Tag Archives: Barrie Tomlinson

WiLDCAT #1: NEW ARRiVALS

So it begins! I can remember the excitement of buying this after the hype of the preview‘s end of the world storyline. This may have been the same size of paper as OiNK, but there was something about Wildcat that just made it feel bigger in my hands. It was such a complete package (the stories, the art, the characters, the scenario) the excitement kind of overwhelmed me, to be at the start of such an epic comic! Of course, with hindsight I know it only lasts 12 issues, but I’m sure as hell going to enjoy the ride again!

Ian Kennedy draws the attention grabbing front cover. Ian was a mainstay of many of creator and editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s comics and you’ll see plenty of his work this winter in blog reviews for Ring Raiders and Super Naturals, my other favourite creations of Barrie’s. As for that brilliant logo, Barrie recalls it was created by him and group art editor Doug Church and its design would be carried throughout every strip. So a mere week after my first ever comic (OiNK, keep up!) was cancelled I was collecting the first issue of its replacement. Hey, we moved on quick at that age!

Editor Barrie said it was hugely important to have both a female lead and a black lead

We kick off with a brief, one-page recap of the preview and then we’re straight into the action. Wildcat is broken down into four five-page strips following the leaders’ expeditions and a six-page complete tale set aboard the spacecraft itself. Our first strip is Turbo Jones, the man who predicted the destruction of Earth (although it did explode instead of being hit by meteors, and a few years early) and as with all the main strips this issue we begin with his landing on the surface of our potential new home.

Barrie takes lead as writer (it’s his baby after all) and Ian stays around to bring the inaugural strip to life and Turbo down to solid ground. With a bump. The first thing I notice is how, after he mellowed when surrounded by his fellow crew towards the end of the preview, he’s reverted to being more hard edged again, particularly towards poor Robo, his android sidekick. In the preview he would snap at Robo when he called him “master”, but only because he believed friends shouldn’t do that, but here their strange relationship reminds me of that between early Judge Dredd and his home help, Walter the Robot.

If memory serves me correct (which is quite the ask these days) Turbo loosens up as the strip goes along, particularly thanks to Robo’s friendship. I have a recollection of warming to him and rooting for him with each cliffhanger. But when you think about it, it’s natural for him to be tense, he’s leading the first landing on an alien world after all and it isn’t exactly going well.

Upon arrival his team is instantly captured by a race of beings who call this region of the planet home and are naturally suspicious of these strange alien creatures called humans. Turbo doesn’t take kindly to this and his inner thoughts are full of plans for fighting his way out. But there are a couple of little hints there’s more than meets the eye here, a key theme in Wildcat throughout all of its stories. Our initial reaction as kids is meant to be of shock, to think the same as Turbo, that these wonderfully designed aliens are frightening and a potential enemy.

However, the comic would teach the characters (and thus us readers) the important lesson of not judging a book by its cover. For example, as they fly over what looks like a dinosaur one of the aliens laments how others treat these “magnificent beasts”. These lessons would play out over several issues, varying from one strip to the next. This was long-form storytelling and, while there was plenty of action and building to cliffhangers, nothing ever felt rushed. Twists and turns kept us guessing and we soon understood things weren’t always as they seemed. More on this below.

The next strip leaps off the page. Joe Alien, as drawn by Massimo Belardinelli (Ace Trucking Co., Sláine and a simply stunning Super Naturals strip you’ll have to see to believe) is the only colour strip and suits his style just perfectly. It’s also the right choice for the colour strip, being full of wonderfully grotesque plant life and that intriguing main character himself. Joe is the last of his race, who were all fitted with external brain packs at birth to absorb as much knowledge as possible throughout life to share this with other species. Oh, and they had telescopic limbs.

In this first chapter Joe and his team get acquainted (Joe showing them what happens if his brain becomes disconnected) and notice the landing craft’s scanners indicate the area is rich in vegetation but no other lifeforms at all, so it’s safe to explore. Have they never seen a horror movie in the distant future? It’s not long before a trooper goes missing after encountering a hallucination plant, giving him a vision of his favourite night club, making him want to walk inside without realising the imaginary doors are actually its big, slobbering mouth.

The “burp” just makes this scene. This is a sort of mini-cliffhanger as the strip is split between a three-page chunk and another two pages in the centre of the comic. This was my first exposure to Massimo’s work as a kid and I loved it. The plants feel really textured and the humans themselves have unique chunky proportions to them, bringing a real cartoony feel to proceedings and giving us a false sense of security before the horrors begin.

