Review by Ian Keogh
For many a superhero fan growing up in the late 1980s and early 1990s Jim Lee was an absolute artistic God. He caught the spirit of the times better than any other superhero artist, combining a massive raw talent with an instinctive eye for energetic layouts, a good sense of design and a wildly creative imagination. It’s all there on the oversized pages collecting almost his entire work on the WildC.A.T.S. series he created in 1992. Also on those pages is a propensity to calibrate his stories around pin-ups and a constantly distracting inability to render his cast as human beings. His women in particular look like posed composites featuring body parts from several different people, their breasts the size of their heads, their legs two-thirds of their height, while the supernatural slimness is more readily attributable to stylistic technique. It’s frustrating to see the abundance of talent, but with no guidance. More than enough people couldn’t give a toss about any such carping, and well paid professionals now in their thirties will love the chance to relive their youth via this sumptuously produced hardcover in a slipcase.
Lee first collaborated with Brandon Choi to introduce WildC.A.T.S. as a super team on Earth, but with a background founded on a centuries old war between two alien races that’s unresolved in this material, the best of which is written by Chris Claremont. Those four chapters have all the pluses and minuses of the writing style Claremont refined, but see Lee discipline his art, stepping away from pin-ups. However, there’s only a single story here with any real writer’s imagination and that’s by Grant Morrison. Nowhere near his best, it’s openly disdainful of WildC.A.T.S.’ past and satirises it effectively while still producing a viable action scenario. It also features Lee’s best art, divested of 1990s stylistic quirks and emphasising clarity.
Your expectation may be that this is a comprehensive collection of all Lee’s work on WildC.A.T.S., but that’s not the case. Nowhere to be found is a story he drew written by James Robinson, although Robinson is credited in the front of the book, where Scott Lobdell is missing. Lobdell wrote the teaming of the X-Men with WildC.A.T.S., set in the 1960s, as Lee attempts to approximate the style of 1960s X-Men artist Neal Adams. It’s not very successful.
Other artists are featured, most prominently Marc Silvestri drawing chapters of his Cyber Force team crossing over with WildC.A.T.S., even more of the era, and far from easy on the eye. Travis Charest manages a passable Lee impression on a short story, and Ryan Benjamin, Brett Booth and Rich Johnson also draw shorts.
The entire content has been recoloured, so doesn’t look entirely as you may remember, although it’s a viable updating of possibilities. While messing with the past isn’t to everyone’s taste, there are creators who feel adjustments enabled via improved technology result in a look closer to what was originally intended. If you’d prefer most of the content as per the 1990s it’s available in paperbacks titled Compendium, Killer Instinct and A Gathering of Eagles.
Once Lee dropped his 1990s affectations and embraced the talent always there, he became a far better artist, but for some people he’s never topped the energy rush of the early WildC.A.T.S. and if that’s your belief, you’re never going to see those issues looking better.