Comics

The Punisher (2004) #45, Widowmaker, Part 3 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  45Lots of action this issue. Frank’s taking out of a convoy of mob cars—the first page has Medina and Reinhold doing photo-reference on James Gandolfini but the character never figures in later so it’s not The Punisher vs. The Sopranos—but there’s a catch. The widows have put their decoy damsel in distress in one of the trunks and it’s her job to convince Frank to go with her into a trap. Since he’s a dumb lug when it comes to endangered women, he’ll go for it.

The comic goes from the action to the widows figuring out their plan. They luck out because one of them is willing to sleep with the mobsters to get information… and to just generally distract them. Ennis doesn’t specifically contrast the mobsters’ inability to refuse an easy lay with Frank’s weakness for women in danger, but there’s a general mood to it: men aren’t bright.

While the widows are plotting, they’ve got the mystery woman following them around and watching from afar. The issue’s either from the widows’ perspectives or the mobsters’. Frank gets some action-packed panels, but other than his full page establishing shot, the firefight is entirely from the mobsters’ perspective. No narration. Even when he finds the damsel, it’s still from her perspective, with Ennis offering no hint at how Frank is processing her bullshit story, which the reader knows all about.

It is a juxtaposition as far as Frank’s damsel in distress weakness and the mob guys thinking more with the little head than the big, but there’s nothing explicit about it. It’s a fact of life, kind of like how Ennis utilizes the randy widow. At least one of the other women seem to understand the plan only works because of the randy one’s willingness, but Ennis doesn’t dwell. He’s got the story he’s doing and he doesn’t get distracted. There’s a lot of context, which he establishes, but doesn’t engage.

The issue ends on a hard cliffhanger: Frank walking right into the trap, presumably unaware of anything being amiss, blinded by his sympathy.

It’s very nicely plotted, even if it is just moving Frank into position for what comes next. It doesn’t feel particularly bridging thanks to Ennis splitting the action sequence up with the widows’ plotting. He also gives the mobsters under attack just enough personality to keep things moving. It’s an efficient, effective issue.

The Punisher (2004) #44, Widowmaker, Part 2 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  44

Ennis opens the issue with Frank killing a couple child pornographers. It’s a few pages, with Frank considering his options considering the kids (and victims) are at home, as well as how much he wants to watch the perpetrators suffer. The growing itch he didn’t realize he had the desire to scratch. It’s Ennis’s long-term character development with Frank as the series progresses, understanding and exploring what’s going on under the skin.

After the opening, Frank’s out of the issue. Ennis splits the rest between the widows, the mystery woman stalking the widows, and Black NYPD detective Paul Budiansky.

The widows decide they’ve figured out Frank’s weakness—vulnerable women—from reading about The Slavers arc. Ennis plays their scenes for a combination of comedy and exposition, in case someone picking up Widowmaker had somehow missed the early arc and needed some catch-up. It’s fine exposition and decent enough comic relief (there’s no other place for it in the issue), but it’s all set up for the mystery woman, who’s right on the widows’ heels.

The mystery woman gets a scene where—if the reader paid attention last issue—there’s a bit of information conveyed. A little of the mystery revealed. Though it takes a reader who’s not just paying attention to the many Italian surnames the comic throws around, but also interrupted exclamation statements. Even though he’s very thorough with the expository catch-up, Ennis seems confident his reader is paying at least some attention.

Black NYPD detective Paul Budiansky—who Medina and Reinhold visualize half the time as Sam Jackson, half the time as… someone else; not Sam Jackson—is a complete aside. His big scene is in a mandatory therapy session with a shrink who condescends to him in an incredibly unprofessional manner. Budiansky took out a school shooter, saving kids but also killing one, and Ennis juxtaposes him and his processing of the event with Frank (as Budiansky—and everyone else—is as aware of Frank as Frank’s oblivious to them). Then there’s a scene with Budiansky and his wife as they try to support one another being Black people working in White supremacist institutions (he’s a cop, she’s a nurse).

The arc’s shaping up to be both accessible and not. Ennis is laying out the pieces, examining them as he does, situating them in relation to one another—how does Budiansky’s story look through this lens, how does it look when the lens is tilted (the loving husband bit is a—pleasant—surprise). Ennis is never too obvious, even with the deliberate expository sections, but he always spends enough time on each piece to make it resonate.

