Wed
Sep 22 2010 3:41pm

Wednesday Pull-List: Larger Meanings & Old Bets

Welcome to Wednesday Comics Pull-List, here on Tor.com! Every week we post reviews of a select handful of this week’s comic releases. From those reviews, we let you know what we would pull for keeps.

This week’s batch includes:

  • 39 Minutes #1
  • Dracula: The Company of Monsters #2
  • Fantastic Four #583
  • I Kill Giants #1
  • Nemesis #3
  • Project Superpowers: Chapter Two #12
  • Skullkickers #1
  • Superman Batman #76
  • The Walking Dead #77

This was a slow week in the comic world, but even so, it offered up singular examples of science fiction, fantasy, and the paranormal. (Ah, but were they good examples?) We all found something larger in our respective books, as well, from the tyranny of power, to the glee of adolescence, to a shared understanding of how Batman stands apart from the concept of the superhero.

39 Minutes #1
Written by William Harms
Art by Jerry Lando
(Top Cow)
Pull: If you like heist stories, or are simply bored on a slow Wednesday, this one’s worth picking up. The rest of you might be better served waiting to see if this one has time to improve before Pilot Season ends.

Matt says: It’s that time of the year again: Top Cow’s “Pilot Season.” First up for this season is 39 Minutes, by writer William Harms, pencils by Jerry Lando, and inks by Jay Leisten. The book looks to be a cross between The Losers and a bank heist—a squad of ex-Marines have been double-crossed by the corrupt U.S. government, and have turned to a life of crime. Unlike Losers’s “good guys in a bad situation” CIA operatives, however, the crew of 39 Minutes seems to have gone fully over to the dark side. Over the course of the first issue, we see them massacre not just a town full of policemen, but also a number of security guards, bank tellers, and other assorted civilians. Meanwhile, government operatives (again, in the service of corruption) put the squeeze on John Clayton, the lone (screwed over) ex-Marine to have not turned into a trigger-happy bank robber, enlisting him to help catch his former squadmates. Between the bank robbers who kill, and the government agents serving corrupt special interests, it would seem that we are being set up to care about two protagonists: John Clayton, a man of honor screwed over by forces beyond his control; and Roy Tate, sheriff of the now-mostly-deceased police department in McKook (read: “middle of nowhere”), Nebraska.

As far as plot devices go, everything here is fairly standard so far. Corrupt government, ruled by the moneyed interests of Blackwater (er, “Homeland Corp.”)? Check. Military squadron, framed for a crime they didn’t commit, and now living outside the law? Check. Old sheriff, who’s supposed to be enjoying a day off, and now must singlehandedly face down a squadron of armed madmen? Check. A framed man, offered a deal he can’t refuse to track down his former allies? Check. Etc. What’s going to set 39 Minutes apart is how well Harms and company can take all of these standard (let’s not say “cliché” just yet) tropes and do something interesting with them. As first issues go, 39 Minutes is readable; not blow-me-away impressive, but readable. In fact, “readable” seems to be a good description across the board; Lando and Leisten make an adequate (if somewhat heavy-handedly noir) art team—the art won’t take your breath away, but the storytelling is sharp, and some decent storytelling visual cues are employed. If there’s a weak link, it’s Brian Buccellato’s colors; it’s not just that they get muddy occasionally (this, in fact, holds reasonably well to the overall tone of the book), but even moreso that the colors could be used so much more effectively to tell the story. Buccellato neglects the opportunity to set different settings apart; try flipping through the book quickly and seeing if you can tell when scene changes take place, or where the flashbacks come in.

Overall, 39 Minutes was an enjoyable read, albeit unimpressive. You may have noticed that it’s a slow week for comics; if issue #2 comes out on a similarly slow week, I’ll probably pick it up. If it were to come out on a week like last week, however, I’m guessing it would get lost in the shuffle.

 

Dracula: The Company of Monsters #2
Written by Daryl Gregory, Kurt Busiek
Art by Scott Godlewski
(Boom! Studios)
Pull: Definitely, even if this story ends up burning out from moving too quickly, the first two issues have been great reads.

