Sunday, July 31, 2016

Heroic Visions: The Savage Beast

So last time, I could have easily gone on at far greater length about just the comic book superhero characters that I mentioned. The Celestials, the "Alpha Team" of mutants, those two teams alone could have easily gotten their own, more elaborate articles. But there was one character that I purposefully left out of the article, both for time/space considerations, and because he too deserves his own spotlight. Perhaps more-so than the others I've already discussed, because he has more a more personal touch. Because he was a character that, in some ways at least, was meant to be a superhero version of me.

The first such character I ever created, using my imagination to conjure up a superhero version of myself, was straight up going to be an actual member of the X-Men. He was going to be the brand new teen (ala Jubilee), who got to sign up with the mighty mutants and go adventuring around with them. His name was "Lightning", and he started out just having the ability to fly (because I've always wanted to fly), and electric/energy powers similar to his namesake. I say "just", because as might be typical for a 12 or so year old kid to do, I eventually gave him more and more powers, to the point that it probably got kind of silly, such as super strength and invulnerability (ala Rogue), super speed (ala Quicksilver) and telekinesis (ala Phoenix). He was going to have the X-Men's trademark blue and gold color scheme for his look, a blue costume with a big gold/yellow lightning bolt on his chest (naturally). Looking back, if you tone down what would become his ridiculous pile of powers, Lightning was actually a decent character idea. But he was nothing, in terms of depth or intrigue, compared to the guy who would come to take his place.

This next character would never be part of the X-Men, but he would still be a part of the main "Marvel Universe" that they, and others like the Avengers and Fantastic Four, occupied. In contrast, all the characters I discussed in my previous article, exist in their own, unique universe.

Crappy old drawing, destroyed by time. And cats.

So as you can see above, the guy that would replace Lightning, is called "Wyldcat". Spelled with a "y", because obviously that's fuckin' cool. It's entirely possible that I created this character when I was 13, but just to be on the safe side, I'll estimate that I created him when I was 14, for sure. The first thing you might notice, for those who have been paying attention, is that my main e-mail was/is named after him. Created when I was about 14, I still use that account to this day as my "main" account.

 Instead of the ridiculous pile of powers that Lightning wound up with due to pre-teen avarice, Wyldcat, as you can plainly see, is a kind of tiger/human hybrid. As such, along with more readily obvious traits like fur and a tail, he also has (more or less) the proportionate abilities of a tiger, in human form, such as superhuman strength (more on Beast or Spider-Man's level, rather than Rogue or Colossus, for instance), speed, agility, stamina, and of course very sharp senses of smell, sight, hearing, etc. He possesses retractable claws on his hands and feet, his feet even being more cat-like in form. He also has an incredibly fast metabolism, which on the one hand means he has to eat a lot, but it also means that while he doesn't heal quite as fast as someone like Wolverine, he heals much faster than a normal human.

In all, Wyldcat is actually one of the less powerful superhero/villain type characters I've ever cooked up, comparably, but he is the kind of character who is powerful and dangerous not merely because of what he is, but also who he is. He is the type of character who is often ruled by passion and emotion (and primal instinct), and the type of character whose biggest asset, is perhaps his "heart", or force of will.

More than meets the eye.

The other aspect that might stand out to you, is that he carries a "bo" fighting staff, of sorts. And therein lies some of the intrigue and complexity of the character. For while he has razor sharp claws and could very easily carve up most bad guys like a Thanksgiving turkey, he is also in his heart a hero, and as such has an aversion to mutilating and killing people, if he can help it. So he instead often employs the use of his staff over his claws, a very strange staff with semi-mystical origins, which is wood yet basically unbreakable, a gift given to him by the man who raised him. Wyldcat is something of a martial artist, even beyond his staff, as he received martial arts training early in his life, but also over time developed his own unique style, wild and unpredictable yet fully controlled, based around his own unique physiology and abilities. So while he might pale in comparison to the raw power of someone like Cyclops, he is still one of the most dangerous individuals alive.

As you can see above, his original costume was essentially a blue and gold X-Men type outfit. But later on, I revised this, and gave him a far more original look, with basically dark gray/blue/black (alternating over time) leggings, a bare top (gotta show off that fur coat), and a cool "yin-yang" harness that holds his fighting staff on his back. Later still, his character would go through a physical change, his original orange Bengal tiger looking fur, giving way to a more white tiger appearance. In a way, taking on the white tiger appearance, would be indicative of his character growth.

