Sep 162011
The Pull List logo

My name is Jet Wolf, and I’m addicted to comic books. Since picking up my first issue of X-Men way back in the late 80s, comic books have been a focal point of my life. I can’t imagine a world without superheroes flying around in brightly coloured and impractical costumes, punching out bad guys and sometimes each other. May the Pull List be eternal. Here’s what was on it this week.

We’re well into the DC relaunch now, but nothing much grabbed my attention from the shelf. I’m curious about the reception for Mr. Terrific, but only passingly. I think I’m already getting worn out by the DCnU; my small well of interest is running dry.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9 #1    Criminal: Last of the Innocent #4    Fear Itself #6    Legion Lost #1    Ultimate Spider-Man #1    The Unwritten #29    
Buffy: Season 9 #1 | Criminal: Last of the Innocent #4 | Fear Itself #6
Legion Lost #1 | Ultimate Spider-Man #1 | The Unwritten #29

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9 #1 4 of 5 stars

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9 #1

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9 #1, cover by Jo Chen

Writer: Joss Whedon
Penciller: Georges Jeanty
Inker: Dexter Vines
Colourist: Michelle Madsen
Letterers: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt

I’ve touched briefly on my lack of enthusiasm for the Season 8 comic and I’ve been hoping that Season 9 can engage me the way that I’ve been waiting to be engaged by this Buffy continuation. I’m pleased to say that Season 9 #1 was a step in the right direction.

As is tradition, Joss pens the opening of the season, and it’s impossible to not see his mark all over it. There are some genuine laughs to be found here, and a couple of character moments to savour like a piece of gourmet chocolate. This sort of thing comes effortlessly for Joss – it’s his universe and we all just visit. Obviously Joss won’t be writing every issue, but it’s a welcome way to begin again.

In the wake of Twilight, The Scoobies have relocated to San Francisco. Spike’s tagged along as well, though I’m happy to report that it feels more Season 5 helpful than Season 6 obsessive or Season 7 throw-upy. Things seem to be doing well, even though Buffy is once again in the service industry. Everyone’s getting jobs and their own apartments and it seems that the world has moved on nicely from the destruction of all magic.

So of course you know it hasn’t.

The story’s mostly told in two parts that weave together throughout the issue: at the party and after the party. Buffy throws a big bash to introduce her friends to her new roommates and to celebrate this next phase of her life where she no longer has to be a general and responsible for huge armies of Slayers. It seems great fun with lots of laughs and punch that is both fruity and dangerous. Then there’s the next morning. Buffy wakes up naked and looking like death (hello subtlety) with no memory of what happened last night, but a certainty that something bad did. She spends a fair chunk of the book trying unsuccessfully to remember what, and as she wanders around town we see hints that things are perhaps not as happy party time as they first appeared. And that’s not even mentioning just how unpopular Buffy’s decision to de-magic the world has made her. (Hint: very very unpopular.)

It culminates with a truly funny turn at the end, which sends the message loud and clear that this season is trying to get back to Buffy‘s roots. It’s an idea I’m behind, I just feel so burned by Season 8 that I’m wary. It doesn’t help that there are so many callbacks to moments and in-jokes from the show that it starts to feel awkward. Joss, I know you know your Buffy history, big guy, you don’t have to sell me on it.

Also, I’m really worried about Willow (but when aren’t I really worried about Willow). She seems more together right now than she’s been in very literal years with a shiny new girlfriend and a shiny new life without a single shiny spark of shiny old magic. I do not buy this for a one shiny second. There’s a lot to be worried about with everyone actually, which is also in keeping with Buffy tradition so trust me, it’s not a complaint.

There’s a lot that’s not said in this issue – not the least of which is even a hint of fallout from the loss at the end of the previous season – but I think it’s a calculated not-saying. The story seriously began to unravel midway through the last series as it went mad with too many abstract ideas and not enough TV budgetary restrictions and completely lost its way. I’m feeling hopeful that lessons were learned. If you gave up on Buffy with S8, consider coming back. The season openers have always set the tone, and this one has promise that with S9 we’re finally returning to all the stuff that made us love Buffy in the first place.

Criminal: Last of the Innocent #4 5 of 5 stars

Criminal: Last of the Innocent #4

Criminal: Last of the Innocent #4, cover by Sean Phillips

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colourist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Sean Phillips

Last of the Innocent comes to an end with this issue, and it has been one hell of a ride.

Things are looking up for Riley Richards. His wife is dead and buried, he’s picking up where he left off with Lizzie, and nobody seems the wiser about what he did to get here. We soon learn that’s not so much true however, and that the tentative glue holding everything together has begun to dissolve. What will Riley do to maintain his new life? Quite a lot, as it turns out.

The strength of this story – in all of the Criminal stories – lies with the narrative. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have created a world filled with morally dubious characters and reprehensible acts, yet there’s something to connect with in each person. The things that Riley has done, and continues to do, leave no doubt that he’s weak and selfish and distressingly human. Throughout the series I’ve found it difficult to decide whether to root for his success or failure, and that’s a feeling that only escalates with #4 as Riley runs around tying up loose ends. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but what he does and what you know he will continue to do leaves you with a fascinatingly monstrous character.

