The Punisher Presents Barracuda (2007)

The Punisher Presents Barracuda  2007

Barracuda is one of Garth Ennis’s… what shall we call them… NC-17 action comedy limited series. He’s got a bunch of them at Vertigo, a few a handful of other places. The difference with Barracuda is it’s for Marvel (it’s the only Punisher MAX spin-off, which is something since Ennis loved spin-offs for Preacher and The Boys) and it’s maybe a little more… edgy as a pejorative for that thing White guys do edgy. Bad Tarantino and Tarantino knock-offs. Every twentieth word or so from series hero Barracuda is starts with ni- and ends in -ga. I wonder if you counted them you could figure out how many the editors at Marvel let Ennis have each issue….

Then there’s the main villain, Big Chris (as in Christopher Walken—Barracuda works best when you read Chris’s lines in Walken’s voice, which the lettering actually works towards, and Barracuda in JB Smoove’s, though you’d never really want to see Smoove play Barracuda as Barracuda’s a vicious sociopathic cannibal and Smoove’s really likable). Starting with Big Chris’s return to the story—he hires Barracuda in the first part, then Barracuda betrays him in the second, and Big Chris is back in the third issue and calling Barracuda a different racial epithet at the end of every sentence. Because Barracuda buys into brothers in arms—Airborne, crime, etc—over racism. Because it’s funny to have a racist sheriff hang out with Barracuda and call him slurs. It’s the kind of post-racist thing you’d expect to see after Obama was president but Ennis is a trailblazer so it’s a couple years early.

It also doesn’t add up to anything so it’s kind of pointless to look at it so hard.

Ennis fills the five issue series with eclectic, funny but unlikable characters. There’s Barracuda, obviously, who—at least in this series—only sexually assaults men; the women are all willing. He puts together various plans throughout, which keep changing based on his inability to successfully predict how his machinations will play out. We don’t get a lot of the plans. Occasionally Ennis showcases them with a monologue or two, but more often we hear the adjustments when Barracuda’s telling other people about them.

The biggest subplot in the series are these two FBI agents, one old, one young, who are trying to use Barracuda’s plotting to arrest Big Chris. It all takes place in a fictional South American Reagan Republic, where Barracuda and his team of military advisors slaughtered the existing socialist government to put drug-runner Leopoldo in charge. Lots of great real American history stuff here, though it’s just garnish. Oddly, Goran Parlov’s art is best on the FBI guys, just for their expressions. The older one’s in sunglasses but the curve of his lips, you can see what he’s thinking. Great work from Parlov.

So Leopoldo’s the drug-running dictator, Wanda is his ex-porn star wife who’s sleeping with Barracuda, there’s the child molesting priest hiding out with them—I forgot for how long “adult” humor just meant directly targeting Howard Stern listeners. Barracuda’s there because Big Chris has entrusted him with Oswald, his only son. Oswald’s supposed to kill Leopoldo. Barracuda double-crosses Big Chris for Leopoldo, then will try to double-cross Leopoldo to take both him and Big Chris out. Plans within plans.

Oswald’s a hemophiliac and, therefore, can’t be touched or in any way injured.

Fifty is Barracuda’s fellow military advisor from the eighties who went to work at the Pentagon but is a closeted trans woman, which Barracuda somehow knows abut but maybe has never seen Fifty dressed for her gender. It’s unclear. Ennis’s take on it seems to be so transphobic it’s no longer transphobic? He also throws in some homophobia but… again, is it through the looking glass and circular? Doesn’t matter, because there’s no reason to read Barracuda. Not even for Punisher MAX completists. It’s not great or even good really, but it’s not incompetent or bad. Ennis just doesn’t have a story and tries to mug his way through it. Parlov’s art is good but it’s not particularly interesting stuff. It starts in Florida, which is basically just as tropical as the South American city-state; actually, Barracuda’s adventures in Florida seem more interesting than his attempted coup with an eclectic supporting cast.

Can’t wait to see what Disney does with the property.

