Hello everybody, and welcome back to the Pull List, the apartment down the street from the House of Ideas. We’re here this week with five good friends, all of whom showed us their best selves; it’s a banner week, and we’re glad to get to share it with you.
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.
CN: A slur against Native Americans is used in the Quote of the Week — the slur is explicitly called out as a problematic word in the quote, but it is still present.
Black Cloud #4
Story: Jason Latour & 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
The series’ themes of the stories we tell ourselves vs. the vicissitudes of real life have neither been as prevalent nor as biting as they are here. As has been Brandon & Latour’s MO from the beginning, this issue peels back yet another layer of Zelda’s psychological onion, in the form of people from the story-world bringing her to task (and how) for what she’s done to the place — both in the form of the gigantic, gluttonous version of Todd that’s now gnawing on the city, and in the form of the uprising she helped foment some time before Issue #1 — and the consequences of her actions both ring very true, and show us something about ourselves (like any good story does). The story of Zelda’s success and subsequent failure is a story of what happens when the existing framework of a person or culture’s identity — the story people tell themselves about themselves — is cut out from underneath them: they seek a new story to replace it, a new mythology to hang their hopes on, and if one does not make itself evident they can either turn to the first thing that sounds good, or collapse in on themselves from the sheer weight of the loss. In addition to this, Issue #4 shows off perhaps the most remarkable feature of this young series: in the most literal sense, the story we are told affects the way we perceive this world. Every time we learn more about Zelda, the reader’s perception of who she is changes. In the first issue, she was a roguish hero; but by Issue #4, she instead comes off as an immature revolutionary, a fallen idol who got people to act but had no plan for what to do if the overthrow of the Oldfathers were to succeed. This series is remarkable, and I’m so glad I’m giving it my monthly custom.
Power Level: 5 of 5
Black Panther & The Crew #4
Writers: Ta-Nehisi Coates & Yona Harvey; Penciler: Butch Guice; Inker: Scott Hanna; Colorist: Dan Brown; Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino
White-hot sociopolitical fire that manages to have fun while it burns. Plot-wise, this is a more explosive leg, the Crew’s investigation into the death of Ezra Keith, now featuring both Luke Cage and HYDRA — which is to say, now featuring a whole lot of fire and rockets and more than a little punching. Coates and Harvey are obviously having a complete blast writing this: every page of this issue snaps and sizzles with poetry and wryness and life. These two were born to write Luke Cage — Cage feels like the MCU Cage here, in the absolute best possible way I could mean that. I was also impressed by the actual use of cultural speech markers; characters from the South sound like they’re from the South, and characters from Harlem sound like they’re from Harlem, without anyone ever feeling like a caricature. But just as impressive as the characterization and the action are the politics on display here; Coates would have been excused for getting preachy about as important an issue as racism and police violence, but it flows naturally from the characters and the narrative, without ever taking a single prisoner. I would read Luke Cage dressing down a HYDRA stooge a thousand times a week and never get sick of it. This series is amazing; the fact it’s been canceled while Nick Spencer is being moved from Secret Empire to Spider-Man is an absolute travesty.
Power Level: 4 of 5
Writer: Mariko Tamaki; Artist: Georges Duarte; Colorist: Matt Milla; Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit; Cover Artist: John Tyler Christopher
Hello, my friend; looking pithy this week. This issue picks up almost literally right where the last one left off — that is to say, with Jen’s favorite YouTube chef having turned into a horrifying mutated brute who is now loose on the streets of New York, all thanks to his greedy, selfish producers. As one would expect, this means Jen is ranging back into her old superhero routines, getting her assistant into the act and patrolling the streets and generally working her way back toward being, well, She-Hulk, and Tamaki and Duarte do an excellent job of making the journey back look…sort of comfortable. Jen’s return to action, slow though it may be, feels like she a “groove” for her — there is a sense of familiarity and confidence to her actions that is a nice counterpoint to how anxious she was for the first six issues. That said, it is not as though Jen is portrayed as now “over” her trauma and grief — in fact, she comes off as distinctly not over it, and like the outlet she is choosing may not be entirely healthy. I love this series’ treatment of Jen’s experiences, and I’m so here to see how this story about poor Oliver Cakes plays out.
Power Level: 4 of 5
Justice League of America #10
Writer: Steve Orlando; Penciller: Andy MacDonald; Colorist: Hi-Fi; Letterer: Clayton Cowles; Cover: Ivan Reis and Marcelo Maiolo; Variant Cover: Doug Mahnke & Wil Quintana
Every time I worry this series has misstepped, they turn it into a pirouette. Directly on the heels of the Makson storyline that felt so crowded, Orlando immediately corrects by having Atom and Killer Frost leave for the duration of this next storyline, both allowing their own arcs to ripen off-screen and giving more spotlight time to other members of the League. This time, the focus is mostly on the Ray, given that the story takes place in his hometown of Vanity, and the way Orlando uses the Ray here makes him an excellent choice: “The Man from Monster Valley” called the Ray’s optimism and well-wishing into question, and focusing on that doubt gives depth to the tensions arising among the League at large while also reminding us of the heroism and goodness burning in…well, most of the League’s members, he said, looking at Lobo. I also love the concept behind the Kingbutcher, the antagonist whose face and name are emblazoned across the cover — he’s a nice tie-in to the DC mythos at large, and the problem he and the town of Vanity present is a unique one that really gives the League a chance to feel like a force for goodness and trust even when their cracks are showing. I also dig how this story plays into the larger arc with the Might Beyond the Mirror, and the slow reveal of what feels like it could be a great Orlando twist on a classic major supervillain. This series is everything I want a modern Justice League series to be.
Power Level: 4 of 5
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #22
Writer: Ryan North; Artist: Erica Henderson; Color Artist: Rico Renzi; Letterer: Travis Lanham; Cover Artist: Erica Henderson (with apologies to Frank Frazetta); Logo: Michael Allred; Special Thanks: CK Russell
If you were to soak a comic book in a vat of distilled joy for eighteen years, it might come out looking and feeling like this issue of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. As the Frazetta homage on the cover suggests, this issue takes Doreen and Nancy to the Savage Land, and North and Henderson’s pure love of dinosaurs shines from every single page. Every panel is enthusiastic and happy and unashamed about it, from the breathless dialogue to the looks on Doreen and Nancy’s faces; even jokes about Doctor Doom and his, well, fascism (sorry, “enforced monarchy”) feel a bit sarcastic rather than acidic. Now, this is a story, not just a series of dinosaur jokes (although it’s that, too), so of course there’s a plot twist — but the plot twist is sweet and poignant even as it raises the stakes, in a situation where a lesser writer might have just introduced a trite comic book cliche or two. This issue was just plain fun, and is proof that there are good things in this world, and you should probably go read it right now.
Power Level: 5 of 5
Quote of the Week:
“I shall dub these lands ‘Savage’ because I am from colonial times, an era of assumptions both unexamined and problematic!!!”
— Explorer, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #22
And with that, unfortunately, this fantastic week of comics must come to an end. I’ll see you next week; until then, keep loving comics!