Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews January 2019 week one

Featuring P. Craig Russell, Roman Muradov, Daniel Clowes, Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev, Paul Dini, Alex Ross, Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Dougie Braithwaite

The Ring Of The Nibelung s/c (£22-99, Dark Horse) by P. Craig Russell adapted from Richard Wagner.

I had four full pages of notes on this, three more than I managed for Chemistry ‘O’ Level which kind of explains my results back then.

This big, thick softcover contains all four operas in Wagner’s Ring sequence: The Rhinegold, The Valkyrie, Siegfried, The Gotterdammerung.

To deliver a truly faithful adaptation – one with even a hope of stirring a reading audience as the original moves a crowd – Craig cannot and does not rely solely on plot and dialogue; a visual interpretation of mere lyrics would omit most of the power and the subtle weave of any opera delivered by the music. ‘O Mio Bambino Caro’ is, on paper, a fine set of poetry, but when sung so tenderly, so majestically in harmonious concert with music so heart-rendingly poignant (plaintive, aspirational, delicate?), it becomes something extraordinary. And that’s just a single aria.

 

 

An opera uses many devices to convey ideas and development to cue the audience subconsciously throughout its duration and Russell has thought long and hard about translating these into sequential art. He’s taken musical leitmotifs – signatures denoting individual characters, objects and even concepts such as love, regret, power and choice (sometimes combined in a single sequence, hinting at thoughts, informing the action and even able, I’d imagine, to add therefore a level of dramatic irony) – and turned them into visual cues.

One glimpse at the prelude is enough to prove just how accomplished and ingenious an adaptation this is. The opening sequence is ‘silent’; it begins quietly with a single finger in blue line and pencil, on which a drop of water swells. It falls into its own ocean to form ripples then waves in an expanding aqueous body, from which a fresh green seedling – the first hint of colour – emerges. By the bottom panel on that first page the tree has grown older than the oak, joined to three shrouded women by twine; and from its roots flows a river, reflecting the aurora above.

 

 

That’s the creation of the universe on page one. It also sets up three of the four central elements which bind the four operas: water & light, the tree and the sword. Three further pages, reduced to a sandy tone, provide the rest of the background whilst implying consequences for the events to follow. The great god Voton, introduced by his shadow, wanders into picture, stoops to drink then spies, beyond the thread of fate, a woman who will be his wife and goddess of wedlock, Fricka. Three small panels inlayed repeat the earlier sequence, as a drop of water falls from his chin. One of the three hooded women (or Norn) then plucks out Voton’s left eye, leaving behind the gift of inner vision, but suddenly her knowing confidence is shattered as Voton reaches up into the tree and breaks off a branch. He fashions it into a spear, takes Frika by the hand and departs, leaving behind him the tree fast falling into autumn then winter. The final four panels close in ominously on the wound inflicted on the tree, until all we can see is the hollow darkness. 

 

 

 

 

Several of these images and refrains will be reprised within the major body as the story unfolds. It’s a classic, dynastic tale of love, lust, envy, power, greed, wealth, rejection, duty, treachery, sacrifice and progeny. The dynasty involved is that of the gods of German mythology, and what a familiar pantheon they are! Voton: one-eyed and lustful, as impetuous in love as he is in wrath and for all his supposed wisdom, the perpetual victim of his own stupendously rash promises. He bears the weight of his responsibilities on his own faltering shoulders, and since his wife is goddess of marriage, you just know he’s going to be unfaithful. One of his stormy sons wields a hammer, one of his daughters has been sworn as payment to a couple of giants (none of Voton’s children receive much in the way of paternal care), and although he doesn’t appear to be related as he is in Norse mythology, there’s Logé, the flattering trickster.

