The Punisher #2

The Punisher 2

The Punisher #2 (2011)

  The new Punisher series that started in late 2011 is something that I have been picking up from the shelves. I have read the first two issues, so far, and am really impressed.  The biggest reason for my love of these issues has been the art – both the cover art and the interior art. I gave the first issue a “cover of the month” award already, but issue two has many of the elements that made me love the first issue’s cover.   Both are very bold, very colorful, and full of action.  I really love the art on the covers done by Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary, and Paul Mounts.

The interior art is also excellent – it’s been done by Marco Checchetto and Matt Hollingsworth.  I think I really like the work that these two artists create because I recognized their work immediately.  I had seen it before and loved it; they did some of the Daredevil/Shadowland stuff that I really enjoyed.  Some of the reasons I enjoyed that work is present in this Punisher series.  I love the art because its full of action – from a variety of angles that are not confusing or cramped – and the coloring and inking is phenomenal.  It’s really bold and colorful art, that cannot be emphasized enough.

The reason I am dwelling so much on the artwork is because I think most artists draw Punisher in a very dark and noir sort of way – or, at least, as they interpret dark and “noir.”  I can understand that and most of the time that is a successful method.  However, this colorful Punisher is awesome. Another difference is that Castle seems to be young-looking in this series. I like that because all of the other interpretations of Castle seem to make him edgy and grizzled. It’s a welcome difference to the character that I am appreciating.

In issue two, there are two pages in particular that I want to mention as being really good.  They are in the South Bronx at a criminal hang out and the Punisher is making an entrance. The color scheme is blacks and reds/pinks. This is quite fitting because it’s nighttime and it gives that bloody, seedy sense to all of the frames. There is a frame on the lower left page that shows Castle firing his sidearm and the fiery blast from the shot is excellent – I feel like I am right there in the scene.

The issues are being written by Greg Rucka, and while he is a famous writer, I really do not have much to say about him in general, besides name recognition.  So far in the Punisher series, I am liking the storyline.  I was slightly confused about the names of the people in the first issue, but now I am on board.  The second issue was well-written. I like how the Frank Castle is not speaking much and is just doing – and, of course, we know what he does.

The last page is a two-page spread of the Vulture surprising Castle. Again, the artwork has lots of movement and definitely makes the reader want to find out what happens next. Vulture looks scary in this shot, not goofy or silly. So, I do want to read the next issue.

4 stars

Scalped: vol 1- 3

I’ve said it before, Jason Aaron is the best writer that Marvel has, and he is definitely in the top ten writers currently in the industry. I loved his Ghost Rider stuff (excepting issue #25).   Then I loved his Wolverine: Manifest Destiny miniseries (4 issues).   The Wolverine: Manifest Destiny miniseries was pretty damn close to perfection, in my world. Best 4-issue miniseries ever. Aaron has another series being published by Vertigo Comics. According to Wikipedia:  “Vertigo books are marketed to a late-teen and adult audience, and may contain graphic violence, substance abuse, frank (but not explicit) depictions of sexuality, profanity, and controversial subjects. Although many of its releases are in the horror and fantasy genres, it also publishes works dealing with crime, social satire, speculative fiction, and biography. Each issue’s cover carries the advisory label “Suggested for mature readers”.  I usually avoid Vertigo for these reasons – not that I am at all opposed to gore and mayhem, its just, well…. my life has/had enough of that in it and I don’t always like a lot of “rough” in my entertainment.  On the other hand, when I am certain of a high-level of quality and am expecting the gore and mayhem – I can adjust to accept a limited amount of it in my world.  I’ve followed the reviews for Aaron’s Scalped series for several years now, and the reviews have been very impressive.  Average customers as well as comic book industry leaders (let’s call them) all have given a heckuva lot of praise to Scalped.  The fifth tradeback for Scalped was released on October 27th, 2009, the seventh tradeback in March of 2011.

