Weekly Comic Reviews! 08/13/08 (Updated)

Since my “Reading Today’s Batman” and Final Crisis features have generated far more hits than any other content  posted on this blog, I’ve decided to further the comic-related content by posting weekly reviews, much as Kirk Warren does at The Weekly Crisis. IGN and numerous other comic websites follow this trend, but I’ve always been somewhat disappointed by the lack of diversity in this commentary; readers who want informed, well-written reviews really don’t have a ton of options, I’ve found. Thus, I’m throwing down, baby. Let’s get nerd-nasty. Or something.
People who read this blog for other reasons – those who know me personally or happen upon it by random Google searches – need not fret, for of course my “regular” content will continue. In other words, if you don’t like it… Well, at least it only happens once a week!

Without further ado…

Comic Book of the Week:

PUNISHER #60

GARTH ENNIS & GORAN PARLOV

This is the final chapter in Garth Ennis‘ monumental run on The Punisher: MAX series. The 10-volume series (12 if you count the vital Punisher: Born and less-remarkable Punisher: From First to Last) is one of my favorites, and though the art and general presentation have always been fantastic, credit for this is given solely to the immense writing talent of Ennis, who is otherwise famous for the Preacher series. On paper, the Punisher may well be one of the least interesting of Marvel’s hallmark heroes. He’s a disgruntled dude that carries a bunch of guns and shoots people. A paragon of innovation this Frank Castle is not.

Yet Ennis enriched the character with a stirring backstory, twisting what was once a man into an elemental, an unyielding force of vengeance and justice that spills blood like rain in the Amazon. There has been a wondrous depth to most of Ennis’ plotlines, from the horrific Vietnam origin story to “The Slavers,” an arc that deals with human trafficking in gory detail. Throughout all of it, the Punisher has maintained a quiet stoicism, ending thousands of lives in cold blood as plainly as one might eat a sandwich. Ennis often confronts readers with his Punisher; is his endless rampage justified? Is this man human anymore? What could create such a monster?

With this final chapter, the ravenous, bloody chickens are coming home to roost. Titled “Valley Forge, Valley Forge,” Ennis is tying up all lose ends and bringing us back to the beginning of what is now a veritable Punisher canon. The Punisher, having acquired a video tape confession that puts a number of U.S. military leaders in a very compromising position for their actions in the third volume, “Mother Russia,” (which may incidentally be the best of this entire series), is being tracked by marine operatives so that he can be put down once and for all. As of the beginning of this chapter, he’s been captured by Colonel Howe who now finds himself questioning whether ending the Punisher for the protection of these sick men is right.

I’ve been critical of this arc from the start – it’s way slower than the nine that preceded it, littered with generally boring and extraneous excerpts from the fictional novel “Valley Forge, Valley Forge” that offers commentary on what really happened during the Vietnam War incident that birthed the Punisher. Ennis, as he’s done from time to time during his Punisher tenure, is offering some not-so-subtle thoughts on America’s current conflict, but unlike that which was presented in previous volumes, Valley Forge, Valley Forge’s felt very forced and obvious.

Well, thankfully, it’s all pulled together for this final issue. The commentary hits hard but is graciously short and sweet. Ennis makes the interesting choice of depositing a war-ethics exegesis into a book about a man that slaughters mercilessly for the continued entertainment of Marvel’s readers, but damn, it works. This is a very satisfying conclusion not only to “Valley Forge, Valley Forge,” but Garth Ennis’ entire run on this book (which you can soon buy as one splendid hardcover). This is not The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe (also by Garth Ennis but obviously not quite as serious of a take on the character), but rather something that is genuinely meaningful and entertaining.

Yep, a Punisher comic that’ll make you think. How about that?

SO, read it? – Absolutely. I even think this could be enjoyed without having read the issues that preceded it. It’ll probably hit harder for those of you that are familiar with the ins-and-outs of the MAX series, but I would in no way consider it a requisite (but hey, it’s awesome so read it anyway).

