I always had trouble telling Ennis and Ellis apart when I was just getting back into comics, solely due to their last names sounding so much alike.

*But before we get to that, I ought to put up a link to Lee Thacker's online store at Lulu. Thacker is the writer/artist behind One for Sorrow, the 800-page epic comic reviewed by Dave Sim in the most recent issue of Following Cerebus, #8 (which I wrote about here). Give it a look - there's lots of stuff up for purchase.

*New issue of Comic Foundry is up, and there’s a dandy interview with Kevin Huizenga to peruse, stocked with plenty of neat tidbits:

In college I didn't plan on studying art at all. I was planning on studying philosophy and then going to seminary. I didn't do English Lit because after a class or two I learned that I wanted to spend as little time as possible with English Lit students. They were even worse than the philosophy students, who were pretty insufferable.”

Lots more where that came from, including info on how much Glen Ganges = Kevin Huizenga, news on what’s coming up in the future, plus suggestions for purchasing the best of the Catastrophe Shop’s wares (I also liked Carrot for Girls).

The Punisher MAX: The Tyger

That’s Blake, of course.

It’s another one-shot for this Garth Ennis-controlled miniature character universe, and like many of these things, it serves to fill in the gaps left by the ongoing series. Not to be confused with any other Frank Castles running around, the Marvel MAX incarnation of the character exists firmly in the Ennisverse, with his very own modified origin (Born) and a real-live ending (The End) - you don't need to see it that way, of course, but it works for me quite nicely, a real top-to-bottom revision of the character, now so closely synched up with the interests of its writer that seeing someone else write an 'explicit content' Punisher would be almost like watching another scribe take the reins of Sin City. I don't believe any of the non-Ennis Punisher books made recently have appeared under the MAX banner - and frankly, there's not all that much reason for this book to be under said banner, save for the fact that it's the mark of Ennis, a signal that the Garth Ennis Punisher will now be involved in important events concerning the Garth Ennis Punisher timeline.

The violence is quite modest (even compared to Ennis' own recent non-MAX Fury: Peacemaker miniseries), the language is very clean, the sexual elements are kept off-page - hell, one particularly dramatic bit leads to the deployment of a tasteful black panel to spare the readers from viewing the awful scene before them. And yet, this is a book out to support The Punisher MAX, an oblique augmentation of Born in the same way that The Cell kinda-sorta fed into The End. This time we go all the way back to 1960, back when Castle was only 10 years old, though there's also a framing sequence set in 1976 at the very beginning of his life as the Punisher, and a pair of stops at points in Frank's Vietnam service. It's a busy 56 pages. It's also somewhat troublesome in pointing out to us all that the man we glimpse in the regular Punisher series is long past 50 years old, but at least the art generally tends to back up such a conception of the character.

And hey - anything is possible in fiction, especially when reality gives us the art of John Severin, born in 1921 and still going strong. Severin's art really is a perfect fit for this story, not only in that it evokes the flavor of the period (the artist himself already a seasoned comics veteran by 1960, having worked for EC and others), but because Severin's unfailingly bright character art carries a natural charge of idealism, both filling the lad Frank (and even the handsome young Punisher) with a certain sparkle and clashing to fine effect with Ennis' signature narration style. You'll have no trouble glimpsing the beast inside the boy, but you'll also never doubt that he is still a boy.

This is possibly a greater effect than Ennis' story would have managed with a different artist - while entertaining enough, one gets the sense that the various elements of the plot never entirely connect. There's the poem by Blake, which young Frank learns in a Catholic-sponsored youth poetry class (and Ennis manages a great moment in which the priest at the head of the class indicates that he cannot accept any student's interpretation of the work that dismisses the authority of God - I expect it will resound with all the former Catholic school kids among the readership), which eventually connects to the semi-supernatural (but really internal) events of Born. There's more of Ennis' usual concern with the darkness and killing instinct that lurks in the hearts of soldiers. There's a teen pregnancy/suicide plot, mafia and organized labor concerns, bits of NYC flavor, young romance - just a ton of material, which at times seems to be acting as a catalog of things a kid might experience to shape him later in life, but also wants to act as a single, unified plot.

But it doesn't need to be flawlessly cohesive to satisfy, not with Severin's art to make it one. It's in the end just as inspired a teaming as Ennis and Richard Corben in, well, The End. A good purchase yet again for this extended series, the Ennisverse Frank Castle rarely missing a shot with me. If only all the corporate characters could maintain such a level of good repair, inspiration gleaming often enough that you'll not doubt it's still capable of living in there.

Garth Ennis’ Chronicles of Wormwood Preview

Note that Avatar has apparently lopped off the “Garth Ennis’” from the title as seen on the front and inside front covers of this 99-cent book, though the legal indicia still bears the full brand. Maybe it was a way to get artist Jacen Burrow’s name up top with Ennis’ without making the whole thing look cluttered and/or redundant? Regardless, it’s great that Burrows is getting above-the-title billing.

