Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

14 November 2008

Punisher War Journal, v. 1: Civil War

Collects: Punisher War Journal v. 2 #1-4 (2007)

Released: November 2007 (Marvel)

Format: 144 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785123156

What is this?: During Civil War, a battle between heroes in the Marvel Universe, the Punisher declares war on supervillains.

The culprits: Writer Matt Fraction, pencillers Ariel Olivetti (#1-3) and Mike Deodato (#4)

Writer Matt Fraction is a bit of conundrum for me. While he is the darling of certain corners of the Internet, I didn’t care for the first volume of his Casanova. Punisher War Journal, v. 1: Civil War doesn’t answer the question of where all the unabashed adoration is coming from either.

Punisher War Journal, v. 1: Civil War coverI can see part of it. There are great moments and great lines. Stuart Clarke, a robotocist and Iron Man villain, has a flock of little robot Iron Men whom he alternately terrorizes and orders to do his bidding. A groggy Spider-Man, after he has been saved from the Jester and Jack o’ Lantern (really?) by the Punisher, tells his savior he can’t pay him, and when the Punisher says Spider-Man doesn’t have to pay, Spider-Man says, “Action is my reward too.” And pretty much the entirety of issue #4 — with the exception of the presence of the Prowler and Puma (really?) — is hilarious.

But there are plenty of moments that strike me as wrong. (At times, Fraction’s entire Marvel Universe seems wrong, but I’m blaming that on Civil War.) The Bugle reluctantly endorsing the Punisher’s killings, for example, seems something the paper of J. Jonah Jameson would never do. The Punisher himself seems off as well; he mixes his steely, stoic demeanor with jokes that go flat, and he has his moments of comic fallibility. I don’t want the Punisher to be too personable and human; he never really has been either of those things. He’s a remorseless killer, and the closest he comes to jokes is the black humor about the villains’ deaths.

I didn’t care much for Civil War, the massive crossover that had Marvel’s superheroes fighting one another over civil rights, in either concept or what I saw of the execution. This doesn’t change my opinion on the matter, but it does give the Punisher a reason to enter superhero politics, which are usually settled at the end of a (metaphorical) gun. It also gives Fraction a chance to re-enact the Scourge of the Underworld storyline, which started in 1985 and climaxed in Captain America #318-20. In fact, #4 is a direct homage to Captain America #319, where the vigilante the Scourge kills a bar full of supervillains, most of whom are less than super. (The Punisher, admittedly, only destroys the bar and poisons its occupants; we don’t know the fates of his targets.)

I’m not exactly sure I see the point of killing third-rate villains. The original Scourge storyline was supposed to thin out the ranks of the incompetent, but their numbers exploded in the ‘90s, and even some killed in the massacre at the Bar with No Name have returned. I don’t even think killing these long-time punching bags will have much emotional impact. That being said, I don’t care for the Punisher killing classic Silver Age villains, even if they’re goofy. It just makes me dislike Fraction and the Punisher, because idiots like the Jester and Stilt-Man are weak, easy targets. Go after those disposable ‘90s villains, especially ones that clogged the Spider-Man books at the time. Man, those were awful.

Most of the art is provided by Ariel Olivetti, but his art leaves me cold. It appears to be painted, but it makes his characters look like motionless cutouts on a dark background. The colors are a bit washed out as well. Neither particularly fits for the title; the Punisher is a figure of action, in a world of blacks, whites, and arterial reds. Also, although I have nothing to say about Fraction making SHIELD agent G.W. Bridge a Muslim, I don’t like Olivetti’s design of Bridge, making him a paunchy old man — albeit a giant old man.

On the other hand, I love Mike Deodato’s gorgeous work on #4. It is a series of crowd scenes, but that’s all right; I can generally identify who’s who without gratuitous exposition, and everyone looks good. Especially Princess Python, one of my favorite Steve Ditko creations. I love Ditko’s work, but the Princess has never looked as good as she does here.

The price is a bit steep, considering the content. $15 for only 4 issues, even if one is supersized, is too much, and adding the black and white edition of #1 (which was actually released before the regular #1) doesn’t help much.

I really was on the fence about this one, but at that price, I can’t recommend Punisher War Journal, v. 1.

Rating: Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (1.5 of 5)

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07 November 2008

X-Men: Deadly Genesis

Collects: X-Men: Deadly Genesis #1-6 (2006)

Released: December 2006 (Marvel)

Format: 200 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 0785118306

What is this?: In this miniseries, the X-Men are under physical and mental assault by a powerful mutant with a mysterious grudge.

