THE WILD STORM #15 is out today, and while there’s plenty I could say about this crucial chapter in Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt’s ongoing saga, I thought I’d change tack for this month and look at the imprint’s other ongoing series, WILDSTORM: MICHAEL CRAY. After all, the book’s first collection is also in comic shops today as well.
Written by Bryan Hill, from a story by Ellis, and drawn primarily by N. Steven Harris and Dexter Vines, Michael Cray can be seen as a spinoff of The Wild Storm since this reimagined take on the character was first introduced in that series. Back in THE WILD STORM #6, Michael Cray foiled an assassination attempt by his former employer, IO, before accepting a job working for Christine Trelaine at one of Skywatch’s ground divisions. That’s where his self-titled series picks up, and since then the book’s been blazing a different and frankly, unexpected trail from Ellis’s flagship book. While The Wild Storm has very little to do with DC’s stable of superheroes and villains, WildStorm: Michael Cray has some pretty strong ties to the DCU. That’s because we discover that what Michael Cray has been doing for Trelaine since joining her team is killing DC superheroes.
But here’s the thing. These aren’t the widely known versions of these heroes that are beloved by fans worldwide. Rather, Hill, Ellis, Harris and Vines have made a few sinister changes to the characters of Oliver Queen, Barry Allen and Arthur Curry. Olllie is still a billionaire who was shipwrecked on an island for five years, but instead of returning home and using the skills he gained there to fight injustice, he recreates his experience on the island using real human targets. Barry Allen is still a forensic scientist with super speed, but he relies on that speed to murder other scientists working on artificial intelligence. Arthur Curry still has his undersea abilities, but he gained them by genetically splicing his DNA with that of sea life so that he could terrorize and demand human sacrifices from a local fishing village.
In short, the defining abilities of these “heroes” exist, but their intentions have been corrupted and twisted into something much darker.
To be fair, this isn’t exactly new ground. We’ve seen dark versions of heroic characters before, many of them set on alternate earths, much like the one that the WildStorm books are set on. But I can’t recall another time a creative team has chosen to build an entire series around subverting some of DC’s most popular superheroes one-by-one into a rogue’s gallery for it’s largely non-superhuman protagonist to defeat.
I say “largely” because Michael Cray isn’t exactly without superpowers himself. He has the ability to completely disintegrate objects with a touch, though it’s an unpredictable and not-exactly-welcome capability that’s caused by a sentient alien life-form living in his head. (How it got there, is still to be revealed.)
Hill and Ellis clearly have some things to say about heroes here, and those things are far from rosy. Nor are they unprecedented. For years, characters like Lex Luthor and Amanda Waller have been warning us of the dangers of superheroes, taking drastic steps to reveal the threat they represent and devoting their lives to protecting the world from them. When the “threats” in question are Superman or Batman, it’s easy to see Luthor and Waller as misguided. But are they? WildStorm: Michael Cray shows us just how easy it is for the coin to land on the other side, and for people who are primed to take a heroic path to instead embrace the dark…and when they do, it’s monstrous.
It’s pretty hard to shake the image of Oliver Queen, wearing his familiar Green Arrow costume, brutally hunting down a veteran who has been kidnapped and set loose in Oliver’s “sanctuary.” In fact, it’s so at odds with what we expect that I found myself convinced that I was missing something—that what seemed to be a pretty horrific act of murder was actually a ruse, and that in issue #2 we’d see that things weren’t what they seemed.
But that’s not the story WildStorm: Michael Cray is interested in telling us. In fact, if anything in the comic isn’t what it seems, it’s likely Michael Cray himself and his hidden alien stowaway. Michael is hardly what you’d call a “good guy.” He’s a professional killer who traffics in espionage and subterfuge. Yet, the whole reason he’s now working for Trelaine is because he refused to kill Angela Spica after realizing she was an innocent who had gotten in over her head. He does have a moral code, and as the series protagonist, he’s who we cheer for. And yet, he too has darkness within that in recent issues has seemed very much on the brink of overwhelming him. Could the hero of this book wind up becoming a villain himself? It’s certainly possible, and even if he doesn’t, there’s always the risk he might lose control of his powers and disintegrate someone or something he didn’t intend to.
In short, don’t look for heroes in The Wild Storm or any of its spinoffs. This isn’t a world of good guys and bad guys. The WildStorm universe is about as gray as they come. And if we’re to take any of this as commentary on our own world, then you probably shouldn’t look for heroes to save us from the many threats we’re facing right now either. Superheroes as we’re familiar with them don’t exist because power corrupts, so perhaps we should be grateful that there’s no Superman in our world. If there were, he certainly wouldn’t help the situation.
Much like Michael Cray, we’re on our own.
WILDSTORM: MICHAEL CRAY VOL. 1 by Bryan Hill, N. Steven Harris and Dexter Vines is now available in print at your local comic shop. Look for it in bookstores and digital retailers next Tuesday, July 24.