Tag Archives: Massimo Belardinelli

SUPER NATURALS #6: MONSTROUSLY GOOD ART!

My favourite Super Naturals cover so far wasn’t initially drawn as one. So impressive are Massimo Belardinelli‘s monstrous creations in one of the strips inside that they were used in a montage, with an image of Scary Cat by Sandy James hiding the seams. The black and white images work perfectly with that logo and I can only imagine what could’ve been if Massimo had been given the chance to design and colour a cover of his own!

The images are for the anthology tale not related to the licence and we surprisingly kick things off with the other original story, The Doll. Moving from the middle of the comic to pole position could be a sign of the strip’s popularity and it’s got the shock factor to perfectly kick things off. It’s still Christmas Day and the family game of hide and seek almost ends in tragedy. Uncle Frank is rushed to hospital with the horrible knowledge that the doll (which he believed was somehow responsible for the death of previous foster child Alan) is alive and murderous.

He’s able to whisper this to Simon before he falls into unconsciousness and rushed away. Simon is the only one who knows the truth, apart from his seemingly hypnotised younger brother David of course. Speaking of David, he’s almost party to his older sibling’s murder in this issue. There really is a feeling of the stakes being upped here.

An angry Simon takes to searching the house, determined to finish this. But while looking out a suddenly opened window the doll creeps up from behind and pushes him out from the upper floor of the house. Luckily able to grab a drain pipe, it buckles under his weight while David just watches, his facial expression almost matching that of the doll’s. But when the Marshall’s son Clive enters the room David’s attitude completely changes and he rescues his brother from certain death.

Did he do this himself so as not to get caught? To play along as the innocent bystander? Or did the doll relinquish its spell over him, to keep his hypnotised state a secret for now? Maybe the doll simply ran off before being detected and its grip on David was lost. Intriguing questions and I look forward to answers soon. With the comic coming to an early end just three issues from now, I suppose the only upside to its cancellation is knowing answers will be forthcoming a lot quicker.

The layers are building; Frank’s hospitalisation while now knowing the truth, David’s apparently willingness to see his brother die, the fact the doll is clearly out to kill and not just terrorise. It’s wonderfully paced and Francesc Masi‘s artwork is perfect for a horror story like this, setting an idyllic scene with a horror element right in its centre. It ends with Simon hoking about under his mattress for Alan’s diary and his hand comes across something moving. I remember what comes next from the last time I read these a few years back and it’s probably the most memorable moment from the entire story. You won’t want to miss the next review.

Anthony Williams is the artist for Ghostlings which continues its future tale and the underground-dwelling humans are now officially called Troggers, our ghostly characters foretold as “the great deliverers from beyond”. Convinced both Super Naturals are there to help they won’t listen as Spooks tries to explain. We see Weird Wolf battling one of the Crevice-Crawlers and the strip ends with Web-Winders invading the caverns. The comic really is trying to get as many creepy crawlies into this strip as possible.

The evil Super Naturals have made it all the way to the Cornish coast

The Ghostlings form a truce, knowing it’s their only chance of escape back to the Tomb of Doom but this lasts all of a handful of panels before Weird Wolf takes off, too scared to fight these monsters and leaving Spooks to defend the humans alone, possibly losing his only chance of leaving before there Tomb of Doom disappears again. Despite his comical appearance, Spooks is developing into quite the hero and I really like that. I’m also enjoying the setting, which feels very much like classic Doctor Who‘s depiction of future worlds. I’m sure kids would’ve relished the giant insects, dinosaurs and spiders. As an adult it’s great fun and isn’t that the whole point of a comic?

The comic’s lead strip, Legend of the Super Naturals is now taking up residence in the middle pages and the evil Super Naturals have made it all the way to the Cornish coast in their flying Bat Bopper car. It’s interesting to read about the limits of the powers these characters and their vehicles have, the comic has rules within which it operates and they make for better story choices and drama. Here, the Bopper needs time to recharge its “aerial energy” and the good guys are in an even worse state which I’ll get to soon. But first I wanted to point out some wonderful little parts to this story.

Dave D’Antiquis once again does a superb job of bringing the toys to the page and even though I really liked Alan Landford‘s faceless Burnheart in #4, I think Dave’s more toy-accurate depiction here is also superb. The powerful image makes the fact the Ghostlings undermine his transformation in the same panel all the funnier too. Then Snakebite takes centre stage for what is a quite dark sequence when you really think about it.

He morphs into this reptilian humanoid form to use his hypnotising powers on three huntsmen who have discovered the Bat Bopper. His face in this form reminds me of the aliens in V, which would’ve still been on TV at the time so this may have heightened the thrills for the young readers. But what stands out is the fact he’s hypnotising the three men to take aim at each other and fire their shotguns. Yes, their barrels are empty by this stage but the intent is there for a truly horrific scene, making this probably the darkest moment in this story since #1‘s church scene.

While strong in other ways, the good guys’ Ghost Finder isn’t that great at flying and has to make its trip across the Atlantic Ocean in stages. While it’s not explained here I’m going to assume that means jumping from ship to ship, terrifying the crews along the way for the greater good. Knowing that will take too long Lionheart and Thunderbolt use a little-used power to travel from New Orleans to England instantly, even though this will mean they’ll not only be vastly outnumbered until the rest can catch up, they’ll also be weakened by the transference at the same time.

This is what I meant about restrictions on their powers being better for the story. If they all just had unlimited powers the comic would be nothing more than one repetitive battle after another. I’m not sure if the limitations were outlined in the toy range of if the comic created them, but either way it works. The three licenced strips have been doing a good job of defining these characters enough that I care about what happens to my favourites. These limits add some tension and drama on top.

The issue has another one-page Ghosting Tale of a bully trying to scare some campers with his shadow, only for that shadow to turn into a creature of the night and attack its owner, and there’s another poster by Sandy James in the centre pages. The above contribution to the letters pages caught my eye, not only because Mahmoud is from Northern Ireland where I reside myself, but also his heritage links him to the Ghostling he wanted to write to. As before, the accompanying illustration is by Fleetway stalwart Tom Williams.

The absolute star strip of this issue is the latest Scary Cat Challenge called Nightmare which is based on an idea sent in by reader Trevor Knott of Plymouth. The story revolves around a young boy who ditches school and ends up in the supposedly haunted Bedlington Castle on a tour to kill time. The castle is shrouded in mist and the tour guide is suitably creepy so we know there’s going to be something else going on. The young boy gets bored quickly and decides to wander off, poking about inside the castle’s restricted areas. The tour guide sees all however and soon decides to teach the lad a lesson “better than he would have learned at school today”.


“The boy trembles… shivers… and sits transfixed with fear…”

Nightmare

After making jokes about the tour guide’s looks and sneaking inside one too many private areas, the kid soon finds himself locked in a room full of medieval torture equipment. Thinking he’s not going to get out until the castle opens again the next morning he starts to cry, thinking of the trouble he’ll be in with his parents. It’s at this point, when he’s at his lowest, that he spots a shape taking form in the air around him. A man wearing an old-fashioned actor’s collar tells him he’s going to put on a show as a way of apologising for such an apparently boring tour. This is when artist Massimo Belardinelli unleashes his imagination!

Panel after panel we’re treat to (and the boy is terrified by) more and more horrifying creatures. Each one is an original, highly detailed masterpiece! This carries on for a few pages and there are some truly creepy and, depending on the age of the target reader, scary images here. Those same readers would’ve loved every panel though. They were buying Super Naturals for things like this!

Massimo was an Italian artist whose work I discovered as a kid when he drew the first two chapters of Joe Alien in editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s Wildcat comic, an original science fiction title published a year after Super Naturals. (You can check out Massimo’s work in the Wildcat reviews.) He’s also known for his work on 2000AD‘s Ace Trucking Co. and Sláine amongst many others, where his highly detailed and highly imaginative alien/mythical art was a hit with readers.

I think the level of detail here is just incredible. The amount of time and effort afforded to this one strip, a one-off in a toy licence comic based on an idea from a reader, must’ve made young Trevor’s year! Any one of these panels could’ve been a splash page but Massimo packs them in on each page instead, and we see the boy becoming more and more terrified with each one. This is the kind of quality we had in our toy licence comics and the licence holders must’ve been thrilled with what Barrie and his team were producing for them.

