3.03.10 Reviews (Part 3)
Punisher MAX: Butterfly (Marvel): Valerie D’Orazio and Laurence Campbell really need to be commended for this tour de force performance. It saddens me to think that this might fly quietly under everyone’s radar and go unnoticed as yet another meaningless spinoff tangent of a title, when it is clearly so much more. Right from the title page, the lettering of which made me feel like I was watching the opening credits to the movie SE7EN with that Gravity Kills song playing, I felt like I was in for something slightly different, something which has been more carefully orchestrated and mapped out. That feeling only intensified as I flipped the pages with captivated enthusiasm. Maybe the first thing that really settles into your brain is the perfect style and tone of the art. If you like artists full of thick inky gloom, like Michael Gaydos, Michael Lark, Matthew Southworth, or Alex Maleev, then Laurence Campbell is clearly your new go-to guy. Get this guy a contract already. I’m a big fan of D’Orazio’s blogging and her script flows affably along, humming with realism, found voice, and piercing, revealing, self-referential lines like “I hate writing,” or clever turns of phrase like “flipping memory switches” which just demand appreciation. The narration is desperately convincing, exploring the hidden corners of a shared universe. There’s some tough subject matter to be found here, everything from erotic asphyxiation to child abuse, not to mention all of the sex and grisly murder along the way. What differentiates this cornucopia of deadly sins from so much found in the market is that it’s handled in a subtle and smart fashion. It’s never in your face or gratuitous, and it sounds counter-intuitive to say considering the explicit content, but I’m impressed by the restraint shown here. D’Orazio’s script is full of paranoia, delusion, and psychological leanings, as well as thinly veiled references to her experiences with DC Comics that she wrote extensively about online, now seeping into her cathartic work here, and it’s just so evident that she poured a great deal of care into the writing. It happened quite quickly, but D’Orazio is ready to ditch the Punisher (I mean, shit, he only appears in something like three single panels here) and create an original crime book of her own. If there’s more where this came from, then she can easily hold her own with the likes of Greg Rucka, Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Azzarrello, and Jason Aaron. This book was very weighty and absolutely worth the $4.99 price tag, feeling like a novel’s worth of content hiding in the confines of a pamphlet, transcending those disposable trappings. This is something unique and extraordinary. I can’t wait for her next project; I wonder if she has an ongoing in her or this was an isolated explosive bout of creativity. Either way, I’ll cherish this. Oh, and BTW, this is the type of book that Marvel needs to get behind to showcase the unexploited female talent lurking on the fringes of the industry, not that Girl Comics pap you’ll read about below. Grade A+.
Invincible Iron Man #24 (Marvel): It’s funny, I really liked this issue, but I feel like I don’t have much to say about it. Maybe I was just waiting to exhale, knowing that the denouement was inevitable and we’d finally navigated the path to get there. It’s taken Matt Fraction two years to break Tony Stark and literally put him back together again. It’s really a good lesson in long form storytelling, not everything needs to be in tidy 5-6 issue arcs, "written for the trade,” but can be the length necessary to suit the story you want to tell. Oh, and by the way, you can have one writer and one artist for the duration of the run - imagine that. Speaking of the art, Salvador Larroca’s pencils are a treat here, with stunning mental vistas, energetic action, and a cast of strong supporting characters that are always depicted well. Tony finally makes his way back through his unique brand of mental purgatory, mental and physical planes converging to some degree, all the while considering his identity, his legacy, his technology, his parents, his friends, his lovers, his guilt, and his aspiration. I’m not quite sure why Ghost couldn’t kill Tony as he was laying there (and decided to monologue instead), nor am I quite sure how Ghost was transported to Seoul and what became of him, and I’m not sure why Pepper’s threatening call to H.A.M.M.E.R. was effective (was Ghost operating in a rogue capacity? I forget...), but it’s not that important. The larger thrust is all about Tony. It’s his story, and the gap Fraction creates between the time he backed-up his mind and what’s happened in the Marvel U since creates a nice bit of tension to jump forward from. The story is now about a man slightly displaced from the timeline, like a smaller scale version of Cap returning to the “modern” world in the Silver Age, and now we see Tony deal with it too. It’s a nice set up for his re-entry into the shared world that he’s a main player in, and the impending Heroic Age. As Fraction and Larroca close the door on one era, I can only hope the next is equally as strong, and a worthy successor. Grade A.