Anyway, Aaron is also writing the Punisher Max title for Max Comics. Max Comics is an imprint of Marvel Comics (like Vertigo is an imprint of DC Comics) and, like Vertigo, Max publishes the more adult comics. You know, the violent, bloody, cussin’ sort… as opposed to the goofy adventures of Franklin Richards or something. (Please note!!!! N.B.!!!!  I also love all of the Marvel Adventures comics.) ANYWAY, Aaron is the writer for the re-launch of the Punisher Max title that Tim Bradstreet and Garth Ennis made so popular throughout the 2000’s.   Well, I’ve already said that I keep the “adult” in my entertainment to a bare minimum. But I’ve also said, I can accept it when its expected and purposive. For example, Frank Castle the Punisher is a bad dude. He’s gritty, grimy, merciless, gun-toting, mob-slaying, avenging, human-bad-ass. In other words, it makes sense for the Punisher to be an adult title. In fact, one can justifiably ask:  “should there be Punisher titles that aren’t “mature audiences” rated?”

Why do I like Aaron’s writing? Well, I don’t think he’s a match for every title/character. He probably shouldn’t write Spider-Man, but he is definitely the correct match for things like Punisher, Ghost Rider, and Wolverine. Why? Because those characters are not capes in the ilk of Superman or Thor.  Aaron lives in Kansas City, but he’s really from Alabama.  He writes with an Alabama style. This has no meaning to you unless you have lived in the South.  Nevertheless, his style is distinctive. Aaron listens to things like classic rock, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, etc.  and it shows through in his writing. When he writes, his stories have this unique flavor to them. Reviewers call it a “hillbilly” flavor.  I don’t think that’s accurate, because this is not redneck / hick stuff.  Aaron’s writing is deeply relevant, smoothly expanded, and carefully studied. But whatever you want to call it, it is very unique in the comic industry and it fits perfectly (and charmingly) with the particular characters that he writes. I like that his stories are so unique and so far, I have ranked everything that I have read by him quite high.

Scalped Vol. 1

Scalped Vol. 1 cover

When I read (January 2010) the first volume of Scalped, I really had no idea what to expect. This was good because I feel that I approached it with no expectations – good or bad – and just let the writing and art do their job.  I was slightly taken aback by just how “mature audiences” it was.  Immediately, I realized that while I was familiar with Aaron’s writing, the artist was someone I was not sure about. Straight away, though, this artist’s work blew me away. Really. Its excellent.  The main character, Dash Bad Horse was written well enough for me to have an emotional investment in his story – and the art deserves a fair share of that. The storyline was decent. I wasn’t immediately on the edge of my seat or anything. Generally, I wouldn’t select a noir-esque crime story set on an Indian reservation as a red hot priority read.

The artist is R. M. Guera, but the colorist is Lee Loughridge. While I love the pencils for this series, I have to tell you, I think this colorist is stealing the show. Rarely do colorists get much praise, I think, but its done so well in this series, that I cannot help but attribute some of the success to Loughridge.  This volume “Indian Country” collects issues #1 – 5 from 2007.

Scalped Vol. 2

Scalped Vol. 2 cover

I finally got the second volume of Scalped (“Casino Boogie”)  in May 2011.  I read it immediately. It was very good, but somehow just not as good as the first volume. These collected issues focused a bit on a few other characters and the events of the Casino that is built on the reservation. I don’t think there was anything wrong with these issues, it just did not resonate with me as much as the first volume did. I still enjoyed it quite a bit and it was still the original and unique storyline that the first volume introduced me too. Of course, the art was still fantastic and meshed perfectly with Aaron’s writing.