It’s not the most exciting comic—Frank taking out the bad guys at the open intentionally doesn’t get to have the emotional pay-off the Punisher offing child pornographers could easily have—instead it’s a gradual, intentional one.

Medina and Reinhold’s art, with the possible exception of Budiansky looking markedly different between his two scenes, is solid.

The Punisher (2004) #43, Widowmaker, Part 1 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  43

There’s barely any Frank in this issue. He opens it—gets the first two pages, then writer Garth Ennis shifts the action entirely to the villains. Frank’s been up against the mob, he’s been up against the Russians, he’s been up against big business, but now he’s up against a group of women he’s widowed.

Hence the arc title.

Their story—five women who band together to try to do what the men can’t, kill the Punisher—is separate from what it seems like Frank’s got going on. He narrates the first two pages, thinking about how he’s back to the basics, not torturing criminals anymore in imaginative ways, just terrifying them into talking then putting one in the head. Given the last arc has left Frank with many of the MAX series’s threads tied, not necessarily neatly either, he’s in a new place. A somewhat self-reflective one, where he’s not unsure of himself as much as interested in what not being unsure says about him.

The women have varied histories with the Punisher. Three of them just had their mobster husbands killed (one of them is widowed from a previous arc’s supporting player), one of them stands out because she’s a Black woman (which causes problems for one of the other widows), the organizer calls back to the first issue of the series when Frank took out almost fifty mobsters in the same family. She’s the daughter and granddaughter of the family. They bicker amongst themselves a little—actually it’s mostly telling the racist one to stop being racist and get with the program—then tell their stories, which Ennis flashes back.

He juxtaposes the widows’ plotting with another woman’s night out at the bar, picking up a rando, beating the shit out of him when he gets crosses a line (despite him being a shitheel, he doesn’t actually realize the line’s there… or what being disrespectful is going to get him). The issue ends with the somewhat problematic reveal the woman has had a double mastectomy. She’s also scarred on the face, which she had make-up concealing before… but that detail’s not the emphasis. The double mastectomy is the end reveal, making the issue—which features some questionably written AAVE from the Black widow—maybe Ennis’s most problematic?

But it’s also the most ambitious he’s ever gotten with the villains. He’s giving the mob widows all the power of being just as awful as their husbands. It’s rocky, but far from unsuccessful.

Good art from Lan Medina and Bill Reinhold. There’s a lot of detail, though Medina’s Frank is kind of boring. He’s a generic big guy with nowhere near the personality Medina and Reinhold put into the widows, which doesn’t really work. Showing Frank from their perspectives—their imaginations—would be something. Instead, he’s even more generic and bland (he looks like marketing key art) in the flashbacks than he appears in the first couple pages.

From the first issue, it certainly seems like Widowmaker is going to be a far more intimate affair than Punisher MAX, Frank, and Ennis have been having lately.

Watchmen (2019) s01e09 – See How They Fly

I’ve been trying to gin up enthusiasm to write about this “Watchmen” finale all day. Though, if I think hard enough, I’m sure I’ll be able to come up with a compliment. Something like… thanks to “Watchmen: The Series,” Robert Wisdom’s most… unappreciative recent casting is no longer “The Alienist.” Wisdom shows up in this episode as the newspaper vendor who gets to do a newspaper vendor stand-in for the end of the world (again), though this time he gets paired with Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons).

And, I guess if I’m continuing on the qualified compliments… Irons is a lot better this episode than expected. Sure, it’s because Hong Chau is not, but it’s not like Chau is James Wolk or something. Wolk is truly godawful. Chau’s just disappointing.

Jolie Hoang-Rappaport’s still good as Chau’s assistant though. “Watchmen: The HBO Event Mini-Series”’s successes are few and few between. Cherish them. Even if they don’t make the viewing experience any less ponderous. Though, yeah, if you’re willing to let “Watchmen” get away with a lousy Clair de Lune accompaniment, maybe you’re going to let it get away with a 2001 rip-off. I mean, after the Schindler’s List thing, doing an obvious 2001 callback… well, no, the former is just an excruciatingly cynical eye-roll, the latter is actually comically godawful.

But if you’re willing to cut “Watchmen” that amount of slack already… who cares if the ending is an intentional cop-out, but before that cop-out lazy and trite. I mean, at least the original score functions like an old John Carpenter score again?

I do like how little respect the show has for its audience, when it draws attention to things and tells the viewer to pay attention, then does a flashback anyway because it doesn’t trust them to pay attention. Just like Watchmen the comic. As well as short-changing the entire cast. Because Watchmen the comic did the… oops, no. No, it did not.

