REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS WILDCAT
One of the cool things about Mattel's excellent line of DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS action figures is their willingness to turn out figures from just about anywhere in the DC Universe -- and just about any time period. This includes characters that, although they are still active today, got their starts in the Golden Age of DC Comics.
There's honestly been no shortage of them, especially lately. In recent assortments, we've seen Doctor Mid-Nite, Starman, Hourman, Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, and others. If they'd just get around to Jay Garrick, the original Flash, we'd be pretty well set.
One character that goes back a couple of assortments, but which only recently came into my collection, is yet another prominent Golden Age character -- WILDCAT.
There have actually been several characters known as Wildcat in the DC Universe, but this is the original -- Ted Grant. Created by writer Bill Finger and artist Irwin Hasen, he first appeared in Sensation Comics #1, in January of 1942. Let's consider his background.
A world-class heavyweight boxer, Grant became inadvertently entangled in the criminal underworld and developed a costumed identity to clear his name. He also soon became the Heavyweight Champion of the World.
Technically, Ted Grant is a normal human who was, at some unspecified point, given a magical "nine lives". He remains at the peak of human condition due to extensive regular exercise. He is a world-class boxer who trained Batman in the art. He was trained to fighting condition by ex-boxer Joe Morgan.
As to his origin, which is chronicled in Sensation Comics #1, as well as Secret Origins #3 (1973) and All-Star Squadron Annual #1 (1982): Henry Grant vowed on his baby son's crib that the child would not grow up afraid of life, and so he encouraged his son in sports and paid for coaching that would have continued into the young man's college days, except that both Henry Grant and his wife died.
Orphaned in the days of the Great Depression, Ted Grant found himself unemployed in the big city. One night he saved "Socker" Smith, the heavyweight boxing champion, from a mugging. "Socker" took Ted under his wing and soon Ted was a heavyweight champ in his own right. He also unknowingly became entangled in his manager's sinister plans. As a result, his mentor "Socker" Smith was killed by a boxing glove loaded with a poison needle by Grant's manager's Flint and Skinner. The dose was only intended to slow Smith, but the duo misjudged the potency.
When Grant was arrested for the crime, Flint and Skinner, afraid he might know what had happened, arranged a hit on the young fighter. Ted Grant survived, but the policemen with him were dead. He became a fugitive and came upon a kid who was robbed of his Green Lantern comic. The kid, describing the mystery-man Green Lantern, inspired Ted to create a costume of a large black cat. He took the name of Wildcat and vowed to clear his name. He brought Flint and Skinner to justice, and the villains were forced to confess and Grant's name was cleared. Wildcat continued to fight against crime.
In the pages of All-Star Comics, Wildcat had a few adventures as a member of the Justice Society of America, and in the 1980's, when the All-Star Squadron title was published and created a retroactive continuity in which the majority of the World War II-era mystery-men interacted with each other, Wildcat had a place as a member of that group of heroes as well. The 1970's run of All-Star Comics also had Wildcat play a central role as a Justice Society member.
In 1985, during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Ted's legs were shattered by an out-of-control Red Tornado, and he was told that he would never walk again. However, in the post-Crisis reboot, Ted Grant's injuries sustained during the Crisis were downgraded from paraplegia to less severe injuries that Ted quickly recovered from. He was also still a former heavyweight boxing champion. In addition, Ted is credited for being an expert at several other martial arts, including Krav Mega, Hapkido, Muay Thai, and Capoeira, although he prefers to trade punches as part of his brawling style.
After the Crisis, Ted was present when the Justice Society willingly exiled themselves into Limbo in order to prevent the mythological event known as Ragnarok from taking place. He and the Society remained there for several years, until they were freed in the storyline in Armageddon: Inferno. He was later present during the Justice Society's encounter with the villain Extant, during the Zero Hour storyline, and fell victim to Extant's time manipulation powers, which aged Wildcat and several other members of the Society to advanced old age. However, following the universe being reset at the end of Zero Hour, Wildcat, along with Jay Garrick, found themselves once again de-aged, and appearing to be roughly in their 50's.
Following Zero Hour, Wildcat entered a period of semi-retirement and became a full-time trainer, continuing to train younger super-heroes in martial arts. It was in the wake of Zero Hour as well, that new details were revealed about Wildcat's past. One of these was the existence of two sons. One of these, Tom Bronson, was known to Ted, but he did not enter the boy's life until recently when the villain Vandal Savage began systematically murdering the children and grandchildren of the Golden Age heroes.
It was revealed that Tom is a metahuman. He is able to transform into a werecat -- half-human, and half-feline -- humanoid, but with head-to-toe black fur, a tail, claws, and a panther-like face. He formed a bond with his long-absent father, and after some reluctance, briefly took the code-name Wildcat, and has joined the Justice Society, although he has since taken a new code name, Tomcat.
