Thursday, 15 October 2020


32 years ago Oink! came to a sudden end with #68 and I was crushed. With hindsight it's clear the switch to a monthly frequency was leading to that but 10-year-old me had really enjoyed getting a big, thick comic every month for six issues. Then suddenly that was it, it was all over. But hiding inside this final issue was a free gift which promised a new beginning and which was in a way the comic coming full circle from where it began.

You see, unbeknownst to me at the time Oink! had actually started out life as a preview issue given away free within the pages of several of its peers and now in its final issue it was the one presenting a free comic for a new title. It was almost like it was passing the torch to this new one. I'd decided not to follow three of the Oink! characters into the pages of Buster because the rest of that comic didn't really appeal, but my parents weren't about to be saved the expense because there was a very exciting new cat on the block.

So yes, that mini front cover kind of explains all the background you really need, doesn't it? Created and edited by Barrie Tomlinson of Roy of the Rovers, Eagle and Tiger fame (and of Ring Raiders and Super Naturals for readers of this site) it's set in the far future when all indicators point to Earth being subject to such devastating meteorite attacks that all life will be wiped out. The fortnightly comic was to tell the tales of the survivors aboard a huge interstellar spacecraft, the last of humankind, trying to find a new home amongst the stars. The premise instantly grabbed me as a kid and a week after this preview not only was I buying #1, I was placing a regular order at my newsagents too.

Previously on the blog, when I first started covering non-piggy publications I wrote a series of articles about the main comics I collected back at the time and a rather long post was put together for Wildcat. There was next to no information about this excellent title available back then and so I put the extra effort into trying to rectify that a little. Since then, Rebellion have bought up the rights and have produced two graphic novels collecting together the stories from this comic. I own them both but haven't read either because I wanted to collect all of those original issues first and read them that way, then use the graphic novels to finish the stories that concluded in Eagle after the comics merged. It's been a real test of my willpower!

I read a couple of issues for that article back in 2015 but have since been able to get my paws on all of them and finally the right date is here to begin this journey all over again from scratch for the first time in 32 years. As ever with this website they'll be read in real time on their original release dates and not before, so watch out for the reviews of the regular issues beginning next week and then fortnightly after that. But for now, let's get stuck into this mini 16-page freebie.

As with all good disaster movies the story kicks off with the leaders of the world ignoring the key scientist, in this case the main character of the comic and eventual leader of the expedition into space, Turbo Jones. Actually, this feels awfully relevant given events in 2020, doesn't it? Realising he's not going to get anywhere and they'll never agree to a mass migration of human beings from our planet, Turbo has no choice but to try to save as many as he possibly can.

The future Earth presented here feels a bit quaint in some places, such as the fact the huge Wildcat spacecraft is only going to cost around £50 million or so and an advertisement on television to broadcast all around the world on every screen all at the same time, looking for volunteers, is only £2000. We have to remember though that this was 1988 and these were huge numbers back then, especially for the target audience. Turbo's half chimp, half android assistant Robo, explaining he's videotaped EastEnders is also on point for a very 80s-style future.

I do like the taxis where we can opt out of conversation though.

According to Barrie the original idea behind Wildcat for publisher Fleetway was to launch a new science fiction comic aimed at a slightly younger readership than their own 2000AD, possibly aware of how the average age of the audience for that comic was beginning to increase (and would continue to do so throughout the 90s), rather than the younger readers it was originally aimed at. Perhaps Wildcat could step in and fill that void.

With that in mind we were never going to get a long, multipart origin story and indeed the near extinction of the human race is all dealt with in 11 pages, all written by Barrie himself and drawn by the legendary Ian Kennedy. The volunteers come thick and fast but it's also important to pick leaders to assist Turbo. Up step three very distinct and wonderfully diverse characters who'd leave a lasting impact on me and I'm sure will again over the coming months.

Previously on the blog I chatted to Barrie about the creation of these characters and their diverse nature, something which wasn't common back in the late 80s and which is still, sadly, an issue today. Wishing to reflect the world at the time, Barrie wanted to create a black hero (Loner) and a female warrior (Kitten Magee). "Girls had not been featured very much in boys' comics so I decided it was time that they were!", Barrie told me. Add in the alien Joe who was the last surviving member of his own race, and we had a wonderfully original cast, all very different and that spoke to me.

