Best Shots Reviews: MICHAEL CRAY #1, RUNAWAYS #2, MISTER MIRACLE #3

DC Comics October 2017 solicitations
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

The Wild Storm: Michael Cray #1
Written by Bryan Hill
Art by N. Steven Harris, Dexter Vines and Steve Buccellato
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by DC Comics/Wildstorm
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The Wild Storm’s nightmarish version of the DCU starts to come into focus in Michael Cray, the imprint’s first spin-off title. Working from a story by Warren Ellis, Postal writer Bryan Hill pulls us deeper into the WildStorm line by giving us a taut, resonant look into Cray’s personal life beyond being a wildly talented killer. Hill sinks his hooks in deeper by introducing a twisted and violent version of Oliver Queen, who instead of becoming a hero after his island exile has become a paranoid, isolated hunter of human beings, obsessed with survival above all else. Aided by N. Steve Harris’ sketchy, noirish pencils, Dexter Vines’ delicate inks, and Steve Buccellato’s warm colors, Bryan Hill and company have delivered a worthy first installment for the first Wild Storm sister series.

We don’t really know much about this new Michael Cray, but the creative team quickly remedies that within the first two pages of this issue. Neatly hopping from Michael’s past to present, Hill, Harris, Vines, and Buccellato give readers a fast-paced primer for the man who would be Deathblow in the form of a six-panel grid showing Michael at varying younger ages on the left and violent windows into his “day jobs” on the right. The art team really nails this opening sequence, moving from the intimate emotion of a young boy’s kitchen to dynamic action at the drop of a hat, culminating in a credit page that marries both tones in a haunting combination, telling us everything we need to know about Cray going forward.

Hill’s Cray is a more activated and sardonic one than we have seen in the chillier main Wild Storm title so far. It is that wry sense of humor that makes Michael such a compelling lead and elevates the idea of a crazy, murderous Oliver Queen from a silly idea to a damn creepy one. As Cray adjusts to his new life beyond International Operations, the man we know as Green Arrow is taking some insane turns. Hill seeds Queen’s involvement in the story early on, tempering his character work with Cray with tense, bloody flashes of Queen’s life both on and off the island. At first these scenes seem like a man crying out of help, but Hill steadily reveals a rot in Queen’s soul, slowly pulling the layers back on his insanity through vignettes sprinkled throughout the Cray-centered A-plot.

Though we knew that the new “WildStorm” universe occupies an Earth that is not unlike the prime DC Earth, it is an exciting kind of jarring to see such a pillar of the DCU cast as the crazy villain. Better still is Hill’s juxtaposition of the two men. As Hill and the art team work to establish Queen as a legitimate threat through his constant, dynamic training and meticulously laid-out weapon caches, Cray’s establishing scenes take a more intimate and character-focused turn. For example, after receiving his mission brief from new boss Trelane and his father, who is tasked with running the logistic side of Cray’s mission, Cray retires to his new, but unfurnished apartment. Standing in the blank, sterile space, Cray meets his “roommate,” a tiny mouse. “Don’t worry, buddy. I’m not a cat person,” he jokes as he goes to stroke the animal’s fur, which in turn makes it instantly explode — a new manifestation of his budding Deathblow powers. “Sorry, buddy. I’m a little broken,” he says to the now-empty apartment, rendered as a stark white space with Cray standing in silhouette. Though Hill’s script sells the isolation of Cray, it is N. Steven Harris, Dexter Vines, and Steve Buccellato that turn this potential comedic beat into a gut-wrenching distillation of Cray’s entire character at this point; a man alienated by his own “skills” and isolated from the rest of the world.

While some readers might be turned off by this new meditative and emotional take on Michael Cray, this first issue offers more of the same super-espionage that makes the main title so fun, but with a heaping helping of poetic character work for good measure. You wouldn’t think that you would identify emotionally with the loneliness and despair of a guy named “Deathblow,” but I will be damned if The Wild Storm: Michael Cray doesn’t make you feel something, adding a much-needed warmth to the coldness that is The Wild Storm.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Runaways #2
Written by Rainbow Rowell
Art by Kris Anka and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Kat Calamia
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

What has Gertrude Yorkes missed in the two years she’s been dead? With Runaways #2, Rainbow Rowell masterfully fills in the gaps for longtime fans who've been wondering what our heroes have been up to during the title’s long hiatus, using this issue to sew together the continuity of the team’s scattered appearances from the past decade.

Runaways #2 plays out as more than an exposition issue by using Gert’s return as the emotional base of the story. Kris Anka establishes this tone by bringing a cinematic feel to the issue’s opener, down to the issue’s title in the first panel looking like a movie logo. On this page, Anka uses extreme close-ups to show what Gert perceived during her last moments of her life, not only setting up the issue’s point-of-view character, but getting readers hooked early with these quick-cut images of flames and impending death.