Ted Grant is generally portrayed as a rowdy tough guy, with a mild streak of male chauvinism. He has been a mentor to many modern heroes, including training Batman in various fighting skills, as well as to Black Canary. Along with Alan Scott and Jay Garrick, he's largely regarded as one of the "elder statesmen" of the Justice Society and the super-hero world, a role he's not entirely comfortable with.
Wildcat has no super-powers per se, with one exception. At one point he had a curse placed upon him by a sorcerer named King Inferno, which was intended to transform him into a cat. Instead, the magician Zatara reworked the curse, giving Ted Grant "nine lives". It has been revealed that Ted now has nine lives at any given time, meaning that he has to be killed nine times in rapid succession in order to be killed permanently. This ability has also served to slow his aging and maintain his vitality.
Wildcat continues to serve with the Justice Society of America, and keeps an eye on his son, who is part of the JSA All-Stars team.
Additionally, Wildcat has appeared in the Justice League Unlimited animated series, in an episode "The Cat and the Canary", where he was competing in Roulette's Meta-Brawl, fighting assorted super-villains in an illegal arena-like contest. Black Canary made a deal with Roulette for her to fight her mentor; if she won, Roulette would ban Wildcat from Meta-Brawl, but if Wildcat won, Black Canary would never get involved with his activities there again. Green Arrow used a knockout gas arrow on Black Canary, and fought wildcat, faking his own death using an unseen stunner that put him in metabolic stasis. This helped Wildcat to see the horror of the matches, and he quit.
Wildcat has also appeared in the Batman: Brave and the Bold series, not inappropriately voiced by F. Lee Ermey. Wildcat has been in several episodes, including one in which he and Batman went up against none other than Bane.
Ted also briefly appeared in the Smallville episode "Absolute Justice", which featured the Justice Society. Clark Kent views old black-and-white footage of Ted. Very little is said about him, other than that he is still alive and a heavyweight champion. His boxing gloves are later shown in a display case at the JSA headquarters.
So, how's the figure? Really very cool. Admittedly, Wildcat is not one of the more colorful characters in the DC Universe, but the Four Horsemen managed to add a fair number of special touches to the figure to overcome this.
There are reportedly two Wildcat figures out there. One has a very dark blue uniform, the other has a black uniform. The actual color of Wildcat's costume is probably open to a certain amount of interpretation, just based on art and printing styles over the decades. While it could be argued that Wildcat's costume is black, it's always generally been presented as looking -- to me, anyway -- as a very dark blue with a lot of black shadow inking used to make it look that much darker. The fact that Mattel made two versions of the figure, however, clearly leaves the uniform color open to interpretation. Personally, I wanted the blue one, and that's the version that I now have.
For the most part, the body uses the standard body molds common to many of the adult male heroes in the DC Universe Classics line. It's an excellent design, and honestly, I sincerely appreciate the consistency that this design and practice has given the line. It's one of the reasons I'm not happy about the forthcoming change in many of the figures to add double-jointed elbows and knees. It's not necessary, it cuts up the figure that much more, it looks like heck, it doesn't work well -- and that's something I'd say about its use in almost any action figure line -- and in the case of DC Universe Classics, takes away a big part of the consistency.
Fortunately, Wildcat goes back to an assortment well before this notion was conceived. The body is well assembled and properly articulated. Wildcat is pretty much a solid very dark steel blue in color, which is how I've always envisioned him, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.
There was another reason I wanted the dark blue version of Wildcat. There is, really, only one other figure (that I can think of offhand and that's in my collection) in the DC Universe Classics line that is wearing an entire single-color costume, and that's Black Manta, Aquaman's arch enemy, who was released in Wave 2. And as befits his name, he's dressed entirely in black. He manages to be somewhat prominent despite the seemingly drab wardrobe thanks to that funky helmet of his that looks like a UFO with two big eyes in the middle of it. But apart from feeling that dark blue is more appropriate for Wildcat, I decided I just didn't want two figures in the collection dressed entirely in black if it wasn't necessary, and for Wildcat, to me, it wasn't. Your opinion on the proper color for Wildcat's costume may vary, of course.
So, if Wildcat is basically wearing a solid dark blue bodysuit -- no cape, no utility belt, no distinct gloves, boots, or trunks -- what sets him apart? His lower arms, hands, feet, and certainly his mask. Let's deal with them in order, shall we?
Doubtless in keeping with his boxing background, Wildcat tends to keep his hands, except for the tips of his fingers and thumbs, wrapped with strong athletic tape, up past his wrists. Now, I'll be perfectly honest, I'm not enough of an athlete myself to really understand this practice. I've certainly seen it often enough. I don't follow boxing, but I know that boxers do this. I've certainly seen professional wrestlers and football players do it. I have to suppose that it provides a measure of strength and protection.
I guess the thing that I don't quite get about the use of athletic tape is that you'd think someone by now would have invented a tight-fitting glove that would accomplish the same thing, but maybe it's just not that workable. People's hands just differ in size too much.
