Sunday, February 22, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: WildC.A.T.s -- More Craptastic Saturday Morning Superheroes

Last week I discussed the aggressively mediocre Ultraforce animated show from 1995, and how it grew out of the desire to incubate another superhero success story a la Fox's Marvel Comics-inspired X-Men 'toon. Well, Ultraforce wasn't the only specimen to emerge from that particular eugenics lab. Another such try aired on CBS a year earlier, and this one probably had more of a claim on some of that X-Men mojo. I'm speaking of WildC.A.T.s, based on a comic book created by artist Jim Lee in late '92.

Lee had, of course, made his bones by revitalizing the X-Men characters for Marvel in the early '90s, including designing the various costumes and accoutrements that would appear in the animated show. But disenchantment with the state of corporate comics at the time, where artists would see their work appear on t-shirts, posters, and other merchandising without much payback, led him and many of his fellow Marvel mainstays to bolt and form their own company, Image Comics.

I won't get into some of the other titles in the line, but it's plain to see that Lee's contribution, WildC.A.T.s (that stands for "Covert Action Teams"), was a pretty blatant X-Men clone. Nonetheless, his level of fame was such that most fans didn't seem to notice or care. I read it when it first came out, and while 12-year-old me loved it, 35-year-old me couldn't begin to tell you what it was about beyond the pretty pictures. Some hugger-mugger about ancient aliens in human form waging war in the present while wearing skintight spandex and/or thongs.

Still, there were enough idiots like me in the audience that the comic took off right out the gate, and it wasn't long before network TV came calling. The result was the WildC.A.T.s animated series, which debuted as part of the CBS Saturday morning lineup in October of 1994, one year after the Eye tried a slightly more original comic book adaptation with Cadillacs & Dinosaurs. WildC.A.T.s was animated by Nelvana, the same Canadian production house that put out Cadillacs, but the qualitative difference was substantial. Observe:

That song. Ugh.

Seriously. Ugh.

I remember tuning in with a certain degree of anticipation to the premiere, and I also remember not making it through the entirety of first episode. That it was terrible isn't all that surprising in hindsight. It dumbed-down an already-dumbed-down rip-off of a better concept. If CBS was hoping for another X-Men, this wasn't it. And audiences knew it, ignoring the show in droves. WildC.A.T.s did its tour with thirteen episodes that one presumes were just as mediocre as the pilot, and that was that.

As it happens, its cancellation coincided with the bottom falling out of the comic market as a whole. As with the Ultraverse last week, the mid-'90s wasn't a great time for superhero ventures not put out by DC or Marvel, and with the market collapsing, Lee sought safe harbor with the big two, eventually selling his line of characters to DC in 1998, signing an exclusive agreement in the process. That's paid dividends for him, as he rode that sale to eventually become co-publisher (he even spearheaded the publisher's big 2011 relaunch).

As for WildC.A.T.s, while we still see the characters show up in random DC titles every now and then, the cartoon rightly dropped into the memory hole where it belongs. It was released on DVD in a complete series set about ten years ago, but that set is long out-of-print and, I assure you, not worth the lunatic prices it's commanding online. If you're really interested in checking it out, you can watch the first episode below via YouTube, and I'm sure you'll agree that it feels like something the C.A.T. dragged in.

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: DuckTales! Woo-ooh!

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: RoboCop: The Series -- The Future of Law Enforcement Gets Syndicated

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Night Man -- Marvel's Short-Lived Media Star

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