Punisher War Journal #1

war journal

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.

Bottom Line:

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.

Daredevil #183

Daredevil_Vol_1_183

Summary:

http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Daredevil_Vol_1_183

The Good:

Frank Miller. Frank Miller, along with Alan Moore and others, are responsible for comics as they are today. How so you may be asking? Well, people like Mr. Miller are responsible for taking comics from the adolescent adventure stories that Stan Lee and others created to the hardened adventures that adults could enjoy and love without looking creepy doing it.

This story is about Matt Murdock investigating who was responsible for selling a little girl the drug angel dust. The girl thought snakes were attacking her and decided she would rather jump out of a window than deal with them. During his investigation his crosses paths with The Punisher who tries to enlist his help in taking down criminals in Frank Castle’s very special, tender way.

Much like the tv show that Marvel produced for Netflix, the great thing about Daredevil in this particular story at least is the fact that the story is based in a realism you don’t really get in other comics. Daredevil is like Batman in a lot of ways in how he cares for his city of Hell’s Kitchen and does what he can to clean up the place from the top criminals down to the lowliest scum that he crosses paths with. Matt Murdock is someone you could imagine could actually exist whereas someone like Iron Man or Captain America, while great heroes and characters you love to read about, come across as more idealized versions of what someone imagines a hero could be.

I like the fact that the story deals in a somewhat realistic was the issue of drug abuse. The fact that a comic that came out in 1982 was dealing with such a heavy issue is pretty amazing in and of itself. The fact that it didn’t come across like a very special episode of a 1980’s sitcom is even more amazing. Back in the 80’s, the entertainment industry was a little ham handed to say the least in how they presented drugs and drug abuse. For the most part they were unrealistic in how they presented it giving people the impression that the issue of drug abuse was much more of a black and white issue than it is in real life. In real life good people take drugs not necessarily to escape life because they have such horrible lives. They try it for fun and get hooked without realizing it. While this issue was a little on the formulaic side I think it was as realistic as 1982 comics could be in regards to this topic.

The art work was pretty good. It was simply designed, showcasing the shadows and the darkness of the streets the blind hero is trying to change. When the little girl’s brother is caught on the roof with a gun in his hands the expression on his face is priceless. You feel the kids pain. You see he feels horrible his sister died at the result of remorseless drug dealers and while it is later revealed that he did not kill the drug dealer, you see that he is not quite sad the guy is dead. While there could have been more depth to the scenery when the art required the scene to be emotional it brought its A game.

The Bad:

The cover for this comic is quite famous and rightfully so. It says a lot about the two characters that words would fail to express. But one thing the story did not do was give us the real Frank Castle. While The Punisher was fighting people who know are bad guys, not once is he ever shown to be the sympathetic character he is. The Punisher sympathetic you may ask?

Yes. The main pull about why we care about The Punisher is the WHY of his crusade against crime. If we are not given the why than Frank Castle is just as much a thug as the people he kills. No doubt about it the people that The Punisher kill are bad people and deserved death a long time ago. This is not about trying to feel sorry for people that have intentionally made bad choices in their lives. But we need to care about Frank and the fact that due to his family’s death he’s making the wrong choice for the right reasons. Yet this comic does nothing more than portray Frank Castle as just as much a thug as the drug dealers in the story. It would have been nice to have Matt dig a little deeper into The Punisher’s history and discover what happened with his family. While the two would still be at odds we would at least see that Daredevil understands the motivation for what makes Frank Castle tick despite the fact that what he does sickens him.

The story also suffered from the fact that it didn’t feel self contained. A number of things happened that had no relevance to the main story of this issue, the main issue being Matt Murdock proposing marriage to Heather Glenn at the end of the issue. It’s great and all that Matt has found love but this came out of nowhere especially for someone like me who picked up the story at this particular issue. While I should feel impelled to want to know more of what is going on to the point that I investigate the back issues to read more about what is going on, the story itself should have been much more self contained than it was.

I also didn’t like the fact that what started as a story about the dangers of drugs quickly turned to murder. Granted, this was 1982. I can imagine this story would have come across much different if it were made today. It just made the story seem silly and trite when you barely talk about a twelve year old girl who girls herself while high on angel dust but you have no problem deal with page after page of the consequences of her brother who is not much older than her having to deal with being accused of murder. This country of ours, America. We can show people getting killed and maimed left and right but when it comes to dealing with serious issues like drug abuse and heaven forbid sex and boobies, we must cover our eyes and ears while yelling LALALALALA as loud as we can. We have certainly evolved enough over the years in that I think we can now deal with issues like drug abuse and what not but we’re still quite prudish and ignorant on other issues. I won’t blame the comic for failing to get into more detail about the drug use because frankly that is our society here in America even today. We ignore shit like this until it affects pretty young white girls than it’s a BIG FUCKING DEAL that we must deal with yesterday.

