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Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri made slightly different decisions about the continuations of their flagship properties, but both roads led to Image’s first major inter-imprint crossover, Killer Instinct.
On the WildStorm side, over half a year had elapsed since the release of WildCATs #4, which was supposed to be the back half of WildCATs #3, which came out another three months prior.
Sure, Lee and company had filled the void with Trilogy and Special #1, but a big part of the draw of WildCATs was Lee himself and he had been absent from both affairs. That was surely a motivator to continue the numbering with #5 rather than risk confusion of a third WildCATs #1 issue solicited in the same six months.
(Although, in his introduction Lee says the continued numbering was mostly for “psychological reasons” of not having to do another #1 issue – if only Marvel 2016 would re-read that memo!)
Silvestri had his own schedule struggle with Top Cow’s Cyberforce. The initial four-issue mini-series took ten month to complete – a year if you tack on the subsequent #0 issue. Maybe starting a new series could also be good for psychological reasons – Cyberforce would maintain a roughly bi-monthly schedule for the remainder of Silvestri’s run on pencils.
But, enough about calendars – what about the comics?
I was in my comic-buying prime when Killer Instinct hit the stands, and there was nothing that looked anywhere near as good coming from any publisher. That’s not all down to Lee and Silvestri, with Scott Williams on inks for both. I give a huge amount of credit to colorist Joe Chiodo and his team of separators.
These colors are over 20 years old and I’d still say they’re as good as high-gloss superhero comics get. From the metallic reds on Zealot’s boots to the greenery in Velocity’s training session to the pink energy discharge in Spartan and Heatwave’s faceoff, they all pop off the page without the sickly skin-tone gradients of modern books. He makes the comics look like a million bucks.
Killer Instinct’s story is slightly less sparkling. The concept of a shared past between claw-handed Warblade and Ripclaw has legs, as does their damaged love triangle with the conniving psychic Misery. The mistaken identity plus some psychic misdirection that brings the teams into conflict is tried and true comics manipulation to get heroes to fight each other.
The crossover has a firm set-up across two prelude issues and its initial pair of WildCATs #6 and Cyberforce #2, but then the final two issues are a muddle of unevenly-paced fighting. Misery never develops as a character and just gets shriller and more conflicted, and Warblade’s super power seems to be more about coming back from a good thrashing than having sharp, pointy fingers.
Lee and Choi seem to have a better handle on their team at the start of this outing than they did before, including playing up smaller personal moments amidst the carnage. The prelude to the crossover in issue #5 is by far their best issue yet, while #6 sinks back to the typical kinetic action sans relationships and #7 barely hangs together. It’s incredible to think Choi was scripting such a sure title on Stormwatch while swinging so ham-handedly here.
With Voodoo taken off the field early on and Grifter and Zealot fading into the background, there’s not much team for Choi to write. Spartan is still a boy scout, Maul still has a single line about getting bigger that he delivers repeatedly, and Warblade takes center stage.
Warblade gains a bit of depth from the exercise, but you probably won’t come away feeling differently about him than you did at the start. There is such a thing as leaning on Wolverine too much (there’s one memo Marvel actually read), and giving Warblade and Ripclaw a shared SpecOps backstory when we’re getting the same thing for Grifter and Deathblow is a little much.
Silvestri (with co-scripter brother Eric) nails the double duty of a debut issue that’s also a crossover prelude. I’ll admit, I think there’s a certain tackiness to crossing over so early in the life of the title, but marketing is marketing. Despite the tale being framed with a personal story about Ripclaw that serves the crossover, we get introductions and context for everyone else on the team save for Impact. With a strong mini-series behind them, the Silvestris…
that looks so weird as plural, I think we’re going to go with the singular…
…The Silvestri have room to introduce everyone without dropping us into action.
The Silvestri also effortlessly handle a thankless flashback issue in #2 by intertwining Misery’s history with the team’s own defection from CyberData. It’s crafted in such a way that you could have missed WildCATs and the story would still make sense coming from #1. While none of their characters wind up with much time in the spotlight, they all get things to do that are well-matched to their motivations.
The inconsistencies of a speedy wrap-up in #3 can be forgiven, especially since they come with so many interesting little moments, like Velocity’s struggle with taking a life.
Want the play-by-play? Keep reading for a summary of these two teams going head to head. Here’s the schedule for the rest of this month’s WildStorm re-read – tomorrow we’ll read Stormwatch #6-8, which occurs simultaneous to this story.
Need the issues? This is the rare early WildStorm story that’s been collected in full, in a 2004 DC-issued TPB! Good luck finding it – on Amazon it goes for too-high prices, but it goes for cover on eBay. Or, you can pick up single issues – try eBay (Cyberforce & WildCATs) or Amazon (Cyberforce #1, 2, 3 & WildCATs #5, 6, 7, alt WildCATs #5, 6, 7). If you’re picking up singles of Cyberforce, be careful not to buy the preceding limited series by mistake!
