JSA Legacies: No. 14 – Wildcat


Wildcat 1

Wildcat’s is an interesting story to reflect upon. He was a Forties also-ran, who was twice elevated to Justice Society membership, only be be immediately rejected through no fault of his own. Discounting the Trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, he was the last JSA member to be brought back in the Silver Age. He appeared more often with Batman in Brave & Bold than he did in JLA/JSA team-ups, yet from the All-Star revival in 1976, his status has grown and he has been an ever more central figure in the Justice Society, to the point where his absence has become unthinkable.
It’s a bit like Green Arrow’s career path, as explored on here at length not long ago, except that the Big Cat has never at any time been made over: his time finally came, and when it did, it stayed.
Wildcat was created in 1942 by writer Bill Finger and artist Irwin Hasen, for Sensation Comics 1. Sensation was dominated by Wonder Woman, but Wildcat’s series was consistently the second most popular in the anthology. Wildcat was Ted Grant, whose father Henry had intended for him never to be afraid of anything, and who had been trained in all sorts of sports discipline. But Henry Grant’s death had left Ted penniless, unable to go to college. Whilst searching for something he could do, Grant stopped two muggers attacking a man in an alley: the man he saved turned out to be Heavyweight Champion ‘Socker’ Smith, who took Grant under his wing, and started him in a boxing career.
Grant turned out to be a natural fighter and his career began to take off, leading eventually to a match against Smith. Their crooked managers, Flint and Skinner, sought to fix the fight by slipping a drugged needle into Grant’s glove, but they misjudged the dosage and Smith was killed. The managers pinned the blame on Grant and tried to kill him by running the Police van off the road, but though the Police were killed, Grant survived. He went on the run, trying to clear his name. After hearing a kid talking about his Green Lantern comic, Grant was inspired to create his own masked identity. He became Wildcat, dressing in a dark, blue-black bodysuit, incorporating claws on his hands and feet, and a pullover headcowl and eyemask shaped like a panther-esque head.
Having solved his own case, Grant found himself keeping up his Wildcat identity, especially after he was landed with a comic relief character as early as his third adventure. This came in the form of Hiram “Stretch” Skinner, a lanky American yokel with improbably long arms and legs, check suit and straw boater, who had come to the big city to become a ‘dee-tec-a-tiff’, and became Wildcat’s partner to all intents and purposes.
Wildcat got his first chance at JSA membership alongside stable-mate Mr. Terrific in All-Star 24. Like the Defender of Fair Play, Wildcat was to join the Justice Society, and his headshot appeared on several issues worth of Junior JSA Certificate adverts, but Charlie Gaines’ insistence of having Flash and Green Lantern back prevailed, and the Big Cat became a mere guest on the first appearance.

