Grifter issue 0 written by Rob Liefeld with dialogue by Frank Tieri, issues 1 – 8 written by Nathan Edmonson and Superman written by George Perez.
“Grifter” is a confusing book; the story is constantly told backwards. It focuses on the main group of daemonites which wants to exterminate the humans. They’re led by a council of their wisest , all of which serve their lord Black Curate, a religious figure which lies in another dimension. These daemonites are spread out into different regions; the story focuses on the Gotham branch and the Seattle branch.
The Gotham branch is the biggest one of the invasion and they’re tasked with summoning the Black Curate. The Seattle branch is supposed to infiltrate a corporation in hope of integrating daemonite technology in Earth. This branch has plans of their own, however, to overtake the rest of the daemonites. Many years ago, the daemonites rebelled against their most powerful, Helspont, and defeated him using humans. The leader of the Seattle branch, Tsavo, uses the threat of the return of Helspont to convince his men to keep experimenting on humans to create a human weapon like they did during the first rebellion against Helspont. Tsavo is attempting to find a Chosen One from a prophecy and use him to defeat the other daemonites.
There’s a third party at play: The human resistance built by Warick, who wants to defeat the daemonite invasion. He was one of the people kidnapped during the daemonites’ rebellion against Helspont. He manages to find out humans are still being experimented on like it happened to him. Instead of being angered, this gives him hope; if the Chosen One is found it might prove the salvation of Earth. All he has to do is take him from the daemonites’ grip.
The book is lettered by Wes Abbot, of Wildstorm fame; it’s good to have some of the old team back. Another Wildstorm veteran is Scott Clark, who joins the party in issue 4. The rest of the creative team isn’t so great. The first writer, Nathan Edmondson, was never a comics fan, his influences are classic literature. He didn’t even know what Marvel and DC were putting out. He accepted doing Grifter because it was the only WS character that he knew by name; he ditched the trench coat from Cole’s design because it wasn’t realistic enough for his tastes. In short, he was an awful choice for the book. At least he was cool enough to take a picture with Grifter’s mask on (thanks to Joe Soliz from Wildstorm Addiction). On a more positive side, the first artist, CAFU, was a big Grifter fan and this was his dream job.
OK, backstory over, let’s get to the main character. The story takes centres around Grifter; he’s one of the kidnapped humans by Tsavo, and he turns out to be the Chosen One. Cole Cash keeps his military background from the WSU, having worked with the army in Special Ops before joining this timeline’s Team 7. He gained the codename Grifter for his ability to smooth talk his way to anything he’s after. From all the humans kidnapped, Cole seems to respond best to the transmission of daemonite abilities. The daemonites hope to turn Cole into their cause by programming him through virtual scenarios. However, Warick manages to sneak in and help Cole escape; the programming wipes his mind out so Warick gives him a new identity, and Cole is none too wise of what he’s just gone through. The daemonites can’t let Cole escape; he’s too good of a weapon. When they manage to grab him they have to wipe out the interrupted programming first, a process that takes seventeen days. However, every time he’s caught Warick manages to free him again. The third time they go through this dance, after Cole is saved by Warick, he is given the identity of a grifter who scams people for money.
Cole gets used to this lifestyle quickly, taking the fake name of Christopher Argent to con people. After his last scam he’s planning to meet his girlfriend Gretchen Reese in San Juan, but the daemonites take him yet again. They start erasing his programming, taking 17 days. Warick shows up after this process is finished, waking Cole up before he can be programmed again and then disappearing before Cole can see him. Waking up in a strange laboratory freaks Cole out, who runs away by beating the daemonites who try to stop him. He seems to have improved skills! Running through the street, he obtains his trademark red mask by stealing it from a costume shop. He finds it in the section of “Voodoo / Magic.” This may be a little wink, maybe not. Cole’s new abilities include being able to hear the daemonite’s hivemind and telekinesis. Tsavo’s plan of creating a powerful human to destroy the other daemonites is well on its way.
Cole gets into a plane to try and make it to San Juan. Thanks to the process he’s undergone, he’s able to hear the daemonites thoughts around him, so he discovers daemonites hidden in the plane. Cole hijacks the plane, taking hostages and even shooting a person who is secretly a daemonite. He’s the only one who can sense this, though; to everyone else he’s just shooting humans. Cole is forced to jump into the ocean. After that scandal the daemonites manipulate the media to turn Cole into the world’s most hunted man. He’s likely to be the Chosen One, so he must be captured before the scheduled time for summoning the Black Curate. Meanwhile, a Colonel from the American Special Forces sends a soldier against Cole: Max Cash, Cole’s brother. Now that the hunt is on, you can see “wanted” posters for Grifter in other titles from the DCU like “Teen Titans” issues #2 and #6.