As for Wildcat, given the frequent practice of using athletic tape, and Wildcat's own background as a boxer, it makes sense. Wildcat isn't a detective, he doesn't have any super-powers except his "nine lives" ability, which doesn't really grant him anything like enhanced strength -- all he has is his training as a fighter, which fortunately for him is usually enough. But it's understandable that he's going to want to take some appropriate precautions as he has been trained.
The figure as such has distinct lower arms and hands. It is to the great credit of the Four Horsemen that along with creating a standard body mold for many of the DC Universe Classics figures, they can readily create new parts that fit smoothly into the design. For most of their length, Wildcat's lower arms are indistinguishable from anybody else's that use the standard molds. But just above the wrist, the tape starts. And then of course there are the hands, which are also wrapped, except for the tips of the fingers and thumbs. Wildcat has obviously heavily taped his hands and wrists, and the effect looks a bit like leftovers from a bad mummy movie, but they work. The sculpting is excellent and well-detailed, and Wildcat's fingers and thumbs, even though in clenched fists, have been painted an appropriate flesh tone.
Then there's the feet. You want to talk distinct? I'd forgotten about this aspect of Wildcat. He wears these shoes, worked into the overall bodysuit, that have five distinct toes with short, cat-like claws on them. Now, I'm reasonably certain that the toes are Wildcat's own, but I would suspect that the claws are part of the costume. He's not Wolverine.
One might tend to wonder how much good clawed feet do someone that usually works with his fists, but let us remember that Wildcat is proficient with several martial arts. He may lead with his fists, but doubtless he's capable of some healthy kicks when the situation calls for it. It wouldn't surprise me if he's reasonably adept at kickboxing, as well. And if you're wearing shoes that have built-in claws -- if the kick doesn't get them, the claws are going to still do some damage.
The feet of the figure are very interesting. They have the five distinct toes per foot, and the claws, but more than that, there's a distinct sole to the bottom of each foot, which allows just enough space for the claws to protrude a little bit. This makes sense, otherwise all Wildcat would be walking around in would be a thin layer of cloth protecting the bottom of his feet. And let's face it, people, there are plenty of places where you wouldn't want to walk around in just your stocking feet. So Wildcat's costume has these protective soles on them, that have been given a surprisingly detailed tread-like pattern underneath. I think I had some flip-flops with a pattern similar to this one time. Nevertheless, it's an interesting additional detail to the figure, that the Four Horsemen should definitely be commended for.
Finally, there's the head. Easily Wildcat's most distinctive feature. If you're wearing a single-colored bodysuit, you'd better have something that's going to set you apart, and for Wildcat, it's the headpiece. It's designed to look reasonably feline. It's a tight-fitting cowl, with cat-like ears protruding from the sides near the back, and a cat-like muzzle beneath the eyes and around the nose. The muzzle is gray with little dots representing whiskers on it. I have to say that this detail is remarkable well done, especially since I think it was done by hand. And yet there is a pattern to it. Still, imagine being given a fine pen and told to put dots on who knows how many Wildcat figure heads. Wow...
The mask is completed by these two straps that hang down. It almost looks like they're two sides of a chin strap that Ted Grant just can never quite be bothered to snap into place, or whatever. Nevertheless, it's part of the character's look, and they've been sculpted superbly well here.
Then we have the face itself. It's interesting in how deepset it is on the head, and I wonder just a bit if it was molded as a separate part and assembled into the rest of the head. I can't quite tell. In either case, the design of the head is exceptionally impressive. Ted Grant's eyes show through the eyepieces, and have been superbly painted in great detail. His eyes are blue, by the way. The lower part of his face has a determined-looking mouth, and a prominent chin. It definitely suits the character. And it's either been made to look a little rugged, or the paint that was used on it was a little thicker than it should have been, and left a slightly rough surface. If that's the case, on anyone else, I'd be upset. On Wildcat, it works.
Any complaints? Well, the head is a little loose in its socket, and for some reason doesn't turn all that well. I'm a little concerned about it, and am hopeful that it's not going to pop off, or worse, break off. Granted, these figures do not see a lot of hard use, so I'm sure he'll be okay. Maybe it's a factor of how the head was assembled, or is just a slight glitch on this figure, I really don't know. However, this is a relatively minor point on an otherwise truly superb figure.
So, what's my final word here? I'm sincerely pleased that the DC Universe Classics line has shown a willingness to bring in a number of Golden Age heroes, including Wildcat. I am not old enough to remember the Golden Age myself, of course, but I certainly respect it and the characters that were developed in it, and I think it's part of what sets the DC Universe ahead of many other worlds of heroes -- not to malign them, I should say. They have their own cool heroes, but the extensive history of the DC Universe is unmatched.
Wildcat may look a little plain relative to some of the other figures, but he's a cool character with plenty of history, and he remains an active part of the DC Universe to this day. Anyone who's collecting the DC Universe Classics line will enjoy adding this figure to their collection, and Mattel and the Four Horsemen have really done an amazing job with him.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of WILDCAT definitely has my highest recommendation!