Capsule Reviews: Week of March 8th

Last week was busy with trailers and such. Here’s a little catch-up on last week’s comics!

Daytripper #4 (Vertigo, Moon, Bá, Stewart, Konot)

This is possibly the strongest issue of Daytripper yet, enough to change my thoughts on the book from “awesome” to “Eisner.” While the ideas I put forward in my full review of Daytripper #3 appear to still be true, I have to admit that I expected the events of this issue to happen in issue #9 or #10. This admittedly-subjective “hey, wait, what?” continues to make me happy, as it means I still have no idea where they go from here. I haven’t been so consistently surprised by something I’ve read in a long, long time. It looks like that’s not going to change any time soon.

Criminal: The Sinners #5 (Icon, Brubaker, Phillips, Staples)

I’m a fat sucker for pulp crime comics. I suppose it’s something of a blessing that our plate has been full enough that I haven’t been able to touch on Criminal: The Sinners since we opened our doors. I’m a little sad, now that this arc has finished, that I wasn’t able to give it the full treatment; hopefully that’s something I can fix when the next installment comes around.

Sometimes you need a hook in this sub-genre. Human Target is a good example. So much of Christopher Chance’s character hangs on his mastery of disguise that the subsequent TV adaptation lost all of the comic’s flavor by removing that element. Criminal, however, gets by simply on the strength of its characters. Each issue was a chance to see just how badly screwed up Tracy Lawless’ situation had become. The resolution was both better than I’d anticipated and appropriately dark. Also, the art throughout, both in Sean Phillips’ lines and Val Staples’ colors, is perfect. I love that they’re unafraid to fill the pages with black, just to the edge of pure expressionism. I’m looking forward to the next series (and maybe I can finally dig into that hardcover…).

PunisherMax: Kingpin #5 (MAX, Aaron, Dillon, Hollingsworth, Petit)

The end of this arc brings some surprise deviations from Punisher-standard narrative tropes. Jason Aaron’s having fun with his own sandbox to run Frank around in. Not only does this plotline end up with Frank getting his ass kicked, but said ass-kicking nearly kills him as well- close enough that I actually wondered if that was going to be the point of it all.

I love this version of the Kingpin, though, and I’m glad he’s fully established and apparently ready to keep on as a main player in the series. We find out just how cold he can be in #5, in amazingly restrained Dillon glory. There’s probably a comparison to be made between the events in this issue and the recent Cry For Justice ruckus, but I don’t think Fisk would give a shit, and that’s really all the difference in the world.

Next up appears to be a rather unhinged-looking Bullseye. I don’t have the same depth of affection for Bullseye that I do for the Kingpin, but in Aaron’s capable hands, I’m sure I’ll find something new to love about the character.

Review: PunisherMAX: Butterfly

Butterflies and zebras and... headshots

Writer: Valerie D’Orazio
Artist: Laurence Campbell
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit

It’s fair to say that everyone has, at one point or another, thought about what it would be like to live in the world of a favorite fictional character. Immersing the reader or viewer is an inherent part of most fiction. We’re all creative beings at heart, and a little bit egocentric, so it’s not that big of a leap from immersion to participation.

Expressing that urge to participate is a hit-or-miss proposition in modern fandom. The term ‘self-insert’ has a negative connotation. As with anything, what it really comes down to is execution. Self-insert, after all, is sort of the ultimate expression of the old writer’s trope ‘write what you know.’ If it’s done well, though, most readers wouldn’t even register it as such.

Is Valerie D’Orazio dabbling in a little self-insert with PunisherMAX: Butterfly? Probably. It’s obvious that this particular corner of the Marvel Universe is near and dear to her heart. Does she do it well? I think so. It’s not really blatantly done, and the overall story doesn’t suffer from it. I don’t think the average reader would notice or really care that much one way or another, but it’s not really a story about Frank Castle, either.

