Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Comic Capsule Reviews (*Slight Spoilers*)

Deadpool versus Punisher #1: I have some guidelines for Punisher stories, which are pretty mild. First, the Punisher isn’t crazy. Obsessed ... driven maybe. Sometimes cruel. But not crazy. Second, the Punisher doesn’t harm or kill innocent people. Period. The fantasy of an unstoppable monster with guns destroying bad guys is over the second a civilian puts an eye out. And third, the Punisher doesn’t wear white gloves and boots.

Writer Fred Van Lente sticks to these well, but still writes kind of a dumb story. You’d think this would just be a comedy piece, with the grim Punisher serving as straight man for a constantly wisecracking Deadpool. Nope, it’s a straightforward adventure story, albeit with some humor. Van Lente may follow all my rules, but I’m not sure he understands the Punisher. Here is his opening Punisher narration:

“This may be a little hard to believe. But sometimes ... I actually feel sorry for them.” He is referring to the criminals he kills. No way. No way Frank Castle ever says anything like that. He’s on a mission to rid the world of violent, vicious reprobates. He is highly motivated and does not feel sorry for the kinds of trash he removes from society.

During a raid on a bad guy’s lair, the Punisher discovers some big game, a shadowy criminal who acts as a money handler/investor for other criminals, the Bank. When he goes to kill the Bank and destroy his business, the Bank calls in his friend Deadpool, who naturally keeps all his money with the Bank.

Another incredibly stupid part of the story is when the Punisher arrives at the Bank’s estate and starts shooting. He stands out in the open with no cover, guns blazing, in a t-shirt and jeans. Now, the Punisher is a former soldier who has fought numerous battles on both foreign and domestic soil. It would be logical to assume that a criminal as rich and successful as the Bank would have armed protection around him (he does). So why would you confront him and his goons, armed to the teeth, without some type of body armor? This makes no sense. So of course, when Deadpool shoots back, Frank takes multiple bullet wounds. This is his own fault, as while a skull t-shirt is the height of fashion, they don’t really work as bullet-stoppers.

As the fight rages on, two civilians are killed fleeing the scene, indirectly due to Frank’s actions. That comes close to violating rule #2. The end is somewhat humorous as one of our heroes takes a bullet to the head, and it may not be the Punisher.

DvP #1 isn’t as bad as most Marvel books, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The story is laden with plot holes and is lazily written by someone who doesn't really grasp the Punisher and his mission. He feels sorry for them? No. Not in a million years. This comic is not worth $4.00.

Rating: *** stars out of 5

Curse Words #4: Curse Words is my favorite new book; it’s filled with mad ideas and wonderful stories and art. Wizord is a powerful wizard from Earth’s past. He has been living with a group of wizards in another dimension, serving their all powerful lord Sizzajee. When Sizzajee decides it’s time to conquer Earth, he sends Wizord to the present day to pave the way. Trouble is, Wizord gets to present day New York and decides he kind of likes it. Why should he conquer Earth and turn it into a burning cinder, when he can live like a king in a high-rise and enjoy all the pleasures of modern high society?

Abandoning Sizzajee’s plans, Wizord sets himself up as a wizard for hire and starts stuffing his mattress full of money. In this issue, Sizzajee discovers Wizord’s betrayal and dispatches his former lover, the wizard Ruby Stitch, to Earth to kill him. The book’s cliffhanger is Stitch confronting Wizord. As he displays his shock that Sizzajee chose Ruby to stop him, Ruby admits that Sizzajee didn’t pick her. She volunteered.

Curse Words is full of magic battles, strategic mistakes and waxing and waning powers. And that’s just Wizord! It’s great fun to see him take to the modern world, trying to fit in and understand human attitudes and behavior. He also makes mistakes, which he tries to cover up but just ends up making a bigger mess. The question remains, is he evil and impersonating a benevolent wizard? Or can he learn to be an actual good guy and care about humanity? If he survives Ruby Stitch, I hope we find out.

Rating: ****½ stars out of 5

The Greatest Adventure #1: Any cursory reader of this blog will know that I am an avid fan of a certain Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs and his many pulp hero creations. So, thankfully, is Bill Willingham, famous for his excellent Fables comic series. Willingham, along with artist Cezar Razek, have taken upon themselves the enviable task of amalgamating several of ERB’s most famous creations into one massive adventure.