Our next character is our female lead and by far the most intriguing going in to this issue, Kitten Magee. Between mysteriously avoiding discussion about her father’s death whose money she inherited and telling her robotic pet Crud to make sure her “life dust” supply is packed, the preview certainly piqued my interest in this character more than any other. Refusing to have any men on her team, she and her colleagues land on the planet in a remote jungle swamp area ready for action.

Kitten’s team are the only ones named and given unique character traits rather than being unnamed troopers. We’re introduced to Casandra Cardeti and Doc Barnes in this first chapter and to see the beginnings of a proper team and their interactions as fleshed out characters set this strip apart from the others. It may be all action from beginning to end, but it also manages to cram in enough drama and character development to make for compelling reading.

Encountering a slug-type creature and a giant water-based monster that work together to catch prey, Kitten uses her cunning, physicality and some unique jewellery to cut, slice and burn her way out of trouble just in time. The fantastic, almost scratchy artwork of the late, great José Ortiz (The House of Daemon, The Thirteenth Floor, Rogue Trooper) adds a great deal of atmosphere to the jungle and an immediacy to the action. It’s thrilling to look at.

As a child I was wondering if we humans were always going to assume something different was to be feared but then Doc Barnes laments the creatures’ demise. This was another hint for me that this comic was really teaching us something. It was different and it was laying down the basics here before developing really rather quickly.

In the end Kitten and her team walk off, unaware of the fat male presence floating menacingly above them, hidden in the trees. I can remember the look of this guy and his race but nothing else, so I’m eager to get stuck into further chapters of this strip and see where it goes.


“I was delighted to be offered Loner as my character.”

David Pugh

After Kitten there’s a double-page spread of apparent reader contributions but how is that possible for a first issue? According to Barrie he has memories of visiting neighbouring families of his, knowing where children of the right age bracket were living and asking them to contribute to it after showing them a dummy issue. I know of only one other comic which did something similar and that was #1 of The Transformers which took a dummy issue to a local school to gather feedback on the comic for letters.

Back to the strip action and the moment I’ve been waiting for has arrived. A former mercenary who always worked on his own, with only his specially modified classic six-shooter ‘Babe‘ for company, a rare black hero in British children’s comics of the time takes centre stage at last. Meet my favourite Wildcat character, Loner.

Still arriving down in a multi-person pod, highlighting the sense of isolation in the very first panel, Loner finds himself in a desolate part of the planet and he isn’t happy about it. Seeking some action he finds a previous radiation storm causes him to lose contact with Wildcat so he takes to exploring the rocky desert landscape.

A wide image really brings home the feeling of him being all alone. At least for now anyway. A falling rock is no accident and he spots some indistinct alien figures in the shadows. It surprised me to read this for this review and spot humanoid beings were responsible because I can only remember the little fur balls and the giant, crazy lizard monster to come. More on him in a later review and believe me, if you think the art here is great it’s incredible in coming issues!

Loner was created by Barrie specifically with artist David Pugh in mind. To quote David from 2019’s Loner graphic novel, “I was delighted to be offered Loner as my character. I had perfected a black and white style which I felt had enough texture to not need colour. I enjoyed the challenge of creating a handsome, cool and tough black guy. I was listening to a lot of West African music so my Loner became a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Senegalese singer Baba Maal.” I can see it! Indeed, Barrie told me it was hugely important for him to have both a female lead and a black lead because they were woefully underrepresented in UK children’s comics.

Falling through the ground and discovering a whole hidden world lit by luminescent rocks he finds little furry creatures he thinks could be a source of food. But when one suddenly attacks him, electrifying him, he shoots it dead. Next thing a deafening chorus of chirps erupt from dozens of the creatures surrounding him. One shock may have been a slight annoyance, but this many could kill him. Remembering how these creatures would become his friends later, it’s so interesting to go back to their first encounter.

David says working on Loner was the happiest year in his comics career and you’ll see as we go along how this comes across on the page. For now he’s the main attraction (alongside the free gift) for the second issue in a fortnight’s time. Interesting to see the planet get named here first instead of in one of the strips. Loner was not only my favourite Wildcat character, he was one of my very favourite comics creations from all the titles I collected at the time. I’m looking forward to seeing if he matches up to the memories.

