Tuesday, April 26, 2011

PunisherMAX: Kingpin

Once upon a time, there was a book called Preacher. Garth Ennis wrote it and Steve Dillon drew it. It was a series that featured violence, profanity and sex in quantities previously unseen in comics. Preacher was a book that was unlike many others that were published in its time: it was actually good, and the mid to late 90’s aren’t generally regarded as one of comics’ high points.

After Ennis and Dillon ended their 66-issue run on Preacher, they were recruited to do some work across the pond for Marvel. In no time, the Punisher had the E&D stamp on his head, although the Preacher formula had to be considerably watered down to make things appropriate according to guidelines of the Marvel Knights imprint. Dillon eventually left to go do other things (sadly, crappy things like Wolverine: Origins) and Ennis carried on, eventually having a long run on the Punisher with the MAX line. MAX is a good place for the Punisher to be hanging out, and the Vertigo-esque rulebook gave Ennis a way to tell whatever crazy Punisher stories he had kicking around in his head.

All of this introduction is pretty much a necessity when discussing the new book entitled PunisherMAX. It’s a road that sure seems awfully familiar, but there’s a good reason for staying the course. This is the way the Punisher should be.

So one half of the E&D formula is still working this machine. The new guy is Jason Aaron, and to be completely subjective, I love Scalped and I wish that his Ghost Rider run could have lasted longer. Aaron is tapping into the same kind of writing that Ennis does, and who can blame him? He does it well.

The title of this book is Kingpin. I don’t think there has ever been a story that fleshed Wilson Fisk out so well. It turns out he had a pretty rough childhood and hated his dad. He hated his dad so much that he wound up killing him when he was still just a disturbed little kid. Fisk also didn’t just start out as the Kingpin, as it turns out. He was originally just a bodyguard for this other criminal named Rigoletto who winds up really getting on Fisk’s bad side…

I just have to interject with a moment straight out of Preacher: the use of over-the-top violence that becomes comical because you just can’t figure out how else to react to it. I guess that’s as comical as eyeballs popping out of one’s head can get. That’s what happens to some random guy when he gets on Rigoletto’s nerves and he sends Fisk on him. I’ll spare you the pictures from that scene.

Now I hope that nobody reading this book actually thought for even a second that the Mennonite (a “strong guy” character who looks like a farmer from two hundred years ago) would be a real threat to the Punisher. He’s okay in a sideshow freak kind of way, but did he really even have to be in this book? Oh well, just add him to the list of funny Punisher villains, a la the Russian and Jigsaw.

Like any good Punisher story, by the time Frank Castle is done wrecking shop he’s taken quite a beating. You know, this kind of thing also happens in every Wolverine story that comes down the pipeline, but at least that guy has the mutant healing factor thing going for him. In this story the Punisher gets hit a lot with a mallet by that weird Mennonite guy. It results in a direct hit to the chest, smashed fingers, and then a smashed hand, profuse amounts of blood (you get the picture). Now to Wolverine that would all amount to nothing, but Frank is an old buck who has to heal for awhile. Makes you wonder how he does it.

And can we talk about the end? I wouldn’t consider it to be mean saying that Bullseye shows up on the last page. The next volume should be fun…

Monday, April 18, 2011

iZombie: Dead to the World

iZombie has art by Michael Allred.  Read it.


…well, if you ask me, that should be more than a good enough reason to get into this book. But maybe not everyone is a complete dork for “Doc” Allred. Maybe some people don’t care about Madman at all, or maybe X-Force (and later, X-Statix) didn’t really strike them. The issue of Sandman with Prez in it, the Atomics, the Wednesday Comics Metamorpho series. 

Oops. Just had a big old tangent. This tends to happen when I start talking about Mike.

I was sad to find out that Allred was going to be shutting the door on Madman Atomic Comics, probably because it seemed like such a great experimental series that simply didn’t last long enough. The initial news that he would be working with Vertigo was great, then the title iZombie was a little bit of a groan (even Apple needs to stop with the iEverything), and then the news that Mike was going to be working with this writer whom I had never heard of…oh my.

Chris Roberson is this writer’s name. And after reading the first six issues of iZombie, I was really, really stupid to be afraid of liking this book. The Roberson/Allred team is doing some great work here!

Gwen Dylan is a gravedigger. Not a profession you might expect for a cute looking pinkish/purplish-skinned woman. She works with the guys but they don’t really know the truth about her. Just that little secret about how she is a zombie and has to eat a human brain once a month.

Eating a brain probably isn’t what you would expect. It’s not like normal food. When Gwen gets a taste of someone else’s grey matter, she also gets a flood of that person’s memory.

Without giving away hardly anything of the plot of iZombie, how can I make it sound like a lot of fun? How about the characters. There are a lot of them introduced in this book and every one of them is pretty interesting. Gwen’s best friend is a teenage ghost girl who’s been dead since the 60’s named Ellie. Then there’s Scott, the first Were-Terrier I’ve ever read about (ooo scary). There are sexy vampire women who are out to prey on the weakest of men. There’s Horatio and Diogenes, two guys with impossible names who also do impossible work for the Fossor Corporation, hunting all kinds of monsters just like their predecessors have for millennia. There’s John Amon, a maybe-mummy who tells Gwen the many secrets of the supernatural that she never would have found out on her own.

