Hello everybody, and welcome back to the Pull List, the apartment down the street from the House of Ideas. This week: eight issues, all from my regular pull, the longest Pull List column yet. There’s a little of everything in here, and a lot to get through, so let’s put on some E.S. Posthumus and get right down to the epic work of these reviews.
Spoilers: I try not to spoil the issues themselves too much, but I do post cover images, and I reference past events when they are germane. You won’t see any twists posted here, but some detail is inevitable.
Ratings: The Pull List rates a comic’s power level on a scale of 0 to 5, where 5 is something thought-provoking, groundbreaking, and/or masterfully executed, and 0 is something I wish I hadn’t even started reading.
Bitch Planet: Triple Feature #1
“Windows”: Cheryl Lynn Eaton and Maria Frohlich; “Without and Within”: Andrew Aydin and Joanna Estep; “The Invisible Woman”: Conley Lyons and Craig Yeung, with colors by Marco D’Alfonso; Cover: Valentine De Landro; Cover Design & Logo: Rian Hughes; Backmatter Design: Lauren McCubbin
Short comics done right, with the verve and venom only Bitch Planet delivers. As the name and cover indicate, this issue is actually three short stories by three different creative teams (with some overlap), and I’ll admit that I wasn’t looking forward to this one as much as some issues of Planet. That’s mostly my issues with short-form comic book stories; they tend to skimp on story, character, or emotion in an effort to cram everything into their limited page count, and in a medium that is already as compact as a monthly comic that inevitably leaves it feeling a little empty. That was not at all the case here. The first story, “Windows,” is a little slice of life for a noncompliant far away from the spotlight of the main series, and it’s an interesting case. The art is nice, with that balance of abstraction and nitty-gritty detail that I love so much, and while not a lot happens in a temporal sense, the story ends on a beat that makes you interested in what (theoretically) comes next, which I actually think is a perfect place to end a short story. “Without and Within” is also slice-of-life, but this time focused on a woman who is trying to play by the rules; this is a more overtly political piece, taking place as it does in the halls of government, and it takes jabs both at the horrorshow that is politics and the power of public perception (with a one-two punch at the way sexism plays into that perception). “The Invisible Woman,” the final story, has fantastic art, and is both more subtle and more emotional than the other two, focused entirely on the visceral experience of a woman in this terrifying man’s world and her being presented with an opportunity (in more ways than one) to change that. This is a nice backdrop to the main series, and a good reminder of what kind of oven the situation on Bitch Planet itself has been cooking in. That this was my least favorite issue of the week says more about the quality of my comics pull this week than this issue; this was lovely.
Power Level: 3.5 of 5
Black Cloud #3
Story: Jason Latour and Ivan Brandon; Script: Ivan Brandon; Art: Greg Hinkle; Color: Matt Wilson; Color flats: Dee Cunniffe; Lettering: Aditya Bidikar; Logo and Design: Tom Muller; Cover: Greg Hinkle and Matt Wilson
Somehow this issue is even more metaphorical than the last two. This time, we are focused on Zelda’s journey back into the story-world beneath our world, and the peculiar, memory-based route she has to take to get there — an unusual piece of intriguing worldbuilding that also serves as a superb excuse to show us some flashbacks and get a little more detail on what, exactly, Zelda did that has her in the position she is in. Being entirely rooted in the story-world, the art tells as much of the story as the writing in this issue, and the art is absolutely up to the task — this issue is as stunning as the first two and never seems to struggle with the story-world’s symbolic logic. And there are the things that Zelda’s story tells us in this issue — things about the nature of stories, about the nature of revolutions, about hierarchical structures, and most prominently, about the contagious and uncontrollable power held by both celebrities and wars, and the ways in which those two concepts are stories that are beyond the control of their originators. These are huge, important ideas, but Brandon’s script delivers them with the ease and casualness of any other revelation, and it hits all the harder for it. This book is clearly going to reward a second reading, and I’m already looking forward to doing just that when I get a chance. This might be my favorite comic currently going.
