Hey gang! Pulp is back once again to bring you the latest (well, sometimes) and greatest of the comics world. While the year is quickly passing by, my “to-read” pile isn’t getting any smaller – that being said, it probably doesn’t help that I keep buying more comics. You might remember me talking about Brian Michael Bendis’ (Superman, Powers) exclusive move to the land of DC Comics a few issues ago, and how they’ve used it as an excuse to resurrect his Jinxworld imprint. This week, I’ve picked up another of Bendis’ creator-owned titles: Pearl, a thrilling Yakuza-centric romp drawn by Michael Gaydos (Alias).
Pearl Tanaka is knee-deep in a town ruled, run and owned by the Yakuza. Pearl has grown up in San Fransisco under the iron fist of the gang, and now utilises her unrivalled skills as a tattooist to eke out a living. Having inherited her tattoo shop from her mother, all Pearl needs to worry about it ensuring that the ruling gang gets their cut. Her happy status quo is destroyed when, caught up in a hit gone wrong, Pearl saves the life of a marked man by killing a rival gang member. With her patron, Mr Miike, now aware of her unexpected talent for killing, Pearl must pay off her debt by becoming an assassin for the Yakuza.
Pearl is honestly one of the better crime comics I’ve read in recent years. A lot of the crime-centric books I’ve read have really leaned into the grimdark approach – everything’s dark and grimy, everyone’s depressed and the cityscapes are like Gotham on steroids – but Pearl goes out of its way to focus on interpersonal relationships and the intricacies of gang life. There are a few odd spots in the story that don’t seem to have a purpose at this stage (e.g. Pearl’s intricate, entire-body inkless tattoos) but for the most part you’ll just end up wrapped in a complex, emotional crime drama. Pearl has a lot of unresolved issues around the death of her mother, the incarceration of her father, and her relationship with the ruling Yakuza, and Bendis manages to draw out each story thread in a way that paints a picture of a complex yet mysterious protagonist. Her burgeoning relationship with Rick (the marked man) is a bit, well, weird – he becomes a bit obsessed with her from the minute they meet due to tattoo on her arm – but as they interact more and begin to bond it becomes more believable and even a little endearing.
Special mention has to be made of Gaydos’ artwork. Gaydos and Bendis have previously collaborated on Jessica Jones, and while I haven’t had the opportunity to read it in full, I was particularly taken with the art style. Gaydos kicks things into next gear with his work on Pearl; he mixes detailed characters with some incredible lurid and trippy splash pages. While it’s clear that he’s used reference photos for some of the close-ups on character faces, it allows greater freedom of expression and honestly seems to work really well for what he’s going for.
All up, if you’re a fan of gritty crime comics, Pearl belongs on your pull list. It’s still relatively new – it came out in 2018 – and was announced to be expanding into a full series rather than a mini-series, so it’s the perfect time to get on board.
Written by Alastair McGibbon