The Punisher #36, Barracuda, Part 6 (of 6)

The Punisher #36

Turns out the big problem with Barracuda isn’t going to be Barracuda not being a great villain or the Wall Street betrayal arc not creating great ones either, but Ennis not really having a finish for Frank. Sure, he’s got a concussion and he’s outgunned, but his big plan in this issue doesn’t allow for every contingency. It also goes wrong because Frank gets sloppy—again, the concussion can allow for those mistakes, but shouldn’t he at least recognize it, acknowledge it? After gliding over past tense narration pitfalls, Ennis slips and falls just when he needs to keep it going. Barracuda might seem like an arc about a “guest as tough as Frank” adversary and some scumbag Wall Street types, but it’s really about Frank Castle messing up and apparently not learning from it.

It’s weird.

Especially since Ennis brackets the arc with this open-ended “what’s the only thing more dangerous than a barracuda” bit in the narration. Is it the sharks? There are a lot of sharks in this issue, some fully visualized, some just shadows in the water—both equally awesome, thanks to Parlov. Or is it Frank? Is Frank the only thing more dangerous? Because he’s not. Because he gets caught with his pants down this issue. Again, weird.

But far from a bad issue. Parlov’s art is great, Ennis’s writing is strong in everything else, whether it’s the Wall Street subplot (the boss’s conniving wife and her lover) or Barracuda. Though the resolve does have an unfortunate plot… depression. It’s not a hole, it’s something they needed to deal with in panel not off page. Parlov's implication is fine, it just doesn’t have any dramatic resonance.

Ennis brings the conclusion in all right, albeit with a somewhat fake finish—that dangerous barracuda musing—but it certainly feels like something happened with the Barracuda arc. The Punisher versus Wall Street certainly promised a lot more potential. And it’s not like Ennis is trying to avoid sensationalism—there are sharks eating investors and so on. Something just seems off, like mid-arc changes were made or things just didn’t shake out in the writing.

For the first time ever, Punisher MAX ends up leveraging the art to support the writing. Thank goodness Ennis has got Parlov to do it because Parlov can do it, does do it. Barracuda’s not great (outside the art) and it’s more than a little disappointing, but it’s still good. It’s just good enough instead of superb.

The Punisher #35, Barracuda, Part 5 (of 6)

The Punisher #35

It’s a bridging issue but also not. Actually, there are some major plot developments here, just not much involving Frank. Other than him surviving and deciding it’s time to stop screwing around with the Wall Street guys and just take them out; thanks to Barracuda, Frank’s now taking things as seriously as he should have been before.

He doesn’t have that observation in his narration, but he’s dealing with a concussion for sure and probable brain damage so he’s too exhausted to reflect on the mistakes. He’s also got a time limit. Today’s the day—the Wall Street guys are going out on a boat and Frank’s going to do something to it. Ennis doesn’t reveal what, as next issue needs some surprises, but it involves Frank scuba diving for a bit. Also seagulls pooping on him, because Ennis wants to keep it a little lighter. And Parlov draws great passed out Frank and bird shit.

But Frank’s not in it much. Most of the issue has boss’s wife Alice and her lover (and boss’s flunky) Dermot teaming up with Barracuda. Ennis keeps Barracuda dangerous but starts using him for comic relief too, which would be fine if it didn’t make him seem less capable. He doesn’t think his plans through, eventually scaring Alice enough she decides they’ve got to get rid of him. So Barracuda is double-crossing the boss for Alice and Dermot and they’re going to double-cross him just… because.

As Barracuda’s characterization starts getting iffy, Ennis turns Alice into a much better character than he ever suggested before, which is too bad. It would’ve been nice for her to get all the agency earlier. Well, agency for something other than cheating on her husband with his protégé. And protégé Dermot’s need for a stronger leader comes through here too, even if Ennis doesn’t do much to it.

It’s a perfectly entertaining issue—great art from Parlov—but it’s pretty clear Ennis doesn’t have much more ambition for it than the entertaining. Gone is any character development for Frank and the Wall Street schemers are adequate villains, but far from great ones. Barracuda too seems like a bit of a misfire. It’s impossible to believe he could’ve survived with so many appendages intact given his irresponsible nature.