The show uses some cheap tricks to get things done in the episode, which “corrects” the ending of the original series. Or something.

If Damon Lindelof had any gumption, he would’ve done a show about trying to adapt Watchmen and why everyone fails at it and sequelizing it. Or do something about how DC and Warner Bros. screwed Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, lying to them for years. Not to mention propping up the Watchmen trade sales while waiting for Hollywood to figure out how to exploit the property.

But he doesn’t. Because Lindelof’s got no gumption. No spoilers but he’s a lot more Return of the Jedi-era George Lucas than anything else… which makes him perfect for a “Disney Star Wars” show.

I think the most disappointing thing is I really thought the show was going to give Lou Gossett Jr. a great mainstream role.

It does not. But it gives him even less of one than expected. And expectations have been dwindling for a while.

As for Regina King… she doesn’t make it worth watching, which is a travesty. It wastes her. Completely.

Back when the Watchmen movie came out a friend who I don’t think had read the comic said it (the movie) proved you could do a different kind of superhero narrative, even if Watchmen didn’t do it successfully. The TV show doesn’t even reach that level; it doesn’t prove its conceptual case, much less do it successfully. It really does make me wonder how people experience reading the comic book, because clearly they’re getting something very different from it than I ever do.

All that said, I really hope I remember not to get roped into Season Two in a few years after they say they’re not doing another season then do another season a little later than expected; maybe an HBO Max exclusive.

A sellout’s adaptation of Watchmen needs the sellout Alan Moore and Damon Lindelof is not the sellout Alan Moore. I mean, have you ever read a Damon Lindelof comic book? They’re terrible. Like his TV shows. Sellouts can make good sellout product, which Lindelof utterly fails at doing here.

Archie Gets a Job! (1977)

Archie Gets a Job  1977

Are Christian comics better or worse since Archie Gets a Job! (from 1977)? The comic promotes a combination of functional illiteracy and profound ignorance, not to mention encouraging teasing of people’s appearances, particularly fat-shaming. Just like Jesus, no doubt.

The comic’s all about Archie and Jughead getting summer jobs at school teacher Mr. Weatherbee’s beach-front Christian book store. It’s not very Christian-y for the first half or so. It’s not, you know, any good—and the fat-shaming starts almost immediately, along with some ageism—but it’s not shockingly insipid Christian-y either. Not until Big Ethel shows up to be shamed for her appearance, only to get a Christian dating book (which is an ad for creator Al Hartley’s son’s real book; Hartley includes an illustration of his son to show off how handsome he is—at least Jughead thinks so, anyway). Pretty soon Veronica shows up at the store to get the same book because all the boys on the beach are enraptured by Ethel reading it to them. Silly Veronica thought her body would get her Christian boys. Not so. They want someone to read them Hartley’s kid’s book.

I do have to admit it might be fun to read the book but not aloud to a beach full of studs. From that point, Hartley lays on the Christian thick. Why get a book on sociology, ecology, or solar energy when you can just read the Bible and not learn anything real at all? And Archie and Jughead are much better fellows for selling Bibles—the Bible “tells you how to be a winner”—than pushing drugs or porno on the beach like other people. Sadly we don’t get to meet those people.

They’d probably be scummier but more amusing.

The last bit of the comic is all about how even teenagers need to tithe, which seems very anti-Capitalist.

There’s actually a couple technically good panels as far as how Hartley plots the action, but the comic’s a disappointment. The cover has Jughead crucified on a giant kite, which has no pay-off in the comic itself.

It might be amusing to read Gets a Job with the seven deadly sins in mind but… probably not. Again, there’s a good reason no one took Archie comics seriously until 2010 or whatever. This thing is dreadful.

Archie’s Parables (1973)

Archie's Parables  1973

Archie’s Parables is Christian comics propaganda from the 1970s and is a great example of why it never would’ve occurred to me to read an Archie comic before, what, 2010 or something. But Parables, courtesy Spire Christian Comics and creator Al Hartley. Though using the word “creator” for Hartley is… a lot. Despite both writing and illustrating Parables, Hartley has a lot of disconnects. Like when medieval Archie and Jughead (mind you, they have some major anachronisms) go dragon-hunting… the dragon seems sympathetic (in the art). So Archie and Jughead are just the thug Christians abusing it.

