This year marks the 25th anniversary since DC Comics acquired Jim Lee’s WildStorm Productions and with it, WildStorm’s extensive library of fan-favorite characters. While DC publishes WildStorm titles in their own separate continuity from the DC Universe from time to time, it also integrates iterations of classic WildStorm characters with their own unique twist as part of a shared superhero universe, populated by more idealistic heroes and villains. The most prominent WildStorm character to appear throughout the DCU of them all is Grifter, the gun-toting antihero whose cynical wit is only just slightly sharper than his decidedly lethal edge.
Starring in the relaunched WildC.A.T.s series helmed by writer Matthew Rosenberg, Grifter has been put through the wringer lately, separated from the rest of the WildStorm regulars in a tour of the multiverse. Landing a post-apocalyptic version of the DCU, Grifter really gets to showcase his more ruthless side as kills anyone standing in his way of trying to get back home. Here’s why Grifter is the WildStorm character poised to make the biggest impact on the DCU and how the antihero gunslinger differentiates himself from other costumed gunslingers as his own uniquely moral shade of gray.
Grifter’s tour of the multiverse
The new WildC.A.T.s series reassembles many of the WildStorm characters as the sinister Halo Corporation debuts its own corporately funded superhero team, however, without Grifter himself. Ever the irascible and headstrong loose cannon, Cole Cash is too much of a liability for the public spotlight and gets sidelined by Halo. Investigating what exactly the Halo Corporation is up to, Grifter confronts the otherworldly Void and appears to be killed in the ensuing blast, only to be transported to different realities before landing in a devastated iteration of the DCU.
Teaming up with a ragtag group of surviving heroes, Grifter scours for a way to return home, with the creative team taking full advantage of the alternate universe premise to punctuate the story with the deaths of major characters native to this world to heighten the stakes. As Grifter’s trek reaches its end, he faces variations of his brother Max, along with fellow WildStorm characters Zealot and Void. This awkward meeting quickly turns violent, with Grifter positioning Zealot to kill Max before killing her and Void in order to return to his universe in amounts to Grifter’s most cold-blooded moment since joining the DCU.
WildStorm comes to the DCU
In what’s likely a bit of cosmic coincidence, the first time Grifter really got to play in the DCU was in another post-apocalyptic reality, during the 2011’s crossover event Flashpoint by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert. Grifter is among the resistance against the Amazons who have violently conquered the United Kingdom, working closely with this reality’s Lois Lane to liberate the country. Though this Grifter is killed in the climactic battle by Enchantress, he is reborn in the rebooted multiverse as part of DCs linewide New 52 publishing initiative, which integrated elements of the WildStorm Universe with the DCU.
In this retooled continuity, Grifter maintains his background as a former U.S. Army Special Forces combat veteran and con artist. This Cole Cash receives his powers from a mix of genetic experimentation while abducted by the extraterrestrial Daemonites and through his classified military service with the DCU’s version of WildStorm black ops ensemble Team 7.
Though Grifter appears in a number of New 52 era titles, including as a protagonist in the weekly series The New 52: Futures End, he and many of the WildStorm characters – with a few notable exceptions including Apollo and Midnighter – are largely sidelined when much of the classic DCU canon is restored in the subsequent DC Rebirth publishing initiative beginning in 2016.
Grifter leads the way
In the aftermath of the 2020 crossover event The Joker War by James Tynion IV and Jorge Jimenez, which sees the Joker compromise Wayne Enterprise and menace Lucius Fox, Lucius decides to hire a personal bodyguard. This new hire ends up being Cole Cash, with Grifter relocating to Gotham City to start his new job and has been primarily living in this particular DCU location ever since. Grifter’s willingness to employ lethal force and his proximity to Lucius make his presence a significant annoyance for Batman, with the two crimefighters crossing paths against each other on several occasions, including Grifter being suspected for the murder of Nora Fries.
Since then, other WildStorm characters have gradually been woven back into the DCU, often in stories written by Rosenberg, leading up to the WildC.A.T.s series launch in late 2022. The new series commemorates the 30th anniversary of WildStorm’s founding, with the characters strongly implied to retain a shared history even as many of these heroes make their public debuts to the quiet consternation of established DC heroes like Batman and Superman. And given the true intentions of the Halo Corporation and the WildStorm characters' modus operandi, these concerns are well-justified.
A new shade of gray
Grifter leads the wave of more lethal, extreme antiheroes that are really in vogue in comic books in the ‘90s, with contemporaries like the Punisher, Deadpool, and fellow Image Comics founding title Spawn being prime examples of this trend. Grifter is far from the only WildStorm hero that openly kills their enemies but he hews closer to the popular mold, from his sardonic wit to his crimson mask and reliance on firearms. After DC’s acquisition of WildStorm, Ed Brubaker and Colin Wilson teamed up for the 2002 miniseries Point Blank, starring Grifter.
Point Blank eschews the usual superhero trappings common in WildStorm titles, leaning into Brubaker’s noted strengths writing in the neo-noir genre. Though Cole’s wry wit is still intact, there is an added sense of world-weariness and cynicism to the character, qualities which are retained for the DCU iteration of Grifter. No longer the too-cool-for-school antihero popular during the ‘90s antihero wave, Grifter is something of a ne’er-do-well who can never catch a break, highly skilled but a perpetual karmic punching bag, so to speak.
Make no mistake, Grifter is a killer but he’s a killer whose macro objectives align with many DC heroes, even if his methodologies absolutely do not. The DCU is full of plenty of bad men with a gun archetypes, with Deathstroke and Deadshot being the most obvious examples. At the same time, Grifter is more morally ambiguous than hero gunslingers like the Crimson Avenger and Bat Lash. Grifter fights for good but is willing to employ any underhanded methods to pull it off.
Vigilante and Jonah Hex don’t quite fill the same moral void as Grifter; there’s a genuine feeling of self-aware remorse that Cole carries with him, appropriate for his neo-noir repositioning. Grifter is the antihero that you want on your side, just don’t ask him any hard questions about how he accomplishes what he does because you might not want that honest answer. Once the poster boy for ‘90s extreme antiheroes, Grifter blends noir and acerbic self-loathing as he just tries to do the right thing, even if he can’t help relying on questionable tactics to do so. And that’s right where Cole Cash best distinctly fits in with the rest of the DCU as WildStorm continues its wider integration in earnest.
Written by Matthew Rosenberg, illustrated by Danny Kim and Tom Derenick, colored by Elmer Santos, and lettered by Ferran Delgado, WildC.A.T.s #9 is on sale now from DC Comics. The story continues in WildC.A.T.s #10, on sale Aug. 8.