Thursday, June 19, 2008

Joe Casey Comics: Wildcats #28

[Concluding my look at Joe Casey's run on Wildcats volume two. Commentary on Wildcats Version 3.0 begins on Saturday with new posts every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.]

Joe Casey and Sean Phillips' Wildcats comes to an end right here. Before I continue, I should say something about Phillips's work on the title since I've been neglecting it for a while: it's good. It is really good work that perfectly matched Casey's writing here. Phillips can tell a story like no other (except maybe Steve Dillon--and, hey, they got him to draw two issues) and can make talking head scenes work like no other (okay, again, except maybe Steve Dillon). He can do the "fantastic" as well, but his style makes it look absurd and out of place, which is what the book called for. Take this issue, for example: Agent Wax uses his ability to make others do what he wants on Jeremy Stone and we finally get a full shot of him in full-on "Maul" form... and he looks utterly terrifying and stupid. Because a giant purple guy in tighty whities would look stupidly absurd beyond the intial terror. Another artist would flash it up, make him look heroic somehow, but not Phillips, because he knew the score. I've focused on Casey's writing, because that's whose work I'm interested in and have been discussing for quite some time. But, Phillips's contribution was essential here. That needed saying.

Now then, the final issue...

It is split between two events: the aforementioned Agent Wax/Jeremy Stone stuff and Pris's tutorial by the Daemonite where she grows new legs. Casey puts both Jeremy and Pris in the past here. He shuts the door on them after one last issue of them acting like superheroes in their own way: Jeremy gets his "Maul" on while Pris uses her abilities to heal herself. At the beginning of the issue, Jeremy looks at a picture in a cracked frame--it's the cover to WildC.A.T.S. #1 and he wonders, "WAS IT EVER SO SIMPLE...?" The issue is titled "Door Prizes," which is an interesting play on the phrase since it usually means prizes won upon entry or because of entry, while Pris and Jeremy get theirs by exiting... but also because they entered. It's an odd paradox. Pris is able to move on with her life by leaving the WildC.A.T.S. behind her, but only because her superpowers healed her even though she wouldn't have been injured in the first place if it weren't for her contact with Jack Marlowe, the android formerly known as Spartan and Hadrian who she met back in the WildC.A.T.S. Got that?

The Agent Wax stuff has him stalk Jeremy for a bit and then use his powers to learn all about the WildC.A.T.S. and Marlowe. Marlowe intervenes and teleports Wax away--the next time we see him, Marlowe's plan is already in motion and we don't find out what happened in between until issue 17 of Version 3.0. This leaves Marlowe and Jeremy where Marlowe refers to Jeremy as a "former associate" and then says, "WE'VE BEEN SEARCHING FOR SOMETHING... ALL OF US. I'VE FINALLY FOUND A PATH WORTH EXPLORING. / THERE IS ROOM FOR OTHERS. I CANNOT DO THIS ALONE. BUT YOU AND PRISCILLA HAVE BEEN THROUGH SO MUCH... [...] / THE DOOR IS ALWAYS OPEN. PLEASE LET HER KNOW THAT. BUT IT MUST BE HER CHOICE." Marlowe again recognises the bond between the former WildC.A.T.S., but tha it's a part of the past, too. He's finally grown and doesn't bury his past; he confronts it and allows it to choose if it wants to be buried or not. Instead of moving ahead alone, he gives his family a choice. Grifter chooses to go with him, while Pris and Jeremy do not.

The issue ends with Pris and Jeremy in an uncertain place, a possible romance but who knows. Pris has the final words of "BUT, THEN AGAIN... / ... WHO KNOWS WHAT THE FUTURE MIGHT BRING...?" The final image is a single picture separated into two panels of Marlowe teleporting away after standing outside of Jeremy's beachhouse. Very appropriate as this book has talked around the conception of the future, of moving forward, but little movement actually occurred. In fact, this book was more obsessed with the past, with how it keeps coming up when you least expect it. For all his bluster, Marlowe accomplished little here. But, he's reconciled himself with his past and everyone is moving forward--he teleports from that past, allowing it to move into the future on its own terms, while he does the same.

In a way, volume two was the transition between WildC.A.T.S. and Version 3.0, two books that are quite different. It's no wonder that fans of the former hated volume two, because it did its best to move away from that old book, particularly under Casey. Under Scott Lobdell, it was superficially different, but was really the same old thing. Casey pushed the book into a more thoughtful place, one that examined how people deal with their past and move on from it--and how, more often than not, it has a mind of its own that we can't control. He also explored the family dynamic of the team, of old soldiers without a war to fight, and even what happens after you give up being a superhero. The last two tie into that overarching idea of the past, acting as sub-themes in a way. The family dynamic is related to that since this isn't a traditional (re: biological) family, but one forged by experience, by the past. What ties these characters together is what most of them are trying to move past--with one exception in Grifter.

Grifter is the only character who doesn't let go of that past. In fact, when a big part of it, Zealot, is discovered alive, he obsesses over regaining that lost past. In the end, he also has to let go, but not before reminding Marlowe that the past isn't buried, it is accepted, integrated and built upon. You can't forget it or fight it, you accept it. Once Marlowe does that, he is also able to move on. Grifter reminds him of the importance of the past, and he reminds Grifter of the importance of the future. Together, they are the heart of the book, two foils that cannot stay away from each other--and they are the protagonists of Version 3.0.

Volume two is over. Version 3.0 begins on Saturday and continues for 25 issues.