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Wildcats Version 3.0: Brand Building

It's odd to look back at what Wildstorm Productions used to offer and see just how much the company, the titles, and even the characters have changed. The changes started around the time that Jim Lee sold the company (or merged or whatever business term applies) to DC. Wildstorm seemed to pick up momentum quickly, with books like Stormwatch and The Authority (thanks both to Warren Ellis, that loveable, dodgy Brit), and has been making even more appearances on critics' top ten lists since its "Eye of the Storm" adult-oriented imprint launched, bringing books like Sleeper and Stormwatch: Team Achilles.

One of Wildstorm's oldest books is Wildcats. It's a title with plenty of history behind it. It's been through three major incarnations, or versions as writer Joe Casey has come to calling them. You probably remember the first: anatomically "gifted" superheroes with delusions of X-Men trying to stop an alien invasion from overtaking the Earth, and calling themselves a "Covert Action Team." It was crap for the most part, as was many-a-title back in the early days of Image Comics. It was a pure art book, allowing Lee to sketch some nifty pictures without worrying too much about story dynamics or plot.

When Lee started to reduce his presence in the comic creation business and focused more on…well, actual business, the book eventually got into the hands of Joe Casey. The superhero trappings of the first series (which ended after 50 issues) were diminished when Casey jumped onto the book, and Casey began to focus more on the lives of the characters and how the end of the inter-galactic war had affected them. Version 2.0 has been noted as being the turning point for Wildcats, changing the book into more than the previous "superheroes blow things up" book it was.

Which leads me inexorably to Version 3.0: Brand Building, the first collection of the third series. Casey chose to change the direction of the comic yet again, this time creating something that is more akin to a book about corporate power brokering and industrial espionage, as well as delving into the world on information trading and plenty of action.

Jack Marlowe, former android leader of the superhero team Wildcats and alien consciousness, has inherited the Halo Corporation from his "uncle" and team mentor Jacob Marlowe. What to do with billions of dollars at your disposal? Vacation maybe? Or you could take Jack's position and decide to corner the consumer market with a product that revolutionizes every industry in the world, making your company the single most powerful and recognizable corporate entity on the planet.

See, Jack has a larger plan to improve his adopted home-world, and spandex is not required. Better living through consumerism is the motto. But there are aspects of Halo's business that require a less…dainty touch; enter Grifter, former Wildcat and wetworks man for Halo Inc.

Jack is keeping tabs on aspects of certain governments, making broad purchases of industry and businesses, and some of these instances make for some oddly funny moments in a usually somber and cerebral book. For instance: does your multi-national conglomerate need a new financial planning division? Why hire a slew of employees who aren't contractually obligated, when you can just buy the best accounting firm in the business and make yourself their only client?

The cast Casey introduces, while somewhat steeped in the twisted continuity that has arisen from the evolution of Wildstorm as a company (and of Wildcats as a comic book), doesn't detract from the genius of the book. Casey even takes a page in the front of the book to give a brief run-down of the characters that will appear in the story, which is a small gesture that more comic writers should make to help the younger fans who aren't as aware of the continuity, or those of us that only ever received a smattering of it during our formative comic book years. The story is kept accessible and you never need to have read previous story arcs to understand the plot.

The plot itself is also rife with high points of interest that tickle the old cerebellum, mixed very well with the action-oriented scenes. Casey somehow makes a boardroom scene or a financial meeting seem just as dramatic as a multi-corpse gunfight. Part of that is due to Casey's use of characterization. Jack Marlowe is a cold, logical, businessman that is cool in any situation. His scenes are always ones where he is in control. On the flipside, we see Casey characterize Grifter as more human than his android companion, showing human frailty mixed with the same cold dedication to his work that Jack has. The scenes these two perform in play off of each other well, and Casey often places the scenes back to back, demonstrating the dichotomy. Casey gets to moralize with the character of Mister Wax, bringing up some very interesting historical parallels between Reconstruction Era America and the modern wariness of corporate power in the U.S. And with the character C.C. Rendozzo, who is not as yet part of the corporate team, Casey makes a great foil that may or may not become an ally of Halo Inc.

The artwork is spectacular, but I tend to expect this from Wildstorm nowadays. Dustin Nguyen and Richard Friend (penciler and inker respectively) work well together, and Nguyen is under-praised for his realistic and detailed drawing style. He's on par with Bryan Hitch and his ilk when it comes to setting scenes that have a kinetic, moving feel to them, and displaying action that is break-neck and well choreographed. One scene, where Grifter is in a firefight and Nguyen places the perspectives at odd angles (down-angle shot of Grifter looking up at a gun-wielding adversary par example) are memorable and show that someone can still surprise me when putting a scene together. What's more, Nguyen and Friend manage to add a quiet threat to even the silent scenes and somber scenes, when Jack is talking to employees or when Mister Wax is searching the Halo building for clues as to what exactly Marlowe's goals are. There's menace in those panels; promises that there's more to the story than you get in this volume.

Also of note are the various covers that are placed throughout the book at issue breaks. Nguyen and Ryan Hughes make some interesting visuals, crafting fake advertising for the Halo Brand, from sunglasses to cologne. It fits the book perfectly serves as a comment on the country's rampant consumerism. I also love the coloring on this book: Randy Mayor and Larry Molinar do damn good work, though I can sense a touch of digital coloring, which some readers seem to loathe. We call those people "traditionalists," and as Warren Ellis might say, you can't get rid of them…no matter how many condoms you sell.

It's a damn good book and future volumes seem likely, so it's a sound investment. Support your local capitalistic comic book endeavors (i.e. comic shops) and go grab yourself a copy. And don't be afraid of feeding the corporate machine. I'm sure it has your best interests at heart...

Wildcats Version 3.0: Brand Building

Robert Sparling

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