As many long-time readers of this blog know, I am a fan of comic books.
I’m particularly drawn to more realistic characters like the Question, Batman and especially the Punisher. I appreciate the fact that it’s just a small leap of faith to imagine a world where these guys really exist.
That gritty realism also increases the dramatic tension since, ultimately, the hero is mortal. Unlike Superman, Thor or Wonder Woman, the stakes are higher because, if not for the hero’s skills, he’d be dead.
Recently, I bought a little piece of comic book blogosphere history when I purchased the first 68 issues of the Punisher ongoing monthly series from Chris Sims of the Invincible Super-Blog, War Rocket Ajax and Comics Alliance fame.
These magazines – the entirety of Mike Baron’s run as writer on the title – were part of Chris’ infamous Box of Punishment when he read every book and comic starring Frank Castle he could get his hands on.
Now, I haven’t made my way through all these just yet, but something is striking about them.
Namely, these covers are fantastically bad. They’re not just unrealistic – diminishing the book’s charm – they’re laughably over the top.
Here are the five worst, in chronological order:
Never mind that missile launchers are probably too heavy to hold with just one arm, the real concern is that when Frank Castle pulls the trigger on that bad boy the kick will send him flying off his precarious perch on the fire escape.
Should the Punisher somehow manage to hold on, he’ll undoubtedly be killed by the explosion and ensuing shrapnel from the incinerated corpse of his victim and the building itself.
This is the tactical genius that strikes fear in the hearts of the Marvel Universe’s criminal brotherhood? Also, please note his all white boots and gloves, ideal for sneaking around in the dark alleys of New York City.
The Punisher #11 - For the next 10 issues the Punisher’s covers were limited to pretty standard fare. Indiscriminantly shooting off rounds at unseen targets… Cavalierly tossing grenades at the reader… You know, reasonable stuff.
But then comes issue #11 (“Second Sight”) where our hero travels to Mexico to exercise his vengeance on human smugglers who left their cargo to die of dehydration in the desert wastelands of west Texas.
After drinking some mescal and going on a vision quest of sorts, Frank and the local brujo dispatch the people traffickers with a variety of weapons including a pitchfork and an antique cannon, apparently from the time of the Conquistadores.
You can see the cannon right there on the cover: the Punisher has ripped it off its moorings with his bare hands and is apparently going to fire it from his hip like an automatic rifle.
Again, it’s a physically impossible feat. The cannon, presumably made of cast iron, would easily weight a thousand pounds. When one of these cannons fires it rolls several feet and has to be pushed back into position by an entire crew of gunners. So, allowing that Frank was able to hold it up long enough for it to fire, he and his Mexican lady-friend would be sent flying by the recoil.
The Punisher #34 – After two years of reasonably sane covers, including growing a beard to infiltrate a gang of bikers, attacking a correspondence school for ninjas and flipping some punks in Las Vegas (for real) the Punisher had to tangle with his toughest foes yet – the Reavers, the mutant-hunting cyborgs who had (briefly) killed the X-Men.
Their first battle didn’t go so well for Frank, resulting in him apparently becoming a cyborg himself. I particularly appreciate the fact that by the next issue he’s all better again. Because being turned into a cyborg is totally reversible. Just takes a quick overnight surgery and you’ll be flesh and blood again.
Also, for reasons beyond my understanding, all cyborgs and robots in the late 1980s and 1990s were depicted as being a deep green or purple. I really don’t remember metals turning that colour… ever… even in the Neon Nineties.
The Punisher #42 – Somewhere around issue #35 the editors at Marvel Comics decided to add some dark humour to the Punisher, edging the books toward self-parody or even camp. For example, puns and pop-culture references were littered throughout the six-part Jigsaw Puzzle storyline the preceded this issue.
When the title returned to one-and-done stories the Punisher’s covers used that dark humour to try and grab the reader’s attention.
Issue #42 is a perfect example of this as Beachhead from G.I. Joe - okay, not really him, but it’s the same style of balaclava as the cynical Joe trainer - holds a gun to a hostage’s head and screams “DROP IT PUNISHER… OR THE KID’S DEAD!” to which Frank Castle, bereaved husband and father, replies “What do I care? My kid is already dead!”
