I’ve been thinking lately about how I’ve been reviewing comics. Coming into this as a writer I know my main focus has been on the written word of the works I have read, all but ignoring the fact that comics are a melding of art and words together. The words mean nothing without the art and vice versa. What I do not want to do with these reviews are ignore the art in the piece because there is a lot of great art that really helps bring the story along or even enhances it in some cases.
What makes good art? Like a good story, good art to me is something that shouldn’t necessarily stand out. It should feel familiar and have passion but like a waiter if it is doing its job properly you don’t even realize that you are looking at a piece of art. Good comic art is meant to enhance the story, weave its way into the words like thread going into the eye of a needle. So I am going to make more of an effort to focus more on the art apart from saying it’s good. My opinion means nothing if there is not a reason for it.
What I am also going to change is the number ratings I’ve been giving the stories. They have been arbitrary. There is no scientific ranking system I am using to judge what makes a comic good so why should I use it here? I am giving my opinion of a piece so all you as the reader need to know is whether I liked it or not. So from now on that is what you will get.
Now on to the piece at hand. Punisher War Journal. I’ve grown up fascinated with The Punisher. The idea that someone could have the same motivations as the heroes we take for granted but just goes one step further and blows their heads away is an interesting study. What stops Batman from doing the same thing? Why does Spider-Man hold back and not throttle to death some of the criminals that come his way? I mean, they have the chance to end the tragedy these criminals make. Why not do it?
This story involves Frank preparing for something big but getting sidetracked. He finds a woman being attacked, saves her, and discovers that the guys that were attacking her were goons sent by her ex who happens to be a mob big shot. Frank finds the guy and in his oh so subtle way makes sure the guy leaves the woman alone. For life.
Admittedly this is the first part of a longer story. With that, we know from Frank saying many times that he has other things to do but thanks to flashbacks he has involving his family, he decides to help the woman. If this event is just Frank Castle being sidetracked than we are wasting our time here. Comics have the ability to sidetrack where a regular novel may need to be more linear in their storytelling but there should have been more effort to not only have Frank calm down over the big event he has planned but making sure that we know a little more of what is going on with said big event. You may argue that other Punisher issues from this time, 1988, would have more details but again, I feel the goal of any comic is to have a story, while it may be a part of a bigger story, feel like you’re getting a solid beginning, middle, and end with each issue. Take movies. The Empire Strikes Back doesn’t have a traditional ending. There are a LOT of loose threads. But thanks to emotional closure, we as the audience feel satisfied that the ending is complete when the credits roll. We felt the closure plus the desire to see how everything was resolved in the final movie.
Comics HAVE to do the same thing. These days comics cost damn near $4.00 if you buy them in a comic shop. Each issue has to mean something. It has to feel like a full story as well as enticing you to spend more of your money on the next issue (and hopefully the previous issues in order to know the history of the characters). This story failed to live up to this because we had the sense throughout that Frank was preparing for something big. The side mission was fine and all, don’t get me wrong. But when the first caption on page 1 states Chapter 1, you expect to have at least a glimmer of an idea of what is going on by the end of the chapter. I didn’t feel that when this issue ended.
In regards to the art, Marvel was a little weird in the 80’s (in retrospect). As a reader at the time I didn’t notice but now I see that the art is a little too abstract compared to the Silver Age Marvel titles as well as the titles we see now. There were a LOT more solid colors in the the background. Locations seemed more abstract and unrealistic which, reading the story 27 years later, takes me a bit out of it. Where it worked well were the flashback scenes of Frank reliving the murder of his family. While the characters were drawn realistic, everything has a single color assigned to it. It is a bit unnerving but thinking about it, I would think that mentally going over the death of your family again and again would be quite unnerving. Well done there.
Little details as well were great. Something simple like the action lines, those lines indicating movement you see in comics were great. Every time The Punisher attacks someone, his action lines are yellow. With yellow, you have the emotion of caution, fear, a negative feeling. While you as the reader care for Frank Castle I like, now that I paid attention a bit to the art, the fact that little bits of action that could have easily been just a scribble and off to the next big set piece had some thought put behind it.
I have some issues with the story. While I did enjoy the story, the fact that you know that this is not the main focus that Frank wants to be involved in took me out of it. It could have been remedied by cluing the reader in a little more as to what he was planning but alas, that was not the case. I recommend it but realize that you are reading an imperfect story here.
I liked how the art went out of its way to help convey the emotions Frank Castle was going through. If it weren’t for the book Understanding Comics, it would probably be something that I would have overlooked. While the art doesn’t stand the test of time, the effort put into conveying the emotion of the piece made the story much more enjoyable than I may have found it if it were just prose. I recommend checking it out.