The Punisher (2004) #46, Widowmaker, Part 4 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  46

Ennis brings all the threads together this issue. Frank, the widows, the mystery woman, the cop. The cliffhanger resolve has Frank taking one to the chest. The issue opens with Frank thinking about how unlikely the house where the damsel widow has brought him seems like a front for a trafficking operation. He’s just about to bail when he gets shot. Ennis sticks to the ambushing widows for most of the action (including a somewhat confusing sequence—Medina’s fault—about why they can’t take a second shot). Then the mystery woman shows up and saves Frank and guts the damsel, which is the most gory the arc’s actually gotten so far. Or maybe seeing intestines exposed to oxygen just seems like the most gore.

But I think it’s the most.

Anyway. The mystery woman saves Frank, leaving the remaining widows to deal with the arriving cops and recover from a launched grenade, bringing the not Sam Jackson Sam Jackson cop into the issue. His investigation is a bit of a water tread; Ennis gets in a (very dated) jab at “C.S.I. New York” and recaps the opening action into exposition to get the cop caught up. But other than the cop figuring out the four women in the bad neighborhood late at night and discovering their identities, it’s just filler. Widowmaker is the first seven issue arc—instead of six—so there’s going to be filler. It’s not bad filler, but it’s definitely filler.

The widows regroup and calm down, with the leader realizing the mystery woman is the actually her little sister (who’s been mentioned in hushed tones since the first issue of the arc because there’s some kind of joint history involving all the widows and the little sister). Meanwhile, the little sister is busy patching Frank up. The soft cliffhanger reveals she’s yet another widow made by the Punisher, except instead of hating Frank, she’s his biggest fan (or so she says). Ennis does a fine job getting the reader wondering about the explanation but it’s time for the issue to be over so something for next time.

It’s a bit of a stretched issue, but still a good one. Maybe Medina and Reinhold aren’t the most interesting when it comes to the cop questioning and investigating scenes, but they do all right enough. It’s unclear why all the widows are wearing the same green turtleneck sweaters; you’d think the cops—even the dumb ones—would notice they’re in matching outfits. But apparently not.

Ennis treads water well and the build-up to the cliffhanger—specifically the widows freaking out over their plan gone wrong—works well.

The Punisher (2004) #45, Widowmaker, Part 3 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  45

Lots of action this issue. Frank’s taking out of a convoy of mob cars—the first page has Medina and Reinhold doing photo-reference on James Gandolfini but the character never figures in later so it’s not The Punisher vs. The Sopranos—but there’s a catch. The widows have put their decoy damsel in distress in one of the trunks and it’s her job to convince Frank to go with her into a trap. Since he’s a dumb lug when it comes to endangered women, he’ll go for it.

The comic goes from the action to the widows figuring out their plan. They luck out because one of them is willing to sleep with the mobsters to get information… and to just generally distract them. Ennis doesn’t specifically contrast the mobsters’ inability to refuse an easy lay with Frank’s weakness for women in danger, but there’s a general mood to it: men aren’t bright.

While the widows are plotting, they’ve got the mystery woman following them around and watching from afar. The issue’s either from the widows’ perspectives or the mobsters’. Frank gets some action-packed panels, but other than his full page establishing shot, the firefight is entirely from the mobsters’ perspective. No narration. Even when he finds the damsel, it’s still from her perspective, with Ennis offering no hint at how Frank is processing her bullshit story, which the reader knows all about.

It is a juxtaposition as far as Frank’s damsel in distress weakness and the mob guys thinking more with the little head than the big, but there’s nothing explicit about it. It’s a fact of life, kind of like how Ennis utilizes the randy widow. At least one of the other women seem to understand the plan only works because of the randy one’s willingness, but Ennis doesn’t dwell. He’s got the story he’s doing and he doesn’t get distracted. There’s a lot of context, which he establishes, but doesn’t engage.

The issue ends on a hard cliffhanger: Frank walking right into the trap, presumably unaware of anything being amiss, blinded by his sympathy.

It’s very nicely plotted, even if it is just moving Frank into position for what comes next. It doesn’t feel particularly bridging thanks to Ennis splitting the action sequence up with the widows’ plotting. He also gives the mobsters under attack just enough personality to keep things moving. It’s an efficient, effective issue.

The Punisher (2004) #44, Widowmaker, Part 2 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  44

Ennis opens the issue with Frank killing a couple child pornographers. It’s a few pages, with Frank considering his options considering the kids (and victims) are at home, as well as how much he wants to watch the perpetrators suffer. The growing itch he didn’t realize he had the desire to scratch. It’s Ennis’s long-term character development with Frank as the series progresses, understanding and exploring what’s going on under the skin.

