The Pull List Comic Reviews: ‘Blackest Night’, ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ and ‘Punisher’

A moderate week in terms of number of books shipped, mostly from the big two publishers, but definitely not moderate in terms of quality. With all the hype leading up to Blackest Night, it is no surprise it would be the first book I read this week, even beating out the much anticipated conclusion of the Spider-Man “American Son” storyline. As always, we can’t review every book each week here at The Pull List, but if you have any thoughts about other comics or think we missed a good one, let us know.

blackest-night-1-coverPull of the Week:

Blackest Night #1 – DC – $3.99

Score: 9.0

Big summer event. Months of hype. Tales that the writer has been planting seeds for the past five years for the main character. Sounds like a perfect set up for something to fall flat on its face. Thankfully this superstar creative team was able to avoid the trap that so many big crossover events often fall into. The first of eight issues of Blackest Night sets itself up perfectly for those not familiar with the history of the DC Universe. After an eerie message coming from the Black Hand and the emersion of the Black rings, the issue begins telling the tale of the yearly memorial day in honor of the superheroes who gave their lives to save the people of earth as well as those people that weren’t lucky enough to be saved.

The four Green Lanterns from Earth, Hal Jordan, John Stewart, Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner, head to Coast City, a place that had been destroyed during a conflict between two villains that cost seven million their lives. Hal talks about the loss he had seen others experience on this day, including his other Green Lanterns. The book then weaves its way around the world to different locations, visiting various losses like Jonathan Kent, Ronnie Raymond and Arthur Curry. Back at the headquarters of the Justice League, Hal meets up with Barry Allen, who is dealing with his recent resurrection, and finding out the fates of those who had been lost while he was gone until they are interrupted by a friend who has uncovered an unearthed grave.

Back on Oa, the Guardians watch their failures as the war of light erupts around the universe. The Guardians ready to call the entire Green Lantern Corps until things break down for them as well. At this point, the Black Rings start flying around the universe including to the Black Lantern that people had seen coming for months, Martian Manhunter who goes to Hal and Barry, declaring they should both be dead. The book concludes with another surprise attack which leads to the creation of two new Black Lanterns.

Blackest Night does a fantastic job of building up this world in just one issue before ripping it down so harshly. The respect shown for the loss this world has gone through is impressive. From the biggest losses like Bruce Wayne to Jonathan Kent all the way down to the Rogues who have their own memorial on this day, Johns does a fantastic job of making all the losses feel equally important. With all the press about “The dead will rise”, there is just a feeling of dread in the back of your throat as you read through these pages.

You know what’s going to happen and even thought you don’t want to see bad things happen to good and innocent people, you can’t turn away. Even the name Blackest Night for the event implies that bad things are going to be happening. Seeing the remains of your favorite heroes return and working for the specter of death seems to only be the start as the bloody and violent deaths at the end of the issue have to show. The death scenes through the issue are some of the more gruesome seen in any recent Marvel or DC publication (don’t worry Garth Ennis, your stuff is still the most terrifying). Ivan Reis does a great job capturing the look and personalities of so many of the characters, both living and risen. The skull the Black Hand carries around with him is always beautifully detailed as it spills black bile to the floor and produces Black Rings of Power.

Its hard sometimes to explain why certain books are just so good while others tragically fall short. This book however puts its heart on its sleeve (almost literally on a few pages) and lets it all just hang out for everyone to see — and that’s why it works. Johns lets you know from page one that all the pretty and respectful images you are seeing are going to be ripped right out of your hands when the Black Lanterns step out from their shadows (or graves). Seeing friends facing their former friends who have risen from the grave is no new concept but it still works great as a basis for this story.

What shines through the most in the issue are the relationships though. Whether friends together in life, separated by death, or united in resurrection, this book is as much about the character building as it is about the action and that is why it works so well. The only negative to the book is that it looks like certain tie-ins may be required for a full understanding of the story, as seen by Martian Manhunter’s attack on Hal and Barry which looks to be fleshed out in the pages of Green Lantern. But, if there is a team that can take this crossover to its limits and come out shining, Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis look like they could be that team.

amazing-spider-man-599-coverOther Pulls:

Amazing Spider-Man #599 – Marvel – $2.99

Score: 8.5

So far in this story arc, Spider-Man has been shot in the head and Harry found out his former fiance’ was actually knocked up by his father. What else could happen to top that? How about a full on father versus son drag out brawl between the Iron Patriot Norman Osborn and American Son armor wearing Harry Osborn. After being beaten nearly to death last issue, Spider-Man struggles to remain conscious only to look up and find his best friend donning the American Son armor and fighting Norman. With some interference from both Spider-Man and Menace, Harry’s former fiance’, this fight carries its way through the entire issue.

