Born #4 (of 4)

Born does not end well. #4 might have the most consistent look for Frank, but only because his face is in shadow most of the time. There’s some okay action gore, but it’s not the point of the issue. Ennis and Robertson spend about as much time resolving Stevie’s story as they do showing The Punisher being “born.” It’s way too much on the former, probably just right on the latter; because unless they were going to go symphony of violence, there’s no point.

Ennis is outside the historical Vietnam War here—the issue, along with Frank’s “transformation” (into a shockingly bad reveal panel which would be better suited setting up a Punisher zombie comic), is firmly Marvel comic book. Sure, it’s violent, sure, there’s swearing, but it’s “just” a comic. It’s “just” the Punisher’s origin reveal. What defines the finale—and, I guess, the series (though not really)—is what Ennis and Robertson don’t achieve, not what they do.

They do not achieve a great symbiosis of realistic war comics with super-anti-hero comics. They do not deliver a good war comic at all. Ennis gives up on Stevie’s narration; the opening page is it and it’s bad. Well, it’s trite and obvious but not bad as war comic narration. It’s just not Stevie. No way that dude would expound this narration. Doesn’t matter because there’s only a page of it. A page and a panel. Then it’s all action until the Voice comes back. And, wow, is the Voice stuff not written anywhere near well enough. All that mystery, all that lack of personality, it bits Ennis right on the ass.

There’s a “sort of” answer to the question about Frank’s experience of the voice, but the answer quickly proves to be a fake. Series editors Nick Lowe and Joe Quesada do an exceptionally bad job on Born. Its failings are comically editorial. No pun intended. Ennis also takes the time to resolve some of the other open “subplots,” but really just a check-in on the characters we’ve met and not cared about during the series. It’s weird; it’s a weird, weird failure. It’s cheesy. Three-ish times. Sure, it’s violent and cheesy one of those times, but Robertson’s good at the gore, not really the action. And it’s hard to see where Ennis is interested. The Stevie third of the comic—unless you count when he’s in the background and you can’t recognize him and it doesn’t matter anyway—is particularly rote.

The issue’s acceptably competent, technically speaking, but it’s not even a cop out. Instead of calling it The Final Day, they just should have done The Final Issue because it’s so imaginatively inert… it’s nothing but that.

And did Paul Gulacy do the last page? Because definitely looks like a Gulacy eye.

Born #3 (of 4)

Well, the Voice is back. And Ennis tries to do something really ambitious with Stevie, which has nothing to do with the Voice, nothing to do with Frank, nothing to do with Born really, and literally gets cut-off because there’s not enough room for it. Not with the Voice stuff, not with the conclusion.

But first there’s the opening, which is some very purple exposition set to images of the war, specifically how American soldiers conducted themselves in Vietnam. It’s too well-written and too effective to be believable from Stevie, who has a scene following where he’s musing about American Imperialism to a disinterested Angel has Stevie has none of that vocabulary.

So, follow that grandiose opening, it’s pretty clear #3 isn’t going to be an uptick from #2 like #2 was an uptick from #1. And not in the art department either. Robertson has to do this scene where Frank thinks about killing someone before committing; he reflects on it, turns it over in his head. Robertson can’t keep his facial features the same from panel to panel, much less show a thought process on his face. It’d be a bad scene anyway, especially since it kicks off the reappearance of the Voice.

The Voice has two big problems at this point. First, it’s still not clear Frank’s hearing the Voice. Not like Robertson’s going to be able to show it (probably not even if it was obvious versus nuanced). Second, given how much work Ennis put into Stevie’s narration, shouldn’t he have put in equal time on the Voice. Because the Voice could be the reader. The Voice could be Ennis. The Voice could be anyone. And it’s not. It’s no one. It just blathers on ominously.

Then there’s Stevie and Angel getting into it about Stevie being an oblivious white dude. Angel knows there’s nothing waiting at home, so why not at least get high in ‘Nam where it’s not your federal government trying to kill you with the same drugs. That bit’s implied but it’s definitely implied. Like, Angel knows what’s up. To a shocking degree.

He’d have made a much better narrator.

The conflict of ideals—Stevie’s dumb white boy liberal ones versus Angel’s reality based Black guy ones—never goes anywhere because it’s time for the enemy to invade, leading to some Punisher money shots. The two-page spread showing the enemies attacking falls a little short. Robertson’s not going to wow with the art, no matter what he shows. It’s too far gone for that.

It’s a strange issue. There’s some really good writing from Ennis, but never when it counts. And his attempt at the race subplot plays way too slight. If he’s not going to take it seriously, why should the reader?

Born #2 (of 4)

This issue—titled The Second Day, so we can guess what the next two issue’s titles are going to be—focuses more on Stevie. Or at least, it’s always from Stevie’s perspective. Frank has a big money shot action sequence, but it’s still Stevie seeing (and reacting). Ennis also reveals a bit more about Stevie’s experience in Vietnam; turns out Angel saved his life so now where Angel goes, Stevie goes. Even when Angel goes to get his fix and Stevie has to drag him out to go on patrol and the racist smack dealer threatens them.