As the story ends I’m left uncertain about my feelings on it, which really means that Brubaker did everything right. I closed the book and my mind was spinning. Is this the ending I wanted? What comes next? There’s more to tell, but not now. For now Riley’s choices march on without us, filling the grey spaces where we don’t like to dwell for long.

Fear Itself #6 1 of 5 stars

Fear Itself #6

Fear Itself #6, cover by Mark Morales

Writer: Matt Fraction
Artists: Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger
Colourist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos

I think it’s just stubbornness keeping me in the story at this point.

I was pretty pumped for Fear Itself, but it’s a series that’s failed to deliver on anything promised, not the least of which is decent storytelling. Things are happening quite a lot, but I think in all the rush to show me STUFF everyone forgot to tell me why I should CARE.

We begin with Thor all beaten and in trouble. He needs to get to Asgard for healing, but Captain America knows that if all the Avengers go it’s going to look like they’ve retreated and given up, so the team splits. Not that it actually matters, since the only one who does anything is Cap – everyone else exists just to carry Thor’s limp body around dramatically, which is always the hallmark of a great Universe-wide event.

There are a few moments that for a second look to be pretty awesome: Cap chewing out Odin, Spidey desperately searching for Aunt May, Tony in builder-mode crafting godly weapons. And okay the last one is actually kind of cool, but almost all of these big moments crumble under closer examination. May’s reality check with Spider-Man has only been done about a million times before now. As for Cap, when did we switch 616 Captain America for Ultimate Captain America? I hear the words coming out of his mouth and it’s neat for a second because you really want Odin to get a smackdown after all this crap, but how cool would it be if it was a smackdown filled with persuasiveness and inspiration like, you know, Captain America, and not just threatening tough guy talk? This all boils down to something that I think I’ve finally come to realize with this issue.

I think I just don’t like Matt Fraction’s writing very much.

He seems to have an idea of these characters, but only in a very archetypical sense. Cap is a leader, and this is how a leader should be. Peter loves his Aunt above all else so he’ll give up the fight to go find her, get a tired old “great responsibility” speech and rush back into the fray. I’ve had similar problems with his run on Uncanny (at the time I thought it was me being overly critical), but I think he just doesn’t have any nuance into these characters. Or, frankly, this event. What’s really supposed to be happening here? I don’t think Fraction even knows. From issue to issue and scene to scene it’s like he’s giving us an outline of ideas he had at one point, never bothering to settle on one as the actual main story.

Then there’s the fact that everything’s supposed to be so damned dire. For the past few issues, Captain America has repeatedly said that this is a battle that can’t be won. I’ve yet to see why. Sure they’re outpowered. Sure things look bleak. But this is a guy whose entire bloody origin is about believing in yourself against impossible odds. Steve’s not throwing his hands in the air and going home to watch Springer or anything, but it’s flat-out stated that he’s simply choosing to die on his feet. Which again looks cool for a second but holds up to no further examination. What exactly is so much worse about this than Galactus or Galactic Storm or the Cosmic Cube or the hundreds upon hundreds of reality-threatening conflicts Steve has waged and won? I guess they just forgot to show us.

While I’m on the writing, allow me a moment to specifically address the dialogue in this issue and the heaping mounds of sense it does not make. I can sum this up in exactly one exchange: “What weapon would the man who would insult a god choose to bring to the day of his death?” Odin asks Tony. “I rather came having had,” Tony replies. What the whating what? Forget The Serpent, we need Grammarnir the God of English to smite the Ragnarok out of that sentence. I think I spent more time trying to figure out what he was supposed to be saying than I did reading the entire rest of the issue, and in the end I just gave up and moved on. Probably not a bad analogy for my attitude toward the whole series at this point.

We’re six issues into a seven issue mini, and things should be ramping up. Instead I’m really just waiting for it all to be over so we can drop that “Fear Itself” banner from half my books.

Legion Lost #1 1 of 5 stars

Legion Lost #1

Legion Lost #1, cover by Pete Woods and Brad Anderson

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Pete Woods
Colourist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Travis Lanham

Legion Lost, I am disappointed in you. You’re a pretty crowed first issue and you drop us right into the middle of confusion. You have few of my favourite Legionnaires in you, and you leave me at the end with the suggestion that one I like best may not actually be with you anymore. Yes, you’re a Legion book, and yes, you’re a team book written by Fabian Nicieza; I cannot take this away from you. However you failed to live up to the promise implied in both these facts. (Also, I really hate that every time I see the “Lost” in your logo I’m reminded of a particular TV show of which I am not especially fond.)

This new series, one which I was frankly amazed was part of the DCnU, begins the tale of a handful of Legionnaires stuck in what I am assuming is our time. They’ve been chasing a guy I don’t know who plans to – and has – released a deadly pathogen into the Earth’s atmosphere. We don’t yet know what it is, what it does, or why. But it happened, and now the Legionnaires are stuck with the possibility of infection, an exploded Time Bubble, and an uncertainty for what to do next.