Instead of a worthwhile foe for Frank, Barracuda’s basically comic relief. Makes you wonder if someone told Ennis not to go so dark with the arc midstream.

The Punisher #34, Barracuda, Part 4 (of 6)

The Punisher #34

This issue makes two things very clear. First, Punisher MAX would’ve been an even more successful book if Goran Parlov had been handling the art chores throughout. His expressions—for the talking heads scenes—are phenomenal. There’s one scene where the big boss is monologuing to his flunkies and it’s just these three guys sitting around an outdoor table at a bar in Florida and it’s sublime. Parlov’s so good.

Especially when you take the second thing into account—everyone should have to fight a shark in a comic. Ennis and Parlov make Frank Castle versus great white shark into an absolutely phenomenal sequence, especially when you throw in the past tense narration not to mention the opening frame establishing Frank doesn’t end up a shark’s lunch. Parlov’s able to keep the situation terrifying and tense, even when the outcome is foregone.

The issue is split between Frank, the shark, and Barracuda, and then the Wall Street guys. Stephens cries his way back in the fold, pissing off Dermot because the boss treats it as a teamwork learning opportunity for Stephens. The weirdest thing about Barracuda is how thoughtful Ennis gets with the workplace dynamics, sure the big boss is a reprehensible piece of shit, but he’s good at managing people and encouraging performance from his staff. It’s like Dale Carnegie with mass corporate fraud, which might just be the natural result of Dale Carnegie.

Anyway, while Dermot’s running off to lover and boss’s wife Alice to lick his wounds after getting shut down, Frank’s trying to will himself to stay alive despite the considerable damage he’s taken.

Barracuda moves between the two plots, finally sitting down with the boss—after terrifying Stephens and Dermot—to figure out what’s next. Since they think the Punisher is dead, which is kind of an obvious mistake but Ennis has already started peppering in holes in Barracuda’s armor. He’s not quite as serious as he ought to be, in a very different way than Frank, who knows he’s screwing up. Barracuda is just overconfident. His bluster actually works really well with the Wall Street guys’ bluster. Barracuda is a relatively simple arc, but Ennis is very thoughtful in its execution. It’s extremely well done.

And Parlov’s just wonderful to have on the book.

The Punisher #33, Barracuda, Part 3 (of 6)

Ennis wastes no time getting Frank and Barracuda together this issue. He even goes so far to use coincidence to speed things up—Barracuda’s on his way to New York to take out The Punisher and just happens to see Frank walking off his flight. Dumb luck. And bad luck for Frank, who’s almost completely unprepared for any trouble.

Frank’s narration gets into what he’s done wrong as well as why he’s done it, why he’s let his guard down so much. It’s interesting, engaging stuff, but it’s just priming the reader for the eventual confrontation.

But before Frank and Barracuda can mix it up, Ennis checks in on the Wall Street-half of the story. Number one flunky Dermot is continuing his affair with boss’s wife, Alice, even after she humiliates him—rather amusingly—in public just for a laugh. Even so, it turns out Alice hasn’t just been fooling around with Dermot for his disappointing sexual prowess; she’s looking for a partner. And she’s got him hooked. So they’re busy scheming to throw over the boss.

Their plotting subplot is the most exposition in the comic—until Barracuda gets talking later on—because when Frank wakes up, he and Barracuda just get into a fight. A big, bloody, gloriously illustrated fight. It’s an eight page fight scene, in two parts, with Frank taking out an eye, chopping off some fingers, but unable to even slow Barracuda. And the Goran Parlov art is nothing short of glorious. The way he paces the fight, the panel compositions, it’s superlative. Also very good colors from Giulia Brusco.

The issue ends on a couple cliffhangers, one hard, one soft. While Barracuda is driving his boat out to dump Frank to the sharks—and blathering at him the entire way—Dermot is hanging out with the boss, only to discover the boss has brought Stephens—who Dermot intended to have killed—back into the fold, seemingly cementing Dermot’s decision to plot against the boss.

