Tag Archives: Barrie Tomlinson


On the final day of 1988 there was just enough time to squeeze in one final issue of Barrie Tomlinson‘s Wildcat before the new year. Kicking off with Ian Kennedy‘s interpretation of José Ortiz‘s Kitten Magee strip, the cover includes the tagline ‘The Ultimate Adventure’. I remember associating this with the comic as a kid, so it’s strange to see it appear for the first time only now. Perhaps it’ll pop up again. For now though, let’s see if the inside matches the hype.

The Arglons have dispatched two of their own Terrosaurons to kill Turbo Jones atop his own dino in the opening strip. Controlled by computerised radio waves, these are detected by Robo before they even get close. Very quickly he’s jamming the signal and any hope of control over the creatures is lost. The Ark doesn’t take too kindly to their great plan being thwarted and soon the general in charge is on the chopping block. It appears these skeletal figures have zero tolerance for failures.

Having already attacked Turbo’s Terrosauron and getting a taste for blood, when the commands are interrupted the others attack the nearest target, which is each other. Limbs are torn off, gaping wounds in full view and we young readers loved it. It felt so gory to us.

Now easily able to pick off the enemy Turbo finishes the fight and returns to the main base of operations where he finds out about an underground defence system, a huge electronic fence which is activated and surrounds the city. That’s it as far as plot goes but this episode was all about the fight, the big battle between the three giant Terrosaurons. While I can’t remember reading it at the time, I’m sure I loved it as it would’ve been right up my street!

As an adult I do miss the plot developments, the intrigue around The Ark and Turbo’s growth as a character. But sometimes it’s just fun to have a completely ludicrous, over-sized battle! In the final panel Turbo says the enemy is trapped inside the city behind the fence, so they can pick them off more easily. Has he forgotten they got in via a tunnel? We’ll find out next time I’m sure. It’s throwaway stuff but fun, and I’m only a little disappointed because the comic has set such high standards for itself.

It’s clear power has gone to this man’s head. Does he truly believe he is a god?

More interesting for this old man is another much older man in the Joe Alien story, as the human who seems to be the leader of the killer plant life tells his story. He was the sole astronaut on the first manned rocket heading for Mars. While this is now predicted to take place in 2024, at the time of Wildcat’s publication we never thought it’d happen quite so soon, so his tale takes place in 2079. Travelling through an asteroid belt one of the huge rocks begins to open up, drawing his craft inside like a scene from You Only Live Twice.

He makes reference to it looking like “jaws” and with that word choice I can’t help but make the comparison to the big fish from my favourite movie of all time. The asteroid itself, as drawn by Ron Smith, bares a striking resemblance to Steven Spielberg’s classic movie monster, right down to the oversized jowls (needed on the mechanical shark in Jaws for its mouth to open and close without folding or breaking the rubber skin). I’m really rather thrilled to see this as a fan of the movie and this comic, I love seeing inspiration from one turning up in the other.

Upon arriving on the continent where our adventure is taking place a great war was being fought between the trees and the other vegetation. There’s always a great war behind these stories isn’t there? As you can see in this gloriously illustrated page below he negotiated a peace between the two sides. But how, when the participants in the war couldn’t speak? This question is asked by one of Joe’s men later in the issue. An explanation is given about how the plants can absorb sound as vibrations in the ground through their roots, and how they had spent hundred of years studying our radio waves to learn our language.

As the years passed the man aged very slowly compared to back on Earth, so generations of plant life passed before his eyes and eventually they began seeing him as a kind of god. His word is now law and when one of Joe’s team makes a joke about the plants the old man punches him with the force of ten, sending him flying into the water where he’s attacked by vicious teeth-baring vegetation. It’s clear power has gone to this man’s head. Does he truly believe he is a god? It feels like a story from the Stargate SG-1 TV series, albeit several years before it.

The standout here is Ron’s art. His style perfectly compliments the story and setting, his characters really embody what they’re saying, Joe is the best he’s ever looked and the flashbacks are extraordinary and fascinating. Incredible artwork. Simply gorgeous. While Loner may still be my favourite, Joe’s strip is running a very close second which I didn’t expect when I started this read through. Saying that, all the strips are so good this changes on a regular basis.

