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

The Punisher #3The Punisher #3; Marvel Comics, MAX; April 2004; $2.99, 36 pgs; available collected and digitally.

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.

Bare minimum word count + 1

I am having a nightmare time with the Summing-Up microcast. Right after I committed (myself) to getting out a couple “ashcan” episodes this week, I discovered… recording in the car isn’t going to work. It’s just not, which is a bummer, but whatever. Though it did just occur to me I could try recording in Anchor, who clearly do some filtering on their end with the audio, and then load that audio into Ferrite and see if it works. I’ll probably try it. I’ve been messing with recording it in the car for a week, what’s another test.

Getting lost in the weeds with the technical stuff has killed whatever momentum I had going to find the tone for SUM. Versus VRP for the Visual Reflux podcast. I’ve spent way too much time thinking about how to identify the podcasts versus the blogs. It doesn’t help the actual podcast—the whole reason for starting Visual Reflux—was so much fun. Monday morning recording might be the secret. Not tired except from going to bed too late, not lethargic, no cats bothering me to be fed. But also none of the many problems we’ve had over the years with the other podcasts. No crackles. I’ve been dealing with crackling audio since the second episode of Alan Smithee Podcast, just because I didn’t realize the first one crackled. Though it crackled in a different way than that last episode of the Comics Fondle podcast crackled. I could filter the Comics Fondle podcast. Alan Smithee crackles took over the whole waveform.

I’m in my (now) standard Wednesday funk, which doesn’t help for other projects and whatnot, but at least I got in my blog post for the day. Just getting the Visual Reflux post in might be the most I can manage for now.

Though I’m kind of thinking about doing a video game review, if only because it’ll open with an amusing anecdote and because the game is either plagiarized or an example of an old game getting refreshed by a different developer.

But who knows if I’ll get around to it.

The Visual Reflux Podcast! Season 1? Episode 1!

The whole reason for Visual Reflux–before I decided to do a daily writing (albeit one I’m very behind on)–was because we were doing a new podcast! Here is that podcast! Lots of MCU talk, lots of comic talk, lots of Netflix talk, some other stuff talk.

Subscribe in all the places. Because Anchor makes it so easy.

Anchor is awesome.

They probably hunt elephants or something :/

Umm. So they’re not hooking up? Worse, are they?

If you’ve ever read Swamp Thing (not “New 52” Swamp Thing I don’t think but maybe), Abby and Alec hook up. A lot. They even hooked up in the movie.

But this teaser for the new show with vines covering Abby’s mouth and eyes?

I mean. Is this a Fifty Shades of Grey thing or… is “Swamp Thing” going to fail to deliver the entire reason the comic’s great? Of course it is.

ENTER ABBY ARCANE. Via: @CrystalmReed #swampthing #dcuswampthing #dcuniverse @dcuswampthing @thedcuniverse?

The Punisher #2, In the Beginning, Part 2 (of 6)

The Punisher #2The Punisher #2; Marvel Comics, MAX; March 2004; $2.99, 36 pgs; available collected and digitally.

The second issue of Punisher, second part of the story arc, echoes nicely with the first. Last issue opened in a cemetery, this issue opens in a cemetery. Ennis also explores a little of Frank’s regular behavior; meeting one of his informants, getting involved with something there, then just heading home and cleaning his guns. Presumably Frank spends a lot of time cleaning guns.

Ennis splits the rest of the issue between Microchip and the mob. Microchip’s got to convince his rogue C.I.A. handlers he can deliver on his promise to get Frank while this New York mobster calls this other, higher up mobster to come help since Frank has wiped out all the higher level mobsters in New York. Ennis has a lot of fun with both scenes. The comic’s only got maybe six—Frank at the cemetery, Micro, Frank and the informant, mob guy, Frank cleaning guns, cliffhanger. It’s real simple, reads kind of fast, kind of not. Ennis puts a lot of attention into the dialogue for Micro, the conversation with the mobsters. Because the cliffhanger has to be a surprise. Ennis is trying to shock the reader and it works.