It’s not a particularly fast read, even though it’s a mix of action (in addition to the eight page fist fight, there are a couple pages of Barracuda running Frank off the road) and abbreviated talking heads. The pacing just works right in both modes. Parlov does a great job with pauses in action or conversation; also time transitions.

It’s thrilling to have such accomplished art on the book.

The Punisher #32, Barracuda, Part 2 (of 6)

The Punisher #32

There’s a lot of action this issue, but it’s all Barracuda doing it. Meanwhile Frank is getting information about why a dirty cop risked it all to take out Wall Street guy Stephens. Frank and Stephens have breakfast in a diner. The diner’s called “Frank’s Favorite Diner.” Not sure if that one is an Ennis touch or a Parlov touch, but it’s sure a welcome bit of humorous detail.

Parlov draws the hell out everything in the issue—Barracuda versus snake, Frank and Stephens’ talking heads, catching up with the Wall Street wolves (particularly number two man Dermot as he lets himself get seduced by the boss’s wife), Barracuda versus bangers, Frank preparing for what’s next. It moves quickly, Ennis again playing with the whole idea of a bridging issue. The scenes with Frank and Stephens fill out the backstory—why Frank Castle is going to care about some energy company and their Wall Street schemes—while Dermot screwing around with boss’s wife Alice is setting the ground situation for what’s going to come. Very few people are more successful at plotting out a six issue arc than Garth Ennis. Especially when he’s got Parlov on the art.

Meanwhile, Barracuda terrorizes the rest of the issue, giving even the most obnoxiously unsympathetic a sliver of humanity (because he’s so utterly lacking in it).

The finale has Frank prepping for the trip—he’s going to Florida to strong-arm the big boss. It’s an easy job (Frank tells us in the narration), so why bother driving and bringing guns with him, he’ll be able to just pick them up in Florida. Easy-peasy. Except it’s past tense narration and Frank knows he’s making mistakes; so we get what is de facto introspection from Frank. Including the gem about what promotes white collar criminals to his sights—deaths. It’s not a soft Frank Castle by any means, just a too cocky one. And a talkative one. Ennis’s character development for Frank in Barracuda comes in the narration more than anywhere else.

The issue ends on a rather ominous note, one panel after Parlov (and Ennis) get in a sight gag about Frank’s reading habits. Because even though we know the story’s not going to go smoothly—we’re in flashback from a shark slaughter, after all—at this point, we’re seeing a relaxed Frank Castle. We know he should be concerned with that approach, even if he doesn’t. And not just because his narration tells us to get worried. Because at this point, Frank doesn’t even know Barracuda exists; the reader’s just spent an entire issue being mortified by the guy.

The Punisher #31, Barracuda, Part 1 (of 6)

The Punisher #31

Punisher #31 starts off with a couple surprises. First is Goran Parlov on the art. Parlov’s excellent. He’s the best artist the book’s had in a long time. Second is Ennis using a flashback device. The issue starts with sharks chowing down on a bunch of fresh bodies and Frank watching from a boat. The narration announces it’s a frame—it’s the end of the story—so Ennis, via Frank’s narration, takes us back to the start of it.

Ennis has done some past tense narration before—last arc, actually—but he didn’t use an actual framing device where he had action set in the present and then flashed back. Not like he’s doing here. It’s interesting; Ennis is far more comfortable with Frank as narrator than ever before, which is a good thing. Presumably.

So the story starts with Frank finding some Wall Street guy tied up naked in a drug den (after Frank’s hit the den). Turns out the dealers had been keeping the guy hostage and raping him. Frank’s not particularly sympathetic and leaves the guy, not thinking much about it. The reader’s going to think about it—because Ennis jumps the action over to his Wall Street pals, including the one who hired the drug dealers to kill him. Unclear this guy knows what they did instead.

There’s a lot of good talking heads—both in Frank and the guy, Stephens, and then Stephens’ pals, big boss Harry and Harry’s number one flunky, Dermot. Ennis and Parlov also make sure we take notice of Harry’s trophy wife, Alice. Well, they make sure we take notice of Alice making sure Dermot takes notice of Alice.

