Written by: Warren Ellis
Art by: Jon Davis-Hunt, Steve Buccellato and John Kalisz
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: July 19, 2017
Aaaand… I was right. It doesn’t happen very often so allow me to bask in my own self-reflected glory just for a moment. As I guessed last month, this issue does indeed open with the kind of action sequence to make Michael Bay go weak at the knees. It’s been a long wait (since issue 1 actually), but we finally get to see Deathblow in action and, bloody hell, it is brutally, gorily glorious. But, this issue isn’t just about Michael Cray putting the beatdown on two hapless IO goons. There’s a lot more going on here and I suggest you buckle up. There’s a lot to take in.
Let’s start with that opening Fight. The confrontation between Cray and two IO operatives, who have ostensibly come to deliver his stuff from his IO office but are in fact here to kill him following his refusal to kill Angie Spica for Miles Craven, is so well-constructed, so visually stunning, that you may need some emergency oxygen after reading it. Breath-taking. It’s breath-taking. Normally I wait until later in the review for my regular Davis-Hunt worship, but I would be remiss to do so in this instance because the fight is almost completely dialogue-free and Davis-Hunt’s story-telling skills are simply phenomenal here. This may be the best drawn fight of the year to date. I’m genuinely struggling to think of anything that comes close to it.
First, we have a bit of tension-building, a short terse conversation between Cray and Christine Trelane that dispenses with the notion that the men behind Cray’s apartment door may genuinely be here to deliver his stuff. The tension builds over the page as Cray takes careful aim and shoots one of the two IO operatives in the leg through the door, the art and panel layout making it clear that these are deliberately placed shots. Then, one of the goons crashes through the door, taking it off its hinges in the process and things get, as they say, tasty.
Ellis and Davis-Hunt slow the action right down and we get a fight that probably lasts about six seconds taking up as many pages. Cray’s main adversary is a ginger-haired (and bearded) goon who punches Cray through the door (twice!) even as it falls on top of him. The sense of how formidable this guy is is reinforced by the ease with which he disarms Cray, although, from his point of view, that is probably the worst thing he could have done.
If you’ve always wanted to see a character grab someone’s jugular and rip it open with his bare fingers (a niche enthusiasm, to be sure), then this is the comic for you. In fact, as far as I know, it’s the only comic for you. This is utterly compelling, shockingly visceral stuff – not only because Davis-Hunt’s artwork is clear and precise, but because he and Ellis pace the build-up to it so slowly and, the cherry on the cake, you have to turn the page to see the inevitable spray of blood. This is consummate comic book storytelling.
Once the blood’s pouring, there’s no real doubt as to who the winner is going to be – although it’s to the creative team’s credit that they milk the ginger giant’s death for all it’s worth. (The other IO operative, the one shot through the leg, is dispatched with almost perfunctory ease.) There’s a nice bit of banter between Cray and Trelane in which Cray points out that Trelane hasn’t really done much during this fight, but that’s kind of the point. There’s a clear sense that Trelane used the encounter as an opportunity for an impromptu assessment of Cray’s abilities and she’s clearly impressed by what she’s seen. She offers him a job immediately and he accepts.
And we get to catch our breath.
And then we get… Angie. If you’ve been reading these reviews for any length of time, you’ll know I love Angie. I’ll get to the substance of her conversation with Marlowe in a moment, but in the meantime it’s worth pointing out that, once again, Ellis and Davis-Hunt have portrayed her in such a way as to accentuate her bravery, her intelligence and her beauty. In her IO overalls and with her naturalistic posing, she is a million miles from the pouting, posturing, spandex-clad babes of the initial WildCATs and StormWatch runs and is infinitely more attractive. As much as Cray or Miles Craven or, as we’re about to see, Henry Bendix, she is a fully-realised character for whose safety and well-being this reader at any rate instinctively and deeply cares.
And her conversation with Jacob Marlowe gives us, for the first time, a proper look at the bigger picture in this Wild Storm Universe. For the first time, Ellis takes pity on the reader, connects the disparate pieces of the puzzle we’ve been getting over the last few issues and helpfully presents them as a unified whole that could perhaps best be described as the structure of the Wild Storm universe. We find out the relationship between IO and Skywatch as well as some hints as to how they were formed. While Marlowe is somewhat vague about his aims, it is clear that he has set himself against both organisations and is gathering a group of disaffected misfits to work with him. During the course of the conversation, the alien nature of Marlowe (and, for that matter, Kenesha) is revealed. And it’s all done very skilfully with flashbacks rendered in muted, almost monochromatic, shades as visual counterpoints to Marlowe’s narration.
The issue ends with a three-page section that dramatically shifts the focus away from Earth to Skywatch and a Henry Bendix who (finally) cottons on to the fact that Angie’s suit is stolen Skywatch tech. Having just read about the uneasy and mutually mistrustful truce between IO and Skywatch, the reader understands the seriousness of this moment and, even if he didn’t, the final page leaves no doubt whatsoever about how seriously Bendix takes this breach of the treaty between IO and Skywatch.
There are a number of reasons to like this issue. The opening fight is astonishingly brutal; having a clearer understanding of the Wild Storm universe is very much welcome. I haven’t even mentioned the page of Adrianna disrobing or the dialogue between Fahrenheit and Bendix. This issue is a veritable treasure trove of weird, exciting, disturbing and compelling moments.
Bits and Pieces:
The sense of things being ratcheted up several notches is prevalent throughout this issue, and I very strongly suspect that it represents a new phase in the ongoing story. Having intrigued us over the last few issues by showing us the major players in this universe, Ellis is beginning to bring them into conflict more obviously and there’s a very palpable sense of growing tension. I remain in awe of Davis-Hunt’s artwork, which here manages to be both viscerally kinetic and emotionally subtle without sacrificing any of its clarity. I’ve been saying for some time that the slow build-up we’ve had so far will be worth it in the end. This issue is the first indication of just how good that pay-off is going to be.