CONTINUED REVIEWS:

BATMAN #679

by Grant Morrison, Tony Daniel, and Sandu Florea

This is the fourth part of the continuing “Batman R.I.P.” storyline. At this point, Batman is strung out on “weapons grade meth” and heroin, convinced that he’s the Batman from Zur-En-Arrh, and is communicating with what he perceives as talking gargoyles and the Bat-Mite. Nightwing is about to be dissected in Arkham Asylum, Robin’s fending for himself, and Doctor Hurt, the primary villain at this point, is attempting to convince a thoroughly wounded Alfred that he is Thomas Wayne and that Bruce is, in fact, the love child between Alfred and his “adulterous witch of a wife.”

Hey, it’s Grant Morrison. He’s allowed to be crazy.

This event is going in something of a different direction than I had forseen, and not a single one of the R.I.P. issues has quite equaled the post-Batman and Son stories that Morrison wrote, but it’s all fun stuff regardless. I’m very disappointed that we didn’t get the Robin-Damian interactions we were promised in the preview for this issue, but at the very least the story is gaining some momentum and it definitely seems as if some serious shit is about to go down next issue (let’s pray it doesn’t get delayed like this one). It’s good stuff, but at this point, I can’t help but feel like a little more could be done with this series, if only because everything leading up to it was so intense and riveting.

SO, read it? – If you’re already reading R.I.P., definitely. Otherwise, I’d recommend getting all of Morrison’s stuff that came before it first. It’s a fun story, but people are starting to liken it to Frank Miller’s crazy take on the character over in All-Star Batman and Robin, and I’m not entirely sure they’re off-base.

SECRET INVASION #5

by Brian Michael Bendis, Lenil Francis Yu, Mark Morales, Laura Martin

Marvel’s summer popcorn event continues, and things are finally starting to get interesting. We finally get a resolution to the slow plotline over in the Savage Land, the Skrulls raise the stakes, and humanity is finally given a fighting chance against the invading doppelgangers.

That said, last issue ended with Thor and Captain America storming onto the scene – which was boner-inducing, to be sure – but they are absolutely, 100% absent from this issue. What the Hell’s up with that, Bendis?

At least the actual plot is starting to get meatier. Prior to this issue, each release of Secret Invasion was kind of like a $4 book of pretty pictures. Entertaining, but hey, I’m on a budget here, Marvel. I’m definitely intrigued by the direction things seem to be moving in, and to be honest, it’s kind of nice to have some lighter fare supplementing the grim likes of Final Crisis and Batman.

SO, read it? – This is a light, shiny, fun book that pretty much anyone could enjoy. It’s not deep by any means, but uh, it’s not trying to be either. It’s possible that there are better things to spend your money on, but if you’re looking for a fun read involving all of Marvel’s heavy hitters, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more suitable match this summer.

FINAL CRISIS: REVELATIONS #1

by Greg Rucka, Philip Tan, Jeff De Los Santos, Jonathon Glapion

What a mess.

The Final Crisis tie-ins have been superb thus far (Requiem is among the best comics I’ve read all year), which makes this less-than-stellar outing from Rucka all the more disappointing. The story is all over the place and the whole thing basically felt like an excuse for the Spectre to melt Dr. Light into a gigantic candle. Frankly, I’m sick of the whole to-do about Dr. Light as a rapist; the continued debasement of his character into caricature is cheapening his role in Identity Crisis (and it was damn cheap to begin with), and it’s tiresome.

(Though admittedly the prospect of Starfire and Raven holding down Donna Troy for his sick sex games was ridiculous and terrible enough to be entertaining.)

We get a quick fight between Spectre and Libra followed by a janky subplot with The Question, and none of it holds together very well. I enjoy these characters, and Rucka is usually a great writer, but the only thing that impressed me with this issue was the art, which was fantastic and fit the mood very well. I’ll probably pick up the rest of the series, if only because I’m a dirty little whore (and Batwoman is in it!), but I’ll not be expecting much from future outings.

SO, read it? – If you’re as enamored with the prospect of Final Crisis as I am (though the connection here is somewhat tenuous), or if you really, really like these characters. Otherwise, it’s not worth the higher cost and could easily be skipped.

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