(CORRECTION: it has come to our attention that Citizens On Patrol is in fact that Fourth Installment in the Police Academy Franchise, not the third. We apologise that this was misrepresented in our previous article Silver Images III Reviewing the debut issue of Savage Dragon. We have taken the appropriate steps to ensure similar mistakes will be prevented in the future. Thanks!)
Here’s the Facts, They Got Powers to the Max!
They’re Tough as Nails, When All Else Fails!
Nerves of Steel!
Now Here’s the Deal!
You Better Watch Out!
That’s right folks it’s time, time to let the Cat out of the Bag as Silver Images, our celebration of 25 years of IMAGE Comics, turns its gaze on Jim Lee’s Wild C.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams).
Jim Lee’s Wild C.A.T.s is to comics what Boyz II Men’s ‘End of the Road’ was to pop music.
It was the feel good hit of the summer, bursting onto the scenes in the Summer of 1992 with its own unique brand of Covert Action, Super Heroics and X Men Analogues.
If you didn’t live through the hype and hysteria of the 1990’s comics explosion it’s hard to understand just big Jim Lee was in 1991/1992 and just how pumped we all were to see what Lee, free from the editorial shackles of Marvel and old-minded fuddy duddies like Chris Claremont, would serve up to us next.
Jim Lee is of course most famous for setting the comics world on fire a year earlier when his relaunched X Men Number 1 sold EIGHT MILLION COPIES. Sure there were 4 interlocking covers and the legendary 5th Gatefold covering combining them all but that is a staggering amount of comics. To put this is some context the population of the USA was roughly 250 million people at the time X Men Number 1 was released which means that an average of 1 in 30 Americans bought a copy of this comic!
Lee continued to work for Marvel for roughly another year until the famous IMAGE split which we are profiling in this series. His last published work for Marvel was X Men Number 11 and it should come as no surprise to anyone that the comic book market was X tremely X Static with X Citement waiting to see what Lee’s debut IMAGE venture would be.
Jim Lee’s Wild C.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams) begins with a little blurb on the inside front cover where Lee provides a short autobiography of his history in comics. Much like Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon it seems like the key characters and concepts of Wild C.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams) have been knocking around inside Lee’s head for a while just waiting for the right time to pounce.
It’s also interesting to note that Brandon Choi is credited as the co-writer of this issue and the co-creator of Wild C.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams). Choi’s contribution to the foundation of IMAGE Comics is largely forgotten despite the fact that he was responsible for creating many of the secondary and tertiary characters for Aegis Entertainment / Homage Studios / Wildstorm such as Deathblow, Backlash, Storm Watch and Gen 13. Sure Choi didn’t have the superstar profile or appeal of Lee, Liefeld, Larsen or McFarlane but his influence in shaping the initial parameters of the Wildstorm universe prior to the sale to DC in 1998 can not be denied.
Wild C.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams) issue 1 (of 3 because much like Savage Dragon this was solicited as a 3 issue mini series) begins with a flashback to the Antarctic in 1980 where a group of scientists explore a crater looking for Alien Technology in a scene reminiscent of The Thing or At the Mountains of Madness.
With a flash of blinding light we are introduced to the first member of our Covert Action Team, the silver-skinned woman who we will come to know as Void.
We then flash-forward to the future of August 1992, where a mysterious pair of figures belonging to a shadowy organisation called IO: International Operations observe the site of some sort of explosion remarking that it is probably the work of the Covert Action Team.
Jumping back again to 1990 we are introduced to the diminutive amnesiac, Jacob Marlowe who is living rough and sleeping on a pile of garbage in an alleyway in NYC. Void appears before Marlowe with a revelation and a warning. You see, Marlowe is not just another vagrant pushed further to the fringes of society by Mayor David Dinkins’ gentrification of the Big Apple. He is in fact Lord Emp, one of the 4 Lords of Power and a Defender of Mankind against the threat of the Cabal!
Jumping back to 1992, because the plot wasn’t confusing enough already, we see the former derelict Marlowe now recast as some sort of billionaire Titan of Industry and ringleader of our titular heroes the WIld C.A.T.s (Covert Action Team)
The story that unfolds over the next dozen or so pages is such an X Men pastiche / rip off that this book may have been called the W-Men or the X C.A.T.s (there’s that branding thing again like we talked about with Youngblood and Spawn. How convenient is it that McFarlane, Liefeld and Lee’’s IMAGE books would all nudge up quite nicely on the comic shop stands with the titles they had been working on for Marvel until very recently).
It’s quite fitting that for a time Lee released comics under the name of Homage Studios when you consider that you don’t have to squint too hard to see the link between the characters which Lee and Choi debut in this issue and their Marvel Counterparts.
- Spartan is clearly a riff on Cyclops
- Maul is a palette swapped Hulk
- IO Spymaster Jack Lynch may as well be Nick Fury without the eye-patch.
- Warblade, the guy with knives for hands, is clearly just Wolverine with a bright green top knot.