It's something I still very much believe in and perhaps Wildcat played a little part in the formation of my ideals in that area at a very young and impressionable age. I do hope so.

Anyway, as you can see raising the money for their goal is all rather easy (and Turbo adds his own fortune to the mix) but read into it a bit more and even here in the preview comic, in a scene seemingly there for exposition only, we're getting some little hints about their characterisations already. For example, Loner clearly doesn't care about money even though he has so much wealth and Kitten is very clearly hiding something about the fate of her own father. More on Kitten in a bit.

Ian's artwork may be in black and white but it's no less evocative and the atmosphere is thick, especially in these scenes of the Wildcat slowly being constructed over three long years. During this time thousands apply for a volunteer position onboard and there's some passing references about having to interview every single one to ensure they're suitable colonists whenever they find a new home planet. It doesn't go into any detail on what those specifics are but that's not needed, over the course of the comic's run we'd meet more and more of them anyway.

With the craft complete, we turn to the middle pages and instead of a simple panel in the strip showing us the finished article we get a lovely mini poster in full colour from Ian.

What I always liked about the Wildcat was that it wasn't the usual monotone colours of spacecraft we'd get in the movies or indeed other comic books. Here, all sorts of colours popped out from its grey shell. I do believe once the comic got going and the massive free poster of the 'Alien Zoo' given away in the premiere issue was completed with the free stickers inside following issues, I wanted more of this on my wall and so I put this one up too, though I always did want a big one of Wildcat itself, but alas it was never to be.

Before we round up, back to Kitten Magee for some more tantalising groundwork on her storyline. She also has a small robotic assistant called Crud, though purely mechanical and resembling an upright cat. (This is the only time Crud and Robo would be seen together if memory serves me correctly and they do not get on, would've been good to see that dynamic in action in a future issue.) During the construction Kitten instructs Crud, upon one of their final trips back to the surface of planet Earth, to gather her full supply of something called 'Lifedust' and bring every ounce of it with them.

At this stage we're not sure what it is, although the name does seem to be rather a large clue, and she says if she runs out she's "finished". That's it though, no more is said. For a comic aimed at a younger audience there are plenty of little hints of deeper storylines and mysteries to come, little things we could pick up on upon rereading, which happened a lot with this preview as I waited a long week for #1.

I remember in the fortnightly there'd be five stories over its 32 pages, the first four would follow one team of explorers down onto the new planet (above) led by one of our four main characters. Now of course this means these all take place on the surface and not on that marvellous looking ship, hence why I've included these panels because it's great to see it in action so much. However, there was also a series of one-off stories that took place on Wildcat which would feature different survivors in every chapter. While I do remember one of these from reading those couple of issues in 2015 for the original Beyond Oink! article, the rest are lost to the space under the just-about-starting-to-grey hair.

This is the case for the vast majority of the content of these comics so this series of reviews is very much going to be me rediscovering this comic properly for the first time since 1988 and 1989! Writing this very post is getting me more excited the more I waffle down your screen. I can't wait to get stuck in and live through those two-week-long cliffhangers. It's been a while since I've been able to do that on here and it'll definitely be something to help keep the good cheer going throughout this coming winter.

Inside Oink! the team threw in a little box to tell us the free comic within would be a lot bigger the next week when it launched itself onto the shelves. Although they really didn't need to, the back page of the preview is chock full of details to whet the appetites of potential readers, such as the stories to look forward to, including those Wildcat Completes, the various ways in which readers could interact with the comic (a signature of a Barrie Tomlinson comic) and a passing comment about that fantastic free gift.

I was sold.

Heck, I'm sold now at 42 years of age!

If you want to read the original overview article I wrote about the series just click here, or alternatively let the comic introduce itself to you issue-by-issue starting next week. That interview with Barrie I also mentioned above can be accessed by clicking here and it's actually the first of a two-part interview which also featured another childhood favourite, Barrie's Ring Raiders comic.

So finally, Wildcat is here and I look forward to bringing more attention to this criminally forgotten classic for the rest of this year and the first few months of 2021, which seems so far away! So plenty to look forward to, to read and enjoy and I hope you'll also enjoy my posts. Keep 'em glued to the blog and I'll see you back here on Thursday 22nd October.

No comments: