Born #3 (of 4)

Born #3Born #3; Marvel Comics, MAX; October 2003; $3.50, 36 pgs; available collected and digitally.

Well, the Voice is back. And Ennis tries to do something really ambitious with Stevie, which has nothing to do with the Voice, nothing to do with Frank, nothing to do with Born really, and literally gets cut-off because there’s not enough room for it. Not with the Voice stuff, not with the conclusion.

But first there’s the opening, which is some very purple exposition set to images of the war, specifically how American soldiers conducted themselves in Vietnam. It’s too well-written and too effective to be believable from Stevie, who has a scene following where he’s musing about American Imperialism to a disinterested Angel has Stevie has none of that vocabulary.

So, follow that grandiose opening, it’s pretty clear #3 isn’t going to be an uptick from #2 like #2 was an uptick from #1. And not in the art department either. Robertson has to do this scene where Frank thinks about killing someone before committing; he reflects on it, turns it over in his head. Robertson can’t keep his facial features the same from panel to panel, much less show a thought process on his face. It’d be a bad scene anyway, especially since it kicks off the reappearance of the Voice.

The Voice has two big problems at this point. First, it’s still not clear Frank’s hearing the Voice. Not like Robertson’s going to be able to show it (probably not even if it was obvious versus nuanced). Second, given how much work Ennis put into Stevie’s narration, shouldn’t he have put in equal time on the Voice. Because the Voice could be the reader. The Voice could be Ennis. The Voice could be anyone. And it’s not. It’s no one. It just blathers on ominously.

Then there’s Stevie and Angel getting into it about Stevie being an oblivious white dude. Angel knows there’s nothing waiting at home, so why not at least get high in ‘Nam where it’s not your federal government trying to kill you with the same drugs. That bit’s implied but it’s definitely implied. Like, Angel knows what’s up. To a shocking degree.

He’d have made a much better narrator.

The conflict of ideals—Stevie’s dumb white boy liberal ones versus Angel’s reality based Black guy ones—never goes anywhere because it’s time for the enemy to invade, leading to some Punisher money shots. The two-page spread showing the enemies attacking falls a little short. Robertson’s not going to wow with the art, no matter what he shows. It’s too far gone for that.

It’s a strange issue. There’s some really good writing from Ennis, but never when it counts. And his attempt at the race subplot plays way too slight. If he’s not going to take it seriously, why should the reader?

Advertisements

Born #2 (of 4)

Born #2Born #2; Marvel Comics, MAX; September 2003; $3.50, 36 pgs; available collected and digitally.

This issue—titled The Second Day, so we can guess what the next two issue’s titles are going to be—focuses more on Stevie. Or at least, it’s always from Stevie’s perspective. Frank has a big money shot action sequence, but it’s still Stevie seeing (and reacting). Ennis also reveals a bit more about Stevie’s experience in Vietnam; turns out Angel saved his life so now where Angel goes, Stevie goes. Even when Angel goes to get his fix and Stevie has to drag him out to go on patrol and the racist smack dealer threatens them.

If Stevie and Frank are the leads, Angel is the main supporting cast member, just because he’s still taking care of Stevie; getting him to think less about the terrible things they see, terrible things they may do. One could be overly complimentary and say Ennis is subtle about Angel’s character development. Thin would probably be more accurate. Because even though Born is a comic about the Vietnam War, but it’s also a Punisher comic. So there’s a big Frank action sequence with a very big gun. But then there’s a couple quiet, shocking scenes, which Ennis doesn’t seem to have thought through entirely. But when Stevie muses about “American through the looking-glass, lost in Vietnam” early in the issue (and you want to smack Stevie—and Ennis—for the purpleness but then high five Ennis for the period appropriate vernacular), it isn’t until after Frank gets through his quiet moments that line truly resonates. But then it comes apart a bit when Ennis can’t wrap it all up. And Robertson changes what Stevie looks like six times in two pages, which is actually worse than his seemingly randomly selected Frank faces.

With Born, Ennis avoids various project-related pitfalls. He doesn’t get overtly symbolic or make protracted comparisons; in fact, he avoids them. But it leaves him with two narratives, one of the internal Frank Castle, one of the external. This issue has zip on the internal. There’s Frank’s awkward attempt at bonding with Stevie, which seems like it gets a scene because it’d been a while since Frank had been in the issue and Ennis wanted to send things out not just with him but also with a minor, but pointless reveal.

Ennis really doesn’t seem comfortable trying to figure out the series’s potential. When he and Robertson do a gory action sequence—there are a couple great ones—or when Ennis does a shock twist or plot development, there’s enthusiasm to be sure. But there’s not a lot of ambition. Ennis’s ambition for Born seems to be in selling Stevie’s narration of the experience, particularly when he (Ennis) gets to be wordy about it.

Despite being more obvious in its Punisher-related money shots, the issue’s stronger than the first. Ennis is focused on Stevie’s experience of the day; Frank plays his part, but the structure is all about making Stevie the protagonist now. Especially the ending.

Where it seems like the Voice should or would make an appearance, but does not.

Frank’s kill count is something like seven this issue, six of them enemy combatants, one of them not. It’s where Ennis loses track of Frank… on the photo-Punisher stuff. It’s like he can’t pretend it’s not a stretch so he doesn’t even want to address it.

Born #1 (of 4)

Born #1Born #1; Marvel Comics, MAX; August 2003; $3.50, 36 pgs; available collected and digitally.

Born is, twenty-nine years after his first appearance, the secret origin of The Punisher. How did Frank Castle go from being a regular Marine to being an unstoppable, relentless killing machine. Only, as the narrator explains, Frank was never a regular Marine. The narrator’s name is Stevie Goodwin, which seems like it’s got to be an homage to Punisher writer Archie Goodwin. I was never a big fan of Punisher comics before Garth Ennis, so I’m not sure if there are other references. Maybe it’s coincidental. I don’t know anything about Archie Goodwin’s Punisher other than it’s extant.

After some “Welcome to Vietnam” material, both with and without narration, Stevie (and Ennis) lay out the ground situation as it relates to Frank. Stevie’s got a ground situation too, but it’s going to have to sit.

Frank is on his third tour. It’s October 1971. The war is winding down. Frank’s first tour was for Tet, his second tour had him an assassin (or so the rumors go), his third tour he’s the only officer who cares at an almost forgotten outpost near the Cambodian border. The base is in disarray; half-manned, Frank’s platoon the only guys not strung out on heroin or stoned. The CO is a mess, hiding in his office until the war is over. But Frank knows something is coming, he’s got his platoon out every day and they’re intercepting a lot of weapons.

Oh. Frank also has never had a man killed since he’s gotten to the base (Valley Forge).

The issue starts with Stevie, narrating about the base, about going home (he’s thirty-nine days short), about his imagined future, about Frank. The imagined future stuff, where Stevie thinks about how proud he’ll be of his wonderful future sons who will never know about Vietnam, where the rivers ran red with blood; he will never tell them.

Born #1 is full of great lines. Even when they’re totally wrong, they’re great (not historically wrong, or out of character, but the character is making an incorrect assertion).

Frank doesn’t get any great lines. He’s purely functional. In fact, his first scene to himself—reporting to his CO about the patrol, which has a bunch of action—ends with writer Ennis and penciller Darick Robertson having a non sequitur, partly due to Robertson’s inability to keep characters looking consistent. Frank never seems to look the same, not even on the same page; his head changes size and shape, features become more and less pronounced. Is it supposed to be intentional, like you can’t ever truly see him? Probably not, as Robertson has the same problem with Stevie and the CO.

About the only guy he keeps consistent is the visiting general who Frank gets killed. Intentionally. And gets away with it. Because Frank’s got to keep his war going, or so, at the end of the issue, the voice tells him. The voice appears in black word balloons, white text. Frank doesn’t react in anyway to the voice. Is it his voice? If so, then why’s it got a separate first person perspective. Is the voice the Devil. Is it Mephisto (no, it’s not, spoiler time). Is it… The Punisher? How deep is Ennis going to go with this?

