Hello everybody, and welcome back to the Pull List, the apartment down the street from the House of Ideas. Christmas is just around the corner, and we’re celebrating with another bumper-crop of comics this week!
Justice League of America #20
Writer: Steve Orlando; Artist: Hugo Petrus; Colors: Hi-Fi; Letters: Clayton Cowles; Cover: Carlos D’Anda; Variant Cover: Doug Mahnke & Wil Quintana
Nothing makes me happier than taking a superhero trope your story is obviously careening toward, and doing it with absolute aplomb and a few little tweaks to add your stamp to it; therefore, nothing makes me happier than this issue of Justice League of America. It was obvious from the end of Issue #19 that two things were going to happen: the Justice League were going to use their superpowers to defuse or otherwise weather the bombs planted in Mount Justice by Afterthought and Prometheus; and the Justice League were going to have a moment of improved unity to allow them to deal with the Prometheus threat directly. But it is the way Orlando and team handle those two points that makes this issue touching and fun, and it is the way they handle the aftermath that proves this book is worth hanging onto. The ways the team members and the team overall change in this issue really affected me: I felt for those who were being called on the carpet, and my heart swelled along with those who were expressing pride in their team and the strength of everyday humans. (If you want to know more, see the quote of the week below, from Vixen.) There is darkness in this Justice League, but it’s appropriate and respectful to the superhero genre. It’s hard for me to call an issue “perfect” when it telegraphs its punches the way this one does, but it’s at least damn good, and if you’re only reading one team book right now, I think JLA is the one it should be.
Power Level: 8/10
Writer: Al Ewing; Pencilers: Kevin Libranda with Javier Rodriguez; Inkers: Libranda with Alvaro Lopez; Colorists: Jose Villarrubia with Jordie Bellaire; Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles; Cover Artists: Javier Rodriguez & Alvaro Lopez
Insert string of expletives here. This issue is the last issue of Royals, and it is absolutely fantastic. It wraps up the story of the quest for a Terrigen substitute in a weird way (as only an issue of freaking Royals could, right?), finally giving us the answer to the mystery of what is going on in the flash-forwards to the last Inhuman, and in the process leaves us with some ominous hanging plot threads for the Inhumans as a group — yes, we appear to have a replacement for Terrigen, but it comes with a greater price than just the life of Gorgon. The implications are so big, Ewing is ending Royals here and moving on to Inhumans: Judgment Day, which will apparently focus on the, er…spoilers? Focusing only on this issue, it is not just the writing that’s good: the art team is also coming out swinging here, giving us epic visuals to go with our epic revelations, with high weirdness that I suspect would make the King proud, all of it invested with a real sense of weight and emotion that made this feel like a finale. I’ll miss this series as much as I miss Ewing’s Ultimates, but I am excited to see what Ewing does with the Inhumans in Judgment Day, given how superbly he portrayed them all here; when my only worry is “but how will it affect Marvel’s other totally awesome series about the Inhumans?” I know that comics are in good hands.
Power Level: 9/10
Writer: Rainbow Rowell; Artist: Kris Anka; Color Artist: Matthew Wilson; Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna; Cover Artist: Kris Anka; Graphic Designer: Carlos Lao
Do not get me wrong: everything about this Runaways series is an absolute delight. I love the exploration of the impact of time travel on Gert; I love Rowell showing how the different team members have changed and matured over time, reminding us that this relatively protean state of being is the other side of the main characters’ youth; I love Anka’s art and Wilson’s colors giving the series a vibrant, poppy feel that fits well with the original; and I am especially in love with this issue’s portrayal of Molly, and the continued exploration of the idea that trying to bring the gang back together is not going to be a smooth or flawless or even attainable process, not in the way Nico and Chase really seem to mean it. But at the same time, the comic feels like it’s not moving with any great speed toward any kind of plot beyond “Runaways don’t quite get back together,” and I’d like to see more evidence of a bigger plan for the series (like we got a glimpse of in Issue #3) so I can be sure that this is going to be more than just a sort of meditation on growing up. I am standing by it for now because its emotional core and humanity are so very good and true, but I really hope it does something larger by way of a premise soon.
Power Level: 6/10
Writer: Mariko Tamaki; Artist: Jahnoy Lindsay; Color Artist: Federico Blee; Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham; Main Cover Art: Rahzzah; Phoenix Variant Cover Art: Ben Caldwell; Recap Page Art: John Tyler Christopher
(For those who wondered — no, (She-)Hulk did not disappear from my list on purpose — something went pear-shaped with the subscriptions and I just finally got it back into the fold!)
Jen’s initial post-Civil War II story was compelling reading, but I wasn’t sure how “superhero with anxiety” was going to play out past that initial transformation into the Hulk. The answer is now apparent: Tamaki will have Jen’s mental health and the way it affects her interactions with the world vary from story to story, growing and changing as she learns to deal with it, and that is the best answer I could ask for. This issue, we slow down for a second and get some insight into what is going on with the Leader’s pawn, and the way Tamaki brings that story across is compelling and really shows off what she’s capable of as a comic-book storyteller — the way she and Lindsay show us the life experiences that led up to the decision to enact this super-villainous scheme is clear, but also trusts in the intelligence of the reader to fill in the blanks. The Leader’s plan is, unfortunately, a tiny bit hackneyed, and borders on evil-for-evil’s sake; but his monologue (yay, Leader villain monologues!) at least gives it some amount of refreshing spin, and it feels very true to the character. I saw the twist at the end coming from last issue, but it’s not really meant to be a huge shocker, and the way it’s framed leaves an interesting (and terrifying) question to be answered next month. She-Hulk is one of the better down-to-earth superhero books I have read, and while I wouldn’t come onboard during this storyline, it’s proof the series is worth the back issues.
