Grant Morrison’s Wildstorm Universe, Part 1:

Wildcats

After Mark Millar left The Authority and Warren Ellis’s Planetary had gone to a more erratic schedule, the WildStorm Universe needed a big name to come in and turn the whole line of comics around. Enter Grant Morrison.

WildStorm logoInfinite Crisis had wrapped up, and the weekly series 52 was nearly halfway through when Morrison was drafted to reimagine WildStorm characters and set the stage for the remainder of the first decade of the new millennium. Since Morrison was one of the four architects responsible for the new course of the DCU (along with Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid), one could presume that WildStorm had already been designated Earth-50, and Morrison’s ideas would be used to shape the line up so it could gel with the regular DCU a little more. The event known as “Worldstorm” was meant to wipe the slate clean on the WildStorm Universe and bring in a new era of edgy super-hero comic books.

Unfortunately, Morrison was eventually overwhelmed by writing 52 and Batman, in addition to planning for Final Crisis, working on All-Star Superman, and many other projects. The WildStorm Universe as reimagined by Grant Morrison took the hit. However, three issues were produced, so at least we were given some insight into what the WU would have looked like.

Grant Morrison's WildCats #1WildCats #1

The best place to start is with the team that really started it all. When the Wildcats were first launched (as WildC.A.T.s, for “covert action teams”) in the early ’90s, the team was launched under the pretense of X-Men fever. Jim Lee had left his X-Men run at Marvel for his creator-owned work at Image, and WildC.A.T.s was designed to capitalize from that hype.

The basic premise was that two alien races were at war with Earth as their battleground. Over the years, the title had been blessed with writers like Alan Moore and Joe Casey to define the team, but for the most part, no matter how much characterization was put into the heroes, they rarely deviated from the initial premise of “aliens at war.” This is not to say that the Moore and Casey runs were bad by any means, by neither of them were particularly edgy.

Morrison was ready to change the game, and who better to help him than founder Jim Lee? Lee’s art for the relaunch of WildCats helped create a new foundation and establish it in the ashes of the old, but due to the time-consuming nature of Lee’s pencils, the project was doomed from the start. Even if Morrison had a clear schedule with no other comic on his plate, Jim Lee’s molasses pace on a comic was the real death to the series. Still, this single issue looks damn good.

On page two, Morrison establishes the universe when he writes, “First they fought crime, then they fought one another, then they fought the system. Then, finally, they became the system.” With this contention, Morrison is firmly establishing an idea that had already been brought up before that unlike the heroes of DC who are reactionary figures who protect the status quo, the WildStorm heroes have always been portrayed as active participants of social change. The Authority in particular have always been shown as a team that was more than willing to topple corrupt governments as much as they could be seen battling super-villains. This new WildStorm would be without a grey area. Morrison wanted to establish this new universe as strictly run by the super-heroes.

The two page spread that featured these words is broken into four panels. Panel one is Team 7 – the WildStorm equivalent of a golden age team. Panel two features the WildCats – the first actual WildStorm team. Panel three features the Authority – the team to define the WildStorm edge. Panel four features all new heroes to establish the brand new WildStorm Universe. In four panels, Morrison and Lee give a brief history of the Universe which is important given that WildStorm had always been about the “here and now” rather than about history. Given that the line was created in the 90′s, they never had a history to draw upon, so stories revolved around the war at hand rather than heroes that had been established for decades.

After the history lesson, Cole Cash (Grifter) is shown drinking himself stupid in an alley somewhere in Latin America. A boy approaches him and begs him to defend their small town. He says, “No one here can afford even a used Spartan.” Spartan is the codename of WildCats leader Jack Marlowe (a.k.a. Hadrian). He is one of the many Spartan robot soldiers that the Kheran aliens used on their home planet. This is our first hint that the WildCats are now selling their tech to save the world.

Grifter was always supposed to be the loose cannon of the team. The member who was always ready to kill for the greater good. He is supposed to be the Wolverine to Spartan’s Cyclops and the connection is further exemplified in his narration, “Stay in character. I’m the best there is at what I do and what I do . . . is drink.” Morrison is playing with reader expectations and adding a little humor to the character in order to add new depth.

Aboard the HALO corporation satellite, we learn “the Halo 3-d phone revolutionized communications. The family Spartan is revolutionizing the personal security industry. Thanks to Halo systems technology everyone can own a superhero. Your own personal man of steel at prices you and your family can afford.” Further proving that super-heroes are now for profit rather than merely reactionary or even proactive. Heroes for profit is an idea that couldn’t exist in the DCU or even the Marvel Universe. Morrison had done the impossible; he took something as seemingly shallow as the WildStorm Universe and transformed it into something unique and powerful. Sure, Morrison may be exploring the idea of the corporate super-hero within his work in Batman Inc., but that idea is more based on the idea of the magic sigil rather than an actual corporation. The HALO Corporation is the organization that funds the WildCats team and its clear that their money is now coming from selling their tech. Turning Batman into a corporation is an altruistic move on the part of Bruce Wayne and while Hadrian may want to spread his technology to average people rather than governments, don’t let it fool you; he’s all about the money.