The story concludes the next day and I have to say, even as an adult, it really shocked me! As the tour guide unlocks the door I was expecting the kid to either run out screaming, having learnt his lesson, or to be a gibbering wreck and ready to apologise for his behaviour. I did not expect him to be dead! To have been scared to death. So much so in fact, he’s become a petrified skeleton overnight, still inside his pristine clothes. What a shame this is somewhat ruined by the panel which immediately follows it.

While we’ll most likely never know for sure, I have a feeling the discovery of the skeleton was where Trevor’s original idea may have ended. The panel with the child turning the television off isn’t in keeping with the rest of the strip at all. Could it have been added so the story didn’t end with the death of a child? It’s quite possible and I’d understand why, of course. Although I would’ve thought Scary Cat‘s appearance would’ve had the same effect.

It doesn’t take too much away from the story though and nothing could take away from the art on display over these six pages! It’s sad to think of work like this being forgotten, that the comic wasn’t successful enough to last longer, to keep on producing strips of this quality and earning itself a reputation for doing so. Today there are those online who still scoff at the idea of licenced comics, who unfortunately will forever miss out on reading and enjoying things like this.

The licenced strips themselves don’t let the side down. As Legend of the Super Naturals continues to lay out the ground rules and develop the background to these characters, the final strip would be set at some later point in their story, gorgeously illustrated by Alan Langford. While he’s now decided to give Skull eyeballs (as opposed to the especially creepy version in his previous serial, Mount of Athos) his work is no less suited to the horror comic genre.

I particularly love how they set the Bat Bopper to work eating its way through the wall, that definitely raised a laugh

In England to uncover the lost tomb of Britannicus, a fictional barbarian sorcerer, last issue the evil Super Naturals explained if Britannicus is freed evil will break loose and rule the world. As this issue’s chapter starts they’re still racing down the Thames in a wonderfully atmospheric opening panel. Last time we had a classic Victorian Christmas as our opener for the festive special, but this time it’s quite the opposite, gloomy scene.

As for our heroes, they’ve become pinned in by locals determined to protect their families from them. To be fair, given the setting the locals are just as scared of the vehicles, so no wonder they’re unable to distinguish between the two sides. There’s a scene of Eagle Eye having to scare the “valiant citizens” away so that they’re not harmed in the pursuit of Skull and his cronies. It goes against everything they stand for but it’s for the greater good and concludes with this brilliant juxtaposition of Christmas Card-like imagery and Tonka truck!

The characters are settling into their different personalities, distinguishing themselves from each other in their actions and not just looks. It took a lot longer than six issues for more successful comics such as Transformers to do this as successfully. They’re also starting to use more of their unique special powers, which you can see below on the final page when we go back down the river and catch up with Skull, Burnheart and Scary Cat as they find what they’re looking for thanks to Skull’s x-ray vision.

I particularly love how they set the Bat Bopper to work eating its way through the wall, that definitely raised a laugh, while at the same time it kind of makes sense when you consider the huge row of teeth the front of the possessed truck has! What a fun way to give us half of our cliffhanger. The other half is the final panel at the bottom, where we see the humans have reformed, summoned the military and the Ghost Finder and its passengers are in for a rough ride. We know guns have no effect on the Super Naturals in their humanoid forms so as long as they don’t transform into their animal personas they’ll be fine. Not sure if the same can be said of the Ghost Finder itself though and without their transport all may be lost.

There’s still the mystery around Britannicus and who or what he actually was to solve too, so the next chapter should be particularly interesting.

The Christmas issue still remains my favourite so far. That could be because of my love of the season combined with the festive ghost stories of course, but nonetheless #5 just pips this issue to the top of the list. But I must say there’s a real feeling of confidence about this issue. From the scope of its stories and some truly incredible artwork, to pushing at the boundaries of what a children’s horror comic can publish.

What a shame there are only three regular issues left in the series. However, there are also two big Super Naturals special editions though, the first of which will be reviewed before the final issue, and I’m really looking forward to getting my fangs stuck into that one. Before then are a couple more issues, the next of which will be reviewed on Sunday 23rd January 2022.

