I’ve learned I’ll do anything to avoid writing. Like more research; after enjoying Power Down (see previous post) I pulled out some of my old comics, looking for the ones that I enjoyed the most. One short series–not so old–that stood out in my collection is Wildguard, by Todd Nauck.
That’s not Wildguard; that’s the Ultra-Mega-Super-Five (and yes, there are six of them, but they had so many roster changes they finally stopped changing the count in their official name). They’re actually sort of jerks, but they’re the oldest superteam in the Wildguard Universe (the Wildverse?) and probably the toughest. Kind of like the Justice League. This is Wildguard.
To be more precise, this is the cast of contestants in the 6-issue Wildguard: Casting Call miniseries.That’s right, contestants. It seems a mystery-producer decided to found a new superteam, one with its own reality show–they’d fight crime with cameras following them around, kind of like Cops. And what better way to start the show than with an American Idol-style contest, the prize being a place on the team roster? Indeed.
Now, I’d never heard of Todd Nauck, and hadn’t been interested in picking up another superhero title at the time, but when I thumbed through the first issue at the store I was hooked. Here’s why.
Todd Nauck played it absolutely straight. He created, from the ground up, a new superhero universe. Not a parody universe, either; highly cinematic, four-color even, it is populated by authentic characters, a whole new crowd of serious superheroes who take themselves absolutely seriously. (Alright, I can’t count Adhesor, or Crimson Phantom Vengeance, or Segmented Man, but those guys wash out early, and the rest are serious superheroes. So, a little parody.)
So it’s a serious setting, and it’s hilarious! After all, we’re talking about a bunch of heroes vying for spots on a reality-show team! Could there be a more pointed comment on our celebrity-obsessed culture? And of course things don’t go according to plan. First a giant robot crashes through the base/studio, then the contestants are attacked by a legion of flying *spoiler.* Mysterious Producer X is revealed to be *spoiler.* But the producers and contestants soldier on, incorporating the various complications into the program, and in the end the winners are *spoiler* *spoiler* *spoiler* *spoiler.* Todd followed up the six issues of Casting Call with a handful of stand-alone issues, but then he got too busy illustrating mainstream comics for Marvel and DC–yes, the Big 2 co-opted him; personally I think they were scared of him.
So why was Wildguard such a hit for me? For one thing you just know that if we really had superheroes they’d be huge public celebrities (in fact I riffed on the idea shamelessly in Wearing the Cape). And it wasn’t just the reality-show team; the Wildverse had a superhero boy-band (Powerplay), an alien hosting a Saturday Night Live-type variety show, at least one magazine dedicated to All Things Superhero, etc.
Wearing the Cape is different; superheroes in the Wildverse come with all sorts of origins–there are classic superheroes, aliens, androids, sorceresses, fairy sorceresses, pixie-dwarfs (you read that right), and in the course of the comics the team encounters threats from outer space and fantasy worlds. WtC, on the other hand, has one origin for all superheroes (the mysterious Event), and if some might think they’re wizards, gods, vampires, etc., the public just goes along with it. But as in Wildguard, some heroes are in it for the fame. And some are jerks, too. Gaining superpowers and putting on a cape and mask doesn’t make them any less human, or make them immune to the consequences when they screw up. Wildguard was one of the comics that showed me a good superhero story was a human story.
Note: the graphic novel edition of Casting Call is out of print–but if you’re quick you can find a copy on Amazon (less than 20 New available, then you’ve got to settle for Used).