I mean, okay. Especially since the morale of the story is to run non-Christians out of your neighborhood (Hartley seems like he’d be a great neighbor). And by morale, I mean Hartley takes the time to tell you the morale of the story. To run non-Christians out of your neighborhood.

There’s another one about how reading non-Christian books is bad for you so get a Christian book store. Love how Christian book stores are going out of business in 2020, probably because anyone who read this comic in 1973 forgot how to read and so didn’t teach their kids.

None of the stories—there are six—are particularly standout. The one where Archie and Jughead shoot down balloons standing in for whatever 1973 Christians were freaking out about (guess what, it’s all the same shit as today except the gays because no one publicly attested to gays being people in 1973 so they didn’t have to worry)… it’s funny in a historical context. Though also not because, what, ninety-nine percent of the asshats who read Parables in 1973 have done all they can to make the world a worse place since.

The one where Betty prays hard enough to save Archie from the devil is kind of amusing since the comic’s all about how Veronica is a whore who the boys lust after but Betty’s the wholesome one. But when the devil tries to tempt Archie, it’s with slutty Bettys.

There’s a hilariously bad riff on Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Hartley’s an inordinately atrocious writer, though perfectly mediocre enough art-wise for Archie).

Parables is a definite curiosity, just… probably not worth reading unless you want to see if your eyes are going to stay stuck in your head from all the rolling.

Doctor Gorpon (1991) #3

Doctor Gorpon  1991  3

So last issue was a surprise as far as creator Marc Hansen’s plotting for Doctor Gorpon goes and this issue is no different. The issue opens having to resolve three cliffhangers—all of the monsters Gorpon has captured over the years has gelled into sentient ooze bent on destroying him, his former assistant is at the back door also bent on destroying him, and the police chief (not captain, which just makes the cop stupider) is watching the animate chocolate bunny monster eat people while waiting for Gorpon to show up so the chief can… destroy him.

There’s a throwaway line about why Gorpon wears a mask—he’s got his new assistant, a dopey teenage punk—but it turns out to be incredibly important in the mythology building Hansen ends up doing in the issue. He’s got three cliffhangers to resolve (which he spends a bunch of the issue doing), some major reveals, and he still manages to fit in a third act and an epilogue. Doctor Gorpon is a visual delight of gross cartooning and funny dialogue—Hansen also explains why Gorpon’s got such a peculiar vocabulary—but it’s also a great example of good plotting. Hansen covers a whole bunch of narrative without ever forcing it (the mythology-building stuff doesn’t get—or need—any spotlight, Hansen just puts it in organically) and never sacrifices the cartoon gore or humor.

The issue ends with promise of future Gorpon adventures but not of a sequel (Hansen’s been getting more mileage out of the concept since the first issue and exponentially increasing it in the subsequent issues), leaving a wonderful satisfaction to the comic.

Doctor Gorpon’s a win; Hansen and his creations ooze through any genre or medium constraints.

I’m really impressed with Hansen, but also with Eternity for giving him three issues of this madness.

Doctor Gorpon (1991) #2

Doctor Gorpon  1991  2

I was expecting Doctor Gorpon #2 to be gross and funny—and it is both gross and funny—but not have much of a story. Instead, creator Marc Hansen has a bunch of it. In fact, the story even overshadows the gross and some of the funny.

Everyone who survived the first issue is back. Gorpon’s struggling to get through menial tasks since firing (and maiming) his assistant; he can’t do laundry. Meanwhile, some decomposing scientist comes up with a cure but it ends up infecting and animating a chocolate Easter bunny, which starts feeding on human flesh. That sequence—the decomposing scientist interlude—is probably Hansen’s best art in the issue. The level of detail on the decomposition is horrifically wonderful. But the point isn’t the scientist, it’s the animated, human-flesh eating bunny, which ties into the idiot cop from the first issue’s return. Given where the issue cliffhangs, with three dangers in the mix… Hansen’s plotting is far more impressive (and effective) than I was expecting. Even after the successful first issue. There’s a lot of plotting to keep straight here and he does an excellent job.

The stoner teen from the first issue’s back, getting to go for a job interview at Gorpon’s, where Hansen gets to do some exposition on the state of monster hunting in the big city. It also feeds into one of the cliffhangers. Very nicely executed.

Similarly the former assistant trying to get revenge for the firing. And maiming. Probably more the maiming. He’s hired his own muscle bound grotesque to take on Gorpon, which ends up being the issue’s C plot, presumably to get a focus next (and last) issue.

