Weapon-handed warriors battle evil together in new story CROSSOVER COMICS

December 12, 1993|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Two of the comic book world's fiercest warriors -- Warblade and Ripclaw -- are about to join in the battle of their lives, a slashing fight against evil that was born . . . in a convivial California hot tub?

It's true, explains artist Jim Lee. The idea to merge the blade-wielding characters of the Image Comics series "WildC.A.T.S" and "Cyberforce" into a new crossover plot line began to take form during a soak.

"It was Marc's birthday, we were sitting in his hot tub drinking champagne, and we just started talking about the story line and put it together," recounts Mr. Lee over the phone from his San Diego studio.

He's talking about colleague Marc Silvestri, who created "Cyberforce" and one of its leading men, Ripclaw. Mr. Lee writes and draws "WildC.A.T.S," among whose super heroes is the green ponytailed Warblade.

"Uh, who?" you might be asking yourself.

Well, comics have changed since Superman flew the skies of Metropolis, and Batman and Robin prowled Gotham City.

Mr. Lee and Mr. Silvestri are part of a group of artists who formed Image Comics in 1992 to take on the venerable houses of Marvel Comics and DC Comics. They met at Marvel, where they helped produce the successful comic series "The Uncanny X-Men."

Next week, the pair bring two of their characters together into a single story line, "Killer Instinct." Prologues have appeared in each book, and the full story will be told in "WildC.A.T.S" #6, continuing into next year through "Cyberforce" #2, "WildC.A.T.S" and "Cyberforce" #3.

In each series -- true to the super hero genre -- groups of good guys and girls with extraordinary powers battle sinister forces of evil. Mr. Lee evokes Greek drama to suggest the use of deus ex machina story lines, "where all-powerful beings show up and resolve conflicts."

Fans need not worry that Warblade and Ripclaw are going soft. The new tale has plenty of action and introduces a new character, Misery, a curvaceous fighting female with a past involvement with each of our heroes, as well as the super villainous CyberData and the Cabal.

Mr. Lee is expecting a large group of fans to line up for autographs at each of the pair's two Baltimore-area appearances today promoting the release of the "Killer Instinct" miniseries.

"I'd say the bulk of them are between 12 and 16 years old, although I've seen kids from, like, age 7 or 8 to men in their 50s and 60s at these autographings," says Mr. Lee, 29. "You have moms standing in line for their kids, you have grandparents with their grandchildren, you have kids who don't even read buying comics because they like the pictures."

And what pictures! These Image Comics series project a stylish, super-realistic art form one can easily call erotic -- lots of curves and flesh on the women, and rippling muscles and powerful profiles on the men.

"Sophisticated! That's the word we use," Mr. Lee responds to use of the "e" word. "I see my comics as PG-3, PG to PG-3 in nature, the same as when I was in Marvel Comics."

Although created independently, in "Killer Instinct" Ripclaw and Warblade have much in common.

"We had two characters who were similar in appearance, the guys with the blades," explains Mr. Lee. "We always thought it would be kind of cool to somehow tie that in, to show the readers that we meant to have them look similar in the first place, like it was all intentional."

Mr. Lee suggests that each artist drew inspiration from the movies -- specifically "Edward Scissorhands" and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," whose "T-1000" liquid-metal villain sprouts ominous chrome implements from his arms.

dTC "That happens in comics often, more often than I would care to admit," says the Korean-born artist of the creation of somewhat derivative characters.

"Literally, as a creator you learn about the characters as you do them," he explains. Thus, "Marc and I eventually had these characters and we hadn't clearly spelled out where they came from." So the two heroes will turn out to have a joint past, which explains why each has fingertips that display deadly weapons.

But the artist notes, "You've gotta bring those kind of everyday things to the characters, otherwise the readers don't feel like they're real." So after "Killer Instinct," "my characters are going on vacation and do some shopping or something like that."

Mr. Lee also acknowledges some kinship between the comic book for mat and the television daytime serial. "You want to build mystery and suspense in the characters. The character with the shady past is a very popular theme right now . . . but you can do crazier things in comic books than you can in soap operas."

Mr. Lee, who chose comic book artistry while on the verge of entering medical school after Princeton, says autograph sessions often bring aspiring artists to his table.

He says that his career choice did not initially sit well with his parents. although his mother had hired an art instructor to show him the basics of oil pastels when he was 4.

"I had, um, conflicts with them, I think you can call them," he concedes with a laugh. "But over the years they've become incredibly enthusiastic and supportive. I can't go out in public with them because they're always saying, 'This is our son, he draws comics.' Every time they come over they're trying to bum off free comic books and stuff to give to their friends."

SIGNINGS

What: Image Comics artists Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri sign autographs

When: Today from 10:30 a.m. to noon

Where: Cards, Comics and Collectibles, 513A Main St., Reisterstown

Call: (410) 526-7410

When: Today from 1:30 to 3 p.m.

Where: The Twilite Zone, 18 N. Crain Highway, Glen Burnie

Call: (410) 526-7410

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