LaRosa does better with the action than the talking heads. There’s a lot of digital editing on the talking heads panels and sometimes the colors are doing the shading work, which doesn’t match the rest of the issue. But the point is the dialogue. The art is secondary in those scenes. A distant second.

Micro’s exposition dump has a little more about of the back story—in Punisher Max universe; he and Frank worked together for ten years, he helped Frank kill over eight hundred people, before Micro came along Frank was just a nut job with a gun, basically. In the moment, it doesn’t read too much like self-aggrandizing—Micro’s also showing off his tough guy cred in the scene—which is impressive since it’s a lot of self-aggrandizing. Ennis does a phenomenal job setting the narrative distance with Micro and the mobsters. The way he angles it, it feels like the book is going to alternate the reader’s perspective from being in line with Micro and being in line with the mobsters. They’re both after Frank, Frank will be the subject.

It’s a really nice move, especially given how the cliffhanger functions (and turns everything upside-down).

The visiting mobsters (from Boston) are more Ennis eccentrics than anyone else in the comic so far; the sexually explicit C.I.A. agent doesn’t have much to do this issue (except get in a couple great lines). But the mob guys? The leader is slick and mean and generic, but his stooges are amazing. There’s the rude one and the weird quiet one. The rude one is somewhat standard looking—tough little, older guy in a tracksuit—but the quiet one looks like Beaker from the Muppets. They both get excellent moments during their scene; Ennis knows how to lay in sly humor. Even if it’s terrible.

It’s almost like the big boom of the cliffhanger distracts from all the strong work the comic does throughout. Almost like, but not quite. Ennis keeps it all balanced.

Artist find: Gigi Cavenago

I found Cavenago thanks to a tweet of this old Ripley piece.

ELLEN RIPLEY by Gigi Cavenago

His blog, linked above, is out of date. But he’s got a current Deviant Art gallery going with some great pieces. Looks like he illustrated Dylan Dog covers, wherever Dylan Dog is a popular comic. Europe?

He’s got a wonderful sense of movement.

Also… is Groucho Marx a character in Dylan Dog?

Right hand meet left hand

Back in MFA school, I was watching a lot of movies over again. Sea of Love, Sling Blade, Gone in Sixty Seconds are the main examples just because Stop Button still has the posts. I remember talking in class about how it didn’t seem like Billy Bob Thornton actually realized what he did with Sling Blade and so it screwed up the film, which got into whether or not a creative could not realize what they were doing with their creation.

The mid-aughts were a weird time for indie film breaking out. If you missed it in the nineties, you were still able to catch up. Most of the people who made excellent films then were still making movies, even if they were Broken Flowers and not Ghost Dog. So I got some push back from classmates but then agreement from the instructor. You can make a thing and have no idea what you made.

So seeing Endgame co-writer Christopher Markus disagree on how time travel works in the movie? Not a surprise. What else would you expect from the guy who wrote Dark World? But it also shows just how smoothly Kevin Feige keeps the trains running; on a Feige production, you can apparently fundamentally disagree with your other creatives with no negative result to the end product.

Basically Feige is the guy J.J. Abrams always wanted to be but couldn’t.

Avengers: Endgame’s Directors and Writers Disagree on the Ending

Might not Hopefully

If I had Visual Reflux set up a little differently, I’d really easily be able to go back and look to see the last time I was getting my daily posts done. It’s been a while. Longer than when I was sick and I’ve been sick a week; out of commission two and a half days, maybe two and three quarters days. The day I slammed Hiball to try to stay conscious was a bad one, even if I was technically functioning.

But falling off the daily wagon didn’t start with the sick. I feel like it was that big MCU post, which got a whopping seven hits. I’m not sure how many it would’ve gotten over at Stop Button but definitely more than seven. Though maybe not. For all the energy I put into the “Sum Up” posts at Stop Button, only the John Carpenter and Eleanor Parker ones were ever popular as far as hits. Might be why I lost interest in doing them and instead just call anything long form a “Sum Up” now. Like the microcast I meant to do daily and haven’t done since… Tuesday? I tried today but kept getting distracted.