The final strip is The Wildcat Complete. Each issue would end with a slightly longer story set aboard Wildcat itself. Just right, since the comic is named after it. This anthology series would often be of the horror genre with a very Twilight Zone feeling to the stories. For this first instalment the artist is Enrique Alcatena (Batman, Conan, Aliens) and his art brings a suitable spookiness to the Wildcat pilot Lancelot Knight‘s (subtle heroic name) discovery of a strange object outside.

It’s nice to see the inner workings of the Wildcat and get a chance to meet some of the crew. I’m also very happy to see a perfectly 80s sci-fi bridge to kick things off in. What he spots looks remarkably like one of NASA’s Explorer craft, which the young readers would’ve known about at the time. While they were current designs to us, they’re an ancient space craft here.

We find out the one now cruising past the Wildcat famously went missing in 1999, still 11 years in the future to readers but soon enough to make this fantastical tale feel closer to home. With a diverse crew from all over the world this Explorer was sent into space to explode our planet’s last nuclear weapon. We were so optimistic in the late 80s, weren’t we? It has now suddenly showed up again right next to the last remaining human beings in the universe. Naturally Lancelot has to go and explore.

I’ve distinct memories of seeing these ghostly figures and their rotten corpses and the impact it had on me. I knew right there and then this comic was going to continuously surprise me. The Wildcat Complete tales in particular, being an anthology, could be absolutely anything! What a rush that was.

After his own shuttle accidentally disconnects from the Explorer, Lancelot is trapped on board with the souls of the brave crew, who can’t rest until their mission is complete. His shuttle drifts away, as does any hope of ever returning to the Wildcat but Lancelot surprisingly makes peace with his predicament, seeing it as an honour to be able to help these personal heroes. It ends with a lovely panel of the now deceased crew, content at last, with their new eternal companion.

The back cover of each issue would have a colour pin-up of one of the main characters or alien creatures and they kick off with Kitten Magee and Crud, bringing to an end the most original premiere issue of a comic I’ve ever read. A fortnight sounds like a long time to wait for the next instalments of all these great stories but I know it’ll be worth the wait.

I remember thinking the comic somehow kept outdoing itself each issue. Let’s hope it lives up to those expectations now. Remember, remember, Wildcat returns to the blog on Friday 5th November.

SUPER NATURALS: iN REAL TiME

Completing this winter’s trilogy of classic comics created and edited by Barrie Tomlinson is 1987/88’s licenced title, Super Naturals. As you can see by my little pile of the complete series it’s another short-lived comic, cut short far too early. At the time I only bought the first couple of issues and, after receiving one of the toys for Christmas, the very final issue. But that’s the great thing about this blog, I not only get to revisit favourites I collected as a kid, I also get to read those I wanted to, and all in real time for that authentic experience.


“Is it a Ghost? Is it a Man? Agghh! It’s a Hologram!”

Super Naturals TV advert

So for the uninitiated what were the Super Naturals? Released the same year as Hasbro‘s ill-fated Visionaries line, Tonka‘s toys also featured holograms, an expensive addition to toys that the companies both thought would result in sure-fire hits. Super Naturals went a lot further with the concept, covering a lot more of the toys, even replacing the faces of the action figures as you’ll see in this first advert shown in the UK in the autumn of that year.

The story behind it involved the Tomb of Doom, a mysterious doorway to another world. It would appear and disappear at various moments throughout history, enticing explorers, heroes and conquerors alike. But once inside they’d instantly be killed and turned into supernatural entities with the ability to transform into animals or creatures most suited to their character. Unable to fight in the other realm they’d break through into our reality to battle it out.

Tonka was renowned for high quality truck toys and the range would include two of these as well, complete with weapons and holograms. The action figures were solid and quite a lot larger than their holographic competitors and each came with a glow-in-the-dark weapon just to add to the creepiness when played with in the dark. Shining torches on them worked just as well in the daytime obviously, but kids would often be found in darkened rooms bringing the monsters, ghosts and goblins to life.

The adverts certainly caught my attention at the time; the creepy music and the horrific looking monsters that could change and disappear looked incredible. I’d never seen anything like them before and on a trip to a not-so-local toy store I convinced my parents to pass on my excitement to Santa Claus. This was all during the build up to Hallowe’en, a holiday I never really participated in as a kid but my imagination had been captured and, quite perfectly, on Saturday 31st October itself I spotted the first issue of a brand new comic.

However, due to the fickle attention span ten-year-old me had by the time Christmas came along something else had taken the top slot in the Santa Claus list, namely Visionaries! I received the one Ghostling toy my parents had already bought me, Scary Cat, but received a wealth of Hasbro’s Knights of the Magical Light and three vehicles! (This was because the Visionaries had launched a lot earlier in the year and were already flopping, so had been reduced in price in the toy shops.)

