Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood 2 (December 1998)

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Once again, there’s the item you can tell Gulacy just went gloriously overboard with. This time, it’s one of the squid faced aliens–but as a Hutt dancing girl. Emberlin inks are especially good; there are some great alien worlds panels in the first few pages.

Richardson and Stradley are slowly developing the overall story. The dialogue is good, the characters are all good. The issue passes without many hiccups, but it also passes without a real character. Crimson Empire II is apparently a licensed Star Wars comic first and a narrative second.

In fact, this issue is still setup for whatever’s going to come, big and small. The previous issue introduced two general story lines. This one expands it out to three or more. The writers are enthusiastic about whatever they have planned and it helps.

It’s still too soon to decide on the series, but the issue’s good.

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Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood 1 (November 1998)

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Once again, Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley are deliberate in their setup. Council of Blood has some fight scenes–well, some violent acts without real bloodshed (just the threat of it)–and some space stuff, but it’s all about the politics.

Just from this issue, it’s clear the dialogue’s better than the first series, at least for the politicians. While the comic obviously owes a lot to Star Wars–specifically Jedi–it’s hard not to see some Dune comparisons too.

I’m not sure how it reads to regular Dark Horse Star Wars readers, but it’s incomprehensible without reading the first series. Sadly, the Western flavor to the story isn’t back–there’s way too much planet-trotting–but Richardson and Stradley have a good tone.

Paul Gulacy (inked by Randy Emberlin) does fairly well. Emberlin’s a little thick for Gulacy. Gulacy’s best work is in the little details.

Blood starts fine.

Chronicles of Wormwood: The Last Battle 6 (August 2011)

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If this series had end credits, “With a Little Help from My Friends” would play over them. Ennis should call the next series The Wonder Years.

And there should be a third series, because for all my cynicism, Ennis does the impossible and leaves this Wormwood with more potential than he did the first series.

To get the trick done, of course, Ennis does have to show his cards. Turns out he’s been playing them extremely close to the chest. The cliffhanger resolution and the big reveal in this issue are deftly done. They even open up recollections of the previous series because it works on the character development level (retroactively).

Even if Jimenez technically brings the series down, Ennis is still at the top of his game with Wormwood. He’s able to change the series’s tone, its pacing and still it succeeds.

Chronicles of Wormwood just warms the heart.

Chronicles of Wormwood: The Last Battle 5 (October 2010)

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Ennis is a cruel dude.

He becomes up with one of the better cliffhangers I can think of in the comic book medium, just because it plays with the reader’s hopes for the characters and his or her affection for them, but it doesn’t do anything dangerous so to speak.

Great cliffhanger (shame Jimenez isn’t up to par with it).

Otherwise, the comic is nearly sweet. It opens with Wormwood and his girlfriend having a heartfelt, then funny conversation. They’re hoping they can keep up the humor once they’ve got the baby. It’s touching, so Ennis later goes the other route with Pope Jacko explaining his take on humanity. It’s utterly hilarious.

The plotting of the issue is simply masterful. The reader knows something the characters do not and Ennis has a lot of fun delaying and distracting revelation.

I have no idea how he’ll finish up in one issue.

Chronicles of Wormwood: The Last Battle 4 (June 2010)

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Ennis is definitely building to the conclusion. He’s put a character in danger, he’s raised the stakes with Wormwood… he’s even giving Jay a lot to do.

At this point, none of it feels rushed. In fact, the issue is kind of long in the tooth with Pope Jacko’s insights into being damned. It’s a fine enough scene and Ennis comes up with some great details, but it’s pointless. Jimenez doesn’t bring any funny business to it and so it’s plodding exposition.

Where the issue succeeds is in Wormwood and Jay’s scenes. Ennis gets to be playful with the rules–Wormwood can’t help but tempt, Jay makes everyone tell the truth–and it brings humor to an otherwise downbeat issue.

Jimenez also fails with the talking heads. It’s like he can do expressions, then overdoes the rest. It’s most striking when Wormwood’s pleading his case to his girlfriend.

Still, it’s excellent.

Chronicles of Wormwood: The Last Battle 3 (February 2010)

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What the heck is Ennis doing? He’s half done with Last Battle and he’s maybe a quarter done with the story he’s trying. Unless he ends the universe. If he ends the universe I’m going to be very, very angry.

Worries aside, it’s another strong issue. It’s mostly Wormwood dealing with Jimmy outing himself in front of the girlfriend, in a very, very funny scene.

But all the impending fatherhood business–and here’s where Ennis is genius–raises the issue of whether Ennis himself is expecting. It doesn’t matter if he is or not, the issue raises the question of whether he should write about it or not. It loops in on itself beautifully.

As for Jimenez, who I usually complain about first… well, I could complain about him again but I won’t. I’ll just say he hasn’t improved.

It’s great writing, but I can’t imagine how Ennis’ll finish neatly.

Chronicles of Wormwood: The Last Battle 2 (October 2009)

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Jimenez’s lack of humor hurts this issue too. Ennis brings back a very funny character and Jimenez can’t balance the humor and the horror. I mean, Ennis brings the character back from Hell so it’s got to be a little disturbing, but to lose the humor is a mistake.

Otherwise, the issue sails by. Wormwood is having father-to-be issues, which Ennis handles with equal parts comedy and drama. He really brings humanity to the Antichrist. Then Wormwood has a rough talk with his girlfriend, another place Jimenez fails. He doesn’t make her distinct at all.

The only problem with the issue is the aforementioned character returning. Maybe it’s just the weak art on the conclusion, but Ennis takes a lot of time on it and there’s just no payoff.

Still, it’s hard not to trust his narrative sensibilities… and the series’s event remain entirely unpredictable; Ennis’s consistently fresh.

Chronicles of Wormwood: The Last Battle 1 (September 2009)

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Oscar Jimenez is not the right artist for Chronicles of Wormwood. He’s doing a Jacen Burrows (the original series’s artist) impression and it just doesn’t work. He doesn’t get the humor. He gets the scary, gross-out stuff, but not the humor.

And there’s a lot of humor. Oh, there’s drama–lots of drama. Jesus is getting better, Danny’s going to have a baby, he and Jimmy are fighting since Danny’s moved his girlfriend in… but there’s a lot of humor.

I mean, Jimmy is a foul-mouthed, horny rabbit, how can there not be humor?

Instead of dropping the cast in an entirely new situation, Garth Ennis is checking in with them some indeterminate time after the previous issue (a one-shot) and bringing the reader up to date. It’s impossible, with this issue, to predict where exactly he’s going with the comic.

Even with Jimenez, the magic’s back.

The Punisher 6 (February 2012)

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I’ve got to say… Rucka’s never going to be able to recover from the Punisher having a snow outfit. It’s like Batman & Robin or something. Next he’ll have ice skates in his boots.

This issue’s pretty lame. Once again, Frank is silent. But more, Lady Punisher is mostly silent too. The big predictable set piece happens and Rucka (along with new artists Matthews Southworth and Clark) channel their nineties John Woo. Is John Woo still cool enough to channel? I don’t think so.

There’s nothing particularly terrible about the comic. Oh, sure, the white snowsuit Punisher costume (perfect for an action figure variant at the Disney Store) is dumb and the two Matthews have lots of art problems, but it’s not offensive.

It’s just juvenile. Rucka finally was making some progress on the book and he’s completely flushed it. He still hasn’t made Frank Castle a character.

The Punisher‘s pointless.

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