Annie says: I was totally taken aback by issue #1, fortunately, issue #2 did not disappoint. This issue starts off with another historical reference, giving us further insight as to what made Dracula evil. The storyline and artwork are still on point, making the transitions from past to present seamless. However, I feel like the authors are digging into the meat of this story pretty quickly. In the first issue we were pretty much given the entire background of why Evan was selected by his uncle Conrad to resurrect Dracula, then we’re told how it’s going to happen and then we actually see Dracula in a tomb of honey. This was fine because it was well explained and clearly well thought out. It didn’t feel like we were progressing too fast because it was still interesting and there is clearly a lot of information that Gregory and Busiek want us to have.

In this issue, we’re shown Evan’s resistance to doing this work but his resolve to work alongside his uncle and make his family proud. Can we marinate on that for a second? He’s, more or less, willingly bringing Dracula back to life for his family. From time to time, my priorities are not always where they should be (There, Mom, I’ve admitted it.) but I’m pretty sure if my parents asked me to bring Dracula back to life I might show a little more resistance. Some things probably aren’t worth the possible uprising of an ancient, hungry vampire. I mean, in order for Dracula to come back to life, he has to soak in 900 gallons of blood. Uncle Conrad actually gets pissy with Evan when he’s told that instead of using human blood, which is what the spell called for, Evan substituted it with goat blood. I have a problem with the idea of anything needing to soak in 900 gallons of blood, but to each their own I guess.

 

Fantastic Four #583
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Steve Epting
(Marvel Comics)
Pull: Yes.

Chris says: I’ve heard that Jonathan Hickman has been quietly batting a thousand on Fantastic Four since his takeover a little over a year ago, but I never got a chance to see for myself until this week’s issue. I’m happy to find that this sentiment rings true. Jonathan Hickman is writing the strongest sci-fi title Marvel has right now.

As a new follower of the title, I found Fantastic Four #583 extremely easy to read. Much of the issue’s viewpoint comes from the Richards’ super smart daughter Valeria, and her investigations lead us through the big beats of what has occurred recently in the issue. These are some exciting beats, to be sure. Mr. Fantastic has rejected a council of Reed Richards who’s intent is so “solve everything” while at the same time endeavoring to figure out how he can accomplish that goal on his own. In the wings, Dr. Doom has lost his intellect and strives to restore it, giving the villain a new note to play while keeping him as active and dangerous as ever. These two stories move forward in this issue and the result is going to be exciting to see play out.

Hickman is finding new avenues for these old characters while strengthening the personalities we’ve come to associate with them. These adventures use the same characters and tropes we know, but they feel brand new. Best of all, these stories feel like they matter without sacrificing the sci-fi wonder that one expects from this title.

 

I Kill Giants #1
Written by Joe Kelly
Art by J.M. Ken Nimura
(Image Comics)
Pull: It’s a dollar, are you crazy?! Absolutely!

Annie says: I feel like a hypocrite after reading this comic. I’ve made it no secret how I feel about female protagonists, I don’t usually dig them but there is something about the female lead character, Barbara, and the plotline of this comic that I can’t stop thinking about. Every so often it’s nice to be surprised by something you didn’t expect. Like when you pull a pair of jeans out of the bottom of the drawer, slip them on and find $5 in the back pocket; that’s the way this comic made me feel. Not only was it only a dollar but it’s original in its premise and the character is so relatable to those of us who hang out in comic book stores at 8:30 in the morning. The truth of the matter is the reason I liked this comic so much was because Barbara reminds me a lot of myself. She’s sarcastic, smart and spends a lot of time in her own head. She doesn’t fit in with the other girls in her school, doesn’t follow the fads or care about anything other than schooling older boys in Dungeons and Dragons. Granted, while I didn’t play D&D, I did spend an extraordinary amount of time doing plenty of other (and much nerdier) things.