Power Level: 5 of 5
Black Panther & The Crew #3
Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates; Pencilers: Butch Guice with Mack Chater; Inkers: Scott Hanna with Chater; Colorist: Dan Brown; Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino; Design: Manny Mederos; Logo: Rian Hughes; Recap Art: Brian Stelfreeze; Cover by: John Cassaday & Dan Brown
Important, no-holds-barred, ominous, and, most impressively, fun. This issue, we delve more into the mystery of Ezra Keith’s death, and it feels like a standard superhero investigation story, with the characters mixing old-fashioned detective work with science-fictional technologies and a dose of superpowers; but in and among that is constant, unrelenting background jibes about gentrification and the architects of same, like a subtweet blown up to twenty pages and illustrated. Mixed in with that are musings about the nature of empire and conquest, and the ways in which groups who crave power and control have found to exercise those desires while being less overt than conquering armies or hate groups, and it does it all without ever flagging on the voice and tone of a Black Panther story. This issue is stellar, and it is an absolute sin that we only get three more issues of it.
Power Level: 4 of 5
Writer: Mariko Tamaki; Artist: Georges Duarte; Colorist: Matt Milla; Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit; Cover Artist: John Tyler Christopher; Mary Jane Variant Cover Artist: Rahzzah
Jen Walters’ tale of trauma, survival, fear, and empowerment continues, just from a different angle. Rather than the constant ratcheting tension of the first arc, this arc is settling in to be about trying to be normal and to find ways to make her existence the new normal, revolving around the burning question: how does this new, gray Hulk fit into Jen’s life? This slower pace (at least for this issue) also gave me time to appreciate the art of Georges Duarte, which is very impressive; the dynamism of the first arc was excellent, but Duarte handles the slower, more thoughtful pace of this one well while still indicating that action will not be a stumbling block. On the writing front, Hellcat stops by in this issue, and I am always, always here for the Patsy/Jen friendship; that it still feels as warm and genuine and playful as it did back in the Charles Soule She-Hulk run just tells me that Tamaki really has nailed this character. The actual plot, as opposed to the emotional core, is a creative musing on what life in the modern day in a superhero comics universe would look like, which every returning reader knows is basically my favorite thing. The focus is actually on Jen’s self-care and self-soothing via online baking videos, and to that end, some new side characters are introduced, which is the other place the writing really shines; with less than ten or twelve pages of time with these new characters, I already know a lot about who they are and have strong feelings about them and their likely roles in the onrushing narrative. All this out of a background detail that I found charming but never expected to get a full narrative arc out of, which I think says some very good and very true things about Hulk as a series. This series feels real, and while it is not always easy to read, it is always good to read.
Power Level: 5 of 5
Justice League of America #8
Writer: Steve Orlando; Penciller: Felipe Watanabe; Inker: Scott Hanna; Colorist: Hi-Fi; Letterer: Clayton Cowles; Cover: Felipe Watanabe & Hi-Fi; Variant Cover: Doug Mahnke & Wil Quintana
Big superhero fun with a big, occasionally painful heart. This issue is the first part of “The Man from Monster Valley,” a story which manages to mix together velociraptors, evil secret armies, and a weird deconstruction of the Tarzan mythos, but all with a humanity and a genuineness to it that makes it feel “real,” for DC’s bold, colorful version of reality. Under all that is the continued story of this iteration of the League and its internal struggles, and Orlando handles it with aplomb: every member of the League gets a character beat here, and we see a couple subplots within the League either advance or get brought back out for us to examine and think about in the meantime. Seeing the way Frost is integrating herself into the team is especially touching for me; the fact of her former role as a villain is not brushed under the table, but her efforts at self-control and redemption feel like they are being rewarded, at least within the League itself, and it makes me feel warm and hopeful. The plot twist here is a little bit generic, to be sure, but it’s a fun kind of generic — I ended the issue wondering how the League is going to deal with the dilemma before them and how their intrateam conflict is going to be handled, and that’s about the best you can ask for from a single issue of a comic. Add in Watanabe and Hanna’s art feeling like the illustrators are having as much fun as the writer and the audience, and you have a recipe for a series I am so, so glad I gave a chance to. If you love superheroes, I think you’ll love this.