I do recall particularly liking the little Super Natural, especially removing its plastic cloak and arms and shining a torch on it in the dark, the witch/cat apparently sitting right in front of me, so good was the 3D effect. In early 1988 I chanced upon #9 of their comic in the hope of collecting it every fortnight along with more of the toys.

Unfortunately, inside it contained a message that it was to be the last issue. I was disappointed but not overly, since I hadn’t been collecting it or the toys yet so wasn’t emotionally attached. Later in the year when a certain piggy publication was cancelled that would be a whole other story! But due to the cancellation of the comic I never did collect any more of the toys, which looking back at them now (especially those trucks in the advert at the bottom of this post) I kind of regret.

There wasn’t a cartoon and UK fans were the only ones to get a comic tie-in. It was a unique title and one which holds up today in unexpected ways. There are ongoing strips featuring the epic story of the Super Naturals, a more comedic one based around the Ghostlings (the smaller helpers) and an anthology series based on ideas sent in by readers which would turn their imaginations into full strips full of gruesome art.

I remember it being genuinely disturbing and scary, so obviously loving it.

But best remembered is The Doll. A horror series created specifically for Super Naturals comic, it wasn’t tied into the toys and told the tale of a possessed ventriloquist’s dummy. I remember it being genuinely disturbing and scary, so obviously loving it. Thanks to the line-up of strips Super Naturals was very much like a licenced version of the earlier Scream! comic, which had also been edited by Barrie.

After its preview issue there was also a free Blockbuster Advert just like OiNK had and the comic itself lasted for nine fortnightly issues, one Holiday Special and a glossy Adventure Book released in early January to appeal to those who had received the toys for Christmas. The preview issue also came complete with a special card introducing the main characters and will be reviewed here on the OiNK Blog this day next week, Sunday 24th October 2021.

Be here! You won’t want to miss this in-depth look at a forgotten classic.

WiLDCAT: PREViEW iSSUE

<< GO TO WILDCAT INTRODUCTION

It originally took me the best part of a week before I read this free preview of brand new sci-fi comic, Wildcat. It wasn’t from lack of interest but rather the fact it was inside the last issue of OiNK. After realising this I wasn’t in the mood to read my favourite comic, never mind the free gift inside. But when I got around to it I found an original, exciting and yet oh so bleak story awaiting me. A day or two later I was in the shop buying the first issue proper and placing a regular order.

Created by editor Barrie Tomlinson it was very much his baby. It would be a comic with one story told over various strips but it had to kick off with a big, dramatic event, something so huge it would justify having all the strips tied in together. So how about the end of the world? The cover may have Earth at the mercy of meteors but it’s the first page inside, where these have turned into meteorites striking our world that really hit home to me. This was a seriously attention grabbing start.

The first page makes no bones about what the predictions for Earth are and I can remember being shocked as a kid. I didn’t think comics could do this sort of thing and I was instantly hooked into the scenario. It has all the markings of a disaster movie, right down to the government ignoring the expert and as I continued to read I was surprised this awesome Wildcat spacecraft, humanity’s last chance of survival, was only going to hold several hundred of us!

Quite brutal for kids to read. That’s why I loved it so much back then!

This preview story is all about introducing life on board and the regular characters. Written by Barrie and drawn by Ian Kennedy the eleven pages of strip action cover a lot of ground, move at a blistering pace and conclude with a cliffhanger to get the young readers excited for the premiere issue. Also given away inside Fleetway’s 2000AD, Eagle, Buster, Whizzer and Chips, Roy of the Rovers and Mask it certainly had a large pool of potential readers to pull from.

Predicting the end of everything is our main character, research scientist Turbo Jones. An apparent billionaire through some form of inheritance (being rich allows him to address the governments of the world, so some things don’t change) he buys worldwide advertising space, asking for volunteers to take humans into the stars, but he only has room for several hundred. He mentions picking suitable colonists but not what makes someone suitable, and the whole project is handily funded by more inheritances and lottery wins. While this reads as convenient now, as a young reader these sorts of things wouldn’t have interested us anyway so they only needed glossed over in the first place.

Saying that, Kitten Magee‘s finances seem to have a shady history and later she asks her robotic assistant, Crud (whose voice I always end up reading as K-9‘s from Doctor Who) to ensure her entire supply of something called ‘Lifedust’ is stored safely aboard. Along with animals reacting badly to her presence and even plants pulling away from her, there’s definitely a lot more to this particular character than her colleagues realise.