It isn’t all brawling though. It is interwoven with different memories of Harry and Peter’s past explaining how they are friends today as well as a deeper look in to the relationship between Norman and Harry as father and son and Norman’s motivations behind impregnating Menace. As with most big battles, there is an epic feel to its conclusion but still many more threads are left open than there were before it started.

If there could be only one writer to handle Spider-Man instead of the rotating teams, even above Brian Michael Bendis, Joe Kelly would be the top pick. He can write both Spider-Man and Peter Parker (Yes, there is a difference in the way each is handled) and does a great job tackling Norman Osborn. Still, the only character I wish he could rid the comic of somehow survived the story arc and the little teeny bopper buzz word spouting reporter still makes my eyes want to vomit when reading her dialogue.

The same praise about the team moving forward for illustrating the series for both Steven Segovia and Marco Checchetto, who split the first nineteen pages of the book. Their vibrant art and amazing spreads make this father son feud come to life on the pages. The same cannot be said for Paulo Siqueira and Amilton Santos’ final four pages, which while still quality artwork, feel very bland and plain in comparison to the excitement jumping off the pages in the majority of the issue.

One of the most intriguing parts of the issue comes from Kelly’s take on Harry and Peter’s relationship in contrast to Harry’s feelings about Spider-Man. The flashback to the first frat party Peter ever attended provides another take on the age old friendship that was sorely missing from the book in the time between Harry’s death and the return because of Brand New Day. (Oh no. I just said something positive about Brand New Day. Damn. Oh well, at least I still can hate the Clone Saga.)

Some of the best Spider-Man stories as of late have been those using the classic villains like Norman Osborn and even Hammerhead. This bodes well for the upcoming 600th issue which cover solicits have been shouting out the return of the classic Dr. Octopus. As with all the other #600’s that have been coming out lately, expect it to be packed with extra materials celebrating the hero’s storied and historic run.

punisher-7-coverPunisher #7 – Marvel – $2.99

Score: 7.0

Covers can be deceiving. This issue looks like it’d have something to do with Jigsaw, despite the fact that the villain has never appeared in this volume of Punisher, or an evil version of Frank. But, like some covers that have nothing to do with the story instead, it doesn’t play out that way. At least we can be thankful it didn’t spoil the events of the book like so many of the cosmic Marvel tales had as of late. But for those who have been following the series, the issue continues the story arc of Frank Castle’s war against the Hood, but more specifically the Hood’s retaliation against Frank by resurrecting eighteen of Frank’s former rogues that Frank had put down with extreme prejudice.

If they don’t kill Frank in a month, they go back down in the ground. Frank starts the issue by visiting a church to confess his sins, only to confronted by the offer the Hood had given Frank last issue to end their way by bringing his wife and children back to life. Back in his mobile base of operations, Frank and his newfound assistant Henry get in to their first minor tiff when Henry begins to question some of the methods Frank puts to use.

The villains have split off in to different groups with the majority teaming together poorly with Microchip and Death Adder and Basilisk taking a different route of going to G.W. Bridge, one of the few men to ever capture Frank Castle during his tenure with S.H.I.E.L.D. After a quick punishment, Frank encounters his first of the resurrected villains, going in to it knowing with help from Henry that his adversary was dead.

So far, since the series relaunch, Rick Remender has done a great job working on the Punisher. He has been able to keep a level of violence associated with the character to keep purists happy, but has been able to avoid the over-the-top gorefest of issues past. The comic has also taken a more exciting route than the previous Punisher: War Journal, which languished in the subpar to mediocre range for much of its run. Instead, Remender has been able to delve into Frank’s past and examine his motivations both as a means and as an end.

He questions if Frank stays the way he is out of vengeance for his fallen family or if he has changed in to his current being and can never come back from it. Artist Tan Eng Haut’s work on the book can be hit or miss at times. Some panels have great perspective and facials. Others, the most important parts of a character’s face or expression are lost in an overuse of shadows. The part that stands out the most are the ultra thin pencil lines he works with that are so subtle that they end up standing out even more, pulling you back out of the experience.

The series has lost a little bit of its thunder with the lack of appearance from the Hood in this issue. With no real threat to Frank, it feels more like the story has been littered with cannon fodder instead. People are going to die, some have even started. It feels like there is going to be a couple month delay before anything of real strong consequence happens in the book. With any luck, Remender will continue examining Frank’s motivations as he did in this issue and use that as the driving force in the series as the league of reborn B-Listers don’t look to be much threat to Frank.

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For previous installments of The Pull List, go here.

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