The first great thing WildCATs #5 does is dispense with the idea that we want to read about anything other than Grifter and Zealot.
They elected themselves as the infiltrators of a Daemonite-funded cyborg factory, because the idea of every Daemonite having a perfected techo-organic body on demand is pretty scary stuff. Half the issue is comprised of their Mission Impossible descent from the roof into the bowels of the structure. The playful banter between the two killers as they dodge bullets only serves to play up the depth of their relationship.
(Maybe that’s why I love them so much early on in the series – no other characters really have this kind of connection for Choi to exploit in mid-battle dialog save for Emp and Void, and they’re a peculiar pair.)
Grifter makes it in farther than Zealot and he’s ambushed by Dr. Heinrich Richtoffen and his associate Misery. She is like a karate version of Jean Grey complete with fiery mane and psychic powers. Say what you will about the titillation factor of Lee’s female figurework, but he and Choi never shied away from introducing badass female characters.
Grifter is nearly KO’d by the pair of them, but the rest of the WildCATs port in just in time. Voodoo and Spartan make quick work of Richtoffen and his nesting Daemonite (also fueling the Spartan-Voodoo-Grifter love triangle a bit in the fight – wow, more character development).
Misery nearly makes her escape, literally slipping through Maul’s overlarge hands. Then she encounters Warblade and gives we readers our first really solid surprise in this series so far when she says, “Be still my foolish heart! It’s been a long time, Reno.”
Reno Warblade McBoringson is equally surprised to see Misery – he thought she was dead! She fights him to a standstill despite not having liquid metal dagger fingers until Maul decks her across the room.
The WildCATs are in a hurry to port out as the place self-destructs (pretty much their calling card at this point), but at the last possible moment Misery’s taunts cause Warblade to leap away from his teammates in the issue’s second jaw-dropping fold-out double-spread. The CATs look on in shock from their ship as the factory explodes – taking Warblade and Misery with it.
Cyberforce #1 begins with Ripclaw bleeding, cold, and on the run through the city, being whittled down by a shadowy Warblade … but it’s just a dream.
That bad night’s sleep might explain his viciousness with his young new teammate Velocity in her training session, as observed by Cyblade and eventually interrupted by Heatwave.
We cut away from their training to find Ballistic nursing a drink at a New York bar when she’s interrupted by the four-armed Stryker. He wants her to head back to headquarters for the sake of Velocity, her sister. She’s having none of it. They have a knock-down, drag out brawl that decimates the bar, with Ballistic winding up with with the last word.
Ripclaw has his vicious dream again the next night, waking up screaming as he realizes that Warblade and Misery must still be alive. This time, he bolts before the rest of the team can make it back to his quarters.
WildCATs #6 starts the crossover proper with the team under fire. The Gamorran airforce spot them lingering in the country’s airspace after the factory goes kablooey and promptly blow them out of the air. This allows us to appreciate the simple pleasure of Maul growing so big he can punch a jet-fighter out of the air.
After an impressively long sequence of events to fit into a freefall, the team winds up on the ground and in one piece. Voodoo has to psychically shrink Maul and winds up wiped from the effort, and Void ports them out of country while all the hardy men (and the much hardier Zealot) stay behind to search for some trace of Warblade.
They briefly skirmish with Misery in the curiously not-destroyed remains of the factory, but she swiftly hauls Warblade away with her. Spartan and Grifter uncover the stasis pod she was after, but before they can crack it open Marlowe interrupts on comms with two pieces of news.
First, Void and Voodoo made it back safely – hooray! Second, the Gamorrans are improbably even more apoplectic over something other than the WildCATs – Stormwatch is also in the process of violating their airspace (as we’ll read tomorrow).
It turns out Emp has some history in Gamorra – it’s where he picked up the initial prototype of the android Spartan, as well as a bloodied and beaten Warblade … who just happened to turn out to be a gifted one.
(Yeah, Grifter is just as skeptical of that story as we are.)
Meanwhile, Misery has Warblade strung up in a cemetery and is taunting him again, but when he launches himself at her he is intercepted by Ripclaw – who has somehow been pulled halfway around the globe to defend the love he previously thought to be dead even though he was just having nightmares about her.
Cyberforce #2 fills in some of the gaps thanks to a heavy-lifting flashback, where we see Ripclaw, Warblade, and Misery on the same CyberData SHOC team lead by Killjoy, a four-armed female cyborg version of Skeletor.
They, too, are raiding Richtoffen, as were the present day CATs – and, just like in the present day, Misery is on Richtoffen’s side! Warblade tries to incapacitate her, but when Ripclaw stumbles upon their fight he assumes (perhaps with a psychic push from Misery) that Warblade has turned on them! Ripclaw eviscerates Warblade and sends him tumbling off a cliff, presumably just hours before he is found by Marlowe.
