Thursday, May 24, 2018

Image Firsts: WildC.A.T.s #1

            Totally not the X-Men…

            Jim Lee was the key. McFarlane and Liefeld each had record-breaking sales at Marvel on Spider-man and X-Force, respectively, but Jim Lee was the artist of the best-selling single issue of all time with X-Men #1. He was the golden boy of Marvel Comics and well-regarded amongst his peers and the comic industry as a whole, and his decision to join his fellow Image artists and form their own company was one of the deciding factors in the fledgling company’s success. Building off of his title Wildcats (technically WildC.A.T.s, but there’s no way I’m typing that out for the remainder of this review), he was able to establish what arguably became Image’s most successful imprint in WildStorm comics, a breeding ground for writers and artists who would later go on to even greater heights of fame and success, with numerous titles such as The Authority, Planetary and Sleeper going on to influence just about every superhero comic book to come thereafter. Lee achieved his initial success through his art, but proved to be an even greater talent when it came to business; his current status as Co-publisher of DC Comics further solidifies that he remains a powerful force within the comics scene.

            Of course, all of that would come later, and this is a review of the issue that basically acts as the first brick of the building that is Jim Lee’s current career. Its historical significance is well-established, thus, the only question remaining is… is Wildcats #1 any good as a comic book? Like many of its Image peers, this first issue is something of a mixed bag. As a story, Wildcats #1 at least accomplishes the basics of what is needed in a first issue, with a bunch of intriguing ideas and concepts that would carry the book across four volumes, and the whole line of WildStorm Universe books, in turn. Cheesiness abounds, of course: there’s a bunch of corny one-liners during the superheroic tussles, but that’s not a huge issue; honestly putting the books about on par with Stan Lee and the generation of writers that followed in his wake during the Silver and Bronze age. Jim Lee’s art also offers what is likely the best of the “Image” style, with a lot of flash and detail, and also a proper (if not indulgent) use of splash pages to provide the exclamation point to the big moments of the story.

            The problem here lies chiefly amongst the characterizations and the lack of clear information in world-building. This is the first issue, of course, and so it must be expected that there will be mysteries and plot-lines that will be developed over time, but the story--at this point, at least--has yet to be clearly defined, with a whole bunch of names and organizations tossed out without so much as an “As you know…” infodump to catch the readers up to speed. We get a fairly typical opening with a pair of research explorers stumbling upon mysterious happenings in the Antarctic, an event which isn’t commented upon again and seems to have no bearing on the subsequent story, other than introducing the character of the Void and some vague “orb” she is seeking. We are then introduced to Jacob Marlowe, a diminutive man who Jim Lee draws as a bodybuilder who’s had leg reduction surgery. Marlowe is a pretty fascinating character on the surface, a seeming immortal who was once homeless and is now the head of a successful corporation, although he still likes to sleep in piles of garbage from time to time. Of course, we don’t really get any more insight into Marlowe other than his intriguing introduction, and the book is called Wildcats and not Jacob Marlowe and his Wacky Super-Buds. But other than Void (whose primary function in the story is to allude to yet another vagary, this time a future disaster), we don’t meet any of the other characters until over halfway through the book. It takes us thirteen pages before we are introduced to team leader Spartan, and the rest of the ‘Cats follow after that, with many of them barely appearing on more than two pages. Considering that this is a team book, it’s a serious problem. A reader would be hard pressed to name any of these yahoos or even really describe what exactly their powers are, let alone any hint of a personality. Even more problematic are the women characters…   

The concept of how women are treated by society at large is something that is dominating the current climate, and that makes it pretty hard for me to set it aside as a “symptom of the times,” i.e., the nineties. The Image books we have looked at thus far have not exactly been overflowing with quality women characters, with the range of them going from scantily-clad to non-existent. The Covert Action Teams have three female characters: the shiny Void (who does fare pretty well, at least in comparison to the others), the warrior woman Zealot and the newbie on the team, Voodoo. The Void more or less comes out looking okay, even if her name is a shockingly apt description of what we know of her character so far. More troublesome are the other two. Voodoo is the new team member, and thus should have been the focus of the issue, since we would then discover the fantastic world of the Covert Action Teams through her eyes, and learn about the Kherubim-Daemonite conflict along with her so it doesn’t feel like blatant exposition thrown at the reader for no reason other than simply explaining the set-up mechanically. But the issue not only fails to deliver on that obvious set-up, it makes matters even worse by introducing her through her profession. An exotic dancer who learns she has superpowers has the potential to be an interesting story, but we learn literally nothing else about Voodoo. She is defined solely as a young woman who takes off her clothes for a bunch of leering pervs, leaving the reader with the skeezy feeling that the character was put into the story just so Jim Lee could draw double page splashes for her to show some skin. As the final piece of the female character pie, the warrior woman Zealot at least has something of a personality, introduced as she is amongst the final few pages of the issue, but considering that the line used to best describe her character is “sex and violence all rolled together with a bad attitude,” it’s not a particularly good look coming so quickly after the shameful exploitation of Voodoo.

            Overall, not a terribly strong start for WildStorm. But Lee (and co-writer Brandon Choi) deserves credit for introducing concepts that writers such as Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Joe Casey and Ed Brubaker would later use to revolutionize mainstream comics as a whole, so for that, Wildcats #1 deserves a noted place in comic book history.

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