Greetings, Rama readers! Ready for tomorrow's reviews, today? Best Shots has you covered, with a handful of advance reviews! We've got books from Marvel, Image, Aspen and BOOM! Studios, and that's just the beginning — you can check out the rest of our reviews over at the Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's get locked and loaded with the return of Frank Castle, as we take a peek at the newly-relaunched Punisher…
The Punisher #1
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Marco Checcetto and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
A celebrated writer. A gifted artist. A dark and moody protagonist. Punisher has all the ingredients for making a comic that readers would like — and to be honest, I think a lot of readers will do just that. But for me, I read this comic once. And then again. And then again.
There was something missing. Something that raised an itch that I somehow couldn't scratch. The Punisher has a world of potential, don't get me wrong. But I feel that this first issue didn't quite score the knockout.
Not that any of this comes from a lack of ambition. Hardly — artist Marco Checcetto is the star of this book, and his designwork is just gorgeous on a character-to-character basis. But in certain ways, that actually hurts the nitty-gritty tone of the book: The characters look beautiful, with a hint of that manga-style cartooniness, and it actually makes you forget the street-level scumminess of the Punisher's world. In general, Greg Rucka actually puts the ball in Checcetto's court just a little too much — so much of this book is silent action, which really amps up the style but at the cost of characterization and connection. There's one sequence in particular near the end of the book, where Frank just goes to town on a bar full of bad guys, that would look fantastic as an animated feature… but as a static comic book page, feels a little light and moves a little bit too fast to appreciate.
The other thing about this book — which is surprising, given how reader-friendly Mark Waid's Daredevil, the other Big Shots book, was — is that Rucka really doesn't delve too much into the character of the Punisher. Frank is a force of nature, a silent killer, a man who talks by text and by the barrel of a gun. That has its cool side, which Checcetto draws the hell out of, but on the other hand, what does this say about trying to get people rooting for the Punisher? If people didn't like Rick Remender's fantastic run, what's Rucka going to say differently that's going to sway the crowd? Right now, this book is action upon action upon action, told by the point of view of two policemen, but saying nothing doesn't seem like a workable alternative to saying something different, at least to this reader.
Now, that all said, that's not to say this book doesn't seethe with potential. There's a moment where Checcetto focuses in on Frank's death's-head chest emblem, and the watery skull looks like a mirage of doom and horror, thanks to some stellar colorwork by Matt Hollingsworth. And the opening assault on the wedding party? Yeah, it moves a little quickly, but it's also some John Woo-level carnage, turning a horrifying massacre into something akin to a ballet. The book is surprisingly beautiful — which is a great added bonus — but it feels like something's missing.
Granted, as I read this review, I know that there will be plenty of people who disagree, saying that Checcetto's artwork alone is enough to get them on board. I wouldn't dispute that for an instant — he's totally the best part of this book. But considering how divided fan opinion has been on The Punisher as a character and as a concept, Rucka has to really step up to the plate, and use his voice to make the character his own. This is more of a warning shot — I'm hoping that next month, the talented creative team can hit readers right between the eyes.
Written by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft
Illustrated by Attila Futaki
Lettered by Fonografiks
Published by Image Comics
Review by Jeff Marsick
In all honesty, this review is unnecessary. Look at the header. This book is written by Scott Snyder, which means it should be an automatic buy for anyone who is a regular reader of American Vampire and Detective Comics. Even if you aren't in either of those demographics, you should have this book on your buy list because by now you should be aware that Scott Snyder is synonymous with “damn good storytelling” (well, it oughta be. Roget's clearly needs an update.)
Severed is Mr. Snyder's (and Mr. Tuft's) first venture off the mainstream comic reservation and into the great wide open of the independents. It's a story firmly rooted in Americana, harkening back to 1916, a time when the bloom on this country's innocence stood on the precipice of a fall. Two lives are on an intercepting course: twelve-year old Jack Garron, a viola phenom running away via the rails to an estranged father; and Fredrick, a boy plucked from the embrace of a foster home by a stranger who (judging by that last full-page splash) just might be more nightmare than dream come true. All of this is wrapped under a bow that whatever happens will have a will have terrifying repercussions for Jack four decades and a missing arm later.