Cole’s girlfriend meets up with him, confused about the 17 days he was gone and about the news saying he’s a killer. Cole tries to explain everything about the aliens, but he sounds insane, so they break up and Gretchen leaves for Gotham City. Back in the pentagon, the Colonel finds a tape in which Grifter is seen attacking a daemonite and the alien is visible. He adds this tape to the army’s Black Files, where they compile all of their alien sightings. He calls a friend named Owen and a council is assembled where they discuss all this.
We’re back with Grifter in time to see his brother revealing himself and facing him. He does this by making Cole’s car explode while he was driving. Thankfully this scene is forgotten in the following issue, where Cole is back in his car. The book seems to randomly forget about the last pages of each issue sometimes. The brothers have an interesting conversation in which they discuss their shared time in the army and the vows they made to one another. Cole is trying to convince his brother that he wouldn’t turn into a bad guy, but Max mentions Cole was making dirty money even in the army. This somehow feels more fitting of Max from the WSU. Cole reveals he’s just stalling, making time so that the daemonites can catch up with him; he knows that’s the only way in which his brother will believe him. Sadly, this plan will doom his brother.
They’re attacked by the daemonite Myev, who act under orders of his superior Tsavo. Myev kills Max, so Cole puts him down with a couple of bullets. Daemonites weren’t so tough after all. However, we’ll learn that Myev survived and crawled inside Max’s body. Cole reaches Tsavo because he’s able to follow his telepathy and he orders him to take them to the daemonite leaders. In Gotham City, Gretchen is kidnapped by the daemonites from that branch.
Tsavo drives Cole to Q-Core’s headquarters; Green Arrow’s company. Believing the place must be filled with daemonites, Cole chooses to crash his car into the building. Smart. Predictably, Green Arrow and Grifter end up fighting, and Cole starts doing things like catching arrows mid-flight. “It would be a long time before I understood how I’d just done that,” he thinks. Indeed, it won’t be explained until five issues later. Tsavo explains he directed Cole to the building as a trap, so that Cole would make a fool of himself – how come Cole didn’t pick this up by reading his mind? Anyhow, Cole can feel there are some daemonites in there after all. However, Green Arrow forces him to retreat to the streets.
Meanwhile, the Colonel is angry because Max died and blames some bald superior because “he withheld information”. This bald guy was in their council, but he’s never spoken before, so this scene is confusing. Is the person the Colonel called “Owen” on the phone? Bald guy looks shady and tells the Colonel he can forget about his career. Then Colonel sees Cole on the news and decides to hurry to Seattle. He never shows up, though. All in all it’s a very strange scene, but its dialogue is filled with military acronyms that are very much reminders of the early days of Wildstorm.
Back in Seattle, Green Arrow chases Cole and there are some cool scenes in which Cole goes through a lot of trouble to keep his mask on and protect his identity. It’s nice when they remind us it serves a purpose other than looking cool. Eventually Green Arrow subdues him, even after Cole tries to explain about the aliens on the organization. In the end, Grifter is saved by a Latina called Sofia Cordon – a Q-Core employee. She can’t go on for more than two sentences without using some Spanish word, so that you don’t forget she’s Latina.
Near Gotham City, a daemonite woman called Carver is interrogating Gretchen. She’s the spearhead of the daemonite invasion, tasked with summoning the Black Curate. The fact that she asks Gretchen “what makes your boyfriend so different?” is the first clue that these aren’t the same daemonites who transformed Cole. After that, Carver calls Tsavo and scolds him for not having caught Grifter. How come she uses the name Carver even among other daemonites? We do know she’s called Su’ry later on. Anyway, apparently Tsavo was supposed to do a much better job because of his “special abilities”. It’s pretty clear now that Tsavo has his own agenda. He has some bald guy servant; is the same bald man who upset the Colonel?
Sofia takes Cole to an underground base and explains she was in Q-Core to try and discover the hidden daemonites; apparently they were interested in Q-Core to integrate their technology into ours. But she lacks cash to continue her hunting, and that’s something Grifter knows how to steal.
