Welcome to another issue of The Pull List. This month we’ll be taking a look at three first issues, from three very different groups of creators:
Another month, another brand new Image comic. Descender comes from Jeff Lemire (whose so-so Animal Man run was at least better than his terrible Justice League United, but who has some excellent indie chops: Essex County and Sweet Tooth especially), and Dustin Nguyen (Lil Gotham), with the former on writing duties, and the latter on art. The set-up: Ten years ago, several enormous robots surrounded the core colonies of The United Galactic Council, and attacked them, wiping out nearly 4 billion people. On Niyrata, a group of scientists think they have found the origin of the robots, whilst on a nearby planet, a lone survivor – a young boy robot, wakes up. There are absolutely no prizes for guessing the links between the two stories, nor are there any for guessing every moment in the plot from page one onwards.
This is by-the-numbers science fiction in the worst way. Predictable and boring, Descender leaves no trope unused. There’s the scientist who at one point is asked to reiterate his theories to a group of people who clearly know them, characters talking to themselves for no reason other than to explain things to the reader: “The airlock to the comm hub was compromised. The servers must have been damaged from exposure,” one character says to absolutely no-one at one point.
There really do seem to be two sides of Jeff Lemire, and when he illustrates his own work (as he does on the aforementioned Essex County and Sweet Tooth) he manages to create some truly excellent comics; when he’s paired with another artist, he seems to just coast along with no care to his writing at all. It’s such a shame that we are faced with the latter version of him here. Even more frustrating is that, with Nguyen on board, this is one of the most beautiful comics of the month. His stunning character and city designs are great to look at, but his colour palate is another thing entirely. Watercoloured, washed out pages give the comic a really unique look. His use of white when colouring the city scenes sets it apart from other science fiction books, and the dark blues and greys on the moon really do help to build all the tension that Lemire forgot to put into his story.
I can’t honestly recommend the book, which is overwritten and boring, so unless you are an avid fan of either creator, I would steer clear of this one.
Missing out on Descender though, does mean you can go out and buy yourself a copy of Criminal: Special Edition by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (who have collaborated together on Criminal, Fatale, and The Fade Out). These two have been at the top of their game for some years now. Fatale was brilliant, and The Fade Out is fast becoming one of the best comics on the stands. Criminal was one of their first collaborations for Marvel’s Icon imprint (you can buy the collections, and should, through Image), and although loosely linked in continuity, each of the six original volumes tells a separate story. This Special Edition comic continues the story of Teeg Lawless, currently in a county lock-up for thirty days, and currently the target of everyone in there. The story is fairly typical Criminal fare, a well told, fairly straightforward crime story (although, and I’ll come to this, it’s a bit more ambitious than I’ve made it sound). It’s compelling and very, very well written. Brubaker can do this kind of thing with his eyes closed right now, and so it’s good to see that the comic, like most of his work, actually stretches his talents further and delivers something which, whilst not entirely experimental, is at least an attempt to do something different.
Criminal: Special edition is actually two stories in one. Brubaker tells the story of Lawless, and uses, as a kind of framing device, a Conan-esque comic named By This Sword I Live, featuring barbarians, violence, and, of course, nudity. Lawless’ attempts to read the comic, propel us through the story, and like Watchmen’s use of the Black Freighter comic, the barbarian’s journey across the hellish fantasy landscape is a smart commentary on the events in the book itself.
Sean Phillips remains one of the best artists working today, and his collaborations with Brubaker always bring out the best in him. Criminal perhaps doesn’t demand so much from him the way that The Fade Out (complete with its numerous Hollywood cameos) does, but he excels. The differences in his style between the modern day prison set story, and the old sepia toned fantasy comic-within-a-comic are nicely done, recalling the very best of old school Howard adaptations.
Finally this month, a brand new indie title from publisher Black Mask Studios: We Can Never Go Home, written by Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon, with art from Josh Hood. The book, about a high school cheerleader, who forms a tense friendship with the school punchbag, feels at least for the first half like Dazed and Confused with superpowers. Characters are well written, everyone feels real, and the art is beautiful. The second half of the book is even better, escalating the plot and landing on an extraordinarily well judged cliffhanger. The set up, you come to realise is less Linklater, and more Badlands.
This book is very clearly a team job – Kindlon and Rosenberg have worked together before on several brilliant webcomics, and it’s very clear that they have a strong relationship working in partnership, much like Brubaker and Phillips. Likewise, their collaboration with Hood is nigh on perfect; there are moments when the writers hold back and lets the art do the talking, and vice versa (in particular, a tight 17 panel page which manages to pack in a lot of writing without ever feeling cluttered).
Right now it’s unclear whether We Can Never Go Home is a miniseries or an ongoing, but what is clear is that not only is it likely to be one of the highlights of the year, but it’s put the spotlight on three creators who are going to be huge, very soon.