The way Joe Kelly set this story up gives the reader the impression that it’s going to be an old-timey epic battle in the same vein as Beowulf but quickly transforms into a modern day story about a 5th grade girl who is sort of a social outcast. We’re first introduced to Barbara during Career Day in her school, where a way overly enthusiastic (and beyond obnoxious) motivational speaker is explaining his mantra. Barbara is reading (with bunny ears on) in the back of the classroom and is ultimately called out on her rude behavior. She goes on to explain that the reason she has no interest in Career Day is because she already has a career; she kills giants. She announces this fact with such vigor, that even though the reader knows that these giants she slays don’t exist you believe her. It’s tied in perfectly with the story and the artwork is done in a way where you really gain Barbara’s perspective. The last few pages we’re introduced, visually, into her world and the way she sees things. It’s adorable and encouraging to those of us who also tend to float around in the same way.

 

Nemesis #3 (of 4)
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Steve McNiven
(Marvel Comics)
Pull: Of course. Between Millar and McNiven, it’s a foregone conclusion; they could create Twilight fan-fic and I’d still pick it up.

Matt says: Mark Millar’s anti-Batman continues to romp his way through this miniseries, with the penultimate issue finding Nemesis busting out of prison and rifling through the skeleton’s in police chief Blake Morrow’s closet. As with the first two issues, Nemesis #3 is a fun, gratuitous-violence-filled ride. Also as with the first two issues, it’s a little hard to tell exactly where this series is supposed to go. Will Nemesis—the protagonist, and object of the reader’s adolescent projections—win? He seems to have his opponents too helplessly outgunned for the victory to mean much. Will the forces of law and order win? They seem too squeaky clean (and outclassed) to be able to win. So what’s supposed to happen, here? Either it turns into the standard Wertham-era morality play about the forces of law and order always winning in the end; or it turns into a meaningless adolescent romp. A third possibility, of course, is that everybody dies (or is disgraced) in the end; “Quentin Tarantino does Batman.” Whichever way it goes, of course, Millar’s had most of us hooked for years now; there’s just no way I’m not going to pick up issue 4, just as there was no way I wasn’t going to pick up issue 1. And the fact that Millarworld books keep recycling the same adolescent fascist fantasies of post-Watchmen comic book fandom hasn’t gotten old yet—so until it does, I say “carry on.”

Meanwhile, Nemesis is also a chance to finally settle an old bet. I’ve been saying for years that Steve McNiven at his worst is still far better than most comic artists at their best. And sure enough, if you’ve been following McNiven ever since his early days at Crossgen, you’ll see that Nemesis is McNiven’s worst work yet; the pages simply lack the usual polish. And yet, can you deny that Nemesis is still one of the most attractive books you’ll read this month?

 

Project Superpowers: Chapters Two #12 (of 12)
Written by Jim Krueger and Alex Ross
Art by Alex Ross and Edgar Salazar
(Dynamite)
Pull: No.

Chris says: This issue concludes Chapter 2 of the three chapter Project Superpowers series, a comic that examines the absolute power that superheroes bring to a world, and how harshly curtailed the rights of individuals become when under the rule of superheroes and when resisting it.

It’s a view that defies the rosier image that the DC Universe gives, and is encapsulated in this issue by the fight between the superheroes present here and a supernatural terror called The Claw—a terror who’s body consists of thousands of people clumped together. The superheroes here (there are many, too many to name) fight the creature, lamenting that they have to kill the people of which it is composed, and drawing a parallel to the dropping of the first atomic bomb that precipitated the end of World War II.

It feels likely that we’re seeing here the first corruption of those who would save us, but the concept comes through a bit muddied. Those already familiar with this series will know the characters here, but a new reader won’t be able to keep track of who is doing what. A wild card hero ends the fight, but any larger meaning behind that is lost, thus the larger impact of the series’ theme is lessened.

Jim Krueger and Alex Ross are the minds behind the Earth X/Universe X/Paradise X series, where they got to play with entirety of the Marvel Universe as if they had created it. That feeling transfers to this title, but suffers from the lack of character development and history that gave the Earth X stories more weight. Awkward dialogue keeps the reader from relating to these characters and their struggle. The theme of the story is absolutely relevant, but the mass of characters and their relatively wooden manner kept me from embodying myself fully into the story.

If you’re already invested this series, the solution presented in this issue (and the subsequent twist) might ring a bit hollow. You’ll definitely wish Chapter 3 was starting next month.

