Thanks to the Tubi app (available for free across all devices) I watched all 13 episodes of the WildC.A.T.s cartoon series in celebration of the 25th anniversary. There’s also a chance I am the only person to have watched all of the episodes in the last 24 years.
In 1992 the comic book world was shocked. The internet existed but wasn’t what it is today by any means. Most of us still received our news from magazines, newspapers, and television. So imagine our surprise when the latest issue of Wizard magazine announced that seven of Marvel Comics’ most popular artists left en masse to form their own company.
Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen came off of Spider-Man to create Spawn and Savage Dragon, respectively. Rob Liefeld left X-Force for Youngblood. Shadowhawk, CyberForce, WetWorks. And Jim Lee left the biggest selling comic of all time – the new X-Men title – to create the WildC.A.T.s.
The Covert Action Team is the story of a battle between two alien races that have involved Earth for thousands of years. The comic becomes confusing, involves too many other also new titles, and goes off the rails. Numerous reboots, the entire library gets bought out by DC Comics, and now the team is sitting on a shelf while their creator is now the head cheese of DC.
In the height of the comic book boom of the 1990s every property was being bought up and exploited. Spawn and Savage Dragon also had cartoons. The much loved X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons. So many toys. CBS picked up WildC.A.T.s for their “Action Zone” block of Saturday morning cartoons. While only lasting 13 imperfect episodes, I’ll stand on this new hill. This is the best representation of the WildC.A.T.s concept and should be the template of the entire WildStorm franchise going forward.
The Daemonites are evil reptilian looking aliens who can possess a host (usually a human) and control their actions in service of their master, Helspont. Battling them across the galaxy for thousands of years are the Kherubim. An alien race of warriors who have been on Earth for eons keeping the Daemonites at bay. Over the years some of them have borne children with humans and passed their alien powers on to them.
In the present day, Helspont is going after the MacGuffin of the week that will help him rule the galaxy. The ‘Cats battle against him; usually focusing on one team member per episode who coincidentally has a back story connected to the MacGuffin. A lesson is learned. The team figures out an answer. Helspont and crew are defeated until the next episode. This pattern continues until the two-part finale in which elements from every previous episode come together for the last battle. In another coincidence that could only take place in comic-based media; this tale that calls on events from previous stories in the franchise is called “Endgame”.
The cartoon could use about 25-50% more budget. There are great scenes that could have become classic with a little more animation money. I remember watching the debut and thinking Grifter moved faster than anything I had previously seen in animation. Remember, this is through a kid’s eyes and before much exposure to anime. Revisiting it, I see the trick to make the cartoon look faster frame per second than it actually is, but it still holds up as fun.
WildC.A.T.s takes what worked for the comic and improves what was missing, all while simplifying the story. Jim Lee was and still is one of the greatest comic book artists of all time. The cartoon took notes from the comic and made everything fit with the Image and 90’s style. “Extreme”. Big muscles. Big explosions. Big boobs. Big fights. Everything is here. For the children of the ’80s becoming the testosterone of the ’90s, this franchise had everything. Except writing.
One of the problems of early Image is that is was founded by artists, not writers. While some of the characters found their footing and are telling great stories to this day, others failed. Lee and Liefeld are brilliant at concepts but don’t know where to go from there.
Take Warblade for example. In the comics, his parents are killed by the Daemonites, and he trains in martial arts to one day have his revenge. He is kidnapped by Cyberdata and has his body altered. A teammate brainwashes him, another tries to kill him, he dies multiple times but is put back together. He goes to the home planet but discovers a cult or something. This is one character. Every member of the team has these confusing stories. Within the first couple of years, their tales were so confusing many readers dropped off.
In the first episode of the cartoon though, the ‘Cats get to a young martial artist named Reno before the Daemonites can. Reno finds out he’s half-human half Kherubim and has powers. He joins the team, becomes Warblade, and that’s the end of the first episode. Zealot is a Kherubim warrior. Grifter is a reformed criminal. Spartan is a Kherubim cyborg. Maul is another half-alien that gets big. Void is a living computer. Marlowe is the money. Voodoo has psychic gifts. The bad guys are the bad guys with simple powers that get easily beat and run away until next week.
It is ridiculously simple compared to the comics. Two alien races fighting on Earth and over the years their battles have caused some superpowers and advanced tech. Whereas the comic line grew to numerous teams with too much going on but not enough character development to care about the characters.
That is where the cartoon shines the best over the comic. Character development. Spartan picked the mission over a woman. Grifter has to deal with his criminal past despite his best attempts at being a hero. Zealot doesn’t know how to turn off being a warrior for a moment. Maul has relationship issues. Warblade is aloof. Voodoo feels inadequate compared to the rest of the team. I got more out of 13 episodes of this cartoon than I have from 25 years of these characters and a long box sitting in my closet.
Fire up the Tubi app. Grab the toys and tie in WildC.A.T.s Adventures comic for cheap. Make this forgotten cartoon “yours” and leave the lesser comic series in the cheap bins.