If Stevie and Frank are the leads, Angel is the main supporting cast member, just because he’s still taking care of Stevie; getting him to think less about the terrible things they see, terrible things they may do. One could be overly complimentary and say Ennis is subtle about Angel’s character development. Thin would probably be more accurate. Because even though Born is a comic about the Vietnam War, but it’s also a Punisher comic. So there’s a big Frank action sequence with a very big gun. But then there’s a couple quiet, shocking scenes, which Ennis doesn’t seem to have thought through entirely. But when Stevie muses about “American through the looking-glass, lost in Vietnam” early in the issue (and you want to smack Stevie—and Ennis—for the purpleness but then high five Ennis for the period appropriate vernacular), it isn’t until after Frank gets through his quiet moments that line truly resonates. But then it comes apart a bit when Ennis can’t wrap it all up. And Robertson changes what Stevie looks like six times in two pages, which is actually worse than his seemingly randomly selected Frank faces.

With Born, Ennis avoids various project-related pitfalls. He doesn’t get overtly symbolic or make protracted comparisons; in fact, he avoids them. But it leaves him with two narratives, one of the internal Frank Castle, one of the external. This issue has zip on the internal. There’s Frank’s awkward attempt at bonding with Stevie, which seems like it gets a scene because it’d been a while since Frank had been in the issue and Ennis wanted to send things out not just with him but also with a minor, but pointless reveal.

Ennis really doesn’t seem comfortable trying to figure out the series’s potential. When he and Robertson do a gory action sequence—there are a couple great ones—or when Ennis does a shock twist or plot development, there’s enthusiasm to be sure. But there’s not a lot of ambition. Ennis’s ambition for Born seems to be in selling Stevie’s narration of the experience, particularly when he (Ennis) gets to be wordy about it.

Despite being more obvious in its Punisher-related money shots, the issue’s stronger than the first. Ennis is focused on Stevie’s experience of the day; Frank plays his part, but the structure is all about making Stevie the protagonist now. Especially the ending.

Where it seems like the Voice should or would make an appearance, but does not.

Frank’s kill count is something like seven this issue, six of them enemy combatants, one of them not. It’s where Ennis loses track of Frank… on the photo-Punisher stuff. It’s like he can’t pretend it’s not a stretch so he doesn’t even want to address it.

Born #1 (of 4)

Born is, twenty-nine years after his first appearance, the secret origin of The Punisher. How did Frank Castle go from being a regular Marine to being an unstoppable, relentless killing machine. Only, as the narrator explains, Frank was never a regular Marine. The narrator’s name is Stevie Goodwin, which seems like it’s got to be an homage to Punisher writer Archie Goodwin. I was never a big fan of Punisher comics before Garth Ennis, so I’m not sure if there are other references. Maybe it’s coincidental. I don’t know anything about Archie Goodwin’s Punisher other than it’s extant.

After some “Welcome to Vietnam” material, both with and without narration, Stevie (and Ennis) lay out the ground situation as it relates to Frank. Stevie’s got a ground situation too, but it’s going to have to sit.

Frank is on his third tour. It’s October 1971. The war is winding down. Frank’s first tour was for Tet, his second tour had him an assassin (or so the rumors go), his third tour he’s the only officer who cares at an almost forgotten outpost near the Cambodian border. The base is in disarray; half-manned, Frank’s platoon the only guys not strung out on heroin or stoned. The CO is a mess, hiding in his office until the war is over. But Frank knows something is coming, he’s got his platoon out every day and they’re intercepting a lot of weapons.

Oh. Frank also has never had a man killed since he’s gotten to the base (Valley Forge).

The issue starts with Stevie, narrating about the base, about going home (he’s thirty-nine days short), about his imagined future, about Frank. The imagined future stuff, where Stevie thinks about how proud he’ll be of his wonderful future sons who will never know about Vietnam, where the rivers ran red with blood; he will never tell them.

Born #1 is full of great lines. Even when they’re totally wrong, they’re great (not historically wrong, or out of character, but the character is making an incorrect assertion).

Frank doesn’t get any great lines. He’s purely functional. In fact, his first scene to himself—reporting to his CO about the patrol, which has a bunch of action—ends with writer Ennis and penciller Darick Robertson having a non sequitur, partly due to Robertson’s inability to keep characters looking consistent. Frank never seems to look the same, not even on the same page; his head changes size and shape, features become more and less pronounced. Is it supposed to be intentional, like you can’t ever truly see him? Probably not, as Robertson has the same problem with Stevie and the CO.

About the only guy he keeps consistent is the visiting general who Frank gets killed. Intentionally. And gets away with it. Because Frank’s got to keep his war going, or so, at the end of the issue, the voice tells him. The voice appears in black word balloons, white text. Frank doesn’t react in anyway to the voice. Is it his voice? If so, then why’s it got a separate first person perspective. Is the voice the Devil. Is it Mephisto (no, it’s not, spoiler time). Is it… The Punisher? How deep is Ennis going to go with this?

The issue ends on that question. Where’s Born going; Frank’s set up, the base is set up, the narrator is set up. The story title is The First Day… which doesn't refer to anything special for the characters. It’s not even the first time the Voice has shown up. It’s an effective story title, just maybe not an accurate or relevant one.

Ennis’s writing is mostly strong, always solid. Goodwin’s narration is long-winded but excellent. It’s a war story narration, it’s supposed to be purple. Goodwin never says what he’s going to do with himself, but Great American Novelist seems like a goal. He’s a white guy, after all, smart, thoughtful. The Frank-led scenes are fine. They’re well-written exposition, dumping a lot of information and context on the reader. Frank’s a man of few worlds, luckily everyone else likes to monologue to him.

