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Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Wildcat: Loner

Loner is the second character to be rescued from the pages of the now obscure fortnightly Wildcat comic, which ran a mere 12 issues between October 1988 and April 1989. The adventures of the various crewmen and crewwomen continued in the merged Eagle and Wildcat, Loner having a good run, appearing every few issues (the various crew members rotating) for a while, and then regularly between October 1989 and April 1990.

The premise of the comic was covered in my review of the previous Wildcat compilation featuring Turbo Jones. There is a brief, one-page recap in the new book that outlines the basics: a potential new planet has been discovered and with Earth gone it is up to the crew of the Wildcat to explore the new world for potential hazards.

There are plenty of hazards (what did you expect?) for Loner as he touches down on an unexplored plain. A former mercenary, "mean, tough... ruthless!", his only weapon an antique six-gun converted to fire an assortment of bullets.

Having a black hero in British comics wasn't a first, but it was still unusual. The storylines were also unexpected, with the ultra-masculine Loner first facing a race of alien furballs – fuzzballs, as Loner calls them – with spines like cattle prods. Electric tribbles are the least of his worries: before long he encounters a rather more savage-looking lizard creature in an underworld beneath the planet's surface. Captured, Loner learns that the lizard-creature is an alien, trapped on the planet, who has made slaves of the fuzzballs with its telepathic powers. The creature can also use Loner's own memories against him.

Sent to destroy another alien creature that is threatening the underworld, Loner undergoes a process to evolve his brain so he can use advanced weaponry by telepathy. He'll need to... the monster is the size of a high rise flat.

Thus begins Loner's adventures on the unexplored planet, a very different set of situations that face Turbo Jones and the other explorers sent down to the planet's surface. However, therein lies part of the problem with Wildcat: although aimed at a younger age group than 2000AD, it limited itself to planetary exploration, specifically one planet, and while the individual stories were varied, they were still only variations on a single theme. Look at the early issues of 2000AD with its space travel, near future invasion, violent sports game, a bionic man, time travel, dinosaurs and fascistic future cop – if you didn't like one future, you were probably captivated by another. 

Still, as a concept, Wildcat was an interesting one. Loner, a Jimi Hendrix lookalike (even moreso after gaining a headband), was a tough, no nonsense hero who owed more to Richard Roundtree for his attitude and, according to artist David Pugh, both Hendrix and the Senegalese singer Baba Maal.

Barrie Tomlinson, the writer, managed to keep the series racing along with a lengthy tale that began as The Incredible Shrinking Man, but which took a surreal turn when tiny Loner meets a giant version of himself. By now, Wildcat had merged with Eagle and the strip went through a period of complete stories before returning to serials in the new planet's post-colonisation era. Loner leaves the planet and returns to being a bounty hunter in a now busy galaxy full of inhabited planets, this left turn in the plot coinciding with a change of artist, David Pugh giving way to Eric Bradbury.

This period saw one of Loner's finest stories, as he tries to help an alien friend foil a plan to reconstruct an ancient stone that is also a weapon of terrible power. It's a long tale packed with plenty of interplanetary action, aliens that appear genuinely alien, and plenty of heroics and wisecracks from our hero.

The book includes a complete selection of Loner's appearances in specials and annuals. With over 200 pages of stories, there's plenty to enjoy in this latest volume from the Treasury of British Comics, especially once Loner breaks away from the bounds of exploring a single planet and enters his interplanetary phase.

Wildcat: Loner by Barrie Tomlinson, David Pugh and Eric Bradbury.
Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08684-1, 5 September 2019, 224pp, £14.99. Available via Amazon.

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