June 28, 2013

The Pull List: 26 June 2013

The JL3K Superman (design by Howard Porter)
Since the New 52 launched in September 2011 DC have periodically introduced new monthlies to replace books that weren't selling very well. It's been a real mixture of promising ideas and boneheaded cock-ups (really, DC? You thought a Vibe comic would sell?), but overall I've really appreciated the company's attempts to push their lines out into new characters, or even bringing back half-forgotten cult favourites like Amethyst.

The sales on these new books generally aren't there, however, and it's difficult not to notice a pattern developing among DC's new and upcoming monthlies. Earlier this month they released Superman Unchained, a third monthly Superman book (the fourth if you count the out-of-continuity Adventures of Superman, and the sixth if you count Superboy and Supergirl), and this week they released Batman/Superman (which is the seventh Superman title and the fifteenth Batman franchise monthly) and Larfleeze (the fifth Green Lantern monthly). On the horizon are Justice League 3000, a Legion of Super-Heroes replacement that becomes the fourth Justice League franchise book, Sinestro Corps, a sixth Green Lantern book, and Superman/Wonder Woman, a second Wonder Woman book and also an eighth Superman book.

Basically this means that - assuming we only look at New 52 books - the Batman, Superman, Justice League and Green Lantern titles will account for more than 50 per cent of DC's entire superhero output.

Launching a new title is hard, I get that. I applaud DC for giving chances to new properties like The Green Team (reviewed below) and The Movement. I don't think expanding existing books and lines is the answer, however; it runs a risk of cannibalising sales and damaging their properties (six monthly Green Lantern books? Really?). A case in point: I really enjoyed the first issue of Batman/Superman (also reviewed below): can I afford to pay another US$3.99 a month for another Batman book when I could easily spend that money on buying Lazarus (also below)?

What do you think? How many books for a character is too many books?

This was a bizarrely packed week for comics, so under the cut please find (take a deep breath) reviews of All-New X-Men, All-Star Western, Aquaman, Batman/Superman, Daredevil, Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, The Flash, The Green Team, Hawkeye, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Journey into Mystery, Lazarus, The Massive, Star Wars Legacy, The Wake, X-Men and Young Avengers. (Not reviewed: Prophet, as I'm already one issue behind and read that book digitally on a tablet I keep forgetting to recharge.)

All-New X-Men #13 
Marvel. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger.
Wolverine, Kitty Pryde and the young X-Men finally head off after Mystique and Sabretooth. This is a great issue, re-energising the comic and finally pushing the plot in a firm direction again. It's also filled with some great moments of character, particularly Kitty's monologue about being a mutant and a Jew. Many other members of the cast - Iceman, Mystique, Cyclops and more - get their own little moments to shine. This is a typical Bendis comic book: a little slow, but rich in character and with brilliant dialogue. (4/5)

All-Star Western #21
DC Comics. Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. Art by Moritat.
Sales for All-Star Western continue to fall, and so the latest sales-boosting strategy appears to be an adventure for Jonah Hex in 21st century Gotham City. Here he is confronted by Batwing and locked up in Arkham Asylum. I have to be honest - this storyline really isn't working for me. Why Batwing, an Africa-based superhero, is in Gotham City is not explained. The huge potential in dropping Hex into the present day is squandered for the most part by incarcerating him so quickly. Ultimately while I appreciate the attempt to bring something new to this comic, the truth is I like it specifically because it's a western set in the DCU. Putting Hex into the present kind of defeats the purpose of the comic. (2/5)

Aquaman #21
DC Comics. Written by Geoff Johns. Art by Paul Pelletier and Sean Parsons.
Geoff Johns, Paul Pelletier and Sean Parsons all took a month off in May, with Aquaman #20 featuring a side adventure written by John Ostrander. The problem with the delay in continuing the main story is the loss of momentum. I spent much of this issue straining to remember who was who, and what each faction within Atlantean society was attempting to do. What this story arc really needs is focus - at the moment its juggling too many balls in the air and it's beginning to show. (3/5)

Batman Superman #1
DC Comics. Written by Greg Pak. Art by Jae Lee and Ben Oliver.
This is one stunningly attractive comic book. The cover and interior art by Jae Lee is breathtakingly good - very possibly the best stuff he's ever done. The opening premise - Batman and Superman meet for the first time, and get transported via boom tube to a parallel universe - is a neat one, and I have enough faith in Greg Pak from his Incredible Hulk work to know that he's likely to write something very special. Of course you could question whether DC really needs an eighth monthly book starring Batman, but on the other hand it is one stunningly attractive comic book... (4/5)

