The Wild Storm is coming and I’ll be honest I’m almost giddy with anticipation. There was a time in my life that some of my favorite comics were released by the Wildstorm imprint. My all time favorite was the Authority but I also loved Planetary, Mister Majestic, Sleeper, and Stormwatch. From the articles I read and the previews I’ve seen it looks like Warren Ellis is going to mine these classic titles for his reimagining of the Wildstorm Universe. Yet as excited, as I am it also makes me nostalgic and if the Wild Storm is the future then I must pay respect to the past and in the case of Wildstorm it all started with WildC.A.T’s: Covert Action Teams. Wildcats, as it came to be known, has had a long run in comics, with ups and downs but more ups in my opinion and I’ve been along for the entire ride. As I prepare for the Wild Storm I felt it important to take a look at the best the Wildcats had to offer.
The birth of WildC.A.T’s, as it has been told over the years, goes back to Jim Lee’s youth when he and childhood friend Brandon Choi developed their own superheroes. Flash forward several years and Jim Lee is one of the hottest artists in comics and one of the founding members of Image when he and his brethren fled Marvel to create their own comics. Jim Lee’s Homage studio, the precursor to Wildstorm, began charting their own line of comics and Jim Lee brought In Brandon Choi and they began writing and drawing what would become WildC.A.T’s: Covert Action Teams.
I remember reading WildC.A.T’s (Covert Action Team) #1 in August of 1992. I never got the impression that would be anything other than an eyegasm of Jim Lee art. My seventeen-year-old self still loved it since it was Jim Lee and at that time in my life he could do no wrong. I’d first seen his art in Alpha Flight and later Punisher War Journal before he assumed the roll of artist on the Uncanny X-Men. But as I read it I remember liking it more then the other Image launches. As I go back and reread it my impression has changed. I still like the concept but it’s very dated with both design and the story is hurt buy the rookie element of creative team.
Yet that first issue had so many wonderful ideas that have become the core of much of the Wildstorm universe. We are introduced to the concept of the Kherubim and Daemonites, two ancient alien races who have been at war for millennium and brought that war to earth thousands of years before. The Kherubim were immortal, very powerful, and human in appearance who breed with humans over the years creating super powered beings known as half-breeds in the process. The Daemonites are body snatchers by nature and inhabit key beings of power, such as their current leader Helspont who inhabits a powerful alien body. So by 1992 these two races had used Earth as a battleground and the war was ramping back up again. The WildC.A.T’s were comprised of Kherubims in Lord Emp and Zealot, who was a Coda Warrior (an ancient warrior sect of Kherubium women). Then Kherubim Half Breeds Maul, who could change his size and mass but the larger he got the less intelligent he was and Warblade, who could transform his body parts into solid bladed weapons. There was also Spartan, the leader of the team who was a synthoid who could download his powers and memories to a new body if destroyed and Voodoo, who shared not only Kherubim ancestry but also Daemonites who had the ability to pick out people who were inhabited by the Daemonites. Rounding out the team were Void, a former Russian cosmonaut who absorbed an orb of power that granter her precog and teleportation powers and Grifter, a former special ops soldier trained by Zealot but did not use any post human powers. For the duration of the early issues of the series this was the core team who were brought together to fight the growing threat of the Cabal, Daemonites who were trying to take control of the Earth.
The first story arc developed over four issues and culminated with the team coming into conflict with Rob Liefeld’s government run Youngblood as the Daemonites had taken control of VP Dan Quayle (which really dates the book) but by issue #4 the team was established and going forward. The arc, Killer Instinct, was a crossover with Mark Silvestri’s Cyber Force and then the great Chris Claremont was added as the writer for the Gathering of Eagles story that introduced important Characters Mister Majestic, a Kherubim Lord that was a Superman analog and Savant, Zealot’s ‘sister’ who had teleportation powers. They would play a more important role when Alan Moore took over the title with issue #21.
Unlike many of Image’s early releases WildC.A.T’s #2 somehow came out in September but then the frequency dropped off and it would take almost two years to get back on a monthly schedule but Lee had had to leave the book to accomplish this. Not that I was too sad as James Robinson and Travis Charest took over with issue #15. Their run was brief but exciting as it pushed the WildC.A.T’s more into the growing Wildstorm Universe and also saw the team, minus Grifter leave for their home world of Khera.
I was shocked when it was announced Alan Moore would join Charest on WildC.A.T’s. By the ‘90s Moore was very much on his way to becoming the comic enigma he is today. He refused to work for DC and Marvel so much of his output was through the independent press. He found his way to Liefeld’s Extreme Studios to work on Supreme and Youngblood but also released the still unfinished 1963 through Image. Moore’s run on WildC.A.T’s could have been one of the most satisfying super hero stories I’ve ever read but was marred by replacement artist after replacement artist. Travis Charest did some incredible work as the story split between a new WildC.A.T team on earth led by Mister Majestic and Savant while the original team dealt with political intrigue on Khera before the reteamed for the Gang War storyline. But Charest fell behind so he simply did the Khera stories while the Wildstorm stable of artists filled in on the earth story. Jim Lee came back for the Gang War story but quickly left due to missed deadlines. I recently reread the entirety of Moore’s story and it is a satisfying read but would have been even better with a consistent artist on board. Volume 1 wrapped not long after and other then for the Robinson and Moore’s runs WildC.A.T’s was not that great of a read. I was more enthralled with the Wildstorm universe as a whole but that would change with one writer, Joe Casey.
