October 7, 2018

The Pull List: 15 August 2018

One day soon, when The Wicked + the Divine has concluded, I am going to go back and re-read the entire series from issue #1. It is such an exceptionally developed and presented work that it just begs for additional scrutiny, and time to really appreciate what an excellent work of narrative art it is. The story is complex and has gradually unfolded in the most effective of ways. The artwork is among the best being published today.

In the 38th issue, a lot of questions are raised. Someone dead may be alive. Someone may be giving up godhood. Someone else has gone missing from, well, pretty much everywhere. Things are clearly nearing the ultimate climax, and it's all getting rather intense.

Every time I praise this series I find myself compelled to start with Jamie McKelvie's artwork. Simply put, there's no one in the industry who captures emotions on face than he does. He accentuates the emotion of Gillen's scripts immeasurably. He makes the characters seem real. I don't know how many more issues we've got to go, but he's making every one of them an absolute treasure. (4/5)

The Wicked + the Divine #38. Image. Written by Kieron Gillen. Art by Jamie McKelvie. Colours by Matthew Wilson.

Under the cut: reviews of Aquaman, Batman, Batwoman, Beneath the Dark Crystal, Doctor Strange, Justice League, Ninja-K, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Wars: Poe Dameron, Usagi Yojimbo, and The Wild Storm.

Aquaman #39
DC Comics. Story by Rob Williams and Dan Abnett. Script by Dan Abnett. Art by Joe Bennett and Vicente Cifuentes. Colours by Adriano Lucas.
The "Sink Atlantis" crossover with Suicide Squad continues. Atlantis has been magically raised to the ocean's surface, Mera has been crowned queen, Aquaman worries that a covert American mission may be coming, and underneath them all that covert mission is already there with a nuclear warhead in their hands. This is a great acceleration of the set-up made in last week's Suicide Squad, with Aquaman now setting out to build a strike force of his own to take down the Squad. Great traditional artwork by Bennett and Cifuentes make for solid action scenes, and the story is managing to act like a small event while still following on from the previous three years' of storylines. (4/5)

Batman #53
DC Comics. Written by Tom King. Art by Lee Weeks. Colours by Elizabeth Breitweiser.
Bruce Wayne gets weirdly religious as he defends Mr Freeze inside a sequestered jury. It's an oddly talky issue, and while the religious angle works in isolation (there's much talk of Job) it never quite feels like a match for Batman. Unlike Daredevil, he's never really showed off much of an interest in things theological. It's a weird case of almost working, although it does spark off a nice ending that points to a 'back to basics' approach in the immediate future. Artwork by Lee Weeks is excellent. (3/5)

Batwoman #18
DC Comics. Written by Marguerite Bennett. Art by Fernando Blanco. Colours by John Rauch.
This somewhat haphazard and unsatisfying volume of Batwoman comes to an end, with yet more maudlin contemplation about the past. It's actually oddly impressive how, no matter how Marguerite Bennett's scripts have pushed Kate Kane's story forward, it always winds up obsessed with backstory. It cripples the character. It ruins all potential. This 18-issue run has, in the end, felt like a waste of time. That's despite some otherwise good writing and effective artwork. It just sits there, month after month, spinning its wheels pointlessly and sinking into the mud. If DC relaunch this book again, I really hope that the next writer does something about the future, and finally let go of the past. (2/5)

Beneath the Dark Crystal #2
Archaia/Boom Studios. Written by Adam Smith. Art and colours by Alexandria Huntington.
In Mithra, Thurma is forced to defend her crown against an unexpected usurper. Up in Thra, Kensho decides to redistribute the wealth of the Crystal Castle to the people. Things do not go so well for either of them. There was something rather enticing about The Power of the Dark Crystal, which adapted a failed film screenplay and gave readers a proper lengthy Dark Crystal follow-up for the first time. That's probably while Beneath the Dark Crystal continues to strike a hollow note in its second issue: this feels like just another story, and so far not an outrageously gripping one. Hopefully things pick up soon, because right now it's fairly entertaining but quite underwhelming. (2/5)