Still, Hadrian isn’t without his moral quandaries as he worries, “I’m concerned about the human response to such rapid, traumatic change.” This could be a hint as to a larger theme that Morrison wanted to establish within his run, and it would have been an interesting idea to explore. What happens when a corporation saves mankind by flooding the world with new technology? What new problems would arise? It’s unfortunate that (much like Ellis’s Planetary after him) Morrison is never able to tackle this potentially interesting theme.

Then again, Morrison has never been one to write realistic, revisionist comics, so when Voodoo responds, “I love it when you talk dirty” to Hadrian, perhaps Morrison is really trying to say, “The world is ideal now. Science has saved us all and let’s not worry about the implications of science.” Morrison likes to have fun with his characters, and Voodoo’s dialogue reaffirms this sense of fun. Perhaps she is telling the reader to not worry about the real world because it is about to die along with the old WildStorm mentality.

Hadrian further burns the old bridges when he says, “All these widescreen battles and public displays of stupidity: it’s vulgar and frightening. Adolescent. How would truly adult superheroes behave?” Morrison seems to be openly showing disdain for the way old WildStorm stories were written in the past. After all, WildStorm was supposed to feature “adult” storylines, but the word “adult” seemed to translate into more blood and gore rather than “maturity.” So, what Hadrian is wondering is, “If super-heroes really acted like mature adults, what would comics be like? Instead of power fantasies for teens, what would a mature super-hero be?”

Still, the WildCats still aren’t ready to make that leap as the tried and true story based in on a war between aliens returns to the series. The Daemonites (arch-enemies of the WildCats) are attacking the Kheran home world. Zealot and Majestic battle the alien hordes and Majestic warns that “Earth is next.”

The issue ends with Grifter murdering the gang that is pushing around the small village. In German, he thinks, “Grifter is confusion! Grifter is death! Grifter is confusion! Grifter is chaos! And death! And death! And death! This is Grifter!”

As it turns out, the gang are actually a group of Daemonites that have been undercover on Earth. The issue ends by saying, “This was June: Just a month before the Worldstorm.”

Another issue was promised, but never delivered due to Morrison working on other scripts and Lee working on All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder and his promotion in the company. It’s rather unfortunate that more couldn’t have been done on WildCats because it started so promising. Granted, there wasn’t much to the issue, but the small sampling that was offered is enough to whet the appetite. Who knows what could have come from the corporate super-hero team? Personally, I like to think it would have revolutionized the WildStorm line with an all new template for telling stories. Maybe if it would have been pushed in the right way, the paramilitary motif that has been repeated again and again would have been replaced with the corporate hero.

On Thursday, I’ll take a look at Grant Morrison’s attempt at The Authority.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cody Walker graduated from Missouri State University with a Bachelors and a Masters of Science in Education. He is the author of the pop culture website PopgunChaos.com and the co-creator of the crime comic NoirCityComicBook.com . He currently teaches English in Springfield, Missouri.

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2 Comments

  1. Just RAG says:

    Heroes for profit is an idea that couldn’t exist in the DCU or even the Marvel Universe. Morrison had done the impossible;

    Correct me if I’m wrong (I haven’t read it), but wasn’t it (the HALO corporation) the whole point of Casey’s WildCATS 3.0?

    And personally, I think Morrisson and Lee are responsible for the demise of Wildstorm. The other books (Stormwatch PHD, Gen13, Tranquility) were good (well, they actually got quite good after closing shop on Eye of the Storm experiment – look at stuff such as Majestic, Wildcats: Nemesis, even Captain Atom: Armageddon), but they just couldn’t hold the line with two major titles in limbo. (Imagine trying to publish DC Comics with Superman and Batman frozen like this.)

  2. “Over the years, the title had been blessed with writers like Alan Moore and Joe Casey to define the team, but for the most part, no matter how much characterization was put into the heroes, they rarely deviated from the initial premise of “aliens at war.” This is not to say that the Moore and Casey runs were bad by any means, by neither of them were particularly edgy.”

    Could NOT disagree more. Moore’s run effectively ENDED the war between the alien races, revealing that the kherubims had long ago won the war, and showing the ramifications of this victory in boh their society and the titular team (the other part of it dealt with the idea of superheroes declaring a war on crime, and introduced the character of Tao, one of the best things to come out of Wildstorm and an integral component of Brubaker’s Sleeper). Casey’s initial run was all about the WildCATS as a team without purpose, and eventually became a sci-fi thriller about a superhero corporation, years before Morrison did anything of the kind.

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