The Punisher #10, Kitchen Irish, Part 4 (of 6)

Well, the Fernandez art problems escalated quickly. Reading this issue, I had this foreboding feeling, like it was going to be bad… only it’s perfectly well-written, beautifully organized, only the art is always off. Fernandez is still rushing and relying on the colors. And Dean White’s colors don’t match Fernandez’s lines. Though there’s really nothing to do with the now poor composition of these panels. Bad composition, bad detail, then weird colors.

Then again maybe the panel composition was Ennis’s idea, which certainly makes sense for the talking heads portions of the issue, when Fernandez can’t get an expression out of the characters (reading the issue I just kept thinking, oh, yeah, it’s one of those Ennis issues without someone who knows how to do that thing he does with talking heads). So the close-ups are ineffective. Some of the long shots are just bad. Like the angles. And in those panels you can tell it’s not White’s fault, it’s Fernandez.

There’s still some great character stuff on the River Rat leader, Polly, and a little bit more on Brenda. The difference between Polly and Brenda is Polly’s not as awful of a person and Ennis is able to use Brenda for some shock value. Then there’s some more on Maginty. The issue opens with the Punisher—notice I’m in the third paragraph and haven’t mentioned Frank yet? It’s because Fernandez avoids showing him in panels, which works in the last scene because it opens with Frank’s narration. In the rest of the comic it makes him third or fourth tier in his own book. It’s very weird.

And not entirely on Fernandez. Ennis clearly wants to do Frank a particular way and Fernandez isn’t on the same page. The script and art never exactly seem out of sync either, which is almost to the issue’s detriment. The art’s just a bad take on the events it portrays.

The opening scene is Frank and his sidekicks (but he’s actually just their sidekick) interrogating their prisoner. He goes into a big exposition dump about the old neighborhood and all the gangs searching for a ten million payday.

The flashback doesn’t work. The old Irish mobster who died looks like a wizard, which—again—could be Ennis’s fault too. But they only don’t work because Fernandez hasn’t laid the groundwork for it to be effective. This issue’s exposition dump ought to be amazing. Instead it’s… poorly composed talking heads exposition dump.

The writing this issue is great. So good it lets Ennis get away with a cheesy cliffhanger.

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The Punisher #6, In the Beginning, Part 6 (of 6)

Ennis brings back Frank’s narration for the last issue in the arc. He’s got some observations about the mob guys, a blow-by-blow on his fight with Pittsy, the preternaturally tough mob thug (which Ennis handles brilliantly to show Frank’s disorientation after a particularly intense beating), and not much else. It’s an all-action issue; Frank’s taking on the mob as the CIA boss comes in with an attack helicopter. Lots and lots of bad guys getting taken out by Frank. There’s the most insight so far in the series into the character too. While Frank doesn’t expound in his narration, he does actually converse with someone besides an informant or Micro. He sums it all up in four words to the CIA boss when they finally collide.

The issue ends with another of Micro’s long speeches, explaining how the Punisher works only for Punisher MAX not to work that way. Micro again refers back to the Born limited series; it comes off as nonsensical, reaching. As opposed to the interrogation, he and Frank are actually conversing. Frank’s not verbose in his responses, but he tells Micro what’s what. Tersely.

In addition to the action violence, there’s a lot of gore this issue. Much more than the first issue, which had ordnance capable of removing bad guys’s heads from their bodies. This issue those types of “kills,” for lack of a better term, get the close-up. One time the close-up gore kill is for a joke (as close as the comic ever gets to a joke—there are two in the issue, Ennis’s somewhat sardonic humor soaked oily black), the other time it’s for emphasis, to leave the reader with a better understanding of what they can expect from the series. The arc is called In the Beginning, after all. Beginning could also refer to how Micro comes to understand Frank. He’s got the wrong ideas at the start, he learns more, makes more wrong conclusions. It’s more unfortunate than tragic, as Micro’s only likable opposite the CIA pricks, never sympathetic.

Ennis does a particular great job of showing how Frank and Micro work together, presumably echoing their many years together in the old days. Before Punisher MAX, before this Frank, before this Beginning.

It’s a phenomenal conclusion to the arc. Ennis has everything running smoothly—the mob stuff in particular (the mob boss all of a sudden, but appropriately, gets a promotion serious villain)—and Frank’s fistfight is awesome. Strong art from LaRosa. He, inker Tom Palmer, and colorist Dean White toggle from small scale action to a big scale much different than they’ve done before. Even though Frank’s got a plan, the odds aren’t in his favor. Except with Frank, odds don’t have anything to do with it.

