Friday, December 15, 2017

The Wild Storm: Michael Cray #3 Review and Spoilers

Need For Speed

Written by: Bryan Hill with Warren Ellis
Art by: N Steven Harris and Dexter Vines
Colours: Dearbhla Kelly
Letters: Simon Bowland
Price: $3.99
Release Date: December 13, 2017

The Michael Cray series has been an interesting one so far, but one for which my initial enthusiasm has waned. After a very promising first issue, the second disappointed on a number of levels, not least in its double deus (‘dei’) ex machina resolution to Cray’s confrontation with the Wild Storm universe’s Oliver Queen. The announcement of Barry Allen as the focus for this month’s issue raises the possibility that this 12 issue series will simply become a magical mystery tour of a dark ‘gritty’ version of the DC Universe, in which our favourite heroes are presented as twisted alternative characters that are simply grist for Michael Cray’s increasingly super-powered mill. I hope there’s something more going on myself, but we’ll have to see. In the meantime, here’s issue 3…

The issue opens with the revelation that Michael Cray has a trophy cabinet (or locker, really) into which we see him place the arrowhead that Oliver had shot into him last time. I’m not sure how I feel about this, really. Keeping mementos of the people you’ve killed is a little creepy, after all. And then there’s the fact that some of the mementos we already see clearly come from existing DC characters. (There’s a boomerang, for a start, and what might be Slipknot’s mask and rope.) The implication, then, is that Cray has already taken care of a number of DC’s more minor characters - and, if those bracelets belonged to who I think they did, maybe a few major ones as well. This does raise the question of how long Cray has been doing this. The series itself indicates that he’s only just started working for Trelane. It’s possible that he’s encountered these other characters as part of his work for IO, of course, but if he has, that rather undermines the uniqueness of the premise of this series. Ah, well. Let’s have some exposition, shall we?  

In much the same way as we were introduced to Oliver Queen, this issue presents Barry Allen to us through a mixture of Christine Trelane’s narration and N Steven Harris’ art. This universe’s Barry is a black-clad murderer in a full face mask and red goggles, who appears to be on a demented mission to kill scientists because, he believes, they will bring about some kind of technological apocalypse. The scientist we see him kill is working for Elon Musk, apparently. A vibrating fist through the chest makes short work of her. Then things get a little screwy. Allen’s job as a crime scene investigator is brought into play; apparently he testifies that the target was killed by a sniper’s bullet. Now, I know Barry’s a csi guy, but, to the best of my knowledge, csi guys don’t get to declare someone dead or confirm cause of death. Did a coroner not see the body? Presumably, the undertaker would have, at least. I understand that the creative team want to explain how Barry covers his tracks, but this feels a bit off to me.

As with Oliver, much of Barry’s character - the way he gets his powers (no speed force here, thank you very much), his motivation - is given to us on a plate. While the briefing method of setting up a story is a tried and trusted one for things like police procedurals and war stories, coming straight after a story that had a similar set-up, this feels too familiar to get excited about. And, as with Oliver, there are intriguing aspects of Allen’s personality (in this case, the dominant version of himself that speaks to him from a mirror in his office) that I can only hope are explored properly this time around.

We then get an interlude with Cray and Dr Shahi, which ends with the clearest indication yet that she isn’t to be trusted, before we move to Cray consulting with first his father on the fact that he’s going to Boston (his father takes a dim view of his son working for “white people with the power to kill”), and then his back-up team about how best to bring Allen down. As is often the case with comics like this, one of them tells him (but not us) what the plan is and he agrees to put it into action, the first part of which appears to be posing as a federal agent sympathetic to Barry Allen’s anti-science ‘manifesto’. And that’s how we end things.

Taken on its own, that’s a pretty decent issue. N Steven Harris’ faces are still a bit odd at times (Barry’s scream of rage as he punches the mirror gives him a distinctly simian look. Which may, in fact, be the point, to be fair), but his action sequences are pretty exciting or - in this case - very disturbing. Hill writes Cray very well. The growing attraction between him and Shahi is believable and unhurried; the discussion with his father offers an insight into the state of racial politics in America while (just about) avoiding being too heavy-handed. Barry Allen, too, is presented to us as an intriguing if highly flawed antagonist.

There are, however, still issues. Cray’s team are not yet distinctive enough to be in any way memorable, despite the ‘fab four’ status suggested by the issue’s cover. Trelane’s motivations are clear enough (she wants the technology and drugs that enable Allen to move at superspeed), but her character remains anemic and resolutely one-note. Worst of all, though, is the inescapable sense that we are seeing a formula being established and played out. Just as with Oliver Queen, the creators present us with an unhinged, psychologically damaged version of a well-known DC character. Just as in last issue, Cray’s tactic is to go undercover to take that character down. Just as in the previous story, much of what we find out about Allen is given to us on a plate - with a side order of admittedly impressive action thrown in to liven things up. The overall impression of a good idea being worn out through overuse is already, even at this early stage in the series, lingering in the back of my mind.

Bits and Pieces:

This is a solid issue with some exciting, if uneven, art and some very engaging characterization. Despite some intriguing moments with Cray and the good Doctor Shahi, the sense of deja vu is inescapable, and I hope the creative team initiates a change-up in the format soon.


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