“Oh, good. Superheroes.” curses masked gunslinger Grifter near the close of WildC.A.Ts #1. It might not seem like he has much room to talk. After all, Jim Lee’s Wildstorm imprint made a name for itself in the ’90s by combining superheroes with super-spy corporate espionage. But while the early comics leaned heavier on the superhero side of things (the “Covert Action Team” featured a giant purple bruiser and a man with a green ponytail and knife hands), an influx of British creators like Bryan Hitch, Warren Ellis, and Alan Moore began to move the characters towards trench coats, armor, and high concept sci-fi. By the time Ellis was tapped to oversee a reboot of the universe, costumes were dropped almost entirely for greater focus on conspiracy and intrigue. That project died from a mixture of missed deadlines and abuse allegations. So here we are back in the DC universe proper, with writer Matthew Rosenberg, artist Stephen Segovia, colorist Elmer Santos, and letterer Ferran Delgado, set to introduce the WildC.A.T.s to a new generation of readers. Let’s see how well the team gets along with the capes and spandex crowd.
The first mission the WildC.A.T.s are sent on is fairly straightforward: infiltrate a H.I.V.E. laboratory and kidnap a scientist. But said scientist has been performing fatal experiments on apes, so Grifter decides to kill him on the spot. Team leader Marlowe is less than pleased. Doubly so when Grifter gets into a barfight and lands himself in jail. Fearing the team is in over their heads, Marlowe decides to introduce a new member: Fairchild. But she’ll have to shape up fast if she’s going to help the Crisis Aversion Team survive a surprise run-in with superheroes and a different, mysterious order.
Matthew Rosenberg follows up on his Batman: Urban Legends stories by keeping Grifter as the main point of view. The character may not like the title “Grifter,” but Rosenberg’s characterization leans into the moniker. He’s a man who loves spinning tall tales, from exaggerated stories of his adventures to attempts to convince his enemies their employers are secret aliens. However, all his bravado comes with the baggage of trying to live up to his late older brother. Said sibling is the source of the tattered remains of a mask he drapes over his face, along with his nickname. It’s a looser, more comedic take on the character, which helps give the entire team a more rough-and-tumble, barely-holding-together vibe.
The other characters aren’t as established yet, which admittedly isn’t surprising for the first issue of a team book with such a large cast. But all the Grifter focus does take away from chances for the team to interact. Part of the fun of big team books is getting to see personalities bounce off one another. The first half of the issue gets some fun dynamics in, especially when Marlowe tries the shout down the relatively cool-headed Zealot and Deathblow. But the second half is mostly confined to radio chatter between Maxine and Grifter while the rest of the team quietly carries out their duties. The banter between the two got quite a bit of play during Batman: Urban Legends, so it’s hard not to wish we saw more of how other teammates felt about one another. Though again, this is a first issue. These aren’t insurmountable problems.
It was Wildstorm’s book The Authority that helped usher in the “Widescreen Comics” movement back in 1999, and Stephen Segovia’s art keeps the tradition alive with a focus on sweeping spectacle and long, vertically-stacked panels. It’s a slick-looking book, favoring a slightly thicker, black outline around key characters to help them pop out against the backdrop. It’s especially helpful since chaotic action is the name of the game here, the art’s cool, confident approach lending some nice contrast to the hectic bloodshed.
Adding to the vibe are Elmer Santos’ colors, which favor cool blues, purples, and pinks. Lamps and Streetlights all create blurry lens flares, cigarette smoke against the pink glow of the morning sky. It’s a look that feels somewhat inspired by the modern wave of neon-soaked action movies like John Wick or Drive, if not as exaggerated, which is a nice fit for the WildC.A.T.s brand of stylish action.
Ferran Delgado’s letters have a pricklier, more hand-drawn feel to the house style more typically used by the big two. Sometimes the word balloons get in on the act too, shouts get balloons with thick, scratchy outlines. Sound effects run the gamut from precise and blocky to rounded bubble letters to uneven brush strokes. Delgado has a chance to try out a lot of different styles here, and they help bring out the mayhem of the final fight.
WildC.A.T.s #1 is a promising start towards planting the C.A.T.s back in the DC universe. Hopefully, the characters will all get time to shine as the series continues, but Grifter’s strong presence, along with the fun action makes the book more than worth picking up. WildC.A.T.s #1 is out right now from DC comics, so give it a shot.