Usually Avatar will stick some sort of production art or explanatory essay in these preview quickies, but apparently they feel the work will speak entirely for itself this time - it’s literally nothing but eight random finished pages from the upcoming issue #1 of this new miniseries stuck between the covers. And from the pages we get, it looks like another spin on storied Ennis concerns, though this one actually might turn out interesting anyway.

A bunch of you have probably already picked up on the C.S. Lewis reference in the title (apparently Ennis is all about the classics this week), ‘Wormwood’ being the name of the ineffectual novice demon being addressed in The Screwtape Letters; here, Wormwood is no more talented at being a devil, but it’s by choice. You see, Wormwood is the antichrist, the English-born son of Satan himself. But he has remarkably little interest in religious matters, or carrying on with millennia-old agendas. So he’s moved to New York, gotten himself a girlfriend, and hangs around with a talking rabbit that spends all day trolling internet message boards. Sometimes he goes out drinking with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, a black guy who keeps getting his ass kicked by the police when doing things like opposing the War in Iraq. Jesus has pretty much given up on religion too. Actually, a whole bunch of holy and unholy figures have gotten terribly bored with everything, and are wandering without mission through the human world; Wormwood, for example, is currently cheating on his girlfriend with St. Joan of Arc, who speaks with an exaggerated accent (“Ooohhh… ohh, you feelthy swine…”). Oh, and Satan is up and around too, after something from his son.

Certainly the notion of Heavenly (or otherwise) beings fleeing their station is nothing new for writer Ennis, nor is the idea of young people rebelling against their faith, but the pages glimpsed here adopt a particularly light, almost 'sitcom' posture, despite the sex and gory crucifixion bits. Then again, the similar preview for this team's prior project, Garth Ennis' 303, certainly made it look like Frank Castle Goes to Afghanistan, though it eventually panned out to be a hallucinogenic, bombastic slab of social comment, still not very much separate from Ennis' other works, but genuinely unique in its particular mix. This very well might take us in the same different direction, from what a little preview can tell us.

Warren Ellis’ Blackgas #3 (of 3)


This is also from Avatar, and it's a full 22-page comic, and not much more happens in it. Like I said a while ago in regards to this series, if you’re a fan of zombie fiction, especially Italian-made zombie shockers, you’ll probably enjoy this in the way that an alert fan might enjoy a well-played variation on a familiar tune. There’s so little of writer Warren Ellis’ booming ‘voice’ in here that it’s almost notable on that level alone - save for last issue’s brief foray into creative science as a means of attempting to explain a zombie transformation (oh, ok, they’re not technically zombies - they just act a whole lot like ‘em), this is an extremely unadorned, extremely direct slice of genre material, attention lavished on the nastiest zombie-connected gore scenarios Ellis can cook up, which is fortunately a reliable trope in dealing with these things.

It’s also a very visual book, particularly in this last issue, which is all about the final stand against the hordes and the attempted escape from the obligatory remote locale. Max Fiumara (with brother Sebastian on ‘ink assist’) manages some really nice gobs of ugly impact here, liquefied heads contorting in the air from the force of otherwise unseen shotgun blasts, character faces constantly cloaked in shadow, as if the telltale black ichor that drips from the mouths of the infected is always read to spurt forth from anyone at any time. Not that there’s much of a need for suspense in the final stretch of a zombie outbreak. Credit also has to go to Avatar house colorist Andrew Dalhouse for complimenting Fiumara’s work well, often nestling key moments of carnage in only black and burning read - one particular key panel on the penultimate page is quite gorgeous, although there’s something to be said for Jacen Burrows’ beyond the pale ‘gore’ cover, depicting zombie nurses invading a nursery, plucking mewling babes from their cribs, and pulling them apart like whole rotisserie chickens. You just have to laugh at the nerve of it all.

Er, at least I have to laugh. I guess other people might just be flat out revolted, now that I reflect on it.

And heed my words: this comic will not convince anyone who’s not already interested in zombie-related horror to jump in and swim around the pool of plasma. It’s just too focused on nailing the most straightforward aspects of the genre as hard as it can, with a certain pleasing element of style - I continue to love Ellis’ method of having the infected speak in unmannered mixes of eloquence and vulgarity, their personalities not really struggling with the killing urge, but co-existing distressingly well. Which is rather the point, beyond gesturing toward the fiery attack plan, and the last-second infection, and Ellis’ own spin on Fulci’s image of the zombies marching on the city, having fled the island.

And hey - shock!! - Warren Ellis’ Blackgas 2, coming this fall from the same creative team! Interesting that some surprise announcements actually can remain surprises until the day they’re due for unveiling - that’s more surprising than any of the gore.