Bill Reinhold

The Punisher (2004) #46, Widowmaker, Part 4 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  46Ennis brings all the threads together this issue. Frank, the widows, the mystery woman, the cop. The cliffhanger resolve has Frank taking one to the chest. The issue opens with Frank thinking about how unlikely the house where the damsel widow has brought him seems like a front for a trafficking operation. He’s just about to bail when he gets shot. Ennis sticks to the ambushing widows for most of the action (including a somewhat confusing sequence—Medina’s fault—about why they can’t take a second shot). Then the mystery woman shows up and saves Frank and guts the damsel, which is the most gory the arc’s actually gotten so far. Or maybe seeing intestines exposed to oxygen just seems like the most gore.

But I think it’s the most.

Anyway. The mystery woman saves Frank, leaving the remaining widows to deal with the arriving cops and recover from a launched grenade, bringing the not Sam Jackson Sam Jackson cop into the issue. His investigation is a bit of a water tread; Ennis gets in a (very dated) jab at “C.S.I. New York” and recaps the opening action into exposition to get the cop caught up. But other than the cop figuring out the four women in the bad neighborhood late at night and discovering their identities, it’s just filler. Widowmaker is the first seven issue arc—instead of six—so there’s going to be filler. It’s not bad filler, but it’s definitely filler.

The widows regroup and calm down, with the leader realizing the mystery woman is the actually her little sister (who’s been mentioned in hushed tones since the first issue of the arc because there’s some kind of joint history involving all the widows and the little sister). Meanwhile, the little sister is busy patching Frank up. The soft cliffhanger reveals she’s yet another widow made by the Punisher, except instead of hating Frank, she’s his biggest fan (or so she says). Ennis does a fine job getting the reader wondering about the explanation but it’s time for the issue to be over so something for next time.

It’s a bit of a stretched issue, but still a good one. Maybe Medina and Reinhold aren’t the most interesting when it comes to the cop questioning and investigating scenes, but they do all right enough. It’s unclear why all the widows are wearing the same green turtleneck sweaters; you’d think the cops—even the dumb ones—would notice they’re in matching outfits. But apparently not.

Ennis treads water well and the build-up to the cliffhanger—specifically the widows freaking out over their plan gone wrong—works well.

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.

The Incredible Hulk 76 (October 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #76It’s hard to feel bad about Doc Samson getting his butt kicked after he just lectured the Hulk on the importance of corporal punishment for children.

Did Jones even think about what he was writing? Did his editors read the scripts?

Braithwaite and Reinhold are back on art. Sometimes they’re a little better than usual, but Braithwaite’s Hulk is still awful.

I guess Jones’s wrap-up of his huge conspiracy story line makes “sense.” It’s not a good wrap-up, but it’s better than where he tries to leave Bruce Banner at the end of it. Maybe the closing line–with someone being real mean in a Hulk description–calls back to an earlier comic. I hope so, because, otherwise, it’s just a crappy line.

Jones leaves the comic much in the place he started it. He wipes the slate clean and leaves Bruce Banner far less a character than he started out with.

F 

CREDITS

Shattered; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Raul Trevino; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, Cory Sedlmeier and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 74 (September 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #74I don’t like finishing a comic wondering what the heck I’ve just read. Getting through this issue of Hulk isn’t just troublesome because of the incredibly uneven art–Braithwaite and Reinhold spend the least amount of time on the big fight between Hulk and Iron Man–but through the constant stupidity.

Jones boils down his resolution to a confession, which doesn’t make much sense. Of course, having the drama hinge around Tony Stark having a suicidal girlfriend with a lock-picking, would-be amateur assassin brother doesn’t make much sense either.

Then there’s poor Bruce Banner. What’s he doing this arc? Following Tony around mostly. Only neither character has a real arc. Tony’s is superficial, Bruce is just a spectator. Jones doesn’t spend any time on Bruce outside him helping with the experiment.

There are numerous false endings too. It’s easily the worst issue Jones has done on the title.

F 

CREDITS

Big Things, Part Four; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Rainier Beredo; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 73 (August 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #73Watching Braithwaite try to do depth in panels gets painful fast. Bruce is pointing at Tony Stark in one panel and the hand is at exactly the same depth as his body. Maybe it’s Bill Reinhold’s inks, but there’s something definitely off with the art.

Also off is the story. Bruce Banner is still helping Tony Stark on a government contract. There’s a third scientist on the project and he’s mad at Tony, then there’s the guy who Tony’s holding hostage (he did try to kill him so apparently it’s okay). Throw in a Playmate who plays waitress to everyone and Jones has set up a really disturbed version of “The Real World.” Oh, and they’re all stuck in the Stark mansion.

Lousy dialogue and bad characterizations don’t help things. Bruce isn’t just different from the rest of Jones’s run, he’s different from the last issue.

Jones’s checked out completely.

D- 

CREDITS

Big Things, Part Three: Shock Waves; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Rainier Beredo; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 69 (May 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #69After spending the first third of the book setting up the best Hulk fight since he’s been on the run–the way Jones paces out the banter between Hulk and evil spider-clone Hulk (don’t ask) is perfect–Jones trashes the whole thing. He goes back to his talking heads model. Down to no one really having anything to say to one another.

There’s an awkward lack of ambition to those scenes. Doc, Betty and Nadia’s lives are wrought with angst and Jones goes for easy bickering. Not even inventive easy bickering, just page-filling easy bickering. He comes up with a mystery and has to do everything in service of it. The mystery isn’t a good one and he handles it poorly.

The lack of ambition isn’t just lazy dialogue, it’s much worse–it’s Bruce Banner. He’s a marionette. Jones has stopped implying he has any depth. Hulk’s the only interesting thing about him.

C- 

CREDITS

Dead Like Me, Part Four: Trust Me; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Studio F; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 68 (May 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #68Jones gets the whole cast together and things finally start improving. Braithwaite draws Bruce as this vaguely awkward, aging pudgy guy. It’s a very interesting visualization of the character; it goes to making him seem a little less familiar even. Oddly enough, the second half of the issue has Jones’s most traditional use of Bruce Banner in many issues.

But bringing the cast together–back at Nadia’s roadside restaurant–reveals another big problem with Jones’s run. It’s very small. Same people, same places; every time it seems like Jones is actually building outward, he just turns around and constricts.

He doesn’t even bother coming up with an inventive villain this arc. Since the whole point is to put the characters in the same room again–somewhere he already had them at the end of the last arc–he just needs a disposable villain.

Jones doesn’t plot Hulk well. The issue’s simultaneously okay and not.

C+ 

CREDITS

Dead Like Me, Part Three: “Hello,” He Lied; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Studio F; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 67 (April 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #67It’s a Hulk without even Bruce Banner. And I can’t figure out why. Usually when Jones takes forever with an issue, there’s at least an imaginative conversation going on. Lots of literary references, whatever. But not this issue. Here’s it just Doc and Betty arguing while Nadia Blonsky is in danger.

Where’s Bruce? He left Nadia alone so she could be in danger and Jones could get a cliffhanger out of it.

Nadia running from a variety of creepy things isn’t bad. If Jones had something else going on in the comic, it’d be a fine thing to fill the action quota. But Doc Samson playing with his lab equipment and Betty sounding bitter don’t offer anything. Jones is spinning his wheels to get through another issue and then he’ll rush to get Bruce back into it.

It’s a standard approach on the book.

The decent art helps a lot.

C- 

CREDITS

Dead Like Me, Part Two: Bury Me Not; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Studio F; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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