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It’s time to return to Deathblow without Tim Sale and after the epic tale of the Black Angel, and I had no idea what to expect.
What I do know is that Brandon Choi is now down to scripting just this and Gen13, and I miss the guy! Not only for his consistency, but for the way the entire WildStorm Universe gelled under his pen.
As great as Choi was on the global intrigue of Stormwatch and the teen angst of Gen13, something about this pair of procedural tales makes me think his heart remains in these gun-for-hire stories. These three issues are by far the best of Deathblow yet, despite them having nothing to do with his mega-arc with the Black Angel.
Choi imports of a noirish the vampires and werewolves from Wetworks for a noirish tale in issues #13-14. It works perfectly to establish Michael Cray’s new status quo nine months after his battle with the Black Angel. Now he’s a gun for hire who can’t help but step into supernatural affairs.
The story is tense, bloody, and maybe the first true mystery tale we’ve seen from WildStorm. It also feels an issue or two longer than it actually is (in a good way) thanks to being packed with plenty of rising action and fine details.
Similarly, the Navy Seals one-shot that follows is a satisfying standalone story that fleshes out the mysterious Gamorra mission where Michael Cray met Mr. Waering. It also ties in some plot threads from as early as Deathblow #0, with the Seals-in-training on the base all gunning for Cray’s head due to the spectacular bloodbath of Costa Mesa. It’s a thrilling little mystery with no easy resolution that leaves us as confused as Cray.
On art, original Stormwatch inker Trevor Scott has made the leap to penciller and his work is perfect for Deathblow! He’s nowhere near Sale’s look – and more like Whilce Portacio than Jim Lee. As amazing as Sale’s approach was, there is something deeply satisfying about seeing Deathblow drawn in Image’s house style. There’s nary a bad page here, and some truly interesting panel work. Scott isn’t addicted to splash pages like most Image artists, and he delivers a lot of interesting framing, smaller sequential panels, and silhouetted bodies.
At the start we’re back to the sickly gray and green palette from colorist Ben Fernandez, which will give you whiplash if you’re coming directly from Linda Medley’s warm limited palette on the last arc. Fernandez warms things up when Cray touches down in LA. It’s such a relief to see some saturated reds that aren’t blood (although, there is still plenty of blood). Issue #15 has downright normal colors as we see Cray driving the I-5 by day.
The Choi/Scott synergy on this trio of issues is remarkable. These are two of the first totally throwaway, fill-in types of stories we’ve seen on any WildStorm book, yet they both are gripping reads that only serve to make what came before more interesting.
Want the recap? Keep reading for the full plots of this trio of awesome issues. Here’s the schedule for the rest of this month’s WildStorm re-read. We’re in the home stretch! Tomorrow brings us Union (1995) #1-3 & Gen13 (1995) #0-1 (in two separate posts), followed by Team 7: Objective: Hell (1995) #1-3 on Tuesday, and then we’ve reached the main event – WildStorm Rising!
Deathblow #13 opens with the report of a sixth murder but a LA-area serial killer, and Wetwork’s Mr. Waering being quite sure it’s one of his brood of werewolves. A trio of IO goons try to “convince” Michael Cray to check back in with Craven while he visits Gabby’s tombstone (SO TACKY), but he wipes the floor with two of them. His sometimes-contact Rayna disposes of the third by turning his taser on him. She’s here to ask Cray to take on protection duty of a Hollywood starlet who fits the young and blonde MO of the LA killer’s victims.
His client Caroline is every conceivable kind of trouble – substance abuse, mood swings, promiscuous with stars and politicians, paranoid that she’ll be killed by the CIA, and in the throes of an Oscar race. Cray accompanies her and her normal bodyguard Benedict to a party where he rubs elbows with Cyberforce’s Stryker, is gifted a bullet by Mr. Waering (who he once saved from Gamorra), fends off flirty CIA Deputy Director John Barry, and then extricates Caroline from the charms of Johnny Savoy (vampire lead singer of the band from WetWorks #3). Cray manages to get Caroline out of the party, but they miss their car when an identically-dressed woman snatches it … only for it to blow up seconds later!