Daredevil #27
Marvel. Written by Mark Waid. Art by Chris Samnee.
Two years of storytelling, and it all comes down to this: the climactic confrontation between Daredevil and Bullseye - the villain who has been secretly plotting his revenge for the past 28 issues (not miscounting, there was a 'point one' issue somewhere in there). What surprised me here was that, despite the incredibly long and detailed build-up, the climax is pretty much started, fought and finished in the space of 20 pages. It's a brilliant last instalment, closing off a massive story arc but still leaving plenty of threads with which Waid can continue to work. And that ending? Wow. Dark. (5/5)

Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time #6
IDW. Written by David Tipton and Scott Tipton. Art by John Ridgway.
This is the best issue of IDW's celebratory miniseries so far. To commemorate the Sixth Doctor Era of Doctor Who, they've not only enlisted Doctor Who Magazine's Sixth Doctor comic strip artist John Ridgway but they've included 1980s comic book companion Frobisher at the same time. What's more, the issue has been scripted by the Tipton brothers to actually emulate the style and tone of mid-80s Doctor Who comic strips. If you're a Doctor Who tragic, this is a stunning book, and certainly it's as a Doctor Who tragic that I'm giving it full marks. Plus: another Dave Sim cover, which looks fabulous. (5/5)

The Flash #21
DC Comics. Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato. Art by Francis Manapul.
It's taking a very long time for this Reverse Flash storyline to get started. This issue is mostly devoted to the Flash pointlessly chasing Kid Flash around the globe so that they can petulantly complain at each other. The artwork is still gorgeous, but in terms of script and story this issue is severely under par. I expect better from Manapul and Buccellato. This is my first time reading about the New 52 Kid Flash, having not read past the first issue of Teen Titans. I can't say I like him very much. He seems grumpy and prone to sulking, at least in this book at any rate. Whatever happened to a DC Universe where people could have fun? (2/5)

The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires #2
DC Comics. Written by Art Baltazar and Franco. Art by Ig Guara.
Hmm. The Green Team is a smart, funny, engaging little superhero book with an interesting angle, and lots of nice little touches that link it to the broader DC Universe. On the other hand, it's a new book with new characters, and to be honest it's not quite strong enough a comic to really make a mark with readers. I don't think it's going to last beyond the first eight issues, but it's going to be an enjoyable book while it lasts. This issue focuses on teen starlet Cecilia Sunbeam, a sort of Lindsay Lohan-type actress filled with self-doubt and flirting with the idea of becoming a superhero. I liked it a lot. (3/5)

Hawkeye #11
Marvel. Written by Matt Fraction. Art by David Aja.
Hawkeye has consistently provided top-notch entertainment through a combination of great artwork, classy dialogue and characterisation, and some genuinely inventive panel layout and narrative structure. This issue excels, because it doesn't follow Hawkeye in favour of a focus on Hawkeye's dog. This is brilliantly inventive, genuinely funny and pretty much the best single issue of a comic book this year. There is a model that Fraction and Aja are following, inspired by the likes of Chris Ware, that pushes the narrative conventions of the comic book format and including many more panels per page than is the norm. I'd love to see this sort of inventiveness used in a few more comics. (And to an extent it is - Young Avengers has been doing a great job as well.) (5/5)

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #3
DC Comics. Written by Keith Giffen. Art by Pop Mahn.
I'm three issues into this toy/cartoon spin-off and I'm still sitting on the fence. On the one hand it's a nicely written and drawn adaptation of a childhood passion, but on the other it's different enough from those original toys and cartoon episodes that I'm actually struggling a little to follow it. This is one of those cases where the book might actually be more enjoyable if I didn't know anything about He-Man and his friends. I think I'm giving it one more issue to make up my mind - nostalgia's only going to take this book so far, particularly if it keeps sabotaging that nostalgia with new takes on half of its characters. (2/5)

Journey into Mystery #653
Marvel. Written by Kathryn Immonen. Art by Valerio Schiti.
Okay, Marvel fans, you have to help me: so Beta Ray Bill is an alien horse-person who dresses like Thor for some reason, and is friends with the Gods of Asgard to the point where Odin gave him his own magical hammer, and he flies around the galaxy in a talking spaceship? That's so ridiculous I love it to bits. This has been such a great comic, and Sif such an engaging protagonist, that I'm really quite sad that Marvel is cancelling the book. Hopefully they'll give her another chance sooner rather than later - perhaps with an actual #1 relaunch rather than the soft reboot she recieved. (4/5)

