Few months back, I did a piece on the first volume of Joe Casey’s Wildcats run, and why it was yet another example of why I love comics.
This time I bring you the concluding chapter, that digs into Wildcats Version 3.0, a volume that holds up just as well as its predecessor. Tackling the question of whether a multinational corporation can actually be turned into a force for incredible good, 3.0 is both the logical successor to the previous run, and a conscious leap past it. The design work devoted to its covers and title pages alone is enough to make even your favorite comic a little self-conscious about its relatively pedestrian efforts. Wildcats Version 3.0 was just an attractive comic, and seemed to go out of its way to show us what comics of the future (and about the future) were supposed to look and feel like. But most of you know this already, so let’s just get right to it—the uninitiated will have to do their best to keep up.
Cole Cash, Man of Inaction (Issue 4)
Large chunk of the previous volume was devoted to Spartan (later Jack Marlowe) and his response to the death of his mentor Lord Emp. While 3.0 certainly continues that focus, the character arc of Cole Cash comes to the forefront after he’s injured on a mission and ends up in a wheelchair. Obviously, this would be an incredibly difficult thing for anyone to deal with, but Cash’s previous standing as an absolute badass makes it impossible for him to adjust. He takes a page out of Jack’s book, and becomes something of a mercenary executive, hiring and training operatives to do the things he can’t physically do anymore. When that doesn’t work out for him he does something even more drastic—reprogramming Maxine Manchester’s cybernetic body for him to remotely pilot as an exo-suit. A role he fully embraces once it falls to him to engineer the rescue of Zealot from the Coda. But his inability to accept this new reality is one of the strongest threads holding this entire volume together.
And to think, this is all because of that little girl with the machine guns…
Convergence (Issue 6)
This is a great issue that forms a bridge between the first and second arcs, bringing all concepts and characters together and getting everyone on the same page. I tend to enjoy this type of “collision narrative” and it was great (and necessary) for Casey to tie off some threads while getting others started. Like Sam Garfield being given an important new assignment that even he doesn’t realize the importance of, while Dolby moves on to bigger and better things at HALO. Or seeing some glimpses of the press tour that Marlowe heads on to inform the world at large about how his company is making your world better. Dolby meets Grifter for the first time, and then Agent Wax right after that. Jack reveals his grand plans for Agent Orange. And Wax meets what’s left of Ladytron. Just a lot of great character moments throughout, and stories that are being sparked between the lines.
Welcome to Our World (Issue 9)
These are the little things that make comics so cool. Edwin Dolby, one of the newest characters in this volume, is being romanced by a laid-up Cole Cash, who is interested in training the licensed accountant to become the all new, only slightly different, Grifter. They’re sitting in a bar and Cash is preparing to give him the entire history of the WildC.A.T.S., which obviously is going to take forever given the complicated history of the title and characters. Flip to the next page to find a fantastic image of the characters from the initial run, which effectively serves as the “conversation” between the two guys, getting Dolby up to speed without the use of a single word balloon. Really simple and clever way of handling the impending secret origin spiel, and Bendis also did this recently in his final issue of Mighty Avengers. People have probably been doing it long before this, but it’s a great narrative trick that shows just how easily time can be manipulated on a comic page, and was the first time I’d personally seen it used.
Zealot Returns (Issues 13 & 15)
Last we heard from Zealot at the end of volume 2, she was still in the process of dismantling the Coda sisterhood that she founded. That quest picks up here in a couple of excessively violent sequences of Z proving just how good she is compared to everyone else. What makes these scenes even cooler is that they contain almost no captioning, dialogue, or sound effects…which essentially lets the action easily stand on its own, and provide artist Dustin Nguyen a ton of space to show off. Nicer bits include Zealot commandeering a trunk-mounted gattling gun, and shoving a grenade into someone’s mouth before pulling the pin.
A Wheelchair-Bound Grifter Blowing Up a Tank With a Rocket Launcher Equals AWESOME…Now and Always (Issue 14)
That about says it all, doesn’t it? As I mentioned above, one of the main stories in this volume deals with Grifter’s response to a terrible injury, but how cool was it to see him emerge from the back of an escaping getaway van, and take out a pursuing tank with a perfectly aimed rocket? I know, I know—I already know the answer to that question. Just wanted to say it again, I suppose.