After the opening, Frank’s out of the issue. Ennis splits the rest between the widows, the mystery woman stalking the widows, and Black NYPD detective Paul Budiansky.

The widows decide they’ve figured out Frank’s weakness—vulnerable women—from reading about The Slavers arc. Ennis plays their scenes for a combination of comedy and exposition, in case someone picking up Widowmaker had somehow missed the early arc and needed some catch-up. It’s fine exposition and decent enough comic relief (there’s no other place for it in the issue), but it’s all set up for the mystery woman, who’s right on the widows’ heels.

The mystery woman gets a scene where—if the reader paid attention last issue—there’s a bit of information conveyed. A little of the mystery revealed. Though it takes a reader who’s not just paying attention to the many Italian surnames the comic throws around, but also interrupted exclamation statements. Even though he’s very thorough with the expository catch-up, Ennis seems confident his reader is paying at least some attention.

Black NYPD detective Paul Budiansky—who Medina and Reinhold visualize half the time as Sam Jackson, half the time as… someone else; not Sam Jackson—is a complete aside. His big scene is in a mandatory therapy session with a shrink who condescends to him in an incredibly unprofessional manner. Budiansky took out a school shooter, saving kids but also killing one, and Ennis juxtaposes him and his processing of the event with Frank (as Budiansky—and everyone else—is as aware of Frank as Frank’s oblivious to them). Then there’s a scene with Budiansky and his wife as they try to support one another being Black people working in White supremacist institutions (he’s a cop, she’s a nurse).

The arc’s shaping up to be both accessible and not. Ennis is laying out the pieces, examining them as he does, situating them in relation to one another—how does Budiansky’s story look through this lens, how does it look when the lens is tilted (the loving husband bit is a—pleasant—surprise). Ennis is never too obvious, even with the deliberate expository sections, but he always spends enough time on each piece to make it resonate.

It’s not the most exciting comic—Frank taking out the bad guys at the open intentionally doesn’t get to have the emotional pay-off the Punisher offing child pornographers could easily have—instead it’s a gradual, intentional one.

Medina and Reinhold’s art, with the possible exception of Budiansky looking markedly different between his two scenes, is solid.

The Punisher (2004) #43, Widowmaker, Part 1 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  43

There’s barely any Frank in this issue. He opens it—gets the first two pages, then writer Garth Ennis shifts the action entirely to the villains. Frank’s been up against the mob, he’s been up against the Russians, he’s been up against big business, but now he’s up against a group of women he’s widowed.

Hence the arc title.

Their story—five women who band together to try to do what the men can’t, kill the Punisher—is separate from what it seems like Frank’s got going on. He narrates the first two pages, thinking about how he’s back to the basics, not torturing criminals anymore in imaginative ways, just terrifying them into talking then putting one in the head. Given the last arc has left Frank with many of the MAX series’s threads tied, not necessarily neatly either, he’s in a new place. A somewhat self-reflective one, where he’s not unsure of himself as much as interested in what not being unsure says about him.

The women have varied histories with the Punisher. Three of them just had their mobster husbands killed (one of them is widowed from a previous arc’s supporting player), one of them stands out because she’s a Black woman (which causes problems for one of the other widows), the organizer calls back to the first issue of the series when Frank took out almost fifty mobsters in the same family. She’s the daughter and granddaughter of the family. They bicker amongst themselves a little—actually it’s mostly telling the racist one to stop being racist and get with the program—then tell their stories, which Ennis flashes back.

He juxtaposes the widows’ plotting with another woman’s night out at the bar, picking up a rando, beating the shit out of him when he gets crosses a line (despite him being a shitheel, he doesn’t actually realize the line’s there… or what being disrespectful is going to get him). The issue ends with the somewhat problematic reveal the woman has had a double mastectomy. She’s also scarred on the face, which she had make-up concealing before… but that detail’s not the emphasis. The double mastectomy is the end reveal, making the issue—which features some questionably written AAVE from the Black widow—maybe Ennis’s most problematic?

But it’s also the most ambitious he’s ever gotten with the villains. He’s giving the mob widows all the power of being just as awful as their husbands. It’s rocky, but far from unsuccessful.

Good art from Lan Medina and Bill Reinhold. There’s a lot of detail, though Medina’s Frank is kind of boring. He’s a generic big guy with nowhere near the personality Medina and Reinhold put into the widows, which doesn’t really work. Showing Frank from their perspectives—their imaginations—would be something. Instead, he’s even more generic and bland (he looks like marketing key art) in the flashbacks than he appears in the first couple pages.