Gorpon’s a good read. It’s assured enough I’m almost not surprised at the quality by the end of the issue, but it’s an Eternity comic and I’d never heard any of them were actually good. Gorpon’s actually good.

Doctor Gorpon (1991) #1

Doctor Gorpon  1991  1

Doctor Gorpon is a nice bit of gross-out gore. Creator Marc Hansen’s cartooning has these thick inks, which perfectly complement the tentacles and intestines the title character is pulling out of monsters throughout the issue. Doctor Gorpon is a monster hunter, one who charges for his services whether they’re requested or not (his first target is a monster masquerading as a harmless suburban husband), and terrorizes everyone around him, monster or not.

As Gorpon deals with having an incompetent assistant (who destroys Gorpon’s Gorpon Mobile through said incompetence), two teenage punks call forth a demon as part of their band practice. The cops—getting reports of the demon eating people—want to respond, but the police captain has it in for Gorpon, who steals his replacement car and thereby becomes public enemy number one.

Everyone in the comic is absurd in one way or another, with Hansen laying it on thick for Gorpon, the used car dealer, the cops, the punks. The demon is almost the most sensible one—he just wants to eat people and get stronger—whereas everyone else moves through the comic with a dangerous amount of dumb. Hansen plays the dumb up for laughs; there are some rather good ones.

And Gorpon himself is something of an exception. He’s not capable of being dumb because he’s too savage. He’s a barbarian loosed on the modern world. A lot of Gorpon’s fun consists of seeing Gorpon’s bull in a china shop routine, though it’s just as entertaining during the big monster fights thanks to those inks of Hansen’s and the humor.

Hansen gets twenty-eight pages of material out of the okay but definitely thin premise thanks to the humor—which includes the exposition—and, especially, the art.

Watchmen (2019) s01e08 – A God Walks into Abar

This episode of “Watchmen” gets, quite nicely, to the heart of the matter. As the episode goes through its meme-ification of Dr. Manhattan (albeit prestige HBO series starring recent Academy Award-winner Regina King memes), where King and Dr. Manhattan—who’s always visibly obscured when he’s not assuming the appearance of his surprise reveal identity—sit and talk (he walks into a bar to find her, her name’s Abar, it’s… really dumb writing) and there’s not just no chemistry between King and the disembodied voice in the performances, there’s none in the direction or the script. More on Nicole Kassell’s direction in a bit.

But in general, the episode reveals that great conundrum of Watchmen, i.e., what the hell do people who like terrible things like “Watchmen: The HBO Event Series” like about Watchmen the comic book and is it the same thing as people who don’t have terrible taste and, if so, where’s the disconnect. I get the show is mimicking Alan Moore’s narrative devices for Dr. Manhattan only doing them shitty and nonsensically on television but so what. Damon Lindelof’s story for the show is basically the same as what they did in Star Wars: The Force Awakens; you, fanboy turned show runner, can’t imagine what comes next so you just regurgitate the source material and package it in a new shiny, then stir the vomit for nine episodes.

“Watchmen” goes the extra mile of adding the racial subtext so it can claim some indisputable seriousness but… no. Really no.

This episode reveals not just the inevitable creative bankruptcy of the project, which—frankly—has already been laid bare (so I guess this episode just revels in that shiny bucket of puke), but also how little scope Lindelof had for it. Less, arguably, than any other Watchmen spin-off. Insert eye-roll emoji.

Oh, right, Kassell. So besides the not great direction between King and Dr. Manhattan on their various encounters, there’s also the Regina King with an automatic weapon taking out white supremacists action sequence, which the show sets up—in dialogue—to be some spectacular action sequence.

It is not. It’s not incompetent, but it’s also not any good. It’s long enough to get boring, boring enough to wonder why it isn’t better directed, better choreographed, better written. “Watchmen” manages to stay out of the incompetent—the actor playing Dr. Manhattan does way better than he should, all things considered (his scene with Jeremy Irons presents the first sympathetic Irons in a while, because the show reveals the bad Irons ideas aren’t Irons’s), even if it comes at the expense of King, who just got the show taken away from her permanently (she’s now an entirely unreliable narrator)—but it’s always in the inept.

At least since the third episode or whatever.

I’m so glad no one listened to me when I said watch the show after the first episode. I’d be so embarrassed.

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