Nicieza had a tough job on his hands with this one. He had to introduce a team of relative unknowns from far in the future to a mass of potential new readers and then hook them into staying. Did he do it? Sadly I don’t think so. It’s near impossible for me to look at a Legion title through the eyes of a new reader, but I didn’t see much here to appeal to somebody who doesn’t already have a vested interest in the characters. There was barely enough to appeal to me.

A decent enough job was done in introducing the characters and showing off their powers without them specifically saying “My name is [blank] and I can [blank]”, but it seems like any context was forgotten in the push to get this out. I’m assuming this is happening in our time period, but the issue never says. We never get any glimpse of the 31st century to ground the Legionnaires to anything specific for the reader. The villain of the piece does things without any reason, and despite the idea that the pathogen is bad, nobody really seems particularly concerned about it. And all of this is done so hurriedly that the issue feels as though it’s really in a rush and wants you to move on from it as quickly as possible so both you and it can go do something more interesting. I couldn’t at all recommend this title for a person new to the Legion; really not the way I was hoping DC would start.

Ultimate Spider-Man #1 5 of 5 stars

Ultimate Spider-Man #1

Ultimate Spider-Man #1, cover by Kaare Andrews

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Sara Pichelli
Colourist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: Cory Petit

Miles Moreales is the new Ultimate Spider-Man, and I think I’m gonna like him.

This issue is, by necessity, a flashback. We first saw Miles in his homespun (heh) Spidey uniform in Ultimate Fallout #4, and of course the big question was “How did this happen?” This issue begins that story, tying it in to the Ultimate Spider-Man story we already know, and calling back to the first page of the first issue. Bendis is creating a touchstone, but he doesn’t dwell. This is Miles’ story, after all.

I’m happy to say that story looks to be filled with incredible promise. One of the hallmarks of Spider-Man comics has been a strong supporting cast, and Miles’ Spider-Man has already begun to deliver on that. We have his two very loving, very real parents, and an uncle involved in some shady dealings but with true love for his nephew. Miles is about to head to a new school – one he will be attending by way of Waiting for Superman lottery – and there’s no doubt going to be a circle of friends on the horizon as well.

What struck me was the ease with which we came to know these characters. There’s no doubt that Bendis has a particular … Bendisness about his dialogue that can sometimes be hit or miss, but with this issue it was a clean and clear hit. Each of the characters took on an immediate dimension but without feeling overly forced. It all felt so natural so easily that it’s almost hard to believe this is only the first issue. Hard to believe and hard to wait; I was nowhere near ready for this issue to be over.

But what of Peter? There’s no sign of him, and while that may upset some, for me it makes sense. While Peter crossing Miles’ path (at least indirectly) is inevitable, it’s no longer his story. Peter Parker is gone, and bringing him into play so soon can only undermine Miles filling the void that Peter has left behind. Similarly there’s no sign of Peter’s supporting cast, though I suspect a meeting with MJ is inevitable given where we left her in Fallout.

All told, Ultimate Spider-Man was an amazing comic book that I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m already on-board with Spider-Miles and can’t wait for the next issue.

The Unwritten #29 4 of 5 stars

The Unwritten #29

The Unwritten #29, cover by Yuko Shimizu

Writer: Mike Carey
Artists: Peter Gross and Vince Locke
Colourist: Chris Chuckry
Letterer: Todd Klein

This is my first week actually reviewing The Unwritten, one of the most consistently fantastic comic books out there right now. I am totally besotted with this story, and it shoots to the top of my read pile every time it comes out. If you’re not reading it, you are wrong and you should start right now.

What’s it about? Very loosely, it’s about the power of stories. What they mean to the world, and what they can do to and for the world. More specifically it’s about Tom Taylor, the template for the main character in a Harry Potter-esque series of books written by his father, and his quest to find out who – or what – he really is.

This issue is part three of a four-issue arc that has Tom investigating the time Wilson Taylor (his father) spent with Miriam Walzer, a woman who is the genius behind the comic book character The Tinker. Wilson is at this time part of a still-unnamed and seemingly timeless cabal (very loosely referred to as “The Unwritten”) who seek to control stories. He’s been ordered to eliminate Miri. He fell in love with her instead. Oops.

So the review. With this issue we come to learn a little bit more about Wilson, not the least of which is his deviousness and utter ruthlessness when it comes to getting what he wants. It’s interesting, but only insofar as Wilson’s larger role in the story; he’s a giant douche and I think that’s been pretty well established by this point, so seeing him lie and manipulate and murder isn’t any kind of shock by this stage. Far far more interesting is Miri, who I think started out as something of a plot fixture but rapidly grew well outside that role. The irony of a character taking on a life of her own in a story about stories blurring reality and growing larger than themselves does not escape me.

Unwritten #29 is much as I’ve come to expect from the series, that is to say rock solid writing and an increasingly intricate story. This particular storyline is mostly about fleshing out Milton and so hasn’t been my favourite, but I recognize its importance. As happens with every single issue, I anxiously await the next. Particularly with the cliffhanger this month that very literally came out of nowhere. Ka-Pow indeed.

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