Wildcat in the Forties

But he was not forgotten. The Atom was about to be dropped from All-American, leaving a slot open, and the Feline Fury was chosen to replace him.
His first case as an honest-to-goodness member was written at the request of a national Children’s Charity, who had requested National to feature a story promoting tolerance towards disabled children. Thus the JSA deliberately set out to elevate such youngsters’ sense of worth by involving them in cases where their attributes were of service. Some see it as patronising, from a modern perspective, though I disagree: each of the six children featured are given the chance to act, to demonstrate to themselves as much as others that a disability in one area does not incapacitate them in everything. Each impresses their community and overturns prejudices.
A laudable story, but one with unintended consequences for Wildcat. Naturally the Charity wanted to see the story as soon as possible, so it was advanced into All-Star 27. But this left two complete JSA stories featuring the Atom – and three once someone discovered that the original story for issue 24 was still unpublished. National were not prepared to pay extra to have Atom figures pasted over with Wildcat, nor to chop and change membership between the two over such a short span, so the Tiny Titan stayed, and the Big Cat went back to the bench. These days, he and Mr. Terrific are treated as having been Reservists.
Eventually, Wildcat’s series was cancelled after Sensation 90, and he disappeared until 1966, when he appeared in the fourth JLA/JSA team-up. After that, he didn’t appear again until 1972, when everybody turned up, but a Wildcat character did team-up with Batman four times in Brave & Bold.
This Wildcat is a bit of an anomaly, like the Earth-1 Spectre of Joe Orlando and Michael Fleisher. There was never any reference to the Justice Society, whilst the Batman involved was fairly clearly the Earth-1 Batman, so the status of this Wildcat is by no means certain. On the other hand, Brave & Bold was edited by Murray Boltinoff and written by Bob Haney, neither of whom held much truck with continuity. Indeed, the Multiverse did come to include an Earth-B originally proposed by fans as the only logical home for any story edited by Boltinoff, so we may as well not pay this version any attention.
But everything changed in 1976, when All-Star was revived. For no apparent reason, given that he had made so few appearances with the Justice Society, Wildcat was part of the initial line-up, alongside Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and Doctor Fate.
Maybe it was just so he could be presented as a contrast to the feminist Power Girl: Wildcat has, ever since, been portrayed as a tough guy, with a streak of chauvinism (though as time has gone by, a certain amount of self-mockery has crept in, as if Grant knows very well the impression he’s creating and is playing the part to a larger degree). But the constant clashes between the two were a running feature of the series. Wildcat even took centre stage towards the end of the run, suffering brain damage after being cut by one of the Thorn’s thorns and needing emergency surgery. Though he recovers from this, he was written out in the penultimate Adventure episode, feeling his age amongst the JSA’s new younger members, and deciding to open a gym and start training the next generation of superheroes.
From here, Wildcat went back into obscurity again, with the JSA only represented in All-Star Squadron. But, as Crisis loomed and Roy Thomas lost his battle to completely undercut everything it was devised for by retaining Earth-2, the time came for a genuine Wildcat 2, in, where else? the pages of Infinity, Inc.

