Bullet Reviews #23: The Punisher Returns And Much, MUCH More!
New week, new comics, new Bullet Reviews!
CALIGULA #3 of 6 (Avatar Press)
We are in this to the end! I will not waste time going over the story again. You can catch up with links to our previous Bullet Reviews for issue 2 and article on issue 1. Suffice to say, our protagonist, Junius, has had his family brutally and unjustly slaughtered at the whims of Caligula, the supernatural emperor of Rome. We catch up with Junius a few months later as he has become the latest plaything of the fickle emperor. Caligula displays no mercy during the coliseum gladiator fights as his toy looks on. Junius has resigned himself to drink and debauchery. During a beaten, abused (and things best left unspoken) bacchanalial, Junius spies a man whom helped bring a brutal end to his family. Can the very visible emperor’s puppet possibly seek revenge undetected? The pages shall tell. What will our hero do when he is forced to board a ship with Caligula for campaigns abroad? Will a new player emerge? Can Junius find a way to enact vengeance against an otherworldly nemesis? This issue sees the story and art open up. Do I have to restate what courage it takes for Avatar Press to produce a horror comic with German Nobile’s classically painted art? The visuals are beautiful and original. The art seems to get even tighter in this issue.. Many panels are larger and have room to breathe and blossom. The figure outlines are clean and tight; more so than previous offerings. The story has found an even pace. I had my doubts that the inventive David Lapham could bring this story together; those doubts were unfounded. We are halfway there. Get on the Caligula bandwagon while you can (these issues sell-out ridiculously quick)! See you next time. -Robb Orr
IRREDEEMABLE #28 (Boom Studios)
Returning to Earth, hell-bent on wreaking havoc, is the Plutonian and his merry band of alien marauders. Having been sprung from their intergalactic insane asylum through an intricate chain of events, this issue sees a new arc in Marc Waid’s Eisner and Harvey Award-nominated series. As the United Nations try to put the world order back together, new leaders emerge, new alliances are forged and a semblance of peace is momentarily restored. Very momentarily.
Upon his homecoming, the Plutionian uses his heat vision (don’t sue) to scorch the Earth with his symbol before going after his old allies; those who helped imprison him, The Paradigm. Sure, cities are torn asunder, bodies battered and necks broken, but this is very reminiscent of the series’ opening issues. The premise of a rogue Superman was a tantalising concept, and seeing him cut loose on the population was a guilty joy. However, there isn’t enough in this issue to promise a change is coming. Sure the all-powerful Plutionian now has some colourful alien compadres, but the theme needs a big shake up in the coming issues to hold interest. Stick with it though, as this boundry-breaking series has earned it. At least for now. – Thom Atkinson
LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY #2 (Top Cow/Knockabout Comics)
Psst. Alan Moore has a secret. Are you sitting comfortably? Ok, here it is… the Northampton Magus is a massive nerd. Don’t believe me? The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen may seem terribly refined in comparison to the likes of the X-Men, or the JLA, trading as they do on punch-ups with mutants, robots and demons while it making literary allusions to Wells and Verne, but take another look. Contemporary superhero comics source much of their material from recent films, television shows, anime and, increasingly, a misplaced sense of nostalgia for older comics (Geoff Johns, for example, is prone to this). Moore does something similar, except he is sourcing his material from out of print or forgotten fiction. What was his Mr Hyde in Volumes one and two but a retroactive (in fictional chronology) tribute to Lee and Kirby’s Incredible Hulk? With all the cameos and references to pulp fiction, penny dreadfuls and Tijuana Bibles, LoEG’s closest point of comparison is Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick’s The Venture Brothers! Moore is regarded in certain circles of fandom as a disapproving Bad Dad, dismissing modern comics as derivative and cynical. But take a look at the increasingly familiar references trotted out in Century #2: Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius, Parker from Thunderbirds, Michael Caine’s Get Carter, Edward Woodward’s spy drama series Callan, Nicholas Roeg’s Performance – the man is a massive nerd! And he’s having fun too, which makes this fun to read. Still what is interesting about Century is how, as the years progress, a sense of depression grows. The free love era of the sixties here ends in disappointment and failure, with Orlando and Quatermain stranded in the miserabilism of the punk years by the book’s conclusion. Will V appear in the next volume, a reflection of the Thatcherite period that inspired his creation? The glimpse shown of the nineties is of a dark dystopia, inevitable and waiting for the League. There is a moment in this book when Mina Murray is revealed to have founded a League of superheroes, but their time is already over. Is Moore hinting that contemporary comics should never have outlasted the Golden Age that they still draw upon? This book raises many questions about comics and genre, but is stuffed with Easter eggs that fellow travelers will recognize, or at least discover with a quick Google search. Bring on the next volume. -Emmet O’Cuana
MYSTIC #1 (Marvel)
By rights that company name within parentheses should read ‘Crossgen’, but then that publisher was dismantled years ago and bought lock, stock and barrel by Disney. Of course, as you know, Disney has since bought Marvel. Perhaps that is why we are seeing a return of the less superhero-focused Crossgen titles, adding diversity to Marvel’s catalogue of books – this comic could quite easily be adapted as an animated feature or a live-action family movie by Disney.
The art is simply gorgeous, David López is producing panels that look like shots captured from an animated movie. It is rare that the interior art should outstrip the inviting cover work, but open this book to its first page and the reader is sure to be blown away by how detailed, colourful and beautiful the magical steampunk universe of Mystic is. The plot concerns two young orphans who attempt to escape the drudgery of their impoverished existence by reading about magic. Gabrielle and Genevieve have spent their entire lives within an orphanage, first as starving charges and later as indentured slaves. As members of the lower class, they are forbidden from studying magic and when they are caught doing so, the two girls are forced to run away. A sudden twist of fate changes both their lives and sets in motion events that will rock this caste-based society. G. Willow Wilson fashions a plot that lies somewhere between the musical Annie and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, showing the same imaginative ambition that was on display in her Vertigo title Air. -Emmet O’Cuana
THE PUNISHER #1 (Marvel)
Writer Greg Rucka gives a different take on our favorite criminal killer. How’s it different? Well, for one thing he doesn’t have a single word of dialogue in this whole issue. For another, he feels more like a function of the story, much the same way Man-Thing wasn’t as much the main character in his series but more a function of the story. The first issue centers on an attack and mass killing at a wedding. The mystery is who killed them, why, and where they got their weapons. While the police follow their leads, it would appear that one of the cops is in contact with Frank Castle and gives him some information on who they might be looking for. It feels more like a cop drama than a Punisher comic. And that’s not a bad thing, either. It’s a nice, fresh take on the character.
We then have a back-up story in which an officer is interviewed about a stake out that ended in a lot of deaths. We ‘hear’ the officers testimony as we are shown what actually happened. One thing the officer in question doesn’t mention the involvement of the Punisher. I’ve always been a passing fan of the Punisher, but this book was pretty entertaining. I don’t know if I’ll grab it every month, but I’ll certainly consider the trades!
Overall, this was a fresh, back to basics look at the Punisher and the world in which he operates. I have to say the way Rucka portrays him in this issue, with his total lack of dialogue and popping up seemingly out of no where, makes him scary again. It gives you the feeling that you know he’s there… somewhere… and he has a gun. Which breath will be your last? When will he pull that trigger? The Punisher is intimidating again and that’s how I like him! -Skott Jimenez
RED SKULL: INCARNATE #2 (Marvel)
Greg Pak sends his readers to a dark place as we take the next step in the journey with Johann Schmidt, the child who becomes the Red Skull. Since Magneto: Testament hit me as hard as it did, I am trying to stay fairly guarded while reading this one, though this issue didn’t seem to need that boundary. It seemed to me that the message was conflicted. Situation and circumstance determined Schmidt’s outlook on life, yet his manipulation of the system was internal. I think that Pak’s biggest point in this book was the idea that evil takes the opportunities given to it for personal gain without regard for any outside influence. I’m still hesitant to read on, as I understand that the potential for evil is in all of us and can be funneled to the surface. –Andy Kirby
SECRET SIX #36 (DC)
Final Issue! Gail Simone’s series about villains on the wrong side of both the superpowered heroes and criminal underclass ends with a bang. It is a bittersweet conclusion to this series that over its various runs, from the initial Villains United miniseries that tied in to Infinite Crisis, to the ongoing Secret Six book itself, has delivered some brilliant moments. With this last issue the series is revealed as a runaway train of highs and lows, filled with tragedy and black-as-pitch comedy. This may be Simone’s DC masterpiece, which makes its absence come the September relaunch all the sadder. The reinvention of Bane, restoring the deadly intelligence that belonged to the character before he was written off as a steroid-pumped thug, has been a triumph, and by rights with the recent attention drawn to the character by Tom Hardy’s casting in the latest Batman film, Secret Six should have been front and center in the run up to its release. Instead the decision was made to end the book, replacing it with an identikit Suicide Squad led by Harley Quinn, featuring some of the characters introduced by Simone. This last adventure revolves around Bane’s decision to become more dangerous, to ‘hurt the Bat’, in effect bringing the character full circle to his original introduction. Catman and Deadshot get to have their own Butch and Sundance moment (Peter Milligan pulled off a similar stunt with his last issue of X-Statix), and the Six find themselves surrounded, much like they did during Villains United. The message of that first miniseries returns in this issue, that the heroes and villains of the DCU are so far off the moral compass that the likes of Scandal Savage, Catman, Ragdoll and Deadshot find themselves targeted by both, because they are not extremists! The DCU was no place for likable villains, or conflicted antiheroes, and so the Six were always on the run, belonging to neither side. Kudos to Simone and the talented artists who joined her on this quest into DC’s heart of darkness. –Emmet O’Cuana
SEVERED #1 (Image)
Recently, Image really has been producing some top quality books that eschew superheroics and the jumping of buildings in favour of rich, narrative-driven storytelling. Scott Snyder takes a break from the Bat to serve up a haunting and atmospheric story about a mysterious man prowling the isolated American countryside for innocents, disguised as a representative of General Electric. This first issue feels like a spin-off from Carnivale, mainlining on King, Lansdale and Bradbury, and featuring drifters, hobos and long journeys stowed away on a train. An elderly man is overtaken by his memories of what happened to him as a young boy in 1916. He mentions a ‘nightmare… lurking on the horizon waiting for me’. That nightmare is identified as a Mister Porter, the would-be General Electric man, who preys on young boys. The creepy atmosphere is enhanced by Attila Futaki’s sepia-tinted art, and the cover looks like that of a horror novel left mouldering on a second-hand bookshop shelf. This is a very promising first issue. Snyder and co-writer Scott Tuft have invited readers to come along on a weird ride, a dark fairytale set in the bleak American countryside. –Emmet O’Cuana
SNARKED! #0 (kaboom!)
Some time ago, we had a preview of this book. I checked it out and it became a book that was always in the back of my mind. This week it came out and, with the $1 price tag, was something I couldn’t pass up. The review posted here pretty much covers it. It’s loosely based on the characters in the Alice In Wonderland story, the Walrus and the Carpenter. The art is lively and the story light and entertaining. I would certainly recommend this for anyone wanting to share kid friendly comics with their young one. There are also games and some entertaining texts in this issue. Check it out, you’ll be glad you did! –Skott Jimenez
WOLVERINE #13 (Marvel)
Although this issue seems like a repeat of the last two or three, it was still interesting to me. And THAT is interesting to me. How can the same plot and the same story taken from other people’s perspectives hold my attention for that many issues? But that’s the key. We are seeing the view of Wolverine from an outsider’s perspective. We are seeing his monstrous displays of power and violence from the point of view of the victim, regardless of whether that individual is “good” or “bad.” What also intrigued me about this book is how much of a cliff it left me hanging on. I am again surprised to say that I can’t wait to find out what is behind that door, and what in the world could cause Wolverine so much pain that it would suffice as a justification for these vengeful souls throwing their lives at him. In short… I can’t wait! –Andy Kirby
X-23 #13 (Marvel)
Still good, but not as strong an issue, I think. X-23 goes to New York! I was intrigued that Liu has decided to incorporate some of the wider-range Marvel characters into the book. We see Spider-Man (in his FF uniform, no less) as well as the other primary members of the FF. We also are treated to a mention of the NYX crew. I thought this was a good starter issue for the next arc, but it was somewhat difficult to fully understand what was going on. The pacing seemed a bit rushed, though the characterization was spot-on! So upward and onward to our new favorite Wolverine-esqe character. Keep pumping out the good! Though I was sad to see that Jubilee was not in this issue. -Andy Kirby