Wolfpack is one of the forgotten comics of the 1980's... and perhaps with good reason.
Whereas Denny O'Neil and Neil Adams confrontation of social issues within the pages of Green Arrow/Green Lantern has been lauded and held up as a groundbreaking work, Wolfpack, which covers similar themes seems to have been mostly overlooked. Published in 1988 and set in the South Bronx, The Wolfpack consist of a multi-racial group of teens, recruited by a shadowy figure, Mac to fight an ancient and mysterious cult known as The Nine. Now, a lot of this back story occurred in the graphic novel, also titled Wolfpack which had been published the previous year, but is recapped in the first pages of the first issue.
The team consists of members Slag, recruited for his strength, Rafael for his martial arts prowess, Sharon for her speed, Slippery Sam for his ninja skills and Wheels for his... uh... wheels. The series begins with Mac, their mentor and trainer having bailed and gone, leaving the 'Pack to find their feet, their purpose and develop their skills. The main problem with this premise is the awkward handling of the street themes within this story. With the initial stories taking place in Horace Harding High School, a projects based school of delinquents and street kids, the language and stereotypes border on outright racism. Okay, so it was the 80's and the aforementioned Denny O'Neil run pulled just as many stereotypes when their talents exhausted them, but Wolfpack, initially at least, seems more intent on being realistic and something outside of the comic book norm of the time. This makes the attempts at authentic language, looks and mannerisms that much more embarrassing. Having said that, the one thing that can't be faulted in the early books of the series is its intent. It means to put a spotlight on very real issues from drugs,race, sex, poverty, inequality and violence and from a mainstream comic book company in the 80's, this was a bold move.
Unfortunately, the convictions of the creators and the publisher seemed to falter around the issue five mark and what started as an intriguing, if clumsily executed look into the world of street crime told through quasi-superheroics, descended into second rate spandex fare. With the introduction of their arch enemies The Nine, Wolfpack seems to lose its way, unable to fully bridge the gap between gritty street drama and high flying heroics. What makes the concept even more unconvincing is the pencil work of Ron Wilson, who, while bravely attempting to convey the grittiness of the street, is completely out of his league when drawing choreographed fight scenes which make up the conclusion to this series. It is a shame as i have often enjoyed his 70's work on characters such as The Thing and Power Man. Unfortunately, a lot of his work here looks like preliminary sketches toward a final piece and though Kyle Baker's inks (an outstanding illustrator in his own right) give the initial issues some charm, the later issues inked in a more straightforward manner by Chris Ivy are, at times, laughably embarrassing.
Of course, having said all this i should point out that Wolfpack, when first released was one of my favourite stories of all time. To an impressionable fourteen year old, Wolfpack was like nothing i had ever read before and the shock of seeing drug use, an urban setting and teenage characters with real world problems affected me to my very teenage soul. It is a pity that such a great concept was so clumsily executed, but also that it was never taken up by subsequent generations of comic book creators. Can you imagine what Greg Rucka could do with the concept? Mark Millar? GARTH ENNIS!? I live in eternal hope that someone near the powers that be is reading this...