Writer: Brain Michael Bendis
Art and Colors: Michael Gaydos
Letters: Joshua Reed
Covers A: Michael Gaydos
Covers B: Jill Thompson
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: August 24th, 2022
When you’re a Yakuza heiress, “normal” is a relative term. Pearl Tanaka isn’t the kind of person who would be happy moving to the middle of nowhere and starting over. Of course if she doesn’t, the rest of Yakuza might find a deadlier way to get her out of the way.
PEARL #4 comes along at just the right moment. After the shocking end of issue 1 and the chaotic aftermath in issues 2 and 3, the almost light hearted nature of PEARL #4 is counterintuitive yet welcome.
PEARL #4‘s opening feels like a giant leap sideways. The issue makes short work of the Mr. Miike plotline, resolving it in a rather unexpected way.
Without Mr. Miike to drive the series’ ongoing conflict, PEARL #4 settles into extended scenes of interaction between Pearl and Rick. This is easily the most ordinary the two characters have been in the series, and it’s almost cute at times. In a scene earlier in the series, while they were in Japan, Pearl and Rick decided to try to be normal. It didn’t work of course. That idea returns in PEARL #4, but the characters come to accept that they aren’t normal and won’t ever be normal.
This realization dovetails into a wonderful moment where Rick asks Pearl what she wants “right now.” Bendis and Gaydos provide an outstanding two page spread of the stream of consciousness inside Pearl’s mind in that moment. It’s difficult to make out much of what is going on in Pearl’s head at this moment, but the way in which it explores her thought process is fascinating. As a result PEARL #4 offers a more intimate peek into the titular character than Bendis has given us to this point.
PEARL #4 isn’t all feel good character moments, though. With Mr. Miike not demanding Pearl’s attention, the plot turns away from that conflict and focuses once more on Pearl’s efforts to fill her mother’s shoes atop the Yakuza hierarchy. This leads to an amusing conversation where Pearl is filled in on her growing reputation. It turns out things may not be as hopeless for her as they seemed.
As much as the focus on Pearl (and to a lesser extent Rick) is a positive for the issues, the way in which Mr. Miike is handled is definitely more of a whimper than a bang for a character as important as he’s been. And while there is a nice irony here and the narrative justifies the choices made, it is somewhat unfortunate that Bendis handles the character in this way.
Michael Gaydos’s art never lacks for feeling in this series, and PEARL #4 is no exception. Once again Gaydos plays with color as a means of conveying emotion and intent. This is most noteworthy in Pearl/Rick sequences which are awash in soft, warm orange/pink. This contrasts sharply to the scenes with Mr. Miike which are in a much colder blue/green. And it’s even more stark with a positively frigid blue panel on the final page.
There are two exceptions to this use of color, both of them significant two page spreads. The first is the stream of consciousness look into Pearl’s thinking. The second shows off the way Pearl is imagined by her competitors. Both of those moments, full of brighter and richer colors, command special attention.
The ongoing conflict between Pearl and Mr. Miike was the principal downside to the previous issue. Their interactions had reached a level of repetition that was less engaging. Resolving this conflict in PEARL #4’s early pages gives the issue extra life by letting it focus almost entirely on Pearl and RIck. It also added surprise to the final page that a reappearance of Mr. Miike wouldn’t have provided it. And from a visual standpoint, in a series like PEARL which uses minimal dialogue, the ability to so skillfully use color to further convey character development and plot progression is a valuable tool. Overall this issue, despite being the most lowkey, is the best of the current run.