a peak at some other highlights before our main event.

Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins’ cross-country training for his new football career takes a turn for the worse when sliding on a cowpat isn’t the worst thing to happen, Ireland represents on the Grunts page, we take a closer look at the lead singer of The Slugs (although I wouldn’t recommend getting too close) and in the penultimate chapter of The Spectacles of Doom versus The Monocle of Mayhem Andy Roper’s detailed art (right down to the monocle on the skull flags) is once again the star as the nasties assemble for battle.

With all of these highs, it’d be quite the feat to outshine them all. It might even require a character to have their very own pull-out comic to stand out. What luck! That’s exactly what Pete Throb of Pete and his Pimple fame has in this very issue, an eight-page mini-comic. According to Lew Stringer, the idea was Mark Rodgers’, who wanted to do an occasional series of such pull-outs spotlighting (no pun intended) different characters.

I never pulled the comic out, I didn’t want to destroy one of my beloved OiNKs, although I was tempted to colour in the cover. (I never did.) Inside was a five-page Pete story by Lew, made up of three strip pages and a centre-spread poster of him and his pals, including object of Tom Thug’s desire Zeta (Pete’s sister), fighting the alien Zitbusters! This was followed by Zeta’s pimply problem column, Acne Activity Time with art by Ed McHenry and a look at Pete’s Acne Ancestors written by Lew but drawn by Mike Higgs.

Pete was always one of my childhood favourites, although I wouldn’t be such a fan of pimples a few years later. I wasn’t alone, with Pete frequently climbing to the top spots (again, no pun intended, I swear) of reader polls, so he was a natural choice for the first of these little specials. Unfortunately there’d never be a second mini-comic, which could be because of the changes that would come to OiNK when it went weekly (less pages) and then monthly (some main contributors left and some strips were given multi-page stories anyway).

Just as well our only one is quite brilliant then! Below is the Pete strip and the poster which made up the main battle. A battle in a Pete and his Pimple story? Not only that, he was battling scary aliens called Clive, Trevor, Darren and Sharon on their never-ending quest to enslave all those who dare have pimply complexions throughout the cosmos. It also gives us a little look into Pete’s everyday life including his local greasy hang out and his equally spotty pals.

If you’re going to create a special comic inside an OiNK you may as well go bigger and zanier than ever with the main story, right? Lew certainly did. As always, it pays to read it slowly and pick up on all the little sight gags, such as Shaun’s t-shirt slogan, the Greasy Spoon’s menu and of course the slap up feeds at the end. My personal favourite moment is Pete’s heroic speech, a moment where for once he can be the saviour instead of the nuisance, cut short by the fact the aliens had already left.

Of course, all of that glowing praise in the final panel would be short lived and we’d be back to normal next time. I think this issue shows more than any other why OiNK should’ve stayed in this format as a fortnightly 32-page comic with subjects to tailor the contents around. As a child, the news below was exciting (and I can remember my mum giving off that she’d have to pay for it twice as much) but little were we to know the news would lead to some not-so-welcome changes too.

Still, there are another three favourite issues to come, one of which could take the crown as the best regular issue of all going from my memory of reading it as a child! Plus next month contains the greatest OiNK of all! Ooh, I’m all excited again. Next up though is the Fantastic Fashion Issue with a quite ‘Mad’ cover to match. It’ll be up for review on Monday 28th November 2022.

EAGLE PROMO: WiLDCAT WiNTER SPECiAL

On this day back in 1989 the latest issue of Eagle, edited by blog favourite Barrie Tomlinson, hit shelves across the UK. Actually, it was the 400th issue since Barrie had decided to resurrect the classic comic in March of 1982. Not that any fanfare was made of this. In fact, it’s not mentioned at all, but then again it didn’t have issue numbers on its covers, each identified instead by its cover date (the Saturday following release). It had celebrated its 300th but for whatever reason it was no longer keeping track.

So why am I mentioning this issue? Well, as regular readers will know the fantastic Wildcat comic merged into Eagle in April 1989 (#368) and (similarly to when three of OiNK’s characters moved to Buster when it finished) there wasn’t enough of Wildcat in each issue to justify me collecting it. As I mentioned in the review of Wildcat #12 I’ll be covering the remaining adventures of those characters at some point but first I wanted to finish the real time read through, which I’ll be doing six days from now.

The Wildcat Holiday Special had been released a month after the merge, but the name ‘Eagle and Wildcat’ only stayed on the cover of the weekly for three months. However, Loner’s and Joe Alien’s stories continued, with Loner present all the way through until April the following year. Anyone who had moved over to Eagle (or who had collected both comics) would have loved this promo then, even if “a reminder of how the whole adventure began” sounds suspiciously like reprint material.

I’ve been looking forward to finally getting a new issue of one of my most fondly remembered comics to read again and after months of waiting it’s less than a week away. So if like me you’ve been missing Turbo Jones, Kitten Magee, Loner, Joe Alien and the spooky goings on amongst the passengers of humanity’s last hope of survival, join me here on Thursday 17th November 2022 for an in-depth look at the very final Wildcat.