Ted Grant has been fighting the good fight and busting heads for almost seventy years; first as the Heavyweight Champion of the World and then as the superhero and JSA member, Wildcat. This summer, Wildcat springs into solo action as he launches a crusade against an underground superhuman gambling ring in the pages of JSA Classified #26-27 from DC Comics. CBR News spoke with Frank Tieri, the writer of the two part tale, which begins later this month.
JSA Classified #26 marks Tieri's first foray into the DC Universe. The funny thing is I've been talking to DC for years, particularly Dan Didio, about coming over and doing something for them, Tieri told CBR News. Something just always got in the way; a character they wanted me to use was being used elsewhere or the timing just wasn't right or whatever. But when [editor] Mike Marts came along from Marvel, he really wanted to get me started on something at DC. Mike and I have a great relationship - he's worked with me before so he knows what I can bring to the table and what he can expect from me (He'll tell you he can expect me to be an asshole, I'm sure he'd say. Bastard.). Anyway, he was editing 'JSA Classified' so he said, 'Why don't you pitch me a story for that? That became this Wildcat story and here we are.
Wildcat is actually a character that Dan and I have talked about for a long time, Tieri continued. By now, fans know pretty much what kind of characters I'm usually associated with - villains or 'tough guys.' Wildcat obviously fits in with the second category.
To Tieri, Wildcat is toughness personified in comics. I always loved those stories where the old grizzled vet kicks some serious young punk ass - and that's Ted Grant to a T, he said. He's the baddest mofo in comics if you think about it. No shield, utility belt, claws - that stuff's for pussies . All Ted needs is his fists - that's it. You're not going to get anymore bad ass than that.
As Tieri alluded to, Wildcat is physically one of the older characters in the DCU and some readers may look at Wildcat's age and doubt his ability to throw down. Those readers would be making a big mistake, according to Tieri. One of the things that I can't stand about comics and popular entertainment in general is this notion that an old guy can't be tough, an old guy can't be cool, Tieri stated. That's utter nonsense. You mean to tell me that guys like Clint Eastwood or Lee Marvin or Charles Bronson aren't bad ass? It's just such bullshit. They'd eat today's 'action stars' like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise for breakfast and finish it off with a nice glass of freshly squeezed Ben Affleck.
And sure, there are characters that might be able to actually take Ted in a fight, but there's nobody tougher, Tieri continued. Something that people don't understand is that toughness has little to do with actually winning a fight. It's about the ability to take a punch and keep coming. Anybody can throw a punch - hell, if my 3 year old cracks you in the face and you're not ready for it, it's going to hurt. The idea is to take the punch and say, OK, so what else ya got?' That's Wildcat. He doesn't know when to quit.
In Tieri's story, Wildcat will use his endurance, tenacity and pugilistic prowess to smash the mob's scheme to make money off the costumed champions and villains of the DCU. The way this scheme operates is based on what I know about the mob and how they operate, Tieri explained. If superheroes existed, the mob would find a way to make a buck off them. That's what they do and that's what they've done here. There are underground gambling parlors in New York and all across the country where you can bet on anything and everything. So in that vein, this particular one in the DCU is where they take things a step further and bet on superhuman activity. Now here's how it works: Let's say the Joker's broken out of Arkham for the millionth time. The board goes up and you place your bets. How long before he's caught? Who takes him down? Is it Batman? Is it Nightwing? What are the odds on that?
And odds are it wouldn't be an old sparring partner that would tip Wildcat off to the existence of the betting ring, but that's exactly what happens. Ted Grant uncovers all this through Sportsmaster, believe it or not Tieri said. I needed a character that was something in his day, but is pretty much past his prime - sort of a DCU equivalent to Batroc the Leaper. Sportsmaster fit the bill nicely. He's somebody who's seen better days, somebody who may have been no joke when he first appeared, but now pretty much gets more routinely trounced than the <a href=http://tampabay.devilrays.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=tb>Tampa Bay Devil Rays</a>. So with that said, it should be of no surprise to anyone that when we first see SM, he's very much been down on his luck lately. It's through him that Ted discovers the existence of this ring and it's through him that we see how gambling effects addicts. Yeah, I know, surprise, surprise, the guy with a sports motif has gambling issues.
We'll also learn that gambling has had some very profound effects on Ted Grant's life as well - which is all the more reason he'll want it stopped. If you know anything about Wildcat's origin you know that he was practically created by gambling. By not willing to fix a fight for the mobsters of his time, it cost him the life of his buddy, Socker Smith. So, Wildcat has seen firsthand the dangers of gambling and knows the consequences of it. This is all very personal to him - perhaps more so than any other hero - not just because he knows the dangers this will bring and doesn't want it in the superhero community, but as we'll discover, because of something in his past.
An important part of this story is actually told in flashback, Tieri continued. We'll see some of Ted's early years; some of his time when he was on the boxing team in college, some when he was a professional fighter and some stuff that's even after that. There'll be some fairly significant revelations in there that will definitely spell out why taking down gambling is more personal to Ted than anybody ever knew.
Wildcat's investigation of the gambling ring will uncover more than just his personal feelings about the subject. On the surface there appears to merely be this gambling ring - but once Ted really starts putting this thing under a microscope, he'll learn there could be more to it than first meets the eye, Tieri explained. This actually ties into a huge event going on in the DC Universe that, while I can't actually reveal what it is right now, I think fans might be able to figure it out.
While the bulk of Wildcat's investigation is done on his own, his JSA teammates do get involved in the story. We have an appearance by the JSA in issue #27, Tieri said. You'll see how the events of #26 cause them to make an appearance in the following issue in a very unexpected way.
Finally, although Tieri has enjoyed penning JSA Classified #26-27, this certainly won't be the last DC fans see of him. I do have other stuff in the works over there - and fairly big stuff at that, Tieri stated. It's too early to divulge exactly what I'm talking about right now, but as I said earlier, I tend to mainly wet my feet in two kinds of pools. So, if this project has me sitting there with my speedo on in the 'tough guy' pool, maybe it's not that tough to figure out what my next DC thing could be.
Now discuss this story in CBR's DC Comics forum.