- Zealot is of course stabby sword master Wonder Woman
- Grifter answers the never-asked question of “What if Gambit was also the Punisher”
- Voodoo is 90’s sexed up Scarlet Witch.
They have their own Blackbird and their own Danger Room, the unimaginatively titled Combat Training Room.
But you don’t need those old fashion heroes any more with their comics code and their colour coordinated uniforms when you’ve got the EDGY and EXTREME Wild C.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams) with their mysterious, conspiratorial talk of Kherubim and Cabals, Daemonites and Despotic Aliens with Blue Flaming heads like some kind of Sci Fi Ghost Rider.
The main action sequence of the first issue involves a gun battle inside a strip club, so that’s how you know things are going to REALLY extreme and that nothing will EVER be the same again.
The issue’s explosive last page ends with the flame-headed villain Hellspont, who we can only assume is the head of the sinister Cabal celebrating his victory over the Kherubim, who are presumably our heroes in one fashion or another.
For better or for worse, Choi and Lee cram a whole bunch of story into this first issue. The foundation story concepts of the Wild C.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams) universe are all nudged onto the table as we are introduced to most of the key heroes, villains and factions in a flurry of activity.
The action, both covert and overt comes at you thick and fast. Panels, scenes and sequences ripple with Lee’s trademark action-packed approach to layout and pacing. Jim Lee’s art is on point, highlighting his strengths in character and costume design.
There are even two call outs to other IMAGE launch titles, with references to Liefeld’s Youngblood and Mark Silvestri’s Cyber Force. Marlowe / Emp remarks that even he couldn’t afford to put “One of those Youngbloods” on the Wild C.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams) payroll.
I guess we will see if the editor’s note urging us to check out Cyber Force issue one will pay off when we get to Silver Images VI: City Under Siege in a week or 2.
It should come as no surprise then that Wild C.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams)s debut issue was a massive success. Wild C.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams) Issue 1 was the second best selling comic of 1992, topped only by the unstoppable mainstream media juggernaut that was the Death of Superman in Super 75. I was unable to find exact sales figures but it’s safe to assume they were in excess of a million copies, making it the biggest selling IMAGE Debut Issue by a considerable margin.
The original Wild C.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams) series would eventually run 50 issues and be rebooted at least twice after that before Jim Lee sold the Covert Action Team along with the rest of the Wild Storm Universe to DC / Time Warner lock stock and barrel just six short years later in 1998. It was popular enough that at the height of the popularity of the comic book that the Wild C.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams) would go on to appear in a short-lived cartoon series and a SNES side scroller beat em up game, both of which I am just going to assume are not fantastic investments of your time.
What this Book Gets Right:
- Action: although it’s a pretty big misnomer to suggest that the Wild C.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams) are in any way covert seeing as they’re a gang of bright coloured, statuesque super-powered freaks there is certainly no short of action in this issue, especially the big action set-piece in the shoot out at the strip club which comprises much of the middle third of the story.
- Character Design: Great character design has been and remains of the trademarks of Jim Lee’s style from Gambit and the 1991 X Men redesigns all the way through to his work on Scooby Doo and Suicide Squad for DC today. Wild C.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams) is no different with the designs looking fresh and familiar for our main group of heroes.
- Hinting at a Bigger World: This debut issue asks a lot of questions and plants a lot of seeds for future storylines. Who are IO, and who is the strange man with the scarred face? Who are the Cabal, the Kherubim and the Daemonites? What did Void mean when she called Marlowe / Emp a Champion of Mankind? Why does Cole Cash / Grifter talk like the 70’s happened yesterday despite looking like a man in his mid to late 20s?
What this Book Gets Wrong:
- Character Designs for Female Characters: There is no doubt that Jim Lee’s art style, along with that of many of his Image Founding Fathers, would heavily influence the “bad girl” and cheesecake art of the 1990s. You’re entitled to your opinion on that but it bothers me that the first time we see Voodoo she is working as an Exotic Dancer in a gentleman’s club in her full costume! Yes her stripper clothes are the same as her superhero clothes, and that’s not a good thing. I personally don’t believe it’s OK for female characters to wear a costume which would clearly require a XXX wax to keep a bikini line in check.
- Words Words Words: For better or worse, Lee spent a lot of time sitting under the Chris Claremont learning tree in his two years working with the legendary X Men mastermind between 1989 and 1991. While Claremont has a knack for making flowing, verbose purplish prose work, Lee and Choi sadly do not and there are certainly several instances where a keen editor’s red pen could have made panels and pages more concise and punchy.
- Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: Although it’s not fair to call Wild C.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams) derivative or a knock off, this book could quite easily have been passed off as an X Men book with a few minor adjustments here or there.
Final Verdict Should You Read this Book: Wild C.A.T.s (Covert Action Teams) issue 1 is a product of its times and certainly serves as a loving, nostalgic time capsule to the way things were in the second half of 1992. There’s something to be said for the staying power of the WildStorm characters which have just been relaunched this month by DC. If you’re keen to find out where it all started then this book is definitely worth your time.