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The Many Deaths of Frank Castle

February 14th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Last week, we lost one hell of an ongoing series with Punisher MAX #22 by Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon. A lot of the time, when a series is canceled, the writer will claim that it isn’t true and that they insisted it end at this point. Sometimes it smells like bullshit, but here it’s legit as Aaron takes the MAX incarnation of the character to the logical conclusion. Frank Castle of Earth-200111 (yes, I looked it up), is dead. After taking on MAX incarnations of some of his usual punching bags, Frank’s body has finally given out and he collapses after being the last man standing one last time.

But so what? So he’s dead. Big deal. Frank Castle dies all the time, doesn’t he? Sure. I’ve seen it so many times I decided to take a trip down memory lane. As far as I can tell, here is the master list of all the times Frank has kicked the bucket. Now, of course, I’m not counting any “Earth blows up” scenarios because that goes without saying. I don’t need to mention every single time the Phoenix devours the universe. It has to be specifically about Frank buying the farm. I’ll also pass on the really vague mentions, like how he died somewhere along the line prior to Punisher 2099.

Despite debuting in 1974, it would take 17 years for any version of Frank to die. Not only did he die in 1991, but he died a lot. In the second volume of Marvel’s What If, Frank died three issues in a row! Let’s begin with that.

Comic: What If #24 (What If Wolverine Was Lord of the Vampires?)
Year: 1991
Writer: Roy Thomas and R.J.M. Lofficier
Artist: Tom Morgan
Background: The world of this issue is based on the time the X-Men fought Dracula. Rather than be defeated, Dracula turns the team to his side. Wolverine, being so awesome, has enough willpower to challenge Dracula. He ends up killing the Count and takes over his throne. While these days, a supernatural outbreak needs to take over the entire world to show that shit’s gotten real, Wolverine is happy enough taking over Manhattan and using it as his vampire nest. With no real reason given, some heroes and villains are turned to slaves while others are ordered by Wolverine to be killed completely. I feel the need to mention that artist Tom Morgan decided to include Frog-Man of all people into that latter group. Anyway, the whole city is in chaos and in that chaos is Frank Castle with a headband and a whole lot of silver bullets.

In regular continuity, Dr. Strange would read a spell that would wipe out all vampires. Vampire Wolverine gets wind of this and has Vampire Juggernaut take down Strange. Strange possesses the bitching cape and the Eye of Agamotto, then joins it with the Punisher to make the ultimate vampire-killing machine. Because nobody cared about Blade back then.

Punisher killing superhero vampires is a thing to see. He melts Colossus with holy water and fries Juggernaut with the Eye of Agamotto. That leads him to a one-on-one fight with Wolverine.

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The long, difficult road to liking the Punisher

July 16th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

 

 

For a few weeks, I house-sat for a friend of mine who has a floor-to-ceiling shelf of comic trades.  While patiently waiting for his cat to come out from under the bed so I could make sure she was still alive, I picked up a few of those trades and started reading.  I started with a massive Marvel hardcover of Garth Ennis’ original run on the Punisher, before he got the Max title, in part because I remembered David mentioning that a character named Joan returned in the run.

After that, I moved on to the ten Garth Ennis Punisher Max trades that comprise the most celebrated run anyone ever had on Punisher.  (What can I say?  It was a long trip and a shy cat.)  I’ve often repeated a saying about the Punisher that I’ve read online, “The more I read about the Punisher, the less I like him.”  After having read all the most loved Punisher stories, I have to say I finally changed my mind.  I do like the Punisher.  I even kind of like his world, although I expect I’ll have to be sparing with my Punisher reading since there are plenty of things that happen in that world that I don’t want to read about.

When I look at my ongoing reaction to the Punisher, and Punisher stories, I think what bothered me most all along was not the Punisher or his world – which I can read or hear about without having too much of an emotional reaction – but the way he’s sold to me.

When I’ve read Punisher reviews by people who are fans of the comic, I often run across the phrase, “You may not like him,” or “You’re not supposed to like him,” or even “I’m not sure I like him.”  Having read the books, I have to say that all those phrases are weapons-grade crap.  I don’t believe even one of them.  Of course you’re supposed to like the Punisher.  He’s the best fighter, the best tactician, the best judge of character, and the most purely committed to his cause without prejudice.  Oh, and he’s a war hero.  Also, when it comes to taking care not to have any civilian casualties, he’s more careful than specially-trained army and police forces.  He gets visas for mistreated undocumented immigrants.  He has a soft spot for damsels in distress.  In scenes when people are freaking out, he acts as impromptu counselor to get them back on their feet.  And is there a cute little kid?  You bet there is!  She loves the Punisher and hugs his knees and he stands over her for days making sure that she’s safe.  And finally, just for fun, he gives a cantankerous old man in a bar a bottle of the man’s favorite vodka, and makes the bartender treat him with respect.  Of course you’re supposed to like this guy.  And of course you do like this guy.  Don’t try to tell me different.