All New, All Cooler Look. Same goddamn cats.

So to get right down to it, Wyldcat's origin story is both familiar and unique. He was born in Nova Scotia, Canada, to a young couple who were not only not ready for a baby, but certainly not ready to give birth to a "monster". While in Marvel Comics canon, most mutants don't display or develop their "mutantcy" until their teens, he was born a mutant, covered in fur, tail, little claws, the works. Being confused and afraid, the boy's parents left him on the doorstep of a church. And as fate would have it, that church happened to be connected to a very unusual group of people. They took the baby to a rather remote monastery, up in the mountains, that was inhabited by a rather eclectic bunch, which included Buddhist monks, Native American spiritualists, and even a secret Druid or two, posing as Christian priests to the outside world. One such man was Father Jediah, and while the whole monastery would have a hand in raising this strange child, he would become the closest thing to a surrogate parent the boy would know. The monks would raise him on a steady diet of martial arts, spiritualism, natural education, history, literature, the arts, and even some mysticism.

All things considered, even though he had a very sad start to his young life, the boy was raised with a sense of love and community, and while he knew he was different, and knew that he did not know his birth parents, he had a relatively happy childhood. However, he also possessed a fairly restless nature, and having never been allowed to go very far beyond the woods and mountains surrounding the monastery walls, by the time he had reached the ripe old age of 15, he decided that he wanted to leave. While fearful of what the greater world held for this young man, Father Jediah gave his blessing, knowing that he must be allowed to choose his own path in life. And so, with tearful goodbyes to his "brothers" (and "sisters"), the boy set out, spending his first few months alone, living wild, just exploring the Canadian wilderness.

His first brush with "heroism" would come though, when he ran across a young girl who had been abducted and taken up into the wilds, by a pair of suitably creepy men. Before they could carry out whatever they had planned for the child, Wyldcat tracked and hunted them down, for the first time in his life putting his fighting skills to a true test. The battle was short, and he left them tied fast to a tree, for the authorities to find. The girl was initially afraid of his appearance, but quickly came to be very grateful to the "Cat Man" who saved her, and took her back to civilization. It was in making sure she got home, that he had his first real brushes with human cities, and eventually, he found himself wandering into New York state, and ultimately, as if drawn by fate, New York City itself.

Bad ass? I think so.

Now while he did wear a hooded cloak of sorts to hide his mutant features from immediate notice, it wasn't long before he had his first taste of the darker side of human civilization. Largely naive to the ways of the world, while warned by Jediah that not everyone would accept him, he was still taken by surprise when assaulted by a group a local gang over his looks. He, naturally, made rather quick work of them, but this in turn brought him attention he didn't need, as there was now a violent "monster" on the loose in New York, and just like that he found himself on the run from the law. Fortunately, or not (time would tell), he ran into a certain kind of "help" that would change his life forever.

He found himself being saved from the police by a group of anarchistic young mutants who called themselves the "Mutant Rebellion", self-styled "freedom fighters", who claimed to be making a stand for mutant rights. They invited him to join their merry band, convincing him that he was "one of them", and that he could help them make a difference. Feeling like maybe he finally belonged somewhere, he took the offer, though it would take him some time to see the group for what it really was. His new "brethren" included: their enigmatic leader, Chaos, a mutant with the power to absorb just about any kind of energy, ambient or residual, either to augment his physical abilities, or to release in violent bursts. Titan, the second in command, a black dude who could transform his limbs (usually his arms) into ultra-dense carbon, making them super durable, and hard enough to punch through solid steel. Static, a free-spirited blonde with the power to generate electro-static energy. The couple, Gargoyle, who has wings and stone-hard skin, and his girlfriend Echo, who can manipulate planet-life (originally appearing here, while later having versions on the "Alpha Team" in my alternate hero universe). And last but hardly least, the mysterious and dangerous team teleporter Mist, who could create a strange glowing "mist" that only she can manipulate, to a wide variety of effects.

It was with these self-styled "Rebels" that he first really started to experience the world, and where he originally received his new code-name, "Wyldcat". While he had compunctions about some of their methods, such as their tendency to blow things up, and cause general mayhem, for a long while he bought into Chaos' rhetoric about having a message, and making a difference for mutants everywhere. It wasn't until over two years later, that the cracks in that facade would finally appear, as young 'Cat would experience his first real trauma. During one of the group's "missions", they had to fight their way out of a building, and in the heat of battle he lost control, using his claws and badly injuring a man. The team teleported away, leaving Wyldcat to wonder if he may or may not have actually killed someone. That fact would stick with him and haunt him for years to come.