From the first issue, it certainly seems like Widowmaker is going to be a far more intimate affair than Punisher MAX, Frank, and Ennis have been having lately.

Archie Gets a Job! (1977)

Archie Gets a Job  1977

Are Christian comics better or worse since Archie Gets a Job! (from 1977)? The comic promotes a combination of functional illiteracy and profound ignorance, not to mention encouraging teasing of people’s appearances, particularly fat-shaming. Just like Jesus, no doubt.

The comic’s all about Archie and Jughead getting summer jobs at school teacher Mr. Weatherbee’s beach-front Christian book store. It’s not very Christian-y for the first half or so. It’s not, you know, any good—and the fat-shaming starts almost immediately, along with some ageism—but it’s not shockingly insipid Christian-y either. Not until Big Ethel shows up to be shamed for her appearance, only to get a Christian dating book (which is an ad for creator Al Hartley’s son’s real book; Hartley includes an illustration of his son to show off how handsome he is—at least Jughead thinks so, anyway). Pretty soon Veronica shows up at the store to get the same book because all the boys on the beach are enraptured by Ethel reading it to them. Silly Veronica thought her body would get her Christian boys. Not so. They want someone to read them Hartley’s kid’s book.

I do have to admit it might be fun to read the book but not aloud to a beach full of studs. From that point, Hartley lays on the Christian thick. Why get a book on sociology, ecology, or solar energy when you can just read the Bible and not learn anything real at all? And Archie and Jughead are much better fellows for selling Bibles—the Bible “tells you how to be a winner”—than pushing drugs or porno on the beach like other people. Sadly we don’t get to meet those people.

They’d probably be scummier but more amusing.

The last bit of the comic is all about how even teenagers need to tithe, which seems very anti-Capitalist.

There’s actually a couple technically good panels as far as how Hartley plots the action, but the comic’s a disappointment. The cover has Jughead crucified on a giant kite, which has no pay-off in the comic itself.

It might be amusing to read Gets a Job with the seven deadly sins in mind but… probably not. Again, there’s a good reason no one took Archie comics seriously until 2010 or whatever. This thing is dreadful.

Archie’s Parables (1973)

Archie's Parables  1973

Archie’s Parables is Christian comics propaganda from the 1970s and is a great example of why it never would’ve occurred to me to read an Archie comic before, what, 2010 or something. But Parables, courtesy Spire Christian Comics and creator Al Hartley. Though using the word “creator” for Hartley is… a lot. Despite both writing and illustrating Parables, Hartley has a lot of disconnects. Like when medieval Archie and Jughead (mind you, they have some major anachronisms) go dragon-hunting… the dragon seems sympathetic (in the art). So Archie and Jughead are just the thug Christians abusing it.

I mean, okay. Especially since the morale of the story is to run non-Christians out of your neighborhood (Hartley seems like he’d be a great neighbor). And by morale, I mean Hartley takes the time to tell you the morale of the story. To run non-Christians out of your neighborhood.

There’s another one about how reading non-Christian books is bad for you so get a Christian book store. Love how Christian book stores are going out of business in 2020, probably because anyone who read this comic in 1973 forgot how to read and so didn’t teach their kids.

None of the stories—there are six—are particularly standout. The one where Archie and Jughead shoot down balloons standing in for whatever 1973 Christians were freaking out about (guess what, it’s all the same shit as today except the gays because no one publicly attested to gays being people in 1973 so they didn’t have to worry)… it’s funny in a historical context. Though also not because, what, ninety-nine percent of the asshats who read Parables in 1973 have done all they can to make the world a worse place since.

The one where Betty prays hard enough to save Archie from the devil is kind of amusing since the comic’s all about how Veronica is a whore who the boys lust after but Betty’s the wholesome one. But when the devil tries to tempt Archie, it’s with slutty Bettys.

There’s a hilariously bad riff on Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Hartley’s an inordinately atrocious writer, though perfectly mediocre enough art-wise for Archie).

Parables is a definite curiosity, just… probably not worth reading unless you want to see if your eyes are going to stay stuck in your head from all the rolling.

Doctor Gorpon (1991) #3

Doctor Gorpon  1991  3

So last issue was a surprise as far as creator Marc Hansen’s plotting for Doctor Gorpon goes and this issue is no different. The issue opens having to resolve three cliffhangers—all of the monsters Gorpon has captured over the years has gelled into sentient ooze bent on destroying him, his former assistant is at the back door also bent on destroying him, and the police chief (not captain, which just makes the cop stupider) is watching the animate chocolate bunny monster eat people while waiting for Gorpon to show up so the chief can… destroy him.

