Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt’s The Wild Storm has been one of the most impressive comics to come out of DC in the last twelve months. While I know the plan was always to expand the Wild Storm line – and universe – in an incremental way, I must admit that I’d been viewing the arrival of a non-Ellis scripted title with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. The former because more Wild Storm is undoubtedly a good thing; the latter because any dilution of quality (which seemed a possibility if Ellis wasn’t writing everything) was inevitably going to be disappointing. Well, I’m an idiot for feeling that way. Let me explain why…
The issue starts with a summary of Michael Cray’s history that is so economical it might be deemed perfunctory, were it not for the emotional punch it packs. We’ve seen this kind of thing before when The Wild Storm presented Angie Spica’s back story for us. If anything, this is better. We get a single page divided into a six panel grid, Cray’s childhood and early adulthood on the left hand side contrasted with his more recent history as an IO contract killer on the right. In all of three of the left hand panels, Cray is being addressed by an unseen authority figure: his father, a teacher and the faceless IO recruiter who offers him a job while on the battlefield. On the right, the panels are dialogue-free and offer, with a greater or lesser degree of irony, comment on the earlier moments. It’s skilfully and cleverly done and hits the kind of character beats that make Cray an instantly sympathetic character, for all his morally dubious actions for IO. It’s only when we turn the page, that we hear Cray’s voice for ourselves and even then he’s reciting a saying his father told him.
It would not be unreasonable to suspect that Cray’s relationship with his father plays an important part in this issue and it is true that Cray meets with his father and sister after a period of seven years. The creative team play the family angle fairly lightly though. Indeed, the only reason Cray agrees to meet his father is because he has intelligence on Cray’s first target for Christine Trelane. It’s the way that target is introduced, presented and developed in this issue that makes it such a fantastic read.
When the solicits came out for this issue and the name Oliver Queen was mentioned as a target for Cray, all sorts of ideas whirled round my head. What kind of Oliver were we going to get? Good? Bad? Somewhere in between? Would it be an Oliver who had a green-garbed alter ego or some other kind of dark secret? There were a number of possibilities, some more appealing than others. I will not spoil the ending to this issue, but I will say that I think that the path the creative team takes with this version of Oliver Queen is both intriguing and genuinely gripping. Information about Cray’s target is drip-fed throughout the issue in such a way that I found myself increasingly drawn in to his world, hoping against hope that this Oliver might actually turn out to be more akin to the one we’re used to. That sense of hope makes the final revelations about the character even more powerful. It is very impressive storytelling.
This being very much an introductory issue, there’s not a lot for Cray to do here. There is plenty of action, but, the initial flashbacks apart, none of it involves him. (Although I do feel sorry for that mouse. Poor chap.) What we do get, though, is some snappy dialogue from writer Bryan Hill, most of which makes us feel even more sympathetic for our homicidal good guy. His relationship with Trelane is shaping up rather nicely – and it’s a relief to see him continue the character path he was on in The Wild Storm by questioning her choice of target for him, evaluating it according to his own moral code. In short, this is a character who is not only cool in that ultra-violent comic book way of his, but is also someone we can get behind on a moral level, too. All of which, is very encouraging.
N Steven Harris’ work is akin to Jon Davis-Hunt’s art on The Wild Storm, which suggests that, ironically like Wild Storm in the 90s when most artists consciously aped Jim Lee’s style, Ellis wants something approaching a house style for the imprint. Harris isn’t quite as detailed – or accomplished – as Davis-Hunt, but, with one or two exceptions, his faces are expressive and his action scenes involving. The real revelation, though, is Bryan Hill, a writer with whom I was not at all familiar prior to this issue. His pacing, dialogue and overall plotting are all excellent here, though. The sense of being in safe, competent hands is very reassuring.
All told, this is an excellent first issue – involving, exciting and, perhaps for some at the end of the issue, just a little horrifying. The art is clear and, despite one or two mis-steps tells the story well, while the issue is paced perfectly, balancing explanation with action-based characterisation with considerable skill. In short, this marks an interesting development in the ongoing exploration of the Wild Storm universe and I recommend you check it out.