Wildcat 2

Thomas had thinking for some time of bringing forward a feline superheroine. Originally, she was to have been Canadian, but when the character first appeared, as a teaser in an Infinity,Inc promo, she was riding a motorcycle (rather like Wildcat used to) as La Garra, a latina.
Then, with Crisis looming, he decided instead to make his new heroine Wildcat 2. She was Yolanda Montez who, it transpired, was Ted Grant’s god-daughter, being the daughter of another boxer, “Mauler” Montez. Yolanda had cat-like attributes, having retractable claws in her hands and feet, and took up the Wildcat costume in tribute to ‘Uncle’ Ted. Wildcat did not approve, until he learned it was little Yolanda behind his mask, at which point he gave her his blessing.
The transition seemed to be permanent, especially when, during Crisis, Wildcat 1’s legs were crushed in battle with a possessed Red Tornado 2, leaving Grant confined to a wheelchair forever.
Grant even appeared in a wheelchair at the start of The Last Case – ludicrously in full costume apart from legs bandaged from hip to foot, but he was mystically rejuvenated to deal with both the fatal attack on Hitler in 1945, and the charge into the Gotterdämmerung limbo, where Wildcat fought forever.
But Yolanda didn’t last. Her post-Crisis appearances were few, and, along with Doctor Midnight 2, she was killed off in an attack on Eclipso in his own series in 1992
Wildcat 1 returned to action in the open-ended Justice Society of America series. He and the Atom teamed-up to rebuild their private lives, by opening a ‘training facility’ (or Gym, as Grant nostalgically put it). It was touching to see how concerned Al Pratt was for his buddy, and the fear that Grant’s legs might go out again at any time, but the rejuvenation was proof against that happening again
The series was, as we know, short-lived, and in Zero Hour Wildcat was one of those pushed to the brink of death by being re-aged. Like Doctor Mid-Nite 1, he required a heart operation but, unlike McNider, Grant survived. But it was clear that he would never be a superhero again.
Yeah, right.
The next sighting of Wildcat was in a three-issue series that he co-headlined with Batman – the first time Wildcat appeared under his own name (and other than a mini-series in which Grant co-starred with Catwoman, the only time). The series started badly, with Wildcat fighting against Batman foe Killer Croc, who beat and killed him inside two pages. This, however, was Wildcat 3, coming and going in those few panels.
This hapless lug was Hector Ramirez, an ex-Marine who’d trained under Grant and wanted to succeed him as Wildcat. When Grant refused, Ramirez stole a costume and went out as Wildcat, only to be captured and forced into a series of underground fights for illicit betting. This ‘origin’ of Wildcat 3 is more or less as long as his entire career on the comics page, but the details were related by a completely fit and healthy Ted Grant, who’d obviously made the best ever recovery from a heart attack there has ever been in the world. And he didn’t half look bad for someone bordering on being seventy, especially when he got into costume and ended up fighting Batman.
An explanation was not long in coming. In JLA 28-31, Grant Morrison brought the officially retired Justice Society back into action, for the first team-up between the two teams since 1985. It was a great and glorious romp, worthy of inclusion in such a prestigious series, and it surely contributed to the full-scale revived JSA series a year later. It introduced JJ Thunder, it gave Hourman 3 his first meeting with the JSA, and it included a welcome addition to Ted Grant’s career.
Much is made throughout the story of the fact that someone is going to die. Morrison also foreshadows things by bringing Hyppolita into the action on the JSA’s side, meeting Wildcat for the first time in decades (it would be retrospectively provided that Ted and Hyppolita had an affair in the Forties), and her asking how Ted has remained as active as her when he isn’t immortal.
It’s a damned good question and, when Wildcat proves to be the sacrifice, letting the villain explode his heart rather than that fate happen to The Huntress or Hyppolita, it’s a moment of shock for the reader as well as Ted’s team-mates: there have been so many JSA deaths in recent years. Everybody gathers rounds, mourning, until Wildcat is forced to admit it’s getting embarrassing.
Yes, Grant is alive, and the secret he’d been keeping for decades is finally out: the Afterlife has a cat-flap (brilliant line!). Or rather, Wildcat’s had nine lives since an incident in 1945, and he’s only used up a couple: come on, he didn’t get to look this way through clean-living only.
The nine lives thing was never played up much, and Grant remained his tough, wiseguy self throughout the JSA and Justice Society of America series that followed. By now he was an elder statesman of the JSA, by virtue of having survived, a central figure in all incarnations to come.
And as an elder statesman, and an undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the World, Grant has also been a trainer to more than one younger hero. That he helped trained Dinah Lance, the second Black Canary, was long-established, but Wildcat went on now to be revealed as a mentor, and occasional lover, to Selina (Catwoman) Kyle, and a trainer to none other than Batman (one of the few people who can see that left hook coming).
At one point, in the 2000s, it was decided to remove Grant’s nine lives, by having the Crimson Avenger 2 pursue him for framing an innocent man, and kill him enough times in quick succession so as to leave him only his last life, but even this has been reset so that Grant permanently has nine lives, meaning that he can only be truly killed if someone kills him nine times in quick succession.
Grant still remains the Wildcat, but post Infinite Crisis another successor, Wildcat 4, was introduced and thrived far better than Yolanda Montez or Hector Ramirez before him.

Wildcat or Tomcat?

Tom Bronson is actually Ted Grant’s son, one of two children Grant fathered out of wedlock at different times. Initially, Bronson was the son of a one-night-stand, without any resentments towards his absent father, though subsequently, Grant’s relationship with Bronson’s mother has been expanded upon. However, Bronson turned out to be a metahuman, capable of turning into an actual black-furred, long-tailed Wildcat. Despite his reservations about being a superhero, and the fact that the Wildcat name was firmly taken, Bronson entered the new ‘training-system’ JSA, and Grant was more than happy that they both be Wildcat, given that both Flash and Green Lantern had other heroes operating under their names, without any confusion whatsoever. However, Bronson increasingly was referred to as Tomcat.
Whether that name has stuck, or if Bronson was still Wildcat 4 became irrelevant in the New 52. All Wildcat’s have been swept away, and there has been no sign so far of another reappearing. Given the popularity Ted Grant achieved over the years, I would expect him to be brought back in Earth-2 at some point, but I’ll stick with the down-to-Earth guy I’ve been reading for almost fifty years.