Joining together here are my favorite ERB characters the Clayton family—Tarzan, his wife Jane and their son Korak. Along for the ride are also John Carter of Mars and his wife Dejah Thoris, Jason Gridley, Billy Byrne (the Mucker), Ulysses Paxton, and more to come in future issues. Hopefully David Innes will be joining soon, from the center of the Earth.

When inventor Jason Gridley wakes up a thousand light years from Earth, his captors tell him they need one of his most prized inventions, then set him to work creating the technology. At the first opportunity he steals a small ship and heads for home. He barely makes it to crash land in Africa. He seeks out his old friend John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, aka Tarzan, to tell him the tale and request assistance. Tarzan assembles a crew very familiar to fans of ERB. Gridley supplies an art deco spaceship, and the intrepid adventurers set off to fight Gridley’s erstwhile captors.

A fun historical note is the newspaper ad Tarzan places to find his crew. “Men of Adventure,” it begins, “sought for an expedition of high risk and low reward.” This is inspired by the ad placed by real-life explorer Ernest Shackleton in 1913 for fellow adventurers on his trip to the South Pole. I love Bill Willingham.

The art gets the job done but could be more dynamic. I’m sure once the action commences we’ll have fighting and space battles aplenty. This one is going to be fun.

Rating: **** stars out of 5

Britannia: We Who Are About To Die #1: I have a deep and abiding love for all things Ancient Rome. However, I find most media to be lacking in accuracy of Roman culture or understanding of the Roman mind. As usual, writer Peter Milligan and artist Juan Jose Ryp rise easily to the task. A sequel to their first Rome miniseries, Britannia, “We Who Are About To Die” again features former legionary Antonius Axia, on his way to becoming Rome’s first private detective. This time all the action takes place in Rome, as Roman aristocrats are being murdered by an unknown force and Emperor Nero is feeling pressured to do something about it. He blames chief Vestal Virgin Rubria for not knowing what is happening or what the gods will. She in turn asks Axia for help. He immediately begins to put clues together, and his preliminary investigation leads right to one of the most famous and lethal gladiators in the arena, the female fighter Achillia.

Britannia provides a fantastic adventure in another time and place along with an intriguing (and probably supernatural) murder mystery. Milligan’s story is page turning, but the star here is the picture-perfect art from Ryp. Ryp is brilliant at action, facial expressions and body language. He also gets Rome perfectly right, from military gear to how a toga should look. The key to a good comic is that the story can be followed even if there were no captions or dialog. Ryp’s storytelling is that good. This book does everything a comic is supposed to—in spades. Highest recommendation.

Rating: ****½ stars out of 5

Batman/Shadow #1: I’m always up for a team-up between my two favorite heroes of the night. These caped mystery men usually go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Unfortunately, this first issue had me asking if the creative team only worked on this series because Matt Wagner was busy.

The story’s plot, by Scott Snyder and Steve Orlando, is a bit inscrutable. I’m sure it will open up as the story progresses, but did not make for an interesting first issue. Investigating a murder in Gotham City, Batman crosses paths with the Shadow, who hypnotizes him and disappears. Batman then finds a clue that leads him back to an old teacher in the French Alps. There, instead of his teacher he finds ... guess who?

The art is a major drawback. Riley Rossmo is not a good artist. It doesn’t help that Batman is in his horrendous Rebirth costume, with tiny pinpricks for ears and an obnoxious yellow outline around the bat on his chest. It’s just ugly. His Shadow is better, although I’m not sure why his Shadow drapes his iconic red scarf around his entire upper body instead of just his mouth. Furthermore, in the story Batman is surrounded by tech, from several hundred TV screens in the Batcave to drones following him around and giving him information while he moves through Gotham. That’s not Batman—a few computers are fine, but this is smart-phone, selfie-taking Millennial Batman. Ugh.

I didn’t love this book, but it is Batman and the Shadow. I’ll probably stick with it, but ... Matt Wagner, please?

Rating: *** stars out of 5

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