Everything I say goes!

*Serendipity Dept: Oh my god, I had absolutely no fucking idea that NBM had announced the other day that they were publishing a book of early Mutt and Jeff strips - it seriously was complete coincidence that I happened to post about Mutt and Jeff shortly after the word came out. That really screws with my head, man. Anyway: Mutt and Jeff are funny, and now NBM is publishing 192 pages of the sweet stuff this May, under the title Forever Nuts: The Early Years of Mutt and Jeff. And that’s not all they’re doing - NBM has plans to make Forever Nuts a banner title for all sorts of compilations of early, funny newspaper comics, each volume showcasing a new strip. This sounds like it’ll be awesome. Hell, I’d put money on it.

Punisher War Journal #4

Not a crapload of interesting stuff happened in the new comics I read this week - 52, for example, had one of those issues were it seems like a big finale for one of its storylines, even though you get the strong feeling that it’s not actually over.

Still, I found myself a lot more intrigued by Punisher War Journal #4 than prior issues, which does suggest that writer Matt Fraction might be staking out an interesting tone for the non-Civil War run of the book. The story focuses on Stilt-Man’s funeral, held in a bar with the corpse laid across pool tables, with all manner of D-list villains stopping by to pay their dues and shoot the breeze. It’s very much an evident homage to the Scourge’s classic rampage in the Bar With No Name from Mark Gruenwald’s run on Captain America, though it also brought to my mind that one Secret Origins story Neil Gaiman wrote with the Riddler lamenting the passing of the madcap villainy of the Silver Age, although here there’s more Bronze in play. Does each generation pine of the idealism of the era just prior?

Basically, the entire issue centers on conversations between awful villains as they reminisce on their arguable days of glory, laughing at their own foibles and generally soaking in the amusement of being disposable costume fodder. Everybody drinks and fights, and there’s some funny lines - the joke with the Doombot gets aired maybe once or twice too many, but I loved the Daredevil flashback. Meanwhile, that funny-looking bartender keeps an eye on everyone, and the inevitability of what’s going to happen is genuinely discouraging. Fraction maybe falls into a little too much sameness among the large cast’s voices -- everyone kind of sounds like a default depressive snarker -- but he does manage a palpable sense of fraternity, underscored by guest artist Mike Deodato’s slightly queasy realist art style, perfect for catching the awkward folds of masks and the peculiar garishness of costumes.

That’s probably the issue’s key strength - adoring the frayed edges of late-period superhero foolishness and casting the title character as not so much an urban antihero or a corrective to the silliness of general superheroics, but as kind of a symbol of superhero modernity, albeit a modernity that’s been building for years and years now. In other words, the Punisher is no longer a discordant element in the current world of superheroes, but a perfectly fitting superhero headliner for a self-evidently superhero-type book, a once-outsider the tone of the day has finally caught up to. Remember: he’s not the villain. He’s Captain America. Contrast him with recurring guest star Spider-Man, whom Fraction consistently portrays as an unfailingly tolerant, compassionate, brightly misplaced wisecracking character, the only one to help Frank up last issue when Cap knocks him down, as everyone glowers and grits their teeth over Civil War matters. He’s Marvel’s flagship character, and yet increasingly out of place.

These aren’t new thoughts, and this isn’t a particularly innovative story, really. But it’s odd to me how affecting it can be nonetheless. It also speaks of a stronger potential for this title, a book that neither seeks to separate Frank from superhero goings-on, nor posit him as a corrective, or even play up his antihero status. It’s Frank, starring in his own Marvel U book, yet cast in the light he’d normally be seen in as a guest star in some earlier issue of another superhero’s book, a ferociously cruel force, but one that no longer needs to be a mere guest. Maybe that’ll all change in a few issues, but if the premise of this title is 'having Frank track down some supervillains,' this is as intriguing way to go as any.

Labels: , ,