Given the welcome changes happening in our modern world now, I also like the fact she was once part of the World Campaign Against Male Domination and how she’ll lead an all-female team. Forward thinking for the day, it actually reads as quite topical now.

This is in contrast to all the lovely 80s futuristic spaceships and cityscapes. Think of the best sci-fi movies from that time and the kind of visuals they’d portray for future worlds. We’ve got shuttles that wouldn’t look out of place in Thunderbirds, self-flying taxis, futuristic “vid screens” which are clearly chunky CRT TVs with extra bits added on, as well as references to “massage slippers” (no, really), hi-tech shops, light-reactor engines and more. All this while at the same time Robo tells Turbo he’s successfully videoed the latest episode of EastEnders. It’s all great fun and has a lovely retro feel to it now.

While the purpose of the preview is to set up the main story and make people aware of the new comic, with Kitten it feels like those early episodes of Babylon 5 when hints, questions and mysteries abounded, setting up larger stories for the unwitting audience. Loner and Joe Alien are introduced although their development is kept for the regular comic. Turbo himself comes across as rather self-important to begin with, but given the circumstances this is understandable. He does seem to relax a little when around his new seconds-in-command though.

He has a robotic aid called Robo who appears to be a hybrid between robot and chimp and he can be rather snappy with him, but only because Robo insists on calling him ‘Master’ which irks Turbo. He tells Robo his friends call him Turbo, but his companion has his programming and keeps on using the term. It’s clear this back and forth has been going on for quite a while, which explains Turbo’s responses. It makes for a unique partnership and one I’m looking forward to more of.

The main characters and the Wildcat itself were all originally designed by Ian Kennedy although various artists would take them on for the fortnightly. Above is a small poster which makes up the middle pages and shows just how colourful the spacecraft responsible for the survival or extinction of the human race actually was.

An interesting little coincidence I spotted was how Turbo’s calculations proved the extinction level event he predicted happens to Earth every 67 million years. At one point he even says, “It’s happened before… and it’s about to happen again” which was similar to a popular phrase in Battlestar Galactica. However, Barrie assures me the TV show had no influence over the creation of Wildcat. It’s a nice coincidence though and, given how Earth is to be destroyed by collision with natural forces that orbit our galaxy, it makes more sense in this story.

Or at least that’s true as far Turbo’s prediction goes anyway. But on the last page that suddenly changes, just after the crew finally (after what must have been months of searching) find a planet which could in theory support human life. At this point, a few years before the predicted event our planet Earth just blows up! No meteors, no long-term destruction, no slow deaths by radiation. Just like that the entire planet and the billions left behind are gone.


“I was piling on the pressure, indicating that anything could happen in this story!”

Barrie Tomlinson (Editor)

I asked Barrie about this sudden change in the final panels. “It was creating a mystery which perhaps would never be solved,” says Barrie. “Turbo had predicted something different but it happened quicker than he had anticipated. It had a shock element for characters and for readers. I was piling on the pressure, indicating that anything could happen in this story!”

Whether we’d ever have found out what really happened will itself remain a mystery but for now it ends a story which was quite brutal for kids to read. That’s why I loved it so much back then! As as adult I can see how it had to rush through so much in such a short period of time, because the comic was going to kick off its regular strips with all of the teams landing to explore this potential new planet.

I was engrossed as a ten-year-old and now as adult I’ve enjoyed the rollercoaster and am in awe of how much Barrie and Ian were able to squeeze in here. The exhilarating ride of the strip has me hyped for next week and as such the pages of “The Creatures to Come!” aren’t even needed, but I can understand why they’re here. Again, you have to remember the target audience.

I do recall the so-called “Nightmare Alien!” is actually one of Turbo’s allies but this is just one piece of the misdirection the comic would be great as, which you’ll see as its stories develop.

The preview issue was smaller than the comic it was slipped into. It’s about the height of an American comic while being a little wider but the fortnightly was going to be the same size as the monthly OiNK. A small panel on page two of the piggy publication pointed this out, as did the promo on the back of the preview itself.

There was plenty to look forward to including free gifts, lots of strips and The Wildcat Complete tales and all on big, glossy pages that I remember made the action feel epic in scale. That premiere issue of Wildcat will be reviewed on the OiNK Blog in just seven days on Friday 22nd October 2021.

Wildcat had landed.  Figuratively speaking for now anyway.