Lazarus #1
Image Comics. Written by Greg Rucka. Art by Michael Lark.
If you have any sense, you'll get as far as seeing Greg Rucka's name on the cover and just purchase this book instinctively. He really is one of the best comic writers in America. This book is set in a near-future dystopia where a few limited families control everything, and they violently defend their holdings against any aggressors - including starving poor people. Forever Carlyle is a "Lazarus", a biologically enhanced human designed to act as the Carlyle family's primary assassin and enforcer - only she's beginning to develop a conscience. This is close to a perfect first issue: tightly plotted, with a good lead character, great art by Gotham Central's Michael Lark and a nice dark SF set-up. Image has done it again. (5/5)

The Massive #13
Dark Horse. Written by Brian Wood. Art by Garry Brown.
The Kapital's pursuit of a runaway nuclear submarine takes it to the drowned streets of New York City, now 70 feet underwater and all-but-abandoned by the USA. There's a sense of re-energizing to this issue, which gives the series a much-needed boost and a second wind. It also feels like quite a big payoff, because we've heard about the USA constantly though the series' first year but have never had the opportunity to see it for ourselves. There's a drive to this issue: our protagonist Callum Israel doesn't just want to track down the Massive - he wants to save the world as well. (4/5)

Star Wars Legacy #4
Dark Horse. Written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman. Art by Gabriel Hardman.
I think this book is getting overshadowed by Dark Horse's other regular Star Wars comic, which is fair enough I suppose. The other book is better written and stars Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie, so it's always going to be the higher-profile book. Readers shouldn't overlook this title, however, which - given its far future setting - gets to play around with the conventions of the Star Wars saga a lot more freely than the core book does. Things slow down a bit here before ramping up to a fairly shocking cliffhanger - a nice way to guarantee I'll be back next month. (3/5)

The Wake #2
DC Vertigo. Written by Scott Snyder. Art by Sean Murphy.
This is a stunning issue, picking up the reins from the first issue and pushing it forward with a great sense of pace. This is a really clever book: the core plot is a familiar one, but pulled off extremely well, while in the fringes Snyder introduces a whole raft of unexpected elements running from Earth's prehistory and into the far future. I think this is a very important book, demonstrating that while DC let Vertigo founding editor Karen Berger go, her replacement Shelley Bond is going to keep pushing the imprint along - and may even give it a long-overdue renewal. Certainly its sales are an indication: with 45,000 copies on the market, issue #1 was the highest-selling issue of a Vertigo comic in a decade. (5/5)

X-Men #2
Marvel. Written by Brian Wood. Art by Olivier Coipel.
The big problem I have with this book is that we're two issues in, and Brian Wood hasn't really stopped to explain who the hell the villain is. There's an assumption that the reader will know, which means for readers such as myself - who only dips in and out of X-Men books - it's a fairly impenetrable read. A character I don't know has taken over the body of a character I don't know, leaving Storm and her friends to reluctantly team up with a character I don't know to stop her. I had a hope that this would be a really striking and original X-Men run, like Grant Morrison's New X-Men or Peter David's X-Factor. Instead it's just another X-Men book. (2/5)

Young Avengers #6
Marvel. Written by Keiron Gillen. Art by Kate Brown.
A similar problem plagues Young Avengers #6, which jumps away from the characters from the first story arc to introduce - well they're not really introduced properly. An Internet search reveals that they are Speed from the original Young Avengers and Prodigy from New Mutants. I didn't know either character, so while the book was reasonably entertaining I lacked the context for the climax to have any sort of emotional effect at all. The book also features Kate Brown as a fill-in artist, replacing regular artist Jamie McKelvie. I quite like her style, which has a sort of manga-esque quality to it. (3/5)

Winner of the Week: Hawkeye, with Lazarus in second place.
Loser of the Week: X-Men, with The Flash in second place.


  1. ...yes, that's pretty much Beta Ray Bill in a nutshell.

    His introductory story was in Thor #337-340, if you find yourself curious about the details. (Collected in Thor Visionaries: Walter Simonson, Volume 1, trade paperback, or Marvel Omnibus: Thor by Walter Simonson, prestige hardcover.)

  2. Not sure I'd call myself tragic, but John Ridgway and Frobisher is mighty tempting.


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