In June 2016, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
THIS WEEK: Alex, slowly regaining his voice and getting over an NYCC cold, talks about all the news from this past weekend and reviews Michael Cray #1, the first spin off title from the Wild Storm boutique line.
Note: the reviews below contain **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Bryan Hill with Warren Ellis
Penciller: N. Steven Harris
Inker: Dexter Vines
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Letterer: Simon Bowland
As I wrote to you all when we last spoke, I really adore The Wild Storm. While I’ve never read the stories from Warren Ellis’ previous iteration of this universe, I really don’t think you have to in order to appreciate the story he’s telling here. It’s a tale that speaks to the age we live in– one where conspiracies about men on the moon and underground government agencies that control the world are more fact than fiction. Where violence is the most effective language and people love to talk. And it’s with that in mind that we come to Michael Cray #1, the inflection point where The Wild Storm becomes more than just a book, but the launchpad for a new imprint under DC Comics.
Michael Cray #1 is the first title to spin off from the lead Wild Storm series. It focuses on the titular assassin after he is betrayed by his former employer, International Operations– an agency which exerts a great amount of control over the Earth. Cray, desperate after being left out in the cold with a deadly parasite in his brain, ends up getting recruited by Christine Trelane to join a rival company that promises to pay to treat his disease in exchange for his unique talents. The first target Cray is assigned to kill? Oliver Queen.
The Wild Storm Universe’s proximity to the DC Universe is interesting. Up until this point, the Wild Storm cast had remained relatively unto itself, existing in an almost entirely separate space from the other titles in DC’s publishing lineup. And to an extent, it still does, as this Oliver Queen is different from the Green Arrow most of us are familiar with. However, the fact that the creative forces behind this universe are choosing to introduce characters like Queen and Bruce Wayne (who gets a passing mention) at all is a little jarring. Part of the reason why I initially fell in love with The Wild Storm was because I felt like it occupied a completely different niche than most other DC titles, playing to those interested in a more grounded take on genre fiction. Re-introducing the capes and tights here undercuts that notion in a way that I’m interested in exploring but am also uncomfortable with because it dilutes a part of what initially attracted me to this world.
So, with that in mind, who is the new Oliver Queen? Like the DCU Ollie, this man lost his family to an accident where his parents died and he ended up stranded on an island. He, like DC Ollie, managed to survive on the hostile terrain and eventually made it back to the mainland, inheriting Queen Industries and the vast fortune that came with it. This Oliver puts on green tights and dons a bow and arrow, brooding and training and reciting mantras where suffering = strength = survival. It’s all very “CW edgy,” but basically in keeping with the Ollie we know.
However, this Oliver is no hero. He doesn’t seem to fight crime as the Green Arrow and indeed, may actually be creating it in order to create conditions for his more legitimate businesses to expand. No, this Oliver Queen rips a page out of Most Dangerous Game, hunting men in an artificial recreation of the abandoned island he was shipwrecked on all those years ago.
That’s a kooky twist on this character and while I don’t love the idea of bringing DCU characters to the Wild Storm universe in the abstract, I’m on board with the execution of it here. It’s interesting to think about how Oliver’s time on the Island could easily have made him anti-social and traumatized. How having a scarcity-oriented mindset yet also controlling an uncountable amount of wealth might make him dangerous towards others. The creative team does a good job of taking the time to show us each of these character traits in Oliver throughout several scenes in Michael Cray #1, using his interactions with a woman he sleeps with and his reactions to a painful nightmare in order to paint the picture of a tragic yet immoral man.
Oddly, we get less shading for Michael Cray himself. This is especially weird if you’re coming to this series without having read The Wild Storm. I suppose the assumption is that you have read the parent title before coming to this one, but even if that’s the case, Michael has been one of the more enigmatic characters in this universe so far and this first issue of his spin off does little to give him a clearer goal beyond survival.
The creative team does a good job of showing us where Michael has been and where he is right now. We learn about the moments that made him the man he is through a beautiful montage scene at the beginning of the issue. We also get several great scenes establishing his strained relationship with the rest of his family and the anguish he feels about being near death’s door. Still though, it’s incredibly unclear where the series plans on taking him. He wants to live, certainly, but that’s not a definitive enough goal for a character who doesn’t appear to be in immediate constant danger. And while pitting Cray’s demonstrably formidable penchant for murder against Oliver’s makes for an interesting story arc, it’s not a tenable state for the lead character of a series to exist in for long.
