Friday, October 13, 2017

Alan Moore's WildC.A.T.s: Politics In Comics Done Right

Okay, so this is gonna be a blast from the past, specifically 1995-1997, and is going to require some back story for the uninitiated. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that the WildC.A.T.s is my favorite comics series, but I know that not everyone is at my level of sperg on this particular series. So I'll give you a basic synopsis, enough to understand what I'm talking about. Frankly, this'll be easier than you going and reading the comics series, because it'll take some work to get all the comics you'd need to read, and they're all out of print at this point. So this'll be a good intro to the Wildstorm Universe, and WildC.A.T.s in particular. This also gets really long, so strap in, but it couldn't be helped.

So millenia before the comics take place there was a war between two rival races, the Kherubim and the Daemonites. You can probably guess who the good guys were. Ships from these races crash landed on Earth in the distant, distant past, and the aliens mingled with Earth's native population, because apparently they're biologically compatible. Don't ask me, man, it's comic books. But this led to the descendants of these unions inheriting the special powers of the Kherubim and, as it turns out, the Daemonites. This includes people like Maul (the big purple guy) who can increase his size and mass at will, but at the expense of his thinking capability; Warblade, whose body is made of bio-metal that he can shift into different weapons at will; and Voodoo, who can see and exorcise Daemonites from their human hosts. I probably should've mentioned that Daemonites can possess people. Anyway. 

There are also some original Kherubim still surviving, including Mr. Majestic (basically Superman, he has all the same powers), Zealot (a Coda warrior woman that would make Wonder Woman piss herself in fear), Spartan (a cyborg that turns out to be the mental imprint of one of the Kherubim Lords that originally came to Earth), and Lord Emp/Jacob Marlowe (the wealthy financier of the WildC.A.T.s and Kherubim Lord suffering from a serious case of amnesia). These people are, of course, several thousand years old. I don't know if the Daemonites operating on Earth are the Daemonites from the crash, or just their descendents, except for Helspont. That dude's definitely OG, because his host is in no way a human being.

Anyway, the Daemonites on Earth are keeping the age-old war going, and trying to bring the Daemonites on Daemon (their home planet. Clever, right?) to Earth so they can strip mine it of resources. The WildC.A.T.s are meant to be soldiers in the war to stop them, and along the way they get into various other shenanigans with Wildstorm and Image Comics characters and super teams. 

So the war goes on for about 20 issues or so, and eventually the crew (Jacob/Emp, Spartan, Zealot, Warblade, Maul, Void, and Voodoo; Grifter had left the team before this) find what they think is a Daemonite space ship, but actually turns out to be a Kherubim spaceship, that takes them to the Kherubim home planet, Khera (once again, clever, ain't it?). Back on earth, everyone just kind of assumes they died, because it sure as shit looked like an explosion from where they were sitting. So in the interests of continuing the war against the Daemonites (and bad people in general), Mr. Majestic forms a new team.

These new WildC.A.T.s were comprised of Zealot's "sister" Savant, Majestic himself, Condition Red AKA Max Cash AKA Grifter's brother, Ladytron (a heavily modified cyborg, who is also a psychotic super-criminal), and Tao (the genetically engineered super genius who was grown in a lab). Together, instead of going after the Daemonites, they decide to (for some reason) wage a war on super crime, which escalates into a full-scale gang war, including home invasions, murder, bombings, and raids on funerals. This proceeds to get completely out of hand until most of New York City is engulfed in this war, culminating in a great fight between Overt-kill and Ladytron that has some brilliant dialogue. 

Meanwhile most of the original C.A.T.s are on Khera, which looks to be a veritable paradise. It's a wonderful science fiction Disneyland of exotic food, incredible places, and lovely people. On the surface. The first scratches are when they go through immigration, and Voodoo gets hauled off to a ghetto where they've got a bunch of Daemonites locked away. Turns out Voodoo has Daemonite blood, that's why she's able to see them and drag them out of their possession victims. 

