Michael Cray continues his war on the dark versions of DC’s heavy hitters that populate the Wild Storm universe this week as the once and future Deathblow sets his sights on the scarlet speedster himself, the Flash. Except… this is the Wild Storm universe, so his suit is a little less “rubicund runner” and a little more “basement gimp;” he’s gone from a lovable goof with the world on his shoulders to a Ted Kaczynski-like murderous luddite; and he’s shifted from the midwestern good looks of Grant Gustin to a more aggressive, edgy look more akin to Marshal Mathers. While I’m not entirely opposed to this new take on the character (in fact, I kind of embrace it), there’s one fundamental reason why it – and by extension the rest of the book – just doesn’t really work for me. It’s the art, and it’s bad.
I feel like I’ve tried to give series penciler N. Steven Harris a lot of leeway in the first few issues based largely on the good will born the series by its connection to the vastly superior Wild Storm series. That being said, the art in this issue is just bad in every way that art can be bad. The figures are all wrong, with every character’s head and facial features distorted into a bizarrely amorphous approximation of Peter Chung’s iconic Aeon Flux pencils if they were viewed through a lava lamp. Every character looks like they’ve got a broken jaw and a fat lower lip, or like they are mid sway in literally every panel and there’s no real distraction for it. Then there are the action scenes, which are so poorly rendered that it’s often difficult to tell what’s happening. In the opening sequence that introduces the evil Flash, Barry lunges at a few soldiers in very bland and obvious manner that for the most part is fine. He breaks one dude’s gun with an uppercut, which doesn’t make a ton of sense, but okay. He punches another guy in the face, though his reaction doesn’t make a ton of physical sense. Another guy gets it in the face, some dude eats it in the throat – it’s fine. Poorly rendered and uninteresting but fine. The last guy, however, we just get a shot of Barry standing behind a neck. There’s no onomatopoeia to guide the experience, no movement lines to inform our understanding of the action, and an amorphous (there’s that word again) blob of red that may or may not be blood. It’s just a waste of a potentially interesting sequence.
I have to spend some more time bitching about the depiction of Barry Allen, because man is it bad. Not the storyline, mind you. I actually really like what Byan Hill does with the character and the story altogether (more on that later), but the actual physical appearance of Barry is just a nightmare. First off, his facial features are all over the place. Sometimes his head is long and lean, other times it comes to a point like a bull terrier. There’s actually one three-panel sequence later where each panel gives him a different head shape, hairline, nose and mouth in each.
It’s just a shame, because I really enjoy the story that Hill is creating here. Turning all of the main continuity’s superheroes into villainous versions of their more commonly held personalities is a touch gimmicky, but it’s a decent premise for the book. Having Cray and his team create and execute plans to shut down these murderous metahumans is kind of fun, and his side story/burgeoning love connection with the Doctor hoping to help Mike control his powers and work through his cancer diagnosis is a little familiar but has its place. If there’s one story beat that feels a touch too cliche it may be the role Mike’s estranged father is playing. While last month’s issue hinted (strongly) at the elder Cray’s political leanings, having him go full black radical in an outfit that Richard Roundtree wore in the Shaft films feels a little on the nose for a book that’s built largely on seeing characters in new and different lights. His support team could also use a bit of fleshing out, but given that the three of them are essentially little more than a “guy in the chair” for Michael’s adventures this go around, I can wait a bit longer to see their characters develop.
Still, when the highlight of your book is the concept, you’re in trouble. The best writing here is expositional, and though I think there’s certainly something to be said for that, it does not overcome the tremendous hole that the artwork has dug for this series. I’ll likely stick with it because I wan’t to see the Wild Storm version of Batman, and no I don’t mean the Midnighter.