Hello everybody, and welcome back to the Pull List, the apartment down the street from the House of Ideas. This week has not been the easiest for me personally (everyone is healthy and alive, I promise), but in weeks like these, sharing some comics with you is often just the thing for what ails me, so let’s go.
Black Bolt #8
Writer: Saladin Ahmed; Artist & Cover Artist: Christian Ward; Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles; Variant Cover Artists: Christian Ward (based on the original cover of Uncanny X-Men #141 by John Byrne & Terry Austin); Nick Derington; Mike McKone & Rachelle Rosenberg; Design: Nicholas Russell; Logo Design: Jay Bowen
This issue manages to do the thing I thought could never be done: forge a believable, (In)human emotional moment out of the aftermath of Secret Empire. We begin with Black Bolt’s return to Earth, and while the issue does that thing that annoys me most of all in comics and immediately negates the previous issue’s final-panel cliffhanger, it launches from that capitalism-soaked moment into a genuine bout of emotion between Black Bolt and his subjects, and in this Ahmed really shows his writing chops — the Inhumans of New Attilan act very believably like people who a. only know Black Bolt was in space, not in prison, b. have suspicions that Maximus took Black Bolt’s place (spoilers: he did), and c. just had to live through the horror of Nick Spencer getting to make canonical plot decisions. The relationship between Black Bolt and Blinky is explored in a more thoughtful, slow-paced way than the Robert E. Howard-esque stuff of the last issue, and through them the relationship between Black Bolt and Medusa. And finally — because that isn’t enough — the issue also has an emotional moment between Black Bolt and another major Inhuman character that manages to, without a single word, convey oceans of emotion and turn the proceedings very, very touching. It’s a very emotional, slow, cerebral issue, which is something we haven’t gotten from Ahmed yet, and I am happy to report that he passes the test with flying colors, while also laying in some nice stores of character arc advancement in the process. The use of silence in the issue also has me really optimistic — Black Bolt, after all, is a character who has “no dialogue” as a defining trait, and so seeing Ahmed and Ward working together so harmoniously is a very good omen for the future of this series. Not only is this the start of a new arc, this is the start of a new tone, and proof that this creative team has not yet begun to show us the depths of their ability. Keep it coming, everybody; I’m excited to be here.
Power Level: 9/10
Black Cloud #6
Story: Jason Latour and Ivan Brandon; Script: Ivan Brandon; Art: Paul Reinwand; Color: Matt Wilson; Color Flats: Dee Cunniffe; Lettering: Aditya Bidikar; Logo and Design: Tom Muller; Cover: Greg Hinkle and Matt Wilson
This issue is excellent at advancing the core themes of the series while also introducing some totally unexpected elements to the story — both in terms of the cast and in terms of their motivations — that promise to take us in very different directions than the Zelda-centric earlier issues seemed to telegraph, and wraps it all in some sequences that are among the best-illustrated to come out of Black Cloud to date. After this issue, I see everything we’ve seen so far in a slightly different light, which is one of the best things you can say about a slow-burn, metaphor-laden story like this one. The issue was at times more obtuse than I think totally benefits the story being told — it fails my patented Flip-Back Test (The test: “Did I ever feel like I had to flip back to make sure I understood what was happening?”), and while I am pretty sure I figured it out, in a series where reality can be subjective at the best of times that can be a recipe for disaster. Still, this was such a strong issue, and it takes us in such a different direction than I thought we were going, that I am willing to chalk a misstep up to “this will make more sense in the trade.”
Power Level: 7/10
Spirits of Vengeance #3
Writer: Victor Gischler; Artist: David Baldeon; Color Artist: Andres Mossa; Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit; Cover Artists: Dan Mora & Juan Fernandez; Variant Cover Artist: Francesco Mattina; Designer: Jay Bowen
It’s official: Spirits of Vengeance has found its voice, and its voice is shouting metal lyrics to the sky while driving at breakneck speed. The issue strikes an excellent balance between action and investigation, giving us some high-octane violence between half the team and the forces of Necrodamus while the other half of the team strongarms their way into further data. We get a little bit of background behind the thirty pieces of silver and how the forces of evil managed to get their hands on them. And we get a whole lot of Ghost Rider driving a flaming motorcycle off a skyscraper and a showdown between Blade and the worst decision-makers in the history of vampirism. The book is working out to be bushels full of supernatural and neo-noir elements with action-movie sensibilities, allowing itself to have that sense of beautiful weirdness that permeates good, honest superhero comics while also lending the appropriate darkness to things like demons and a possible War in Heaven. My main complaint is that while style is definitely here in spades, there is not actually much substance: not a lot happens to advance the narrative in this issue, and we get a flashback that appears to exist in large part to explain one of the sequences later in the issue (it’s not quite as blatant as that, but I definitely felt like the revelations of the issue were less revelatory when delivered in the manner they were). Baldeon’s art is growing on me, but it is definitely an acquired taste, and not one I am always sure is perfectly suited to the story being told. Spirits of Vengeance is a wonderful thing, and if you like B-horror, the Blade movies, or Supernatural (the earlier, Eric Kripke seasons), this will likely be right up your alley, and it seems like it’s only getting better from here.
Power Level: 7/10
Writers: Patrick Gleason & Peter J. Tomasi; Penciler: Doug Mahnke; Inkers: Jaime Mendoza & Doug Mahnke; Colorist: Wil Quintana; Letterer: Rob Leigh; Cover: Patrick Gleason & Dean White; Variant Cover: Jonboy Meyers
I am almost incapable of finding anything wrong with this Superman run, and that’s a hard thing for me to admit. This issue shows, even more effectively than the last one, that Gleason and Tomasi get the Man of Steel and his supporting cast, down to the molecular level, and they understand what is great about Superman stories: not the incredible superpowers (though those are fun!), but the incredible virtue, the willingness to love us and believe the best of us. The Kent/Lane family dynamic on display here is touching and totally believable to me; the civil war on Apokolips resolves in both the only way it could with Superman involved; and things with Lex go where things with Lex were always going to go, but all of it feels so right that none of it feels predictable, and more importantly it definitely feels like Superman being Superman — not his powers, but his personality — is necessary for things to progress in the way they do. I have some issues with the way the Lex character arc is resolved here — it feels like they had an end-point in mind but not a clear idea of how exactly to get to that point, and so there is a certain amount of Lex holding the Bad Decisions Ball involved — but at least the decisions feel like Lex decisions even if some of the stimulus feels forced. I also feel like maybe this issue plays softball with its take on Superman’s ideas about America (their presence here makes sense in context, I swear) at a time when it makes sense for him to be a little more critical of his adopted country. That said, this issue made me tear up a little bit and also pump my fist, and if that isn’t what a Superman comic should do, I don’t want to read a Superman comic.
Power Level: 9/10
Quote of the Week:
Lois Lane: “Sorry you feel that way, sister…but my love is not my weakness…and caring for others never makes us small! And you, of all people, do not get to lecture me…on who I am!”
Superman: “Have I told you how glad I am to see you, hon?”
Lois Lane: “Tell me again, babe.”
– Superman #36
And now, I am off for some self-care. Have a great weekend, and keep loving comics!