Hello everybody, and welcome back to the Pull List, the apartment down the street from the House of Ideas. Happy New Year! I hope your celebrations have been excellent and your returns to your day jobs smooth and painless, or as close to those qualifiers as possible. If it helps, comics have kicked off with a bang this January, and the Pull List is here with four of the best and most promising.
Black Bolt #9
Writer: Saladin Ahmed; Artist: Christian Ward; Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles; Cover Artist: Christian Ward; Design: Nick Russell; Logo Design: Jay Bowen
I’ll admit, I was dubious when I saw Captain America on the cover (thanks for that, Nick Spencer…), but what is contained within is one of the best single issues of a comic in my recent memory. Far from the Secret Empire aftermath tie-in the cover made me expect, this issue picks up where we left off — with Titania demanding to know what happened to her husband, the late Absorbing Man — and takes the answer to that question in an unexpected, touching, and…actually really human direction. Cap is in this issue, so the cover is not a lie, but the context for his appearance is not only nonviolent, it’s a catalyst for showing off just how good a person Steve Rogers is — as well as how good a person Blackagar Boltagon has become through his time in prison, and how complex the villains of the Marvel Universe can actually be, even the littlest, most B-listiest of them. I did not enter this issue expecting a parade of deep feelings about superheroes, supervillains, and the lives of ex-cons, but it’s what I got, and it is glorious. Ward’s art is still a work in progress for me, but the story the art and the words are telling together is good enough that “okay” is good enough. If you aren’t sold on Ahmed’s Black Bolt yet, this might be the issue that’ll do it for you.
Power Level: 9/10
Writers: Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason; Penciller: Sergio Davila; Inker: Vicente Cifuentes; Colorist: Gabe Eltaeb; Letterer: Rob Leigh; Cover: Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert & Hi-Fi; Variant Cover: Jonboy Meyers
Oh my God, it’s true: DC has remembered how to write superhero comics. This issue has some grit and some grim flying around, as you might expect from the cover and the overall subject matter of the “Super Sons of Tomorrow” story — I mean, we are discussing the murder of a child — but it is handled in the reconstructive four-color style that I’ve come to expect from the best 2010s superhero books, with a mix of creative power usage and characters being good, moral people, if occasionally led astray by their fears. In other words, it’s exactly how I like my superhero comics. Just as impressive is the fact that this issue is only the second issue of “Super Sons of Tomorrow” I have read (Part One having landed in my inbox with Superman #37), but I had no trouble understanding the situation despite the gap, but also never felt like the characters were engaging in a round of “As you know, Bob” for the purpose of catching me up — in fact, the lacunae Tomasi and Gleason did leave in the story were tantalizing enough that they got me to pick up the back issues of Super Sons and Teen Titans that constituted Part Two and Part Three. Whatever worries I had about Superman’s aggressive behavior in #37 were laid to rest here, and paid back with interest. This storyline was great fun, and proof that DC has remembered that superheroes are at their best when they are heroes.
Power Level: 9/10
New Series: Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1
Writer: Mark Russell; Penciller: Mike Feehan; Colorist: Paul Mounts; Letterer: Dave Sharpe; Cover Artist: Ben Caldwell; Variant Cover Artist: Evan “Doc” Shaner
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I opened up an issue of something called The Snagglepuss Chronicles, but what I definitely was not expecting was a harsh, resonant indictment of 1950s American culture that also rips deep into the soft underbelly of 2010s American politics in the process. Not only is this issue never explicitly funny — the connection to Hanna-Barbera cartoons appears to be that there are anthropomorphized animals in among the humans and basically nothing else — but it explicitly brings up some deeply uncomfortable, deeply damning subject matter: Snagglepuss’s furtive homosexuality; the Stonewall Inn; Joseph McCarthy; HUAC hearings; it’s all here, and it’s all unflinching. I cannot undersell how incredible Russell’s writing in this issue is; every page of it is witty, well-paced, pithy, and biting, to the point where I barely had a chance to catch my breath at some points. Feehan’s art is also fantastic, with just the right amount of detail to make Snagglepuss and his fellow ‘toons look totally at home among the humans around them, rather than trying for a juxtaposition that might have actually taken the power out of the statements the story is making. Exit Stage Left has a lot to say about America then, about America now, about the power of art and the risk it poses to those in power, and about the horrible way America has treated the LGBT community — and somehow, because it stars a cartoon cat, it actually cut me more deeply than if it had been a straight-faced comic about McCarthy and his evils. I subscribed to this immediately after finishing the first issue, and honestly, I think you might, too.
Power Level: 9/10
New Series: Koshchei the Deathless #1
Publisher: Dark Horse
Story by: Mike Mignola; Art by: Ben Stenbeck; Colors by: Dave Stewart; Letters by: Clem Robins; Cover by: Mike Mignola with Dave Stewart
I love Mike Mignola, so this review pains me a little to have to write — I just was not that deeply into this one. I love the folklore around Koshchei the Deathless, and Mignola does an expert job of laying out those tails under the framing of Koshchei telling his story to Hellboy. Likewise, Stenbeck is an adept artist, evoking Mignola’s signature Hellboy style without trying to mimic it exactly; the use of color and negative space here is really very impressive. But in the end, this really does just feel like “Mignola does Russian folklore,” without a whole lot of changes except those directly required to marry it to the ongoing Hellboy story. And that’s a perfectly fine, even laudable thing, but it isn’t quite enough for me to sink my teeth into. If you really, really love Hellboy (and who doesn’t?), or really, really love Russian folklore, this might be right up your alley, but for me, sadly, it’s a pass.
Power Level: 6/10
Quote of the Week:
“Culture is not a harmless giggle. Some mere diversion. Show business matters because, in the end, a nation becomes that which it enjoys.”
– Gigi Allen, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #1
And there you have it — an excellent start to what I hope is an excellent year for all of us. Have a great weekend, and keep on loving comics!