The Wildcats franchise embodies any writer’s nightmare: trying to follow genius. Joe Casey turned a standard superhero team book into a brilliant corporate espionage tale, as the Halo Corporation gave the fruits of its alien technology to the world, in the face of opposition from every source of political or financial authority. Low sales forced the conclusion of Wildcats Ver 3.0 after its second year, but it was obvious that there could be no mere regression to what had gone before. This need for outstanding creative direction was resolved in the most obvious fashion, by getting Grant Morrison to write the book. Morrison’s run proved both visionary and entertaining- for the single issue it consisted of. Although there’s recently been talk of remounting the writer’s take as a limited series, the book has now clocked up its fifth incarnation, following on from Wildstorm’s “World’s End” event.

With the world almost destroyed by one of the weaponised post-human armies that appear to be available to every borough council in the Wildstorm universe, humanity is scrabbling for survival in the remains of civilisation. Halo was better placed than most organisations to weather the apocalypse, but doing so cost omnipotent CEO Jack Marlowe his powers, leaving him a shadow of his former self. The Wildcats team is now holed up in the company’s LA headquarters, trying to come to terms with the end of everything. With his page count reduced by a back-up story, Christos Gage works with economy, using the rescue of a group of civilians to introduce us to the team, before focussing on their internal conflict. It’s just as well that the setting is such a gripping one, as this incarnation of Wildcats would struggle to succeed on the strength of its characters. Only Grifter and Hadrian are of any interest in themselves, with remainder of the cast either too absurd to take seriously, or part of the army of near-identical generic alien warrior-women which Casey quickly jettisoned during his run.

The book’s appeal is immensely increased by some spectacular art from Trevor Hairsine. His mange-influenced style may be an unconventional choice for a book with such a bleak concept, but his hiring may well be intended to prevent the book becoming too dark. If so, it succeeds admirably, preventing the standard superhero clash that closes the issue looking remotely incongruous. Gage works well given the material he has to play with, using the strong pull of the post-apocalyptic setting to draw the reader through a considerable amount of exposition on both the World’s End concept and recent Wildcats miniseries. The characters’ skirting round some aspects of their predicament means that their nemesis’ attack at the end of the issue comes as a relief rather than feeling contrived, as the pieces of the puzzle slide into place. Despite their bunker existence, the Wildcats look in reasonable health. The biggest test for the World’s End direction comes later this week, when The Authority joins the party.