Doctor Strange #4
Marvel. Written by Mark Waid. Art and colours by Jesus Saiz.
Stephen Strange's search for more magic leads him to a dwarven weaponsmith, one whose imprisoned by a civilization of photon-based aliens. When things go south in the rescue, Strange finds himself escaping with the dwarf but losing his companion Kanna. This is a good issue, albeit one that feels like Waid had recently been watching Marvel Studios' Avengers: Infinity War. Jesus Saiz provides excellent artwork as well. Really the only thing here to give me pause is the continued use of narration, which feels like a weird distancing technique that separates the reader a little from the immediacy of the story. I'm not sure it's that effective. (4/5)

Justice League #6
DC Comics. Written by Scott Snyder. Art by Jorge Jimenez. Colours by Alejandro Sanchez.
With Luthor and the Joker inside the minds of Superman and the Martian Manhunter, and both Batman and Hawkgirl out of action, things are looking grim for the Justice League - unless the team can somehow pull a victory out of defeat. There's some clever comic book lunacy in this story arc, that more than any other in recent years feels like a tribute to the legendary Morrison/Porter run of the 1990s. Some of the material surrounding the opposite of the DC heroes' powers is simply inspired. Jimenez's artwork is sensational, as are Sanchez' colours. This is a top-notch superhero book: if you read DC you should be reading this. (5/5)

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Terra Incognita #2
IDW. Written by Scott Tipton and David Tipton. Art by Carlos Nieto. Colours by Fran Gamboa.
IDW continue their latest mirror universe adventure with a second part. I'm not certain why the writers over there are so obsessed with the mirror universe - then again, I'm not sure what drove the makers of Star Trek: Discovery to make it the centrepiece of their first season either. It's a curious novelty that wears off pretty quickly, and for me it wore off with the first mirror story in Deep Space Nine. Everything since has kind of driven me to roll my eyes. Thankfully this issue keeps the mirror people to a bare minimum - just one scene really - while setting up a parallel story about the Enterprise aiding in a Federation-Cardassian Union peace deal. It's well written stuff with good artwork, and more importantly it's authentic to the TV series on which it's based. I worry things will go south as they develop, but for now it's a pretty great Star Trek comic. (4/5)

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #30
Marvel. Written by Charles Soule. Art by Angel Unzueta. Colours by Arif Prianto.
Black Squadron continue their run to find allies for the Resistance in this final Poe Dameron storyline - and the first for Marvel set after the events of The Last Jedi. It's relatively entertaining stuff, which seems to be the best this series can manage: never unreadable, never exceptional. It also employs an intriguing story structure, with Poe in the present receiving messages from the past. Each issue relates a message, only to end with his getting a new one and introducing a cliffhanger. I'm not entirely sure it works, but it's an interesting narrative tool nonetheless. I'm interested to see what ongoing Star Wars title replaces Poe Dameron: if it's a simple relaunch I will likely bow out, since there are so many more interesting characters that could take Poe's place. (3/5)

Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden #5
Dark Horse. Story and art by Stan Sakai.
Usagi and Ishida continue their investigation into the murder of a runaway Christian, and the contents of the stolen box are finally revealed. This is a particularly strong issue of The Hidden. Sakai has taken obvious care in adapting elements from Japanese history into a riveting murder-mystery. The plot develops in a strong direction, the character work is sensational, and as always the black and white art is simple and effective. This is such a rich and beautifully produced work, as always. It becomes hard to find a new way to praise it each time; in this instance it really is the use of Christian history in Japan to generate the drama. (5/5)

The Wild Storm #16
DC Comics. Written by Warren Ellis. Art by Jon Davis-Hunt. Colours by Brian Buccellato.
This issue feels much tighter and focused than usual, likely due to its focus on just two plot threads rather than three. Angela Spicer learns how to use her cyber-suit to enter the Internet, making a possible new friend along the way. Meanwhile Lynch continues searching out the former Project Thunderbook subjects. The tightly controlled format of The Wild Storm has really become a strength: it gives the series a clarity that makes it a tremendously easy - albeit slightly formal - read. A double-page spread of Angela's entrance into the Internet is a particular highlight, but it's all illustrated tremendously. (5/5)

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