But as readers of the last issue will know, this is not Gert’s time to die — and that means she has a lot of catching up to do. Rowell, with all of Gert’s familiar dry sarcasm injected into her dialogue, uses this issue to not only focus on Gert’s shock of gaining a second life, but also the anger of the team separating. Gert can’t wrap her head around how her seemingly unbreakable family had drifted apart, which at this moment is more shocking to her than coming back from the dead.

These feelings lead into one of the issue’s most powerful scenes where Gert starts to analyze her place on the team. She states, “You were all supposed to go on without me… I was the least essential part. I was the appendix.” But this issue showcases the complete opposite, the reason the team fell apart was because Gert was the glue keeping them together. And in a meta sense, Gert’s death was also the fracturing point to the Runaways’ main story in Marvel lore before the team was scattered across the publishing line — making Gert the perfect catalyst to repair their broken family in their own series.

Kris Anka on pencils continues to perfectly combine the old with the new for Runaways #2. This marriage is an important visual factor to signify Gert’s lost time with the team. In this issue, Gert resembles her past self as a teenager while Anka gives a more modern design to both Nico and Chase to signify their growth into adulthood. These modernized elements are again shown with the reappearances of Old Lace, Molly, and Victor, while these references also help bring back a familiar warmth to the series.

Runaways #2 is a bit of a slow burn, but an issue that is still a pleasure to read as it establishes Rainbow Rowell’s seriousness towards following and connecting the Runaways’ somewhat scattered continuity with her vision of the series. This story is for long time fans who over the years have asked, “Whatever happened to the Runaways?” – as we are finally getting the answers we deserve.

Credit: DC Comics

Mister Miracle #3
Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerads
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

I must admit, I was never one for Christmas, but after hearing Scott Free recount a tale of Granny Goodness’, one of the Holocaust and unintentional outing, I might never be. Mister Miracle #3 begins with an ostensibly gruesome scene –– in keeping with the season of Granny’s story, someone’s getting carved up –– with the fixed perspective of Mitch Gerads’ nine-panel grid preventing us from looking away. So instead, the scene invites the audience to make sense of it all, much as they are of the wider narrative itself. Right from the start, Mister Miracle has kept its readers uneasily at arm’s length. Yet for how discomforting it is to see harrowing scenes, whether they be the aftermath of Scott’s suicide attempt or the casualties of war, the fact we continue to read on is proof Tom King, Gerads and Clayton Cowles pulled us in right at the start and haven’t let us go since.

Now a quarter of the way through, there’s a sense of the wider picture in how Tom King has gradually brought in other New Gods. Despite the fate that befell Granny Goodness last issue, she remains key to the start of the issue, along with Orion and even lesser-known characters like Forager. But at its heart, the series is a story about Scott Free and Big Barda in a world that doesn’t make a lot of sense anymore, trying to get by and heal together. They’ve been granted some time away from the war, and have opted to take their leave back on Earth. After the action and madness of the last issue it offers them a respite away and a chance of disconnecting from it all, but as the series’ first issue demonstrated, even times of relative normalcy can be unnerving.

A good chunk of the issue takes place during one night, that does serve to move the plot along, but the minutiae of the scene offers a deep look at how intimately Scott and Barda care for one another. This issue is also home to an escape attempt of Scott’s. Its quiet quality makes it the best sequence of the issue. Over the course of three pages, Tom King writes a scene with its own (literal) rise and fall that is mundane in the sense that we know Scott is capable of more fantastical feats, but that stillness is gripping nonetheless as it constructs a high-wire tension act out of a simple act.

Of course, this comes from the fact that we can’t look away because Mitch Gerads builds the scene as one that simply follows Scott on his way up, then down. He frames it from afar, in order to show the wider structure and build the tension, but close enough that there’s still detail to his figurework as Scott ascends and then manoeuvres himself into position to perform. For the most part, the sequence is silent and that really goes to show how effective this simplicity is, that even in a large narrative where we have no definitive idea of what the big picture is –– although the opening narration may offer some clues pertaining to Dr. Bedlam –– the smallest fragments are ones worth dissecting.

Those same qualities are basic tenets of Gerads’ aesthetic and style, how he’s capable of handling both the little things and the grandiose battles with equal dexterity. Take, for example, a set of three panels focusing solely on hands feel as elaborately constructed as a fight scene. The genuineness, the lack of artifice to this scene is perhaps the most arthouse-type flourish of the entire issue. Despite being a brief cutaway from a larger conversation, it demonstrates how King’s dialogue is capable of palpable emotion even when we can’t see the face of the character delivering it, how Gerads can craft tender scenes and how Clayton Cowles’ lettering has a flow to it even when working within panels of more abstract images.

For all these little moments that are so deserving of being broken down and subjected to further analysis, the wider picture is just as stimulating. In how the war must come before Scott can heal, but the brutality of it all means there’s little chance for respite, much less a chance to get the help required. King, Gerads and Cowles are interrogating this world –– while still being respectful of Jack “The King” Kirby –– digging into the core of New Genesis and Apokolips, planets ruled by gods and fuelled by the exploitation of slave armies to unearth the harsh realities of both. They’ve already found plenty of rich veins, and there’s still so many left to mine as the series continues.

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