The Rhinegold is essentially a fable of power versus love, of the choice between them, catalysed by the theft of said gold from the waters of the Rhine. Alberich the troll, cruelly taunted and scorned by three prick-tease mermaids has nothing to lose in love, so rejects it to steal the metal then fashion it into a ring which gives him absolute power over his race. And love must be rejected to wield that power, that’s the bargain. But news spreads fast of this new poisoned chalice, and when it reaches the heavens (via Logé, of course) the consequences may prove devastating.

 

 

 

The Valkyrie move some of the action back down to Earth where Voton’s been a busy boy. Once more the set up is a combination of familiar themes and plot points: lost siblings, unholy love, the treachery of children, the will of the gods, and the duty of husbands and kings. In the previous opera Voton has been warned about the Twilight of The Gods, the doom that awaits them, and in the sequence which links the two (once more combining water, light, the tree and now the sword, in panels that echo the prelude), Russell shows us Voton’s solution, the creation of a sword. This he hopes will be unsheathed from the tree into which he thrust it, by someone worthy, someone over whom he has no direct influence. But he only goes and shags a mortal to sire this someone! And if that weren’t enough to raise Frika’s ire, that very son soon falls in love with his own twin sister, already married to the man whose house is built round this tree.

None of which is going to go down well with protectress of wedlock. Add in another tragic offspring, Brunhildé, one of the Valkyrie, Voton’s daughter once again and the literal embodiment of his will (his actual will, not his stated position), and you’ve one family circle that’ll never be squared. I can’t tell you how cleverly it all comes together – the whole sword, fate and progeny thing – because there’s a final twist, a ramification of the incest which has yet to be played out, with Craig once more excelling himself in the final panel foreshadowing the next round.

If all of this wasn’t enough, it’s just occurred to me that there may be many as yet unfamiliar with P. Craig Russell as an artist. On the basis of his work on SANDMAN #50 alone he is justly celebrated.

Other credits include THE FAIRY TALES OF OSCAR WILDE, THE ART OF P. CRAIG RUSSELL and – with Neil Gaiman – MURDER MYSTERIES, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK GRAPHIC NOVEL, CORALINE, SANDMAN: DREAM HUNTERS and the first story in SANDMAN: ENDLESS NIGHTS.

His command of symbolism through design is beautiful to behold, and above all he’s just one of the most flat-out attractive neo-classical craftsmen. If you’ve never seen his pencils you’re in for an additional treat, for some of the preliminary sketchwork is reproduced in the back, bursting with a Renaissance homo-eroticism reminiscent of Donatello, Caravaggio and the less burly examples of Michelangelo.

In some ways it’s not an easy book – it’s only fair to warn you that the language throughout retains the original formality which some may find initially stilted or foreboding – but its appeal is far broader than I initially suspected: we’ve just sold four copies of this softcover edition on its very first day of publication!  I’ll probably receive some flack for this comparison, but the combined scenario and linguistic approach is really not far from a cross between Shakespeare and SANDMAN.

Which should shift a few units.

SLH

Buy The Ring Of The Nibelung s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Vanishing Act h/c (£12-99, Fantagraphics) by Roman Muradov…

“How to read this book.

  1. With your face.
  2. In given order.
  3. Out of order.
  4. Along with the supplements.
  5. Ignoring the supplements.
  6. More than once.
  7. In one sitting.
  8. At intervals.
  9. While falling asleep.
  10. Two or three acts at once.
  11. Less than once.
  12. As a puzzle.
  13. Enacting each act.”

Initially, I went for 1, 2, 8, 9 and 10… and perhaps also experiencing a little of 12.

I then went for 3, 6 and 7, though obviously still including 1.

I have, however, no idea what 4 & 5 even pertain to. Unless it is the first four pages which includes “How to read this book.” If so, I am therefore guessing most people will have automatically done 4 and practically no one 5… If it isn’t that, perhaps they mean the Sunday newspaper supplements?

Clearly 11 has to be true for some people because dear review reader, aside from the critical cognoscenti such as yourselves, many people are not yet aware of Roman IN A SENSE (LOST AND FOUND) Muradov. Which is a shame, because he is immensely talented.