It’s haunting. Depressing. Unpleasant. And exceptional. Garth Ennis figured out how to do the Punisher straight. Not ironic, not right-wing gun porn, but straight. In the Beginning gets Ennis, Frank, and The Punisher off to superior start.

The Punisher #4, In the Beginning, Part 4 (of 6)

Ennis doesn’t waste any time with the pitch—Micro’s pitch, the reason there’s a story. Does Frank want to go hunt Bin Laden? The CIA can turn Frank into an international terrorist hunter, with Microchip backing him up, all the weapons he could want. On and on Micro chip goes, talking to empty-eyed Frank, who occasionally looks like Clint Eastwood again, but only occasionally.

Frank’s not impressed with the pitch. No more heroic action outings to fund the military industrial complex. The first time he gets the hint of an eyeball it’s to tell Micro where to stick the proposal. The second time, when he’s actually got a visualized eye, he’s talking about the Vietnam war memorial.

Turns out all Micro’s big talk about being Frank’s best friend and a valued part of Team Punisher? It’s all in Micro’s head. He doesn’t seem to understand Frank, who does take a moment to try to explain it all. It’s a flashback from Frank, to after his family died, and he explains what punishment means to him. It’s brief and fast—the mob guys are mounting their assault to take him (and the CIA) out—but it’s really, really heavy. And Micro, who seemingly really thought he was going to get Frank to agree to be a one man war on America’s enemies… doesn’t get it.

The interrogation scene is phenomenal, even with LaRosa and Palmer’s frankly (no pun) off-putting Frank. He looks like a soulless thing more than a person. The lack of visible eyes (Micro has a bunch here, as he blathers) is unsettling, which is part of the point. Outstanding dialogue from Ennis, great visual pacing from LaRosa.

Ennis has Frank and Micro as his A plot, then the CIA and the mob as his B plots. The CIA stuff is good—both closer to humor than the rest of the book (mean-spirited dark humor, but still humor) and as character development. Ennis isn’t forgetting about his cast.

Similarly, the mob stuff is all good. Turns out the Boston crew is a lot smarter than the CIA. They don’t do decorum, they do brutal.

When it gets to the hard cliffhanger, which is one of those “worst case” cliffhangers, it’s hard not to remember how Ennis already got away with one just a couple issues ago. So straits aren’t too dire. It’s a going gets (impossibly) tough. Time to see how Frank gets going. So it’s less about concern or confusion and more about anticipation.

It’s exquisitely written, well-illustrated, with a great pace. Ennis and LaRosa have definitely hit their stride.

The Punisher #3, In the Beginning, Part 3 (of 6)

I guess I technically need a spoiler alert. Frank Castle, The Punisher, did not die at the end of the second issue of his seventh series. Ennis is not going ahead with some kind of New Punisher series. Instead, Micro and the CIA team hit him with rubber bullets; which would have, outside the Marvel MAX universe, been lethal given how close Micro got the barrel to Frank’s head, but whatever. He’s the Punisher, he can take it.

Ennis splits the issue, once again, between Frank, the CIA, and the mob. The Boston mob guys open the issue by taking over the New York mob; they keep the one local lackey around because they need a straight man in the gang. Even the composed leader guy is a little nuts. While cementing their control, they see a news story about Frank getting arrested and go to a dirty cop to find out what’s really going on. The cops don’t know everything, of course, because CIA, but they know enough to put the gang onto a witness.

Meanwhile, the CIA also wants to talk to the witness and tell him to shut up, putting the CIA goof (not the female agent, who’s having conniptions over hearing Frank speak) on a collision course with the gangsters. If he’s lucky, he’s going to survive. But he’s not the cliffhanger. The cliffhanger, which comes off as a hard cliffhanger, is actually pretty soft; it comes at the end of Micro talking to Frank. He’s been working up to this single question, spending the rest of the issue in an interrogation room with Frank, telling Frank why Frank is the way Frank is.

Micro’s clearly thought a lot about it. Though apparently not enough to realize he’s got two mutually exclusive opinions about Frank’s psychological profile. But Micro’s got a hubris problem.

