Tuesday, October 12, 2010

WildCATs 10-13

[Jason Powell writes his second to last Claremont X-Men epilogue. Though I was instant messaging him the night before last and he was reading the Claremont Willow novels, threatening to blog about them. The man is an addict, I tell you, an addict.]

Back when these comics were published – 1994, I believe – I was still not entirely recovered from the sad way that Chris Claremont and Jim Lee’s collaboration on X-Men was cut so short. This four-issue “WildCATs” arc was a nice gift from Lee to Claremont fans, reuniting the team from the author’s final issue of X-Men – not just the writer and penciler, but inker Scott Williams and letterer Tom Orzechowski as well.

I hadn’t read any previous WildCATs stuff, so the characters were pretty unfamiliar. And there were a LOT of characters in these four issues. Generally speaking, the story is a bit over-stuffed. For someone coming in fresh, it was too much. Not that the story is hard to follow, really – just that the surfeit of characters made it hard to latch onto any one and find them sympathetic.

Still, it’s a great action movie. The Claremont/Lee chemistry had not atrophied in the three years between X-Men 3 and WildCATs 10. And Claremont certainly seems to be having fun with Lee’s creations (although who knows, maybe he was faking it just for the paycheck).

The point of this storyline was actually to introduce an original Claremont character, the Hunstman, who was theoretically going to be spun off into his own solo series. Had this happened, I believe Claremont would have been the first non-artist to bring an original character and series into the Image fold. For whatever reason, though, the Huntsman solo series never materialized. There WAS a later Huntsman appearance after WildCATs, in a Claremont-penned 3-issue “Cyberforce” arc. Cyberforce was Marc Silvestri’s series, so it was another reunion between the author and a former X-Men collaborator. As a huge devotee of Claremont/Silvestri, I was really looking forward to the Cyberforce arc, but it turned out just terribly.

This WildCATs arc, on the other hand, is a lot of fun. The Huntsman character is your basic “awesome at everything” action hero, very much cut from the Wolverine or Gambit cloth. He is a striking member of Claremont’s ouvre simply in that he is male – though he does have a female companion (“Tai”), and there are implications that she is actually the really significant half of the pair, in some oblique way.

The plot here is all over the place: There are something like six or seven different villains, an alternate timeline, and maybe an evil duplicate at some point too. Despite that, there is a spine to the story, and it leads to a turning point in the relationship of Zealot and Voodoo, two female members of the team (surprise). There is also, if I’m remembering right, an easter egg for X-Men fans at one point. When we’re in the office of Savant, one of the several WildCATs cast members that is much older than she looks, one of the photos on her desk is of her and Wolverine. The image is very reminiscent of the photo of Logan and Rose Wu in Uncanny X-Men 257 (Jim Lee’s third X-Men issue, and his first time drawing Claremont’s Wolverine).

If one is not a fan either of Claremont or of WildCATs, this little arc might read as just a lot of mindless action. But if one is willing to put in the concentration, it’s a fairly rewarding piece, and a fun addendum to the Claremont/Lee X-Men run.

12 comments:

Kazekage said...

I always read it that Miranda (is it Tai or Miranda?) had created Hunstman as an idealized version of the "perfect hero," which I think was his initial plan for Gambit, wasn't it?

There's plenty of clues that this is the case--he never leaves her and there's one point where he's surprised when he's forcibly teleported to her side when Lord Soma is attacking her.

Jason said...

Kaze, yeah, that sounds pretty likely.

Anonymous said...

I went to the nearest comic shop to see if I could pick up any of the post-Uncanny Claremont runs you mentioned. This was the only one they had in full. I agree that the story felt overstuffed, as Claremont packed in a number of familiar tropes: the possession by the Rakshas echoes both the Brood (alien possession) and Proteus (the possessor that burns out its host) and the veteran male guardian of the young female (the Huntsman and Miranda) echoes both the Logan/Kitty pairing and the Gambit/de-aged Storm pairing. I suspect this was because Claremont really needs to view his characters as real people, and the banal early Image characters didn't give him much to work with in this regard. Without character traits to dig into, he really leaned on some of the old standbys. At least the extended opening dialogue between Zealot and Voodoo was a rare instance in an Image comic of allowing female characters to actually have a discussion about something other than the male lead (and Zealot actually wearing pants).