 

Skullkickers #1
Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Chris Stevens, Edwin Huang, and Misty Coats
(Image Comics)
Pull: Yes,  no, and you already have. (See individual reviews.)

Matt says: By the time you read this, Skullkickers #1 will probably be sold out at your local comic store. Indeed, it was at mine at 9:30 this morning, and I still just managed to snag the last copy. The hype and a number of positive advance reviews have done their job—but after finally getting a chance to read the first issue, it’s hard to see what all the fuss has been about.

Skullkickers seems to take place in a fairly standard fantasy setting; we haven’t seen any sorcery yet, but there’s been a touch of the supernatural, a dwarf, and plenty of swords. (Just to mix things up, the setting also incorporates some basic firearms—though so far, as in any good fantasy, they seem mostly ineffective.) We don’t learn much about the setting in the first issue, but of course we also don’t really have to; by now, we’re so familiar with fantasy settings that all one needs do is throw a dwarf and a monster into a vaguely-Medieval setting (complete with references to ale, and made-up currencies) and we already know everything we really need to know. That “we know things without having to be told” is sometimes a sign of sharp, subtle exposition; in this case, it’s simply a reliance on cliché. The dialogue rather obviously marks the couple of mysteries we’re supposed to be following here, and the rest is left to the reader’s imagination (and a host of familiar tropes) to fill in. In fact, the author has not yet even bothered to give the two protagonists names just yet. “At this point I want to keep them sort of like the fantasy equivalent of the ‘Man With No Name’,” he says. Except that, of course, The Man With No Name had no name for a good reason; I’m so far not inclined to trust that the same thing can be said of the heroes of Skullkickers.

The penciling chores on issue 1 are split between Chris Stevens and Edwin Huang, though you won’t notice much difference. Both are cartoony without being impressive, and neither of them seems to be all that sharp a storyteller. The cartooned style might read as refreshing on a capes-and-tights book (or, even better, a war story!); but by now, it too is another cliché of the fantasy comic genre. Battlechasers and Tellos both did it better—and the fact that the style here invites the obvious comparisons to such books only further hurts Skullkickers.

Pull: At this point, you’ve either already bought it, or it’s too late. If you fall into the latter group, however, don’t cry—so far, Skullkickers isn’t much worth waiting for the reprint. If you fall into the former group, though, you might as well hang on to your issue; with the first printing selling out so fast, you may be able to at least get your money back on the resale market a few months from now.

 

Annie says: I have to issue some credit where credit is due here. Jim Zubkavich made a bold decision to start this comic off with a fight between nameless mercenaries and a werewolf. I have mentioned this before, and I think it bears repeating, but this whole scene with werewolves and vampires has become a bit played out. Readers, you’re smart people, you see this better than the rest of us I’m sure.

With that said, bravo Zubkavich, you did this right proper. The fight doesn’t last more than a few pages and it’s done as more of a lead in to what we can expect from this series as opposed to a ploy to captivate an audience that’s prone to lycanthropy. On top of that, there are constant piques in this plot. It doesn’t follow the typical storyline plan of build-up, build-up, conflict, resolution. Instead, it’s pure adventure and there are conflicts, literally, everywhere and they’re between things like werewolves and, later, something that looks like it crawled out of a New York City sewer grate.

My favorite part of this comic is the extra material included at the end. Zubkavich is so enthusiastic about this series and it shows through his note to readers.  We’re told that the mercenaries don’t have names yet and that he’s going to try and keep them anonymous for as long as possible to maintain the “fantasy equivalent of the ‘Man With No Name’”. It’s actually easier to like these characters when they don’t have names. One is short, portly and foul-mouthed and I love him. He’s frequently drunk and always ready for a fight. If could name him, it’d be something that encapsulates that but nothing comes to mind. He’s most certainly going to be the comic relief in this series. The other mercenary is a tall, stoic and much more even-keeled gentleman who, undoubtedly, serves as the moral compass. The dichotomy is set up perfectly.

Pull: This comic is set up perfectly and shows so much promise. If you can still find a copy (I was at Jim Hanely’s Universe at 8:45 AM and took the second to last one), definitely pull.