 

 

I would also dearly love to believe there is at least one person who went for option 13, even if it is was just Roman’s extended family, blazing with pride… or at least purely to humour him.

Here is some supplemental information from the publisher to inform us more about what is already a contender for the most complex, convoluted comic I am likely to read in 2019…

“Written and drawn in thirteen styles, from comedy and confession to prophecy and interpretative dance, Vanishing Act is a polyphonic play of interconnected stories, synchronized in time and space on one melancholy evening. A paranoid man rehearses the upcoming party. A dishevelled actor expounds on the conceptual potential of sitcoms. A beloved dog disappears into the Internet and starts a cult. A couple runs their argument in reverse. A bored seagull excretes the entire known universe. Vanishing Act is governed by one looping constraint that unifies all of the disparate threads: each following story starts in the middle of the previous one, overlapping until the end of the night, and back into the beginning of the book.”

 

 

Did I mention it was rather brilliant? It is. It won’t appeal to all, mind you, as at times it’s belligerently blasé with the reader’s ability to keep up and bewilderingly brilliant in its individual pieces’ brevity – the dishevelled actor in particular so left me wanting more of his luvvieness – but, if you stay the course (option 7, remember!) or indeed digest it in more than one sitting (psst – option 8) I think you will be suitably impressed.

 

 

Artistically, be prepared to be taken for a tour too, as each of the thirteen vignettes is indeed rather different, yet there is more than sufficient stylistic coherence maintained overall, quite deliberately, despite the odd, again entirely intentional, detour or two towards the utterly abstract.

 

 

There are some particular points of pure comparison you can pick out here and there such as Dave MR. PUNCH McKean and David ASTERIOS POLYP Mazzucchelli, but that’s by the by, frankly.

 

 

If you are a fan of cleverly constructed comics in particular, the deployment of multiple art styles à la BLACKBIRD by Manuele Fior or Eleanor Davis’ HOW TO BE HAPPY, or stylistically much of the Nobrow output – who published Murodov’s IN A SENSE (LOST AND FOUND) – then this will be for you. Either with (option 4) or without (option 5) the supplements…

JR

Buy Vanishing Act h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mister Wonderful h/c (£14-99, Jonathan Cape) by Daniel Clowes.

 

 

“Dear God, could it be? Does she actually not loathe me?”

Almost an antidote to WILSON, this is a work from the great Dan Clowes which will confound your expectations. It’s as funny and acutely observed as ever, but for once it’s also very tender.

A hopelessly romantic, middle-aged divorcee, much out of touch with the dating game, awaits a blind date his mate’s set up for him. The thing is, she’s late… unless it’s that pretty young girl over there…?

Nope!

 

 

 

Marshall proceeds to wind himself up in advance, trying to guess who in the coffee shop might be his date, planning verbal strategies for retreat in case it’s one of its less attractive denizens. He does that a lot: practising conversational gambits in his head; also thinking when he should be listening because when his improbably attractive date does arrive, he barely hears a word she says, his boxed, internal monologue sitting squarely over Natalie’s speech balloons, obstructing her words so that we can’t hear her either (see also Mazzucchelli’s ASTERIOS POLYP):

“Jesus, I’m plastered! Sober up!
“I really have to urinate, but I don’t dare leave the table. Mustn’t give her the chance to escape!
“My God, look at her. I don’t stand a chance.
“Most beautiful women turn so bitter when the realities of aging set in. Hard to blame them, I suppose. It must be kind of awful. But she seems so cheerful and good-natured and non-judgemental…. I wonder what Tim and Yuki told her about me?”

 

 

This is very familiar territory: Marshall spending his time second-guessing, trying so hard to judge how he’s coming across that he’s not necessarily giving the best first impression. He steels himself for her own strategic retreat, but no, it doesn’t come. This might actually be going somewhere…

As I said, this will confound you at almost every juncture, Clowes cleverly steering your expectations one way, playing on his reputation, only to surprise you.