What's brilliant about the story is that there's no hard sell, no gimmicks and certainly no rush. We know from the solicits that this is a tale of terror, but the horror is Hitchcockian in its delivery so that the reader almost dreads turning the page for fear of what is coming. It's a casual build, a subtle drawing in, and I defy you to not be hooked when you're finished.
Of course, it helps that Atiila Futaki is doing the illustrating. It is terrific sequential storytelling with panels that aren't cluttered with “stuff” and colored to invoke a period feel, giving a verisimilitude to the visuals. Unique angles lend a cinematic look to the comic and I can't but start counting down how long before the announcement that this has been optioned for the big screen. Truly wonderful work.
Severed is highly recommended, and I'll even go so far as to say it's the best purchase you can make this week.
Written Roger Langridge
Art by Roger Langridge and Rachelle Rosenberg
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Deniz Cordell
I first became aware of Roger Langridge’s work from a storyline in Legends of the Dark Knight that he had illustrated in those long bygone days of that particular magazine. Even then, his style struck me as wild and whimsical in the best possible ways. I later followed his thoroughly enjoyable work as the writer/artist of BOOM!’s The Muppet Show series – which seemed to allow him free reign as a storyteller. Now, he turns to Lewis Carroll for inspiration, and I think even the Reverend Dodgson himself would be delighted with the results.
Snarked takes the characters of the Walrus and the Carpenter – from the poem recited by Tweedledee and Tweedledum, naturally – and extrapolates upon the character traits shown in the Carroll – all to great effect. In Langridge’s world, Wilberforce J. Walrus follows in the lineage of some of my favorite fictional characters of the Twentieth Century – J. Wellington Wimpy (with whom the Walrus shares initials, albeit out of order – as well as a similar taste in millinery), or Daffy Duck – he’s a shameless opportunist, a benign conniver, and a selfish schemer – the kind of character that Phil Silvers excelled at playing. The Carpenter, here named Clyde McDunk, plays the fool and patsy, and is given the gentle clownishness of a Harpo Marx or Buster Keaton. It’s an inter-character dynamic that’s older than Wheeler & Woolsey – who also may have been an influence here – and Langridge’s prodigious talents keep it all fresh and fast. Both characters are strongly developed in the short page-count given here (this being a #0 issue and all – designed as an appetizer and prologue, and not a main course), and it’s more than enough to provide an instant yearning for the first full issue.
Langridge’s art remains as joyously loony and wondrously idiosyncratic as ever – his facial expressions are terrific – but it’s the walks and postures of the characters that cracked me up most of all. It’s a difficult task to effectively convey a motion as normal and mild as walking in a still image, but Langridge’s characters saunters and traipses are so clearly defined and developed that it adds immeasurably to the characterization. His other character designs – such as those for a princess and her mostly taciturn brother – are equally clean and distinctive. Rachelle Rosenberg’s color work is impressively lively – it’s crisp and has a slight diffuse quality to it that lends an air of antiquity.
I mentioned Harpo Marx earlier, and perhaps the best analogy would be to compare this issue to the blissfully anarchic movies that starred those merry Marxes. Langridge’s plotting and dialogue is dotty and delightful – there’s a verbal acuity and wit on display that’s just as dazzling as the artistic sleight-of-hand. His timing is impeccable – everything works in service of the story and the humor to be mined from it. The Walrus and the Carpenter’s sly actions during their sojourn to the Royal Castle, and the aftermath of their visit is a particular standout. In addition to all of the marvelous dialogue on display, there’s also a rhyming narrator – keeping a tie to the source material.
