I mean, let’s be honest here, everyone has a character they’re fond of for no readily explainable reason. I mean, there are people out there who are actually Swamp Thing fans, if you can believe it. Why, exactly, I would end up with Wildcat as my favorite character is a bit of a mystery, even to myself. The first encounter I had with him was in Crisis on Infinite Earths, and that was less than an auspicious introduction.
Not only is he feeling sorry for himself, but he gets himself crippled by dumb luck. And his appearances in the next few issues are still Ted feeling sorry for himself, or other characters feeling sorry for him. And then Yolanda Montez shows up and takes his name and costume and that’s that. Now, don’t get me wrong, Yolanda was a perfectly fine character, even if she was primarily introduced to make the DC Universe less male and WASP-ish (see, nerds, it’s not just a recent thing, so get the hell over yourselves). And she certainly deserved a better fate than what she got, killed off with a bunch of third-stringers to try and convince us that Eclipso could possibly be any kind of threat. But in Crisis, Ted comes off as fairly expendable, but at least well-liked enough to not actually go ahead and kill.
That self-loathing angst he had in Crisis seems to be a fairly popular way for writers to try and get an angle on Ted. Being one of the few Golden Age heroes to still appear on a semi-regular basis, portraying him as the “past his prime” man in the midst of a mid-life crisis must seem like an obvious approach to take, especially since he lacks the deus ex machina powers of other characters that made the transition to the Silver Age and contemporary comics. I sometimes get annoyed by its over-use, but I can’t argue against it too much: it is pretty much how he was introduced into modern comics.
It’s also marked his too few appearances in other media. His appearance in Justice League Unlimited had him joining a super-powered “fight club” to prove that he still had what it takes to stay in the super-hero business, and his appearance in Batman: The Brave and The Bold had him in denial about his age, before semi-retiring to train younger heroes. It’s a valid interpretation of the character, but it’s too mired in thirty to forty year old stories involving him for my taste. I’m much fonder of the more adventurer-based, man-of-the-world Wildcat that appeared in several team-up stories in The Brave and The Bold.
My first real, ongoing exposure to Wildcat was in the 1992 Justice Society of America series by Len Strazewski and Mike Parobeck. Now this was a Ted Grant I could get behind. Light-hearted, joking, palling around with the Atom. All in all, a fairly grounded and humanistic character surrounded by god-like characters. That there seemed to be something…special, shall we say, about his relationship with the Atom didn’t hurt at all.
And pretty much from there I was hooked. I went back and scrounged up all the appearances I could, and even managed to complete a set of the “Super Squad” era of All Star Comics, just in time for DC to put out a nice two volume set. These stories, along with the Batman team-ups, form probably the core of the Wildcat “canon.” The two most important aspects of his characterization are established here: his fist-first attitude:
And his bickering with Power Girl.
This is actually a significant improvement over Wildcat’s Golden Age appearances. Irwin Hasen’s art is beautiful, but Bill Finger did tend to write him as basically a blue-collar Batman. A lot of his Golden Age charm comes from some of the lighter moments that Finger did manage to get in there, such as Ted getting the inspiration to become Wildcat, after being framed for murder by fight-fixers, from a kid reading Green Lantern comics.
Although the absurdity of a costumed crime-fighter, calling himself Wildcat, who shows up right after Ted Grant, whose nick-name is Wildcat, gets framed, and that same crime-fighter taking a special interest in the guys who framed Grant…and no one realizing the obvious, is fairly charming.
Though perhaps the loss of his allegedly comedy relief side-kick “Stretch” Skinner to comics history isn’t to be lamented.
(I’ve just doomed Stretch to getting killed off in a Geoff Johns comic by reminding the world of him, haven’t I?)
Of course, the finest Ted Grant moment is in JSA #10, when he single-handedly defeats the Injustice Society, after they interrupt his bath/phone sex with Catwoman.
Which gives us ample opportunity for the incredibly sexy Wildcat that Steve Sadowski drew in his time on the title.
Over the course of this fight, Ted runs over Count Vertigo and Geomancer with his Cat-O-Cyle, straps Icicle into a Dr. No laser table, drops Blackbriar Thorn down an elevator shaft, beats the crap out of the Golden Wasp (son of the only “super-villain” Ted really fought solo in his run in Sensation Comics), oh, and drops a statue of Ma Hunkel on Tigress, daughter of his retconned in arch-enemies Huntress and Sportsmaster…
And, of course, at the end of it all, Ted knows where his true priorities lie:
So, why Wildcat? A working class hero in a world of billionaire playboys resonates with me. An unapologetically low-power hero in a world of gods appeals to me. The accepted at face value silliness of his look and origin is exactly the sort of glorious nonsense I want from super-hero books. And, yes, even the occasionally over-done angsting over being an older man in a young man’s game gives him something unique.
Plus, artists like to draw him looking really, really effing hot.