 

 

There are a lot of neat tricks, like hiding parts of speech balloons in the panel gutters to reinforce the idea of Marshall operating on automatic pilot; the point in Nathalie’s marriage when she began to feel so alienated that her husband’s hollow, evasive laughter literally grows to fill the house so that she can no longer hear anything else; a moment of disappointment so profound that the world around Marshall on a double-spread landscape is reduced to small blocks of coloured light filtering through the street’s doors and windows in an otherwise total black-out.

So: one eventful evening in the life of a quiet man, as well as the morning after.

SLH

Buy Mister Wonderful h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Ice Haven h/c (£12-00, Jonathan Cape) by Daniel Clowes –

 

 

In the small town of Ice Haven a child has gone missing. A detective, bringing his wife with him, questions local residents and studies the ransom note.

That’s the main story but it’s all the other little incidents that make it one of the best books in the last couple of years [wrote our Mark in June 2005].

 

 

Sixteen of the inhabitants are given their own stories. Vida is visiting her grandmother, author of ‘Mauve Begonias’, 1978, and is writing a ‘zine about the town. She becomes infatuated with the guy living next door, another (awful) poet and a master of prevarication despising what he perceives to be the narrow-mindedness of the townsfolk. Charles is lent a copy of ‘Leopold & Loeb’ by a classmate and is convinced that this will link him to the abduction – and possible murder – that he’s sure his friend has arranged. Meanwhile his stepsister is planning to run away with her lover, worrying that he’ll find her unattractive when unclothed.

And it goes on.

 

 

Everyone’s given their own strip and each strip has its own style. The detective appears to be in a Bernie Krigstein EC comic, the younger kids in FAMILY CIRCUS. Issues of familial connections, creativity and believability are raised. At the end, the mystery is solved but we’re not told explicitly who took the boy. 

 

 

This originally came out a few years back as the 22nd issue of EIGHTBALL. For this edition the art has been jigged about and some new strips added. Clowes’ sometimes tender, often clinical view of his characters is never better than here. Vida’s final words before leaving Ice Haven may even top the last line of GHOST WORLD (comic version). Although, whether we’re supposed to believe her or not is another story.

MS

Buy Ice Haven h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Scarlet vol 2 s/c (£12-99, Jinxworld) by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev.

I don’t think I can better the introduction I wrote to volume one, so here we go again.

Few things anger most people I know more than the abuse of power.

Racism is one of them, so South Africa under Apartheid was a double whammy, and Congressman John Lewis has some arresting history for you in MARCH when it comes to policing in America.

Because when individuals, corporations or entire state institutions abuse their power and successfully get away with it through powerful connections, political indifference, mass-media collusion or wholesale capitulation, most of us get pretty steamed.

Welcome to Scarlet’s world: it’s just come crashing down around her. Her boyfriend was murdered by a corrupt cop in a city of corrupt cops and so not only did he get away with it, he was commended and promoted while the newspapers which displayed zero interest in investigative journalism barefaced printed police lies.

 

 

So far Scarlet has [REDACTED] and published film footage of her doing so. She’s successfully galvanised Portland’s public into supporting her at a flash-mob rally into whose crowd the police threw a live grenade. But now she’s really got the Mayor’s attention:

“I have a list.”
“I thought you might.”
“At first blush, I don’t think you’re going to like it. Being that you and I have decidedly different world views.”
“I don’t think that’s necessarily true, actually. We both want the world to be a better place. We both have dedicated our lives to it.”
“Wow!!”
“What?”
“What a smarmy politician’s answer.”
“Well, I am a smarmy politician.”
“Can I insult you? Are you insultable?”
“I’m sensitive about my hairline.”

So how did Scarlet secure that face-to-face, one-on-one meeting when she’s the most wanted woman in the state?

 

 

From the writer of JESSICA JONES: ALIAS – which is cracking crime fiction – and his artist on DAREDEVIL comes something completely non-genre highly recommended to readers of KILL OR BE KILLED, CRIMINAL etc.