Power Level: 7/10
Writer: Dan Abnett; Pencils: Brett Booth; Inks: Norm Rapmund; Colors: Andrew Dalhouse; Letters: Travis Lanham; Variant Cover: Dan Mora
While Royals, above, is leaving my pull because it is over, this is leaving my pull because this issue just wasn’t quite good enough. The ending to the Troia story feels a little bit like Abnett is going through the motions. I emphasize “a little bit” — the characters are treated with respect, and everybody gets a spotlight moment, and the emotional arcs involved in getting to the resolution feel very “Teen Titans” in a way I really enjoy. But the actual way Troia is dealt with feels cheap, falling just shy of the absolute worst way a superhero story can be resolved, by just punching the bad guy harder than they’ve ever been punched. The finale to the arc feels really flat as a result, like not actually all that much was learned or gained, and maybe it’s me coming in in the middle of the arc, or having my expectations set by the truly stellar issue I came in on, but this doesn’t give me faith that the series is going to continue in kind. It was a serviceable, fun, even satisfying story, but not one that ultimately held me as a subscriber; not when comics are so good in general and I have to be careful where I put my entertainment budget. Sorry, Titans; I still love you.
Power Level: 6/10
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #27
Writer: Ryan North; Artist: Erica Henderson; Color Artist & Trading Card Artist: Rico Renzi; Letterer: Travis Lanham; Cover Artist: Erica Henderson; Variant Covers: Michael & Laura Allred; John Tyler Christopher; Veronica Fish (based off the original cover of Silver Surfer: Parable #1 by Moebius); Mike McKone & Andy Troy; Logo: Michael Allred
So you know how I’ve complained a few times before that it feels like North’s Squirrel Girl is separate from the rest of the Marvel Universe? This issue remedies that, and also pulls some deep cuts in Squirrel Girl continuity, and also weaves what is a totally reasonable (if cosmically weird) superhero story that carries all the same charm and humor that have made this series one of my favorites. As the cover suggests, this one winds up involving space, but the path it takes to get there involves people acting weird around Nancy and Tippy-Toe, a callback all the way back to the very first storyline of the first volume of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, a villain that I literally never expected to see in the pages of this particular comic, Loki, and oh yeah, squirrels. It all makes sense in context, or at least is only weird when it’s supposed to be weird, and it all comes wrapped in Ryan North’s signature Squirrel Girl delivery and Erica Henderson’s signature Squirrel Girl art, and all of it is absolutely delightful. I want to quote every page of this issue and tell everybody about what happens in it, except that then they wouldn’t get to read it for themselves. Literally my only complaint is that Beta Ray Bill is on the cover but does not actually make an appearance. This series is pure magic in my pull list every month, and I consistently love where the creative team takes it.
Power Level: 9/10
The Wicked + The Divine Christmas Annual #1
“Sumer Loving”: Inks by Chris Anka & Jen Bartel; Flats by Dee Cunniffe; Colour by Matt Wilson; “If You’re Feline Sinister”: Inks by Rachel Stott, Flats by Ludwig Olimba, Colour by Tamra Bonvillain; “Hitched”: Inks by Chynna Clugston Flores, Flats by Ludwig Olimba & Brandon Daniels, Colour by Tamra Bonvillain; “Decomposition”: Inks by Emma Vieceli, Flats by Dee Cunniffe, Colour by Matt Wilson; “Stolen Moment”: Inks by Rachel Stott, Flats by Dee Cunniffe, Colour by Matt Wilson; “Toxic Community”: Inks by Carla Speed McNeil, Flats by Fernando Arguello, Colour by Tamra Bonvillain; “Uh-Huh-Huh”: Inks by Emma Vieceli, Flats by Dee Cunniffe, Colour by Matt Wilson; Writer: Kieron Gillen; Letterer: Clayton Cowles
As the cargo ship full of credits up there suggests, this annual is a series of short stories, largely focused on the romantic interludes between the various divines — as Gillen himself indicates in the foreword to the issue, this is largely a series of scenes about characters Getting It On, and he does not disappoint in this regard. Nor does he disregard on the promise of the issue being bittersweet; every vignette in this issue — all from before the coming of the Great Darkness, before Ananke’s demise, before anything was any more messed up than the gods’ own inadequacies and egos — both paints one of the gods in a sympathetic light and makes us feel bad for at least one of them. Special mention goes to the work with Tara and Lucifer, who are of course long since dead but who get a chance here to remind us that we should feel their absence. I also want to give some bonus points out for matter-of-fact, unapologetic depiction of same-sex relationships here — there’s some appropriate in-character hesitation from a character who has not had a homosexual encounter prior to the one depicted, but otherwise the book is unabashed about the fact that LGBT+ people freaking exist, and that is always good to see. Also some bonus points for the very clever and surprisingly touching usage of puns. This issue only makes any sense if you’re already reading the comic — otherwise it’ll feel pretty flat and bland for a lot of it, except maybe the Baphomet sequence — and it probably doesn’t work much better if you’re not caught up on the series; but for people already digging on WicDiv, this is a lovely little stocking stuffer.
Power Level: 8/10
Quote of the Week:
“They don’t have special powers, and they still fight, every day. They’re not just like us…they’re better.”
– Vixen, Justice League of America #20
Alright — another marathon comics pull down, and with some real gems in there to boot. We’ll see you next week for the second-to-last Pull List of 2017; until then, keep on loving comics!