There’s so much to enjoy here: the Punisher’s shockingly unconcerned approach to the safety of innocent victims of violent crime, the hostage’s panicked expression as they realize they’re totally screwed, the background completely devoid of any scenery. It’s all a rich tapestry.
But what I like best is that it’s firmly established in the Punisher canon that Frank Castle had two children. Apparently, in the heat of the moment he’s realized that he really only ever loved one of them.
The Punisher #52 – Skipping over a few covers that see Castle strapped to the muzzle of a giant gun, standing on the roof of a cab before shooting the passenger and fighting neo-Nazis, we leave on a high note: “Maternity Ward”.
Excuse me, “Maternity War”. You see, a bullet hole has obscured the “d”.
Yes, the Punisher has gotten into a gunfight in the midst of a hospital’s maternity ward and he’s either trying to rescue four babies from the marauding baddies or maybe add on to his body armour.
I truly admire the editor’s dedication to the cover’s theme, from the wan smiley faces on either side of the issue’s title, to the bullet-riddled “Baby on Board” sign in the postmark box. Even the publisher’s logo has a small child draped in the Punisher’s uniform and brandishing an Uzi. Such an impressive eye for detail!
It’s amazing how damn goofy these covers are, especially since this is supposed to be one of the most realistic characters in comics history.
Sometimes it’s hard to articulate your feelings about a book or movie. Other times it just comes to you, like when I recently finished reading The Rocketeer: the Complete Adventures, a reprinting of Dave Stevens’ seminal series that was originally published n 1982.
I found myself saying: “Really? That’s it?”
Not that it was a knock on the content of the book. The artwork is gorgeous and really pops thanks to the re-colouring done for this edition by Laura Martin. Stevens’ stories are good too, with some decent action as stunt pilot Cliff Secord learns to use a stolen jetpack and win back his best girl, Betty.
Stevens does an excellent job of building a sense of suspense, particularly in the second story “Cliff’s New York Adventure”. It’s a nice touch that he incorporated his hero into the Wold Newton Universe, having him work alongside the Shadow and with associates of Doc Savage.
But that’s the final story. There’s only two.
This was not what I was expecting, at all. As I made my way through the book I was waiting a third and final act that would match up with the ending of the 1991 film adaptation starring Billy Campbell and Jennifer Connelly. That climax never comes.
Instead, the Complete Adventures end with Secord leaving New York City for Los Angeles, with the expectation that he’ll be reunited with his girlfriend Betty. There should be another third to this book, but it just ends on that note. It’s an anti-climactic end to an otherwise enjoyable book.
I guess that’s the rub: those first two stories really are great. They’re fun and pulpy and in many ways are like Alan Moore’s Tom Strong.
But with any of the Tom Strong books there’s a sense that these are just a few of hundreds if not thousands of stories, and theyère much more detailed and fulfilling. The Rocketeer leaves you hanging.
It’s a shame that there wasn’t more to the series, and even worse, there never will be since Stevens passed away in 2008.
All in all, The Rocketeer: the Complete Adventures is a fun read and it has gorgeous artwork, but it’s disappointing that it’s so short and, ultimately, feels incomplete. It's a great concept, I just wish there was more of it.
If you’d like to read a second opinion, I’d recommend Chris Sims’ review of the Complete Adventures from December 2009.
FCBD is an ingenious promotion that publishers and stores across the continent have developed to encourage new readers to try out comics and graphic novels.
It’s a simple concept: on the first Saturday in May most major comic book publishers release free copies of comics which the stores hand out to any and all customers. The idea is to get new patrons into the stores and to introduce older fans to new titles or creators.
Although I’m a big-time comic book nerd, this was my first experience with FCBD. I went to Paradise Comics, my Local Comic Store, and dragged my girlfriend Katy along.