There’s a throwaway line about why Gorpon wears a mask—he’s got his new assistant, a dopey teenage punk—but it turns out to be incredibly important in the mythology building Hansen ends up doing in the issue. He’s got three cliffhangers to resolve (which he spends a bunch of the issue doing), some major reveals, and he still manages to fit in a third act and an epilogue. Doctor Gorpon is a visual delight of gross cartooning and funny dialogue—Hansen also explains why Gorpon’s got such a peculiar vocabulary—but it’s also a great example of good plotting. Hansen covers a whole bunch of narrative without ever forcing it (the mythology-building stuff doesn’t get—or need—any spotlight, Hansen just puts it in organically) and never sacrifices the cartoon gore or humor.

The issue ends with promise of future Gorpon adventures but not of a sequel (Hansen’s been getting more mileage out of the concept since the first issue and exponentially increasing it in the subsequent issues), leaving a wonderful satisfaction to the comic.

Doctor Gorpon’s a win; Hansen and his creations ooze through any genre or medium constraints.

I’m really impressed with Hansen, but also with Eternity for giving him three issues of this madness.

Doctor Gorpon (1991) #2

Doctor Gorpon  1991  2

I was expecting Doctor Gorpon #2 to be gross and funny—and it is both gross and funny—but not have much of a story. Instead, creator Marc Hansen has a bunch of it. In fact, the story even overshadows the gross and some of the funny.

Everyone who survived the first issue is back. Gorpon’s struggling to get through menial tasks since firing (and maiming) his assistant; he can’t do laundry. Meanwhile, some decomposing scientist comes up with a cure but it ends up infecting and animating a chocolate Easter bunny, which starts feeding on human flesh. That sequence—the decomposing scientist interlude—is probably Hansen’s best art in the issue. The level of detail on the decomposition is horrifically wonderful. But the point isn’t the scientist, it’s the animated, human-flesh eating bunny, which ties into the idiot cop from the first issue’s return. Given where the issue cliffhangs, with three dangers in the mix… Hansen’s plotting is far more impressive (and effective) than I was expecting. Even after the successful first issue. There’s a lot of plotting to keep straight here and he does an excellent job.

The stoner teen from the first issue’s back, getting to go for a job interview at Gorpon’s, where Hansen gets to do some exposition on the state of monster hunting in the big city. It also feeds into one of the cliffhangers. Very nicely executed.

Similarly the former assistant trying to get revenge for the firing. And maiming. Probably more the maiming. He’s hired his own muscle bound grotesque to take on Gorpon, which ends up being the issue’s C plot, presumably to get a focus next (and last) issue.

Gorpon’s a good read. It’s assured enough I’m almost not surprised at the quality by the end of the issue, but it’s an Eternity comic and I’d never heard any of them were actually good. Gorpon’s actually good.

Doctor Gorpon (1991) #1

Doctor Gorpon  1991  1

Doctor Gorpon is a nice bit of gross-out gore. Creator Marc Hansen’s cartooning has these thick inks, which perfectly complement the tentacles and intestines the title character is pulling out of monsters throughout the issue. Doctor Gorpon is a monster hunter, one who charges for his services whether they’re requested or not (his first target is a monster masquerading as a harmless suburban husband), and terrorizes everyone around him, monster or not.

As Gorpon deals with having an incompetent assistant (who destroys Gorpon’s Gorpon Mobile through said incompetence), two teenage punks call forth a demon as part of their band practice. The cops—getting reports of the demon eating people—want to respond, but the police captain has it in for Gorpon, who steals his replacement car and thereby becomes public enemy number one.

Everyone in the comic is absurd in one way or another, with Hansen laying it on thick for Gorpon, the used car dealer, the cops, the punks. The demon is almost the most sensible one—he just wants to eat people and get stronger—whereas everyone else moves through the comic with a dangerous amount of dumb. Hansen plays the dumb up for laughs; there are some rather good ones.

And Gorpon himself is something of an exception. He’s not capable of being dumb because he’s too savage. He’s a barbarian loosed on the modern world. A lot of Gorpon’s fun consists of seeing Gorpon’s bull in a china shop routine, though it’s just as entertaining during the big monster fights thanks to those inks of Hansen’s and the humor.

Hansen gets twenty-eight pages of material out of the okay but definitely thin premise thanks to the humor—which includes the exposition—and, especially, the art.

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