Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Michael Gaydos
Colors: Gaydos (main story)/Patricia Mulvihill (“Citizen Wayne”)
Letters: Joshua Reed (main story)/Janice Chiang (“Citizen Wayne”)
Cover artists: Gaydos (regular)/Alex Maleev (variant)
Editor: Michael McCalister
Publisher: DC Comics/Jinxworld imprint
Price: $3.99 US
To say that I was highly anticipating this latest creator-owned project from Brian Michael Bendis would be an understatement. I was thrilled to hear that Bendis’s move from Marvel Entertainment to DC Comics wouldn’t bring his creator-owned material under Marvel’s Icon imprint to an end. While I’m champing at the bit to see Scarlet resume soon, the promise of Bendis re-teaming with his Alias/Jessica Jones collaborator on a new female protagonist was exhilarating, given my fondness and appreciation for Jessica, both in comics and in streaming TV. Pearl definitely boasts the sort of relatable humanity yet riveting darkness that makes so much of Bendis’s writing so engrossing, but it was more than a confusing at times. I’m definitely intrigued, but I didn’t quite connect with this story as much as I thought I would.
Pearl is a mistress of tattoo art, and her skills are so perfect, she’s attracted a rather exclusive – and dangerous – clientele. But on the very night she meets a kindred spirit who recognizes the special nature of a tattoo she has on her wrist, violence erupts around her, bringing another unique skill set that makes her even more valuable to her nefarious employer.
Gaydos performs incredibly well with this latest project, and where he succeeds is with his portrayal of the titular character. He imbues her with such an air of mystery; her exotic look is attractive and unusual, but he doesn’t play up her sexuality in the process. He imbues her with such youth, but that contrasts nicely with her thoughtful nature, conveyed in the careful stares the artist grants the character as she sizes up those around her. In some ways, she seems child-like, pure, but there’s also a sense that she’s an old soul. Gaydos bathes scenes in dominant color schemes, like the eerie green of the pivotal opening scene and the rusty red in her conversation with a mentor. Gaydos also does an excellent job of convincingly conveying the body art that’s such an integral part of the plot.
However, the depiction of the climactic action at the end of the opening act could have been a lot clearer. Gaydos has opted for a stylized, slo-mo approach to the scene, with a panel layout reminiscent of the style of J.H. (Promeathea, Batwoman) Williams III, but the style and the plotting feel disconnected in those moments. It doesn’t help that the audience has no context for the relationship between Pearl and Mr. Kai in the scene immediately following the shootout.
As a bonus for readers, Bendis’s first work for DC — an Elseworlds story from Batman Chronicles #21, published in 2000 — has been included as a backup story here. Fittingly, it was also illustrated by Michael Gaydos. The story is “Citizen Wayne,” an interpretation of Citizen Kane using iconic DC characters. Now, while I haven’t seen that film, I’ve heard enough about it through pop culture that I can appreciate the callbacks and beats of this Gotham-based re-imagining. The story’s a little flat but entertaining in the parallels Bendis has crafted.
I found it more interesting as an examination of how Gaydos’s style has evolved over the past couple of decades. There’s a far less realistic approach here than what we see in his more contemporary work; it appears as though the artist is influenced more than a little by the style of Tony Harris as well, which makes sense, given that his heralded run on Starman was still fresh in the collective consciousness of the comics industry as the time.
Bendis is clearly striving for an air of mystery and danger throughout this comic, and he and Gaydos succeed in that regard — a little too well, to be honest. A little exposition about Pearl’s work and why she’s accepted a life on the edge would have been a little helpful. She’s a supremely cool character, but there are times when it seems that style is emphasized above everything else, including storytelling.
What I know about tattoo art wouldn’t cover the weird little red mole on my right side, and I’ve never really had the urge to get any ink of my own. But Bendis manages to bring that aspect of culture alive for his readers through Rick’s fascination with Pearl’s celebrity-crafted spider tattoo and her excitement at finally meeting someone who recognizes its significance. Here’s why it works: in those moments, both characters are revealed to be huge geeks; their obsession is just with tattoos as opposed to comics, Doctor Who or Harry Potter. That, contrasted with the crime-genre elements Bendis explores here, is more than enough to get me to continue travelling in this dark corner of the world. 7/10