The Pull List
Week of December 5, 2018
Quite the week this week, with the new Shazam series premiering, new issues of Uncanny X-Men, West Coast Avengers, Immortal Hulk and Green Lantern. I chose to skip out on the Defenders one-shots in favor of Shazam, for financial reasons. Some good stuff this week, some disappointment, but mostly good reads.
One note: with the holidays coming up, there may be delays in the new reviews getting out as the family goes to Christmas parties and visits with relatives, so bear with me.
Another note: one of the issues I’m reviewing, The United States vs. Murder Inc, has some mature content this month. I can’t review it without talking about that content, so if you’re offended by frank discussion of sex and violence, go ahead and skip that portion of the review, because that’s what’s in that book.
Ok, let’s see what’s on the Pull List this week, shall we?
I’m gonna lead off with the new Shazam #1 by Geoff Johns, Dale Eaglesham and Mike Atiyeh. I’ve never before read a Shazam solo title. This is not to say that I’m completely unfamiliar with the character. I’ve read him in other books here and there, most notably in Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come miniseries in the 90’s. You new readers should read that series. Kingdom Come is seminal. Anyway, I’m slightly familiar with the character, and I wanted to know a little more.
This series starts off with a brief retelling of Billy Batson’s discovery of the Last Wizard, and how he got his powers as Shazam. Billy is an orphan, sent to live with the Vasquez family, who foster several other children from bad homes, as well as other orphans, in Philadelphia. On a school trip with his foster siblings, Billy witnesses a robbery at the Museum of the American Revolution by crooks wearing 70’s era Justice League member Halloween masks. Billy turns into Captain Marvel, and taunts the baddies, while his foster sibs also have Shazam-related powers. They take down the robbers, but when they can’t agree on a name for their team, the Philly PD just agree to say “Superman did it.”
Back at the foster home, the kids discuss the mysterious super-team with Mr. and Mrs. Vasquez, but still can’t agree on a team name, and hurry off to do “homework”, which turns out to be hanging out at their hero lair, the Rock of Eternity, source of the Shazam power. They find a station, and a train, with a map to “the Magiclands”. Freddie turns the train on, unleashing a power wave, while back at the Vasquez family home, a man shows up, claiming to be Billy’s father, wanting to speak with him.
A backup story, also written by Johns, with art by Mayo Naito, tells how Mary came to live with the Vasquez family, and how she first met Freddie.
Overall, this is a solid first issue, introducing us to Billy and the Shazam Family, giving us a little background and allowing the reader to ease into the feel of the new movie premiering in April. Definitely aimed at a teen audience, but still appealing to older readers, Johns knows how to straddle that line between kiddie humor and more adult themes. Eaglesham’s art on the main story is really good, reminiscent of his work on Green Lantern.
The art on the backup story is kind of manga-styled, which is not usually to my liking, but it works for what it’s meant to do: introduce us to some of the other kids that the Vasquez family fosters, from the perspective of a young girl.
If you’re looking for a book with humor and heart, this one has you covered. The kids are likeable and the story is interesting, with enough mystery to keep you interested for the long haul. Who are these other kids, where did they get their powers, did Billy share it with them? And is the bunny part of the team now that it apparently has powers, too?
I’ll give this one a rating of 4/5 for a good premier and a compelling cliffhanger in the main story, along with the charm of Geoff Johns’ writing and the talented Dale Eaglesham on the art duties. Hopefully they will keep up the backup stories to give us more background on the other kids, as well.
Moving over to Marvel, I’m diving into West Coast Avengers #5 written by Kelly Thompson, art by Daniele di Nicuolo with colors by Triona Farrell. Wrapping up the previous arc, the issue opens with Kate on the phone with Captain America, explaining that they didn’t name themselves the West Coast Avengers, that was Jimmy Kimmel. Turns out Cap doesn’t like the reality TV theme of the new team. He is about a hundred years old, so I get it.
Later the team is taking on a new super villain named “Gridlock” on the 405 freeway. Even those of us who have never been to Southern California know that that is a play on words. Gridlock apparently can manipulate…metal? Cars? Not sure, he’s lame, and I think that’s the point. He makes a Voltron-esque minion out of a bunch of vehicles that the team has to take down. Which they do.
Later America goes on a date with Ramone, and the rest of the team gets called away by the mayor, to investigate a situation at a creepy old theme park. They assemble at the park and quickly figure out that it was actually Madame Masque that lured them to the theme park. Kate texts America to come help out, and she shows up with Ramone. They discover that they are trapped by a dome and they are soon separated in pairs. Quentin and Qwen are none too impressed with being stuck together, except that they kind of are. Quire asks Gwen about her powers and she reveals that she can turn the pages of the comic book that they are in—or used to be able to—much to Quentin’s confusion. They get knocked out as the focus shifts to America and Clint, in a funhouse. Before they can do more than discuss who may be responsible for their being there, they are knocked out as well. Kate, Fuse and Ramone are the final grouping, and Ramone and Fuse are knocked out by explosive ninja stars. Kate is knocked for a loop and sees her dead mom, seemingly alive.
So this is a good issue. I miss Caselli’s art, though. I really don’t like manga-influenced art. It’s not aesthetically pleasing to my eye. If that’s your thing, I’m sure you will enjoy di Nicuolo’s work here. It’ clean and the action flows really well, but I can’t deal with the pointy noses and kitty eyes and so on.
We get more of the talking head stuff, which I love, and a fresh new mystery. Kate seems to realize who is throwing ninja stars at her, but I sure don’t know who the baddy is. I’ll stick with it, because Thompson’s writing is just that much fun and fresh. I’m giving this one a rating of 3.5/5 this issue. Unfortunately I had to knock it down a little for the art, but the story is as strong as anything else I’ve read by Thompson. Her work is what keeps me coming back.
Let’s stick with Kelly Thomspon for the next book, Uncanny X-Men #4, co-written by Thompson, Ed Brisson and Matthew Rosenberg. This issue the writers are joined by Pere Perez on art, with colors by Rachelle Rosenberg.
Continuing the Disassembled arc, this issue deals with the fallout of the Horsemen’s attack on the X-Mansion in Central Park. The X-Men seemingly dead, Magneto, Angel, Blob and Omega Red leave to join their master, Nate Grey, who apparently is now an Omega-Level mutant.
But the X-Men aren’t dead—Armor was protecting them while Jean and Betsy tricked the Horsemen into believing they had killed them all. They regroup and discuss strategy as Nate mentally broadcasts to the world that he and his Horsemen of Salvation will remake the world to their liking, making it a utopia.
The elder X-Men don’t listen to the younger team members, and knock Legion out when David begins to rant about how he is Nate Grey’s creator, thanks to his actions that created the Age of Apocalypse reality. The younger X-Men think that Legion would be an asset to have on their side, while Jean and the elder team believe him to be a liability. Jean instructs the younger X-Men to clean up while she and the others go to tackle the catastrophes hitting the globe, but Armor refuses to do as Jean orders. Jean tells her to do what her heart tells her to do, and Hisako and the younger X-Men meet with Legion after the adult teams have departed.
They wake David and he tells them where to find X-Man after the kids vote to ask for his help. Meanwhile the X-Men field teams tackle a Megalodon in the Gulf of Mexico and Chernayan soldiers and civilians after Magneto took all their guns and made the metal into a statue of Nate Grey.
The issue ends with Glob going to convince Jamie Madrox to help take down Nate. After some convincing, he agrees to do so.
So here we have another solid issue, but it felt a little like filler in spots, sad to say. The most compelling parts were the bits with the young/elder X-Men standing off. I like these kids. I’m not sure I’m ready to see them lead the Uncanny title, but they are good, solid characters. Especially Armor and Glob. Hopefully we will see more of them when this is all over, as part of the main team.
The art, again, is serviceable, but I’ll renew my wish that they had one artist for the whole arc. Continuity is important to me as a reader, not just in the terms of history, but in the art department as well. This is not to say I don’t like new stuff—I mean, I really dig West Coast Avengers, and a middle aged male is not the target audience for that book—just that I would like to see the creative team have some stability.
I’m going to give this one a rating of 3/5 based on the filler-feel and the rotating artist door.
The United States vs. Murder, Inc #4 by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming is where the shit really hits the fan for this title. Valentine and Rose track down the President and, while she is receiving oral sex from one of her security team, assassinate her with a bullet through the head from a mile and a half away.
What follows is a rather confusing race across Tokyo to get away from the police and the Secret Service, through crowds of people at—I think—a dance club—and through the streets. Somehow—I’m not sure exactly how—Valentine gets ID’d as the assassin, but not before slipping the authorities and escaping after splitting up with Jagger.
Three. Whole. Pages. Three whole pages of the President getting head. I’m no prude, really, but that just feels like filler to me. Literally just her, head back, the guard, Gary, between her legs, and then a bullet, mercifully, putting both her and the reader out of our collective misery.
I get it. Bendis is very cinematic in his storytelling, and this definitely played like a scene from a movie, but that would be my one gripe with how Bendis crafts his work sometimes—he leans too far on the movie aspect and not enough on the comic book aspects. The middle of this issue dragged because of it, and the overall book is worse because of it as well. Overall, though, this has been the only bad entry in this title so far, so it’s a forgivable lapse.