I’m not complaining about liking him.  Everything I said up there about the Punisher can be applied to Batman, Superman, and any other superhero.  As written by Garth Ennis, the characters who exposit just how great Frank Castle is at everything become well-rounded characters who are interesting to listen to when they speak.  The victims have voices, opinions, and speaking styles instead of predictable lines.  These are actual characters, not just props who stumble in and say whatever lines are needed to set the story in motion.  (Except the little kid.  There is no little kid in any fictional medium that even approximates what an actual child is like.  Maybe that’s because no kid lends his or herself to a coherent story.  They’re still too much like little space aliens come down to earth to fit into anyone else’s plot line.)

The reason you like him is he’s the only character who actually makes sense.  The thesis of the Punisher is set up in the first few pages of the Max storyline.  He recounts the story of his wife and kids being killed by chance during a mob shooting, and says that that was the day when the world went insane.  He finishes up with a line that goes (roughly), “I go out every night and make the world sane.”  If a guy in the real world were to say that with a massive gun in his hand, it would be time to run.  In this world, it’s correct.  People are in agonizing situations for which there is no effective help.  Official channels are clogged with corruption, technical procedure, and the need for public approval.  Unofficial channels are too weak and unprepared to be protection against the threats that face them.  And, over it all, there’s societal ignorance and indifference.

Set against this backdrop are, usually, two main sets of players.  There are villains who wow us with their sadism and evil, and who engage us with their petty prejudices and meanness.  And then there’s team Punisher.  As much as the Punisher is spoken of as a Force of Nature who Works Alone, he’s usually paired up with someone in these books.  Sometimes they’re reluctant to help him in any way.  Sometimes they’re insisting he join them.  Either way, the team up works because there is someone to bounce different ideas and opinions off the character, and draw out different sides of him.  Through these characters we see the Punisher’s philosophy, his disgust, his sense of duty, his more emotional sides, and the large part of him that’s still a soldier in the traditional sense of the word.  By going through these books, beginning and ending with military plots that show the Punisher as a soldier, we get a complete sense of his character, why he’s necessary to this particular world, and how he fits into it.

These are very good stories, which is why the ‘selling’ of the Punisher doesn’t work.  In most of the issues, especially the issue of Max, characters are mostnly wrong to the degree that they disagree with the Punisher.  The more they differ from the Punisher, in situation assessment, personal philosophy, background, taste, and opinion, the worse they are.  Characters the reader is meant to respect – not necessarily like, but admire and trust the judgment of – talk up the Punisher’s professionalism, fighting technique, and personal character.  There are times when the Punisher is unaccountably contemptuous of certain characters.  They turn out to be bad.  There are times when he strangely decides to trust – although characters are careful to say that he never really trusts anyone completely.  They turn out to be good.  He’s perfect.  And yet, the whole world is against him.  Almost everyone resists giving him information.  Almost everyone is morally repulsed by him and feels the need to say so, despite being knee-deep in the proof that he’s the only one who can help.  In one story, the cops all hate him and several of them try to frame him for a crime he never committed.  In the next, a bunch of slain mobsters’ wives complain that the police all love him and won’t move against him.  Everyone is against poor Frank, despite him being the best guy ever.

When I read these stories, I believe that the Punisher is the only person in that world who could adequately deal with the problems that are presented.  I also believe that he doesn’t kill a single innocent person.  In the real world, a guy like this would.  But if he did in comics, the character’s justification would collapse, and I like the character, so I’m willing to believe that he’s meticulous enough to never hurt anyone who doesn’t deserve it.  There are plenty of inventive and compassionate characterizations that twist the reader into liking a character they initially hated, or being soured on someone they initially liked.  To have a more crude push towards the Punisher as the be-all and end-all of characters, chopping down other characters or manipulating storylines to get there, feels like a loss of faith in the reader.

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Fourcast! 91: Nick Fury and Garth Ennis

July 11th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

-This started out as a typically free-wheeling conversation about Nick Fury through the lenses of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s Fury and Fury: Peacemaker, along with Jim Steranko’s classic ’60s stuff.
-Garth Ennis definitely dominated the conversation, though.
-Here’s a bit of sexy from STERANKO!:


-Oh er oh my, missus
-Here’s an impression of Steranko’s Fury: :c00lbert:
-And here is Ennis’s: :argh:
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-Here comes a new challenger!
-See you, space cowboy!

