Thursday, July 31, 2014
More Moore, part 34: WildC.A.T.S. book I
And at last we come to WildC.A.T.s, probably the closest thing to a 'crown jewel' in Moore's Image canon, and certainly the book that he worked the longest and hardest on during his tenure with the company. WildC.A.T.s is the creation of Jim Lee, now mostly known as the Tweedledee to Dan DiDio's Tweedledum as co-publishers of DC's New 52 reboot. Stop me if you've heard this one before: Lee is a fantastic artist (his pencilwork was the only thing that elevated All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder out of the embarrassing shlock that Frank Miller's prose otherwise gave it) who sadly had no ability in writing his own scripts, so he created a new IP with Image comics that eventually had Alan Moore come on-board and give the work some much-needed depth. Much like Moore's work on Spawn, Moore and Lee barely worked together at all, and WildC.A.T.s quickly took on a revolving door of artists that gave the work a frustratingly inconsistent quality. And, like his work with Spawn, Moore's work on WildC.A.T.s is surprisingly well-done, if nothing ground-breaking.
WildC.A.T.s, as Jim Lee first envisioned it, is basically just the Image take on X-Men, which Lee had worked on during his time at Marvel. Like Professor Xavier's students, the Wild Covert Action Team is a group of young superheroes, each with a signature power or ability, like sexy ninja-assassin Zealot (nothing at all like Psylocke, of course) empathetic robot Spartan, and beefy purple Maul, yet another wisecracker in the Thing style. The only real difference brought in by Lee and original writer Brandon Choi is that THIS close-knit group of superpowered young adults led by a rich, older telepath (Lord Emp, in this case) is that the C.A.T.s aren't mutants, they're aliens! The team are all Kherubim, an alien race locked into an eternal war with rival aliens the Daemonites. That groan that you just heard upon reading those names came from yourself, and thusly you can see why Moore was brought in to give the script a little depth.
Just before Moore's first chapter, the C.A.T.s are splintered, and much like Gail Simone would do in Secret Six, Moore creates two WildC.A.T.s teams; While Emp takes most of the members back to the planet Khera to find out just what the hell is going on, another sexy ninja-assassin named Savant and the Superman-esque Mister Majestic found a new team back on Earth to combat criminal organizations. Honestly, the second team gets up to very little during the course of Homecoming; they recruit punk cyborg Ladytron and persuasive Tao and cause some trouble among Mafia organizations, including what looks like Liefeld-era Deadpool. The Earth chapters are entertaining but inconsequential, at least at this juncture; the best moment is where they crash a robot wake for a recently-deactivated guardbot:
"Though known to all the world as H.A.R.M., his close friends called him Chuck. Born Charles Sweeney in Cleveland, 1946, he had one childish dream/He wanted to weigh fifteen hundred pounds with ground-to-air bazookas on his shoulders."
The real meat of Homecoming, however, is with the team on Khera. Moore's big twist is that the Kherubim/Daemonite war is over, long over. The Daemonites lost, and Earth was so remote that neither side bothered to tell the soldiers on the ground. Khera, flush with its victory, is in a millennia-long decadence, and both Emp and Zealot are quickly and easily seduced with the promises of endless power that Khera's two political parties offer them. The other members are treated like garbage, especially half-Daemonite Voodoo and Maul, whose Titanthrope heritage marginalizes him rapidly: as another Titanthrope tells it, their race are the true Kherans, who were subjugated and enslaved by the Kherubim and who now make up the lower-class workforce for their rich masters. The plot jumps around as thus: from Emp and Zealot in glorious luxury, to the new C.A.T.s on Earth, to the rest of the C.A.T.s on Khera trying to unravel a conspiracy to use both Emp and Zealot as martyrs to further political causes.
Homecoming is far from perfect; like most Image work, a lot of the issue is in the art. The original plan before the penciller merry-go-round was for Moore to work with Travis Charest, but even that wouldn't have made the work much better, it's simply an issue with the style in the early to mid '90s. If you can get past the art, Moore does some impressive worldbuilding with Khera, and the glittering facade hiding the rot within is an impressive approximation to an alien version of the late Roman Empire. The second team is slower getting out of the gate, but Moore still has another book to go. Homecoming is really quite good, especially for Image-era Moore, and he makes the most of giving an alien world some serious political depth.
Up next: The cats are still wild in the second half of Moore's WildC.A.T.s.