Who He Says He Is (Issue 15)
Now of all the things that could’ve happened to Wax for using his abilities on Miriam Downs, his boss’s wife, this was about the last thing I expected. Finally cornered, Wax watches helplessly as Miriam is shot by her husband, and then quickly ends the standoff by “convincing” his boss to turn the gun on himself and pull the trigger. But here is where it really gets interesting, because somehow Wax thinks the obvious thing to do is to begin impersonating his dead boss, assuming total control of the National Park Service in the process. Until this point, we didn’t even realize that his powers could be applied to such a pervasive, long-running illusion, and this definitely felt like one of the story threads that Casey had really big plans for down the line. Still though, it was a clever turn, as was the idea for Wax to begin developing genuine feelings for Miriam, which is about as twisted and f-ed up as possible, given how this whole thing started out.
When It Was All So Simple (Issue 17)
The previous volume of this series introduced me to the work of the great Sean Phillips, and he makes a welcome return here, in a collection of flashback sequences centered on the tangled history of Agent Wax. We get glimpses of his past relationship with Agent Downs, see him meet Agent Mohr for the first time, and witness the beginnings of the case that would ultimately change the course of his life. The issue’s cover, which blends artwork from both Phillips and Dustin Nguyen, is also a highlight.
The Shot Heard (Issue 19)
The most intense issue of the entire series as themes and characters come smashing together, and then are gloriously illustrated by Pasqual Ferry. The entire issue is really just one big brawl between a bunch of pissed-off Codas, the indestructible Agent Orange, two clueless FBI agents, a determined Zealot, and an equally determined super Coda assassin called The Grand Sarin. Who in the past just happened to be trained and instructed by Zealot, of course. But this chapter is really all about people getting shot, stabbed, blown up, and jumping off really high things. And it has a great last image, with Grifter loading a clip into his gun and saying, “That’s it. Time to go,” after realizing Zealot’s just been captured.
On Their Behalf (Issue 22)
Only a highly advanced alien android could believe that breaking into the White House and directly explaining his position to the President would actually get the government off his back. The good news for that same highly advanced alien android is that when the government retaliates by sending the country’s best assassin to your place of business (with an accidental assist from Agent Wax), you know it the minute he sneaks through the door, and have the ability to teleport him directly into another dimension that doesn’t react well to human tissue. And you can do it with a sense of righteous fury, and in the names of all the people (including children) this assassin has murdered in his pathetic lifetime. It all works out in the end.
You Don’t Know Jack (Issue 24)
The feeling has been building and building throughout the entire “Coda War One” arc—when is Jack (formally known as Spartan) going to leave the CEO chair and get involved in this high-powered international-flavored action movie? Takes until the last possible second, but when he does show up, it’s a great moment—drowning a league of Coda assassins by teleporting an ocean’s worth of water on top of their heads, and then quickly extracting Grifter’s team before the rest are taken out by the requisite explosion. He even appears to articulate some of Casey’s feelings about the series’ premature end on the final page—“We live in a world where new ideas…new approaches…are regarded with suspicion and even derision…and yet, every day is climatic. With each new day, there is born new hope. And I’m counting on that hope…Every new accomplishment ultimately becomes prologue to the next.”
Not a bad sentiment to end on, and though it’s obvious there were many more stories to be told, what we did get was something unexpected, and a comic that was consistently excellent over a period of years. There are a ton of books that can’t say that, and again, their covers and title pages have yet to be matched in terms of design and ingenuity. Which is exciting and a little sad at the same time, considering this book came out over five years ago. Will likely have the last twelve issues bound into a custom trade, since DC only collected half of the twenty-four issue series. The whole thing is worth tracking down though, after you pick up the following collections, and I encourage everyone to do so. Like a lot of Joe Casey’s work, it looks even better with some distance applied, allowing you to see just how far ahead of the game he actually was.
Wildcats Version 3.0, by Joe Casey, Dustin Nguyen, Rian Hughes, Pasqual Ferry, and Duncan Rouleau—this is why I love comics.
Originally published as Ambidextrous 301 on Newsarama.com