The one complaint I have about the artwork is that it is too minimalist for my tastes. Now being that this is a Frank Miller story, the guy who in Sin City had quite the time with black and white drawings, I should have expected it. While it does have its moments of brilliance, there are times where I wanted more, especially in the external location shots. It comes across like the play Our Town were filmed as an action movie. Too much is going on in such stark empty locations. It was distracting more than it elevated the story.

Bottom Line:

The cover is brilliant. This is like album covers from bands you may never have any interest in listening to but still put out amazing album covers. The violence implied in this cover is great but it really isn’t addressed in the story. The story itself is all right but it’s lacking in the sense that the story is not self contained in any way, shape, or form. I guess that’s how Frank Miller wanted to present the story but I did find myself lost in regards to what was going on. Too much was going on that required you to know enough back story to really appreciate the story. If you didn’t read the previous issues than you really can’t appreciate what this story was trying to do. For that I have to give the story a 4.

The art work could have been better. Being that it was 1982, we’re dealing with a young Frank Miller here. He hadn’t found his style yet, the style that exploded in your face with The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City. While there are moments of brilliance in this issue the art does more to detract from your enjoyment than anything else. I have to give it a 3.

Again, another harsh review. Don’t let that keep you from reading this comic. It’s great to see how great artists evolve. This is a great example of early Frank Miller work. The worst of Frank Miller is better than a lot of great work that is out today.

Jennifer Blood #1

JBlood

I thought I would change things up a bit and explore a comic I was introduced to thanks to a Groupees sale. (Groupees is similar to Humble Bundle but the offering I was introduced to this comic from were a little on the slim side compared to Humble Bundle. At least the money went to a good cause.) It’s written by Garth Ennis so even if the comic is bad, it’s still going to be better than pretty much any other comic out there today.

The Good:

The setup is great. The story is told via diary entries from the main character. She starts off talking about stuff you would imagine a housewife talking about in regards to her day dealing with kids, a husband, and running a house. Little by little she tosses in little clues as to where the story is going by mentioning stuff like reading Guns and Ammo magazine while getting her nails done a the salon and mentioning that a .38 or a .45 would be a better gun that would get the job done faster compared to the .09 mm guns the magazines were crowing about.

The main action of the story occurs near the end and it is pure Ennis. Ennis is famous for his work on The Punisher, most famously the story Welcome Back, Frank. If anyone knows how to write action along with compelling characters and story it’s Garth Ennis and here he does not disappoint. Explosions, blood, violence. But he does a great job in terms of building up to it. It isn’t action for the sake of action. When people are just fighting and we don’t know why there’s no tension there. It may look cool but it’s easily forgettable. When you have someone build up a character and their life for you, once you get to the point of caring for them everything they do has you on the edge of your seat.

The buildup, while slow, is also believable. Now how believable can be debated because after all we are talking about an action story. An action story like this does expect you to have some suspension of disbelief in order to fully appreciate what is going on. Without that, would we have three Expendables movies? (Two too many of those but that’s feedback for another blog.) You get that Jennifer really loves her husband and her family. While you don’t know the reason WHY she is doing what she is doing yet, you get the sense that it must be important, otherwise why would a woman who has so much go through such efforts to do something like this.

The art comes across like the old romance comics that were prevalent in the 1950’s when the balls were temporarily removed from the comic industry. The diary you see on the first page is frilly. The pictures are all bright and optimistic. I love thought that the further we get into the story the colors get darker, reflecting the fact that the story is taking a dark turn. It’s the kind of subliminal thing you need to mentally prepare you for the action you experience.

And the violence. The violence is great! Bodies flying everywhere. Lots of blood. It’s what you expect from modern action stories and it’s great.

The Bad:

As I mentioned the story starts off slow. Real slow. There is a point to it of course. Garth is preparing the stage for when Jennifer finally dons her costume and takes out the criminals that are stealing cars from a ship yard and selling them for profit. It just took a real LONG time to get there and it almost lost my interest. I got it back quickly and thanks to the revelation that one of the men she killed was an Uncle of her’s, I want to know more about why she’s going on a bloody, Punisher like rampage. I just wish there could have been a way to transition her from typical housewife to kick ass assassin a little faster.

The art work near the end did get a little sloppy. The last couple pages of the story involved her cleaning up after her little adventure and while in bed with her husband being coaxed into a quick love making session. Everything at this point felt a little rushed and the characters came off as ugly. Maybe I will change my mind on this the further I read into the story. Maybe we WANT to see that she ultimately views the suburbanite lifestyle as drab and ugly at which point I will revise my opinion. As it stands it was presented that she loves her family and the life they have so to have the story visually end on an ugly note was a bit jarring. And to have one of the last frames end up being her husband look like he’s going to pop an eye out as he finishes his duty was just silly. Who needs to see that? Show more Jennifer!!!

