As four, we fought. As one, we fell. For many, we rise. We are the Wyrecats.
High schooler Kristina Asuka Percival (“K.A.”) wakes from a coma in a blank and sterilized hospital room. The year is 2023. On one side, an IV drip line connects her forearm to a bag of saline. On the other, a mass-produced white nightstand bears a single flower inside a vase. A kindly nurse by K.A.’s bedside is the only other human presence here; she informs K.A. that she only started to slip out of her comatose state a week ago, and asks her what she remembers.
K.A. thinks and thinks, but she doesn’t remember much. She used to be a member of the eponymous Wyrecats, a foursome fighting force of heroes dedicated to saving the world. And she also recalls her father Kirk Percival, the founder of her private school as well as the chairman of the arms company Percival Defense Solutions.
But a moment of indiscretion from the nurse betrays that she’s been unconscious for the last five years. Frantic, she summons a mysterious suit of power armor seemingly out of nowhere and uses the onboard satellite link to access the world’s news feed.
The world has been overrun by violence. The Wyrecats have disbanded. Her father is dead.
The Wyrecats once fought with highly mobile nanomachine-controlled suits of powered armor, known as XAG (eXoskeletal Augmentation Gear). Five years later, the world calls on them to fight again.
Neil Kapit’s Wyrecats begins at rock bottom. The only thing left to do is to move up. And that’s exactly what K.A. does: having seen what the world looks like without heroes, she begins the long, slow—sometimes even painful—process of reuniting the Wyrecats: the gregarious and affable Bryce, the mischievous and eccentric Mela, and the strict and uncompromising Lamar. But there are much larger, extremely insidious forces at work, forces that are determined to smash them down again and again.
Large parts of Wyrecats are inspired by Kapit’s extensive work in special education, and his observation that many of his students were truly talented, brilliant people who were struggling against a system seemingly designed to make them fall through the cracks.
For a comic that begins on such a crestfallen and hopeless note, We Are the Wyrecats refuses to immerse itself in tragedy. After the series of revelations that bring K.A. to tears, the story shifts backwards to the present day, where we see a significantly happier K.A. developing a prototype suit of XAG armor with her very-much-alive father marveling at her ingenuity. We know that something will happen to disrupt this idyll, but we’re not sure what—and this unique framing of the story is a large part of what makes Wyrecats such an engaging read.
In the year 2018, an unimaginable tragedy results in the world plunging into war and the Wyrecats dissolving. We Are the Wyrecats builds up to this event, letting it hang over the reader’s head at all times.
When it comes to influences, Wyrecats is a comic that doesn’t even pretend; Kapit’s timely but ruthless deconstruction of superheroes isn’t done as an attempt to criticize or tear down, but done as an act of pure love and appreciation for the genre. And Wyrecats proudly wears its influences on its sleeve, with protagonist K.A. sharing her middle name with Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s Asuka, the animal motifs of the XAG suits calling to mind the Zords of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and the very name of the comic hearkening back to the classic cartoon series Thundercats.
These many and varied influences have combined with something else close to Kapit’s heart to form We Are the Wyrecats: disability advocacy. In a similar vein to Kapit’s earlier webcomic Ruby Nation (a bit of a spiritual predecessor to Wyrecats) the comic heavily features characters with physical and mental disabilities: K.A. herself was born with clubfoot, a condition that has twisted both of her feet downwards and inwards. Lamar is mute and has cerebral palsy. And while it isn’t stated in the story, Kapit considers every Wyrecat to be somewhere on the autism spectrum.
We Are the Wyrecats is a story about falling down. But it is not a story about staying down. As Kapit so beautifully illustrates, falling down doesn’t mean you have failed. You have only failed if you never stand back up.
One of the main selling points of Wyrecats lies in its heavy and inclusive focus on characters that have physical or mental disabilies. Can you profile the major characters for us, one by one?
- Neil: The Wyrecats were a team of teenaged engineering prodigies brought together as a Big Science think tank in lieu of wasting their time in general education, and used those resources to become armored superheroes fighting for a more equal world.