Robertson’s art is… uneven. At least on things like characters’ heads and faces. It’s not just Frank he slips on. He handles the gore–Born is very bloody, which is part of the point; it’s the first Punisher MAX series, so even though the comic was able to get violent before, not exploding brains violent. I don’t think. They definitely weren’t saying “Fuck” all the time in the old War Journals though. Characters say it occasionally in Born #1, Ennis and Robertson both have showcase moments for it being “unrated.”

Robertson has some good panel layouts, some really good composition, but problematic detail. The weirdest thing about the art is the inker… it’s experienced, awesome Marvel inker Tom Palmer (who’d been inking comics back when The Punisher first appeared). You’d think he’d have… made the heads the same size, if not the faces similar. Frank does look the same a few times in the issue, it’s just they’re never in the same scene, much less same page.

But it’s okay. It’s all right. At the end of Born #1, it seems like Ennis has got things well in hand. Even if the Voice scene at the end is ominous for the wrong reasons.

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Episode 50

We know you’ve been waiting… five months for this episode, which makes us even more embarrassed about the audio quality but the episode’s worth it. All three hours of the episode is worth it.

That’s right, it’s a three hour extra-sized episode… we cover the Best of 2018, a very deep dive into Love and Rockets Volume One, a discussion of media, and then some news about the new amazing.

(Again, very sorry about the audio. It’s been so long since we podcasted, we sort of forgot how. Technically speaking.

you can also subscribe on iTunes

The Comics Fondle List of Favorite Graphic Novels Guaranteed to Offend at Least Someone

Crossed – Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows pre-apocalyptic series about man’s evil ID breaking out and dominating humanity. Many sequels by other authors, vol 1 is the best, with a second fave of the series, Crossed +100 by Alan Moore, also damn good, but a much more complicated read than Ennis’ vol 1.

Madwoman of the Sacred Heart– Alexandro Jodorowsky and Moebius. While Jodorowsky is known as a european film director, he dabbles a lot in comics, and with superb artist Moebius, produces his most coherent work here. Great rollicking story about a college professor who’s convinced by one of his students he has the seed for the next Christ, the plot is all over the place like a great chase movie, with a great cast of characters, sex, drugs, and an outrageous plot that travels worldwide. The art by Moebius fantastic also.

Pinocchio– this retelling of the fable by French artist Vincent Paronnaud (nee Winschluss), is quite possibly the greatest. No holds barred, Pinocchio is certainly put through his paces in this jaw dropping, visually disturbing tale with a great formal technique by Winschluss. Lots of fun!

Weapon Brown– Jason Yungbluth’s great story of the end of the earth, where classic cartoon characters are the last to survive. All of the greats are here, transmogrified in a story that keeps going at breakneck speed throughout 350 plus pages. Charlie Brown, little Orphan Annie, Popeye, Calvin and Hobbes are all here. Yungbluth is really inspired, a master of dark humor, and his artistic chops are solid.

Big Man Plans– Tim Weisch and Eric Powell, whose Goon is quite popular, outdoes himself here in this mean spirited, brutal, dark tale of revenge of a midget who worked Vietnamese foxholes as a soldier, and the horrible revenge he seeks against those who where mean to him. Great stuff and very disgusting.

Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers– Gilbert Sheldon’s great 3 Stooges parody, with three hippie brothers that are always looking for the next buzz, and the hilarious methods it takes them to get there. A classic 60’s underground comic.

Neonomicon– Alan Moore’s tribute to the disturbing writings of H.P. Lovecraft. The end of the world is here, and the dark god begins his unveiling on earth. Two stories, the first an introduction tale, based on Moore’s prose, and the sequel, a progression of the authorities pursuit of the evil.

Providence– the prequel/sequel to Neonomicon, begins with a turn of the century writer, and his quest to find Lovecraft and share his sensibilities, is a work of dark horror than has been unmatched in comic books. Not for the squeamish, this book leaves none untouched by its disturbing concepts and visuals that bothered me in my sleep, no easy task.

From Hell– an earlier book of horror by Alan Moore, this one takes everything he can find on Jack the Ripper, and works it into a complex, multi faceted biography that is perhaps his most complex work. Great well researched art by Eddie Campbell only makes it better.

Big Blown Baby– Bill Wray, one of the geniuses behind “Ren and Stimpy,” goes several notches further on the depravity charts, with this hilarious and disgusting story of an alien infant stranded on earth. Wray is also one of the best cartoonists in the business, giving this R rated adventure some serious flavor.

Black Hole– great alternative artist Charles Burns does a great story on a sexually transmitted virus that mutates high school classmates in this David Lynch flavored monster story, with real creepy sexual overtones.

Empowered– Adam Warren’s parody/homage of superhero comics featuring a hot young superhero with serious self esteem issues. Started with a bondage fetish strip that were commissioned drawings that evolved into it’s own, these are perhaps some of the better superhero comics made today. That they feature sexual tension throughout as well as some really suave art make these a fave. Skip the Avengers and read this.

Fade Out– To this date, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips noir masterpiece. A movie starlet is killed in this whodunit in post WW2 Hollywood is one of the better realized stories of our era, and Phillips art along with fully developed characters make this a must read.