He also thinks Frank’s origin story is Born. Given how that series turned out, it might have been nice for Ennis to have bookended it with Micro telling the story. It would’ve helped.

Frank, however, doesn’t say his origin story is born. Frank doesn’t say much of anything. He speaks once in the issue, bound to a chair in a dimly lighted room (I wish Ennis and LaRosa had shown the CIA guys converting a hotel suite bedroom into an interrogation box). Only on that one panel does Frank get eyes. The rest of the issue, both he and Micro’s eyes are obscured by shadows. It removes the personality from Micro’s exposition, in a phenomenally subtle way, and it makes Frank seem like a caged animal.

When Frank speaks, and we see his eyes… Well. It’s awesome.

And it’s also Clint Eastwood’s face on Frank’s head. Frank’s a gigantic guy, body-wise, muscles everywhere. But when he’s got to look at Micro and tell Micro what’s what, he does it with Clint Eastwood’s face.

It’s not even subtle. It’s awesome, if obviously. And does give some idea what his voice might sound like, if only to support the female agent’s reaction.

The cliffhanger’s a little pat, but otherwise it’s excellent. Ennis presents two (and a half) versions of the Punisher for the reader to consider. Except all those versions come from Frank’s jailers, not Frank. Micro’s seems the most factually informed and therefor accurate (at least from Micro’s perspective), but….

Micro can explain Frank. The CIA boss can explain Frank. Only the half impression doesn’t explain him.

It’s such smooth, such subtle work from Ennis. LaRosa does a good job on the art, but it’s all about Ennis’s script.

Even in the future of the future of law enforcement there is room for improvement: Frank Miller’s Robocop (2)

Like most media with a Frank Miller credit on it, Frank Miller’s Robocop does not aged well. More accurately, as far as Robocop goes anyway, it doesn’t improve with age or maturity. It was always as bad as it is now, every reading another bloody stab at nostalgia. Frank Miller’s Robocop is an adaptation of Miller’s original Robocop 2 script. It’s a pseudo-infamous script—Miller, hot off Dark Knight loves Robocop and writes the sequel. There’s a writer’s strike in there somewhere. When the sequel finally does get made, Miller’s script has been rewritten by Walon Green (who wrote some of The Wild Bunch script). The sequel doesn’t get a good reaction, everyone starts thinking it’s because Miller’s script got rewritten. But then Miller’s back for Robocop 3, which should seem weird but actually makes perfect sense because they’re really just using his Robocop 2 script ideas.

So Frank Miller’s Robocop initially comes off more like a Robocop 3 adaptation than a Robocop 2. The first three issues are just Robocop 3, then with 2 elements, but still with a bunch of 3 going on. If only adapter Steven Grant could unravel all these threads….

And he doesn’t. He leaves Robocop entirely jumbled, with Juan Jose Ryp’s highly detailed, precisely messy, very busy art not doing anything to save the comic. Ryp’s art never really hurts it—whoever gives him too many pages for action scenes, for example, is the one who hurts it. Ryp does well with fast paced action. He doesn’t do well slowing down to go through a throw-by-throw. Especially not with the comic’s version of “Robocop 2,” the big villain (sort of) in the finale. It usually feels like Grant’s never seen Ryp’s art, otherwise no one would plot out the scene the way Grant does.

Editing matters. Though with Frank Miller’s Robocop you probably don’t get to tell Frank Miller how his ideas are so bad, even a franchise-desperate movie studio could improve on them.

I’ve read this series something like three times now. Maybe four. Definitely three. I’ve read it as published (often delayed), I’ve read it slowly, I’ve binged it. It never gets any better. There’s never enough story for the issues or even the series. The first three have something like an arc, which suggests Grant might do something similar with the back six, but he doesn’t. Once the big action set pieces start, the comic rushes to get out of there way so Ryp can have too many pages to do boring action.

In the end, all Frank Miller’s Robocop does is raise questions not particularly worth having answered—did Miller write any of these characters any better, did he really have such bad plotting or was Grant trying to make it fit the nine issues (it feels like there’s one missing, though who’d want to read another one).

Robocop 2, the movie, is far from great shakes, but seeing notes on Miller’s script from the studio execs? Seeing those might be interesting, if only because there’s so much to “fix.”

(It’s also strange how few of the “regular” cast show up in the script. Makes you wonder what Miller liked about the first movie).

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