We also discover that Maul is descended from "native Kherubim", the titanothropes that used to live on this planet before Zealot and Emp's people came down from the stars. Now they're being forced to live on reservations below ground. There's also some political intrigue wherein the Coda Sisters and the Pantheon are grooming Zealot and Emp respectively to take over the Senate for them, and Maul has a nice romantic subplot with this titanothrope activist girl. Also there's a bomb somewhere, but I'm not telling you where. I've given away far too much already. I'll link to where you can buy the comic so you can read it yourself, but it was either this or force everybody to shell out $40+ USD just to find out what the shit I'm talking about, so there we are.

Now that I've finished rambling like an insane person, I watch a lot of comic reviews. People like Diversity & Comics, Nerkish, Capn Cummings, Captain Frugal, Mim Headroom, etc. They review a lot of recent comics, specifically new comics from DC and Marvel. Occasionally they'll run into something that they really like. Batman: White Knight was apparently much better than everyone thought it would be, for instance, and the Black Bolt comic is very good, despite the writer being an intolerable leftist jackass on Twitter. But the majority of these comics are just awful, and there's really no getting around that.

The last She-Hulk (now just called "Hulk", because why wouldn't it be?) was about her going on dates set up through online dating apps, then finding out that she was ACTUALLY ATTRACTED TO HELLCAT ALL ALONG WOOOOOOOOO LOLSORANDOM. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl continues to be a raging dumpster fire of mental illness, childlike mentalities, memes from 8 years ago, and art fit to make you physically ill. Riri Williams (the new "Iron Man") works better as a villain than a hero, and is constantly emotionally validated by everyone around her for her horrible decisions and complete lack of moral compass. Peter Parker has been turned into a lazy good for nothing, giving up his responsibility to thousands of employees at Parker Industries to become a shiftless layabout, sleeping on Mockingbird's couch after one date and doing nothing to help her around the apartment. And don't even get me started on the Burger King Kid's Club that is The Champions. Just...let's just leave that there. Go watch Nerkish's videos on that particular flaming pile of tires and dogshit if you want my general opinion.

I've gotten so used to seeing how bad these comics are via these videos that when I pulled out my omnibus copy of Moore's WildC.A.T.s I was so riveted that I devoured the entire thing in one night. And this omnibus is fairly large. It's equivalent to reading all of Watchmen, or V for Vendetta (two other excellent Moore books) in one sitting. Seeing as how it's out of print, it's definitely worth the $40 you'd pay for it, and I've got it both ways, individual issues and omnibus. You might be able to find it cheaper by collecting WildC.A.T.s: Homecoming, and WildC.A.T.s: Gang War, but you're still probably looking at a pretty penny, and then you'd have to switch books every other issue or so. If you're looking for the straight collection, go with Moore's omnibus. ANYWAY.

As you've gathered, there are politics in this book. Specifically on Khera. The "Kheran" people that Zealot and Emp are apart of are actively oppressing the Daemonite refugees (REMEMBER: This was written in the mid-90's. There is NO COMMENTARY on current geo-political events as relates to refugees in this book) by keeping them in a run-down, shitty ghetto. This is taking into account the fact that the war has been over for 300 years. The Kherans took in Daemonite refugees after the collapse of Daemon's government, and just kind of shunted them off into a shitty part of Khera and gives them scraps to live on. 

The native Kherans, or titanothropes, are also being mildly oppressed, although not as bad as the Daemonites. This could easily be seen as a commentary on native Americans living on reservations that the colonizing government oh-so-graciously granted them, and to be honest it probably is. From what I know Moore's kind of a lefty, and also a bit of a prick, so I don't think he'd be above doing that kind of commentary. But, the difference between the current crop of political commentary and this is how deftly Moore handles it. In a new Marvel book they'd have a character unsubtly straight up reference Native Americans. Moore doesn't. He lets the oppression of the native Kherans stand on its own, and if you want to compare it to a real life example like Native Americans, then you're welcome to, but it's never explicitly stated in the book itself. You're free to completely ignore the parallels between Kherans and Native Americans, and simply enjoy the story as a science fiction tale about aliens doing bad things to other aliens.