WiLDCAT #2: STiCKiNG AROUND

We all know the risks of buying classic comics on eBay and that’s why I always check either in the description or with a message to the seller that all the pages are included and intact. This was listed as being in mint condition and it really is, but what the seller failed to mention was that it also came complete with its free gift. In fact two copies of the gift. To go along with that lovely depiction of the Wildcat spaceship by Ian Kennedy are stickers also drawn by the man himself.

These were to be attached to the free poster that came with the previous issue, which I haven’t been able to acquire yet, but even on their own they’re a cool gift. None of the aliens (at least in these stickers, there were more given away with the first few issues) relate to any of the stories inside, so this was simply a case of Ian’s imagination running wild. I think you’ll agree his they’re great and very typical of his work. Brilliant stuff.

With this being only the second issue there’s another recap page to kick things off with for new readers who missed out on the preview and issue one, although the comic does ask them why they missed it! The page itself feels a bit like an 80s tabloid layout which is a nice touch, giving the headline news of the story an immediacy I’m sure was appreciated at the time.

After this it’s on to the second part of Turbo Jones‘ story and unfortunately it looks like Ian is no longer the artist for the leader of the daring planetary expedition.

But you needn’t fear because in his place the regular artist goes by the name Vanyo (Death Wish, Storm Force, Ghost Squad), which was actually the pseudonym used by two Spanish brothers, Vicente Vano Ibarra and Eduardo Vano Ibarra. I asked Barrie if he remembers which brother drew Turbo but because they worked through an agency he was never sure which one was contributing which art to his comics. However, on their work he did say, “I do know they kept up a very high standard of artwork and I am a great fan of their work.” I think we can all agree on that.

Their line work brings dramatic facial expressions to Turbo that really humanise him, and adds a real solid feel to the ground-shaking action throughout. In this part of the story we find out the aliens who captured Turbo last issue are called the Burroids and they want to be a peaceful race. Their war with the savage Arglons however has been raging for so long now they were instantly suspicious of these new human aliens. Their leader is a giant brain suspended in a large glass dome, who tells Turbo of the history of their races, the war and of the planet itself.

A radiation storm, not unlike that which Turbo predicted for Earth (coincidence?) struck the planet a millennia ago. The resultant conditions upon the world resulted in all species developing a lung deformation and the inability to survive for any length of time above ground level. This rules out air travel and with giant monsters and raging seas stopping travel across the oceans each continent was thus cut off from their neighbours. It also explains the interference in communications prevalent in all of the strips.

This is the perfect set up for the comic. Each continent evolved across a million years separate from all others, meaning each of our landing parties (and our strips) can discover completely different environments and inhabitants, and are all cut off from simply calling for help, meaning they must explore. It’s quite an ingenious idea by Wildcat‘s creator and editor Barrie Tomlinson. It’s like having lots of different planets to explore all at once.

The Brain explains the two races signed an anti-nuclear treaty to ensure their war wouldn’t destroy the planet or negatively impact those on other continents. But the Burroids are still losing and need a new military leader. Guess who they want? That’s the set up to Turbo’s initial story arc complete and it’s an original one. Let’s see how it develops.

The scenes of murder and mayhem feel like they’re drawn with real relish.

Joe Alien is up next and his team aren’t really having the best of days. Confirming contact with the Wildcat is being disrupted, I like the fact this only happens after Turbo’s strip has given us readers the explanation why (Loner was cut off last time but we figured it was just the area he was in). It’s just one way in which each strip feels connected to the larger story, which was the whole point of the comic in the first place.

The bad luck continues as he loses another team member, all the while taking shelter from their stalker among the thick vegetation, unable to work out that this is actually the source of their woes. Joe himself keeps sensing danger all around them but continues to be just as confused as his men. When they see something move in the shadows they open fire and hear a scream but find no body. It was the tree that screamed, unbeknownst to them.

I know I’m making a bit of an assumption here but the scenes of murder and mayhem feel like they’re drawn with real relish, like artist Massimo Belardinelli is really enjoying drawing this strip with its weird and wacky antagonists. I do hope that was the case, as it’s such gruesome fun so far. A real classic gem.