In the present day Ripclaw and Warblade are recreating their dance of death, with Ripclaw again under Misery’s sway. Unfortunately, the rest of Cyberforce arrive and takes his side (and apparently Heatwave also knows Misery from their SHOC days…?). They collective send Warblade into the sea, again. The Silvestri apparently love parallelism.
Misery quickly convinces them that the WildCATs are a new group of CyberData SHOCs who blew up the lab to acquire top-of-the-line android bodies – which puts Cyberforce on a collision course with the ‘CATs!
WildCATs #7 opens with most of Cyberforce leaping into action above Gamorra while Misery stays behind in their jet with Cyblade (who presumably is the hardest to give a psychic push? I don’t entirely understand her powers yet).
The team begins investigating the smoking ruins of the lab (Misery still wants to crack open that next-gen android) when they are ambushed by Spartan and Maul. Hopefully Grifter and Zealot are around too, because an ambush by the members of your team who most-frequently get their butts kicked isn’t too threatening.
Then, we cut away from that action as many times as possible. Warblade commandeers a hi-tech bi-plane from some rich party kids. Jacob Marlowe takes a business meeting. Void and Voodoo fill a page musing about if being a Covert Action Team is dangerous. Stormwatch’s Weatherman watches Spartan’s kamikaze attack from the Weather Station simultaneous to the events of Stormwatch #6-7. The hotheaded Cannon suggests they can capture both Cyberforce and the errant WildCATs and deliver them to Gamorra to take the heat off the simultaneous terrorism being committed by Battalion (tune in tomorrow for that).
Heatwave catches Grifter spying on the battle and strafes him hard, send Grifter toppling head over heels. Heatwave is sure he’s broken Grifter’s neck, but the merc pops back up to shoot Heatwave down. Does this suggest Grifter has a healing factor? Cyblade tries to get the jump on Zealot and is handily dispatched, which finally gets us to the sort of marquee fight we all came for – Zealot vs. Ripclaw!
Unfortunately, it lasts all of one panel, as Ripclaw nearly eviscerates Zealot and then continues down to the depths of the lab with Misery. They reach the still-sealed pod, and Misery monologues about her excitement about reincarnating Dr. Richtoffen to the psychically-clouded Ripclaw. However, they are interrupted by a crazed and bloodied Warblade, back to lose a third round against Ripclaw.
In Cyberforce #3, the remaining WildCATs are losing to Cyberforce above ground, while below Misery tries to manipulate Ripclaw into finishing off Warblade.
The remaining WildCATs are completely outmatched by Cyberforce. With Voodoo and Void sidelined the team doesn’t have much energy projection beyond Spartan, who has a hole blown through him by Heatwave (who was down when we last saw him in WildCATs).
Does Marlowe really have the budget to manufacture a new body for him after every mission?
Zealot has completely recovered from Ripclaw’s shredding, but she gets handily beaten by Cyblade seemingly in a totally different location than she was on a previous spread. Misery pushes Cyblade and Velocity from afar to take Zealot’s swords and make the killing blow.
Meanwhile, below the battle, Misery is alarmed to find herself having genuine feelings about Ripclaw’s impending death as Warblade catches him off-guard and goes in for the kill. Genuine feelings other than being a little afraid that Warblade will kill her next, I mean.
In her frustration with her emotions she blasts them both mercilessly with psychic trauma. Between her focus on the two men and her distance from the battle, her grip over Heatwave slips. He realizes the team has been set up and stops Velocity from beheading Zealot, which would have embarrassed Zealot from beyond the grave for years.
Misery continues to taunt Warblade, but he seems to have worked himself into a Wolverine-style rage of indomitable Claremontian will and is immune to her attacks. He asks he about her baby, and when she isn’t sure what he means it confirms his suspicion – she’s an imposter! He impales her before she can convince him otherwise.
Suddenly, the damaged cyborg clone of Misery is sweet an apologetic, sharing a tender moment with Ripclaw and giving Warblade the codes to access the pod. Puzzlingly, the thing inside that they’ve all been warring over is Spartan’s arm, removed in WildCATs #2.
Uh… what? That was the big McGuffin? This guy is leaving bits and pieces of himself all over creation. I mean, that’s actually been WildCATs strategy half the time.
With their misunderstanding suddenly cleared up the teams get friendly and share some good, old-fashion guffaws about attaching extra arms while the WildCATs get patched up. Spartan doesn’t even have a massive hole in him like he did earlier in the issue! No need to worry about the Gamorran forces who already hate Cyberforce and now also hate WildCATs – I guess they’re all busy dealing with Stormwatch.
Elsewhere, in the sewers of Manhattan, Ballistic has armed herself to the teeth and is ready to assault someone or something.