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Graphic Novel Review: WildCats Version 3.0: Year One by Joe Casey, Dustin Nguyen and Richard Friend

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With the recent news that DC Comics is calling it quits with its subsidiary comics imprint Wildstorm, you can’t help but approach the new trade collection of WildCats Version 3.0 a little cautiously. The book reprints half of the 24-issue comic series’ limited run, which begs the inevitable question: will DC put out a collection of the second half?

One hopes so, as the series by writer Joe Casey with artists Dustin Nguyen and Richard Friend is an enjoyably smart-alecky one. Taking some superhero characters from the line’s earliest days and re-imagining them in the world of corporate sleaziness proves an inspired move on Casey’s part. In an era where we’re most of us feeling the fall-out from years of corporate ineptitude and malfeasance, the idea of a hyper-intelligent biosynthetic being coming in to retool the financial landscape has its allure. Version 3.0 smartly plays that up, even as it provides enough violent comic book action to hold the ADHD fanboys.

The story centers on the efforts of Jack Marlowe (formerly known as Spartan), an alien humanoid with the power to shift through dimensions who has become the CEO of the multinational conglomerate Halo. Marlowe wants to use his advanced intelligence and access to alien technology to position Halo at the top of the heap. This he does with a battery that’s guaranteed to “last forever.”

Aiding him in his empire building are the unshaven mercenary Grifter (the aptly named Cole Cash) and an agent from the National Park Service named Wax. The latter possesses hypnotic powers that he is not above using to dubious ends. Rounding out our quarter of powers behind the scenes in C.C. Rendozzo, a ruthlessly amoral information broker who first is at odds with Marlowe’s crew but ultimately allies with ‘em.

Caught in the middle of the Machiavellian action are two ordinary guy number crunchers, Edwin Dolby and Sam Garfield, who find themselves working for Marlowe after Halo buys their accounting firm. Dolby, the younger and more forward thinking of the two, is quickly thrust into the violent fray after Grifter gets seriously shot up in a mission to retrieve a chemically super-agent named Agent Orange. “It seems as if this aspect of our work is forever fated to remain chaotic,” Spartan blandly notes, and Casey plays this aspect of the storyline for some amusing dark comedy involving a Cleaver-esque family of F.B.I. agents built to emulate the Eisenhower Era nuclear family.

Sam Garfield, the second average Joe to get swept up by Halo, isn’t manhandled, though he struggles even more with the change — in large part because the accounting firm he’d been managing was sold to Halo by his father. Seemingly shoved to the sidelines to manage an office of drones, Garfield’s frustration and disappointment mount to the point of Falling Down violence.

The point is while we’re pretty sure the WildCats are on the side of the angels in their goal of reshaping the global economy — one of the first things we see them do is blow up a child labor exploiting Vietnamese sweatshop — the effects aren’t always so benevolent for the individuals who cross paths with them. Too, both Grifter and Wax have their decidedly anti-heroic tendencies, the second revealed most disturbingly in a subplot where the Park Services agent uses his hypnotic mojo on his boss’ arrogant wife. It’s a calculatedly unpleasant moment, designed to push our willingness to go along with the characters — and I’m still not sure I wanna accept it.

Year One is “Suggested for Mature Readers,” and while there are obscenities a-plenty in this book, the real challenging aspect of it proves to be Casey’s satiric eye toward the global money world. The real enemy, one character states early in the book, during the Revolutionary War wasn’t the British but British corporations like the East India Tea Company. In Version 3.0, national allegiance is not as significant as global company allegiance — and it takes a creature from off-planet to most effectively capitalize on that fact.

Nyugen and Friend’s art breezily shifts from straightforward action sequences to slightly more cartoonly comedy (in both the depictions of the Nuclear Family and the regular Halo Corp ads used as punctuation through the volume) without compromising the series’ look and tone. It’s suitably slick for a story that at heart is about the insidiousness of branding and product.

“It’s going to be an interesting year,” Marlowe says at the end of Year One after Halo has just absorbed a major multi-national media conglomerate. I have no doubt about that at all. But will the corporate fiddlers overseeing DC give us the opportunity to read the rest of the story?

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.