Longbox Diving: Wildcats #1 by Grant Morrison and Jim Lee

By | September 7th, 2011
Posted in Columns | % Comments

I’m sure you’ve probably read this bit of commentary before, but this whole DCnU thing going on? Not the first time that it’s happened. Not at DC, certainly. In fact, it’s not even the first time an event as convoluted as Flashpoint has happened in order to reset a universe and usher in a new wave of #1s! No, back in 2005, a DC imprint that was ran by Jim Lee attempted to do the same thing. It was called Wildstorm. You may have heard of it. And the results? Abysmal at best.

Then again, history is only important for those who don’t want to be doomed to repeat it.

Let’s go back to 2005 after the cut and talk about the last time Jim Lee did art for a high profile flagship comic with a hit writer which took part of the relaunch of an entire universe.

The year is 2005. Jeph Loeb has just finished up his first arc of Superman/Batman and in doing so has killed off the character of Captain Atom. Except not so much with the killing bit. What actually happened was that, at the moment of his apparent death, Captain Atom shot through the walls of universes because SCIENCE! and ended up in the Wildstorm Universe (Earth-50) in a mini-series called Captain Atom: Armageddon, written by Will Pfeifer with art by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Sandra Hope. In the story, Atom got mixed up with members of Wildcats and the Authority, eventually battling both and pitting everyone against the middle, with everyone ending up dying as Atom’s power is absorbed by the Void, Atom is returned to regular DC continuity and the Void reboots the Wildstorm Universe. Comics!

As a result of this, in 2006 Wildstorm relaunched a slew of titles for new readers with high profile creators. Brian Azzarello wrote Deathblow with Carlos D’Anda on art, Garth Ennis wrote Midnighter with Chris Sprouse on art, Christos Gage wrote Stormwatch with Doug Mahnke on art, Mike Carey wrote Wetworks with Whilce Portacio on art and Grant Morrison wrote two titles, both of which being arguably the two biggest titles Wildstorm had: Wildcats and the Authority, with Gene Ha illustrating the Authority and Jim Lee himself illustrating Wildcats. Everything was set to be an open door for new fans to hop into Wildstorm and find out that they did more than just licensed comics.

Except that’s not what happened. Most of the series were cancelled before the year was out, The Authority netted two issues (which, honestly, were quite good) in a story arc that wrapped up last year by a different writer and artist, and Morrison and Lee’s Wildcats never made it past the first issue, with poor sales killing off Wetworks, Deathblow, and Midnighter. Delays were encountered all around and, much to fan chagrin, Wildstorm continued the never-ending trend of having great ideas that sales just wouldn’t stand behind, with Christos Gage eventually being called in to write Authority: Prime and Wildstorm: Armageddon to clean up the mess, culminating in World’s End, which eventually killed Wildstorm entirely (both fictionally and literally).

And that was the result of a “soft reboot”. I can’t wait to see what happens with DC’s hard reboot!

Of course, it stands as only logical that now that we’ve been able to read Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s Justice League #1, we should take a look at Wildcats #1 by Grant Morrison and Jim Lee, right? They are fairly similar in inception, after all, and the intentions of both books are still very much the same.

So. Wildcats v4 #1. The Wildcats are getting back together again. Or, they are together again, and they’ve just split up before the issue can even start. It’s never quite clear, although the point is that they’re back together again. Spartan is still using HALO to better the world, now with Voodoo at his side and in his bed. Grifter is in a third world country and plastered. Zealot and Majestic are on a planet overrun with Daemonites, only to find out that Helspont is back and leading a strike force against Earth. It’s a grand opening to the next great saga for the Wildcats.

Continued below

This is a five year old comic, but it reads as something much older. It’s only 2011, but dated doesn’t exactly cover it in terms of style and execution. As much as this was part of a reboot, it was a 2006 relaunch of a series that very much wanted to be the equivalent of it’s 1992 counterpart, and it showed. On top of that, Morrison continued choice storylines from the previous incarnations of Wildcats, which pretty much negated the “new reader friendly” element of the book. Spartan still ran the HALO corporation from 3.0 but is no longer Andrew Marlowe; Ladytron, Mr. Majestic and Voodoo are all around again, assumedly just because; Helspont – Wildcats’ first foe, back when they were WildC.A.T.s – returned along with Kaizen Gamorra to menace the team and the universe. All of these older elements are just thrown together like a comic form of splatter painting, hoping that an image will form. But, on the plus side, Grifter still drank a lot of alcohol (for one issue), so it’s not like all the old elements that were carried over were to be lost on a new audience. It was just very much the old band getting back together – assuming, of course, that you knew who the old band were and cared. But good lord, was it a messy reunion. There are issues that are all over the place, and there is this.

Now, Morrison has never really been known for specifically streamlined storytelling. In fact, that’s perhaps one of the more interesting things about his work. Morrison is a very open lover of all things comic, and he constantly uses everything at his disposal in his stories, which in turn result in stories that are not always that accessible for the less familiar reader. The mixing and matching elements can be often quite intriguing in other series, but in this everything is a jumble, and from the perspective of a new reader it’s daunting, polarizing and off-putting. Morrison’s Wildcats is in stark contrast with his two issues of the Authority, which are just about the single most new-reader friendly thing I’ve ever seen him write (including his creator-owned work). What makes it worse is that the book actually opens with a “History of WildSsorm” composed of a few panels made specifically to catch new readers up to speed with all that Wildstorm had to offer, so it only makes it worse that by the end of the issue you won’t be any more familiar with any of the characters outside of the fact that Grifter likes alcohol, Spartan likes hanky-panky and Zealot likes fighting.

Then again, for those of you who are Wildcats fans, or are even fans of Morrison’s penchant for mega-arcs, then Wildcats #1 was probably one of the most exciting things ever when it happened (notice how excited people are for Morrison’s Action Comics #1 this week). All the throwbacks to the early days of Wildcats reaffirms Morrison’s love for history in comics, and the villains return to menacing extents for a first issue. It’s also an INCREDIBLY open-ended story (obviously – it’s an issue #1), full of tiny plot threads that assumedly wouldn’t have seen resolution for quite some time. As jarring as the adjustment to characters were, there is this general consensus of opinion that, “Well, come on – it’s Morrison. It’ll pay off!” However, the general things I commended Wildcats 3.0 for with its forward thinking sensibilities aren’t present at all in Wildcats v4 #1, and without seeing where it was going to go it’s rather impossible to tell if it ever would’ve.

Outside of that, the interesting thing to note is 2006 Jim Lee vs. 2011 Jim Lee. Lee is an incredibly talented artist who draws very powerful figures, often with a side dish of iconic imagery mixed in. Lee’s artwork is instantly recognizable, and there is no denying that as mediocre a comic as Justice League #1 was, Jim Lee was by far the more worthwhile element of the book. However, as Jim Lee’s more modern artistic style began to develop in 2003 while working with Jeph Loeb on Hush, the 2006 Jim Lee that illustrated Wildcats #1 felt like a stark ’90s throwback, to the same extent that Rob Liefeld is playing up the same thing in The Infinite with Robert Kirkman. While the Wildcats are certainly a product of the ’90s, it’s undeniable that the team, along with most Wildstorm properties, all moved on from ’90s stigmas and ended up as very influential comics that pushed the artistic aspect far beyond the pouch-infested era they were born in (with the Authority’s influence still being felt in comics today). Why then, after being pushed into the modern age with wonderful not-too-realistic-but-realistic-enough illustrations from Dustin Nguyen in Wildcats 3.0 did the book regress so excessively? It’s important to note that most of the books launched during the Worldstorm relaunch look rather fantastic, except for Lee’s Wildcats. Perhaps it’s looking back on 2006 Lee vs. last week’s 2011 Lee, but the art seems to be mediocre ’90s material, at best.

Perhaps that was the whole point and I just missed it. Perhaps I’m even just being a bit cynical. I’m a huge Grant Morrison fan, but even when trying to glean something deeper from the text I came up with a bunch of rather hollow ideas that Morrison had played with in different venues to a much greater extent (such as the nature of superheroes in an adult world, for example, which Morrison has worked with quite a few times before, most notably in Flex Mentallo). With Wildcats #1, I saw a reboot, and I found something that ended up being a failed attempt at pushing a book back to it’s roots in the least “new reader friendly” initiative perhaps ever. Wildcats #1 is certainly an entertaining exercise in futility, and I can’t imagine that for Wildcats fans of 2006 there was anything cooler than having Morrison and Lee on the title and anything more disappointing than having Morrison and Lee on the title. Aside from a few spots of brilliance, it’s an otherwise completely forgettable endeavor in the world of comics.

Looking at the issue 5 years later, though, after all that Morrison and Lee have accomplished (both before and after 2006), one can’t help but note: Yeah, I guess I can see why this never worked out.

//TAGS | Longbox Diving

Matthew Meylikhov

Once upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."


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