Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Two not-really-reviews: The Punisher Vol. 1 and New Avengers Vol. 1: Everything Dies

I borrowed these two collections from my library a few months ago, and read them both, with the intention of sitting down to review them at some point. In both cases, I kept putting doing so off—not out of a reluctance to write about them or out of procrastination, but simply because it seemed like I always had something else more timely or more pressing to write about, and thus they kept getting pumped further down the old review pile.

In the case of the Punisher book, I did pick it up and sit before my laptop with plans to review here on my blog one weekend afternoon, but then realized that despite having read it only a month or so before that, I had completely forgotten just about everything in it it (The Punisher grew a beard, I think? And there was a lady in it?).

So instead of writing about it that afternoon, I re-read it instead. And then, a few weeks later, I had once again forgotten just about everything that occurred within the story.

At that point, I just gave up and returned the book to the library. I figured if I could read the same graphic novel twice in the course of a summer and remember so little about it's plot, characters or overall quality, well, that fact was a sort of review in and of itself, wasn't it?
Here's all I remember thinking about the book:

1.) I was conflicted about the beard. On the one hand, Frank Castle has that whole military thing going on, so he seems like he might be the kind of guy who shaves every single day, and he even still makes his bed really well.  On the other hand, as a guy who only cares about killing criminals, maybe a beard would be a nice visual signifier that he puts criminal-killing above all else in his life, even personal grooming. Maybe he should have a gigantic beard like one of those guys in that duck show, long, crazy hair with twigs in it, and maybe some flies buzzing around his head that he never takes time to bathe, because he's just too busy killing bad guys.

2.) I think he wore a goofy Punisher shirt that looks like he bought it from a comic shop's clothing rack; like, it had a white skull/Punisher logo with a sorta wash effect on it, rather than wearing, like his superhero costume (In that respect, it reminded me of the Punisher shirt worn in the second of the three terrible Punisher movies). This seemed like a misguided attempt to make the character slightly more realistic, which is just silly; a Vietnam Vet who has killed 45,000 gangsters or so in a city full of superheroes makes The Punisher maybe the least realistic Marvel character of all. Dude's far below Man-Thing and Ghost Rider and Silver Surfer on my list of Marvel characters that could maybe possibly exist in the real world somehow someday. (Looking at the cover above though, maybe it was the Rucka Woman who apprentices with The Punisher who wore the lame Punisher merch shirt? Hey, I said I could barely remember the book!)

3.) Writer Greg Rucka put that same character he writes into every comic he writes in the book: The extremely competent, extremely tough woman haunted by personal demons and blessed with model good looks. I guess it's cool that Rucka is single-handedly trying to introduce as many "strong female characters" into comics as possible, but it's weird he keeps introducing the same one over and over, only varying her hair color and name.

4.) The Punisher fights The Vulture at some point, and The Vulture is not the old bald guy in green, but a young man with a full head of hair who wears red. All I really remember about this encounter is that I really hate hate hated Brian Hitch's cover for the issue that had the Vulture/Punisher fight in it.

Look at Hitch's Vulture:
He's just, like, a guy. In a red track suit. With some streamers on his jacket. And these streamers allow him to fly, I guess...? Or maybe he has superpowers, and the streamers are just for show? What a dumb cover image.

But it was just Hitch's version of the Vulture. The one inside, the one drawn by artist Marco Checcetto (whom I remember nothing of, so he was neither spectacular nor terrible), had, like, scary eyes and claws and fuller wings and looked like a super-villain monster man.

Did any of you guys make it farther into Rucka's Punisher run than I did, and manage to maintain memory of it? Is it worth starting over again some day, and reading all of it? I kinda want to get to the War Zone conclusion, where I think he fights the Marvel Universe, but not sure it's worth reading too many boring comics to get to it.

As for the New Avengers book, I really rather liked that one, but I let so much time elapse between reading it and considering reviewing it that I felt I'd have to re-read it to do even a half-way decent job of reviewing it, and it wasn't the sort of book I felt like re-reading (Not when I have sooo many other books, comic and otherwise, to read at the moment).

It collected the first story arc or so from the re-relaunched New Avengers book by Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting and company, part of Marvel's "Marvel NOW!" initiative. It's not really an Avengers book, and it doesn't support its title very well (The more recent Mighty Avengers seems better-suited to the New Avengers title, given that for the bulk of Brian Michael Bendis' eight-years or so on the previous two volumes of New Avengers, they were meant to be the "street-level" super-team...and to have Luke Cage in it).

It's really an Illuminati title, the unofficial name given to the cadre of Marvel smart-guys who Bendis retconned into having been secretly running the Marvel Universe (Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Namor, Dr. Strange, Professor X). But I guess The Illuminati or The New Illuminati or Marvel's Illuminati just don't sound like proper titles for Marvel comic book (I like the sound of the word Superlluminati, though)

Hickman introduces some interesting changes to the line-up, with The Black Panther joining (after flirting with previous incarnations), Captain America joining for a little while until the others realized Cap just isn't an amoral enough asshole to hang with them and, finally,  X-Man/Avenger Hank "Beast" McCoy replacing the temporarily dead Charles Xavier.

The storyline of Bendis' involving these guys that I remember most clearly was an instance that lead into Secret Invasion, which I remember pretty clearly only because it made The Skrulls look like the good guys: The Illuminati detonate one of the Skrull's giant Star Wars ships and kill, like, thousands of Skrulls.

And that's sort of the quite dark gray area Hickman positions the team in. He's come up with a terrible moral dillema for them to face. In order to save the Earth, they must continuously destroy other Earths (wiping out the population of each), given some kind of cosmic thing where parallel Earths keep being drawn toward collision with the Marvel Earth. If they do nothing, both their Earth and the other Earth will be destoryed; if they destroy the other Earth, at least their Earth will survive, but at the cost of another whole planet.

Throughout this volume, they have to wrestle with that decision over and over, but circumstances tend to keep sparing them from having to actually make it. It's an interesting, unique conflict, and one well-suited to these particular super-heroes, some of whom aren't the sort who always find a third way when faced with two bad options (Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic in particular, given their roles as the villains of Civil War).

Infinity Gems, Thanos and, I'm sure, the already in-progress Infinity crossover/event figure heavily in the title's future, but I liked that first volume just fine, and was sorta surprised that I did, having no real strong feelings about the creators involved or the characters as a group (They've generally only appeared in the most talky, least exciting issues of Bendis' books).

I was sorta surprised by Mr. Fantastic's presence though, as he and the rest of the FF are lost in time and space in Fantastic Four and FF, two books being published concurrently with New Avengers, although perhaps they're actually set before or after the events of this title. 


Anonymous said...

Rucka's run on the Punisher is what really got me into the character; it is top notch stuff, man. And yes, it is totally worth reading all the way through to Punisher: Enter the War Zone.

One thing Rucka does exceptionally well is write about a Punisher who exists within the Marvel universe, and that's obviously readily apparent in the last volume.

Lastly, I guess, the sort of faded t-shirt I think you were describing is a skull stencil that he sprays onto his armoured vest or whatever. That's what I remember, anyway.

It really is really good is what I am saying.

Rich said...

I really liked what I read of Rucka's Punisher, but I jumped ship when it had a crossover about 10 issues into the run. Something about the Omega Drive, I think. I didn't want to buy the other books and never came back to Punisher afterward.