Comic Book Nasties.

*First things first: I didn’t know this was coming out until I saw it sitting on the shelves today, but apparently some outfit by the name of Mecca Comics Group is releasing a four-volume trade collection of Jack Katz’s “The First Kingdom”, and the first book (issues #1-6) is out now. I know of Katz almost exclusively through reprints of his 50’s horror work for Standard and Atlas, many of them put out by Eclipse back in the day through assorted reprint anthologies like “Seduction of the Innocent”. His character art was unmistakable, his faces fantastically unique and gross. But later, after a teaching career and a stint at DC, he decided to create an independently-published epic 24-issue story, which took him from 1974-1986. His art had become far more detailed and ‘classically’ illustrative, less forceful in its bodily exaggeration. Check out the preview art here. And try not to be driven away by the shoddy cover printing on the final product, blurry and hazy: the interior art looked quite nice from my flip-through, and Katz himself offers up a wonderfully eccentric afterward that worth reading even if you don’t want the book. I’ve not read any of this stuff but Katz in an interesting artist and the project is worth a peek.

*I’ve gotta say, the level of bloodshed and grue and cruelty on this New Comics Day is out of sight. Good thing I still had that discount coupon from my FCBD journey: I didn’t have to miss a moment of the awful slaughter.

The Punisher: The Cell


I’m getting the feeling that Garth Ennis’ run on this title is not long for our world. So much material is suddenly being dumped out; it’s not really like Marvel to work off a backlog in such short order, at least not as I’ve seen. Maybe they simply can’t wait to send the MAX line packing, now that “Supreme Power” is off for an explicit-content downgrade?

Certainly this one-shot can be seen as leading to an ending. For one thing, it wraps up a major dangling plot thread in Ennis’ run on this title: getting to the bastards who physically killed Frank’s family. Honestly, I’d totally forgotten that such aspects of the story hadn’t been wrapped already, and I suspect that Ennis is banking on that very fact, teasing us along with promises of dark secrets and the like.

In addition, the ending here quite explicitly toys with the idea that these final pages lead directly into Ennis and Richard Corben’s “The Punisher: The End”, although Ennis leaves himself a gaping escape hatch in case of emergency (also, Frank is quite plainly in a different prison in “The End”, but such things could easily be fixed up). This is satisfying to me, as I’ve always seen Ennis’ MAX material as its own little stand-alone story, with “The Punisher: Born” providing the true ending and the Corben one-shot providing the true ending, and with the issues in between forming their own self-contained story, one that’s beginning to develop a pretty strong continuity, which I’ll cover a bit below. It’s as if Ennis had his goofy fun in the Knights miniseries (take the course of “Supreme Power” as the opposite of this) and then decided to entirely make Frank Castle his own in this pocket Marvel U.

And maybe with so much happening so fast, it’s really coming near the end. Having counted the pages, it seems like this book may have been initially structured as a two-issue arc, complete with a logical center break-point, with maybe a few extra pages added in later. This feels like a ‘final’ arc, a short capstone story bringing a certain aspect of the title character’s mission to a conclusion. The plot, by the way, focuses on Frank turning himself in to the police and being sent to jail so he can get at some truly choice targets: he does this by deftly exploiting the racial and homophobic elements of exploitation prison culture, and I must use the term ‘exploitation’ because everything in this book moves according to seedy pop wisdom. Frank is more seething here than ever, more calculating and cruel, and his foes are thusly pumped up to crazed levels of Awful: mothers are shot to death during childbirth, corpses are violated in the most atrocious manner. But all that really matters in the end is the wife and son and daughter dead in the park, and Ennis recognizes the selfishness of the unkillable force, an all-consuming war on crime born of a relatively docile act of evil, the actors now old and tired, save for the lead. Truly in Ennis’ world, the most bombastic of murders are fruit of the tree most forgotten.

The Punisher MAX #21

Meanwhile, back in the core book, characters from assorted past storylines hook up and plot for the future as Frank goes absolutely apeshit over that stuff Nicky did to his family two issues ago. Frank operates on a curious internal programming here: he won’t stop his stepped-up reign of terror until his family is properly re-buried (who’d have thought he was a stickler for tradition?), but the cops need to keep the corpses around for evidence. The result is heaps of corpses, heads cracked open, bodies bisected by gunfire, and other Grand Guignol displays. There’s a plot/slaughter/plot/slaughter beat here, as the more important players get into place for the second half of this story. Ennis even tosses in a tiny bit of media satire, with Nicky’s video endlessly replayed on major news outlets, only egging Frank on even more. Nicky’s plan remains kind of obscure, which is likely an intentional part of the plot build; however, if this is your first arc on this book, get ready to get kind of lost kind of quick. That’s just one more signal to me that the rising action here is gonna crest in a grand finale, then it’s back to $@&!% for Frank and company (because you know he’ll never get to rest - hell, that was one of the cleverest bits in “The End”). Maybe Marvel doesn’t entirely need a MAX arc, but “The Punisher” entirely does, at least under this pen, the best pen it's had.