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Fourcast! 86: The Wonderful Punisher of Oz

May 23rd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

-You Made Me Read This!
-I made Esther read Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, and Jimmy Palmiotti’s violent Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank
-She made me read L Frank Baum, Eric Shanower, and Skottie Young’s sublime The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
-”Made” may be the wrong word for that last one.
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-Here comes a new challenger!
-See you, space cowboy!

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Fourcast! 74: Buffy and the Boys

January 31st, 2011 Posted by david brothers

-Esther reads Joss Whedon’s Buffy!
-I read Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s The Boys!
-Both series can be massively unsatisfying.
-They can also be very entertaining.
-So we’re talking about examples of both, and why the downsides sometimes outweigh the upsides.
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-See you, space cowboy!

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5 Series: Battlefields

July 21st, 2010 Posted by david brothers

The best war stories are ones that focus on the people involved in the war, even if it is to the exclusion of any attention paid to the war itself. I think that was my problem with Joe Kubert’s Dong Xoai–it had characters, but they were practically blank slates. Dong Xoai was tilted too far onto the side of simply telling the story as it happened and it lacked heart. Garth Ennis has made the specific kind of war stories I like his stock in trade, from his work at Vertigo with War Stories to his ongoing series of miniseries Battlefields at Dynamite.

Battlefields has a very simple, but fresh, gimmick. Each arc is three issues long and focuses on one front and one group of characters, with one person in that group usually serving as a focal point. This format, sixty-six pages and out, is an effective one, allowing Ennis to drop you into a life and pull you out of it over the course of three issues. You get just enough to be interested, and then the story’s over and you’re on to the next one. The pace keeps you interested, kind of like how a huge part of Amazing Spider-Man appeal right now is sheer momentum.

The variety isn’t what drew me to Battlefields (that was just the thought of Ennis doing more war stories), but it was kept me there. In the first series, you hip-hopped from Russia to Asia to Europe. The stories dealt with subjects like how to deal with war, healing from mental wounds, how people become hardened in the face of violence, or just how sometimes people were completely outclassed but still managed to make do. It shed light on actual stories by being based at least slightly on true stories, in the case of Night Witches, or simply took its cues from history and spun off into something else entirely.

The series varies in tone as well as content, of course. There’s a kind of black humor floating over Tankies, with a Corporal who talks funny and a crew who aren’t afraid to talk about it behind his back. You’ll chuckle at least a little bit at what they get up to. Night Witches is oppressive, taking place on one of the hardest fronts of the war and throwing innocents directly at the German army. There are jokes in there, but they’re the jokes of the doomed and damned. Nothing is pretty. Dear Billy is a melancholy love story. The war and action take a backseat to a woman and the man she’s fallen in love with. Happy Valley feels like a goofy getting-to-know you tale, where the curmudgeonly old vets have to welcome an eager and talented newcomer into the fold. The stories are always serious and treated with respect, of course, but there’s variety in how they’re told.

By and large, Battlefields is simple to a fault. The characters are invariably human, flawed in believable ways, struck by fear at inopportune times, and thrown into the thresher of World War II. No one comes out of the series the same way they entered it, and sometimes that means that people have to die. You aren’t reading about heroes or supermen. Not even close. These are, at best, decent people dealt a bad hand. There’s no flourish, no moment when someone jumps into the fray with two guns ablaze. There really aren’t even any of those motivational speeches that always seem to pop up in WWII tales.

The art is varied, too. Russ Braun, Peter Snejbjerg, PJ Holden, and Carlos Ezquerra don’t look all that much alike as far as style goes, but they’re all talented artists. Braun and Ezquerra bring an ugly grit to the proceedings, rendering tanks and the Russian front as being appropriately sandpapery. Snejbjerg is great at drawing human beings, so a conversation-heavy volume like Dear Billy is the perfect book for him. Holden gets to draw dogfights, something notoriously tough to do in comics, but performs well.

The crew of artists is a boon to Battlefields. This is, in essence, anthology comic, a series of short stories being published under one banner. Each story, in addition to being set in diverse locales, has a unique visual style. The art complements the story, so that sad stories have sad art and brutal ones look the part. It makes sense, Each story is set apart from its brethren visually and tonally.

So, boiled down–simple stories about normal people during a war delivered in satisfying chunks.

Good comics.

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The Cipher 06/23/10

June 23rd, 2010 Posted by david brothers


Battlefields #7: Motherland, Part 1 of 3. Written by Garth Ennis, drawn by Russ Braun, colored by Tony Aviña, lettered by Simon Bowland. Cover art by Garry Leach. Read the preview.

