For a comic which opens with its lead character punching an on-fire man off a building, Michael Cray does a remarkable job in continuing that feeling of icy calm which has followed through every issue of The Wild Storm. If one thing characterizes this relaunch of Wildstorm as a whole, it’s been the strange feeling of economy taken with the storytelling style, and here we get the general strangeness of Cray’s life summed up within six opening panels. Cray is otherwise known as the assassin Deathblow, but here the approach is anything but bombastic or exaggerated in that original Jim Lee style. There’s a cool detachment at play, and it works as well here as it does in the main Wild Storm series.
That detachment is shown throughout this first issue, with artist N. Steven Harris abandoning the character within quiet streets, isolated apartments, and wide, empty offices. Cray stands alone, literally, through the pages, and it reflects on his thought process. Aside from a strange aside where Cray talks to a mouse he sees in his apartment, the issue has a slow and subtle thought process, where the characters withhold everything from one another -- and, as a result, very often from the reader.
Bryan Hill’s script doesn’t give too much away, which means the issue tends to lean on Harris’ ability to sell the characters as careful, considered thinkers. For the most part, Harris is more than up for that job, expressing Cray as a man stranded in his own time, and at a disconnect from all those around him. Even when surrounded by people, Harris often tilts the angle of each panel to throw empty space around Cray, and leave him alone once more. That sense of abandonment plays through the entire issue.
Where The Wild Storm is detached and calm primarily because it’s written by Warren Ellis, Michael Cray plays a cool hand in order to keep the mad premise from stretching too far. The identity of the first person Cray is asked to kill is a surprise, but over the course of the opening issue we’re asked to slowly watch the portrayal of that character unravel in stranger and stranger ways. We’re led to believe that nothing out of the ordinary is taking place here, but the characterization of the ‘guest star’ plays off against the slow-burn and tense approach of the comic, taking what could be a bizarre twist and turning it into a tight-feeling mystery.
The decision to wrap Wildstorm back into the DC Universe is the sticking point which will put off a lot of readers, but the left-turn styling of the DC characters we see here provides an intrigue for the story moving forward. It's a shame that the imprint had to tie itself into well-known characters so soon into its reemergence (as is also the case for Young Animal, it could be argued), at least here there's a stern and smart point to the choice: to throw readers completely off-guard. It's hard to know where Michael Cray is going to take us moving forward, and it's precisely because it introduces characters we thought we knew.
The comic works because of those clashing instincts -- if future issues can provide a little more insight to Cray himself, who needs considerably more focus and depth as we move forward, then this should prove to be a worthy addition to Wildstorm's returning universe.