The issue ends on that question. Where’s Born going; Frank’s set up, the base is set up, the narrator is set up. The story title is The First Day… which doesn't refer to anything special for the characters. It’s not even the first time the Voice has shown up. It’s an effective story title, just maybe not an accurate or relevant one.

Ennis’s writing is mostly strong, always solid. Goodwin’s narration is long-winded but excellent. It’s a war story narration, it’s supposed to be purple. Goodwin never says what he’s going to do with himself, but Great American Novelist seems like a goal. He’s a white guy, after all, smart, thoughtful. The Frank-led scenes are fine. They’re well-written exposition, dumping a lot of information and context on the reader. Frank’s a man of few worlds, luckily everyone else likes to monologue to him.

Robertson’s art is… uneven. At least on things like characters’ heads and faces. It’s not just Frank he slips on. He handles the gore–Born is very bloody, which is part of the point; it’s the first Punisher MAX series, so even though the comic was able to get violent before, not exploding brains violent. I don’t think. They definitely weren’t saying “Fuck” all the time in the old War Journals though. Characters say it occasionally in Born #1, Ennis and Robertson both have showcase moments for it being “unrated.”

Robertson has some good panel layouts, some really good composition, but problematic detail. The weirdest thing about the art is the inker… it’s experienced, awesome Marvel inker Tom Palmer (who’d been inking comics back when The Punisher first appeared). You’d think he’d have… made the heads the same size, if not the faces similar. Frank does look the same a few times in the issue, it’s just they’re never in the same scene, much less same page.

But it’s okay. It’s all right. At the end of Born #1, it seems like Ennis has got things well in hand. Even if the Voice scene at the end is ominous for the wrong reasons.

This does not seem like very good Damned news

The Damned #11

The Damned #11 is almost a year late. The previous issue, #10, came out in June 2018. The series got off to a great start (collected in the trade, Ill-Gotten) and it seemed like the series, which had a great concept (film noir demons) and good first series back in 2006, followed by an okay sequel series in 2008. Writer Cullen Bunn and artist Brian Hurtt (who I first noticed thanks to the never-going-to-be-appreciated Hard Time series) took a break to do Sixth Gun, which I still need to finish reading (well, read over again to where I stopped and finish); Gun ran something like fifty issues and had a TV pilot, which didn’t get picked up, meaning less exposure for the creators, which sucks.

Anyway.

Now there’s news of a new comic from Hurtt and Bunn, which seems like it would be awesome news… but it’s Bunn and Hurtt writing together and Tyler Crook (who drew Harrow County with Bunn writing). It’s from Dark Horse, not Oni (who publishes Damned).

While it’s always nice to see good creators getting work–I need to read Harrow County too–it doesn’t seem to be boding well for Damned, which is a creator-owned series… I sort of assume they don’t get the money upfront from Oni, whereas Dark Horse seems big enough to pay first? No?

Hopefully there will be some more Damned comics if only so I can keep making Damned puns but also because it seemed like Bunn and Hurtt were ready to take the series to at least twenty or thirty issues this time.

A Cyndi Lauper reference seems inapt: Venable and Crenshaw’s Eighth Kiss

kissno8

Kiss Number 8 is a really long read. Just around 300 pages, without any natural or artificial breaks. I kept waiting for a good point to put it down, after this development or that development, but writer Colleen AF Venable doesn’t ever slow down. Not even when protagonist Amanda will have an incredibly stressful evening and fall asleep, it’s not like there’s a pause before the next day. Venable and artist Ellen T. Crenshaw work up a great momentum.

Amanda is narrating the story, which is about the circumstances of her eighth kiss (presumably kissing partner; it’s heavily implied she never had second kisses with her previous kissers). 8 is set in what seems like Ohio, but only if people in Ohio talk shit about people in Pennsylvania for being a nothing state? But it’s definitely set in 2004, which occasionally seems anachronistic. Amanda finds some really, really sincerely woke people in its not-at-all-big-city locations. Or maybe the guy was shit talking Pennsylvania and it takes place in Pennsylvania (because there’s a real Meadville, Pennsylvania). Does it matter? A bit. The time period setting feels a little pointless, like it almost makes the bigot characters more acceptable? But not exactly, because dealing with the repercussions of bigots’ actions are one of the places 8 goes but doesn’t want to investigate.