This is a book that is full of the kinds of quirks that come standard with any comic that Mike Allred’s name is attached to, but obviously a lot of the quirk is coming from the mind of Roberson too. One favorite thing is how Dixie, the waitress at Gwen, Scott, and Ellie’s hangout diner, never questions how her customers are pale to the point of transparency, or pinkish/purplish in skin tone, or happen to have hoodies wrapped tightly around their heads so that nobody can tell that they really have the facial structure and hair of a Scottish terrier.

One smart, smart thing that I bet a lot of writers would smack themselves over the head over (asking “why the hell couldn’t I have come up with that?”) is the classification that Roberson devised for all of the various kinds of spooky creatures that exist. As Amon describes, there is a whole system that can perfectly describe how someone can be either a ghost or a poltergeist, or a vampire or a zombie and so forth. There’s this concept of the oversoul and the undersoul, and what happens after death with each can lead to some interesting afterlives…

There's a lot going on with all of those vampires, zombies, and werewolves.

A couple of other good reasons to love iZombie: the other two members of the book’s creative team, the ones who might be a little bit out of the spotlight but nevertheless make this a comic that is oh-so-slick. The colorist is Mike’s wife Laura (as is true for any project Doc works on). Laura makes pages look beautiful. She’s definitely a huge bonus to the quality of anything that Mike draws. And the letterer, who is probably always the least-sung member on the bandwagon, is the legendary Todd Klein. It’s always just comforting to have a comic in your hands in which the which the words have been transferred from script to page by the guy who did things like Sandman and Promethea.

It’s just one nice looking comic from start to finish.

Maybe now that you’ve made it this far it’s safe for me to identify myself as an enthusiastic advocate of Vertigo comics. This is related to some of the comments I made in the post about the Eisners: Vertigo does comics that are different. Comics that stand out and do things that other comics don’t. While most of the readers of comics are adults, Vertigo is a company that makes things for adults to actually read. It’s a great imprint and I’m always looking to see what comes out of their offices next.

Anyway, iZombie. Nothing else will do to bring this post to a grinding halt, so it’s time for a Captain Picard quote: “Make it so!”

Monday, April 11, 2011

Eisner Award Nominees 2011

A link to check out:

Yes, it’s that exciting time when the Eisner nominees are announced. The winners, or course, will be determined in late July during San Diego Comic Con, but for now we can only wonder who will run away with the big prizes.

The Eisner committee already did all of the math for us. You can tell exactly how many nominations your favorite company got just by reading that press release. But what you don’t need any kind of press release to notice is how few mainstream superhero books got selected this year. You know, the kinds of books that make up a majority of the comic book industry’s market. 

Bravo, judges.

Somebody has to make sure that these other important books get noticed and rewarded for their quality. As time goes on my mainstream Marvel and DC picks keep dwindling, so to see a list of nominees so fresh is pretty encouraging. The Eisner judges know that there is a lot of great stuff happening outside of the Big Two.

Of course this doesn’t mean that I’ve read everything on the list. Or even a significant portion of them.

But let me see if there’s a few things I can comment on:

Best Continuing Series: Chew has been a lot of fun. Locke & Key didn’t quite grab me with the first hardcover, but I guess it really does deserve a second chance. And Scalped is a grueling but great read every time. Also, I’ve been really sucked into 20th Century Boys, and it’s nice to see it nominated with all of these other books.

My comments for Best New Series and Best Publication for Kids are quite simple: give them to iZombie and Tiny Titans, respectively!

Best Graphic Album/Reprint: the only one I picked up from this category was Wednesday Comics. But I never saw a comic collection quite like that one, and I think that it’s more than deserving to win. The book itself was a work of art!

It sounds like there’s a lot of good stuff for me to track down on this list…

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Origin of a Comics Fan

The plan is that this blog will be rolling out in some kind of a reliable way…regardless of the fact that it’s been weeks since the first post. Don’t worry though.

So what can be expected from the words on this page? Probably pretty much anything having something to do with comics. But it should be known that I’m not really a collector of the traditional “floppies” as they have come to be (somewhat derogatorily) called. The bookshelf for which this site has been named is one that’s in my bedroom, gradually collapsing from the weight of hundreds of comics trade paperbacks and hardcovers. That’s the kind of thing you’ll be reading about here.


Today is going to be something different. This is about the origin. How this all got started.

Does this book have any significance to you?

I’m going with “Probably not.”

But this is in fact the very first comic I ever owned.

It was a big, thick comic with a shiny cover and the X-Men marching towards us all like they’re about to kill us. And I loved it. Loved it so much that the first page fell right out.

The story, well, wasn’t that great. But what did that matter to a five year old who was just learning to read? The pictures were great!

Pictures like this:

Maybe the one thing I can credit this issue for with certainty is that it made me a lifelong admirer of the style of John Romita Jr. 

Without a doubt, when I think of the X-Men, I think of them in this incarnation from the early 90’s. Anyone is welcome to inform me that my taste is horrible and I won’t even try to deny it. I was a child of the early 90’s and I can say that the version of the X-Men with Wolverine in the yellow-and-blue, Cyclops with the floppy hair hanging out from the spandex, Bishop (need I say more?), Storm in a white full-body suit, and a metal-winged Archangel are just cool, cool, cool.

The X-Men were pretty much like this in the cartoon I was addicted to from the age of 4. So go ahead and say that the X-Men were all muddled at this point and that I need to reread the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne issues again. It won’t help!


A tease of things to come: after neglecting the old “to read” pile for far too long, I cranked through a few books recently and it can be expected that I’ll be saying a few words about them some time soon.

They are:

iZombie: Dead To This World
Doctor Who: Tesseract
Hellblazer: India
Batman & Robin: Batman vs. Robin
Angelus Volume One