It’s brave stuff, not just in its direct attack on police duplicity but in where Bendis is prepared to take it. When I originally read book one, I wondered whether he’d written himself into a hole he couldn’t possibly climb out of, but that was pretty faithless of me given Bendis’ track record. Don’t expect him to back out or ease off now on the extreme actions both sides are going to take and the irreversible plight that then puts them in.

Maleev throws multiple art angles at the multiple flashbacks which depict the horrific events which tipped Scarlet’s growing inner circle. The most affecting of these is Isis’ appallingly brutal awakening from childhood idyll as a dutiful daughter with a doting Daddy. It’s narrated with a children’s picture-book clarity over three double-page spreads, illustrated by Maleev as fully painted portraits of Isis, close-up. The first, seen from above, depicts Isis delightedly holding her Daddy’s hand on the way to school.

“It was her favourite time of the day.”

 

 

The second is so closely framed that it almost crushes her. The third is the most successful rendition of wide-eyed, catatonic shock that I have ever seen in my life.

Maleev doesn’t skimp on the rowdy crowd scenes, either, but at one key moment the sound is effectively muted as the throng disappears to be replaced by an increasingly livid, fiery red when things go spectacularly wrong.

For more, please see SCARLET VOL 1 s/c

SLH

Buy Scarlet vol 2 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Justice League: The World’s Greatest Superheroes s/c (£24-99, DC) by Paul Dini & Alex Ross.

A4-sized reprint of all those huge, floppy Dini and Ross one-shot morality tales (SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH, BATMAN: WAR ON CRIME, WONDER WOMAN: SPIRIT OF TRUTH, SHAZAM!: POWER OF HOPE) in one won’t-droop-over-the-sides-of-your-bookcase volume. Pretty good value for money it is too.

Alex Ross (MARVELS, KINGDOM COME) has a unique take on DC superheroes in that his versions really do show their age. Batman’s coming up to 50, Wonder Woman’s approaching the same age and Superman’s face and physique are those of someone at least 65, if in remarkably buff condition. Why…? I don’t know but it does lend them a weight and a sense of authority – a seniority over their peers – that others’ interpretations seldom convey. This also contains JLA: SECRET ORIGINS, JLA: LIBERTY & JUSTICE, one heck of a lot of sketchwork plus two enormous landscape paintings in the form of a double-sided, four-page fold-out

I’ve dug out some of my original reviews from when the floppies first appeared.

 

 

SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH. A first-class seasonal story, convincingly narrated by the being called Superman, who finds that one man’s seemingly limitless capabilities and the best will in the world cannot overcome the politics of men. So instead, you accept your limitations but you don’t throw the towel in: you do what you can, each in her or his humble but determined way.

 

 

It’s gorgeously painted, with an exquisite command of light, quiet, thoughtful and dignified.

Rarely for superhero comics, this is also recommended for all ages because it isn’t about punching people.

That was the truncated version from an old Recommended Reading List because I know that originally I also mentioned Ross’ African animals which would have fixated me as a young man. Dieter Braun’s WILD ANIMALS OF THE NORTH and WILD ANIMALS OF THE SOUTH will have a similar effect upon you and your young ones.

 

 

BATMAN: WAR ON CRIME I found more problematic: Look, it’s very beautiful. It’s very, very beautiful. It’s also rather disappointing.

What was I expecting? I don’t know; perhaps I hadn’t thought this through in advance. I think this is the first Alex Ross work which has taken superheroes away from an epic background and tried to pop them into contemporary grocery stores. Now, you tell me, how precisely is someone wearing latex and a cape going to ‘sneak’ silently between these pencil-thin aisles to ambush a thief (with what I believe is called a ‘batarang’) without knocking the Twinkies flying? Nor, parenthetically, have I ever seen a grocery store so fully stocked or beautifully arranged, before or after a masked crusader comes squeak-creaking past the chewing gum and prophylactics.

