DC's relaunched Wildstorm Universe expands today with the release of Michael Cray #1 from writer Bryan Edward Hill and artist N. Steven Harris. the story sees the title lead dealing with his own demons, including what he believes to be a cancerous tumor, while being tasked with hunting down one of the world's most dangerous men.
The series, which Hill says is "a portrait of the man, rather than just the execution of his name," removes "Deathblow" from the equation and focuses on Cray the individual, in a way that is distinct from his handling in the ensemble flagship title The Wild Storm.
"Warren [Ellis] wanted Michael Cray to be in the same universe, affected by the same story elements, but Cray's story diverges from the path of The Wild Storm," Hill told ComicBook.com. "As a character, he's a man looking to find his identity in the world, and the book's relationship to The Wild Storm reflects that. Michael Cray carves its own path in the same forest."
In a plot twist we will not explicitly spoil (even though they did so at New York Comic Con), Cray finds himself aimed at a dangerous individual on the final page of the book who is...well...best known for being a superhero.
Hill said that they chose the story because "another target would have been too easy," but emphasized that the person being pursued by Cray is not the same version of the character currently appearing in DC's Rebirth line.
"The Wild Storm is its own universe; it's not part of the DC Universe, proper," Hill explained. "We will see versions of the characters we know from that universe, but they're filtered through the off-kilter vision of that world. The gift in the writing is that I can explore the more challenging aspects of these characters, removed from the permanent moral compass they have in their classic incarnations. These are characters with obsessions, and obsessions usually cause more harm than good. We can explore that here."
Of course, whether or not it's a twisted and off-kilter version of the character, it is difficult to imagine that a longtime Justice League member is an outright bad guy. While it is possible, it seems equally likely that Cray is being manipulated by his handlers.
"Show me a handler that's on the level and I'll show you a pretty bad handler," Hill joked. "When your job is managing someone in a life of violence, you rarely accomplish that with one hundred percent truth."
If anything, then, that feeling of moral ambiguity and a life in the shades of gray that exist between good and evil seems to be pervasive in the book: the hero has it; his employers have it; even superheroes have it. long the way, a flashback framing device gives some insight intot he events that made Cray who he is -- something that ironically flashes back about twenty or so years to when Deathblow would have been in its prime as a comic at Image.
"I often think about the childhoods of people," Hill said. "When I see a person that commits violence, terrifying and brutal acts of violence, I wonder about their childhood. Unless they were born a sociopath, they probably didn't imagine winding up this way. I wonder about the moments where the dreams of childhood left them and adulthood became something darker, something potentially destructive. Lee Harvey Oswald was a child once. Assuming, for the purpose of this conversation, he killed President Kennedy I wonder what that boy would have done if he had seen a future where he killed The President of the United States. How can a child process the actions of himself/herself as an adult? That idea is fascinating to me."
Michael Cray #1 is out today. You can get it at your local comic book store, or digitally via comiXology.