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WildC.A.T.s: Covert Action Teams was the first book released from Jim Lee’s WildStorm imprint of Image Comics, and it has remained one of the most memorable thanks to his dynamic art and enduring characters like Grifter and Voodoo.
Was it any good?
My answer is a qualified, “sorta?”
At the time, there wasn’t a better-looking book on the stands, aside from perhaps Todd McFarlane’s beautiful early issues of Spawn. Plus, WildC.A.T.s came equipped with an epic, centuries-long good versus evil plot coming to a head in the modern day – a story much deeper than much of what Marvel was fielding at the time.
So why the hedging on if it was any good? Of all the many awesome aspects of WildC.A.T.s, the actual plot and script of the book aren’t especially one of them.
WildC.A.T.s opens with a messy arc built on simple dual-missions – locate a newly discovered Gifted One while trying to wrest control of a powerful Orb away from their enemies, The Cabal, who are about to bring their hellish demon planet to Earth.
Jim Lee and his BFF and co-writer Brandon Choi play things very close to a Claremontian gameplan here, complete with an undefeatable warrior woman, a budding ingenue who saves the day, an indestructible boy scout, and several last-minute reversals. What makes the arc messy is no less than four total factions in the finale, which gives as much panel time to Liefield’s Youngblood as to the WildC.A.T.s.
As a result, we don’t get any real character moments – just slow moments between fight scenes. The good guys are good (if a little violent), the bad guys are bad (and also a little violent), and everyone wants the girl who can see Daemonites and the orb that crashed onto earth from space.
Luckily, some of these characters have enough cool implied that you’ll let it slide. Grifter and Zealot quickly steal the show as both the most-interesting and most visually-arresting characters – when they’re not on panel it feels like the book is running low on oxygen. This is especially true when Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood invades issues #3-4, as they’re just one big interchangeable lump of extreme costume designs.
My distinct impression has always been that Choi and Lee were superior storytellers without a good story. I know that sounds contradictory. What I mean is that they clearly made up an amazing universe and some compelling characters, but when it comes to plotting them through an arc there’s not a lot that’s memorable. I feel as though if someone just told them what situation to put the characters in (as Chris Claremont would do on his arc), the book would be great.
Should you re-read this run to prepare for the WildStorm relaunch?
Despite nitpicks at the story, there’s no denying the impact of Lee’s bold artwork at the height of his early-90s powers. Plus, it’s clear that Lee and Choi have put a lot of effort into the world-building of the WildStorm Universe. That’s ultimately the saving grace of the lumpy introduction: the promise of the wider conflicts to come.
It’s terrific if you can’t get enough of Lee in his early prime, but storywise I’d say the “Killer Instinct” crossover with Cyberforce or Chris Claremont’s Huntsman arc pack more wallop.
Want the play-by-play? Keep reading for a summary of this introductory story. Here’s the schedule for the rest of this month’s WildStorm re-read – tomorrow I tackle Stormwatch #1-3 & 0
Need the issues? WildC.A.T.s #1-4 were collected way back in 1993 bagged along with #0 (so if you buy an unbagged copy, it might not include #0). Otherwise, you’ll need to purchase single issues – try eBay or Amazon (#0, 1, 2, 3, 4)