The gang war thing gets a little more explicit with its political commentary, but Moore does an interesting thing here. He compares it, not to, say, the Black Panthers or some other group, but to Ireland. There's actually a specifically Irish character in the book, name of Hellstrike, who finds out that Mr. Majestic's team actually raided a funeral and proceeds to get so angry that he flies down to the Halo Building and picks a fight with them. This comes after they were also guilty of instigating the funeral by "door-stepping" H.A.R.M. (a member of the criminal gang The Troika) and killing him in his own house when he was doing nothing explicitly wrong at the time. So Moore turns the heroes into the villains at this point, and Majestic has a subplot about how wrong this all seems to him, and it's handled very well. It's less subtle than the stuff on Khera, but let's be real here, that wasn't exactly a soft caress either.

Moore is no stranger to putting politics into his fiction. V for Vendetta is strictly about the takedown of a fascistic government by a lone criminal vigilante. There's more to it than that, but at a surface level analysis that's what most people got out of it, and small wonder. The difference, as I've said, between Moore and the current crop of writers is that Moore knows what he's doing. He knows when to be blunt, when to be deft, when to sidestep an issue, and when to hammer it home. The Irish terrorist analogy and allegory in Gang War is hammered in because it's something, quite frankly, most people won't be familiar with, because it's not exactly taught in American schools. The Native American allegory is skirted because it's not necessary to be explicit about it since everyone and their mother (in the parts of the world where these comics were being read at the time) is familiar with it and doesn't need it rubbed in our faces. This, along with his amazing originality, is what makes Moore a great writer, and so well respected in his field. 

There are messages here. "Door-stepping is morally evil" is a good one. "Beware of Utopia, because it's usually chrome plating on shit" is another. There's also that old chestnut, "Racism is bad." 

But the messages never overtake the story. Even when Zealot starts to spurn her friends as half-breeds and damn-near goes full KKK on them, it makes sense within the context of the story. Voodoo has always been the audience touchstone in this world (the world of the WildC.A.T.s in general, not Khera specifically). The character that needs things explained to her because she's new to all this, so that things can be explained to the audience at the same time. So when we see her being treated this way by someone who not only was her friend, but her mentor and teammate, it hits us on a visceral level, especially if we're familiar with the previous 20 or so issues of the comic. 

We don't really need Voodoo to go off on a rant about how Zealot is just a white bitch who hates minorities (which she doesn't, even though Zealot is very clearly "white" phenotypically [technically she's an alien, so not really, but still], and Voodoo is very clearly at least mixed-race, if not totally non-white [at a guess I'd say Hispanic/Latino, but it's not expressly spelled out anywhere I know of]). She just calls her a racist bitch because, quite frankly, she's acting like one, and Voodoo is hurt by that because she thought they were friends. She then proceeds to punk out the entire Coda Sisterhood with her dirty half-breed blood, which was an amazing scene. There's allegory here, but the primary focus isn't the allegory to real life racism, it's the relationship between Voodoo, Zealot, and the rest of the C.A.T.s on Khera. The message doesn't supplant the story. 

Each of the C.A.T.s, from Zealot, to Emp, to Warblade, to Maul, to Voodoo, to Spartan, become emotionally broken by the things that happen to them on Khera, and bringing Moore onto the comic to take it in a more serious direction was a great decision. The first 20 issues or so had some serious plot points going on, but most of their heaviness had to do with the fact that people die, they swear, drink, smoke, etc, you know that edgy shit that 90's comics liked to do to prove that they weren't just for kids. Not that I'm impugning Jim Lee's intentions here. I love these books, specifically because they weren't afraid to tackle issues like that, or include things like that in the books. Warblade actually kills people. Grifter has to deal with the death of his brother, twice, as well as Spartan regaining lost memories and turning into Mr. Steal Yo Gurl. 

