this entry covers “Deathblow” Vol. 1 issue 0 and “Deathblow/Cybernary” issues 1 through 3 and “Deathblow” Vol. 1 issue 4, but only the “Deathblow” stories from 1 – 4, the Cybernary stories don’t happen until later, despite what the letters column states. Note: the first 9 pages of “Deathblow” Vol. 1 issue 0 originally appeared as a short story in “Darker Image” Vol. 1 issue 1.
The “Deathblow” book mainly follows the “adventures” of Michael Cray, whom we already know from the “Team 7” books as having been on, well, Team 7. We also know that he agreed to stay and work for Craven at I/O after Team 7 broke up. We’ve seen 2 of these I/O missions before. One in “Team 7 : Dead Reckoning” and one in the “WildStorm Winter Special” story “Deathblow Gets Dusted.” The mission he is taking on in the 0 issue doesn’t go much better.
Cray is found on a mission in Costa Mesa seemingly attempting to avenge a fallen comrade form a prior mission. Cray feels he is responsible for this this man’s torture and death, and Cray means to take out General Manuel Ortega by way of assassination. We learn most of this due to a mission briefing our old friends Miles Craven and John Lynch are giving to Lieutenant Conrad, as they are asking him to take out Cray before he can kill Ortega as a matter of national security. When Conrad asks why Cray has gone rouge, as well as over of the edge, the response is that Cray had been recently diagnosed with cancer, and that he’d like to right a few wrongs before his ticket gets punched. Conrad is instructed to put together a small group, get into Costa Mesa, take out Cray and hightail it back home. It’s a Craven mission, so of course it can’t be that simple!
We, the reader, find out that the mission to stop Cray is just a false flag to establish plausible deniability. The government wants Ortega dead, but politically they’re still aligned with him. Cray was actually sent on that mission to take out Ortega, but officially he’s a rogue agent. Craven does not care what happens to anyone involved, just as long as Ortega is dead by the end of it. Lynch, really isn’t on board with this plan at all, and we’re starting to see some serious doubts on his behalf. Cray takes down Ortega, most of Ortega’s men take out Conrad’s team, Cray himself has to take out Conrad so that he can take out Ortega too. Also, there’s a bit of human sacrifice and a minotaur-like demon that was summoned, because comics. We also see a man going by the name of Mr. Trickle who’s making sure everything goes according to plan down in Costa Mesa as well, not too much is known about him at the time, but he seems to be working for I/O as well.
Once Cray gets back to America he meets up with Lynch and he’s totally pissed off that 4 good men had to die on that mission. Meaningless deaths. Cray socks Lynch and reprimands him for what he’s become under Craven at I/O and states that he’s quitting. The next mission I/O has is for Mr. Trickle’s team. We find out that Mr. Trickle has a first name, it’s Travis and he is apparently Cray’s best friend and one time I/O partner. Lynch is insistent that Cray accompanies Trickle’s team on the mission. I mean, I thought we just saw Cray quit I/O, what’s he doing back? And why is he buddy buddy with Lynch again? Maybe there was an off panel conversation that took place at a bar, and over beers it comes out that Lynch is unsure of everything Craven is up to, and I/O has gone too far. Cray is all “told ya, and so did all the other guys too. Except for Slayton, that jerk” so Cray came back to I/O to be an inside man for Lynch. At least, that’s how it goes down in my mind. A little bit of head-cannon can go a long way, but if anyone else has a good idea why Cray came back, explicitly at Lynch’s direction, lay it on me!
The mission, Kussein (get it) has been causing trouble in Iraq again, so I/O is tasked with getting in there, gathering info on their weapons supply and blowing stuff up if they have to. Exactly how much Lynch knows about what is going to go on here is debatable. He’s been seeming wary of Craven early in this book, as well as with what went down in “Wetworks,” but we have Craven commending him on “quite the little show” he set up for this mission. Then again, Lynch seems to be just talking about the straightforward aspects of the mission, it’s Craven who gets all Mr. Burns about what is being said.
The mission is more than just kicking some Iraqi butts, well it isn’t for the I/O team at least. Someone working with the Iraqis is having them dig up what they were told is a stash of Scud missiles. It infact is a seal of the long buried temple of the Black Angel. The Iraqi troops in charge are then shot so that their blood will open the seal and then reawaken the Black Angel and its minions. Oddly, there is a monk that was working with the Iraqis too, who is trying to make sure this all this doesn’t happen. About the time the monk is realizing that it is all too late he happens to be the bunker that the I/O team is breaking into. All the Iraqis end up dead, they think they got Kussien, but it turns out to be a body double, and Cray is a bit spooked about how that monk was fighting. Cray ends up taking out the monk and gets really upset once he finds out it wasn’t just a disguise and he really is a man of God, to be clear he’s a member of the Order of the Cross. As the monk is dieing he’s begging Cray to go after the Black Angel and stop him at all costs. Then, while the I/O team is leaving the scene (and bombing it to hell) we see the Black Angel calling out to Cray stating that Cray’s nightmare is just beginning. Cray can’t catch a break, first cancer, now evil angels are after him.
And that’s where we drop off for a bit. I know, it’s a bit cliff-hangery, but issues 5 – 12 of “Deathblow” offer no break in the story, and there is a passage of time between issues 4 and 5 that becomes clear when you start in on issue 5. I have to commend the art of this book, I know it is basically the “Image style” as heavily influenced by Frank Miller’s “Sin City” but that’s what sets it apart from all the other WildStorm books at the time. Some WSU books take on a true style at this time, but none more so than “Deathblow” being so moody and “Gen 13” being so bubblegum. Not only is it fantastic that both these books are coming out from the same company at this time, but also that they books that are quite closely related! I must commend Tim Sale for picking up where Jim Lee left off so flawlessly. Sale really make this book his own.
Now it’s time for me to admit that I never read “Deathblow” growing up. I was never interested in military themed comics, nor violent ones. This is also why I never got too into “Wetworks.” “Gen13” was goofy comics fun, “WildC.A.T.s” was a sci-fi comics saga, “Union” was a post modern take on “Superman,” “StormWatch” was, well, it was something different, but “Deathblow” was dark and violent, and I just couldn’t hang with that as a teenager. Now? Now I dig it. Sure, I blow past the military stuff, and the violence doesn’t bother me so much, but a lot of this rests on the character of Michael Cray. This guy just gets more lovable as his series goes on. Maybe “lovable” is the wrong word, but “relatable” doesn’t work either, who can relate to the life that he’s been through? He’s a tough bastard that develops a real sense of humor. Well, he had one in the “Team 7” book, but lost it by the time we met him in “Darker Image” and “Deathblow/Cybernary,” I guess that cancer will do that to a guy. Michael Cray just might be one of my favorite characters of this time in the WildStorm Universe when I look back on it, he’s the WSU’s drunken cranky uncle who cracks you up at Christmas. He’s awesome and salty, and you can’t believe he’s at the party, but you never want him to leave.