Can we pretend that airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars?
I could really use a wish right now…

Hey, women in comics! People talk about that! Or at least women in superhero comics, which I guess is a little different. This, though, is what we should all be talking about. It’s great. Garth Ennis has taken his War Stories to Dynamite and has managed to keep the quality more or less as high as it was at Vertigo. In Battlefields, each story is three issues long and skips around in the European and Pacific theaters. I reviewed Dear Billy last September.

The third of this current cycle of Battlefields is “Motherland.” It’s the return of the main character from my favorite story from the last book. Anna Borisnova Kharkova is a member of the Night Witches, a group of all-female Soviet bombers in World War II. Read up on them, they’re pretty interesting. In the first book, Anna was a little wet behind the ears. By the time this one comes around, she’s been hardened by battle and seems pretty unhappy with her lot in life. She’s stuck in a situation where she is going to be just one of many soldiers being used for cannon fodder against the Germans. The base she’s operating out of is building up to the Battle of Kursk, for better or for worse. Honestly, judging by the odds, it’s just gonna be for worse.

This is a good one. I’ve read it already and it may end up being my favorite of the latest cycle once again. There’s a couple things that feel a little pat (the plucky girl particularly), but seeing Anna all mean… it works. I’m hooked. Bravo. If you want to get familiar, cop the Battlefields HC. Three stories, nine issues, twenty bones. The individual trades will cost you like ten a piece, so might as well double your dollars for three times the tales.

Also on my list for this week: Amazing Spider-Man #635 (Joe Kelly/Michael Lark), Heralds #4 (Kathryn Immonen/Tonci Zonjic/James Harren/Emma Rios), Joe the Barbarian #6 (Grant Morrison/Sean Murphy), King City #9 (Brandon Graham), and Thunderbolts #145 (Jeff Parker/Kev Walker).

Well. That’s a pretty good looking batch of comics there. I wish that Heralds was all Zonjic, but Harren was okay last time and Emma Rios is pretty talented. And really, when my biggest complaint for the week is “I wish one good artist had done this instead of a few good ones,” hey. That’s a good week.

Big news this week: DC’s joined up with comiXology to push hard on digital comics. Comics Alliance has all the news you need right here, and will have updates throughout the day, including an op-ed from yours truly and an interview with Jim Lee. Here’s the main details.

Digital comics! Time to put up or shut up. How long until I can buy a comic digitally and then grab the trade when that comes out? Someone make that happen. We can do business.

What’re you buying this week? Are you going to take the digital leap on your iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch? I tried to check it out last night when it went live, but apparently my poor widdle first-gen iPod Touch isn’t ready for the app. It crashes whenever I try to download. I’ll try again later, since I know several people who have had no trouble at all.

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From Brooklyn to Tokyo

March 11th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Ron Wimberly’s been in Japan for the past few weeks, making me mad jealous. I’ve only been once, in the fall of ’08 for a work trip. All expenses paid was nice, but staying only a week was too short. But them’s the breaks! I did buy about five hundred bucks worth of clothes, though!

Ron’s been busy, drawing comics and making connects. He’s got a big deal coming up, so I’ll let him (and Benetton) tell it:

On Saturday, March 13th, Benetton Japan will be hosting a live paint show by an American artist, Ronald Wimberly, to celebrate Benetton Mega Store Shinjuku’s renewal opening. During the event, which takes place from 3pm to 9pm, the artist will be painting on a big screen in the window, which will be reported live on Ustream at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/benettonpress.

So, details:
Where: Benetton Mega Store Shinjuku‘s official Ustream channel
When: If you’re EST (where Brooklyn at), 0100-0300 Saturday morning. For those of us in PST (From Oakland to Sac-town, the Bay Area and back down), you can check it out from 2200-0000 on Friday evening. For those inbetween… do the math.
Who: Ron Wimberly, aka
What: Live painting

Tune in, you might see something cool. In the meantime, check out the kid’s site, revisit his Black Future Month interview, or get familiar with GratNin. You can also read the press release.

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Garth Ennis’ Most Revealing Moment?

February 26th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Cut, because you might be at work and I’m posting a scan from a freaking Garth Ennis comic.

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This Week in Panels: Week 14

December 27th, 2009 Posted by Gavok

Ready for another week. Sadly, the super awesome Ares miniseries comes to a close. I’ll miss it.

Amazing Spider-Man #616
Fred Van Lente and Javier Pulido

Arkham Reborn #3
David Hine and Jeremy Haun

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