Thursday, August 7, 2014

Review: WildC.A.T.s #20

WildC.A.T.s #20, "Wildstorm Rising, Part 2," Cover Date May 1995
Written by James Robinson, Penciled by Travis Charest, Cover by Barry Windsor Smith, Inked by Troy Hubbs

WildC.A.T.s 20 Cover Barry Windsor Smith

It's been awhile since I've added a review here, mostly because I recently moved and start a new job on Monday, but if you want to hear my dulcet tones, remember to check out Your Stupid Minds for our bi-weekly podcast, which goes on regardless of my exciting life changes.

To celebrate my reduced schedule, here is a review of WildC.A.T.S., the poster comic for reduced scheduling! This issue is part 2 of Wildstorm's first company-wide crossover, and I'm sure it won't be an incomprehensible mess from the word "go," right? So let's get to it!

WildC.A.T.s 20 Zealot exposition
"Oh, right, now I remember all that exposition I forgot earlier."

We begin in the middle of a battle, as we learn background information about Hightower, who as an immortal Daemonite is apparently this world's Genghis Khan, and, confusingly, its King John, as the text says John "created the Magna Carta," to reign in England's knights and beginning the "rebirth of Merry Olde England." Whaaaa? Even if I wasn't a History major I can tell you that's a pretty crazy re-interpretation of those events! Being a History nerd, I can tell you that Genghis Khan was born in the 1160's and King John was born in 1166, so they've already lost me on page 1. Hightower just wants to have a chat, but the WildC.A.T.s are mad at him for manipulating them into fighting Stormwatch, apparently in part 1 of this crossover. Hightower shapeshifts and grabs Marlowe/Emp, the Cable-like immortal leader of the 'Cats, and explains that he's not behind the team's recent actions, saying it's another Daemonite named "Defile." Hightower wants Daemonite "Keys of Command" in order to get him off the planet and to earn some cred among his evil alien buddies, and Marlowe decides that it's in the team's interests to help him.

Loose cannon(TM) Grifter is understandably upset by this team-up, as the last time he met Hightower, he was tortured by the alien. Marlowe says if he disobeys his orders, he'll get "bounced" from the team, to which Grifter replies "let's see how you bounce, shorty," and open-hand slaps the cigar and the taste out of Marlowe's mouth. Grifter calls his teammates "half-breeds" and aliens, and formally quits, presumably mailing his ID badge at a later date. His sometimes romantic partner Zealot responds to the news to looking sadly at her chest.

WildC.A.T.s 20 Grifter quits
Grifter walks into the vanishing point.

We then cut to Zealot's daughter Savant (this is not explained), who, a few minutes earlier, tries to phone the Cats in the middle of their big fight with Hightower. She refers to a member of the team as her "sister," in a Chinatown moment, before trying another super team. She's got all the super-teams on speed dial! Phones have dials! Savant gets in touch with "Synergy," the Oracle of Wildstorm, who wonders who she should call, considering Stormwatch was beaten up in Wildstorm Rising. We don't see her choice, but she apparently has the "perfect" agent. Before Savant can do anything else, a bunch of villainous goons led by a "Mr. White" break through a nearby window.

WildC.A.T.s 20 Mr. White James Robinson Dialogue
Mr. White needs exact directions.

Meanwhile, Grifter awakens in a "$5 room," with cigarettes and whiskey all around him. After some hugely over-written flashbacks, Grifter decides he's gotta help... after he gets some coffee.

WildC.A.T.s 20 Mr. White James Robinson dialogue
Stop, taking unnecessary pauses, everyone!

Back at Savant's, her archaeologist friend is being tortured by Mr. White for not giving him "exact coordinates" to his discovery. Somebody should tell him you catch more flies with honey! White laughs off Savant's offer to torture her "invulnerable body," saying it would take an "artist's flair," but on cue, Mr. Majestic (Wildstorm's Superman) shows up and tells White to "grab a brush." He beats up White's goons, and White disappears in some smoke. Then, confusingly, another voice tells Majestic to "unhand" Savant, when they're clearly not touching, and challenges Majestic to a fight. It's the garishly dressed "Union"! To be continued!


I should probably admit that just reading the WildC.A.T.s wikipedia page, it doesn't look like the sort of thing that would appeal to me at all. I've complained in the past about my apathy for "angels vs. demons" plots featuring ageless near-immortals, so this is exactly the sort of set-up I hate. When one side is the "Daemonites" and the other is the "Kherubim," you're not exactly hiding your sources.

WildC.A.T.s 20 Majestic Savant
Uh, okay?

Beyond that, making your team functionally immortal seems like it's going to kill suspense and storytelling opportunities. It's an underrated strength of the X-Men that as strong as Storm, Cyclops, et al. are, they also have "glass jaws" that mean they can be taken out of a fight with relative ease if a villain knows what they're doing. Is it even possible to stop Zealot or Maul? I also think it hurts a reader's ability to relate to the material, since very few of us are immortal vampires/highlanders/whatever, so being "thousands of years old" is really more of a villainous thing to be (see: Vandal Savage, Apocalypse, Galactus, etc.).

Beyond style issues, I have to confess that James Robinson's dialogue here is wooden and generally terrible. I've heard his Starman is beloved by all loyal DC fans, but his dialogue here is so incredibly ponderous it fills every page with unnecessary, poorly written prose. Some samples:

"Maybe you're right. Yeah. Maybe you are. But we have to look at the bigger picture, here."

"All that talk. Such grand boasts. And this is the best you can muster? You're a joke, White. And not a very funny one." -Mr. Majestic, talking to a guy who hasn't boasted at all.

And as chatty as everybody is, we still don't get dialogue or narrrative exposition for most of it, so this comic really presumes I'm a much bigger fan of WildC.A.T.s than I actually am: what if I just like Stormwatch or BWS covers? The comic doesn't bother to name all of the heroes, let alone the completely disposable villains. It's just a total mess from everything except a basic plotting standpoint, where it at least seems to flow from this part into the next, and does tell us who the bad guy is going to be without making us read 10 parts (looking at you, The Crossing).

On the other hand, Charest's art is nice; he's still essentially a Jim Lee clone at this point, but he's at least a pretty good Jim Lee clone, and despite his hilarious sense of design, I've always liked Lee's art. His drawings of Savant reminded me of "Bucky" from the Heroes Reborn storyline, maybe because he did a fill-in after Marvel fired Liefeld for missing deadlines and drawing hideous freakshow Captain America pin-ups.

90's Fashion: In addition to his Cyclops style ammo belt, Spartan has a lower-thigh... buckle? Voodoo is wearing Jean Grey's Jim Lee costume. "Warblade," whose codename I don't think I ever read during the issue, has like, knife-fingers, you know? And a pony tail. Grifter wears a tattered t-shirt, but he accessorizes it with a Cyclops-style ammo belt and a mid-thigh pouch. Savant wears an aviator jacket and goggles on her head. Mr. White wears a red beret and a "Hush" style trenchcoat (reminder: Jim Lee is responsible for Hush's design). White's simian henchman wears spiked shoulder pads and a wrestler helmet.

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