 

 

Of course, this doesn’t matter in most superhero comics – design can take care of such silliness and create a dynamic spectacle – but Ross is a photo-realist and the ‘real’ Batman here is patently too bulky for the physical real aisle. Where Ross excels is in the majestic, the epic and indeed, conversely, in a boardroom filled with normal, underpants-on-the-inside, real-estate-dealing speculators. MARVELS worked so well because Kurt cleverly combined for Ross the street perspective of the photographer with the magnificent, other-worldly spectacle he was gazing at from below. So those scenes featuring Bruce are fine; Ross’s interior and exterior scenes where Gotham’s elite network are magnificent.

But, oh no, here we come to the story. It’s an excellent introduction to those who have never encountered Batman before: it’s an everything-you-need-to-know about Bruce, his loss, his tortured existence, the scars on his back (metaphorical and otherwise), his luxury lifestyle and his nightly excursions. For those of us who’ve read a single decent Batbook (I commend to you BATMAN: RULES OF ENGAGEMENT), it’s superfluous. In fact it’s a facile cliché: urban poverty, nasty gunmen, here comes an orphan; Bruce has a flashback, boy turns to crime (must involve drugs), Batman turns him round, then Bruce spends a few pennies and miraculously solves all the ghetto’s problems.

Ta-da!

 

 

The scene in which we first stumble across this particular orphan is genuinely arresting. The layout of the double-page spread is perfect, the model he chose for the boy can evidently act, and Ross evokes the mutual shock and horror with great pathos. And, if you’ve forgotten after this unexpectedly unfavourable review which I really didn’t want to write, this book is beautiful. So enjoy the pictures. They’re very big.

 

 

 

SHAZAM!: THE POWER OF HOPE. A return to form for Dini and Ross, who seem much more capable in the bright light of day and on a grander scale than on the streets of Gotham or dealing with everyday problems. For those of you unfamiliar with DC’s acquisition, Billy Batson, now working at a radio station, is a young orphan able to swap himself when required with Captain Marvel; they share an innocent outlook on life, and Ross’s triumph here is the evocation of Billy’s features in the broad-set Captain whenever his naivety is exposed. If it’s all a little nicer than nice, well, that works a good deal better for the creators than when they tried to introduce a darker element. When their heroes are setting standards to aspire to (occasionally a little clumsily, but more often than not gently), they’re doing fine, especially when limitations are reached (which is why the Superman volume succeeded). Unfortunately there is one howler in this book which destroys both the subplot and, consequently, the finale. One of the lads in the hospital Batson visits was beaten up by his Father. So what does the Captain do? He threatens him. Physically. Not only is it entirely out of character, but you just don’t bully a bully. It may be one’s immediate, knee-jerk and quite natural instinct or desire (they must certainly be stood up to if at all possible, because a bully thrives in the knowledge that their actions will have no ramifications), but, hey, add to the cycle, why don’t you? I never expected to say this, but even SPAWN handled this better, showing the nasty repercussions which aren’t even suggested as a possibility here.

A tad irresponsible.

 

 

WONDERWOMAN: SPIRIT OF TRUTH. Fourth giant-sized annual from painter Alex Ross and, like SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH, the premise is a good one, that there are limits to what the best intentions of a single person can achieve, howsoever good-hearted and empowered they may be. Wonder Woman can help in disasters, take down criminals, but when she ventures into foreign affairs, hoping to stop the practice of using human shields in a war zone, her involvement creates fear amongst those whom she seeks to help.

So she talks to Clark Kent, who has experienced such frustrations and who suggests that the view from street level is substantially different from the perspective of one who can fly; and she might perhaps try working with people rather than above them.

So she does. She goes on protest marches and averts an escalation by snapping a gun in two; she attends a peaceful demonstration against loggers operating in a rain forest which the country’s government has already been paid substantial amounts of money to preserve and secretly sabotages their equipment with her super-strength. And she returns (in disguise) to the country where she met an impasse, joining the human shields as they’re about to be moved to another area where the bombs will be falling… and blows up the truck, freeing the women.