Frank gets brought back into the situation because he notices a dirty cop on the news, heading in to talk to the survivor. Gets Frank thinking he might not want to abandon him. So off he goes for a rescue mission, which is complicated because he’s still ostensibly on the cops’ shit list (from the previous Slavers arc).

Harry the big boss calls in the nuclear option, Barracuda. Now, the issue opens with Frank musing in narration about barracudas without context (other than he’s on a boat named Barracuda), so there’s a very nice wrapping feel. And it’s been a great setup issue as well. Ennis gets a lot done. Parlov’s able to do a bunch of exposition in the art, lots of great tone setup and so on (particularly the “wealth porn” aspect of it).

So very good issue. Even if the setup—Frank coming across someone at a crime scene and helping them against his better judgement—is identical to the Slavers setup. It’s fine… you’d just think Frank would acknowledge it in the narration, especially with everything else he calls out.

Parlov’s such a welcome art change too. He gets how to do the script.

So good.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Starlight 6 (October 2014)

Starlight #6

You know, I hate Mark Millar. I hate how he was able to goof around with Starlight–not just drag out the series, but be really late on the last issue–and how he’s still able to deliver exactly what he needs to deliver on this finale.

Maybe it works better because he’s already disappointed in other issues, so when this one comes through, it works out. But I think it’s more because Millar actually understands how to write mainstream heroic moments and he just lets himself get too confused, too commercial. Starlight is definitely mainstream, definitely commercial, but it’s also got Millar taking the time with his protagonist.

Even though he’s been through a problematic six issue limited series, Duke McQueen’s a great character and Millar wants to celebrate him–and the time the reader’s spent with him.

So it’s cheap and easy, but it sure does taste good.

A- 

CREDITS

Writer, Mark Millar; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Ive Svorcina; letterer, Marko Sunjic; editor, Nicole Boose; publisher, Image Comics.

Starlight 5 (August 2014)

Starlight #5

I didn’t realize Starlight was a limited series. I guess it makes sense, given the creative team, but Millar sure didn’t pace it well for a finite run. Subplots would have been cool. I just thought he was padding it out.

This issue is all action. There’s a minute amount of character development for Duke, but it’s really just old man action movie stuff and it’s fine. Millar writes it well enough and Parlov draws it beautifully. It’s too bad Millar’s plotting isn’t better because most of the action takes place in a gas fog and all the activity is in long shot.

The tediously setup cliffhangers have the supporting cast in shackles and Duke on his way to save them. Duke surviving an off-panel death might be a spoiler but Millar doesn’t actually present it as a possibility. It’s a narrative trick.

They’re all tricks, but effectively executed.

B- 

CREDITS

Writer, Mark Millar; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Ive Svorcina; letterer, Marko Sunjic; editor, Nicole Boose; publisher, Image Comics.

Starlight 4 (June 2014)

Starlight #4

I don't know if Starlight is exactly deceptive, but Millar does make you forget he's up to his old content tricks. There's just enough humor, character revelations (I was going to say development, but not really) and nods to the Flash Gordon roots of the project to move things along. Not to mention the Parlov art. There's some phenomenal Parlov art this issue.

But then, as the issue wraps up, it becomes clear Millar only really resolved his cliffhanger from the previous issue and set Duke up for the next big cliffhanger and the next big opportunity for fantastic Parlov art. There's nothing wrong with that approach but if Starlight is just going to be comic to read for the art… maybe Millar could talk less.

Because he doesn't really have anything to say. He hints at having something to say, but then avoids it.

Even hampered, the comic's successful.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, Mark Millar; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Ive Svorcina; letterer, Marko Sunjic; editor, Nicole Boose; publisher, Image Comics.

Starlight 3 (May 2014)

Starlight #3

For the third issue of Starlight, things are coming together. Well, not so much things, but Millar’s writing. He’s pacing out the narrative a lot better. There are probably six or seven scenes this issue and they’re mostly good scenes. The cliffhanger is a little abrupt and he spends too much time with the lame villain, but the stuff with Duke is all pretty great.

Except maybe how Millar resolves the big action sequence. There’s this fantastic fight scene with Duke taking on a bunch of bad guys–Parlov does beautiful work with the figures, but also with how he lays out the panels on the page–except then Millar remembers Duke is an old guy and has to get real. The real part’s problematic.