What really sets it apart, however, is how she chose to attack it. The impulse, and what makes self-insert such a mine field, is to be the main character’s best friend. Who wouldn’t want to fight next to Wolverine, or raid the secret files of an evil corporation with The Question? (…what? Sue me, I’m weird.) Making best buddies with the Punisher, however, is about as smart as suddenly finding yourself in John Constantine’s speed dial. Not only is it not terribly healthy, but it’s generally out of spec. Frank doesn’t much like anyone.

D’Orazio’s answer to this problem is to become what would actually be the next best thing for a serious Punisher fan: his target. What else is closer to love in Frank Castle’s heart, after all. From this angle, Butterfly is a success, and quite an enjoyable read. It also helps carry the idea along by being a one-shot; I’m not sure the idea could carry a series, and it works much, much better self-contained. My one quibble, and it’s minor, is the writing-about-writing aspect of the story. Janice called it ‘cheap,’ I prefer to label the choice as ‘precious.’ It would detract from the book if it was anything other than the MacGuffin it obviously is- it could’ve been PunisherMAX: Rosebud and worked the same.

Campbell’s art here is fantastic, lots of nice use of black and shadow and heavy, aggressive line work. Of particular note are the moments of violence, the most poignant of which are done without explicit gore and in silhouette, though he’s not afraid to depict more when the mood calls for it. Also notable are the moments of dehumanization related by the main character, where faces devolve into expressionless masks reminiscent of the masks in Pink Floyd: The Wall.

Between Butterfly and her Punisher short in Girl Comics #1 (the best part of that book, in my opinion), I really enjoy D’Orazio’s voice in the Punisher’s world, and I would certainly like to see her do more with it. Butterfly doesn’t have much Frank in it, but it’s a fun read regardless.

Review: PunisherMAX #3

“Kingpin: Part Three”

Kingpin: Part Three

PunisherMAX #3 cover

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Steve Dillon
Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
Letters: VC’s Cory Petit
Cover: Dave Johnson

I have a confession. When I was young and would watch reruns of the original Spider-Man cartoon I would eagerly await the title of the episode to find out which bad guy our friendly neighborhood web-slinger was going to fight. “The Golden Rhino?” Goofy, yet fun. “Where Crawls The Lizard?” Also goofy, and set in my home state of Florida!

Deep down, however, I think I most enjoyed the episodes with Kingpin. All those other bad guys had byzantine origins and crazy powers– The Radiation Specialist levitating Manhattan in the stratosphere is an image that sticks with me to this very day. Kingpin was just a hardtack crime boss. That’s it. There wasn’t a special anti-serum Peter had to conjure at the last second to save the day, no deus ex Achilles’ heel. Even if Kingpin was behind a goofy scheme of some sort, it still came down the guy just being a deceptively big man, up to no good, who could throw you headfirst through the nearest door.

Needless to say, I was excited to hear that Jason Aaron was not only going to take on this character, but pair him up with the other big just-a-guy badass of the Marvel universe, Frank Castle. I deeply enjoyed Aaron’s The Punisher X-Mas Special one-shot back in 2008, and this new series is equally unapologetic about what it is, as best suits Frank.

While Frank is solidly written, grim and relentless, it’s Wilson Fisk and his origin (Is this a technically a reboot? A re-imagining? Yes? I know the MAX imprint is its own timeline…) that really shines. Aaron’s obviously having fun writing the character’s seemingly inevitable journey from hired hood to supreme crime boss.

Dillon’s exceptionally clean art is just as ultra-violent and unflinching as you would expect. So unflinching, in fact, that when I read the first issue, I informed Janice that while I found Dillion’s depiction of one particular bit of violent ocular mayhem hilarious, she might prefer to avoid it. While nothing in the following issues has so far reached that level of gore, there’s at least one moment in each one where you have to stop and check that, yes, someone has indeed drawn what you just saw. Each issue so far has made me laugh out loud while reading, though, so I’d say it’s working.

This does say it’s a Punisher book on the cover– is it wrong that part of me hopes Kingpin doesn’t suffer the usual fate of someone in Frank Castle’s gunsights by the closing curtain? As strong as the first half of the arc has been so far, I look forward to finding out.