Those who haven’t read Carroll, or haven’t returned to his works in a while have little to worry about in opening this book. Although it has moments and details that will be more rewarding to a Carroll reader – such as a panel in which the Walrus reads the newspaper; or the final page, which is funny on its own, but when taken with knowledge of the poem becomes hysterical – it’s immediately accessible to every reader. The character types are universal and done with a great style and panache, and the sheer energy in the storytelling is dizzying. To supplement the story is a very funny letter column, with artwork that clearly and cleverly evokes catalogues and advertisements from the very early twentieth century – as well as the opportunity for the reader to draw their very own Snark. It is touches like that that demonstrate that this is a work designed to be fun for everyone on every conceivable level. There are also some sketches from Langridge of the main characters and settings which provide dryly humorous glimpses into the world behind the series.
Beyond the Carroll connection though – the aesthetic and tone reminded me of one of my favorite newspaper strips – Jack Kent’s King Aroo - both possessing whimsically crafted characters, an endearing fantasy world, and wordplay galore. Langridge is at the peak of his powers here, and is clearly enjoying himself – which, in turn, makes Snarked such an unadulterated pleasure to read.
The Infinite #1
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Rob Liefeld, Adelso Corona, and Hi-Fi Design
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Review by Patrick Hume
Much like The Infinite's protagonist, Bowen, I feel like I've gone back in time - back to the early '90s, when I first started reading comics. Any of you who were around for the heyday of Image and Valiant will know what I'm talking about — improbable anatomies, limited facial expressions, and an almost heroic disregard for characterization or storytelling. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Rob Liefeld has returned.
It's hard to say what kind of upside Robert Kirkman saw in working with Liefeld on this project. The man's work here shows every reason why there is such a stigma about much of the early Image material today. Admittedly, there has been some improvement; however unlikely they might be, his figures at least don't look like they'd snap in half in a stiff breeze (for the ladies) or be unable to move due to obstructing muscle mass (for the gents). It's also easy enough to follow what's happening on a visual level. I think my real concern with Liefeld's work here is that it feels soulless. I don't get any sense of life behind these characters or the world they exist in. It's the equivalent of a motion-capture film like The Polar Express or Beowulf, where the figures and the setting mimic existence without actually enacting it.
All of that said, Kirkman doesn't exactly bring his A-game either. A somewhat intriguing premise is let down by the worst kind of cliché action-movie dialogue and thin characterization. The reactions of Bowen and his ally Case to the older Bowen's revelations about the future, for example, don't have even a hint of realism to them. Their blind willingness to accept what's happening can only be due to Kirkman's eagerness to get back to the action instead of wasting time on telling us about these people. Those kinds of choices, ones made for the writer's convenience instead of in service to plot and character, make it impossible for me to invest in what's happening. It's only the first issue, of course, but it's hard to believe that someone capable of the stellar character work in The Walking Dead could churn out something this vapid. Perhaps he selected the other Rob as an artistic collaborator because on some level he knew that he was working in the same disposable aesthetic as Liefeld does.
There's plenty of room on the spinner rack for intelligent science-fiction action. The Infinite isn't it. If you feel like spending your $2.99 on something you'll forget, or wish you could forget, as soon as you close it, then this is the book for you.
Broken Pieces #0 (Published by Aspen; Review by Jeff Marsick): Don't let the slimness of the book fool you. It's calorically dense. A biological bomb detonated in the Gulf of Mexico in 2032, and the ramifications of that event are still being felt a few years later. Throw in what looks like a government conspiracy, add a few shots of collusion with a major pharmaceutical company and its egomaniacal (aren't they all?) head and you've got the makings of a grand science-fiction tale. And that's before I even mention the mystery of the high-functioning Frankensteinian creature that makes quick hash of a special ops unit. Micah Kaneshiro gives the book something of a Daniel Acuna feel, which is a perfect fit for the book. The action scenes really move, and the mismatched body parts on the creature (like a biological Garanimal shopping spree gone horribly wrong) are an intriguing design. Even though it's an issue zero, it's worth picking up. If Mark Roslan used this issue to get much of the background out of the way, then issue one should just take off and run, unencumbered by exposition. There's just enough here to whet an appetite, and I expect issue one will be an impressive page-turner. It's certainly worth taking a look at. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!