Kitten Magee takes a break from relentless fighting to advance her story a little. She saved herself from the bomb last time by grabbing her teammate and leaping into one of the holes bored by the tribal robots. So the fat alien Hobos decides it’s time to try a different tactic. Pretending to save her life from a threat of his own creation (a destabilising beam making Kitten lose balance just before this page below), he befriends the women and tells them he’ll lead them through the dangerous jungle to his village.

There’s one disappointing aspect of the story here, and that’s how easily the other four members of the team trust Hobos. Only Kitten herself is unsure, thinking he’s too friendly, too nice and appeared at too convenient a time for this all to be coincidence. The other members of the team have all been so capable and interesting in the previous issues that it’s a shame to see them played for fools so easily.

We do get a little bit of action as a torg-lion attacks the group, the one we saw on the cover. Hobos’ plan seems to be to lead them through the most dangers part of the continent, using a scent of raw meat to attract the biggest, most vicious predators out into the open. Of course Kitten wins this battle, pricking the animal with the pointed edge of her poison-filled ring. Just when I thought I’d seen all of her cool jewellery-based weaponry too.

There are still many questions needing answered here, not least of which is why Hobos was determined to kill the women in the first place. Is it a male thing? Are women a threat? Even alien women? I know we’ll get our answers eventually, so don’t for one moment think this is any kind of complaint because it isn’t. The story does feel like it’s heading towards at least some of the answers over the next few issues, which is exciting. Kitten remains an interesting character and the one most shrouded in mystery in the whole comic.

That cover by Ian Kennedy is a fantastic piece of art, as are all of his covers across the range of Barrie’s comics I’m reviewing (Ring Raiders and Super Naturals being the others). He gets a bit of further recognition on the letters page this issue and yes, that monster is one of his designs from the premiere issue.

Loner is up next and if you thought the scale of what he was up against was massive in that final image last issue, then you haven’t seen anything yet, to use a cliché. I can remember this snake-like monster but I had no idea of just how big it was. In fact, it’s so big that in the first panel of this chapter we only get to see a few teeth next to our hero and his now rather pathetic looking new gun.

My overall opinion of this instalment of my favourite Wildcat strip is, just when I thought David Pugh‘s art couldn’t possibly get any more spectacular he blows me away again, and a lot more successfully than Loner’s attempt to do so with the beast above. But just look at that first panel, those teeth and that tusk look so solid, so terrifying that I’m sure I was in awe of it back in 1988. This was playing to everything kids would want from a new sci-fi adventure. However, as always I review these comics as I read them now, without the rose-tinted glasses, as a man in his mid-40s.

And I bloody loved it!

We even get to see the thing asleep at one stage, it’s head full of thick veins, it’s eyes popping open suddenly as the tiny Loner nears. It’s all incredibly atmospheric. I can’t show you it all obviously, that’s what the amazing graphic novel collecting this entire story is for, but I can show you some of the other highlights of this issue’s chapter. Complete with ridiculously large brain hooked up to the equally ridiculous helmet, Loner discovers the ground of the beast’s layer is covered with thousands upon thousands of tiny little skulls.

I actually felt sorry for the little furballs with him, seeing generations of their kind dead all around them. It’s at this point the burgeoning relationship between Loner and these little critters, as unlikely as it seemed a few issues ago, solidifies. Anger fills his very being at seeing the skulls. Whether he likes it or not his cool, hard, cold persona is warming to these little beings and he begins to track down the monster again, which has moved deeper into the caves. Bent on revenge, we’re left with no doubt that the odds against him aren’t relevant anymore.

This friendship and how it developed slowly over the course of the comic’s life is something I still remember all these years later, although I can’t remember any of the details so it’s a delight to be reading it again in real time. Instead of bingeing, I’m getting the developing friendship in fortnightly stages as intended and it doesn’t feel rushed or forced in any way, and that’s pretty incredible when you think about the scenario here and who these characters are! It’s so far-fetched and yet feels so natural, a testament to the writers behind it, namely Barrie and his son James Nicholas.

Just when the odds against Loner’s survival (never mind his success) seem stacked enough against him, the beast releases its minions and these aren’t the small, yellow, goggle-wearing kind. These minions of death wouldn’t look out of place in an adult comic today but here they were in the pages of our Wildcat, terrifying the youth. Of course Loner is the cool hero when he wants to be and heskillfully dispatches them with his telepathic weaponry before the beast itself moves in for the kill, and the cliffhanger.