We return to Kitten Magee next, drawn by José Ortiz, and she finally meets some of the locals. First they befriend a cute little furry eight-legged creature, only for it to be eaten on the very next page by flying blobs with big teeth. Her team fire back to scare them off, Kitten stopping her team from killing them, pointing out this is just nature’s way and their lives aren’t in danger. This is a nice moment because after the action of last issue it could’ve been easy to make these characters trigger-happy. Instead, the readers were given all-out action in issue one to draw them in but now things are settling a little more and proper exploration and research is beginning.

There’s quite a funny moment here when two of the team members are talking about when the next attack will come. They draw the conclusion it’ll be a while because their initial actions probably scared off the animals, when this happens.

The two-headed, three-mouthed tiger and its dinner disappear as quickly as they appeared, not even noticing the humans, making for nothing more than a fun piece of comic timing. The laughs soon stop when a tribe of multi-eyed men walk out of the shadows, not flinching when warning shots are fired in an attempt to halt their advance. Cassandra wants to fire directly upon them, based solely on how scary they look, but she’s told by Kitten she’s assumed incorrectly. The tribe are instead conveying a message through a form of sign language.

They wish for their leader to fight Kitten, who they’ve observed as the leader of this strange new female tribe. Accepting the challenge, it doesn’t go her way but despite the cliffhanger of a giant rock held over her head, ready to crush her, she tells her team they can’t interfere if this is the custom of the local people. With what seems like an endless array of weaponised jewellery, we’ll have to wait 14 days to see which one she pulls out of the bag (figuratively speaking) to get herself out of this one.

The art here is suitably creepy or suitably action packed when it’s called for. José’s use of dark shadows and scratchy lines is a great contrast to the glorious full-colour assault on the eyes that is Joe’s strip. In fact, I think Kitten’s really benefits from being in this place in the line-up right after Massimo’s work. The sudden change almost forces us to read this differently. The contrast is striking and helps the story convey the darker tone it wants to get across.

There are then two pages of reader’s letters and drawings, although most likely not by actual readers of the comic yet (I explained where these came from last time). One of the alien designs stands out, although not for the reason you might think. Take a look at ‘The Mighty Mouth Monster’ by Paul Ramsey. The second I saw it I recognised it from the myriad of marketing images for The Real Ghostbusters, a franchise which had only just launched in the UK (complete with its own comic) at the beginning of the same year. Here’s the image in Wildcat alongside one of the TV tie-in novels. Notice anything similar?

The question about the destruction of our home planet being different to that predicted by Turbo is raised here as well, answered with the hope that six pages will be devoted to explaining it in a future issue. Intriguing, although I do know from speaking with Barrie that this story was never developed in the comic’s short life. What a shame.

On to my favourite strip now and former mercenary Loner uses his modified six-shooter Babe to fire flares into the air, scaring off the cute-but-deadly little furballs from last issue’s cliffhanger. Loner was created by editor Barrie Tomlinson and written by both him and his son, James Nicholas (Johnny Red, Storm Force, Ring Raiders) and I think you can tell they were having a blast with the scripts here. As he tries to run for his life, Loner jumps into the water but there are floating versions of the little balls of fluff. Then on higher ground he gets attacked by cute and cuddly looking bat versions!

It doesn’t descend into farce but it’s still quite comical without ever losing its edge or drama. Quite the feat considering how they look. What I particularly like is how he recognises himself as the intruder. He laments having to use his gun to scare them and he refuses to open fire. Again, Wildcat lured its younger readers in with the action but is now showing them there’s more to being a hero than fighting. Constantly getting stung, becoming weaker and weaker he’s unaware of a pair of lizard eyes watching his every move and reading his every thought, or that this creature is controlling the furballs with his mind.

When Loner comes up against a wall of the little creatures the image makes the reader stop and take notice! It’s a great looking page; the wall of electrified death is the background, the panels leading up to that moment on top. I especially like the perfectly aligned little row of eyes between the two groups of panels. But nothing could’ve prepared the young version of me for what was on the next page.