Power Level: 4 of 5
Misfit City #2
Written by: Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith & Kurt Lustgarten; Illustrated by: Naomi Franquiz; Colors by: Brittany Peer; Letters by: Jim Campbell; Cover by: Naomi Franquiz (colors by Brittany Penn)
Not exactly a letdown, but definitely the weak link in this week’s comics. This issue is a more investigative, more actionized one than the debut issue, focused as it is more on the mystery than on establishing shots, and in that it both succeeds and fails. On the one hand, the world of Misfit City feels very detailed and alive — there are little jokes and bits of gingerbread in the backgrounds and lurking beneath the text of the main characters’ conversations that tell me Smith et al. know this world better than the story may always have a chance to show us. On the other, we honestly do make that much progress on the plot — we are fully introduced to what appear to be the main actors (or at least introduced enough to want to know more), but other than that we end the issue knowing only barely more than we knew at the end of Issue #1, and that is slightly frustrating. Also, I have to say that Franquiz is a good artist, but her style is not quite clicking with me just yet; I’m still getting used to her visual language. I am wavering a bit on this series, but my love of The Goonies and my desire to support indie comics have me on for at least another issue. If you have similar loves, check this one out.
Power Level: 3 of 5
Ms. Marvel #19
Writer: G. Willow Wilson; Artist: Marco Failla; Color Artist: Ian Herring; Lettering: VC’s Joe Caramagna; Cover Artists: Nelson Blake II and Rachelle Rosenberg
Ruthless, relentless, and…fun? As G. Willow Wilson intimated on Twitter, this issue of Ms. Marvel is possibly the darkest and most terrifying it has gotten so far, and all the more so for the implications for future issues rather than just what we see here. This issue is about fascism, and racism, and frankly about our President in a lot of ways, though his surrogate is more about those concepts than about aping him directly. The story springboards off of storylines we had earlier on in the series regarding the role of supervillains in gentrification (a concept shared by multiple Marvel series at this point, which is a canon I can get behind) and takes them to an oppressive, disturbing place; but in the middle of all that, we also see Kamala being skillful, thoughtful, confident, and kind. Failla’s art in this issue is nothing short of incredible, delivering visuals that bring across every emotion Wilson is clearly feeling in the script and making connect hit full-force. The issue is at turns hopeful and hopeless, and scary, and difficult, and absolutely perfect. I can’t wait to see how Kamala gets out of this one…or if she does.
Power Level: 5 of 5
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #21
Writer: Ryan North; Artist: Erica Henderson; Color Artist: Rico Renzi; Letterer: Travis Lanham; Cover Artist: Erica Henderson; Logo: Michael Allred
An absolutely delightful return to form. This issue is all about three supporting characters –Brain Drain, Chipmunk Hunk, and Koi Boi — but the story being told is pure Squirrel Girl. We have a narrative that is a de-re-de-reconstruction of superhero tropes and concepts taken to logical and semi-logical extremes; we have an emotional undercurrent that is both touching and hilarious; we have moments that make my heart soar as much as anything in any “serious” superhero series; and we have solving problems with computer science. I enjoyed every second of this issue; to say more in detail is to spoil the experience, but I will say that there is something on every page that made me either giggle or say “Aww,” and that this experience is exactly why I buy Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. This was lovely.
Power Level: 4.5 of 5
Quote of the Week:
“FRIENDS, I HAVE ALREADY CALCULATED IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME TO AVOID THIS IMPACT, FURTHERMORE, I HAVE ALSO ALREADY CALCULATED THAT ALL LIFE IS SUFFERING, SO THIS SCANS, REALLY”
— Brain Drain, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #21
And as Lego Robin would say: Oh my gosh. We got through it. That is eight issues of comics, and eight pretty good to fantastic issues all told, running the gamut of modern comic-book styles. Thank you for being here with me, everybody, and I hope you saw something good to check out in all that. We’ll be back next week, but until them, keep on loving comics!