Sunday, March 7, 2010

From WildC.A.T.S. to Today

I had some leisure time today, so I took the liberty to rummage through the infamous backlog of comics I own. What managed to catch my eye was Jim Lee’s own WildC.A.T.S. – issues one, three and four of the original mini series from 1992.

My knowledge of the super-team only roots itself so deep. I know the characters’ names and the premise, but I have not really read any C.A.T.S. comics. I have only witnessed the mediocre television cartoon.

Now, the animation series may have left me cold, but I have to say the comic book counterparts did no such thing. But, let me also stress, the original WildC.A.T.S. mini series is not excellent either. I think this is a case where a book is serviceable to its intended idea. C.A.T.S. is a book about a super-team saving the world depicted in an early 1990s Jim Lee fashion. Could the book have done that job from a Steve Gerber perspective? Sure thing, but the book already carried the idea well enough and got the job done.

I also have to say that I like Lee’s art in all of its muscle-bound, Image-esque, detailed glory. It is not a style I would like to see replicated today – we are past that – but observing the art in the context of its era I quite enjoy it. Lee captures an iconic, statue-like look; his style and others like him at the time are what made Image the success story. It was an artistic look never seen before in American comic books, and it was a movement that easily spawned and influenced contemporary comic book pages.

Now, the early Image stuff usually receives the short end of the stick from most, but for my own personal taste I hold quite a strong interest for Image’s first wave. It is not the fact that the books are exceptionally mind blowing – because they are not in most cases – my fascination just stems from the circumstance of what the Image founders went up against and the insanity that soon followed as success hit (there’s a letter page in WildC.A.T.S. #4 that makes note that Rob Liefeld will be working with Steven Speilberg to write, produce and storyboard a film).

Granted, I did just admit that most of Image’s output at the start was not mind blowing, but at the same rate I do think the hate some of these titles receive is a bit misdirected. Mind blowing? No. Good? Most, I would say, hit the “good” level on the meter. Savage Dragon, Spawn, Stormwatch, Wetworks and yes WildC.A.T.S. are good comic books. The all convey stories, they all entertain and they all showcase substantial artwork – probably the best artwork of the business at its current time. Plus, you need to mention some of the talent the Image Founders brought in: Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller and Dave Sim - four men of exceptional talent who worked on four consecutive issues of Spawn that later lead to other projects (Alan Moore on WildC.A.T.S. and 1963).

Was all of Image good at the beginning? No. Sorry Mr. Leifeld, but Youngblood, Brigade and Supreme…I think that is where the bad reputation originates from. A few books, and their clear flaws, managed to condemn an entire line and unrightfully so. The Image Founders may have been artists first and writers second, but for the most part I believe most produced good work in those early days. They were doing what they wanted to do and doing it in new ways. Look where some of them are today because of Image: Jim Lee is the co-publisher of DC Comics, Jim Valentino heads up Shadowline, Todd MacFarlane owns his own company and Erik Larsen continues to pump out Savage Dragon while growing immensely as an artist.

How can anyone hate? They changed comics. Whether it was flawless or not, they changed comics. Respect.

I enjoyed my time with the WildC.A.T.S. issues today: bold 1990s artwork, big super-hero action and the Image Comics seal of approval.

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