Brian Michael Bendis's creator-owned comics are often very strong, but they're also often plagued with extensive publication delays that leave audiences annoyed. (What's up, Scarlet? It's remarkable that a writer as prolific as Bendis — he often juggles four monthly titles, in addition to special projects and a teaching gig — falls down on the job as much as he does.
The shame of it is, these books are usually his best work. Scarlet, in particular, started out as a great Occupy-themed commentary on income inequality. Then it was delayed so long that it felt like a timely statement on police shootings. And who knows how many other hot-button issues it will glide by on its glacial pace to completion?
Honestly, I wish I didn't have to begin this column with a huge asterisk, but Bendis has failed so consistently to finish what he starts with his creator-owned property that buyers should beware.
So with all that in mind, I like the first issue of Bendis's new creator-owned book with Michael Gaydos, Pearl. It's the story of a gifted young tattoo artist who accidentally becomes the pawn in a seedy underworld power play. The book opens in a San Francisco food truck parking lot, when a young man notices the gorgeous spider tattoo on Pearl's wrist. Violence ensues soon after.
It's pretty obvious that the book is going to be an investigation of tattoo culture. And it's also obvious that the creators have done their research; the credits list Diego Martin as "tattoo designer." This seems like a natural match with comics, which is the only medium that can really engage in a conversation with tattoo artistry.
Gaydos's art is becoming more and more minimalist as the years continue. He's one of those cartoonists who can relay a complex emotion — say, arousal combined with wariness — in something like five lines. And in Pearl, he's playing with color in some very interesting ways. When the food truck is attacked by gun-wielding mobsters on motorcycles, the book's whole color palette shifts from a slick damp-city-at-night sheen to a day-glow mix of sickly greens and muddy reds, with bits of tattoo flash added in the margins for additional emotional intensity.
As perfectly as the coloring captures the emotional intensity of that sequence, I do wish that Gaydos had been a little more specific in his action sequences, though. In the end, I have no idea who got shot by whom, aside from the main characters. Did everyone else die? How many people were involved? It's very unclear.
For those of you who take a chance on Pearl, it's very likely that you'll enjoy what you read. Even if the plot doesn't advance very far by the end of the issue, Gaydos's artistry alone is very gawk-worthy. But will there be a Pearl issue # 2 on comic shop shelves before we all die in a Trump-inspired nuclear holocaust in the late summer of 2020? I can't confidently place a bet either way.