In 1999 Wildstorm (now owned by DC) rebranded WildC.A.T’s to simply Wildcats and handed the book to Scott Lobdell and again Travis Charest but the launch faltered. Charest fell way behind and the first arc and by issue five he had left for Humanoids and the Metabarons, and Lobdell left the book soon after. Joe Casey was given the title to write and Sean Phillips joined him on art. It became a must read book that lasted for over forty issues. Wildcats under Casey and Phillips had a vastly different vibe. The team was stripped down with Zealot ‘Dead’ and Warblade made only a brief guest appearance. Maul was used differently as he shrunk himself as small as he could so he was emaciated but incredibly brilliant. Spartan eventually merged with Void’s orb and absorbed Lord Emp’s powers and took over Halo industries. Grifter as his troubleshooter, Ladytron the punk rock cyborg from Moore’s run, Maul, and Voodoo joined Spartan in this volume. Rounding out the team was Agent Wax of the US Park Services, which was actually had a secret agency within in that monitored super beings on earth. The team took on new villains and left a lot of the original strife in the background. Wildcats was a beloved book by many but not a best seller and DC decided to reboot it as a Mature book.
Then the powers at be decided that the Wildstorm books were going to become a Mature Readers line of titles with some extra foul language and the occasional boob. It sounded like a stab in the dark at the time but in the end to me it was a success since it gave us Wildcats 3.0. Wildcats 3.0 might be the most satisfying Wildcats comic yet. The majority of the cast were holdovers from the previous volume, such as Agent Orange and C.C. Rendozzo. Orange was a programmable superhuman FBI agent who Spartan coopts while Rendozzo is in the information business and comes to work for HALO after Spartan rescues her son. Wildcats 3.0 also introduces accountant Edwin Dolby who is trained as the new Grifter after the original has his legs hurt in a shootout. We also meet the Beef Boys, two BDSM strongmen who Grifter hires as extra muscle from time to time.
Wildcats 3.0 took a different take on the superhero genre by taking it corporate. Spartan and the Wildcats still were about saving the world but they were going to do it with free and clean energy as well as advanced technology for the masses. There was more corporate espionage than classic super hero throw-downs. By this point Spartan was one of the most powerful beings in the Wildstorm universe, which drew him into conflict with the Authority several times, most notably during the Coup De Tat crossover. Wildcats 3.0 culminated in the Coda War, which saw the return of Zealot and wrapped up the series nicely. DC has collected the entire run in two volumes and it is really nice to see Dustin Ngyuen artwork for the majority of the series. There was the possibility of more but it never came to be as DC decided they wanted to relaunch the book again as they rebooted the Wildstorm universe yet again, this time with Grant Morrison and a returning Jim Lee.
There was one issue. Grant Morrison wrote it, Jim Lee drew it and it was never seen again.
I’m not sure if desperation was setting in or if there was just a consensus that drastic measures needed to be taken with the Wildstorm Universe. It was decided that a catastrophe would strike and all of the books would now exist in a post-apocalyptic world. Christos Gage and Neil Googe launched the title and Adam Beechen and Tim Seely wrapped it up. I enjoyed the start of the book as it was different and there was a level of desperation to survive. The original team was back, minus Void and Emp, and they were using HALO as a base of operations as they tried to save as many people as they could. Mister Majestic returned as an antagonist as he was collecting women of Khera stock to repopulate the planet as he established a paradise in Hawaii.
Wildcats volume 5 was a departure from what had come before but I did enjoy it. I’m a sucker for a good post-apocalyptic super hero story and Neil Googe has always been a favorite so I was on board. The story was compelling and the safety nets were off, especially for Spartan, but I don’t think it achieved what DC wanted and the entire line was shuttered before the New 52. Some of it is collected and it is an entertaining read but surely a forgotten experiment by DC.
After volume 5 there hasn’t been a Wildcats series. There were Grifter and Voodoo series as part of the original launch of the New 52 but neither made it very long. Other then the outstanding Midnighter series the Wildstorm characters have never really felt right in the main DC Universe. To me the Wildstorm heroes and villains need to be in their own pocket universe or on their own earth and luckily DC has finally agreed with me. The Wild Storm will launch soon and Warren Ellis is returning to the Wildstorm corner of the DC line. From the preview pages and covers it appears the Wildcats are going to play a prominent role as character sketches and designs of Grifter, Zealot, and Void have been released and they look amazing. I’m hoping for success, as it has been some time since we had a truly fantastic Wildcats title and I’m hoping the Wild Storm brings it about.