Bratpack– Rick Veitch’s perverted, dark look at the REAL lives of teen sidekicks to the heroes was made years before The Boys, and I would say an initial inspiration for it. Not for the squeamish or faint of heart.

Clown Fatale– Viktor Gishler’s b movie plot about a group of women that become circus clowns to later take over the circus drug running and mob operations actually works, and is a fun read, laced with all the good stuff that goes with these things. If this one grabs you, look for his Order of the Forge, a ribald adventure with three of Americas founding fathers taking time off from their debaucherous pursuits to stop a power mad governor from invoking Satans plans on earth during the revolutionary war. Gishler is real good at this b movie stuff, so If this one also grabs you, look for Sally of the Wasteland, another dystopian look at post war earth that stars a hot lass that will go to great lengths to save and love her hillbilly boyfriend.

Livewires– Adam Warren of Empowered did some some straight mainstream work at Marvel with this one featuring a group of female SHIELD LMDs that rebel and take on their own lives is good Marvel all the way. Superior mainstream.

Miracleman– Alan Moore’s take on superheroes didn’t begin with Watchmen, and this earlier study of the genre first started in England, but finished here years later, is perhaps the most realistic and logical of the super mythology tropes. While the art gets a bit weak in the middle, Rick Veitch and John Tottleben step in to finish the saga which concludes in the only way it could. Skip the Neil Gaiman sequels.

Rawhide Kid– back when Joe Quesada ran Marvel, he did wondrous things. One of them was this unusual take on the Rawhide Kid, an old western gunslinger who in this version just happens to be a gay man in the old west. Great humor, and some perfect art by John Severin, who could draw horses in his sleep. Recommended.

Rover Red Charlie– yep, post apocalyptic earth is certainly in enough comics, but if you love dogs, Garth Ennis scores well here featuring a group of canines that fight to survive in a post “Crossed” time situation. Definitely for dog lovers.

Smax– a spin off of Top Ten, Alan Moore’s look at the Superman character that has to go back to his own dimension for a weekend funeral is a great send up of fantasy roleplaying gamer quest type nonsense, with Moore sparring nobody’s feelings.

Ultimate Adventures– again, when Joe Quesada ran Marvel, great books just happened. This over the top parody of Batman and Robin, along with an Alfred type character, entertained me profusely, and much better than regular Batman.

We 3– One of Grant Morrison’s greatest stories, this one involving three lab animals transformed into military killing machines that break their leash is great social commentary, and a good message on cruelty to animals with a great ending. Frank Quietly’s art is a big draw too, blending Morrison’s imagination into reality seamlessly.

Jimmy’s Bastards #8 (May 2018)

Jimmy's Bastards #8

There’s one more Jimmy’s Bastards after this one. It only runs nine. Thank goodness.

The series has been a littly wobbly–though sometimes a lot wobbly–and, as Ennis prepares for the finale, it’s finally stabilized. Sure, Jimmy’s still extremely upset and emotionally distressed and in his pajamas (not to mention bringing his puppy) but he’s in motion. It helps.

His partner, who somehow manages to be a perfectly good character and deserving of more page-time… well, her name still doesn’t stick in the noggin. Nancy. Nancy tries to bring the old Jimmy back while she steps up to save the day.

Unfortunately, she’s not the hero so the plot twists don’t go in her favor.

Some great art from Braun, like, you forget how good Braun’s art can be and then there’s an issue like this one. Just great action art, great movement, great expressions.

And Ennis keeps the train running. It’s always compelling, especially since there’s only one more left. I was terrified he was going to go straight into another story arc instead.

CREDITS

Go Full Villain; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Russ Braun; colorist, John Kalisz; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Mike Marts; publisher, AfterShock Comics.

Jimmy’s Bastards #7 (March 2018)

Jimmy's Bastards #7

Jimmy’s Bastards ran the risk of going on too long, with Ennis running out of story in the first arc. If it’s an arc. The first six issues. But with issue #7 he seems to have things moving again. Jimmy’s back in the game, albeit slowly, as he’s got to deal with the institutionalization thing.

And Nancy gets a bunch to do on her own.

Still way too much with the offspring, who aren’t anywhere near as diverting as the amount of pages Ennis dedicates to them suggests. Everything with the kids feels like filler, until there’s action, then it’s at least that awesome Braun action.

The book’s not spectacular or anything (and never–or rarely–has been to this point), but it’s certainly in better shape than I thought it’d be at this point. Ennis does have a continuation in mind; I’d just assumed he was dragging things out.

At least he’s got Braun on the art. Braun makes up for a lot.

CREDITS

I Never Get Tired of That Sound; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Russ Braun; colorist, John Kalisz; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Mike Marts; publisher, AfterShock Comics.

War Stories #26 (January 2018)

War Stories #26

War Stories #26 is the last issue. Ennis and Aira go out strong. Most of the issue is a dramatic action sequence. Ennis has to keep it interesting, Aira has to keep it moving. Both succeed. Thanks to the omnipresent narration, Ennis is able to lay groundwork for the finale. Even though there’s still one last reveal.

Or maybe not last reveal but first. This story, “Flower of My Heart,” is some of Ennis’s most saccharine, but most humanistic work. The character study of the protagonist as he watches this foreign country change around him–as Italy goes from being fascist to Allied occupied–and how war changes or doesn’t change him.

