This title’s ongoing plunge into a world of dark, twisted versions of the DC Universe’s most iconic characters continues and, unlike some of the earlier installments of this 12-issue series, last month’s issue ended with me wanting more – and as soon as possible! Well, a month is a long time to wait, but issue 8 is finally here with not one but two DC heroes turned bad guys to deal with. How will Cray manage to handle both John Constantine and Diana Prince? There’s only one way to find out!
The covers for this series have been a little hit and miss for me, but I’ve got to say I like this one. The Cowan/Sienkiewicz image of psycho Diana, wearing armour and a lasso glowing at her hip, grabbing a bloodied Michael Cray by the throat while she casually grips John Constantine by the shirt is all sorts of impressive, even if we don’t get to see Diana in that get-up this issue. We do, though, get to see her in a smart business suit thrusting a sword up through a boardroom table and then impaling some energy executive on it so there is that.
Considering she’s shaping up to be perhaps the biggest bad of the series so far, we don’t get a massive amount of her in this issue, which is very much focused on writer Bryan Hill moving pieces into place prior to some sort of conclusion. That sounds a little pedestrian but nothing could be further from the truth. Hill presents Cray as a man who wants to do the ‘right’ thing, but has found himself caught up in other people’s plans both for him and the wider world and it’s hard not to feel a certain sympathy for him.
Diana’s plan is to bring back the ‘old gods’ (no, not them – the Greek ones) under the guise of John Constantine’s magic-powered ‘free’ energy device. This return of the gods will probably destroy the world, but Diana doesn’t care too much about that, because… well, she’s insane, isn’t she? Everyone that Michael Cray has fought in this book has been insane, but Diana’s madness (unlike Barry Allen’s face in the mirror and Arthur Curry’s delusions about Atlantis) appears to be founded on something that’s actually real. That Constantine is capable of genuine magic does not seem to be in question here and it’s he who tells Cray about Diana’s plan. He certainly believes she’s capable of it.
And then there’s the thing in Cray’s head. It feels a bit odd to be writing about Bryan Hill’s characterisation of an extra-dimensional brain tumour but it’s worth noting here. The tumour wants Cray to kill Constantine; it’s also trying to persuade Cray to allow it to take full control. When Cray doesn’t give in to its demands, it becomes petulant, refusing to help him when shadowy agents of this world’s equivalent of Exxon or BP come to try to kill him.
After a couple of issues’ absence, Dr Shahi returns to spar with a Christine Trelane who appears to become shadier by the panel. By the end of the issue, Shahi has been sidelined and Cray’s old team (including a Leon who should surely still be in the hospital at this point!) have been given the task of taking down their former leader.
The sense of walls closing in on Cray is palpable this issue and it ends with a really quite surprising panel which I won’t spoil here. It does, however, illustrate not only Diana’s power but Cray’s quickly diminishing options rather well.
As with past issues, N Steven Harris and Dexter Vines’ artwork is somewhat variable in quality, but, like last issue, Ross Campbell’s colours help things considerably. There are a number of moments where the art does a great job of presenting the kinetic, cinematic nature of the narrative (the three-way pile-up is particularly tasty), but those faces remain inconsistent. Nevertheless, along with Hill’s dialogue, there’s a tauter, more purposeful narrative here and there are also some intriguing twists along the way.
Bryan Hill’s character study of Michael Cray continues and features an intriguing and, on the whole, successful mix of background, conflict, action and foreboding. Now that the two issues and done formula has been abandoned, there’s a pleasing unpredictability to the story and, consequently, a greater sense that there are things at stake for our title character. The art is dynamic and, for the most part, effective and the return of Trelane and Cray’s old team is, unexpectedly, rather welcome here. I have no idea what’s going to happen next issue and I must admit that’s rather nice!
(This review first appeared on the Weird Science DC Comics website.)