Between the two of us we picked up six comics:
Boom! Studios – Irredeemable/Incorruptible double-sided: This was actually the last comic I picked from the spread. It just so happened that the Incorruptible cover was the one facing up on the table, and that’s what drew me in. Of course, Mark Waid’s story is great and as these are reprints of both series’ first issues, this was a perfect jump-on for new readers.
I’d read Irredeemable before, and think its concept of superhero-turned-ultimate-villain is fine. Certainly, Waid does an excellent job of building a sense of dread and terror as Superman-analog the Plutonian rampages around the world.
The only problem is that it’s been done before. Watchmen, the Dark Knight Returns, Rising Stars and the Squadron Supreme, amongst others, have broached these themes before. It’s not that Waid does it better or worse than these other titles, it’s just well-tred territory.
Incorruptible, however, is brilliant. It chronicles the reaction of supervillain Max Damage to the Plutonian’s berserker rage and his decision to prepare to fight the hero. I am hooked. I want more, and that’s what Free Comic Book Day is all about.
IDW – G.I. Joe #155 ½: I’m definitely a fan of G.I. Joe but this comic did nothing for me. The Joes themselves are only mentioned in one panel of the comic. Although there’s a great deal of action, the plot relies heavily on past storylines from earlier G.I. Joe comics.
I can see that some people might be intrigued by Cobra Commander’s scheme to take over the United States, but it seems like a very continuity-heavy book that could turn off new fans drawn in by the recent live-action movie.
As usual, Chris Sims and Eugene Ahn didn’t lead me astray. It was a fun, light-hearted read about the newly-married Crusader and his wife Abby as they adjust to their new life together.
The humorous vignettes of what it’d be like to be a married superhero were good for some laughs and Zahler’s artwork is clean and expressive.
Archie Comics - Archie’s Summer Splash #1: Written and illustrated by Dan Parent, this comic is exactly what you’d expect from the good folks at Archie. It’s a fun, one-and-done book centred around a minor social conflict between average American teenagers.
I appreciate that Archie Comics put out a brand new story for FCBD and one that can be easily understood by any new reader. I’m just sorry that it doesn’t really focus on the main four Riverdalians (Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica). Sure, they’re there, but they could have been anyone.
That said, that’s my only complaint. Parent strikes again, doing a solid job of writing and illustrating this story.
Marvel Comics - Iron Man/Nova: Along with the Incorruptible half of Boom’s efforts, this was the best comic I read on Saturday.
Specifically labelled as “Great for all ages”, this book is fun and easy for any fan to understand. Craig Rousseau’s artwork is very detailed while remaining light and easy on the eyes. Writer Paul Tobin squeezes a lot of exposition into the dialogue between Nova, Iron Man and Kate McMillan but manages to keep the plot moving.
I like the choice of heroes as well. Obviously, Iron Man’s inclusion serves as a tie-in to Iron Man 2 which comes out in just one week. Nova is an odder choice as he’s got a lower profile than most characters, but since he is going to be a member of the new Secret Avengers book coming out this month his inclusion also makes sense. Nova is also more accessible for younger readers, since he’s a college student, an everyman in the vein of Spider-Man.
Also, it features monkeys and apes. Who doesn’t love simians?
Marvel Comics - Iron Man/Thor: Inversely, this is the worst comic I picked up on Saturday.
In theory, it should’ve been great. As mentioned above, Iron Man has starred in a wildly popular movie with another one coming out in a few days. Thor’s movie is in production and is a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the characters.
Matt Fraction is one of the hottest scribes in the industry right now, writing the monthly Iron Man and Thor titles. Penciler John Romita Jr. is one of the best comic book artists ever, and a mainstay of Marvel comics. Again, you’d think a creative team like that would be a slam dunk.
Unfortunately, this story is confusing as all hell. Both characters are kind of jerks, not just to the villains but to each other as well. It’s hard to place when in continuity this happens and it ends on a puzzling note with Thor flying over a wrecked supertanker in the green fields surrounding Ayer’s Rock in Australia and Iron Man standing on the moon before a bunch of wreckage that includes a sign for Stark technology.
Not the kind of gateway to two monthly titles that Marvel was probably hoping for and a disappointment to fans familiar with the characters or creators of this issue.