Because protagonist Robin is a warmonger. Only he’s not. He’s forever scarred with what he’s seen, but he’s still naive. He only can exist for the one thing. Or can he?

It’s an excellent finish. War Stories has had its ups and downs, but Ennis really brought it together for the last two stories. And, while Aira is rushed with the talking heads here, he’s got the emotions of the characters down. Their faces, rough or not, intensely convey their feelings.

I’m going to miss this comic. Well, War Stories but not so much #26; I resent Ennis when he makes me cry because I know he knows he’s doing it.

CREDITS

The Flower of My Heart, Part Four; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

War Stories #25 (October 2017)

War Stories #25

Ennis’s gentle story continues. Robin, the British WWII flier, reflects on his life while flying missions in Italy. Italy’s just capitulated, the Allies have taken Rome, everything’s going fine. Except Robin doesn’t have anything else going on except the flying.

His Italian pal, whose life is fairly destroyed, maintains a more positive outlook. He encourages Robin to try to meet a woman, which Robin does. So a bunch of it is nervous Robin preparing for his date.

Aira’s art is rushed, but he takes the time on the expressions in close-up. There’s a very stylized feel to the talking heads scenes, the characters’ expressions, how much the visuals focus on them and nothing else. Some of it is probably just less backgrounds, but the emphasis works. Ennis is doing a character study, after all.

It’s good. Ennis doing this non-battle oriented War Stories arc has excellent result.

CREDITS

The Flower of My Heart, Part Three; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Punisher: The Platoon #6 (April 2018)

Punisher: The Platoon #6

Here’s the thing about Garth Ennis. His story arcs might read well in trade. His limited series might read great in a sitting. But he writes comic books. He paces comic books. And Punisher: The Platoon #6 is one hell of a comic book.

Ennis goes an unexpected route resolving the previous issue’s cliffhanger. He uses the frame a lot, revealing the frame isn’t a frame so much as a perch. It’s the reader point of view, whether they know it or not. Ennis has his epical story arc and juxtaposing and it flows nicely, but these things aren’t the most important thing. The most important thing is how the comic has read and reads.

Because Ennis delivers. He confirms he made a promise earlier in the series–one entirely without verbalization–and he delivers on it. He shows he can do this comic and do a war comic and also do a Punisher comic and then he moves past proving he and Parlov’s abilities to someplace else.

Or maybe Ennis just wanted to make a bunch of grown men cry. With the added bonus it’s a Punisher comic making them cry. It’s one hell of a comic.

Parlov’s art is on, of course. There are a lot of talking heads moments cut into the big action–with the narration and the talking heads so strong the big action flashback panels are almost intrusive. They don’t break the pacing because they’re supposed to be intrusive. Ennis is sort of doing the Wizard of Oz reveal on how the comic works and he needs to get the reader alert.

Damn.

What a comic. The issue and the series. Ennis and Parlov.

Damn.

CREDITS

6: Happy Childhoods; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Nick Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Dastardly & Muttley #6 (April 2018)

Dastardly & Muttley #6

Ennis does indeed pull off Dastardly & Muttley. The finale is a mostly action book as Dastardly and Muttley fight about how they’re going to save the world. As in, their method. It’s a bunch of good dialogue from Ennis–who has a lot more fun integrating cartoonish dialogue than he has previously–and a great pace.

Mauricet’s artwork is outstanding. He can do Ennis’s cartoons as people humor scenes–though Ennis really should’ve reminded the fox president is George Clooney. Anyway, Mauricet can do those absurdist sequences, he can do the action sequences, but then he can also do the “real life” things. Like the establishing shots and the transition shots.

In a book with either extreme facial expressions or anthropomorphized ones, it turns out Mauricet excels at muted, dramatic expressions.

It’s a neat book. Could be better, sure, but there’s only so much you can do with a Dastardly & Muttley comic book in 2018.

CREDITS

6: You Build me a Thingumabob; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Mauricet; colorist, John Kalisz; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Diego Lopez and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Punisher: The Platoon #5 (March 2018)

The Punisher: Platoon #5.

One issue to go. Why am I so surprised Ennis is bringing the two plotlines together–Frank and his platoon, the Viet Cong and the female soldier. But he handles it in a way it can surprise, even after a whole issue of visual reminders the two subplots are very, very close to intersecting.

Ennis and Parlov do it on the last page. They completely change what Platoon might be about. They introduce all sorts of new potential in the penultimate issue. In the last page. Because Ennis has been so careful at advancing the Viet Cong plot line. He never neglects it.

The Frank plot line has the platoon on a body reclamation mission. Ennis gets some history and some commentary out of that subject. Parlov gets to do some gorgeous green landscapes. Those Jordie Bellaire colors. Then, little by little, Frank and the platoon lose the sky. It’s not night, they’re just going deeper and deeper into the jungle. It’s incredibly claustrophobic.

And it’s all a distraction so Ennis can bring out the proverbial big gun. He foreshadows it a little and builds expectation, but it’s still a surprise; the foreshadowing is nonspecific, ditto the expectation. Parlov and Ennis pace this issue deftly, confidently guiding the reader to the cliffhanger.

Next issue’s going to be something.