So ultimately, I’m a little ambivalent on Michael Cray #1. I”m intrigued by the weird way this comic brings the world of the DC Universe together with the world of Wild Storm, but I’m relatively nonplussed by Cray himself. I certainly haven’t written him off– there are enough interesting elements to his character that I believe that his journey could kick into high gear as soon as the next issue– but his journey isn’t yet clear enough for me to feel an intense need to follow it.
Verdict: Browse, leaning towards a buy
- Metal #3 hits shelves this week and raises the stakes by yet another octave. Honestly, the Dark Knights one-shots have made me a little too uncomfortable to recommend thanks to their gratuitous violence, but I strongly recommend the main story Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are telling here. It’s a fun and interesting exercise in how various elements of the DC Universe can be brought together to tell a unique story filled with new ideas and infectious energy. It’s perhaps the most I’ve enjoyed an “event comic” in years thanks to its relentless pacing. Also, I adore the fact that the Batman Who Laughs has Robin hounds of hell and the way that this issue turns Superman’s love for Bruce into a tragic flaw.
- Mister Miracle #3 packs one hell of a gut punch. Within the first four pages, Scott Free tells a story that forced me to step away from the book for a few minutes before continuing. It’s a painful chapter that dwells on the way that a whole group of people can end up being scapegoated as cannon fodder for a few peoples’ hateful and selfish goals. The way that real causes can be manipulated and distorted to justify unjustifiable actions. How our own morality can be taken from us with the right phrase, repeated over and over again.
- NYCC is finally over and wow, what a show. NYCC is not traditionally a place where publishers announce new titles, yet DC did so this year several times over. Off the top of my head, I’m most excited for Eternity Girl, the new Young Animal mini-series written by Eisner nominee Magdalene Vissaggio and drawn by Eisner winner Sonny Liew. This creative team is not only prestigious, but sits on the cutting edge of comics, working in visual and narrative spaces that we don’t typically see in mainstream comics. And their book, which focuses on Caroline Sharp, a former CIA Agent who can’t die, sounds way up my alley.
- It’s worth noting, I think, that the initial text that went out about Eternity Girl named the lead character as Urania Blackwell, aka Element Girl. Those keeping tabs on Urania might remember that she died way way back in a beautifully told story in The Sandman. However, she very recently reappeared in a backup written by Vissaggio which appeared in Shade the Changing Girl #4. That backup seemed to show her trying to conjure a facsimile version of a normal life, only to watch it fall to pieces, forcing her to begin walking through an endless dessert. Urania seems cogniscent of her own demise here, saying at one point “I dreamed it in my sleep. I dreamed it in my death,” so where is she? Alive? Reborn? In limbo? There are enough similarities between the liminal state that Urania appears in in this backup and the premise of Eternity Girl that I can’t help but wonder if, at some point in time, they might have been the same title (also note the obvious connection between Element Girl and Eternity Girl). And if this series was about Element Girl at some point, why isn’t it anymore?
- On another Young Animal-related note, the mashups between the four main title in this boutique imprint and various DCU properties sounds like a lot of fun. In particular, I’m very excited about seeing Shade meet Wonder Woman and watching Swamp Thing thrown into the madness that is Cave Carson.
- In an example of truly next-level corporate synergy, the fact that Metal is getting an original soundtrack is absolutely stunning to me. Obviously, the company has played in this space recently with the “Into the Cave We Wander” tracks produced by Gerard Way and Ray Toro for Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye, but that was a minimal investment given Way’s and Toro’s pre-comics musical history. This Metal soundtrack will have a much higher production cost thanks to the artists they’ll need to hire and the two prolific producers they’ve already brought on board. The way DC lists producers Tyler Bates’ and Mike Elizondo’s accomplishments leads me to believe that the soundtrack will likely be a mix of ambient background tracks with a smattering of original metal/rock songs and more than likely, some covers. Basically what you’d get if they actually turned Metal into a movie. Which sounds CRAZY FUN.
- If the soundtrack does turn out like this, I can almost guarantee that we’ll see Metal turned into an animated movie at some point because it would be such a waste to not actually use the music again after the album drops.
- After years upon years of waiting, Milestone is back. While I personally wasn’t lucky enough to be reading comics in the time of the original Milestone, I’ve heard countless stories about how much this famously diverse imprint means to readers. Unfortunately, an ongoing lawsuit between founding member Dwayne McDuffie’s widow, Charlotte Fullerton, and the surviving partners of Milestone has marred the celebration quite a bit. I don’t think it does either side of this issue any good for me to comment on this, so I’ll refrain, but I do hope the parties come to a fair resolution in future.