My other gripe here is Oeming’s art. For some reason, Valentine and Jagger’s escape just comes off as muddled and confusing, so he lost me during that sequence. I love everything else about his work on this issue, though, even the three page long oral-on-the-dead-president sequence. The maze background on the pages where Gallo mentions that Tokyo is like a maze was a good effect as well.
I’m going to have to give this one a rating of 3/5 this month, I’m a little disappointed in the storytelling and that confusing bit of the art really threw me out of the moment. I’m sure it’ll be better next month, this is a powerhouse team that has been together for many, many years and knows how to produce a compelling story.
That brings us to the most bizarre title of the week, The Green Lantern #2 by Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp, with colors by Steve Olif.
While the super-bad guys’ evil plan starts to take shape, Hal and some of his other Green Lantern Corps friends, including Volk—a Lantern with a volcano for a head—and Avian Lantern Tru, investigate and interrogate a Spider-Pirate about Component One.
Meanwhile, Evil Star turns up on the medical facility orbiting Planet Hippocrates, but he’s not the young, powerful member of Overmaster Zero’s cew—he’s a frail and dying old man, stripped of his Star Band by the commander of the Blackstars, and his life force sucked from his body in a very vampiric fashion.
The Blackstars sell their services, now powered by the Star Band—to the highest bidder, and a promise of mass production of Star Bands to create an elite group of soldiers.
As the issue draws to a close, Hal is surprised to find that Evil Star was dumped close to Earth, and decides to go back to his homeworld to continue his investigation. But when he arrives…Earth is missing!
Ok, so…Morrison is definitely at PEAK Morrison here. He relishes in being able to create universes of what could be considered gibberish, and this series is no different. I’m going to have to see where this is going, so I’m on for at least the end of this arc, but I’m still no fan of space stories in comics, and this feels kind of jumbled. Hopefully it will all get back on track, because I love the weirdness, but the story is hard to follow with the unfamiliarity of the characters and the strange alien races and so on.
The art by Liam Sharp is just stunning. His vision of Oa is so incredibly detailed, one has to wonder how this guy gets a full issue done on time. The volcanic Volk is visually interesting, as well.
This issue earns a rating of 2.5/5. I remember disliking some of the outer space stuff Morrison did in New X-Men, so I’m not surprised there. I’m hoping, though, that I will be able to follow along a little better once I have a handle on these characters. We shall see.
Last up is—and I’m tipping my hand here—my Book of the Week. Immortal Hulk #10 by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett, with inks by Ruy Jose, Le Beau Underwood and Rafael Fonteriz. AND an Alex Ross cover!
This issue continues the Hulk’s fight with Absorbing Man, who is split in two by the Hulk, in the New Mexico desert. Hulk is shrunken by Creel’s siphoning of some of his gamma radiation, but Hulk reveals that they just keep siphoning it back and forth. Meanwhile, Alpha Flight is zeroing in on the Hulk as Creel and Hulk continue to pummel each other.
Hulk gets the upper hand, but he is shot through the eye by a bullet from Bushwhacker—haven’t heard that name in a long time—and Creel gets away. Hulk lashes out, smashing Alpha Flight’s ship, thinking that they were responsible.
Alpha Flight engages as the Hulk tries to stop Absorbing Man from reaching ground zero of the gamma bomb test that created the Hulk in the first place. He can’t get any more gamma from Hulk, so Creel is going to absorb it from the sand and the air, but in doing so opens up the Green Door, which was partially opened when the original bomb went off. Opening the Door all the way seemingly transports the Hulk and Alpha Flight to Hell, but Hulk insists that they have all been there all along, as the issue ends.
Okay, so this is the kind of stuff I like seeing in a Hulk comic. Readers of my blog will already know that I love Hulk, and have for a long time. This storyline feels pulled from the 80’s, which is perfect for me. I love the Hulk’s reaction to going to Hell. He’s been there before, he knows. I’m reminded of the Crossroads, where he was sent by Dr. Strange so many years ago, and I can’t wait to see where this is going to go.
I know I’ve been hard on Joe Bennett’s art, but honestly, this is exactly what he’s built for. The emaciated Hulk and the weird John Carpenter-like creature that once was Crusher Creel are exactly the kind of thing that Joe Bennett should be drawing. His work excels here, and I’m glad for it.
If there was any doubt that the team at Shadow Base were bad guys, the fact that they have pulled yet another classic villain out of mothballs and enlisted him should cement that idea.
This book gets my highest possible recommendation this month, with a rating of 5/5, and an all-around amazing package put together by the creative team.
That’s going to do it for this week. Stop by next week for a DC-heavy Pull List, when I’ll be reviewing the Bat-a-wang-free Batman: Damned #2, Uncanny X-Men #5 (natch), Alien 3 #2, Detective Comics #994 and Superman #6!
Keep reading comics, support your Local Comic Shop, and, as always, thanks for reading!