Marvel

Star Wars: Thrawn #4 (July 2018)

Star Wars: Thrawn #4All of a sudden, Thrawn is about Thrawn again. The issue covers a few years, sometimes emphasizing some of Thrawn’s achievements, sometimes just hopping ahead. It’s just really nice to have Thrawn and sidekick Vanto back. They’re so fun together.

There’s also the analytical stuff, which is what makes Thrawn engaging. Not the action or intrigue–the issue even determines Thrawn’s no good for intrigue–but the plotting and the contemplation. Well, the contemplation when Thrawn gets to quiz Vanto about it.

It’s such a nice return to form, it barely matters the issue doesn’t really go anywhere, just does a bunch of summary to set up the next issue. It’d be even nicer if writer Houser had employed a similar tactic on the previous issue, which lost its leads to world build.

Good art from Ross. He’s able to mix in some silly composition choices–floating heads talking across an action panel–to reasonable success. Thrawn isn’t strict; Ross uses its fluidity to good result here.

So. Perfectly fine stuff. Especially for a licensed tie-in novel adaptation.

CREDITS

Writers, Timothy Zahn and Jody Houser; artist, Luke Ross; colorist, Nolan Woodard; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Heather Antos; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Star Wars: Thrawn #3 (June 2018)

Star Wars: Thrawn #3Thrawn really isn’t important this issue of Thrawn. Instead, it tracks the adventures of a young woman from the Outer Sim who ends up on the Imperial homeworld and discovers corruption and manipulation in politics. But she sees an opportunity for advancement, and calls on Thrawn to help her.

For a while, it’s a decent issue. It seems like Houser is building to something. He might be–the issue has a hard cliffhanger–but he’s immediately overdue on it. An indulgence issue. Maybe it’s to the eventual trade paces out well. But in floppy? It’s a little much.

Especially since it’s so confusing. There’s so much dialogue, so much exposition. But then an event will occur and it won’t seem like anything previous discussed. And you reread the previous discussions and it certainly doesn’t seem like they’re talking about planning the immediately occurring events. The issue’s lead–the new woman–keeps a lot to herself.

The book is getting to be a bummer. But Ross’s art is awesome this issue.

CREDITS

Writers, Timothy Zahn and Jody Houser; artist, Luke Ross; colorist, Nolan Woodard; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Heather Antos; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Star Wars: Thrawn #2 (May 2018)

One of the amusing franchise realties for Star Wars is Imperial officers aren’t bright. The movies established early on only Darth Vader had any brains. Darth Vader, then the Emperor. Otherwise, the Imperials were twits.

So Thrawn, which has a genius alien ascending the ranks of the racist Imperial Navy, has a somewhat peculiar problem. How can writer Houser show Thrawn’s ability to excel amid a group of twits. Even allowing for some intelligence, they’re still a bunch of racist twits. It’s kind of an interesting thing. Houser doesn’t really explore it because you don’t get to acknowledge a problem with a franchise in a licensed title. Well, whatever Star Wars is to Marvel.

It’s a successful issue. Maybe a little less impressive than the first; Houser thinks the big reveal is a lot more dramatic than it turns out to be. Thrawn is still all about Thrawn and his human flunky, Ensign Eli. Eli’s supposedly Thrawn’s handler (and is his assigned aide), but Thrawn’s really two steps ahead. Or ten steps. Whichever. Eli’s not too bright.

Decent art from Ross. Little too much with the computer shading, but decent art. He doesn’t do the action well. Like when there are fistfights and prison breaks and whatever. Those scenes, which are rushed in the script, are confusing on the page. Too little information and not the best panel subjects.

But a fine enough, sci-fi comic. It’s a little Star Wars, but not a lot Star Wars. It’s just the right amount.

CREDITS

Writers, Timothy Zahn and Jody Houser; artist, Luke Ross; colorist, Nolan Woodard; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Heather Antos; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Punisher: The Platoon #6 (April 2018)

Punisher: The Platoon #6Here’s the thing about Garth Ennis. His story arcs might read well in trade. His limited series might read great in a sitting. But he writes comic books. He paces comic books. And Punisher: The Platoon #6 is one hell of a comic book.

Ennis goes an unexpected route resolving the previous issue’s cliffhanger. He uses the frame a lot, revealing the frame isn’t a frame so much as a perch. It’s the reader point of view, whether they know it or not. Ennis has his epical story arc and juxtaposing and it flows nicely, but these things aren’t the most important thing. The most important thing is how the comic has read and reads.

Because Ennis delivers. He confirms he made a promise earlier in the series–one entirely without verbalization–and he delivers on it. He shows he can do this comic and do a war comic and also do a Punisher comic and then he moves past proving he and Parlov’s abilities to someplace else.

Or maybe Ennis just wanted to make a bunch of grown men cry. With the added bonus it’s a Punisher comic making them cry. It’s one hell of a comic.