My recollection is that the early Image characters also had incredibly poorly defined powers (Bio-blasts!), so we don't get to see Claremont's gift for clever power combinations in battle.

Jason has pointed out that Claremont likes to keep attempting ideas that he feels he didn't get quite right (e.g., half the X-Men believing the others are dead), so I think Kazekage is right on that Claremont wanted another crack at whatever he was trying to achieve with the Gambit/Storm thread. I wish an ongoing Huntsman series had materialized if for no other reason than to shed some light on what Claremont wanted to accomplish there.

The conclusion is also interesting in that it looks like it's going to be a Dark Phoenix repeat, with Zealot becoming the all-powerful female who is too dangerous to live. Zealot, Majestic and Savant all agree that Zealot has to die. But then Voodoo helps Zealot divest the godlike power and return to her status quo ante. While the female character still isn't allowed to keep supreme power, at least it is female agency that removes the power and saves Zealot's life. Meanwhile, the tired Wolverine knockoffs of Grifter and Warblade are largely ignored.

-- Mike

Jason said...

Mike! Thanks for such a thorough analysis. This is really great.

Oddly enough, I just bought a bunch of WildCATs comics from a used book store, 'cause they were selling them for 50 cents a piece.

My idea was to read the entire run of WildCATs, from 1 all the way to Claremont's last, and see how Claremont's arc read in the context of the previous issues.

I still can't get through the things. It really is everything that critics accused Image of being: all flash and dazzle, no substance. Which is too bad. I like Jim Lee ...

BTW, your mention of "Bio-blasts" reminds me of my favorite-ever Scott Lobdell line, from the "WildCATs/X-Men" crossover.

Teebore said...

You know, I've read some of the earlier, awful WildCATS stuff from before the excellent Wildcats 3.0, but I have no recollection of these issues, so I must have missed them.

I'll have to keep an eye out for them at the next con.

Jason said...

One of the issues just before Claremont's does have a cameo from Scott Summers and Jean Grey. Which is kind of cute.

Teebore said...

One of the issues just before Claremont's does have a cameo from Scott Summers and Jean Grey.

Now THAT I remember! I think it was a pretty big deal at the time (at least it was to Wizard...).

j said...

Jason,

I'm sure this has been asked before, but what are your thoughts on the Marvel Team Up issues Claremont did? He had some great issues, especially the ones he did with Bryne.

Jason said...

I love most of them, j. As noted, the ones he did with Byrne are the best. I also quite like the four-parter involving an amnesiac Black Widow. (That was maybe the last four issues he wrote of MTU ... ? Close to the last for sure.)

He did tend to use it as a commercial for the other titles he was writing -- hence the team-ups with Havok, Ms. Marvel, Dr. Strange, Man-Thing, etc. But the stories were still really entertaining. I liked how, despite their being mostly self-contained, Claremont's Marvel Team-Up did have that one long-running plot involving The Silver Samurai (who was sort of the arch-villain of that series while Claremont wrote it).

He even managed to tie in the Saturday Night Live issue to the overarching Samurai thing, which was lots of fun. (Even though that issue itself isn't even a little bit funny.)

A few of the non-Byrne issues of that run are a little lacking, but overall I think it's a fantastic sequence of issues. And given that Claremont isn't always the best at comedy, he writes a surprisingly good, quippy Spidey.

Great stuff!

Anonymous said...

What is your favorite-ever Scott Lobdell line? Based on some of your previous comments, I'm a little surprised there is one.

-- Mike

Jason said...

It's a punchline off a set-up from earlier in the issue. (The issue in question being X-Men/WildCATs #2.) The set-up is: Grifter asks Marvel Girl if she learned a certain strategy in "superhero school or something," and she smirks and says, "Something.

Later, when the characters are attacked by a ray beam, Marvel Girl shouts, cornily, "A bio-kinetic blast!!!" And Grifter's riposte is:

"You can *identify* the type of blast? That is one thorough school."

And that is the line that I love so much. :)

John Pannozzi said...

It's "Miranda Tai", FYI.