The heart of the group was Kristina Asuka “K.A.” Percival, a naïve but pure-hearted rich girl whose genetically clubbed feet are compensated for by her super-fast Caracal armor. The leading public voice of the group was Jonathan James Bryce (preferring to only go by his last name), an extroverted if overbearing boy with a flying Petrel suit. Bringing in ideas from way out in left field was Melanie “Mela” Sanchez, an eccentric and occasionally amoral girl with the shape-shifting Fugu armor. And serving as the harsh voice of reason was Lamar Anderson, a nonverbal boy with cerebral palsy whose Lusca armor gives him speech and mobility as well as the ability to withstand the deepest pressures of the sea floor.
Though all of them were socially marginalized on their own, as a team they had the opportunity to put their brilliant minds together to build something truly great– at least, before their troubles began. Everything in the story takes place five years after a terrorist attack that killed hundreds and left K.A. in a coma, and she’s only just woken up to find everything for her friends and the world gone horribly wrong.
I haven’t explicitly diagnosed any of the characters in the story, though all of them would fit somewhere upon the vast autism spectrum. At this point such a scene wouldn’t fit neatly into the story, because this isn’t an autism story in the moralistic after school special sense. This is an epic adventure story where the heroes happen to be disabled and diverse, and their differences are poised against the rest of the world, which runs on societal inequality and doesn’t want any upstarts challenging the old order.
Wyrecats simply reads like an exquisite love letter to the golden age of Western cartoons. If you had the power to turn Wyrecats into your dream classic cartoon, what would it look like and who (other than you, of course!) would be involved in its production?
- Neil: I’d have it produced by Studio Mir, the studio behind The Legend of Korra and Voltron: Legendary Defender, with the writers of those involved. I would be extremely particular about the voice actors I’d get, since “hearing” their voices in the types of roles they play helps me develop the voices for my own characters. Most importantly, in this hypothetical wonderland, I’d have a full line of Wyrecats action figures. Having toys made of my characters is literally #1 on my bucket list.
Very nice! What about your perfect voice actor ensemble?
- Neil: Laura Bailey as K.A., Yuri Lowenthal as Bryce, Kari Wahlgren as Mela, and Keith Silverstein as Lamar. All actors from within anime dubbing.
You have worked with special needs people in many capacities, and you also have a teaching credential in special education. How much have your experiences with assisting differently abled people inspired Wyrecats?
- Neil: Funny story (and by funny I mean thoroughly depressing and demoralizing) I never actually achieved the teaching credential. The credential would’ve come at the end of my program, which involved teaching special education in an inner city Los Angeles school and demonstrating the proper teaching skills from the techniques in their books. Everything I read in the books was useless in real life, especially when dealing with students whose problems went far beyond anything written in the books. I spent so much time putting out figurative and nearly literal fires that I didn’t work as much on the lesson planning as I should’ve. And so I didn’t receive a satisfactory grade in the observations, despite having put in all the hours and completed all the courses. Looking back it didn’t matter, because if I was going to make any kind of difference in the kids’ lives (since I certainly wasn’t doing it for the outstanding pay), I couldn’t do it on the system’s terms.
I was diagnosed with an unspecified developmental disability (later Asperger’s Syndrome) as a child and had a hard go of things, but I had loving and devoted parents who could afford to get me the support I needed to get through. The kids that I taught, in addition to their learning disabilities, mostly didn’t have those privileges. I met with special needs students from backgrounds of poverty, abuse, and neglect more horrible than anything I could’ve imagined. And I had to try and get my students caught up in the mainline classes, keeping them in an environment alongside students whose reading and math skills were much further developed, which was effectively setting them up to fail. Under those circumstances, helping them get caught up in class seemed pointless, because their mental health in that environment was far more urgent and important. I could parrot the lines about how it’s important to work hard in school so you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and find your way out of the ghetto, point to students who followed directions and were “good” or students who acted out and were “bad” but it didn’t matter. The times I felt I helped them best were when I went off-lesson, doing things like reading alongside them and animating the stories with my voices, sharing superhero comics with them as a means of getting them excited about reading, or teaching them about science and engineering with toys I bought using my own money.
To get this back to comics, all this is in the back of my mind when I do Wyrecats, because stories are one of the things that give us hope that things can get better, and that people can overcome impossible odds and defeat the evils that make up our current system. Especially when readers have heroes in which they can see themselves, and not the system’s approved racial/gender/cultural/ability ideal. With what we’re all up against these days, any source of solace is welcome.
Read more of Neil Kapit’s work here: