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"The Punisher Official Movie Adaptation TPB" Three issue comic book adaptation of the Tom Jane Movie, ASM #129, "Welcome Back Frank" #1, and the Marvel Encyclopedia entry on Punisher. There was a period when I liked the 2004 Punisher movie: from about 2004 to around 2004. The cardinal sin of comic movies is spending half the film on the origin story, and Jonathan Hensleigh was an unrepentant transgressor. Before we even get to the Punisher, Frank is in the FBI, he’s undercover as a gay German weapons dealer, there’s a ridiculous beach party family massacre, and some goofy hoodoo shit with a magic Puerto Rican witchdoctor. All of which we get to relive in comics.

Unthankfully, it reads much worse on the page. The pacing is weird, we spend a whole page digging up some buried fake IDs never to see them again, but only two pages for the entire story to wrap in the final shootout (Frank busts in the nightclub, caps Howard and his other son, credits). The Russian fight is a single page. Harry Heck was the best part of the whole movie, but the entire Diner scene is gone, and he’s now a mullet biker in a sedan. But lo, they didn’t forget all the horseshit with the parking tickets and earrings. If you ever wondered what it would be like to watch the movie with all the action scenes edited out, here’s your chance. There were deep core problems with the comic and the film, the story is sweaty ass. 

The art is passable, the lettering is bad, in a few places its just calibri font dumped in a wordbubble.  Rushed. Sucks. Booty.

You can usually tell when Marvel knows they chucked a turd over the fence in a Punisher collection, because they’ll throw in a copy of ASM #129. At this point ASM #129 has to have more reprints than Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, but this might be the best color quality of them all. No one’s buying this TPB for one issue of Welcome Back Frank so I’ll leave that one for another review. The 8 page Marvel Knights Encyclopedia entry in the back should be required reading for all future Punisher writers, and neatly recaps the entire history, also tying together the 616 and Max timelines. Really well done character history. Unfortunately, the title story of this book isn’t.  Ultra-Booty, Do Not Purchase. 

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"San Francisco Slaughter - Hangman #1" I found this book on a whim, Jack Badelaire was offering the ebook up free for a weekend, so I took a chance and bought the paperback. Usually these smaller print run men’s adventure books are a crapshoot, Hangman is a natural. 

Quick Overview: Vietnam Vet returned from the war in 1974 can’t overcome boredom, and takes a private security contract involving corporate espionage, shady mercenaries, crooked cops, and broken vets. Philip Marlowe this ain’t, Jamie Lynch is the kind of character walking around life with a toolbox full of hammers, and every problem looks just like a nail. Some strong secondary characters round out the team, more on those surely in books to come.

The first chapter dream sequence is one of the strongest come-on chapters I’ve found in a new book series, and Jack even mentions in the author’s notes that the book was built around it as a central concept. I want to read the rest of that book, and I get the feeling Jack is wisely going to dole the Vietnam combat background over the next few books, its a strong framing device, and he excels at writing clear action.

I read this book just after Westlake’s Parker The Hunted, and there’s a lot of similarities. They both focus solely on the protagonist, the pacing is linear and relentless, and no one is here to fuck around, bodies drop at an alarming rate. Jack understands the characters and writes them clearly and simply, if anything almost too much so; I feel like some of Richard’s background could have been saved for the next go round, but I’m sure there’s more we haven’t learned yet.

As mentioned earlier, the action is straight and clean, easy to understand, even when there’s a few actions in parallel. I wouldn’t be surprised if the gunfights weren’t mapped out before writing. Another little trick to clever effect: the stadium scene from Dirty Harry plays a major part in the book, and it works on three levels, immersing the reader in the time period, fleshing out the bad guy’s personality, and clearly building the layout in the reader’s head for the action to follow. Smart.

It wraps a little neat in the end, but overall a damn fine read. And I’m not just saying that in the sense that its a good pulp novel, its a good book period. I’m going back to pick up some of the previous tie-in books and check out the larger literary world that Badelaire is building, this is definitely a writer to watch. RAW, go gets it.