And the followup with Duke; not great. But otherwise, all of Duke’s scenes are great.

It’s a well-executed comic book. Parlov’s abilities outweigh Millar’s lack of imagination.

B- 

CREDITS

Writer, Mark Millar; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Ive Svorcina; letterer, Marko Sunjic; editor, Nicole Boose; publisher, Image Comics.

Starlight 2 (April 2014)

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I was expecting a lot more from Starlight. This new development where series totally fall off after strong openings didn’t seem like something Millar would fall for, but this issue suggests otherwise. Duke argues with a kid from the planet he saved about whether he’s going back to save them again.

Of course he’s going to go back. Otherwise there’s not a series.

About the only time the comic shows any signs of life is when Duke says they’re going to show off the spaceship to all the people who said he was crazy. And then Millar fails to deliver anything.

So it’s a redundant, predictable talking heads book. Without very interesting art. Parlov doesn’t do a lot of backgrounds and his panels are simplistic. There’s an overemphasis on the kid, who’s not particularly interesting, and most of the moodiness about Duke’s solitude is gone.

Starlight’s dimming. It’s too bad too.

C 

CREDITS

Writer, Mark Millar; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Ive Svorcina; letterer, Marko Sunjic; editor, Nicole Boose; publisher, Image Comics.

Starlight 1 (March 2014)

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Starlight is not an original idea. Goran Parlov’s composition even mimics The Incredibles when establishing the protagonist, one Duke McQueen. He’s not a John Wayne character, he’s Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers. Except he’s gotten old. His kids are selfish little pricks–again, not original–but he’s pushing through.

He’s also exceptionally well-established in just one issue. Mark Millar uses flashbacks to his adventuring to show who he was and then little scenes in the present to show how he hasn’t changed too much.

Is Duke going to go and save the galaxy again? One hopes–oh, wait a second, didn’t Garth Ennis do Dan Dare with this treatment. Like I said, not original.

But it’s earnestly done. Parlov’s art is fantastic. The fantastical stuff gets pushed further thanks to Parlov’s realistically minded but not realistic stylings. So obvious the Earth stuff works.

It’s light reading, but wonderfully so.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, Mark Millar; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Ive Svorcina; letterer, Marko Sunjic; editor, Nicole Boose; publisher, Image Comics.

Fury: My War Gone By 13 (August 2013)

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I hate to use the phrase, but it’s appropriate here. No way did Ennis earn the ending to My War Gone By.

The final issue has nothing to do with Nick Fury; not the character in this series or the brand. It has to do with all Ennis’s little characters who played in the series–not any of the guest stars either, so they turn out to be pointless. Ennis does whatever he can to bring it back to Nick and it just doesn’t work.

It’s trite and contrived. I’m a little shocked, actually. At least if Ennis had somehow made all the flash matter, it would have been honest to the series.

Maybe he tried too hard, maybe he didn’t try enough, but My War Gone By is a failed attempt. The effort is laudable, however. Telling such a serious story; it’s a shame commerce got in the way.

CREDITS

But Yet We’ll Write a Final Rhyme While Waiting Crucifixion; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Nick Lowe; publisher, MAX.

Fury: My War Gone By 12 (July 2013)

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Ennis gives Nick his big chance and he blows it. Parlov’s expression on his face is just amazing.

The wrap up with Barracuda isn’t bad at all. Ennis comes up with a more interesting solution to the Nicaragua question than I was expecting; there’s even a good moment for the sidekick, who’s been superfluous for almost nine issues at this point.

There’s finally an conversation about aging, though shouldn’t the whole series been about it. Ennis either tried too much or not enough; he’s probably done the best he could with the concept, but it being Nick Fury… he could only do so much.

Maybe some of his decisions–no SHIELD, no Dum-Dum, no explanation of what Nick does in the decades between arcs–were bad ones.

He definitely has primed Fury for the final issue. I assume it’ll be good, though not enough to tie it all together.

CREDITS

Before Man Was, War Waited; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Nick Lowe; publisher, MAX.