The little pieces of character development and banter between him and the furballs are nice touches and advance things a little in the overall story, but this is really all about the hunt and finally coming up against this monstrosity. But it doesn’t feel like the plot has been left to the side for the action, it’s all nicely balanced. David’s artwork is so incredible I’m completely absorbed in it every issue, and while it’s an exaggeration to say my breath is taken away each time, I have to say that to get across just how much I’m enjoying this.

The Wildcat Complete is called Moon of Terror and concerns pilot Kurby being sent to one of the moons orbiting the planet after a previous crew went missing upon landing. Unable to spare more crew members they have to send Kurby alone. Barrie and his writing team really are stacking up the death count.

Artist Jesús Redondo returns (he supplied the art for #2‘s Wildcat Complete) and his shuttle craft bares a striking resemblance to a certain television show’s fighter craft. I mentioned before about the similarities between the Wildcat story and that of Battlestar Galactica even though that was more coincidence than anything else. Jesús’ shuttle could easily have been influenced by that show’s Vipers. Or it could simply be another coincidence and they were based upon real world jet aircraft. Either way, I like the design.

The cloud cover is so dense all of his computer equipment can’t track the ground and when he comes out of the blackness he’s already too close. After impact his shuttle explodes and so he goes to find the missing crew, hoping the Wildcat will send another rescue ship. At least it’s looking hopeful; they may have just crashed and lost contact for the same reason he has. But as he explores he’s attacked by some form of mutant creature that tries to kill him.

“Don’t want me eating your fruit, eh? One thing I can’t stand is a selfish mutant.”


He’s able to break free and shoots it just before being set upon by another. At this stage I’d worked out what was going on. I’m not sure if I would have when I was just eleven-years-old, not having been exposed to many sci-fi stories at that point in my life. A third mutant appears just as Kurby is about to get stuck into some of the local fruit for sustenance. Thinking it’s just another attack and the creature is swatting away the fruit to get to him and kill him, he kills it first. Exhausted, he sits down and eats.

You can see the mutant creatures are humanoid in nature and have a distinct face so I’m sure you can also see where this is going. Unknowingly, Kurby has just picked off the three Wildcat crew members he was sent to save, who had been transformed by eating the same fruit. I do like Jesús’ action man panels of Kurby firing directly towards the reader as he’s attacked. Kurby comes across as quite arrogant in the story but that’s the point I think. We humans are out amongst the stars but still we think we know everything about the world around us, that we are lords of all that we survey.

As you can see the story ends with him slowly turning into one of the mutants himself, the horrible truth about what he’s done becoming apparent. The last mutant swiping the fruit away was doing so as a warning, not an attack. As he transforms he knows the Wildcat will send another team, that he’ll try to warn them, that they’ll kill him and the cycle will repeat. Human arrogance will see the small population dwindle by how many more before it stops?

For now, the death toll six issues in stands at 18 if we include Kurby himself. Maybe this is why the comic stopped at #12, there was no one else to write about!

The Next Issue page is printed sideways and taken over by this picture of Turbo and a Terrosaurus. Is this his dinosaur? I wonder. But given the excitement of the Loner strip I’m surprised this isn’t the story to feature here. Finally on the back cover is this issue’s pin up and it appears these two are continuing their double act for now anyway.

So that’s us officially at the halfway point of the comic’s regular run already. The next issue, the first of the new year will be here on Friday 14th January 2022. This has been a blast and at six issues in it’s already far better than its already impressive start. The next six are going to be phenomenal. I hope.


Super Naturals and Wildcat may have been released a year apart but they shared more than their editor, their fifth issues were also their festive specials. I’m a huge fan of Christmas but even I would’ve forgiven the Super Naturals team for not going overboard since the comic had just begun, however editor Barrie Tomlinson made sure it was a special treat with festive themes in four of the five strips, as well as an additional one-page strip, decorative trimmings around the letters page, a Christmassy poster and that fun Ian Kennedy cover of the Ghost Finder and its crew.

