At the turn of the millenium, ’80s nostalgia was running high in the comic book industry. Image had brought back GI Joe, Dreamwave had resurrected the Transformers… it was only a matter of time before the ThunderCats would resurface, and the folks at WildStorm were the ones to make it happen.
The first book from WildStorm had a very ThunderCats cartoon feel to it, exacerbated by Ed McGuinness’s art. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it really wasn’t anything new, either. At the end of that story, Lion-O entered the mystical Book of Omens to complete his training to truly be the Lord of the ThunderCats. And then all hell broke loose.
See, unbeknownst to Lion-O, Mumm-Ra had placed a spell on the Book. While time was supposed to have stood still while Lion-O was within, it did not, and five years after he’d entered, Snarf was finally able to free him from the book and alert him to all that had happened in his absence. It’s the book’s biggest flaw, really. Rather than just letting Lion-O emerge from the book on his own and have to piece together everything that had transpired, we’re “treated” to nearly a full issue of Snarf giving Lion-O a play by play of Mumm-Ra’s rise, the Thunderians’ fall, and the mutants’ occupation. It’s just not good storytelling, but it does serve a purpose and it allows us to press forward once we pick up issue two. From that point on, this book gets damned dark.
How dark? Well, WilyKit and WilyKat are Mumm-Ra’s personal slaves, forced to bathe him and redress his bandages after the fact. Cheetara has been the captive of the original core group of mutants, and it’s strongly implied that if they haven’t already raped her, they fully intend to. Oh, and then there’s one villain’s first shreds of humanity – a depth of character I for one never expected to see. The bottom line here is that this is a ThunderCats story like none you’ve ever seen.
And speaking of ThunderCats like you’ve never seen them, Ed Benes’s over-sexualized WilyKit and Cheetara are a dream come true for every little boy who grew up with a crush on the female felines – as long as you don’t mind overtones of bondage and submission.
Not every part of the book has grown up, however. The eventual battles with the mutants and Mumm-Ra, all of whom have been made “more powerful” by way of the big bad’s magicks, all are pretty lackluster. And, considering this is all crammed into a five issue miniseries, you never quite get the sense of epic struggle that the book seems like it maybe should have. Stretched over a year, you’d no doubt have had a greater sense of sympathy for Lion-O’s plight. Instead, this reads like pretty much any of the five part episodes of old, just with a more mature twist. And there are twists.
So the story’s far from flawless, but it delivers a unique opportunity for ThunderCats fans to experience the characters and concepts all grown up. And it’s light years better than the incessantly cringe-inducing Dogs of War.
All told, ThunderCats: The Return gets a solid 3.5 out of 5 cold shoulders for abandoning the team. It’s not the best rating ever, because it’s not the best book, but it is a fun read and a must for fans of the show.