Fury: My War Gone By 11 (June 2013)

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And here Nick figures out what Barracuda’s been doing.

The senator and Nick’s girlfriend have a big blow out too–lots about all the years gone by, which feels somewhat forced. Ennis writes all his scenes quite well, but his timing of them is questionable. Why the senator and the girlfriend are having the fight now, why Nick hasn’t made a smart ass remark to his sidekick in fifteen years. All contrived for maximum effect.

It might just have been impossible for Ennis to do the story straight. He’s dealing with a brand character, after all. But dropping Nick Fury into history makes a lot more sense if Nick can change history–the implication being he did so during World War II. Now he’s just a spectator.

It’s a well-written comic, but the concept has failed.

There’s nothing left to care about or anticipate anymore. The thrill is gone.

CREDITS

My Brother Earned His Medals at My Lai in Vietnam; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Nick Lowe; publisher, MAX.

Fury: My War Gone By 10 (May 2013)

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Oh, Nick’s bald friend is his sidekick. I read through the text introduction too fast, I guess.

For this arc, Ennis puts Fury in the middle of some more great U.S. foreign policy–Nicaragua in 1984. Nick is old, grey and still a colonel working for the CIA. I guess Ennis decided to skip over why he doesn’t age (though he mentioned it) and there’s no SHIELD in MAX.

It works, sure, but it might have worked better if Ennis made his intentions clear from the start. Probably wouldn’t have sold to the regular reader, if there are any regular Nick Fury readers out there.

Ennis brings in Barracuda, villain of his worst Punisher MAX arc, and does a little better with the character in this appearance. Nick’s smarter than him, which helps.

There’s some stuff with the senator and Nick’s girlfriend; it’s mostly setup in Nicaragua. It works.

CREDITS

The Sunny Slopes of Long Ago; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Nick Lowe; publisher, MAX.

Fury: My War Gone By 9 (April 2013)

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And here’s the great conclusion Ennis promised.

It’s an action issue, mostly, with Frank and Nick taking on impossible odds. Besides the prison break and Nick and his nemesis, Parlov draws it all very calm. The hill is idyllic. Frank’s a sniper in peaceful tall grass.

Ennis gets his little Frank Castle moment, with Nick stunned at the efficiency of Frank’s sniper skills. And Parlov sells the sequence too. He knows how to compose for visual payoff.

The only bit of personality–for the comic, not Nick, as Ennis smartly has him narrate most of the escape–comes at the end. Ennis answers one of the many questions he raises about Nick Fury. If he won’t betray America, what will he do to people who betray Americans?

It’s a good little moment. The best the series has had in a few issues.

Ennis is still running out of steam though.

CREDITS

Nobody Does It Quite the Way You Do; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Nick Lowe; publisher, MAX.

Fury: My War Gone By 8 (March 2013)

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Ennis sure does like writing Nick captured issues. He and Castle get caught on their assassination mission in Vietnam. Their target, it turns out, doesn’t like the CIA running heroin through Vietnam and wants to make an example.

There’s a lot of talking. It’s mostly an expository history lesson. There’s only one real scene–Nick’s sidekick and his girlfriend talk for a page or two. The rest of the issue is leading up to the next one. Lots and lots of time preparing the reader for next issue’s daring escape.

It’s okay enough but bringing Frank Castle into the comic has done nothing for Ennis. Maybe raised expectations of some kind of payoff for the appearance. But Ennis is writing a war comic, not a superhero war comic.

It seems every couple issues he ramps up expectations, this issue is no different. Too bad he didn’t just tell a story.

CREDITS

The Judgment of Your Peers; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Nick Lowe; publisher, MAX.

Fury: My War Gone By 7 (February 2013)

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Ennis jumps ahead nine years to Vietnam. Nick’s sidekick is all of a sudden out of joint about the events in the last issue–a rare misstep from Ennis in this series–so Frank Castle comes in.

Much like Nick, Ennis is just using Frank to exploit a brand. He hasn’t done anything Punisher-like to make his identity essential. He’s just a good sniper and Nick’s just a good spy who’s having an affair with a senator’s wife.

Ennis has had to remold the Nick Fury character for this series. Gone is all the flash to make him memorable; Ennis goes with the patch, the cigar, some of the history and the personality. But he’s now got a character who isn’t going to exist beyond this series (presumably), which makes it a little hard to care about him.

I suppose the brand makes up the difference.

As usual, excellent.

CREDITS

Mister Chained Blue Lightning; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Nick Lowe; publisher, MAX.

Fury: My War Gone By 6 (November 2012)

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The senator has a long monologue where he talks about the fallout from the Bay of Pigs. The whole issue is fallout, starting with Nick and his team, then with his lady friend and the senator.

Ennis approaches the ideology of the whole invasion. One of Nick’s team is very jingoistic, anti-Red; Ennis–and Nick–just lets him talk. The politics don’t matter, but the character’s mettle does. It contributes to an unexpected finish for the issue.

Most of the issue is either talking or the Cubans torturing captives. So the finish, which ties into what Ennis did with the first few issues, is a resounding success. Fury all of a sudden becomes a war comic, even though it’s an espionage story and there’s no war. It’s one of those moments of quiet in a war story.

Ennis’s choice to loose Nick Fury in the real world works great.

CREDITS

An’ Go to Your Gawd As a Soldier; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Nick Lowe; publisher, MAX.

Fury: My War Gone By 5 (October 2012)

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Ennis tells a story set during the Bay of Pigs invasion. It’s not really a history lesson–there’s some details in the dialogue, but not enough to inform the reader. There’s a little more with the exiled Cubans in the States, but those guys aren’t real people, just stand-ins for them.

Instead, Ennis concentrates on Fury and his team in Cuba. They watch the result of the U.S. not backing its players. Parlov doesn’t actually so much death–there’s a lot of destruction, but the death is implied. Ennis gets the betrayal plays better off panel. Then there’s a comment from Nick every few pages about it.

The best thing is the attempt to assassinate Castro. Ennis doesn’t get political with Nick–he could care less about it–but there’s still some anticipation about whether or not MAX universe Castro is assassinated.

It’s good, but not particularly special.

CREDITS

Get Ready to Shed a Tear; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Rob Steen; editor, Nick Lowe; publisher, MAX.

Fury: My War Gone By 4 (September 2012)

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It’s an unhappy issue. From the start, with modern Nick narrating his life story–and explaining why it’s all been wrong-headed–to the flashback with Nick’s love life taking a turn for the worse… it’s unhappy.

There’s no action, just conversation. It’s sort of a talking heads issue, but spread over a few days. Nick and his sidekick head to Miami after planning the Bay of Pigs, but before the incident itself. Ennis has a few great techniques for getting in exposition without going overboard.

The supporting cast–the girl, the senator, the sidekick–stays the same even though years have passed since the last issue. Even though Nick’s a man of action, Ennis is using him to show how little anyone–even a comic book protagonist–matters in the course of history.

It’s a depressing issue, probably because Nick’s so depressed throughout.

Some particularly excellent Parlov art too.

CREDITS

If We Was Meant to Be Cowboys; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Sebastian Girner and Nick Lowe; publisher, MAX.

Fury: My War Gone By 3 (August 2012)

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It’s a disquieting issue. Disquieting is about the only word for it.

Ennis opens with a talking heads scene between Nick and his sidekick. They talk about the modern world, the Nazi, patriotism. Ennis does well with the sidekick. Nick needs someone to argue with over ideology. Makes for good dialogue too.

Then there’s the big battle scene. Except the big battle only last three pages; Ennis deals more with the lead-in to it. There’s a lot of detail in the lead-in. The battle is all for effect, to show how Nick experiences it.

The finish has a couple more unexpected turns. The bigger one comes at the end with the soft cliffhanger, but there’s the way Ennis brings in the girl and the senator too. He’s taken all the glamour of out Nick Fury and he still manages to strip off a few more layers.

Excellent work.

CREDITS

And Some People Left for Heaven Without Warning; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Sebastian Girner and Nick Lowe; publisher, MAX.

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