The issue is dated Boxing Day but would’ve been released early, arriving into eager young hands a few days before Christmas Day which, given the cover and the contents would’ve made for a wonderful treat. I just can’t help but feel happy when reading a seasonal issue of a favourite comic and this is one of the very best examples. Ghost stories always go down well at this time of year too, so surely this is a comic that can’t fail to entertain. Let’s see.

I was surprised when I picked up this issue because the glossy paper had gone, replaced with the same matte-finish stock all other Fleetway comics had at the time. But that doesn’t take away from any of the enjoyment in our first story, The Legend of the Super Naturals drawn by Dave D’Antiquis, which quite literally heads off in a different direction. The battle in New Orleans comes to its conclusion but not before Eagle Eye‘s predicament raises some interesting questions.

He’s injured when fired upon by an Air Force jet while transformed into the eagle, but when he changes back to his humanoid form he’s healed and the bullets pass straight through him. The healing part has already been established in the comic, he’s already dead after all, and they can’t actually kill each other never mind us having a shot at it. But it appears they don’t turn into mystical versions of their animal totems, they must actually turn into real, solid animals, capable of being killed. It certainly adds another dimension to the set up and one I hope is explored more. For now, he’s rescued by Spooks before Skull decides to take his team across the Atlantic (the trucks can fly) to England to destroy the mythical Excalibur and show them evil now rules. Told you it was heading off in a different direction for the new year!

In Ghostlings, drawn by Anthony Williams, we get confirmation it is indeed set on Earth in the far future where humans have regressed and now live in fear underground, calling themselves Guardians of the Underworld (so our self-importance hasn’t diminished then). What they live in fear of are the Surface Stompers, the dinosaur-like creatures we’ve seen already and the Crevice-Crawlers which are giant, intelligent, talking insect-like beings that prey on the humans for food. Spooks is rescued by these future humans when he becomes trapped amongst rocks after being pushed over a cliff by Weird Wolf. I’ll assume it’s his clothing that’s stuck, not him, seeing as how he’s a ghost and all.

We can finally put to rest the myth that The Doll was produced for another comic

While trapped his supernatural powers are able to recognise the time of year on this future Earth as Christmas and he reminisces about when he was alive centuries earlier. When he’s rescued he discovers the humans have a Christmas tree in their caves, although they don’t recognise the name, only that it’s a tradition they follow despite the meaning being lost centuries ago. The story ends with a cliffhanger for Weird Wolf as he encounters the beasts above ground. There’s also mention of a Rock-Ruler, so there’s definitely more scenario building to come. While Christmas feels a bit forced into this one, it’s still as interesting as last issue and shows the potential for Super Naturals stories to really go anywhere.

Moving on and hopefully the setting can finally put to rest the myth that The Doll was produced for another comic (just published within the pages of Super Naturals). I’ve known this all along but some online refuse to accept such a quality horror strip was intended for a licenced toy comic. In this seasonal issue the strip jumps forward a little, the ground is covered in snow as the police pull the body of the dead homeless man from the skip outside the Marshal’s home, while an evil figure watches from the roof, where clearly it’s been gleefully watching for a while as it’s covered in a thick layer of snow.

After Simon saves his foster dad from a falling roof slate (I wonder how that happened), noticing how his younger brother David didn’t even flinch when it fell, the story skips forward to Christmas Day. Peace has descended upon the house. It’s clear the doll’s presence hasn’t been felt in a while and David is glum as the family open gifts from each other. This doesn’t go unnoticed and the Marshals try hard to cheer him up, even giving him a brand new ventriloquist’s dummy! A window smashes at this exact moment and it’s assumed vandals threw something from outside, but Simon isn’t so sure.

The glass is all on the outside, meaning it was broken from inside the house. But how? A game of hide and seek brings the answers out into the open but first I do love a certain panel here. First, look at the one above on the right where Simon is convinced the doll was responsible but he can’t see anywhere for it to hide. Of course the readers’ eyes are drawn to the Santa Claus ornament on the side table, but it’s the next panel which I’m sure stuck in the minds of all those young readers, as Simon turns to leave.