I’m preoccupied. Like, big time. And I’ve been avoiding acknowledging it, even though it’s been “around” for a while now. It was a predicted preoccupation so I thought I’d compartmentalized enough to get around it but no. There’s only so much one can do to prepare for anything. And this one hit me.

I’m hoping this bit of acknowledgement will help me get things back in gear. Maybe start small, like a post a day for a week. Shouldn’t be too hard since I’ve got five more issues of Punisher to write about and the Visual Reflux podcast. It’ll also help not being dreadfully ill.

The big hope, as the week starts tomorrow, is keeping the depression in check. Preoccupation stress and anxiety leads pretty quick to a depression spiral for me. Always has. I’m old now so I’ve got all sorts of tools, both recommended ones and the tricks I’ve learned about myself over the years; just need to remember to use them. I’ve got a really weird project I’m going to do this week, but it might actually prove rewarding. Might. But not hopefully.

The Punisher #1, In the Beginning, Part 1 (of 6)

The Punisher #1The Punisher #1; Marvel Comics, MAX; March 2004; $2.99, 36 pgs; available collected and digitally.

The first page of the issue is the Castle family tombstone. Names, birth years, death year. 1976. A Marvel comic with years. Well, a MAX Comic. And the MAX Comics Punisher apparently isn’t going to be de-aging Frank Castle.

Well, actually, it does. The Punisher first appeared in 1974. So, 1976 is at least two years adjusted, but whatever. Frank’s going to be in his fifties at least.

The next page introduces the “MAX” Punisher. He’s a shadowy giant, his face indeterminately scarred. Penciller Lewis LaRosa and inker Tom Palmer rarely show Frank’s eyes. Instead they’re just shadows on his steely face. The first seven pages of the comic are the closest to an origin writer Garth Ennis does; Frank narrating his recollection of the family’s “picnic in the park.” The sounds of the machine guns, the expressions of his family—the expressions. Everyone else in the comic emotes through their eyes. Frank’s the only one who doesn’t. LaRosa and Palmer do a devastating job with these single, two-thirds of the page panels of the Castle family as they’re shot. Then there’s the “bridge” to the present. And the only questionable pages of art in the entire issue. They’re not LaRosa’s fault, not Palmer’s fault, maybe not even Ennis’s. There’s just something off about a Frank Castle amid anonymous New Yorkers panel and a gun porn panel. The comic’s got its Tim Bradstreet cover, it’s more than got its quota of gun porn just from it.

And then LaRosa’s full page Frank, skull, and guns doesn’t work either. Not after the gentle open with the family. Horrifying but gentle.

Juxtaposed against Frank’s big action set piece, the rest of the issue is setting up the arc’s hook—there are these shadowy government agents surveilling Frank for some reason. Because his old buddy Microchip has apparently sold him out. Lots of hand-wringing from Micro at the end, lots of emotion (in face and eyes), some wistful expounding about Frank Castle, and—frankly—a too quick end to the issue.

Frank’s action set piece has him taking out a bunch of mafiosos en masse with a big gun. Ennis writes some fantastic narration for it. From page two, he’s got Frank’s voice. Because Frank’s got to make it all seem not just plausible but rational and inevitable.

Lots of blood and gore, some swearing, even some Ennis dirty jokes—one of the agents has the hots for Frank and she’s explicit when describing her thoughts to her prude partner. There’s a little more character development on them later, all in dialogue, all done fast and efficient. Even though it reads a little short and there are those two somewhat wasted pages at the end of the “prologue,” Ennis paces The Punisher #1 beautifully.

As the first “X-rated” Punisher comic, Ennis manages to do the proof-of-concept and get his actual story started without ever having to change pace. Considering some of the comic—some of the arc (it’s titled In the Beginning after all) is going to be about Ennis showing his “take” on the MAX Frank.

It’s a really good first issue.