Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Trade Waiting - Wildcats 3.0.

It’s hard to believe that it was a decade ago when Wildstorm Comics, part of the massive DC Comics  empire, was in its creative zenith. Quick to capitalise on the communities aging fan base, Wildstorm started releasing superhero comics with more adult themes and instantly struck gold with Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s universally acclaimed run of The Authority. They continued the trend with highly regarded books such as Ellis and John Cassaday’s part creator owned Planetary and Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips Sleeper. Each book had a different approach and different ideas as to what makes a comic ‘adult,’ and on the whole were met with critical praise from all corners. Yet there was one book that pushed the idea even further and asked the question, ‘rather than punching bad guys in the face, how would a superhero really try to make the world a better place in the new millennium?’ That book was Wildcats 3.0, and the full run has recently been released in two twelve issue trade paperbacks. Does Wildcats 3.0 have the answers to all the questions it poses? Find out after the jump.
Wildcats 3.0. Years One and Two

Written by Joe Casey
Art by (mainly) Dustin Nguyen and Richard Friend, Pascal Ferry, Sean Phillips, Duncan Rouleau, and Francisco Ruis Velasco
Colours by Guy Major

Wildcats 3.0 is not like the comics published with the same name for the ten years previous and at the time unlike any superhero comic on the stands. It tells the story of three men trying to adapt to the new world that has been thrust upon them. The main character of the book Jack Marlowe, previously known as the android hero Spartan, has taken control of the Halo Corporation and is using the vast resources he collected when he was a superhero to make the world a better place. Starting (relatively) small, the Halo Corporation releases the world’s first everlasting battery and begins buying various companies including accountancy firms and media conglomerates to gain footing in a known aggressive market. Eventually this brings the scrutiny of big business and the American government down on Halo and Marlowe’s way of dealing with these issues are not what is usually expected from a superhero comic. Meanwhile Cole Cash, aka Grifter, is kept on the Halo Corporation’s payroll and partakes in missions that are morally questionable yet will benefit Halo’s ultimately altruistic goals. Obviously with Grifter being the chiselled jaw ‘take no prisoners’ character that he is, sometimes has a worldview that doesn’t necessarily align with Marlowe’s. But as with the real world, both characters need each other to keep the balance that the Halo Corporation needs to succeed in the cut throat world of Capitalism. Rounding off the main cast is National Park Service (think the F.B.I. for superheroes) agent and morally questionable hypnotist Agent Wax. Wax is without a doubt the most interesting character out of the main trio, a man fully aware that he is just a cog in a much larger machine. Constantly berated by his superiors and treated like an errand boy by Marlowe, Wax uses his power of hypnotism and his place in the NPS to help the Halo Corporation yet eventually finds himself using his talents for more morally shady reasons. Whether you agree with his actions may possibly come down to whether you are a boss or just a worker. Orbiting these three are an interesting supporting cast including an accountant with an accurate shot Mr Dolby, information power broker C.C Rendozzo and her amusing team of hackers and heavies, and sado masochistic muscle The Beef Boys.

Joe Casey manages to weave multiple story threads that all pay off in the two years that Wildcats 3.0 existed. Each character has their own voice and Casey manages to weave multiple genres into the world he has constructed for the characters to play in. One of the main rules of the medium of comics is to ‘show, don’t tell,’ yet by doing the complete opposite Casey has given the book a feel that can’t be too different to when real world CEO’s fire hundreds of their workforce with a swipe of the keyboard and only adds to the sanitised feel that doesn’t need to be explained to anyone that has worked for a large business. The action zips by at a decent rate and Casey is intelligent enough to let his artists carry the portions of the book that are more action packed. Casey also brings a large amount of humour to the book particularly the dry wit of Marlowe, the sarcastic cynicism of Grifter and the downright plastic gangster attitude of Rendozzo’s teenage computer hacker employee. One problem the book has, although through no fault of Casey’s, is when dealing with a book that has current real world technology in it, it leads to the book dating quickly. Halo buying an AOL analogue doesn’t ring as true as it would have in 2001-2003.

Dustin Nguyen’s artwork is a mix of the highly detailed line of European artwork and the intense hyperactivity of a manga artist. Whilst not as refined as his current output, Nguyen’s art has an energy that is nothing less than exciting. There is a balance to his style that makes the talking heads aspects of the book feel just as important as the action scenes, something that is vital in a book that is incredibly dialogue heavy. There are dashes of previous Wildcats artist Travis Charest in Nguyen’s early work also, with some incredibly detailed architecture and tech juxtaposed alongside the more expressionistic figure work. A special mention must be made to Nguyen and Rian Hughes’ beautiful cover work which incorporates graphic design elements whilst still retaining a strong message of what the issue contains. No mean feat considering today’s pose heavy, spoiler free cover work.

Unfortunately Nguyen is replaced about three quarters of the way through the run and from there the book suffers from having multiple artists of various qualities handle the art chores. Sean Phillips does a strong job handling some flashback scenes but has a style so different to all the other artists involved and the effect is jarring. Francisco Ruis Velasco two issues look rushed and while there are some strong panels and his storytelling chops aren’t in doubt, his figure work is uninspiring and when put alongside the other artists involved in the book he doesn’t fare well. On a more positive note, Pascal Ferry’s fill in issue, which is essentially a giant fight/car chase, is joy to behold. Also, Joe Casey’s Man of Action compatriot Duncan Rouleau steps in for the final story arc that while doesn’t hit the high notes of Nguyen’s earlier work on the book, fits the violent crescendo that Casey has been building to throughout the storys run. As with all Wildstorm books from this period, Guy Major’s colour work is top drawer even if he does get slightly enamoured with photoshop flare effects at times. But do remember this was the early 2000’s and colourists were still getting to grips with the new technology available to them.

Verdict – Buy it. Criminally ignored when discussing the classic Wildstorm books, Wildcats 3.0 is not a superhero book, nor is it a team book, but a story of a man (or alien android) using his vast resources to try and make the planet a better place and the friction he comes up against from big business, the government, and even his own allies. It is a book that makes accountants cool; it is a book about wish fulfilment for anyone who isn’t their own boss. If that sounds like something that you would enjoy, this is the book for you!

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Anonymous said...

Joe Casey's entire run on WildCats would be in my top (let's say) 25 of favourite comic runs. Basically his rendition of the team made every other one moot to me.

Anonymous said...

These are all on sale right now on comixology!

Mars Will Send No More said...

It's a high-octane action flick with a sci-fi edge, in comic book form. We agree with your verdict - buy this bad boy.

We ignored Wildcats since the earliest Image days. But stumbling on a few of these Casey/Nguyen issues convinced us to give this underrated book a second chance. Turns out, Casey's entire 2-volume run is a solid read, this being the more brisk and action-packed volume.

Anonymous said...

yes! Yes! Totally agree. I miss WildStorm.

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