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"Parker The Hunter" - IDW Parker Hardcover Series Book 1. You’re probably already familiar with Darwyn Cooke’s obsessive adaptations of Westlake’s Parker notorious pulp crime classics into high quality graphic novels.  IDW and Cooke decided to go one further, and republish the original prose novels in a new high-quality hardcover format, with new illustrations from Cooke. 

The print quality on these books is outstanding. The polished cover, the silky smooth perfectly cut pages, and the color prints are tip top quality, something you rarely see in a print book these days. At $30 it ain’t cheap, but you’re getting something for your money.

The illustrations could have been lifted straight out of Cooke’s recent graphic novel adaptations, but he elected instead to go with full color updates, so you’re getting yet another visual take on the character and story. Any way you cut it, this is some damn fine art from an artist on the top of his game. Don’t expect a lot of it, its a traditional book so there’s only about 10 illustrations, but they are ideal.

The story itself is all stripped out mean-ness and simplicity. For those of you unfamiliar, the original concept for Parker was a lot like Marv from Sin City, but a lot more of a bastard and no qualms about murdering innocents. Forget the modern film adaptations with Mel’s lovable tough guy in Payback or the Statham J-Lo update, this original Parker is more like Lee Marvin’s take back in Point Blank, ruthless and unlikable. 

Its a quick read, fast and mean, no extra characters or extra plot to distract. I’m really looking forward to a full library of these, very recommended. RAW.

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"Punisher #8" - They just don’t make comics any better than this these days. I can’t say enough good things about the Kevin Maurer / Nathan Edmondson team-up, Out-Fuckin-Standing. 

Starting with the pics, the The Art of Mitch Gerads cover is my favorite of the series so far, and his skull/vest is up in my top 5 of Best Punisher uniforms. Going into the issue, the Carmen Carnero, Terry Pallot, Antonio Fabela team up needs to get together on a regular book. The star of this issue is Terry Pallot, there really is nothing like a well-inked book, gives it that same classic feel as the Esteve Polls / Marc Rueda teamup over on Lone Ranger. The art team threw in a few easter eggs for you, too, check out the skull in Frank’s peep-sight when he and Tom first meet Crossbones, and then again in Tom’s eyes as he finds the medevac.  The facial art and expressions are killer.

Story itself is a soldier’s tale, shifting POV to Tom of the Special Forces team. In a grand gesture that’s well due, the writers tie in the real life military badges and call signs that have adopted the Punisher skull over the past decade, and give them an origin story of a sort, explaining Frank’s connection to the modern military.  Great callout to the military readers of the book, I’m betting this last two issue arc is going to get a lot of love from our troops.

Two issue arcs are ideal, get in, get out, quick and memorable. Punisher excels in these short arc formats, I hope the team stays with it. I once wrote in some reviews of the first five issues of the old ‘87 punisher book: “These were truly exciting times, no one knew how long this book would actually last, and though he led the Marvel pantheon in murderistic enthusiasm, he was woefully short in situational awareness.  This dude could literally go at any minute.” Back then Frank was a Force of War, but he wasn’t the One Man Army he became under Ennis. This book goes directly back to those days, he’s a good fighter, but he’s not invulnerable, and a well armed force of common cannon fodder can turn into a serious problem in a hurry. Also the Capture Count is insane. At this point he’s been captured 3 times in 8 issues, twice in the last two. Its like they’re consciously remaking and updating the best of the Baron and Potts comics. Finally I feel like someone actually read the classics. Truly beautiful.

Quick trivia, we finally confirm that Frank is a modern soldier, serving in Falluja and Marjah. The Vietnam days are over, but I’m OK with that, cause this is a reboot that works.

RAW!!!! 

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"Punisher #7" And just like that, we’re right back on track. Excellent, excellent issue, Kevin Maurer and Nathan Edmondson reach way back to the classic days of yore, and dusted off the old Mike Baron trick: when things get complicated in a Punisher book, send ‘em south of the border and let him rack up a bodycount for a while. He even runs into an ally in captivity, just like he did way back in ‘87 in his first trip south in Pun #3. We’re at a very impressive "Frank tied to a chair" count of 2 in 7 issues, which is also in line with the classic series. And most importantly, CROSSBONES!!!  This is the matchup we’ve been waiting for since Crossbones hit books back in the 80s, he could for sure be Frank’s new Jigsaw. So much action, all around excellent, one of the best Punisher issues since Max ended. 

Carmen Carnero, Terry Pallot, and Antonio Fabela with some damn fine guest art, especially the inking has some direct callbacks to Risso’s work in 100 Bullets. 

I can’t say enough good things about this issue and the direction we’re heading. This is Classic Punisher done right, and it shines. RAW!!!!

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"Judge Dredd Mega-City Two City of Courts #5" End of the line. Douglas Wolk and Ulises Farinas finished off what is most definitely the weirdest Judge Dredd tale ever told, and this is coming from a comic book that once  weaponized potatoes.  The book is straight crazy, featuring a half fake police convention, an amazing cutaway of a giant car mover, and most importantly Pug Dredd. This is one of the extremely rare comics that pass the Wife Seal of Approval test, my wife actually wanted to read it, and that happens about once every two years. The amount of time, effort, and attention to detail is clearly apparent on every page, this is a labor of love, and it shows it.  If you enjoy Wolk’s writing, be sure to check out his regular column in the back of each issue of the current IDW Dredd ongoing. 

I highly recommend it, if not because its one of the most original Dredd stories you’ll ever read, then for Ulises’s art, he’s the best up and coming artist in comics today and you’ll be seeing a lot more of his stuff in the future. RAW!!

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"Bloodshot and H.A.R.D.CORPS #23" Another damn fine book gone to ground. Solid send-off, Duffy Boudreau and Christos Gage make the most of the remaining pages.  The inevitable conflict between Bloodshot and the rest of the team was well handled, and wasn’t as awkward as the goodguy vs. goodguy stories often are. Nice wrap-up with PRS taking care of their own, and an open end to the story if they ever want to pick up the threads again. There’s some plot holes fo sho, especially since Bloodshot now needs regular maintenance to survive, I don’t understand how he’s just driving off into the sunset, but what the hell, its an ending. Grab it in the trade, damn fine book. Valiant is so good at continuity I expect this isn’t the end of the story.  RAW.

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"The Lone Ranger #25" I’ve been putting this one off, I write this with a heavy heart because it had to end. We’re losing one of the old breed here, the team of Ande Parks, Esteve Polls, Marc Rueda, and Francesco Francavilla put together a classic comic that looked and read like nothing else on the market. In the modern world of dark antiheroes, larger than life capes n’ tights, or meta ultra hip chic, the Lone Ranger was the last throwback to a character who never wanted to hurt anybody, and just wanted to make things a little better than he found him. Checkout the three page wrap-up. 100% Class, and the Definitive Lone Ranger comic book. 

I think I can sum up the whole series in one quote in this last issue from the Lone Ranger himself speaking about Tonto: “He’s no savage, ma’am. He’s my friend, and he’s not going to kill anyone.”

RAW, and criminally under-appreciated, its been in my top 3 current series since the early issues. I’d tell you to pick this up in trades but you’d miss out on these beautiful Francavilla covers.

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"Thunderbolts #27" New writing team of  Ben Acker and Ben Blacker. I’m familiar with their work from the Tbolts annual and from the Wits, and I’ve been looking forward to having them, I know they can bring the funny. Thunderbolts has been struggling to find its tone since issue #1, it drunkenly meandered between comedy, self-seriousness, self-satire, and hard action. I assumed that Acker and Blacker would just go ahead and make it a full on comedy book A La Deadpool, but its not that simple.  

Firstly, the new art team of Carlo Barberi, Carlos Cuevas, and Israel Silva is dead on. The splash page right from the start is beautiful, and they are excellent at action. If there are any complaints, none of the guys have necks, but its a Mignola type thing. Excellent art, perfect at motion and action.

The prose and dialogue are above par, the Bens really have a talent with words. The story isn’t bad either, I felt like they packed a lot in pages and you get your money’s worth. Rulk’s dialogue boxes give a high level commentary while the general action takes place.  I was a little worried we were going off the rails when f’ing zombies appeared, but without spoiling anything I can say it makes a quick turn for the better. 

Two Problems: The Turn between Thunderbolts and Frank is weird, sudden, and just out of character and continuity for all involved. It doesn’t really work, but what the fuck, I can deal.

Of greater concern, The Punisher does not need goddamn Ninja Swords. In no way, shape, or form does this make any sense, its stupid and its bad. Its basically the equivalent of giving Hawkeye a gun. It sticks out, too, because now there’s three people on the team with ninja swords.  I’m just going to pretend he’s packing Back Dildos for shoving up Crime’s ass.

Overall, its De-so. It would have been Raw if it wasn’t for the Sword-Dildos and the odd Rulk conflict, but I like where this team is going once we iron out a few of the kinks. 

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"Punisher #6" Art First: I hope you like the color blue, because this issue used ALL of it. If RR Donnelly loaded this issue first in the print run there’s a couple of copies of Avengers out there where Cap is red, white, and white. I’ve already said all I need to say about the foreground rain filter effects. Beyond that the character art has gotten significantly better after issue #5’s problems with long range spaghetti anatomy and confused action. Still not a lot of focus on backgrounds, and what is there is mostly grainy photoshop, but much better than #5. 

Plot Next: One of the reasons I had a hard time getting through Jake Ellis was it was so heavily plot driven, and it confused story complexity with depth. Same issues here, this wacky Dos Soles plot, chemical weapons, the power grid, Electro, Domino, Howling Commandos, it just jumps thread to thread, hoping motion will translate into action. Most of the previous threads simply dropped somewhere in the early parts of this issue without payoff, Electro walks away from an unconscious (and easily killable) Frank, and all the Dos Soles nonsense ends in a splash page explosion and a thought bubble. Mostly unmemorable, but we finally collapse back down to the Howling Commandos, which looks like may be more interesting if we don’t get lost on a tangent again.

Character: Now I know a lot of you are really pissed off about Frank’s little self-confidence breakdown. Let me try to frame it before I judge it. Edmondson is trying to add some character depth. Essentially, the last half of the book is an attempt to establish three things: the David vs. Goliath theme of Frank in a world of superheros, this version of Frank Castle’s motivations for what he does, and an attempt at building a dramatic concluding crescendo through character dialouge. The book essentially succeeds at the first goal, he does seem more vulnerable than he has since the first 20 some odd issues of Baron’s run. As for the second, its a swing and a miss, with a madlib of a bunch of garbled cliches: “soldier”, “battlefield”, “victory”, “defeat”, “good men”, “innocent”, “scum of the streets”. As for the third, there was an attempt at a swelling final monologue where Frank would start from his lowest point of self-doubt, and pump himself up through his vague internal pep talk to one of those “I’m the Goddamn Punisher” moments. It didn’t really have the impact I think they were hoping for because it didn’t integrate with the story.

The problem is that beyond some aborted attempts at character building in issues #1 and #2, all of the character development went on the back burner for plot gymnastics for a couple issues, and now there’s a hasty attempt to drop some internal Frank development in right here at the end. Too little, too late, and crudely handled, character development doesn’t mean taking the protagonist from “I’m a pussy” to “No, I’m awesome” in 4 pages of thought bubbles. We had multiple prior issues to work all that back into, it would have made it more subtle and impactful. It had nothing to do with the 6 issue arc it was capping off, it just kind of laid there.

All-in-all, I’m a little disappointed with the more serious turn the book has taken in the last two issues, Edmondson is a much better writer of the action/adventure we were headed towards in the earlier issues. Leave the dark serious nonsense be. We started out “Strike Back”, and somehow we ended up at “Homeland”. Its not awful, but I’m hoping for better in the next arc, more consistency of tone, and lighten it up a little. The book has been a learning curve for everyone involved, including the creators, but the most important thing is they’re WILLING TO TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT, and I can happily go along with that. For the first few issues when the book was going in all new directions things were rockin’ along, in these last two when it steered back towards Rucka and Ennis territory it was looking pretty weak, but there’s something to work with here. Issue #6: Booty. First Arc: De-so, give it a shot. 

PS Yes I know it would have made more sense for the Howling Commandos to just blow him up the multiple chances they had to do so, but its an action book. As for the complaints about the silenced rifles making “BAM BAM” noises, I can forgive that, too, its just lettering.