It's non-stop action and drama, and Moore was perfectly willing to take these characters and their universe into some seriously heavy topics that you might not expect from a serialized comic book (as opposed to a graphic novel a la Watchmen) of the day. He also doesn't devolve into retarded social commentary like Kamela Khan actually leading people to the polls to vote for Hillary Clinton. The closest they came that I saw is there was an ad for Rock The Vote in the serialized, individual issue comic. Voodoo didn't get people to sign up to vote for Bill Clinton, or anything. There is a cameo by Dan Quayle in the first few issues, but he's a pawn of the Daemonites (actually possessed by one), and there is zero commentary on his political policies. They could've called him "Vice President Jimbo Johnson" and it would've changed nothing whatsoever about the plot of the book. 

My point with all of this is that the gap between comics of the 90's and comics nowadays is astounding, especially watching reviews and reading along with them, and then going back and reading actual comics from the 90's. I have tons of them. Lots of Wildstorm stuff, but also things like The Birth of Venom omnibus, Spawn, and the Hellboy omnibuses. This kind of political commentary we see from Marvel today is near-totally absent. They didn't turn George H. W. Bush into MODOK, they didn't do stupid gimmicks with characters endorsing candidates, the most you can say is they commented on social issues that have been around for decades. Spawn hanging out with the homeless and protecting them from gangs comes to mind. Ghost Rider dealing with general small-town prejudice against drifters (that's honestly played up far more than it actually exists) is another example. 

Go watch the first 20 minutes of Diversity & Comics' livestream (on the Splatto del Gato channel) of She-Hulk (Hulk) #11, if you don't believe me. Go watch any Nerkish video on Faith, or Squirrel Girl, or really any Nerkish video. Watch Capn Cummings, or Captain Frugal, or Douglas Ernst. They lay this out very clearly, some where you can actually read most of the comic along with them. 

The dialogue is despicable.

The art is atrocious.

The story is simply not there.

While Alan Moore had a political point to make with his stories (he usually does), he allows the politics to serve the story, thereby serving his political message all the further by not putting it first. It's the kind of thing that gets inside your head and makes you think, rather than beating you over the head with it and expecting you to absorb the message by shining it in your eyes with a floodlight. 

My advice to current comics creators is this: Go read some old Moore stuff. Go read old Jim Lee. For god's sake, go read old Stan Lee and Jack Kirby work. Learn to understand subtlety again, because you've completely lost your grip on the concept. 

Here's another quick example. When Zealot talks contemptuously about men, it's because she's a warrior woman who's slaughtered (literally) thousands of men who thought they were better than her. AND, by the by, she has romantic relationships with men. She and Grifter were lovers, despite the fact that Grifter is a con-man and hit man who might have a passing recollection of the concept of honor if it ran up and bit his left ass-cheek off. She's not contemptuous of ALL MEN, like the new Marvel characters very much seem to be. She just thinks she's better than most men, because she actually is for the most part. And sometimes that overconfidence means she gets her ass kicked by a man she underestimated. That is a situation completely unthinkable in SJW Marvel. 

This has gone on for far too long, but if I've gotten some new people into the WildC.A.T.s, as well as demonstrated the proper way to handle political topics in comics, I'll consider this a good deed for the day, despite the length of this post. Ordinarily I'd link to where you could find the omnibus on, but I checked beforehand, and they don't have it in stock. So, in lieu of that, here's a link to where you can buy it on Amazon. I highly recommend it, because as the title of this post says, this is politics in comics done right.

1 comment :

  1. I should check it out. I bought a lot of Moore's mainstream "slumming" work in the 90s but somehow never got around to Wildcats (his Supreme was my favorite).

    I've been re-reading Nexus recently, among other classics, and Nexus to me is the prime example of how to do politics in comics right. It's clearly conservative in its foundation, but it never mocks anyone for thinking differently. All the characters have distinct perspectives and beliefs, but they're all taken seriously and given respect. There are almost never screaming matches between characters because they're assumed to be mature adults who know how to debate politely. No one gets mocked for having different politics or religion than the creators. (They did redesign Vooper in the 90s to look like Ross Perot, but then again, Perot was a funny-looking guy so it sort of fit.)