CREDITS

5: Deadfall; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Nick Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Jimmy’s Bastards #6 (January 2018)

Jimmy's Bastards #6

Jimmy’s Bastards #6 is all about the true horror of the Bastards’ plan. It breaks Jimmy. His partner tries to get him out of his funk–Jimmy’s gone nonverbal–can she do it in time to save the day?

Ennius juxtaposes her well-drawn but tedious visit to the mental hospital with flashbacks to Jimmy’s discovery of the aforementioned true horror.

Ennius does all right with the partner’s monologuing. Not great but definitely all right.

The problem is it’s a stretch issue. It’s issue six, it’s time for Jimmy’s Bastards to wrap up and instead we’re just going into the second arc. Worse, what if the series is planned for twelve and Ennius has paced it so poorly. Everything in Bastards is thin, everyone is caricature; Ennis doesn’t go for character development in this book, he goes for sight gags.

Sometimes exceptionally gross ones.

It’s been difficult to maintain enthusiasm for this book, despite it sometimes being good and usually being better than mediocre (Ennis mediocre being much better than most other mediocres). And now he’s dragging it out? Bastards is on the brink of exasperating.

Great Braun art, though. At least one beautiful–horrifying–double-page spread.

CREDITS

The Laughing Academy; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Russ Braun; colorist, Guy Major; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Mike Marts; publisher, AfterShock Comics.

Dastardly & Muttley #5 (March 2018)

Dastardly & Muttley #5

Dastardly & Muttley has had its ups and downs, but I didn’t really expect Ennis to pull it all together so well. And he doesn’t do it with restraint. There’s nothing restrained in this issue. It’s happened; the cartoonifying bomb has gone off. Lots of cartoon animals, lots of changes to cartoon logic.

Ennis handles it well. Even if the reveal didn’t end up being so thoughtful, the issue would be pretty good. It’s not laugh out loud funny, maybe Ennis isn’t comfortable without dirty jokes. But it’s pretty good, it’s a nice, amusing read. With good art from Mauricet.

But then Ennis gets to the reveal and it’s rather awesome. It’s a lot. There’s a lot of exposition and a lot of references in that exposition, but there’s also Mauricet’s ability to do sight gags.

Dastardly & Muttley isn’t going to be great; it might end up being a solid Ennis trade though.

CREDITS

5: In an Octopus’s Garden, in the Shade; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Mauricet; colorist, John Kalisz; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Diego Lopez and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Punisher: The Platoon #4 (February 2018)

Punisher: The Platoon #4

The tragedy of Punisher: The Platoon is almost unbearable. Ennis juxtaposes the Americans and the Viet Cong. The female Viet Cong Frank Castle, the Frank Castle Frank Castle. The one with a dark shadow over him, even though only the reader can see it. It’s not in the bookend narration. The vets sitting around being interviewed? They don’t acknowledge the tragedy of Frank. It’s the saddest thing in the world… an earnest Frank Castle.

And something I suppose you wouldn’t get if you weren’t entirely versed in the character. Or at least in Ennis’s Punisher MAX. Or some of it, anyway. It’s freaking intense. Nothing happens this issue; violent-wise, I mean. The two times things could go violent? They don’t. Ennis and his war comics realism.

Frank’s marines are on R and R. Drinking and whoring. Ennis loves writing the old men jovially recalling those days. It’s actually kind of cute, as very little else in Platoon ever gets to be cute. Frank’s Viet Cong alter ego’s mentor is sort of cute. But he’s also a brutal commander so it’s a problematic cute.

There’s a conversation scene with Frank and one of his men. Just talking about their lives. Frank Castle talks about his personal philosophy. The other guy offers him advice. It’s extremely affecting as it continues because it’s so foreign from Punisher comics. Freaking Ennis. So good.

Parlov’s art is awesome. No action, lots of talking heads, just beautifully paced visuals. Parlov’s really got this one down.

CREDITS

4: Absolute Consequences; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Kathleen Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Dastardly & Muttley 4 (February 2018)

Dastardly & Muttley #4

Just in terms of plotting, this issue of Dastardly & Muttley is Ennis’s best. He’s got a lot going on at once–he’s got Dastardly and Muttley in a chase sequence with their former teammates, he’s got a Senate committee, he’s got general stuff going on in the world. Not too much of the last one; Ennis and Mauricet are actually rather reserved in the wacky visuals.

Except when the planet Earth grows mouse ears.

Most of the issue is talking heads, whether it’s a back and forth with the hearing or with the two planes. It’s an airplane chase. Doesn’t matter. Except when it turns into yet another fracturing of reality.

As for the content, not simply the expert plotting, it’s fine. A mild funny. Ennis really proud of some word play he does in the Senate scene.

Mauricet’s art is solid. His expressions aren’t good enough for the talking heads or corresponding emotions, but otherwise everything’s solid. Until it gets hurried. Not a particularly impressive art issue. It’s rote.

Still. Fine comic.

CREDITS

4: Highway to the Danger Zone; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Mauricet; colorist, John Kalisz; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Diego Lopez and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Jimmy’s Bastards 5 (November 2017)

Jimmy's Bastards #5

And there you have it, don’t count Ennis out, not even on Jimmy’s Bastards.

It’s been a rocky series and this issue’s probably just another peak, but it’s a good peak. It’s beautifully paced, it’s funny, it’s dry. The Britishness comes through.