 

 

 

Now, if the idea of the book is to educate young readers about some of the world’s injustices, I think these are great vehicles. They’re beautiful, awe-inspiring, and written with accessible language. I’d certainly recommend the Superman volume to any parent buying it for a youngster.

But more than most superhero stories the Wonder Woman and Shazam tales inadvertently support Dave CEREBUS Sim’s contention that the entire genre is strictly male fantasy fodder. It is merely a flaw of this book that the solutions offered above are, even in this context, no such thing: there would be nothing to stop the dictatorship rounding up and replacing the women the second kindly Diana leaves the stage. But each one of Diana’s little tricks also involves the use of a superpower, the private fantasy of the Mummy’s Boy who’d love to just kick those bullies’ asses if only he had cawwabungium claws. Which he doesn’t.

And – maybe I just got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning – I think this is… distracting. Whenever important issues are brought ‘realistically’ into the superhero genre it is rare that they aren’t trivialised partly because – superheroes not actually existing – the solutions are impossible. We don’t have that magic wand. We’ve got to deal with things as they stand.

Mark Millar is quite often the exception. Initially fearing the worst, I found his treatment of Multiple Sclerosis in SUPERIOR to be surprisingly canny – the very antithesis of the pitfalls I point out above – while his two ULTIMATES books proved to be a lacerating diatribe on America’s duplicitous, geo-political neo-imperialism, cleverly reconceived for the specific sub-genre that is superhero comics.

SLH

Buy Justice League: The World’s Greatest Heroes s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Marvel Knights Punisher Complete Collection vol 1 s/c (£31-99, Marvel) by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon, Doug Braithwaite.

Collects PUNISHER (2000) #1-12, PUNISHER (2001) #1-5 and PUNISHER KILLS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE, which is substantially more than just ‘Welcome Back Frank’. However, this contains that too.

“I can’t believe you’re actually doing this…!”
“You’re a monster and I’m killing you. It’s not complicated.”

The Punisher’s reason for living is to eliminate people he doesn’t like. Not for Frank, the moral vagaries of two wrongs and a right. He’s not here to soliloquise, he’s here to blow people’s heads off, and time wasted weighing the scales of justice is time that could be far more effectively and satisfying spent with an Uzi, a six-pack of hand-grenades and a mortuary full of Mafiosi.

For the creators of PREACHER, this laugh-out-loud burlesque was one long opportunity for some seriously black comedy as deadpan Frank slaughters his way to the top, both disarming and dismembering an increasingly grotesque crime lord, Ma Gnucci. Yes, it’s Ennis’s trademark Loss of Limbs Motif.

His first stint on Frank Castle, this is a far cry from what he went on to accomplish in the far more socio-political PUNISHER MAX, but sometimes you have to eat the hamburger to appreciate the steak* and this is the Linda McCartney Vegetarian Mozzarella quarter pounder of burgers for which product placement I’d appreciate a lifetime’s supply: very, very tasty.

Anything and everything is a weapon to Frank, so imagine what he can do in a zoo.

 

 

 

As with PREACHER, it’s friendship and loyalty which form the heart of the book, coming this time courtesy of the unsuspecting naïfs he’s shacked up with in rented accommodation: punk Spacker Dave, the over-excitable man of so many piercings that he’s become a human curtain rail…

“Doing the town, huh?” he asks, as Frank leaves their home.
“It’s tempting.”

 

 

… Mr. Bumpo the balloon-shaped pizza addict constantly stuck in his own doorway, and shy young Joan who brings Frank freshly baked cookies as tokens of her timid affection.

