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Before he became the co-publisher of DC Comics, the great Jim Lee made his debut in the comic book industry as an illustrator for Marvel Comics. Just a few short years after that, he became a fan-favorite of X-Men fans and was a major factor in the massive sales success of 1991’s X-Men #1 (Volume 2). Not only did that particular comic book established a long-lasting sales record for all comic books, Lee’s designs and visual concepts for the X-Men were adapted by the producers and creators of the fan-favorite X-Men: The Animated Series (1992-1997).
For the newcomers reading this, Jim Lee’s tenure with Marvel Comics ended in December 1991 when he, Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane met with the publisher and expressed that Marvel’s policies toward them were unfair and they were not rewarded well for their work. To put things in perspective, Jim Lee’s X-Men #1, Rob Liefeld’s X-Force #1 and Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1 were respectively million-sellers. As such, Lee, Liefeld, McFarlane plus some more creators left Marvel and went on to establish Image Comics (which involved a production and distribution deal with Malibu Comics).
In 1992, Jim Lee’s dream project – with concepts first created in 1986 – came through free from the constraints he endured from Marvel’s editorial team and strict policies. That’s dream project was WildC.A.T.s: Covert Action Teams #1, which is the feature of this retro comic book review.
But before we start the review, here’s a quick look back at the conceptual history of WildC.A.T.s as written by Jim Lee himself.
“I created my first ‘professional’ comic book submission in the summer of 1986 entitled The Wild Boys involving an espionage agency called International Operations. The co-writer of that sublime piece of work was coincidentally enough – Brandon Choi – who at the time was still in college getting a double major in history and politics,” Lee wrote in the comic book’s intro.
Now that we’re done with the history, here is a look back at WildC.A.T.s: Covert Action Teams #1, published in 1992 through Image Comics with a story co-written by Jim Lee and Brandon Choi. Lee illustrated the comic book with ink work done by Scott Williams.
The story begins in Antarctica in 1986. There, two men braved the cold weather searching for something with information they learned from IO (International Operations). Suddenly an orb rises from the snow and then an image of a lady wearing silver tights and wielding energy appears in front of them. After demanding them to let her have the orb, she and the energy field fade away.
In 1992, at the crisis control facility of IO in Virginia, IO’s executives carefully view video footage of Georgetown which was hit by an explosion. They suspect rogue C.A.T.s (covert action teams) could have been involved. Suddenly, the same energy field from six years earlier forms in their presence with the same lady appearing for a few moments. The energy field fades away.
In the present day, a dwarf named Jacob Marlowe wakes up in the middle of garbage in an alley. After getting hurt by two troublemakers, the same silver lady from the past appears and uses her energetic power to save Jacob. She introduces her to him as Void, claiming he came for him and she knows he was once a lord named Emp. She tells him the Cabal is a threat to humans on Earth…
When it comes to the presentation of the story, the comic book starts in a deliberately cryptic way. It’s like having very short prologues back to back and, fortunately, it works well to capture attention while building up slowly its concept. The story really begins when Jacob Marlowe arrives at his headquarters with Void as his enduring advisor and executor. The introductions of each of the team’s members – Spartan, Warblade, Maul, Grifter, Zealot and Voodoo – were decently done and never felt rushed as Jim Lee and Brandon Choi carefully paced the storytelling and really tried to balance exposition and spectacle. That being said, similar results happened with regards to the comic book’s spotlight on the Cabal and its evil leader.
With regards to the presentation of the classic conflict between good and evil, Lee and Choi came up with the concept of planet Earth being slowly infiltrated by Daemonites (who originated in outer space) with the Cabal serving like an anchor with an organized set-up for domination. Over at the WildC.A.T.s, Marlowe formed a team to fight and stop the Cabal since the lives of the people of Earth are at stake. This is a really nice concept serving as the foundation, and the irony is that, in this comic book specifically, IO was on the sideline.
When it comes to the visuals, Jim Lee must have enjoyed the liberty he had in illustrating this comic book…free from the editorial interference from Marvel and free too from the restrictions of the Comics Code Authority (CCA). The result here is a visual presentation showing more Lee’s creativity and a style different somewhat from his final works on X-Men. He clearly took more inspiration from action movies and the violence is somewhat more mature to look at. It should be noted that Scott Williams helped Lee’s art shine.
By today’s standards, WildC.A.T.s: Covert Action Teams #1 is surprisingly still a good superhero team comic book to read. It’s not a literary classic but it proved to be compelling and fun enough to read from start to finish. It has a decent amount of action here and there which is understandable since Choi and Lee had to build up the concepts and the plot. If there were any weak spots, this comic book is almost devoid of character development and the clear lack of a lead character (which is still needed even for a superhero team comic book).
If you are seriously planning to buy an existing hard copy of WildC.A.T.s: Covert Action Teams #1 (1992), be aware that as of this writing, MileHighComics.com shows that the near-mint copy of the regular edition costs $5 while the near-mint copy of the newsstand edition is priced at $16. The near-mint copy of the 3D edition costs $9 while the near-mint copy of the gold cover edition is priced at $42.
Overall, WildC.A.T.s: Covert Action Teams #1 (1992) is recommended.
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