I talk about the art being good, but its hard to explain why its so good. First of all, and most importantly, the art does not clash with the story – in fact, in places it tells the story.  Artwork that is incongruous with the writing will kill a graphic novel / comic.  Second, the coloring is perfect. The usage of shadow, darkness, and this particular color palate is exactly what one would expect to color a run-down reservation in the plains. The usage of browns, oranges, and reds draws the reader in so that you can “see” the events. Third, facial expressions, body posture, etc. – the characters are drawn exceptionally well. In all three volumes, its sometimes striking how accurate, telling, and perfect Guera illustrates the people in the story.

This volume collects issues #6 – 11, which brings us to the 2008 issues.

Scalped vol. 3

Scalped vol. 3

In July 2011, I got the third volume of Scalped (“Dead Mothers”).  If the first volume is in media res and introduces us to the gritty crime world we can expect, and volume 2 tells us some background and gives us some perspective, then the third volume is all about the psychological and emotive reality of the characters. Its full of irony and attitude. In this volume, all the connections surrounding Dash Bad Horse and Chief Lincoln Red Crow come to a head and the reader is swept along in Aaron’s cool storytelling.

The artwork in this volume is even better than in the first two. Clearly, Guera and Giulia Brusco (colorist) are a perfect match for Scalped. I cannot think of another series in which the art is as striking as in these issues. This volume collects issues #12 – 18.  This volume is the clincher – here you know you are going to read the rest of the series no matter what.

5 stars

Under the Boardwalk & Get Castle

Wolverine: Under the Boardwalk

Wolverine: Under the Boardwalk

These are two issues I read today. I am combining them into one entry because they are both one-shots and therefore outside of any current storylines running through their titles. Surprisingly, I liked both of them quite a bit. I usually hate one-shots because they just steal my money because they can. I read Punisher Max: Get Castle and Wolverine: Under the Boardwalk.

The cover date for Under the Boardwalk is February 2010. I have mentioned several times that I am sick of Wolverine and any one-shots they do with him. Its the over-exposure thing. Plus, I feel like there are so many stories that could be written with other characters but writers just seem to keep hammering Wolverine. Eventually, I believe, the well will run dry, and the character will be ruined. Supersaturation is not a good thing. That being said, I did not buy this issue full price. It was one of the 40% off back issues, but the cover price is $3.99.  I grudgingly bought it because, well, I am a comics nut. I was not excited to read it – assuming it would just be another issue of blood and guts.

The cover is pretty cool, though, right? It was done by Thomas Coker and Daniel Freedman

Wasn’t I pleasantly surprised?!  This one shot has quite a bit less blood and guts compared to all the other one-shots of the previous two years. And, it has a storyline that is readable. Its not just pointless “watch Wolverine slash some dudes!” I really appreciate that. Thank you writer Stuart Moore for a real story!  The ending, i.e. the last three pages, is really good as well. Overall, the story has a noir feel to it, as Wolverine traipses through some old memories peppered by women and gangsters. Nicely done.

4 stars

Get Castle

Punisher: Get Castle

This issue I got as part of my subscription to the regular PunisherMAX title. Immediately, I was put off by the Brit flag in the background. But I do like non-busy covers. This looks like the Punisher in the rain in England? Still, for $4.99 I was somewhat annoyed.

Its a MAX title, so you know there’s gonna be some “stuff” in it. Which is okay. Its the Punisher, remember. (Oh, as an aside, my eye caught somewhere that Marvel has a Punisher Noir miniseries. I would like to check this out. Does it take place in the 1920’s? That tickles me.) Anyway, no doubt there is some “adult” material inside, but its not just for show. There is a storyline! Imagine my joy – two one-shots with characters known for their blood and guts and yet I find actual storytelling! So, Punisher goes to England, and removes some of the corruption in a little town there. Corruption caused by some squad of Britain’s elite fighting force. Throughout, we are reminded that patience and careful reconnaissance are what make the Punisher successful. Also, there is a hint that Castle still understands the symbols and loyalty of a military unit.

At the end, Punisher doesn’t hesitate to do what he’s gotta do. All in all, a worthwhile story. Written by Rob Williams.

4 stars