Friday the 13th Special #1

Well look at that. I didn’t know it’d be out so quick but here’s the first of Avatar’s licensed books from the New Line Cinema House of Horror line, just in time for the title date (make a note of that - it’s pretty rare that ‘Avatar’ and ‘in time’ appear complimentarily in one sentence)! Basically, Avatar is putting out three one-shots, each based on a famous New Line movie monster, with one of their most popular house artists handed the visual chores on each book. In the near (?) future, Juan Jose Ryp of the nope-still-not-finished “Frank Miller’s Robocop” will be doing “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, and Jacen Burrows of “Garth Ennis’ 303” shall tackle “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. Here, we get Mike Wolfer of “Strange Killings” fame on the pencils and inks. “Lady Death” creator Brian Pulido writes them all, hopefully not getting in the way of all the carnage.

And carnage is obviously the point here; if there’s one thing I can safely trust Avatar to do with horror material it’s going completely over-the-top and never looking back (their many collaborations with Joe R. Lansdale have proven them to be utterly fearless about explicit content), and if you thought that the presence of licensed characters might dull their spirit, oh no. There’s a ridiculous level of gore here; it’s frankly far more excessive than what I recall from any of the actual “Friday the 13th” movies. That’s the magic of comics! Seriously though, I’ve got to hand it to Avatar. They didn’t calm it down; they actually took it farther than the license’s source. That’s worth something. I mean that.

This book isn’t much of a chiller or a thriller; there’s actually no suspense whatsoever, although considering that the film series has pretty much jettisoned that aspect as well I can't really blame the comic. It’s a gore book, and a comedic gore book at that. Jason spends most of the issue fighting off soldiers hired by the children of the past owner of Crystal Lake, who want to redevelop the property into something nice instead of a legendary killing field. Meanwhile, a pair of saccharine teens have sex in the woods, miraculously avoiding death due to Jason’s distraction. Hearts are ripped out, a face is mashed by a rocking ducky ride, a man’s head is slammed down through his neck and pops out of his asshole; it’s very silly but very icky, and if gore’s your thing it’ll pass the time, maybe raise a few chuckles. If by reading this you can’t imagine deriving any fun out of such things at all, well, I promise you won’t like this book. It exists for excess, and Pulido strips away even the veneer of satire or character insight than a Lansdale would have tossed into the bargain. But at least it’s not some jokey near-PG-13 movie. It’s a jokey NC-17-level slaughter-fest. The latter outranks the former by a little in this target-audience member’s puckered brain.

It would have been nice for some scares to be attempted. I doubt that “A Nightmare on Elm Street” will provide anything in that area, Freddy’s persona for much of that series playing toward comedy - Ryp’s art will be something to see though. Maybe we’ll get something serious out of old Leatherface. As it stands, we’ve got snickers and karo all over the place, for $4, seeing as how it’s a color book from the back half of “Previews”. Maybe you should find a 20% off coupon of your own.

*Can’t we clean ourselves off with some good wholesome superhero bruising? Violence, yes, but less red?

Astonishing X-Men #10

Oh hell, this isn’t working. It’s another issue-long fight scene, with the whole team piling on the Danger Room Omniscient Sex Sentinel (or: DROSS) and getting their asses kicked but then rallying back and fighting and fighting and then another cliffhanger ass-kicking. You can gauge the logic of the battle from the beginning of the issue when Beast asks DROSS why she’s taken on a sexy killer robot form and she responds with some glob about how “Freeing my control center gave me limits. I am separate now, like you. I needed that,” which still doesn’t entirely address why she gave herself breasts or exposed wire-hair for people to grab her with, but hey - it’s X-Men. That covers about everything here.

DROSS also narrates the issue, giving us a distinctly annoying rundown of exactly what the team is going to do and how they’re going to react at every juncture, because she knows All Their Techniques. Yes folks, it’s time once again for the classic ‘brand new villain who’s such an amazing threat because he/she studies the team to anticipate all of their tricks’ bit, last seen by me in Grant Morrison’s “JLA” although I’ll flip if someone else hasn’t used it in the time between then and now. And that all holds true only if you consider ‘Danger Room gone bad’ a new villain in the first place. It’s things like this that nibble at me, that distract from my enjoying the punching and throwing; sad that the endless bloodshed of “The Punisher“ or "Friday the 13th" holds my attention better than one of the Direct Market‘s hottest sellers but oh well. Some of Whedon’s supporting cast observe the action for a few pages, drop a hint or two about the overarching plot, and swagger off to set up the finale of this particular arc (I hope my cynicism here is misguided).

And that’s all. Cassaday makes it look nice enough, but he’s really just drawing the same old godlike new villain who pulls barely-explained weapons out of nowhere to kick ass because she’s new and godlike, and first it seems like she’s misjudged the team but then she hasn’t and OH NO ARE SOME OF OUR HEROES DEAD and the issue ends with the cavalry arriving - tune in next time, excelsior, face front, etc.

Also: a new letters column full of fanboy gushing (selections: “Oh my lord! I can’t get enough of this book!” “Wow… just… wow,” “GOD BLESS YOU!” “Truly. It is Uncanny how Astonishing it is (yuk yuk).”) and the editor cracking “Wizard”-level jokes about Wolverine fucking Lockheed. Awesome.