Artist Francesc Masi is just superb at conveying real threat from what is essentially a toy. Again, the suspense is palpable in this chapter. What on the surface might’ve looked like a diversion from the main story to placate the Christmas issue is anything but. A game of hide and seek in the house builds tension with Simon hiding in dark, cramped places, hearing noises but then just discovering other family members in there with him. Meanwhile foster father Frank sneaks about the house looking for everyone when he comes across the new dummy torn to pieces, then hears a terrible scream as the doll swings down from a curtain, the arm of the new toy in its mouth, hurling himself at Frank as the chapter closes.

While it’s only a toy arm full of foam padding, the meaning is clear; the doll has ‘killed’ its replacement and now intends to take revenge on the person responsible for its purchase. In the final panel there’s the usual caption asking readers to send in their ideas for what could happen next, any printed on the letters page earning their senders a crisp five pound note. Perhaps this was included to balance out any shock from the last panels? Instead of the children having a murderous cliffhanger in their minds, instead they’d be thinking of what they would have happen next? It’s a good idea and no other strip does this.

A wonderful, colourful poster by Sandy James brings a rare piece of relief and happiness for the good Ghostlings, but not so much for their evil counterparts who are strung up and used as decorations on the Super Naturals Christmas tree. After that there’s a festively decorated double-page spread of letters before we move on to the The Scary Cat Challenge and the second in the series based on an idea sent in by a reader. This time it was Clive Sheppard of Lincoln who got two Christmas gifts of a £10 prize and the pleasure of seeing his imagination brought to life in his favourite comic.

Finding an empty box among their Christmas presents, an unnamed family decides it must have been wrapped up by accident and placed underneath the tree. No one owns up to the error and they simply decide to ignore it and go about celebrating the rest of Christmas Day. However, while they’re eating breakfast in the next room a mist rises out of the empty, unwrapped box and slowly takes on a ghostly shape.

Obviously surprised to find a strange old man in their living room the father of the house goes to ring the police, but the rest of the family implore him not to. Looking dishevelled and hungry, they don’t have the heart to turn him out on this particular day of the year, instead inviting him to stay for Christmas dinner. He remains mysterious about where he came from but this doesn’t appear to put the kind-hearted family off and soon they’re all gathered around the table. After dinner they realise they forgot the crackers and this is when the visitor reveals he isn’t any old homeless person.

From the cracker pulled by dad spills thousand of pounds in notes, from mum’s comes handful after handful of diamonds. When the children pull theirs a magical dust fills the room. “The stuff dreams are made of” explains the old man as he takes their hands and they begin to fly, visiting the moon, the pyramids, undersea reefs, the Himalayas and then flying back home sitting on the back of Concorde.

The family are awestruck and want to thank him but he insists he was the one who needed to thank them; they gave a stranger a warm place to be on Christmas Day, opening their home and their hearts and sharing their food. One of the young boys asks what would’ve happened if their dad had called the police and he shows them an illusion of all their worldly belongings disappearing and the whole family ageing far beyond their years. As he cancels the illusion he leaves their house and looks out through the page to the readers and wonders aloud who he could be visiting the next year.

The message is clear to the impressionable youth and is one that’s just as important in the world we now find ourselves in: Be kind. While it does centre around material possessions it’s actually a nice little metaphor for Christmas itself and taking that spirit of giving with you everywhere, and not just once a year. So not a scary tale but a nice addition to this particular issue before we head on to the new serial drawn by Alan Langford, which I was very pleasantly surprised to see starting off with possibly the most Christmassy of Christmas opening pages possible.

Last time the excellent Mount of Athos came to an end and I’ve tentatively waited to see what the team would replace it with.  Thankfully keeping Alan on to draw it, The Curse starts off with this gorgeous page of a festive Victorian London. The title at the top stands in stark contrast with the artwork which wouldn’t look out of place on a greetings card. But turn the page and into this Dickensian scene crashes Skull, Burnheart and Scary Cat on the Bat Bopper.

This opening chapter is all about setting the scene and it does a wonderful job. It feels like Alan has really got to grips with these characters and having a great time drawing their creepy adventures. In the end, as they make their way up the Thames we find out Skull and his cronies are in search of the Tomb of Britannicus, the last resting place for a savage barbarian sorcerer, who if released is said to bring evil never seen before upon the world who entombed him. But first there’s the obligatory chase as Lionheart and his heroes give chase.