Bottom Line:

This is a good start. I hope to see things pick up the further I get into this series and I don’t doubt that it will. What holds back this particular issue from being amazing is the pace. It is slow. You will feel yourself age as you read the first dozen or so pages. Granted, your patience WILL pay off so don’t take this as too much of a complaint. The problem is though that others may not like the pacing and decide to put the book down before they get to the good part. For that I have to give the story a 5.

The art starts off good. It fits the image that you expect from the syrupy writing you’re reading by being romantic and bright. The further it gets along, the closer it gets to the violent action scenes you’re waiting to see, the darker the piece gets which is great. Again though, the only thing that throws me off are the last few pages which are depicted ugly. There may be a point to that which I will understand later on but for now, being that this is the first issue I have read I have to give it a 5 as well.

I have been harsh with this issue but I have to be clear. I highly recommend it. While flawed, it does grab you by the throat at the end and make you dive for the next issue, if only to see the amazing covers!

Spider-Gwen #1

Spider-Gwen

Another day, another comic review. I chose to read another comic with a female lead, which too often doesn’t happen in a male dominated world. I hadn’t heard too much about this particular comic and had wanted to give it a shot. This past week it debuted on the Marvel Unlimited app so here goes my review.

Summary:

http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Spider-Gwen_Vol_1_1

The Good:

What a start. I really enjoyed this issue. Granted it wasn’t perfect but it hit all the right notes a debuting comic needs to make in order to keep people’s interest. I’d be vaguely familiar with the goings on in the Spider-Universe but not to the point that I knew 100% of what was going on in this comic. Initially I thought it had something to do with the Ultimate Spider-Man universe which saw Gwen Stacy reincarnated after she was murdered. That isn’t the case. This comic takes characters we all know and basically scrambles everything up and puts them in new circumstances. We see Foggy Nelson, Frank Castle and others in the story but not in the roles you associate them with. Now that doesn’t mean we won’t get to a point where they will assume the roles we associate with them in the main comic series but for now, they share the name and some character traits which is about it.

The ending was great because it was the perfect way to tease you enough to want you to invest more in this story and the comic series as a whole. This issue had a complete, pretty much self contained story with one twist at the end which hooks you in for issue two. Yes, it is part of a larger story that further issues will flesh out but overall you will enjoy the experience you have in this issue.

The artwork was pretty decent. It didn’t have the rushed look modern comics seem to be in love with however it was attempting to go for the Japanese Manga appearance. It didn’t stray too far into the absurd which was great. The characters were well drawn and the city really felt alive.

The Bad:

The writer could have done a better job in not relying on knowledge of other comics to have everything here make sense. They had a shout out to another comic series in the opening pages (With a rather Stan Lee-esqe pop up from the writer of the story acknowledging as such which was a great touch!) referring to the Spider-verse comic series which I didn’t care for. You have to find a way to entice the new comic reader to dive in without expecting them to having to study an encyclopedia of back story just to know what the hell is going on. While this issue didn’t commit a huge offense in this regard, it is enough to throw you off if this is your first introduction to the story line.

The setup for Gwen was rushed as well. It again probably has to do with the fact that her story is addressed in other comic series but I think they could have done a better job of setting up the character as if no one knew who the hell she was. Just because a person has the ability to purchase other comics to learn a character’s backstory doesn’t mean they will. You have to show them why the character is great first before you entice them to want to know more.

The setup of The Vulture was too weak in my opinion. It probably was dealt with in other comics but again I didn’t start off reading other comics just to dive into this one. I came into this comic not knowing much about it’s origins. The character had no real motivation as far as this comic established for him to be the bad guy other than the fact that he did something bad. You can have a character perform a bad act but without knowing the motivation as to why they are doing it, you could care less about what they do and when and how they get caught.

As far as the artwork goes, I have to say I am not a fan of Spider-Gwen’s outfit. While she doesn’t need a costume that mirror’s Peter Parker’s, this white mess they have her wear just looks obnoxious.

The Bottom Line:

While this is not a perfect story, it hits all the right notes. It enticed me enough to make me excited for issue two. And while I mentioned not liking the fact that I had to rely on past knowledge of other comics to fully get what was going on, comics that I have not read yet, they didn’t go overboard with this. My enjoyment of the comic overall will definitely get me to read the other comics to get a better idea of what is going on overall. I give the story an 8. As far as the artwork goes, it’s not the sloppy work that seems to be in vogue now. While I didn’t care for Spider-Gwen’s costume, the artwork was pretty solid throughout and gave a sense of depth and character you don’t see in other comics. I give the artwork a 7.

You would do well by reading this comic. It’s a fun take on the Spider-verse which you will get a kick out of. You don’t have to rely on past knowledge of Spider-Man either in order to enjoy it. You’re entering new terrain here.