While he’s on the street trying to do that, Cole is ambushed by Tsavo’s daemonites. Tsavo reveals one of his “special abilities”: stopping time. Daemonites certainly were capable of this in the WSU. Grifter is still mad at Tsavo for ordering to kill his brother; it’s crazy to think this is still the same day. The fight is stopped by Carver, who’s mad because she had ordered Tsavo to stand down. They try to get Cole into their ship. Sofia tries to stop them, shooting from afar. How come she can move while time is stopped?
Despite everything, Cole is brought into the ship and Tsavo gets away. Now Carver is ready to summon the Black Curate. As a new issue starts, Carver repeats her plan once more, in case anyone forgot. Grifter is surprised to see Gretchen on the ship, even though he had already seen her on the ship on the previous issue. The writer has a tendency to forget what had happened on the final pages of his issues. One of the screens in the background displays a picture of Voodoo, as a cameo.
Sofia starts tracking Cole by following a tracker bug she put on him while he wasn’t looking. The Black Curate is summoned, so Grifter and his girlfriend fight to escape. This is achieved because Cole’s ability to read into the daemonite hivemind makes him able to shoot their guns. The Black Curate is disappointed to find so much chaos on his arrival, so he kills Carver. As they are surrounded, Gretchen apologizes for not having believed Cole back then; she says maybe nothing would have happened if she hadn’t run away. I suppose this is the closer we’ll get to a character moment. They are rescued by Sofia, who throws some grenades into the ship and that seems to be enough to damage its engines and shut down the Black Curate’s portal. Before he’s gone, though, the Curate manages to kidnap Gretchen. The damsel in distress is taken away once again, and Grifter never sees her again.
Cole and Sofia exit the ship right as it crashes. Cole has been hearing some telepathic screams for a while, so he finally identifies they are coming from the Himalayas and he decides he must go check it out. They are coming from a cargo that has just fallen down from Eye of the Storm in StormWatch #6. Talk about an abrupt plot change for the sake of a crossover.
Superman #6 comes in here because its final page shows Helspont falling from Eye of the Storm.
Back to Grifter’s book, Cole is so obsessed by the voice in his head that he leaves Sofia behind to go after it. He expects to find someone, but by the time he arrives there’s only an empty ship. The ship was the one projecting a telepathic cry for help, though. She wanted to warn someone that her owner has escaped so the world as in great danger. Midnighter from StormWatch arrives on the place, looking for their lost cargo. Inevitably, the two characters start fighting. It seems Cole is the only one able to hear the ship’s voice, so he fails at attempting to explain what he was doing there.
The ship downloads all of its memories into Cole. Now he knows about StormWatch and he’s mad that they haven’t done anything to stop the daemonite threat, which could have saved his brother’s life. This feels like a good motivator for the two of them to start fighting. Sadly, it happens long after they started fighting, so it feels inconsequential. Midnighter is incredibly powerful, so Cole only manages to get out alive by playing dead. In the end, he decides that whatever came out of the ship is too powerful for him and he walks away. The last page reveals what came out was Helspont! He monologues to nobody in particular and explains he was hoping the Black Curate would clear Earth of humans for him; he then explains his plans to turn Superman into the daemonite cause. This will be seen in Superman #7.
Finally, Max wakes up in the hospital, surprisingly alive! But we know he’s actually the daemonite Myev. The Colonel orders Max to put a bullet on Grifter… Wasn’t he on his way to Seattle? This is the Colonel’s last appearance, so we’ll never find out one way or another.
The final issue of this writer’s run is clearly rushed; the writer was off the book, so he was forced to wrap up his plot threads all at once. It starts with Grifter and Sofia on a plane, on Paris of all places. A daemonite suicide bomber brings the plane down; Sofia is killed; Max shows up against Cole and it is revealed that he’s been taken over by a daemonite. And these are the first six pages. In the end, Cole is forced to kill what’s left of his brother, so now he has nothing left to lose. The issue ends with Cole jumping down the Eiffel Tower while shooting a bunch of daemonites. It’s pretty awesome; this issue feels like a fast paced action movie. It’s what the other issues should have been if not for the decompression of modern comics. The last page goes back to Seattle, where Tsavo talks with his bald butler, who is identified as “Ynos.” Tsavo reveals Myev was meant to fail; he was supposed to anger Cole so that he’d be activated and become stronger to defeat the Black Curate and the rest of the daemonites.
Next: StormWatch Vol.3 issues 7 – 9 and Red Lanterns issue 10, by Paul Jenkins and Peter Milligan.