Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Wild Storm: Michael Cray #4 - Review and Spoilers

Wham, Bam, Thank You…

Written by: Bryan Hill with Warren Ellis
Art by: Larry Hama, N Steven Harris, Andy Owens and Dexter Vines
Colours by: Dearbhla Kelly
Letters by: Simon Bowland
Cover Price: $3.99

The Michael Cray series is proving to be an interesting experiment, but perhaps not quite the one its creators had in mind when they first conceived it. As the first spin-off series from Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt's The Wild Storm, it represented an opportunity to expand the Wild Storm universe significantly, perhaps tying into the larger ongoing narrative of the main series in interesting ways. This isn't quite how things have turned out. Instead, the focus has been on Michael Cray assassinating damaged alternate versions of DC characters and, only a few issues in, the formula already has a distinct whiff of staleness about it. The series does rather pose the question of precisely how long a very good idea can be mined before it's outlived its usefulness. The answer appears to be… not very long at all. But, I may be wrong. Perhaps things will start looking up with this issue. Let's find out, eh?

This issue starts with a conversation between Michael Cray, who is posing as a rogue federal agent, and this universe's Barry Allen who is using a combination of technology and drugs to give him speed powers. He then uses these powers to kill scientists, because… well, here things get just a little woolly. There's some vague stuff about technology rendering face to face interaction increasingly difficult (or, if we're honest, too uninteresting to bother with), but, the references to Allen's 'manifesto' aside, there's little in the way of detail here. Cray's line about it not feeling like prison "if you can't see the bars" is standard conspiracy theory stuff, but it doesn't really explain Allen's decision to deal with the problem in a murderous way. Mind you, Barry Allen is mad. He hears a voice in his head that tells him what to do, something he shares with Cray in a later meeting.

It's hard not to feel a certain sympathy for Allen. He needs therapy and some serious medication rather than a bullet to the head, but it's the latter he gets in the climax to a takedown by Cray and his (mostly forgettable) team that all feels a little… rushed. (Yes, pun intended. I am that shameless.) Throw in an interesting conversation with a holographic Dr Shahi, a rather pointless – and not particularly engaging – confrontation between Cray and Leon, one of his team members, a chat with Christine Trelane about Cray's personal moral code that doesn't really go anywhere, and a sneak peek of next month's DC hero-turned-bad-guy that made me feel a bit queasy and that's your issue.

All told, it is reasonable. But the missed opportunities are glaringly obvious. Cray's understanding that Allen is essentially a broken man in need of psychiatric help occurs fairly early on in the issue, but it doesn't stop him from killing him. While he does voice his concerns to Trelane post-assassination, they're dealt with in a casual way and serve as a lead-up to next issue's bad guy. The relationship between Cray and Trelane could be a great deal spikier, but it feels like Bryan Hill hasn't got much of a handle on the character or, perhaps, just doesn't care about her very much. When there is tension – between Leon and Cray – it comes out of nowhere and seems somewhat forced. While Cray's way of handling it is genuinely badass, the scene as a whole feels like a waste – an argument about a plan which essentially takes all of three pages to pull off.

Harris' artwork is dynamic enough, but his characters look like they're all related to The Goonies' Sloth and his backgrounds are minimalist. (To be fair, Larry Hama was on breakdowns this issue, so that might not all be down to Harris.) Hill's dialogue is generally very good and his Cray is an instantly likable character. The stories he's in, however, are awkwardly-paced and, too often, feature intriguing ideas that are discarded before they're properly explored. Some of this is undoubtedly due to the demands of this 12 issue series, but the disappointment is akin to being presented with a snack when you've been promised a five course meal.

Bits and Pieces:

Some good ideas and engaging dialogue notwithstanding, this series continues to fail to deliver fully on its initial intriguing premise. Inconsistent art and the odd issue with pacing mean this issue isn't as enjoyable as it could be, and the series as a whole, even at this early stage, is settling into a formula that is already beginning to feel like it's past its sell-by date. This is reinforced by a final page that is evidently meant to evoke some sort of anticipation in the reader, but left this one at least less than thrilled. A disappointing issue.


No comments:

Post a Comment