Parlov’s art is on, of course. There are a lot of talking heads moments cut into the big action–with the narration and the talking heads so strong the big action flashback panels are almost intrusive. They don’t break the pacing because they’re supposed to be intrusive. Ennis is sort of doing the Wizard of Oz reveal on how the comic works and he needs to get the reader alert.

Damn.

What a comic. The issue and the series. Ennis and Parlov.

Damn.

CREDITS

6: Happy Childhoods; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Nick Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Star Wars: Thrawn #1 (April 2018)

Star Wars: Thrawn #1Even through Thrawn gets a fair number of close-ups in Thrawn #1, I finished the issue feeling like he didn’t. Thrawn is a Star Wars comic–one of the new official ones so all those old official ones from Dark Horse starring Thrawn are out of continuity. Though, since they’re all based on Timothy Zahn novels, there’s got to be crossover.

This issue deals with how blue super-intelligent alien Thrawn gets into the Imperial Academy. There’s even a cameo by the Emperor (which is maybe the comic’s only draggy scene). Otherwise, it just moves and moves.

Some of the brevity is thanks to the narrator. It’s not Thrawn, but some Imperial cadet who gets stuck translating and babysitting him. The cadet’s not a jerk, but he’s completely disinterested in his assignment. Writer Jody Houser uses the cadet as the reader’s vantage point, but the cadet’s got more information than he’s sharing in narration. Got to keep it dramatically compelling.

And Houser and artist Luke Ross are able to keep it compelling. Even when the comic hits a second or fourth talking heads sequence. There’s sporadic action, but most of it is just seeing how Thrawn reacts to this new world around him. There’s Star Wars minutiae but the better, not-created-by-George-Lucas minutiae (i.e. the Galactic language being called Basic–it’s immediately self-explanatory).

It’s an exceedingly competent comic book. Good art, good scripting.

CREDITS

Writers, Timothy Zahn and Jody Houser; artist, Luke Ross; colorist, Nolan Woodard; letterer, Clayton Cowles; editor, Heather Antos; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Punisher: The Platoon #5 (March 2018)

The Punisher: Platoon #5.One issue to go. Why am I so surprised Ennis is bringing the two plotlines together–Frank and his platoon, the Viet Cong and the female soldier. But he handles it in a way it can surprise, even after a whole issue of visual reminders the two subplots are very, very close to intersecting.

Ennis and Parlov do it on the last page. They completely change what Platoon might be about. They introduce all sorts of new potential in the penultimate issue. In the last page. Because Ennis has been so careful at advancing the Viet Cong plot line. He never neglects it.

The Frank plot line has the platoon on a body reclamation mission. Ennis gets some history and some commentary out of that subject. Parlov gets to do some gorgeous green landscapes. Those Jordie Bellaire colors. Then, little by little, Frank and the platoon lose the sky. It’s not night, they’re just going deeper and deeper into the jungle. It’s incredibly claustrophobic.

And it’s all a distraction so Ennis can bring out the proverbial big gun. He foreshadows it a little and builds expectation, but it’s still a surprise; the foreshadowing is nonspecific, ditto the expectation. Parlov and Ennis pace this issue deftly, confidently guiding the reader to the cliffhanger.

Next issue’s going to be something.

CREDITS

5: Deadfall; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Nick Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

X-Men: Grand Design #2 (March 2018)

X-Men: Grand Design #2Piskor is into the original Uncanny X-Men series proper now with Grand Design. He summarizes about sixty-five issues. He covers costume changes–without fanfare, though often with humor–he covers all the weird sixties villains. The space aliens. The coming Phoenix force.

There aren’t any asides. The closest is when Jean Grey goes off to college, but she’s not there for long. A couple pages. But there’s no intense focus on any on character or part of the history Piskor covers here. He’s just getting it out on the page, efficiently, with the right mix of foreshadowing, brevity, and humor. Piskor rarely goes for anything approaching a laugh, but when he does a sight gag, it’s great. When he does a written gag, it’s great too.

The voice of Grand Design–so the Watcher’s voice, as the Watcher is still narrating–keeps the comic calm. It’s still very active, it just doesn’t have overarching intensity. Scenes and sequences can have intensity, but it’s history. Removing the intensity is why Grand Design can get away cataloging all the dumb ideas in X-Men comics and make them great.

Piskor’s art is fantastic. Again, he doesn’t really take any time out on any one thing this issue so there aren’t any art focuses. But it’s fantastic cartooning even without a special topic.

Grand Design continues to amaze.

CREDITS

Cartoonist, Ed Piskor; editor, Chris Robinson; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Punisher: The Platoon #4 (February 2018)

Punisher: The Platoon #4The tragedy of Punisher: The Platoon is almost unbearable. Ennis juxtaposes the Americans and the Viet Cong. The female Viet Cong Frank Castle, the Frank Castle Frank Castle. The one with a dark shadow over him, even though only the reader can see it. It’s not in the bookend narration. The vets sitting around being interviewed? They don’t acknowledge the tragedy of Frank. It’s the saddest thing in the world… an earnest Frank Castle.