Steve Dillon acts his heart out, playing Frank imperturbably straight in the even most ludicrous circumstances, pulling bloated Mr. Bumpo through his own doorway without breaking his stride, constantly emphasising the man’s efficiency. Dillon is a master of communicating emotion through expression, so that although anger appears to come easily to artists (on the page!), few do pants-wettingly worried as well as Dillon. And there’s plenty to worry the wrong people here.

 

 

 

With ‘Welcome Back Frank’ alone, you’re in for twelve full chapters which I concede I haven’t read for a couple of decades or so, but Jonathan recalls Frank being less than impressed by three copy-cat vigilantes who want to join forces with him and I once referred to this as “the comicbook equivalent of an Arnie film, but with fewer plot holes and a lot less overacting”. Sounds about right.

* Thank you, Marc Almond (‘Ugly Head’)

SLH

Buy Marvel Knights Punisher Complete Collection vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

New reviews to follow, but if they’re new formats of previous books, reviews may already be up; others will retain their Diamond previews information we receive displayed as ‘Publisher Blurb’

The Chancellor And The Citadel s/c (£13-99, Iron Circus Comics) by Maria Capelle Frantz

Diosamante (£14-99, Humanoids) by Alejandro Jodorowsky & Jean-Claud Gal

Fence vol 2 (£10-99, Boom) by C.S. Pacat &  Johanna The Mad

Hellblazer vol 20: Systems Of Control s/c (£22-99, DC) by Andy Diggle, Mike Carey & Leonardo Manco, Danijel Zezelj

Jim Henson’s The Power Of The Dark Crystal vol 1 s/c (£12-99, Archaia) by Simon Spurrier & Kelly Matthews, Nichole Matthews

The Lady Doctor (£14-99, Myriad) by Ian Williams

Mega Robo Bros vol 3: Mega Robo Revenge (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Neill Cameron

A Million Ways To Die Hard h/c (£12-99, Insight Comics) by Frank Tieri & Mark Texeira

RASL Colour Edition vol 3 (of 3) The Fire Of St George s/c (£11-99, Cartoon Books) by Jeff Smith

Black Hammer vol 3: Age of Doom Part 1 s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Jeff Lemire & Dean Ormston, Dave Stewart

Witchfinder vol 5: Gates Of Heaven s/c (£17-99, Dark Horse) by Chris Roberson, Mike Mignola &  D’Israeli

Batman Shadow: The Murder Geniuses s/c (£14-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, Steve Orlando & Riley Rossmo

Dark Days: The Road To Metal s/c (£16-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, various & Andy Kubert, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, various

Hal Jordan And The Green Lantern Corps vol 7: Darkstars Rising s/c (Rebirth) (£16-99, DC) by Robert Venditti & Rafael Sandoval, various

Astonishing X-Men vol 3: Until Our Hearts Stop s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Matthew Rosenberg & Greg Land, Neil Edwards

Deadpool vol 1: Mercin’ Hard For The Money s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Skottie Young & Nick Klein, Scott Hepburn

Spider-Geddon vol 1: Edge of Spider-Geddon s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Jed MacKay, Aaron Kuder, various &Gerardo Sandoval, Aaron Kucer, various

Tony Stark Iron Man vol 1: Self-Made Man s/c (£14-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Valerio Schiti, Max Dunbar, various

Wolverine: Old Man Logan vol 10: End Of The World s/c (£15-99, Marvel) by Ed Brisson & Damian Couceiro, Ibraim Roberson, Simone Di Meo

20th Century Boys Perfect Edition vol 2 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa

An Invitation From A Crab (£11-99, Denpa) by Panpanya

Barefoot Gen vol 3 (£14-99, Last Gasp) by Keiji Nakazawa

Gantz Omnibus vol 2 (£22-99, Dark Horse) by Hiroya Oku

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 2: Battle Tendency h/c vol 2 (£12-99, Viz) by Hirohiko Araki

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 1: Phantom Blood vol 2 h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Hirohiko Araki

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 1: Phantom Blood vol 3 h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Hirohiko Araki

Tokyo Ghoul re: vol 8 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

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