Thought it’s taken a few issues to realize it, the real strength of DC’s The Wild Storm series isn’t really scribe Warren Ellis (though he does remain a highlight), but in the storyboarding and unique art style of series penciler Jon Davis-Hunt. The man orchestrates beautifully ornate action sequences and stirring emotional moments effortlessly in a cinematic style that doesn’t lose any of the motion or the details. It’s sad, then, that the series’ offshoot book, Michael Cray, suffers from a relatively bland art style and some of the weakest storyboarding a series so reliant on action could ask for. See, the main push of this book, if this issue and the lead into the next are any indication, is to see the titular Michael Cray (and expert assassin with an ill defined disintegration power) face off with evil elseworlds versions of the Justice League. Now if that doesn’t scream “action” to you then you must be new to comics (if so: Hi! Thanks for starting with this review. Not sure how you got here, but welcome all the same!), so having an artist that knows how to create nuance and motion without losing any of information on the page is the goal. Unfortunately, series artist N. Steven Harris is not entirely up to the task.
This issue starts with Cray putting together a supporting cast in order to more efficiently murder the twisted heroes of the DC universe. He does so via a VR simulation of some kind of old-timey steampunk assassination attempt in which he effortlessly dispatches with his would-be Guys (and gal) in the chair. He still brings them on, for whatever reason, and sets off on his plan to kill Stephen Amell, but before that can happen he has to check in with his doctor. As a sequence, it’s pretty flat. Dr. Shahi dances around saying that Michael’s brain isn’t cancerous, but instead developing into some sort of super-brain. Confusingly, she also seems somewhat skeptical about his troubles with the mouse last issue. Still, she gives him a clean bill of health and sends him off to assassinate a billionaire playboy on his mysterious island sanctuary.
It is the showdown with the Green Arrow where the wheels kind of fall off this one, as bits of it don’t make a ton of sense visually. So Mike sneaks his way into Queen’s vaunted Hobo Hunt by pretending to be a forgotten veteran (a very real issue, and not handled in an exploitative manner, so points to the team for that), has an interview with the Wild Storm version of Thea Queen and wakes up on Oli’s evil isle. Turns out Oli is on to Mr. Cray but is game for the challenge…to an extent at least. When Mike comes to, Oli lays all his cards on the table and even provides the erstwhile Deathblow with a handgun for their face off…I mean, he then blows up the shack Michael is standing in without warning, but you know. Baby steps. Anyway, the two have a protracted firefight with their chosen ballistic weapons until Michael’s powers go into business for themselves and melt the damn gun in his hand. Naturally things take a turn for the worse, and it looks like Oli is about to stab Michael when he realizes he can use his powers offensively and literally melts the Green Arrow’s arm off of dude’s body. Cray gets saved by the last minute arrival of his team and then receives his next assignment, a crooked crime scene investigator by the name of Barry Allen.
So that sounds all well and good, but the execution just isn’t there. For one, we have to talk about the depiction of Michael’s powers. I get that there’s not really a super obvious and stylish way of depicting disintegration on panel, but Harris’ efforts – which is just to kind of scribble out the item being disintegrated is confusing. It’s not exactly clear what’s happening in any of the instances that he uses it, but the biggest problem is that he seems to think he can show you the entire process in a single panel. It took me a few read throughs to get what had happened to the gun (I initially though Oli had somehow provided him with a mirage gun), but the arm sequence is even more baffling. Mike grabs the arm and it gets all fuzzy, but then instantly in the next panel, Oli is unarmed. It’s not even the kind of jarring moment that calls your attention to the difference, it just sort of happens in the background. It’s not the only part of the fight that suffers from sloppy storytelling either, as there’s a huge splash page in the middle of the fight where it looks like both Michael and Oli land kicks on one another, but isn’t really clear. It also looks like Mike catches fire at one point but nothing is really made of it. Combine this with the wonky faces that are sort of a signature for this artist, and it leaves the book on the back foot from a visual standpoint.
Overall, this series is off to a bit of a shaky start. I like the concept and I like the characters, but the story isn’t compelling enough to make up for some lackluster art. There are some scripting issues too (none of the sequences have enough room to develop; there’s poor dialogue like “Lemme discover the best way to say this…;”etc.) so it’s not purely an art problem. Realistically, Michael Cray needs to learn from its sister series, as I may not love Jon Davis-Hunt’s pencils on their own, but the man knows how to tell a story. Similarly, Ellis cuts a rather measured pace that allows moments and emotions to marinate over time, rather than the “one-and-done” stories that Bryan Hill seems to be shooting for. As weird as it is to say about an issue focused on The Flash, I hope Hill learns to take it slow next time around.