As you can see the evil Super Naturals have caused destruction and terror in no time at all, though the strip does manage to squeeze in some comedy. For example, at one point the horse on the first page bolts, the family inside thrown from their carriage as it crashes and their Christmas supplies are strewn everywhere, including their turkey which Burnheart can’t resist roasting with this flame power as he speeds past it!

“London, 1972. Under a drift of gentle snow, the city glows with all the festivity of Christmas Eve!”

The Curse

While I have no idea what Spooks is on about when he says he’s going so fast he’s almost overtaking himself (that just makes no sense whatsoever) I do enjoy how the humans are just as terrified of them and how they’re stopped by Skull taking out an enter house. Great action, gorgeous visuals and a real festive ghost story feel to it all. Wonderful stuff and already a worthy follow-up to the Mount of Athos, which is no small feat.

One final thing before I wrap up this review. You remember how our comics had little coupons to cut out and give to our newsagents, or small reminders to place our orders so we never missed out on an issue? Well, Super Naturals decided to do something a little different (in keeping with the comic as a whole) and gave us a full-page strip. While it doesn’t actually say anything about placing a regular order it kind of works in that regard and really would’ve make a wonderful advert to have appeared in other Fleetway comics at the time.

It’s actually the first in a series of small stories which would all fall under the banner A Ghostling Tale, each hosted by a different character. Another nice little addition to the comic.

So that’s it for now. This has been a blast from beginning to end. Having the Christmas vibe throughout was a surprise and an absolute delight, but then again maybe I shouldn’t have expect anything less from Barrie Tomlinson! Issues like this reaffirm the whole concept of this site. If I’d just binged on this series earlier in the year it wouldn’t have been as special as reading this now at Christmastime, it’s been evermore enjoyable reading it in real time. The next review will be here on Sunday 9th January 2022 and it would appear there’s a lot to look forward to in the New Year.


It’s probably the most unique cover you’re ever likely to see on this blog, that’s for sure! I originally thought it was by Ian Kennedy but he’s informed me it wasn’t, so at the moment I’m at a loss to who drew the giant pud. Even more unbelievably the cover represents an actual story inside this latest issue of Barrie Tomlinson‘s Wildcat, and that story is one of the best so far. You’ll have to wait until further down the review before I show you that particular Christmas miracle. After this cover image the next thing that grabs the attention is the paper.

Specifically, the paper quality. Half of the comic is made up of the kind of paper Rebellion‘s modern day 2000AD is printed on. This issue goes back and forth between this and the regular, thinner gloss paper but basically any sheet that has colour somewhere over its four pages will be of this thicker, heavier, higher grade. It feels wonderful in the hand and gives the comic a sense of high production values.

Moving on to the content and our four main strips obviously aren’t festive tales, what with being ongoing serials. Turbo Jones has a wonderful monster movie feel to it, like the Japanese kind I’d have watched late at night on TV back when I was a child. It’s not just dinosaurs anymore, there are giant mantises and other insects, as well as original creations such as Turbo’s Terrosauron. The imagination on show is wonderful.

The Arglons are attacking the Burroids’ city from underground and by the time Turbo and his army make it back a lot of it has already been destroyed. The Ark and his cronies are in charge of the enemy army and here we can again see the mechanics within their skeletal mouths. The frequently used alien terms add a nice touch too. Normally a strip might contain one or two such made up words but Barrie hasn’t held back when writing this script and I love that. Where does he get all this terminology from? It adds to the absurdity of the situation, the alienness of this planet and the originality of the story.

There’s a nice little touch there with Turbo tying up his flying beast like a pet, but it’s not long before he’s taking to the skies for more thrilling battles. This particular episode really does have it all. The action is truly thrilling, Vanyo‘s artwork sizzles in the action scenes, conveying real scale in the destruction of the city, real creepiness in the council and lots of little background details to pour over again and again. While the action builds so do the questions for this reader, with details about The Ark and the history of this war being drip fed to us. Wonderful stuff indeed.

Joe Alien has had enough. After falling for a trap set by trees(!) he draws the logical conclusion this continent they’ve landed upon is not hospitable for human life. It’s simply too dangerous; the killer vegetation can’t be communicated or reasoned with, despite finding out they can understand our language. Resistance is futile, so he orders a hasty retreat for his team but the plant life won’t let them leave. However, they’re not trying to kill them anymore either.

This is where a surprising turn of events takes place. We knew the trees were intelligent, able to uproot themselves and walk, they could communicate with each other and they appeared to be attempting to do so with us. Their murderous instincts were always front and centre but as Joe points out, while he has lost some team members, if the plants wanted them all dead they would be. They’re vastly outnumbered and on alien terrain after all.

A vehicle made of rock glides in over a body of water and from within it steps out a man. A human man from Earth! Our heroes have been corralled, now trapped on an outcrop surrounded by this body of water full of man-eating plants ready to chomp the legs off anyone who attempts to escape. But for this man they spread out their lily pad-like leaves and let him cross to within talking distance of Joe and his men.

I didn’t expect this! I have no recollection of this twist at all. A nice touch is the fact his speech is broken and slow because it’s been so many years since he last needed to do so. The plants treat him reverently, he’s quite clearly in charge and yet is very frail, at least upon first glance. It ends with him promising to tell a surprising story. I bet! I have so many questions. But that’s the whole point of the story. It’s layering mystery upon mystery, and just when you think you’ve got one or two bits sussed out it pulls the rug from under you.

Yes, that last sentence was a bit clichéd but there’s nothing unoriginal about this story. Ron Smith‘s artwork really comes into its own too, like he’s had a couple of issues to settle in and is now confidently in charge of the world originally created by Massimo Belardinelli. The rock vehicle feels suitably solid, the old man is an intriguing character even just to look at and the uprooted killers remind me of the tree that came in through the window in Poltergeist. Genuinely threatening. Two for two, the strips this issue have depth, character and intrigue. Shall it continue?

Just before the Kitten Magee strip here’s artist José Ortiz‘s pin up of one of her teammates Casandra Cardeti. While I do really enjoy José’s work and it’s nice to see some colour work from him, I always had an issue with how female characters would be dressed in our sci-fi comics. While Turbo, Joe and Loner are properly equipped for whatever is thrown at them, women always seemed to go up against the same dangers with a lot less clothing. It’s a sign of the times of course but it was always a niggle I had, not just with Wildcat so I’m not singling it (or José) out.

Unfortunately, out of all the strips in this issue Kitten Magee has the least development plot-wise. Basically a fight to the death between them and the robotic tribe, there’s plenty of action and a few close shaves until right at the end one of the robot heads pops off and explodes, leaving a crater where Kitten and Aurora were standing. But even within a basic plot this time around there are some really nice little nuggets to sink our teeth into. Have a look at these two panels by way of example.

The robots have suddenly become rather interesting. Their techniques for dispatching foes get more and more creative, my particular favourite being this ground drilling monster that pops up just when the battle seems over. Then there’s a gaffe Kitten herself makes. In saving Casandra from a dropped explosive by expertly kicking it into the hole from the previous panel, she mentions how keenly she played football as a kid. The thing is, the sport was deemed too violent and banned more than one hundred years ago. Add this to how old she looked in #3 and we’re beginning to get a glimpse into just how much of a lie she’s living. An interesting plot point which I’ve a feeling will become the main thread in issues to come. I certainly hope so anyway.

Just before Loner there’s another double-page spread of letters although none from the readers. Instead, every contribution has been signed off by an alien being from some distant world. The letters page had been hacked! I asked Barrie if this was due to a lack of letters but he assured me it was probably just for a bit of fun for the Christmas issue. He says he’s a big kid at this time of year (just like myself) so I can believe it!

“The creature is preserving their bodies… so it can eat them when it pleases.”

One of the little furballs

Loner gets a bit of a new look but whether I’d call it an upgrade is something else. The furry little pets of the extinct alien race told him the weapons he’d found could only be controlled by his mind and thus he was made to sit in a chair to prepare himself for using them. The end result makes for a rather startling image and he’s not best pleased with the finished result.

It’s a bit of an anti-climax when one of the furballs casually says they can change him back afterwards, what with the transformation being part of the cliffhanger last time. But it does mean he’s all set to take to the caverns and hunt down the creature the lizard demanded he kill. There are also some nice humorous touches in the dialogue and you get a sense of the beginnings of a friendship between the former mercenary and these cute little beings.

This episode is all about stalking through the underworld and it contains some wonderful imagery from David Pugh, especially within the lair of the beast.

