Punisher #1 (Marvel): When I bought my Mercedes, I had a key choice to make. Like other German automakers, each class of Mercedes-Benz has a top of the line AMG model. The BMW 3-Series has the race-prepped M3, Audi’s standard A4 has the sought after S4 variant, and the C-Class Mercedes has the more aggressive AMG edition. The difference is a 1/3 increase in the price, from about $30,000 to $40,000. That extra $10,000 gets you the premium leather interior, the carbon fiber bird’s eye maple charcoal trim, the 7-speed transmission, the bigger AMG wheels, the AMG exhaust system, the different air intake, all the spoilers and ground effects kit, and the higher output version of the V6 engine, just to name a few key features. It’s all tricked out. This issue of the Punisher is the AMG version of the comic. If I have to pay 1/3 more ($3.99 vs. $2.99), this is what every $3.99 comic should look like. For that extra buck, we get a proven creative team in Rick Remender and Jerome Opena, homages to some classic covers, a standard length story, a one-page welcome letter and statement of intent from the writer, a few pages of history on the character, a list of essential reading material, and even a six page Agents of Atlas preview. It’s all tricked out. It was very interesting to see Opena change up his artistic style in such a beautiful way. Gone are his slender, sleek, crisp lines that became a hallmark of Fear Agent. Here we see a dark, sketchy style that’s inked and colored heavier and looser courtesy of Dan Brown. I tend to prefer the former style, but the latter admittedly suits my idea of what a Punisher comic ought to look like. It’s already growing on me. Remender brings his strong internal monologue style of narration that also made Fear Agent such a treat. Opena delivers his inventive and crystal clear action sequences. With the stated purity of a premise like “he’s like Batman, but he kills” and “he does what the capes won’t,” this could be a hit waiting to happen. Grade A.
No Hero #3 (Avatar Press): “La Chambre Des Cauchemars” could have easily missed and been seen as a mere two-page artistic filler extravaganza, but with Juan Jose Ryp’s artistic confectionary blend of Frank Quitely and Geoff Darrow, it turns into something really special and not simply a manic look at a superhero drug trip. Ellis’ sarcastic lines like “…and I don’t think it’s a new fucking superpower” and typical sci-fi assault on the senses with casual inventions like the “disgel” dissolving gel (a sort of superhero napalm) finally have this title rolling. It’s been a bit of a slow burn style build-up, but we now seem poised for a worldwide showdown with the Front Line coming home in siege mentality. Also of note in this issue is the solicitation for Alan Moore’s Light of Thy Countenance, adapted by Wasteland writer Antony Johnston – really looking forward to that! Grade A.
War of Kings Saga (Marvel): It was free, so naturally the grade is going to be artificially inflated a bit, but even so, this was decent. Lots of Frazer Irving art and a pretty coherent summary of most of the Marvel Cosmic Adventure canon in the last couple years. Everything from The early Kree involvement with the Inhumans, to Quicksilver and Crystal, to the Illuminati, to Summers brother Vulcan, the Starjammers, the Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire, the Hulk’s banishment, the Skrull Invasion, the Nova Corps, and the new Guardians of the Galaxy. For the last few days, the War of Kings banner adorning some Marvel books has turned my stomach, but I have to admit I got a little excited after reading this and the chronology list actually made me want to check out the hardcovers of Nova: Volume 1, Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 1, and Uncanny X-Men: The Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire. Did I just fall for this marketing tool? Eek! Grade A.
Invincible Iron Man #9 (Marvel): From the opening page, you can certainly see Warren Ellis’ influence on current scribe Matt Fraction. It’s full of that brand of coherent and plausible sci-fi techno-babble, and those wonderfully BIG ideas that push both your brain and the medium. The only small quibble that I had a hard time accepting was that Tony would attempt this mental suicide and not have a brilliant plan to only wipe out selected parts of his brain - some sort of partitioned area, to continue his hard drive analogy. That aside, I appreciate Fraction’s depiction of former SHIELD #2 Maria Hill, we get more of her character being developed along with some really fun action sequences with her. The title is full of succinct lines like “Pep, we got blown up by Stane and then monsters from outer space made every piece of our technology fail in the middle of an interstellar invasion. And then Norman Osborn saved the world while I clearly did not. It’s grim.” Fraction has a knack for making sense out of a pretty chaotic Marvel U landscape, while continuing the asymmetrical chess game between Stark and Osborn, and even making some relevant 9/11 parallels about intelligence gathering and Republican Administration blunders. Perhaps Fraction is putting his stamp on what early 21st century comics will be known for. Grade A-.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 8 #21 (Dark Horse): Again, I picked this up for a coworker so it doesn’t really matter that much to me, but I didn’t get this at all. It kinda’ faltered right from jump with a creepy cover and tired premise about a Harmony one-shot that is supposed to be attempting some sort of wry commentary on fame, reality TV, and celebutards, but it’s really just piss poor execution. You’d think that Jane Espenson, who was a Buffy TV show writer, went on to write some for the brilliant new Battlestar Galactica, and is now attached to Joss Whedon’s new project Dollhouse, could, oh I don’t know, what’s the word I’m looking for… write? Hard to fathom that she’s the one who came up with flat lines like “Taste of A. Dick” and “fingering the zeitgeist,” which really try too hard for their own good. The narrative seems to switch protagonists mid-stream for some reason to a chic with a tattoo (though I’d largely glazed over, so maybe I missed some explanation), the colors look much too vibrant, and the panel to panel transitions are miserable, failing to convey any discernible sort of emotion or action. Still not getting why people like this sort of craptastic output. Maybe it’s just these one-shots that suck and I missed the title’s peak? Grade D.