The culprits: Written by Ed Brubaker with pencils by Trevor Hairsine

I expected to dislike X-Men: Deadly Genesis intensely, and unsurprisingly, I did. I don’t blame Ed Brubaker’s scripting or Trevor Hairsine’s pencils; Hairsine does an excellent job in this waste of a cause. No, I blame whoever came up with this misconceived project, whether it’s Brubaker or editor Mark Paniccia or someone else farther up the chain of command at Marvel.

The plot reveals that years ago X-Men mentor Professor Xavier sent a heretofore unknown group to the island of Krakoa to rescue the missing X-Men. That group died, and Xavier wiped the memory of that group from everyone’s minds before sending another group — including Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Colossus — to rescue the original X-Men. Now a member of that missing team — Vulcan, who is by just by coincidence the brother of first X-Man Cyclops and Havok — has been revived, and he’s tormenting the X-Men to get Xavier to confront him.

X-Men: Deadly Genesis cover This is the worst kind of retcon, one that hits the big three no-nos:

1) Tells you everything you know is wrong, while it
2) Reveals a powerful character (or conspiracy) hidden for years and
3) Radically changes how readers must view a long-term character.

This is pointless. And it doesn’t matter how well the story is told, because the central idea of the story is crap. Thirty years after Giant Size X-Men #1 is a little late to be revising the story, don’t you think? Brubaker’s story takes the fun, light story of the All-New, All-Different X-Men and makes it deadly serious and deadly dull. Xavier’s behavior in Deadly Genesis is near unforgiveable, and it makes a mockery of the idea of the unreliable narrator. Surely something so monstrous would have leaked into one of Xavier’s thought bubbles over the years.

There are essentially no heroes here. By not only sending a group of young mutants to their deaths but also wiping their lives from the record, Brubaker’s Xavier is a poor excuse for a human being, good intentions be damned. Vulcan is a monumental dillweed as well, even needlessly torturing the current X-Men for reasons I can’t fathom. Brubaker wants to make Vulcan look good, so he makes him nigh all-powerful, meaning the X-Men can’t stop him. The X-Men do nothing: not only does Vulcan master them easily, but they can’t find Xavier either. Deadly Genesis is a six-issue exercise in wallowing in misery, because nothing happens except making everyone involved look bad.

It’s even more aggravating when Brubaker pulls down the original plot in order to make the new one look better. Vulcan mocks Cyclops for thinking Krakoa released him in order to gather more mutants, but Krakoa killing Vulcan’s team after losing Cyclops is even less credible. Why not capture them as well? This sniping comes across as petty, and if you can’t play nicely with someone else’s toys, then maybe you shouldn’t be playing with them at all. Maybe Brubaker has a fetish for gratuitous retcons; he did, after all, bring Captain America’s sidekick Bucky back from the dead as the Winter Soldier.

There’s nothing wrong with Vulcan being a Summers brother, although the missing third Summers brother is not a dangling plot that had been crying for resolution. Moira studying and training a group of mutants is interesting as well, although a little difficult to shoehorn into continuity without the mindwipes and whatnot. And the backup with Xavier and Moira offering a young Emma Frost entry into the X-Men is interesting, although Xavier too quickly comes to the conclusion Emma won’t join the X-Men regardless of how he coaxes her.

The plot is my main problem, although not my only one. Marc Silvestri’s covers, especially the ones used for Deadly Genesis’s front and back covers, are irritating. I have no idea why all the characters on the homage to cover of Giant Size X-Men #1 are skeletal; none of them die. The back cover is no better; I had a hell of a time figuring out who Marvel Girl was supposed to be (Marrow and Rogue were my first thoughts), Cyclops is vastly overmuscled, and Wolverine’s face looks decidedly feminine, beard notwithstanding. The backup stories about the forgotten X-Men sent to Krakoa are essentially useless — I don’t care about them, and I have no reason to care about them as they’re not only disposable but already disposed of.

I admit I put a great deal of emphasis on continuity — perhaps too much. But because of the way this book chews up previous stories and characterizations and vomits them into the stewpot that is the Marvel Universe, this book is useless to me. I could sell it, but I got this book cheaply in part because the cover is creased. I don’t want to give it away because I don’t want to inflict it on anyone else.

One last note: the rating for Deadly Genesis is based entirely how much Hairsine’s art lifts this wreck above no value whatsoever.

Rating: Marvel symbol (1 of 5)

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