And something I suppose you wouldn’t get if you weren’t entirely versed in the character. Or at least in Ennis’s Punisher MAX. Or some of it, anyway. It’s freaking intense. Nothing happens this issue; violent-wise, I mean. The two times things could go violent? They don’t. Ennis and his war comics realism.

Frank’s marines are on R and R. Drinking and whoring. Ennis loves writing the old men jovially recalling those days. It’s actually kind of cute, as very little else in Platoon ever gets to be cute. Frank’s Viet Cong alter ego’s mentor is sort of cute. But he’s also a brutal commander so it’s a problematic cute.

There’s a conversation scene with Frank and one of his men. Just talking about their lives. Frank Castle talks about his personal philosophy. The other guy offers him advice. It’s extremely affecting as it continues because it’s so foreign from Punisher comics. Freaking Ennis. So good.

Parlov’s art is awesome. No action, lots of talking heads, just beautifully paced visuals. Parlov’s really got this one down.

CREDITS

4: Absolute Consequences; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Kathleen Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

X-Men: Grand Design #1 (February 2018)

X-Men: Grand Design #1Ed Piskor is credited as “cartoonist” in X-Men: Grand Design. I’m even sure, with the Internet, you can easily find out the last time someone got credited as a cartoonist in a Marvel book. Marvel is the antithesis of cartoonist books. Yet here we are.

With an X-Men comic no less. I should just get this statement out of the way. I can’t stand X-Men comics. Never have I ever. Because there’s always something wrong with the way the story’s being told (i.e. why has the third movie got better symbolism than anything else ever did but it still is crap). So. I’m going into this book not liking X-Men.

It’s unclear if the title’s going to be ironic. Grand Design is a comic book history of X-Men, the comic book. Piskor opens the book in “safe” Marvel territory with the Watcher. He’s telling his Iron Man-looking recorder android thing he needs to relate some history. It starts back in the forties with the Human Torch and Namor, which is pretty traditional Marvel Universe history stuff. It was in Marvels, right?

But then there are these Golden Age heroes tracking down Namor, which seems a little strange for a Golden Age story. Turns out it involves Professor X’s dad. Then there’s Captain America and Logan. And young Magneto. Only that scene never happened in a comic, it happened on a cartoon episode. Piskor’s taking all these terrible retcons and making them into what they never were, a grand design.

Wokka wokka. Or maybe Grand Design is just going to be Marvel’s branding for Piskor doing a history of The Avengers and then Spider-Man. Hint hint. Because Grand Design is something else. It’s making X-Men comics–their dumb continuity, stupid aliens, Professor X bickering with young Juggernaut, Jean Grey killing some dudes, whatever–it’s making X-Men literary. Through an amazing “cartoonist.” Piskor’s able to get about a scene a page. Professor X gets more, but they’re long sequences setting him up. Because if it’s the story of the X-Men, it’s the story of Professor X.

Only not really, because, it’s history. It’s a comic history of comics. And holy shit, it’s amazing.

Piskor’s sense of visual pacing for getting information across is unreal. He’ll go from broad summary to intense close-up–because he’s got a lot to cover. There’s Professor X, Bobby Drake, Magneto, Magneto’s kids, Jean a little, Scott, Hank. And it’s the “regular” origin and then, all of a sudden, it’s got these obvious retcons. Sometimes terrible details, but Piskor just fits them in. The storytelling style, how Piskor’s exposition reads–sorry, the Watcher’s–it’s dry, but with sympathy.

It’s a beautiful comic. Wonderful. I can’t wait until the next one, and the next one, and the next one. And then the hardcover. Because even if X-Men is goofy and often terrible, it can also be good. I think? I can’t remember. It’s pop culture now. X-Men has transcended enough. It’s just pop culture.

I can’t wait to see Piskor expertly, beautifully retell some lame X-Men comics. Wolverine and Scott are going to meet. There’s going to be Dazzler. Then there’s all that Morrison stuff I never got around to reading. And whatever the hell they’ve done since.

Holy shit.

What if Piskor makes me enjoy reading a Deadpool comic.

I can’t wait.

Punisher: The Platoon 3 (January 2018)

Punisher: The Platoon #3This issue of Platoon is Ennis looking at the quiet time for Frank Castle and his unit. Most of the issue has to do with Frank trying to get better rifles for his men. There’s some stuff with the Viet Cong, there’s the framing sequences, but really, it’s just an issue about Frank trying to get better rifles for his men. It’s very, very strange.

The comic itself is phenomenal. Ennis’s dialogue, his narration, the plotting, it’s all great. Parlov’s art’s great, but playing more for… humor. There’s some absurdity of war stuff going on and Ennis tries to find the humanity in the characters’ reactions to it. He also nicely echoes sentiments from the past to the future with the modern day framing stuff. It feels very whole.

But it’s strange. It’s not really a bridging issue, not unless everything hinges on Frank going to the black market for better rifles. It seems like an aside. A texture issue in a limited series. Does Ennis have time to do it?

Of course he does. Because it’s Ennis and Punisher. He never lets Frank down.

CREDITS

3: The Black Rifles; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Kathleen Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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