The issue’s all action. Regent’s doing things and Nancy’s doing things. Bloodshed and dead Regent offspring ensue.

But what does a good issue of Jimmy’s Bastards mean? It doesn’t mean the comic’s saved. It’s been too rocky. When Ennis is on for a series, he tends to be on for it. At least by issue five. Bastards is an ongoing, which is concerning enough for Ennis these days, but one without a clear point? Well, it’s hard to get invested in the comic again. Beyond reading it, enjoying it, appreciating it. Anticipating it is out.

Which is fine.

Good art as always from Braun, including a great double-page spread of Nancy’s skydive landing. The book’s fine, with some standout issues, it’s just not consistent.

CREDITS

Better Get the Puppy; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Russ Braun; colorist, Guy Major; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Mike Marts; publisher, AfterShock Comics.

Punisher: The Platoon 3 (January 2018)

Punisher: The Platoon #3

This issue of Platoon is Ennis looking at the quiet time for Frank Castle and his unit. Most of the issue has to do with Frank trying to get better rifles for his men. There’s some stuff with the Viet Cong, there’s the framing sequences, but really, it’s just an issue about Frank trying to get better rifles for his men. It’s very, very strange.

The comic itself is phenomenal. Ennis’s dialogue, his narration, the plotting, it’s all great. Parlov’s art’s great, but playing more for… humor. There’s some absurdity of war stuff going on and Ennis tries to find the humanity in the characters’ reactions to it. He also nicely echoes sentiments from the past to the future with the modern day framing stuff. It feels very whole.

But it’s strange. It’s not really a bridging issue, not unless everything hinges on Frank going to the black market for better rifles. It seems like an aside. A texture issue in a limited series. Does Ennis have time to do it?

Of course he does. Because it’s Ennis and Punisher. He never lets Frank down.

CREDITS

3: The Black Rifles; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Kathleen Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Dastardly & Muttley 3 (January 2018)

Dastardly & Muttley #3

Ennis splits this issue between Dastardly and Muttley (as Dick is starting to self-refer) and the President. Oh, and the pilots sent to get Dastardly and Muttley.

The President is suffering the repercussions not just of assaulting a political opponent on television, but also the cartoonification of reality. It appears to be cartoonifying into a Dastardly and Muttley cartoon, at least based on Dick’s transformation into Dastardly is continuing (he spontaneously grows the mustache).

The opposing pilots are conflicted (they know the leads), but might also be suffering from reality’s cartoonification. Ennis has some fun with it, Mauricet’s art is good. The book is now half over, without much hint of where Ennis is taking it (if anywhere), but it’s still amusing enough.

Hopefully that enough carries it three more issues.

CREDITS

3: I’ll Be Gone When the Morning Comes; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Mauricet; colorist, John Kalisz; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Diego Lopez, Brittany Holzherr, and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Punisher: The Platoon 2 (December 2017)

Punisher MAX: The Platoon #2

I think three times this issue there are full page panels with the credit “Ennis/Parlov.” I’m not sure if they’ve got their first names on it. They’re heavy panels. Ennis is doing a Vietnam story. He’s got the vets, he’s got the author, he’s got Frank. The vets get most of the time, whether telling the author their story or just in flashback. The author opens it, introduces some details and some unexpected reality (a former Viet Cong officer being a happy old man visiting the U.S. frequently).

Ennis saves Frank. He and Parlov do a lot with the violence, starting with the Viet Cong launching an attack and the Americans having to go to bayonets. But then they go farther. They go so far you’re scared to see Frank again.

No one but Ennis could take what should be a Punisher cash grab and deliver The Platoon. Anyone else would be foolish to try, but with Ennis, his ability to plot this thing… it’s unreal. Reading it, the world off the page goes silent.

CREDITS

2: Ma Deuce; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Kathleen Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Jimmy’s Bastards 4 (October 2017)

Jimmy's Bastards #4

Well. I’m not sure what to think of Jimmy’s Bastards right now. Ennis goes broad with the humor, giving Braun what becomes a litany of sight gags involving the villains’ mass disaster plan. And the usually careful dialogue gives way to a bunch of inferences and interrupted thoughts. Ennis returns to his undercooked (still bleeding) “attack” on social justice and basically just fills pages with it until the mass disaster strikes. Then it’s time for Braun’s art fest, then it’s off to the cliffhanger setup.

Take

It’s technically all right–mostly Braun’s art–but Ennis isn’t putting Jimmy’s Bastards is a good spot for a strong finish. More like he’s hobbling it and reducing its ambition.

CREDITS

Takeable-Pissable; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Russ Braun; colorist, John Kalisz; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Mike Marts; publisher, AfterShock Comics.

Punisher: The Platoon 1 (December 2017)

Punisher: The Platoon #1

Punisher: The Platoon is Garth Ennis doing a Vietnam war comic with Frank Castle. Young Frank Castle. Green Frank Castle. An author has tracked down Castle’s first platoon to interview them for a book; the author is never seen. Is it Ennis? Peter Parker? Maybe we’ll find out by issue six.

The Vietnam stuff is excellent. Castle’s just become a second lieutenant, it’s his first ever command, his first ever time in a war zone. Platoon is a colorful story, almost jarring the reader from Goran Parlov’s art. It’s precise and tranquil. There’s no violence until Castle arrives.

