Hello everybody, and welcome back to the Pull List, the apartment down the street from the House of Ideas. We had more than three comics this week, and more importantly, we had really good comics this week!
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.
The sad saga of Oliver Cakes continues, and Tamaki again proves herself a virtuoso of tension. This issue features the obvious next step for Jen: Deliberately transforming into the Hulk not to wreck things, but to try to solve a problem. The scene with her in Hulk form is beautifully taut; without a lot of fanfare or gingerbread, Tamaki, Lopez, and Gaston portray Hulk!Jen as in control of her power, but only barely. The entire time, she reads as though she is just on the edge of losing control, and you can see in every motion the level of damage that a loss of control could entail. She may be more confident than she was during the first story arc of this book, but she isn’t doing that much better. Elsewhere, as previously stated, Oliver’s tragedy continues, and it is extra-tragic; Oliver and his boyfriend are a ground-level view of the terrifying side of the superhero world they live in, and they are written with all the emotion that has been shown with Jen throughout the series, meaning their stress and their fear and in Oliver’s case, his existential horror all ooze out of the page. I feel so bad for Oliver, and I really hope Jen is able to save him, and am genuinely fearful that she won’t be able to. If that’s not great storytelling, I don’t know what is.
Power Level: 4 of 5
Justice League of America #12
The hunt for Ray Palmer begins! Plot-wise, this issue starts with an extreme level of four-color science, which is a great way to begin an issue of this JLA series, and it only gets weirder from there. Once that’s resolved, Orlando again makes the sound decision of cutting down the amount of team members active on the mission; this arc focuses largely on Killer Frost, Atom, and Lobo, who got the short end of the stick in the Kingbutcher arc, with Batman along for the ride. Atom is really getting the lion’s share of the story focus here, being as a story set in the Microverse inherently puts the spotlight on him and his power set, and I really like what I see here: good-hearted, aspiring, but definitely not there yet in the confidence or aptitude departments, still learning to bear the mantle given to him by Dr. Palmer. Killer Frost gets a subtler characterization as she works (and I mean works) at being a hero rather than a heat vampire, and Lobo gets some side development as well as he continues to hint at the nature of the “payment,” Batman has offered him for his membership in the League, but also interesting is Batman: He’s less mysterious and more encouraging in this issue, working to try to tease the aptitudes of his teammates out of them and to help them be confident in themselves. It’s honestly really awesome to see him doing that with someone besides a Robin. Jumping back to the plot, well, there’s not much to it that is a surprise, though the art of the Microverse is truly stunning; there’s a fight sequence that I found extremely difficult to follow, which is a problem because it’s obvious the visual is meant to help tell the story. The character work is so strong I am willing to give the plot time to breathe, and I still think this is among the best superhero books out there in the world; I’m excited to see how the quest for Dr. Palmer pans out.
Power Level: 3.5 of 5
Ms. Marvel #21
The conflict with K.I.N.D. and Mayor McHYDRA continues, and it continues to aim for both the brain and the heart. The portrayals of the ordinary (In)humans rounded up by K.I.N.D. remind us of the side of Jersey City that deserves to be saved (a thing all too often lost in storylines like this one), and at the heart of that is Aamir, who is a microcosm of the things G. Willow Wilson is so incredibly good at as a writer. Aamir is conservative, and that viewpoint is portrayed as having problems, but it’s also not portrayed as being bad — and while being conservative, he is explicitly a conservative Muslim, and that is portrayed as both different from white American conservatism and radical Islam (which…isn’t proper Islam, but, that’s neither here nor there…); her ability to make all of that clear, and to make all of that sympathetic, is really stunning. That’s important, because this issue also gives us the much-anticipated revelation of the person behind the Discord mask, and Wilson manages to give that character a sympathetic portrayal, while also not giving them a pass on the way that white privilege informs their viewpoint; I don’t want to say more for fear of spoilers, except that it’s very, very well-done. Overall, this issue is a great discussion of the impact hate and xenophobia can have on a community, and the actions a person (superheroic or not) can take to counter it. Ms. Marvel has been one of my favorites since its inception, but this storyline is really something else.
Power Level: 4 of 5
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #23
Writer: Ryan North; Artist: Erica Henderson; Color Artist: Rico Renzi; Letterer: Travis Lanham; Cover Artist: Erica Henderson; Logo: Michael Allred; Special Thanks: CK Russell
Progressive relationship politics and a dig at crossover events? Well if I wasn’t subscribed before… #23 picks up where #22 left off, which is to say, it is about Doreen and Nancy using computer programming to try to work out a solution to a problem that could kill off the dinosaurs in the Savage Land, and it is about making fun of Latveria (and through it, fascism), and it is about the budding crush between Nancy and Latverian programmer Stefan, and all three topics are handled with the familiar enthusiasm, kindness, and thoughtfulness that are Squirrel Girl‘s hallmarks. The discussion between Nancy and Doreen about Stefan is beautiful: Doreen shows respect for Nancy’s feelings and her boundaries, but also encourages Nancy to try something that might make her happy even though it seems weird, all without coming off as pushy or twee, and I’m so pleased this is in a mainstream Big Two comics. On top of that, the digs at fascism and authoritarianism in general are not only funny, they are well-considered, well-meaning criticisms of the ideas underpinning Latveria’s four-color version of fascism without coming off as preachy or heavy-handed (I mean, for a superhero comic). And on top of that, the twist and hook for next issue are jaw-droppingly awesome in a completely Squirrel Girl way. This was a great issue.
Power Level: 4 of 5
The Wicked + The Divine #30
Writer: Kieron Gillen; Artist: Jamie McKelvie; Colourist: Matthew Wilson; Letterer: Clayton Cowles; Flatter: Dee Cunniffe
The gods are coming apart at the seams, and it’s fascinating to watch. This issue is, as McKelvie indicates in the back matter, largely Dionysus sitting in the dark, but that sequence and all its interstitial sequences speak volumes with the limited space they have available, telling us a great deal about each of the gods and where they are mentally going into the climax of this arc. The two characters I find most surprising, not in terms of twists in this issue but in terms of the place where they’ve ended up since the beginning, are Laura/Persephone and Baphomet. Persephone because she started as our audience-adjacent protagonist, but in a time when the stress is starting to fray all the gods in their own ways, Persy is among the worst functioning and is guilty of some of the greatest splash damage; Baphomet because the more we peel away the devil-may-care deviltry, the more of a total woobie he turns out to be. This issue is a little chaotic, and the exact subtext of some of the gods’ actions are not clear, but that reads as intentional — this is our erstwhile heroes buckling under the pressure, and that echoes out into the shape of the narrative, though it does mean a certain amount of head-scratching goes on over the course of reading it. WicDiv is a masterpiece in the making.
Power Level: 4 of 5
Quote of the Week:
“Guys, can we tone down the ‘praise be to Doom’ stuff. I, uh, kind of want Nancy to think I’m cool and I think it weirds her out.”
“How quickly you forget that ‘cool’ is merely the decadent non-Doom version of ‘Doomesque,’ Stefan. Are you suddenly too ‘Doomesque’ to call things ‘Doomesque’?”
“Not Doomesque, my Doomdude.”
– Stefan and the Latverians, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #23
And there you have it. We’ll see you next time; until then, keep loving comics!