Wow. This is the creature that’s been in control this whole time and would you just look at this page! The detail here is quite remarkable. I love the little details such as the scars, the veins, the shading giving real weight to the figure and that hand in particular. When you have an artist of the calibre of David Pugh drawing something like this it’s almost criminal to know the likes of 2000AD told its readers Wildcat was for their little brothers or sisters. Well, it was their loss and those of us who bought Wildcat were treated to the very best!

Across the page, under those adverts for stamp collecting that seemed to appear in every comic throughout the 80s is the Next Issue panel. At the end of Joe’s strip he used his telescopic limbs to grab hold of a small plant high up on a cliff, trying to look down and see who was attacking them. But the plant started to unravel its roots from the rocks and Joe realised it’s been the plants all along and they’re more alive than he bargained for. His realisation came too late though as it ended with him plummeting to the ground. Below you can see what happens next.

The second Wildcat Complete is called Space Madness and readers of classic 2000AD might feel right at home with this one. Although not 100% confirmed, my usual sources of help in identifying artists believe this issue’s story was drawn by Jesús Redondo (Dan Dare, M.A.C.H. 1, Nemesis the Warlock). It all kicks off with a DJ at the ship’s radio station being murdered by a robot while he’s still broadcasting to the last several hundred human beings in existence. As his death is played out live one of his listeners suffers the exact same fate in her room somewhere else on board.

Their untimely deaths make the front page of The Wildcat Express newspaper, which now feels somewhat quaint for being set in the far future (there are even horoscopes despite them being in deep space), but I always enjoy seeing how the future was predicted in stories from our youth. Anyway, I digress. Panic hits the Wildcat, which is understandable given the fact there appears to be a serial killer among them when there really aren’t that many people left, and they’re all trapped inside an orbiting tin can.

As the killings continue you begin to realise each one could be a major blow to the mission. For example a professor is carrying out experiments into the thoughts and feelings of plants in an attempt to understand them. I could see that being of particular use to Joe! Remember, as stated in the preview issue everybody was handpicked by Turbo and his team to be the best of the human race and here the story is just picking them off one by one.


“Mad Newspaper Boss Responsible For Wildcat Murders”

Newspaper headline

In the end, a witness to a fourth murder identifies the culprits as printing robots, leading security to the editor of the paper whose sales were failing because everything was so peaceful on board. It wasn’t exactly a hard case to solve but that’s not the point. The editor is diagnosed with Space Madness, “a kind of insanity triggered off by dwelling too long on the fact that Earth is destroyed and we’re in an unknown galaxy”. Apparently it’s happening across the ship.

It sounds similar to ‘Future Shock’ from the earliest 2000ADs, although here it makes a lot more sense. (It always confused me why people in the future would diagnose others as being unable to cope with living in the future. It’s not the future to them!) It would’ve been interesting to have this expanded upon, maybe it spreading across Wildcat could’ve been the basis for future stories. The fact the doc’s experiments could’ve related to Joe’s story is also interesting. Perhaps if the comic had lasted longer we’d have seen plot points from the strips develop, crossing over into others since they’re all part of one bigger story after all. We’ll never know.

The back page pin up is Joe Alien this time and it’s drawn by the hugely talented Ron Smith (Transformers, The Dandy, Harlem Heroes) and I’m happy to say there’ll be more by Ron in future issues. With all the danger inside, it’s nice to see Joe taking a moment to do some alien meditation surrounded by his new, erm, friends.

Just one thing I’d like to add before I sign off. During The Wildcat Complete I reiterated the point about how so few people were actually saved from the cataclysm. This hasn’t stopped Barrie and his writers from killing off plenty of them so far though! Between Joe Alien and the Wildcat Complete stories so far we’ve lost seven of our last survivors already and we’re only two issues in. I think I’ll have to keep tabs on this, just for fun.

Already showing confidence in its scenario and where it wants to take us, this second issue has been a joy to read from beginning to end. If it were in the hands of anyone other than Barrie this is the kind of solid quality we wouldn’t expect until much later in the run, so we really are off to a flying start! Come on back on Friday 19th November 2021 to see where he takes us next.

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.