Ennis is using a couple different points of view devices for the flashback. Subjective narration, presumably objective events. It’s interesting. Art’s great. Seems like Ennis found something else to say about Big Frank. And, if not, hopefully he can get a new car from the Marvel bucks.

CREDITS

1: Crack the Sky and Shake the Earth; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Kathleen Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Dastardly & Muttley 2 (December 2017)

Dastardly & Muttley #2

I am now on board with Dastardly and Muttley but with one caveat. As the world descends into an ultra-violent, wacky cartoon mania–so, of course, Ennis should write it–Ennis needs to keep the “President of the United States” gags in check.

The President of the United States killing someone with a giant cartoon mallet during a press conference isn’t as funny as it used to be (and only then if the setup were great). Instead, it’s probably something the world’s going to be worried about in 2019.

But otherwise, Ennis has got the comic set. He just needed to waste an issue doing pointless setup. This issue has much better plotting, much better pacing, much more affable characterization. It’s good. Nice art, again, from Mauricet. He’s got a playful but disciplined style. His dog faces are phenomenal.

CREDITS

2: And You Ain’t No Friend of Mine; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Mauricet; colorist, John Kalisz; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Brittany Holzherr and
Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Dastardly & Muttley 1 (November 2017)

Dastardly & Muttley #1

Garth Ennis doing a Hanna-Barbera comic. One with Warner Bros. cartoons references. And gross-out war violence (sort of… war violence, not gross-out, it’s definitely gross-out). What else. Oh, yeah. A man with a dog’s head.

Dastardly & Muttley plays to a lot of Ennis’s strengths–war comics, funny talking heads, reveals–even if it’s a little too slick. Mauricet’s art is gorgeous, but it’s all very controlled. Ennis’s script is all over the place. It’s exagerrated, which helps cover the slightness, and Mauricet’s art grounds it too much.

It’s fun, but it’s not clear if Ennis has plateaued on the fun with issue one.

CREDITS

1: And I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Mauricet; colorist, John Kalisz; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Brittany Holzherr and
Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Jimmy’s Bastards 3 (August 2017)

Jimmy's Bastards #3

While Jimmy’s Bastards is only on the third issue, it certainly feels established. Ennis is working on the banter between Jimmy and Nancy–during a shootout–and it seems like it’s going to be Nancy who figures out the plot. Jimmy’s a little too dense for it. Ennis is falling into some familiar characterizations for the villains and his attempts at being anti-politically correct are word balloon fodder, but Bastards is still moving well enough not to trip. Having Braun on the art helps.

CREDITS

Some Animals Are More Equal Than others; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Russ Braun; colorist, John Kalisz; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Mike Marts; publisher, AfterShock Comics.

Jimmy’s Bastards 2 (July 2017)

Jimmy's Bastards #2

Ennis retreds more familiar territory this issue–Jimmy’s Bastards really does feel like all his most successful elements set into a new, gimmick-y book, but it sure does work. Especially here. There’s a lot of banter between Jimmy and his female partner and some nice foreground and background humor. Braun’s art is fantastic–the issue opens with a helicopter assault on a golf game, then moves on to investigation and conspiracy. And Idi Amin as a cameo. Because Ennis. It’s perfectly solid, accessible Ennis. This issue’s success suggests he might even be able to keep it going for the whole series.

CREDITS

Ninety-Nine Percent; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Russ Braun; colorist, John Kalisz; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Mike Marts; publisher, AfterShock Comics.

War Stories 24 (June 2017)

War Stories #24

Ennis gets downright poetic with this issue. Well, his protagonist gets downright poetic, but Ennis takes the comic along with him. Aira gets beautiful skies to draw, while the protagonist remembers what his new drinking buddy–an Italian enemy flier turned ally and liasion–talks about. It’s detached from the war, but intricately part of it. I’m getting rather curious where Ennis is going with it; it’s a lovely comic.

CREDITS

Flower of My Heart, Part Two; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Jimmy’s Bastards 1 (June 2017)

Jb1

What if James Bond had a bunch of bastard children out to destroy him (and, presumably, Mother England)? That concept is the hook for Jimmy’s Bastards, which has got to be some of Garth Ennis’s most accessible work in years. Sure, it’s frequently risque, but it’s still an accessible risque. It’s all for laughs so far. Are they great laughs? Not really. Mostly smiles, the occasional eye-roll actually–Ennis takes some way too easy shots at "safe spaces," for instance–but it’s got gorgeous Russ Braun art. Braun handles the action, the hi-tech, the London setting, and the goofy villains beautifully.

CREDITS

Get Daddy; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Russ Braun; colorist, John Kalisz; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Mike Marts; publisher, AfterShock Comics.

War Stories 23 (April 2017)

War Stories #23

Ennis sticks with British fliers and World War II–and four issue arcs. And it works out. The setting this time is Tunisia and some Brits taking over a previously Italian (and German) camp. It still has some Italian officers as prisoners of war, giving Ennis a chance to develop character relationships between opposing sides. There are some Germans around, of course, and not all the Brits are as civilized as the gentlemen pilot; presumably there will be some drama. Aira continues to do balance the book better between talking heads and illustrated war machinery. He does particularly well in the desolate setting. War Stories’s uptick might not survive the whole arc, but it certainly isn’t showing any signs of failing yet.

CREDITS

Flower of My Heart, Part One; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Tomas Aira; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

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