The hands of doom.

That incident didn't cause him to immediately leave the "Rebellion", as he felt like he owed them, and believed they had become his new "family" in a way. But it did cause Wyldcat to finally see them for what they really were: not truly evil, but most definitely deserving of their public image as terrorists. He let himself see for the first time, that he had allowed himself to, in spite of good intentions, become one of the "bad guys". It was not long after that initial trauma, that he would meet another key figure in his life, a teenage boy who had the power to transmute energy into a crystalline sort of "armor" around his body, which he could manipulate mentally, a boy that would come to be known as "Gemstone". During an accidental public manifestation of his powers, young Gemstone found himself at the center of a lynch mob, and the fact that his "armor" protected him only spurred on their attack. Once again, the "Rebellion" swooped in to save a mutant in need, and once again Chaos invited another young mutant to "join the cause". Wyldcat, though now conflicted with his feelings for the group and their activities, also welcomed and befriended Gemstone, sensing a kindred spirit, someone naive and confused as he once was.

The big happy "family" carried on as they always had, their new addition in tow, for the next couple of months, business as usual. But Wyldcat felt more on edge than ever, not being able to shake an inexplicable sense of dread. His feelings would, sadly, prove prescient, and he would come to regret not having left the group sooner, as the last stand of their so-called "Rebellion" was at hand. As it turned out, certain secret government types had been tracking the groups movements for some time, and finally decided to spring a long-culminating trap to eliminate the terrorists for good. Lured by a false report of mutants being attacked in public, the entire group teleported in to "save the day", only to find themselves faced with a far more serious threat than they had ever faced before: the governments' answer to "The Mutant Problem", 20 foot tall mechanical monsters known as Sentinels (pictured above).

Tragedy struck, and the group met the fate perhaps that they had always been destined for, as the "Rebellion" found themselves outnumbered, outgunned and unprepared for such a challenge. Almost immediately, Mist abandoned her "friends", teleporting herself away, leaving them to their doom. Static and Titan found themselves captured, while Chaos, making a valiant stand and destroying several Sentinels by himself, eventually fell, as the Sentinels' secondary orders, if they could not incarcerate, was termination. In the confusion, Wyldcat, Gemstone, Gargoyle and Echo barely managed to escape with their lives, splitting up and going their separate ways, though all of them now more fugitive than ever.

Hope for the future?

While Gargoyle and Echo went into hiding, Wyldcat took Gemstone back to his family, and set out wandering again, alone. It wasn't long, however, before he was tracked down and caught himself, and he found himself take to an "undisclosed" top secret facility where mutants were apparently incarcerated, even studied and experimented on. It was at this facility where he met another young mutant, a boy who would come to named "Inferno", who had the power to turn his body into "living flames". Not being able to control this power, Inferno accidentally hurt his father during an argument, alerting the authorities to his existence, and leading to his incarceration. Unbeknownst to Wyldcat, this was the same facility that his former friends Titan and Static had been taken to, and Static most especially had become the focus of certain experiments with her powers, that wound up augmenting them considerably. She used this to her advantage, causing a power outage, and staging a jail-break, freeing Titan and several other young mutants, as well as unknowingly freeing Wyldcat and Inferno.

Once again on the run with a new friend in tow, they eventually met up with Gemstone, and the three young men made their way towards California's west coast. It was here, in the Bay Area, that they would finally find what they really needed: a place to belong. During a skirmish with a local chapter of the so-called "Friends of Humanity", an anti-mutant militia outfit, Wyldcat and Co. first crossed paths with another group of young mutants who called themselves "Legacy". Formed and led by the rich and quite famous corporate CEO, Richard Windstar, who himself was a mutant possessing psionic (mind) abilities, this team patterned themselves after other superhero groups, literally intending to be the next generation, to carry on that heroic "Legacy". Windstar had come to believe that mutant powers were a gift, and that they could and should be put to use making the world a better place.