 

Superman Batman #76
Written by Judd Winick
Art by Marco Rudy
(DC Comics)
Pull: In all seriousness, this comic was done perfectly, go forth!

Annie says: Brace yourselves, folks, I’m about to say something I never thought would cross my lips and, certainly, nothing I thought I’d ever willingly post on the internet: Superman is the only sound-minded person in this comic. The plot is no secret; Bruce Wayne is dead and Superman is the one who has to deliver the news. The panels showing how Batman died are heart wrenching, Marco Rudy really had his work cut out for him in this issue and he absolutely rose to the occasion.

Let’s get to the root of this issue, which is, Superman finds out Bruce Wayne is dead, reports it to Dick Grayson and then, after the memorial service for Bruce, finds Dick in Bruce’s Batman costume, assuming the role of Batman as if Bruce never died. I understand this logic, I really do but Superman says it best:

“Batman is not dead. I mean the world cannot know he’s dead. All we have left of him is the fear he instilled. That is his legacy and we need to honor that. We need to honor him.”

YES. FINALLY. Judd Winick, I could kiss you. This is exactly how this situation should have been handled! I can accept that Bruce Wayne is dead. Bruce Wayne is a mortal. Batman, in real life, is a vigilante, not a superhero; he was going to eventually die. The problem that I have with other Batman comics is the assumption that Batman fans don’t understand this. We do, we get it. He can’t last forever and that’s fine. But it’s like Dick Grayson suited up before Alfred even had a chance to wash the damn thing.

Superman goes on to make more sense throughout the course of this issue:

“And you know… his disguise was Bruce Wayne. He was Batman.”

Let’s just get this out and in the open, Bruce Wayne is Batman. Without Bruce Wayne, there is no Batman. He wouldn’t exist. I understand Dick Grayson’s logic in maintaining the order of things; Gotham needs Batman, or at least the idea of Batman, to maintain order and peace. If the criminal masterminds of Gotham found out that there was no Batman or that he had died, there would have been mayhem. I GET IT. I just don’t have to like it, okay? The truth of the matter is, this is actually a better way of explaining the transition from Bruce to Dick as Batman then, you know, trying to make Batman into some sort of corporation. (I’m looking at you Grant Morrison.)

 

The Walking Dead #77
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard & Cliff Rathburn
(Image Comics)
Pull: FINALLY, yes. Do it.

Annie says: Issue #76, if you recall, was sort of a disappointment. We were left with sort of a cliffhanger (or a Rick-hanger! Ha…) when Rick admits he feels like he’s beginning to lose control. This was a major plot point because if Rick loses control, the rest of the survivors are left with one less ethical citizen. His son Carl walked in on him speaking to his wife, Lori, on a phone that wasn’t plugged into the wall. Rick is given the opportunity to explain himself to Carl but it doesn’t do much good. This doesn’t quite reassure the reader that Rick is all there but, his explanation of needing his wife’s comfort adds a bit of humanity to an environment where there is a serious lack thereof.

Heath and Glenn return from their pharmaceutical stake out, but  unfortunately not in time to save Scott. Heath pushes for a proper funeral now that the community has a proper pastor and church but the group refuses, they don’t want to bring any more attention to themselves than absolutely necessary, and here, ladies and gentlemen, is where Kirkman brings the ruckus.  If you remember from #75, Rick and Pete had that serious throw down and Pete got kicked out of his house. Out of nowhere, Pete grabs a knife and heads to where Scott is being prepared for his makeshift burial to try and kill Rick! All this time I’m thinking Rick is so screwed, there’s no way he’s going to piece his life together and follow suit, it’s not in his character, but then Pete comes and his actions confirm what Rick was trying to convey to everyone; homeboy is crazy and is a threat to the community. I love when stories fill themselves out this way. This issue had a major plot issue to battle considering how mediocre #76 was but we’re turned around. I don’t want to ruin the ending but there is definitely going to be one less character in #78 and, good grief, what a twist.


Chris Greenland would probably be making dwarf-tossing jokes now, had he read Skullkickers.

Annie Gala might quit her job & try her hand as a nerdcore rapper.

When Matt Lampert isn’t writing about comics, he’s a philosophy professor in New York City.

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