Girl Comics #1 (Marvel): Conceptually, this is a wonderful opportunity to showcase women (girls? really?) creators and their capabilities. But out here in the real world, sadly, the pieces featured just aren’t that good. Colleen Coover’s rousing intro, done in her wonderfully cute style, is actually quite clever and would have set the tone quite nicely, provided there was anything of consequence to follow it up. Instead, we get "Moritat" from G. Willow Wilson and Ming Doyle. I will say that Doyle’s artistic style is quite interesting (a sort of Paul Pope meets Becky Cloonan thing happening), but when the text is riddled with annoying unclosed quotation marks, it becomes a throwaway piece. Trina Robbins and Stephanie Buscema’s story about Venus has an adequately sassy tone and a retro aesthetic that works, but the text is way too dense and goes on waaay too long. My eyes glazed over by the fourth page, and at that point I was only about halfway through the debacle. I enjoyed the Spotlights on Flo Steinberg and Marie Severin. "A Brief Rendezvous" by Valerie D’Orazio and Nikki Cook delivers a Punisher story with quite a poignant punch, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with the Punisher per se, capable of using nearly any street-level protagonist as a stand-in, and I’m sorry, but the art varies from merely ok to downright atrocious. Cook is capable of delivering much better, as seen in brief stints on Brian Wood’s DMZ series. I know it’s homage, but couldn’t we have really done without the pin-up of She-Hulk with pseudo-bondage overtones? In this book? And how about a damn TOC page so I know who did the one piece that actually worked a little, the cute Doc Ock short? The book is such a mess in that regard. Some pieces are credited, some are not, some credits are up front, some are at the end, some pieces are titled, some are not, just show up and do whatever you want with no oversight, I guess. There are some pieces that I still have no idea who penciled or wrote them, even after reading the creator bios in the back, which don’t make an effort to link to the pieces in any way. The Franklin and Val piece has a great visual style (this artist is ready for a career illustrating children’s books, to be sure), but I glossed over due to the text heavy approach. "Headache" by Devin Grayson and Emma Rios takes us out, and I’m going to go ahead and go for the obvious joke – it left me with a headache trying to figure out what was going on. The piece only begins to make any sort of sense once you get to the end, but by then I was so mad I didn’t care why Scott’s uniform was popping on randomly, Logan’s mask disappearing, or the goons changing from black to red uniforms, helicopters, motorcyles, and full blown Sentinels crashing into the little room. Oh, and of all the characters depicted on the cover, a whopping ONE of them appears in the book – Wolverine, because we totally need more of him in the world. Overall, not only do the majority of the pieces fail to work in any way, but this doesn’t function properly as a gateway book for the creators or properties involved. Aside from Valerie D’Orazio’s Punisher MAX: Butterfly one-shot that came out the very same week, what books can I buy featuring these creators or properties? Even if they were compelling in any way (and let’s be crystal clear – they’re not), there’s nowhere for me to go as a consumer, so it just looks like a one-time, gimmicky, terribly isolated pet project of an exercise with no revenue generating potential. Where can I buy Colleen Coover’s kids book in the Marvel U? Where can I get Ming Doyle as a regular series artist? If I liked G. Willow Wilson's piece, I guess I can go buy Air from DC/Vertigo(!). I loved her Batman: Gotham Knights work, but does Devin Grayson even write anything any more? Where can I read about Nightcrawler if I liked that particular piece? Where are the real superstars anyway? Where is Colleen Doran? Carla Speed McNeil? Does Marvel feature any book with the art of Nikki Cook? Agnes Garbowska??? I’m a guy and I’m not terribly proud of this book as a representation of the women working in the industry I love, I can’t imagine a woman who would be either. It also feels very chintzy on the financial end; between the house ads, text pieces, and Venus story running 8 pages long, there’s just not a lot of content there. It’s certainly not worth $4.99. It isn’t even that the book employs horrible strategy, there’s just NO strategy. By the time I threw it down, before I started banging away in frustration on the keyboard, I was muttering to myself an exasperated “this is awful.” Only because it’s a concept that “could have been,” Grade C-.