Impressed by the way the mysterious trio handled themselves, Windstar offered them a place on the team, which they accepted. At first, they merely accepted to have somewhere to lay low, so they could stop living on the run. But gradually, they actually became part of the team, and felt like they were part of something bigger than themselves, something good. They found themselves among such personalities as: Shockwave, a rich Senator's sun who had fallen out with his family, mainly due to his power to channel kinetic energy into devastating blasts (hence his name). Jade, a brunette girl who not only has the ability to manipulate a wide array of energy fields (making her potentially one of the most powerful "superhumans" on the planet), but also later turns out to be Wyldcat's little sister (long story). Changeling,  a Japanese boy who can metamorph into practically any solid form. Morningstar, a German youth who channels raw life energy through his body, giving him the power to heal himself and others (which he also makes novel use of with a pair of swords). And Blitz, punk-rock girl with multi-colored hair, and the power to cause dormant residual elemental energies to quite literally explode to life.  

One of the coolest comic characters ever created.

I eventually would add a couple more characters to the "Legacy" team lineup over the years, such as the mysterious and beautiful "Blink", aka Clarice Ferguson, an actual Marvel Comics character. She had originally (and tragically) been killed off before she ever really became a superhero in normal continuity, during a mid-90s X-Men story called "The Phalanx Covenant". She was actually created by my favorite comic/X-Men writer, Scott Lobdell, whom I will undoubtedly write about more at a future date. Not too long later, they brought her back, in an alternate reality version of herself, during their line-wide 1995 epic storyline called "The Age of Apocalypse". That alternate world, itself, seemingly blew to shit at the end (SPOILERS), before the normal X-Men timeline comics resumed, but Blink was one of several characters who had a very vague fate. So I decided, in my awesome teenage wisdom, that she would wind up teleporting (which is part of her power), to the main Marvel reality Earth, where the Legacy team would find her and take her in. Because she was too good a character to be wasted, and I happened to think she was awesome (still do). It JUST so happens, that Marvel actually did dust the character off and bring her back, in 2001, first in her own (very MEH) mini-series, and then later in the very Sliders-esque "Exiles" comic. Naturally, while only existing in my imagination, I beat them to the punch (and made far better use of her), all the way back in like 1996.

So that is the overall story arc of Wyldcat, in a long nutshell. He went from orphaned baby, to being a ward for a very eclectic group of monks, to striking out on his own in his teens and unwittingly joining a terrorist group, to living on the run, and finally coming full circle to a destiny that surely Father Jediah had always known he was meant for, becoming a bonafide superhero with this new Legacy team. He even eventually meets the parents who abandoned him, through Jade, who turns out to be his sister. Though the fact didn't immediately make him hurt any less, it turned out that it had broken his parents' hearts to give him up. While he long thought they "threw him away", not wanting to raise a monster, the truth was that they were young and scared, and didn't know how to handle raising a mutant "tiger kid". It took time for wounds to start healing a little, but he eventually came to forgive them, realizing that perhaps his sheltered life with the monks was better than what his parents could have offered him. And they in turn readily embraced him as the son they always regretting giving up. They even had a third child, Wyldcat and Jade's younger brother, who had not yet (and perhaps never would) displayed any signs of also being a mutant.

Not that his life was "happily ever after", or that he wouldn't experience pain and struggle and tragedy along his path. Such is the life of most superheroes, after all. I won't get too into what all happens to Wyldcat as part of his adventures with the Legacy team. I will say that some major shit goes down over time (naturally), and the team eventually moves out of the United States and evolves into a larger organization called "Legion", a group that more pro-actively and openly trains young people, mutants and non-mutants alike, to work towards a better tomorrow. And while the team originates in the main Marvel universe, and spends their first many years there, due to the ridiculous state that (I personally feel) Marvel's comics got themselves to, I eventually decided that the entire team (and related persons) gets shunted to a separate alternate reality of their own.

Here's a badly edited better look at Wyldcat!

Wyldcat is, without a doubt, out of the literally dozens upon dozens of comic book characters I've imagined over the years, the one that I spent the most time imagining. He thus wound up getting the most elaborate characterization, background/history, adventures/stories, etc. And mind you, I came up with most of that character background, and the Legacy team, in 1996. Some details would be fleshed out over time, but all the important basics were there by then. I may have mentioned before, but I would really love to travel to an alternate reality where things I've dreamed up, like these comics, like Wyldcat comics, actually existed, so that I could read them and enjoy them. He's one of my favorite creations, in any medium, that I've ever yet conjured up, and so I thought I'd share him with you all. I hope you all found the awesome martial arts-y "Tiger Dude" as interesting as I always did. Until next time!