The detail here is stunning. I love the webs, the rock formations and the skeletal remains of the critters, which is a bit of a sad image, with rotting corpses and imprisoned furries strung up everywhere. It’s quite the panel!

As he tracks down the beast we’re treated to a suspenseful atmosphere. Take your time reading this, taking in all the fine details of the art and the fact the lettering of the homing beep gets slightly bigger and smaller as Loner attempts to find it, and it gives off a tense Aliens vibe. As for the beast itself, well I remembered it being a hideous snake-like creature with huge black eyes and long, pointed teeth. An image in a previous issue confirmed my grey cells hadn’t let me down, but I’d assumed it was about the size of a large Earth anaconda. How wrong was I.

In #2 I was under the impression the crazed lizard was a giant beast in itself, only to find out in the next issue he was about twice the size of our hero. With the predator Loner has been sent to dispatch, I’m very glad to say I was wrong in a completely different way. Just look at that final page! What an image to leave in the minds of young readers. This is the best cliffhanger in all of Wildcat’s run so far.

How on Earth (or wherever they are) can Loner hope to take on this thing, even with the advanced weaponry? We know it has no brain patterns to speak of, that it operates purely on survival instinct (this is why the telepathic lizard can’t kill it). Is that information in itself a clue? I can’t see how. But isn’t that the best kind of cliffhanger? One where you can’t think of any possible way beyond it, but you know the answer has probably already been hinted at, that it’ll be an organic and ultimately satisfying resolution. Wildcat has proven itself in this respect many times over already. A tense chapter with a stunning final scene.

Our last strip takes us back to that giant Christmas pudding on the cover. It’s the festive season for the last human beings in existence and there’s some nice scene setting, including mention of the fact there’s been no communication with the landing parties, a running theme throughout all the stories and a nice reminder each one is part of a larger whole. We also get to see the bridge and the captain in charge of Turbo’s ship when he’s not around, while they track the huge dessert making its way towards them through the darkness outside.

For such a ludicrous thing to see they take it very seriously. Some crew members joke but they’re soon put in their place. It could’ve been so easy to reduce the whole story to a farce but I’m glad to say the characters treat it very seriously. Various attempts are made to communicate, they see it as an imminent threat, sounding the alarms and even opening fire, but their laser beams go straight through it. As does the Wildcat when the pudding surrounds them. “It’s like being wrapped in cotton wool”, one engineer scanning the impact (or lack thereof) states. Stranger and stranger.

It’s what the Wildcat crew don’t see that elevates the story into being the best Wildcat Complete yet.

The lights go out and a mysterious glow signals someone or something beaming aboard. It’s Santa and an elf! With presents for everyone they explain they disguised their ship as something they thought couldn’t possibly be seen as threat and they apologise. The image of the Wildcat within the actual ship itself is a striking one too. The captain takes some convincing and they don’t immediately win everyone over. Even after they’ve gone no one is sure it wasn’t some form of mass hallucination.

It’s a fun little story but then the final page makes everything click into place. The large Death Star-esque vehicle morphs into a sleigh and reindeer, another illusion. But it’s what the Wildcat crew don’t see that elevates the story into being the best Wildcat Complete yet. I’m left with just one question. Were they impersonating someone we humans associate with gift giving (apparently what they love to do as a species) or is this Santa’s true form?

It’s left without an answer of course, like all good Twilight Zone twists, leaving the readers much to discuss with their friends. I know I’ve mentioned that show before in reviewing these anthology stories, but to me that’s just the vibe I’m getting. I’m all for it, and even though the stories can be so different from the rest of the comic they fit perfectly. While it can’t be officially confirmed at this time, we believe the artist is Manuel Carmona Ruiz (2000AD, James Bond). The way they so effortlessly blend the hard sci fi with a very traditional way of illustrating Santa Claus in his close up, in a completely different artistic style, is extraordinary.

A wonderful Christmas feast of a story to end another fantastic issue. The way the dates fell in December 1988 there was another issue in the festive period, in fact it’s dated New Year’s Eve. It was probably released early like most comics scheduled around that time but I’ll be reviewing it on the last day of the year. If it’s anything like this issue it’ll give 2021 one hell of a send off. Join me then.