Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Joe Casey Comics: Wildcats #8

[And so begins Joe Casey's masterful and epic run on Wildcats. Yes, I am very biased. But, who cares, join me as I look at the run issue-by-issue all the way through Wildcats Version 3.0. New posts Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.]

Okay, I mentioned yesterday that I consider this issue to be one of the finest comics Joe Casey has ever written... and here it is one day later and I stand by my bold proclamation.

The issue opens with a one-page scene featuring Kenyan's assistant and an e-mail that he won't believe. But that's not worth discussing right now--the scene that follows it is.

Grifter and Spartan have a simple, four-page discussion that lays out a lot of Casey's run for us. Well, maybe not that far as things change quickly after these three issues, but this is an important discussion.

First off, it establishes the new duality of the book: Grifter and Spartan. Everything that happens after this first arc relies on one of the two. They are the heart of the book from now on. Grifter is emotion and violence while being completely human, Spartan is thought and patience while being completely inhuman. They are opposites and complements.

Casey sets up the main concept behind his run with Grifter feeling "impotent" over the lack of action and then later responding to Spartan's "THE WAR GOES ON--" with "WHAT WAR?! / THE WAR'S OVER! THE KHERUBIM... THE DAEMONITES... THAT'S OVER AND DONE WITH! YOU KNOW THAT!" This is not just a post-superhero book, it's a post-war book. We like to think of the WildC.A.T.S as superheroes because of their costumes and codenames, but they were, at their core, soldiers--and now there is no war to fight. In the previous series, after Alan Moore ended the war, writers didn't seem to know what to do with the characters and the book floundered in aimless, meaningless stories of questionable quality. Casey is embracing the ennui, impotence, and meandering life of soldiers without a war to fight.

However, Spartan does not care that the war is over, he sees new battles to fight and will get a new "war" of his own soon. Currently, he is following Emp's lead, but, soon, he will step out on his own and accomplish much, much more. Eventually, Grifter will also join his war and find new meaning there. In this conversation, while Grifter yells and acts out, Spartan calmly plays chess against him and says, "THE OBJECT IF NOT VICTORY; IT IS DIFFICULT TO OUT-MANEUVER MYSELF. HOWEVER, THE STRATEGIES EMPLOYED CAN BE USEFUL IN OTHER CIRCUMSTANCES." He is taking a long-view to their current situation.

In this scene, there's also a fantastic line that can only be a slam against Lobdell's writing where the two discuss Kenyan's plan in issue six and Grifter sarcastically says "AND WHAT A PLOT THAT WAS. I MEAN, COME ON--!" Remember that Casey's scripted that issue while Lobdell plotted it.

This scene also holds Spartan up as a comparison to Kenyan, both, essentially, sons of Emp. Spartan is the obedient, responsible son that is content to follow his father's plans, while Kenyan is the rebel, always challenging his father and questioning. This will come up more directly in issue ten, but is worth mentioning now.

Which leads me to the discussion scenes between Emp and Kenyan. They "meet" via holograms above Manhattan and Emp informs Kenyan that he's changing the rules of the game and, instead of chasing Kenyan, Kenyan has to chase him. And Emp can do this, because he is the one with the power in the relationship. Everything Kenyan does revolves around Emp and he's finally realised this (and will explain it further in the next two issues), and he's exercising his power. For what ends? We don't know yet.

Meanwhile, Grifter has tried to track down Kenyan and can't, so he goes to Noir, thinking that Emp has betrayed them. Noir hacks into Halo's database, which triggers an alarm... and Spartan. The three have a little showdown where Spartan maintains his loyalty to Emp until a holographic message is found, which angers him and they agree to follow Emp to Vegas.

Sean Phillips's art here is... I don't even know what to say. He draws pages with seven or eight panels, and never does anything look cramped. He emphasises body language and facial expressions, and, well, tells the story. Without Phillips's artwork, a lot of what Casey attempts to get across wouldn't get across.

Actually, it occurs to me, more than anything, what makes this issue such a big break from what came before is that this is the most un-WildC.A.T.S-like issue of any related book. Phillips's art is nothing like the art that came before and Casey's writing is nothing like the writing that came before. This issue marks a dramatic shift in tone and content that did upset many fans, while engaged people like me.

On Thursday, I'll look at the second part of the this initial arc, as Casey continues to set up the new status quo.