Thanks for joining us again for Rae & Annie: The Only People On Earth Who Still Give A Crap About Wildstorm, which is neither the title of this feature nor honestly an accurate representation of the feelings of Wildstorm fans. [I guess they’re just having a bad day. —Ed.] This feature will contain spoilers, so it’s advisable you read the book before reading this article, presuming you’re one of the People on Earth who Still Give A Crap About Wildstorm.
This week, we’ll be covering Issue 9: The Filler Episode, which is neither the title of the issue nor an accurate representation of all of its contents. We’ll also touch on Michael Cray, which is the title of the spin-off book and an accurate representation of its protagonist’s name. It’s up to issue #2 now, and we’ll stare perplexedly at both of them.
Let’s talk about the filler. There’s so much of it! What’s it about? Why is it there? Surely Warren “Rather Good At Pacing” didn’t just throw away most of an issue. Did he?
Annie: Nine silent pages (except one has a medieval Japanese Spartan shouting “HA!” at somebody) is a LOT of silent pages, and for what? One of those is an establishing shot telling us a) we’re in Manhattan, as we have been for nearly the whole book, and b) it’s raining, which reminds Spartan of that one time he did eight pages worth of silent Kurosawa business in medieval Japan. The flashback tells us that he was dissatisfied with Emp’s handling of their alien technology. So?
Rae: Granted, the fight scene itself is very well-paced. You can follow the tension solely by tracking the red panels, courtesy of Steve Buccellato’s solid work. The second page of the fight, made up of 15 panels, starts by timing the tension via the falling, bloody head of Spartan’s first kill. You already know that Spartan is going to kill the next guy—it’s inevitable—but the blood lets you anticipate the more that will follow and enjoy the waiting alongside the character. It resumes only when both the head has fallen and Spartan and his next opponent leap at one another.
That juggling continues on the next page, which is made up of only seven panels and, therefore, requires a little more conservatism. The first panel’s functionality depends wholly on Davis-Hunt’s “camerawork” as he aims upward right behind Spartan’s foot so that we can wait for two things: 1) For the next opponents to run toward him, and 2) for the inevitable fall of the second head, which happens second panel. *Boom.* Now time for the next phase of the fight.
(And now as I look at that second head, belonging to a Japanese character, his eye is open. And I am confused. When does Davis-Hunt decide to make Asian characters’ eyes closed? Do they have to be of a certain ethnicity? Darker skinned? A protagonist?)
The fourth page is the one I’m most impressed with, if only because we don’t see fight scenes with 22-panelled pages. Ever. This count allows the team to pack so much detail into one page, and it all goes by quickly, great momentum, thanks to the smallness of the first 12 panels. Spartan sends out his final strike in one wide panel in order to have readers savor the moment, and we have Buccellato’s red tones again. *Boom.*
It’s a tight fight; it really is. The choreography, the camerawork, the acting—all spot on. Did it have to take up nine pages? Maybe not. But the team took that real estate and made something truly impressive with it.
That said, I agree with the point that we really didn’t get anything story-wise out of it. Ellis tacks on some characterization after the fight with dialogue that almost literally says, “HEY READERS, HERE’S WHAT OUR FUCKED UP HIERARCHY ON KHERA WAS LIKE!” Except they don’t say “Khera,” because information for the most part in this book still leaks out like a drippy faucet. I kind of wonder if they just threw the fight in there to pander to older Wildstorm fans who wanted more action sequences, because I gotta tell you, it was the last thing I expected from this book. It’s like the quiet, brainy kid in your class having a total meltdown in the hallway one day. “It’s okay, Wil It’s okay. We can go back to hanging with Angela and Zannah now.”
There were some weird little throwaway things in this issue. What caught your eye?
Annie: Zealot either has a comm implant in her head (boring) or a cell phone built into her glove (awesome). Do you want to read my WildC.A.T.S/Get Smart mashup fic? I’m pretty sure Marlowe has a cone of silence lying around somewhere.
Rae: Her name is actually Zannah, and that was literally the only thing I cared about when I first saw her character. Very happy we got that out of the way. Where’s my Zealot book now?
Annie: “I think there used to be a swimming pool. Might even still be here somewhere.” This is a nearly word-for-word Doctor Who quote.
So Michael Cray is meant to be an example of the “hire the best people and get out of their way” philosophy. Somewhere along the way, this hasn’t worked out.
Annie: It’s clearly part of an intentional effort to make Wildstorm more diverse, which is awesome. Michael Cray used to be a, can we say, Cable clone? He was a Cable clone. Angry, gun-toting mutant mercenary. Very white. Angry white men with guns sends a rather different message in 2017 than it did in 1995, or rather more people are aware of that different message.
Warren has made Cray black and hired a team of black creators to do the book. There’s a pattern in mainstream comics of hiring creators with a proven track record outside the field for “diversity hires” rather than promoting existing comics creators from underrepresented groups. Warren (or Marie Javins, or whoever made the hiring decisions) has done a good thing by getting two creators who have been working in comics for decades.
Rae: In terms of caring about Michael Cray as a character, we already didn’t have much to go on when he left. The team on Michael Cray the book hasn’t exactly helped with that. If action, action, on top of bloody action worked in the ’90s for any random comics character, it worked because of concept or aesthetic, and this book begs for both.
A story about how Michael Cray and his squad kill WildStorm versions of the Justice League isn’t original—hell, Ellis killed off his own version of Superman in Planetary/JLA: Terra Occulta with Jerry Ordway in the old continuity. Evil versions of big name superheroes are boring unless you drill down to a specific evil version for a specific thematic reason. On top of that, I’m not convinced that members of the Justice League should even exist in this universe regardless of power level or affiliation with one another. Their basic building blocks do not fit in this sci-fi world filled with realistic-feeling technology and mundane aliens.
As for the art, it has fundamental problems. First year in art school problems. N. Steven Harris’ proportions are often wrong; all his characters are stiff. Space is fucked up and curves the wrong way; he poorly chooses angles. Expressions fail to convey the emotional weight of sequences, and there’s a general lack of attention to detail. I could not tell you what the book is going for if I were to solely look at the art. It’s not a fun, or gritty, or fascinating book to look at. It’s just bad.
Bryan Hill’s writing doesn’t help matters. Establishment of the character and concept is little to none, relying on readers to pick up The Wild Storm in order to understand what is happening. Even readers, however, may find themselves asking a series of questions. Why is Cray going to his dad for intel on Oliver Queen? Doesn’t Trelane’s organization, Stormwatch (which goes unnamed in Michael Cray), have everything he needs? Does Oliver Queen quote John Donne to himself because he thinks he’s a movie villain from the ’90s? If I read the second issue, would I live to tell the tale? So many mysteries and such little life to waste trying to solve them.
What does this book need? The concept of “get out of [creators’] way” is a fundamentally flawed philosophy. Everyone needs an editor. Jack Kirby needed an editor. We would never have heard of the name Raymond Carver without his editor. There’s a difference between good editorial that gives creators space to work (such as our lovely editors at Women Write About Comics [Ayyy! — Ed.]) and editorial that suffocates its creative team. Michael Cray is a book that absolutely requires more oversight.
WildStorm as an imprint is tiny and run by very busy people. That Michael Cray is their second book in the line and that they believe that this is the best work they could put out does not bode well. This, unfortunately, is not the ’90s where the original imprint could coast on Jim Lee’s career. Readers are pickier now. They need a better reason to give Michael Cray a chance, but they won’t find it in the book’s interior.