Cray hustles Caroline into a cab and back to her house, where the power and phone lines are suddenly cut just as Cray confirms with Rayna that Benedict has a connection to the CIA Director from the party. Cray assumes Benedict, who set up all the fortifications in the house, now has them in a kill box, so he makes a break for Caroline’s car to grab her sell phone. He empties a clip into Johnny Savoy along the way, who just shakes it off. He, too, is here to protect Caroline.
It may already be too late – they hear a bloodcurdling scream from behind them in the house.
Savoy beats Deathblow back into the house in Deathblow #14, where he tears two attackers in tactical gear limb from limb. Deathblow knocks out a third and impales a fourth before they can extract any answers from him. Caroline is shaken, and Cray convinces her not to swallow a fistful of pills and just tell him the whole story.
It turns out, both the CIA and the werewolf serial killer are out to get her, because they’re one and the same. In a super-creepy tale, her former beau John Barry used to sneak off in the night when he thought she was asleep via a leap off of her balcony, and by the time he hit the ground he was a werewolf. Caroline tried to convince herself it was a nightmare or a hallucination, but each time he slipped away a young woman who looked just like Caroline would be found dead the next morning.
Cray isn’t as incredulous about the werewolves as she expected, given how the past year of his life has gone down. When Savoy comments that the attackers were probably both CIA and werewolves too, Cray decides it’s time to take their show on the road. They camp out at Savoy’s palatial estate to try to wait out the next night’s full moon. It brings with it a major CIA infiltration of the compound that keeps both Savoy and Cray occupied and out of Caroline’s sight.
They make it back to her just as she’s facing down Barry, and while Savoy has figured things out, Cray is in for a big surprise – Caroline is the werewolf serial killer. Cray quickly shoots her with Waering’s silver bullet, and she thanks him as she dies.
Deathblow #15 opens with the death of a man we’ve never met before – a Seal Team 6 vet with the call sign “Wild Man” who loves free climbing and plummets to his doom not from a slipped fingerhold but a knife to the heart from an assassin.
We find Cray still in LA a week after Caroline’s funeral, living off of Savoy’s gratitude or guilt. Maybe both. He takes a car down the coast to San Diego to visit his old military base stomping grounds for a funeral of a former teammate, to reconnect with another. They all served together on Seal Team 6 program before Deathblow departed for IO … and they all seem to be dying, except for Cray and his training partner Tom “Shooter” Archer (who is married to an old flame of Cray’s).
It seems to have something to do with a rescue mission in Gamorra 20 years ago … a strange coincidence, since Cray just ran into Waering (who he saved from Gamorra, presumably on that mission) and Archer fielded a call from a reporter about the supposedly classified mission.
While Cray mulls the mystery over with a beer, a group of Seals-in-training jump him. They want retribution for the Costa Mesa op, which has left Cray with the reputation of a traitor and a deserter. He probably could have taken all the trainees on his own, but Archer stops by to lend a hand.
The next morning, Cray and Archer are digging into the mystery of Gamorra and their dead teammates – none of whom died of the apparent natural causes reported on their autopsies. They’re interrupted by a call from Archer’s house – it’s his wife, and she’s being held hostage by the assassin from the opening pages. He’ll trade her life for Archer’s (he’s under strict orders not to mess with Cray yet, despite him being the next name on the hit list).
The assassin is planning to blow up Archer’s house in an apparent gas leak as soon as he arrives, but he’s not accounting for being double-teamed by both Archer and Cray. They manage to subdue him, but a final shot from the assassin kills Archer … and moments later he is blasted out of a window thanks to Archer’s now-widow wielding a shot gun. Cray cradles his dead partner, missing his killer’s escape.