When DC relaunched the Wild Storm Universe with its own book earlier this year, it felt like a fitting rebirth for a group of characters that had largely fallen by the wayside. Yet while I anticipated fan favorites like Grifter and Zealot to make an appearance, I was surprised at the inclusion of forgettable Punisher ripoff Death Blow as a key member of the cast. Under Image’s banner, the character was a super one-note collection of tough guy tropes, big pecs-big guns mentality and “loner on a team” cliches that made him just not all that interesting. Compare him, then, to the character we got in Warren Ellis’ stellar new series and see that the two share little more than a name and a militaristic back story. The new Michael Cray is a far more human creation, whose cancer scare kicks off a small crisis in conscience that ousts him from his cushy assassin gif at the IO and into the waiting arms of Skywatch’s Christine Trelane – which is exactly where his new solo series begins.
Relocating to the West Coast, Michael Cray is a fish out of water story that also just happens to have our titular hero tasked with assassinating the logical evolution of TV’s Arrow. I don’t mean that euphemistically either, Cray is literally tasked with murdering an insane elseworlds version of Oliver Queen. The Wild Storm universe’s version of Ollie was driven insane by his time on the island and now spends his evenings being cold to the people in his life and his weekends hunting drifters on his own private island. Yep, he’s basically Arcade without the fun suit and pithy one-liners. Considering there’s also an allusion to an in-universe Bruce Wayne, this is an interesting development in the Wild Storm series. That our heroes exist in a universe with their own version of some of DCs heavy hitters opens all kinds of questions and possibilities. Are there other “heroes” that Mike will have to take out? How do alien characters like Superman or Martian Manhunter interact with the Skywatch organization? Will this concept bleed over to the Wild Storm series proper? Color me intrigued.
On a more personal level, we also get a bit of an insight into Michael’s personal life – though honestly, it’s the weakest part of the book. At the forefront of this element is Deathblow’s interactions with his estranged father, a modern neo-hippy intellectual whose populist beliefs and community outreach has made him untrusting of his son’s employers. It is a little trite to have yet another character with daddy issues, and his father does fall into a couple of cliches of the African American activist (though the Kombucha bit is a new one for me), so this feels like a bit of a misstep for a series that I’ve really enjoyed for the most part. I do like that Cray does seem to be having issues with his own powers (poor little mouse), as it helps further the consequences of his illness and gives Mike a sort of ticking time-bomb feel about him.
Another element of this book that I’m a little shaky on is the art. While it may have taken a little while to get used to the detailed pencils of Jon Davis-Hunt, he eventually won me over with his great use of emotion and fantastic storyboarding. Michael Cray is helmed by N. Steven Harris, who operates as a sort of poor man’s Davis-Hunt, only without any of the latter’s consistency. While most of the book is reasonably rendered in a style befitting the Wild Storm universe, there are moments where Harris’ pencils sort of fall apart. This most commonly takes the form of shifted jawlines, with each character’s mouth suddenly drooping low and to the side as if they were affected by bell’s palsy. I guess you could call it his style, but so much of Harris’ work is distorted as if you are viewing the page through a fisheye lens. If it made sense aesthetically, I’d be willing to write it off, but it doesn’t work and just looks a little shoddy. It’s not bad enough to sink the book, mind you, but it’s a poor fit all the same.