Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wildcats: Street Smart

DC Comics/WildStorm, Wildcats #1 through #7, 1999 and 2000, 22 pages each, $ 2.50 each

Writers: Scott Lobdell, Joe Casey
Artists: Travis Charest, Bryan Hitch, Carlos Meglia, Richard Friend, Paul Neary, Carlos D'Anda, Anthony Winn, Scott Benefiel, Mark Irwin, Greg Scott
Colorists: Tad Ehrlich, Justin Ponsor, Matt Milla, WildStorm FX
Letterers: Comicraft, Richard Starkings, Wes Abbott, Saida Temofonte

Scott Lobdell is probably my favorite writer who I'm not sure has ever actually written anything that I would consider as being "good," and this brief run on Jim Lee's signature title from the turn of the century is a good illustration why.

Rather than to make life difficult for himself and his readers by putting complex things like characters, plots or themes into his stories, Mr. Lobdell takes a much more relaxed approach to writing: It's people shooting at other people, sometimes with their mouths but mostly with guns. The presence of a narrative can be confirmed insofar as it loosely connects and fosters various scenes where the shooting takes place.

The results are frequently quite fun, actually—my favorite being the opening sequence of issue #3, probably, where Grifter poses as an ice-cream vendor while on a stakeout and ends up threatening an obnoxious little boy with a machine gun.

"What part of 'Go away' were you unclear on, kid?" K-CHIK, goes the gun, PLOP, goes the ice-cream cone. Ah, the good old days.

Sure, a lot of the characters have the same personality, once you get past Spartan (the android) and Noir (the tech nerd), but generally, Mr. Lobdell (and Joe Casey, who gets a "script" credit in issues #5 and #6) seems to be enjoying himself, in a pull-it-out-of-your-pants-and-swing-it-like-an-axe kind of fashion. He reminds me a lot of Mark Millar, in retrospect, only he's more authentic and playful—and a lot less annoying—about it.

I mean, I haven't seen a lot of comics recently where the heroes shoot missiles at the Statue of Liberty from fighter jets and chase subway trains in Formula One cars, so there's a definite sign that something's missing from the landscape right now.

While this run of issues was one of the last ones to have that particular brand of distinctly '90s-style, laissez faire madness and carelessness that began with the Image founders in 1990, though, it also starts a tradition that characterized the '00s for WildStorm.

WildStorm's track record of botched relaunches, you see, didn't begin in late 2006, when Grant Morrison and Jim Lee kicked off the new WildCats [sic] title and never came back for a second issue, or in 2003, when The Authority returned as a bland Justice League rip-off after the end of the Millar run had been delayed, stretched, rewritten and redrawn for more than a year, until it finally stopped twitching and was deemed fit for release.

No, the tradition started with Wildcats, way back in 1999.

In his welcome message in issue #1, artist Travis Charest says that he hopes not to repeat the problems of his run on the previous WildC.A.T.s [sic, all right?] title, "such as totally blowing every deadline given me, which resulted in a string of fill-ins, half-issues and a generally rushed final product."

This time around, if you believe the credits, Mr. Charest drew two full issues of Wildcats, and then there was a string of fill-ins, half-issues and a generally rushed final product, and he left the series after issue #6. Mr. Lobdell also quickly lost interest, leaving after seven issues. The last one is a totally over-the-top bloody-and-gory fill-in story with art by the late Carlos Meglia, who draws facial and body hair like confetti sticking to characters' arms and chins here.

Still, it's often a great-looking comic, by which I mean that Travis Charest, whenever he can be bothered to show up with his pencil, doesn't seem altogether excited by the notion of sequentiality, but at least doesn't let it get in the way of drawing pretty pictures.

On a related note, it seems worth pointing out that Bryan Hitch somehow managed to draw issue #5 of this series, even while he was knee-deep in his 12-issue run on The Authority.

Seriously: This isn't "great" or even "good" comics by any stretch, but it still manages to be an enjoyable piece of entertainment far more often than it has any right to. As someone who basically learned English by reading (among others) Scott Lobdell's X-Men comics, most of which are of a very similar, very art- and idea-driven make-it-up-as-you-go texture, I still find it easy to connect with on a level that's missing from a lot of more recent—and better—material.

Grade: D+


Karl Ruben said...

The last one is a totally over-the-top bloody-and-gory fill-in story drawn by the late Carlos Meglia, whose facial and body hair looks like confetti sticking to characters' arms and chins here.

It's not that I don't know what you mean, but still, there's something slightly disturbing about that sentence and what it seems to say about the posthumous use of a dearly departed comics creator's hair.

Really digging these latest reviews - would like to see you delve deeper into your perspective on Lobdell's writing. Has he ever come close to anything you would consider "good"? I seem to remember liking that Ball and Chain thing he did with Ale Garza, even though it might have been a bit slight.

Marc-Oliver Frisch said...

You're right, that's an unfortunate confluence of meanings. I'm amending the sentence to make it clearer.

Lobdell has written a lot of X-Men stories that I liked; I'd have to go back to those and see if they're any good, though. Mostly, I think he did a good job with the character-driven one-shots in-between the big crossover storylines, like the two issues focusing on Xavier and Amelia Voght, for instance.