Venable’s got a very set path she’s taking the protagonist on. No stepping off to explore, no taking a break, just forward on the path.

See, Amanda’s got a very big half year or however long the present action takes. She finds out a family secret, which boils down to obscene amounts of mental cruelty and abuse (not on Amanda, but on another family member), and sets her on a path of self-discovery, which has some major consequences too, but only because the comic starts out being about Amanda and her friends living in this development—which never gets visually explored, which is weird until you think about how close Venable’s keeping the narrative distance. Crenshaw’s art is always good, but she never explores anything. It’s a little too accessible.

Of course, it’s targeting teen readers, which might be why the story stops when it does, just as things seem like they’re going to start getting really interesting for Amanda in terms of actual character development. The problem with her self-discovery arc is Venable keeps too much self-perception a mystery; it doesn’t seem right Amanda’s narration would skip over her most important decisions. It’s weird.

It’s one of those “it’s heart is in the right place” but its ambitions are truncated.

Maybe it’s just one of the genre specific pitfalls—YA graphic novels are, more than anything before, real “graphic novels.” Kiss Number 8 is all right, but given how front-loaded it ends up being… it seems even if YA graphic novels are their own medium, they’re still enough comics to desperately need the right editor.

Robocop LOL (List of Links)

This list contains links to all the Robocop posts I’ve written over the years, as well as a podcast.

Just to get it out of the way early… the only Robocop movie I’d recommended is the original and the only Robocop comic I’d recommend is Robocop: Last Stand. Everything else is pretty bad.

Movies

Original series, Orion Pictures, 1987-93

Remake, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 2014

Spoof, Channel 101, 2014

  • Our RoboCop Remake (2014); posted 26 October 2014
  • Comic books

    Marvel Comics, 1987-92

    Robocop, March 1990 – January 1992

    posted January – March 2010

    1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23

    Dark Horse Comics, 1992-94

    Robocop vs. the Terminator, September – December 1992

    posted February 2010

    1, 2, 3, 4

    Robocop: Prime Suspect, October 1992 – January 1993

    posted February 2010

    1, 2, 3, 4

    Robocop 3, July – November 1993

    posted January 2010

    1, 2, 3

    Robocop: Mortal Coils, September – December 1993

    posted February – March 2010

    1, 2, 3, 4

    Robocop: Roulette, December 1993 – March 1994

    posted March 2010

    1, 2, 3, 4

    Avatar Press, 2003-06

    Frank Miller’s Robocop, July 2003 – January 2006

    posted January 2010

    1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

    Robocop: Killing Machine, August 2004

    1

    Robocop: Wild Child, January 2005

    1

    Dynamite Entertainment, 2010-12

    Robocop, January – August 2006

    posted September 2010

    1

    Boom! Studios, 2013-18

    Robocop: Last Stand, August 2013 – February 2014

    posted August 2013 – February 2014

    1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

    posted March 2019

    1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

    Robocop, 2014 remake tie-in one-shots, February 2014

    posted February 2014

    Hominem Ex Machina , To Live and Die in Detroit, Memento Mori, Beta

    Robocop, July 2014 – June 2015

    posted July 2014 – February 2015

    1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Robocop: Last Stand #8 of 8

Rls8Robocop: Last Stand #8; Boom! Studios; March 2014; $3.99, 32 pgs; available collected.

Robocop: Last Stand #8 screams behind-the-scenes story. It’s got a new writer, on issue eight of an eight issue limited, but it’s also got no mention of Frank Miller. Besides the narrative—which loosely follows the previous seven issues but could also be seen entirely as a follow-up to Robocop 3—and Oztekin’s art, it’s a very different handling than what Steven Grant had done. Ed Brisson’s Robocop Detroit feels very much Judge Dredd-inspired with its gang of marauders. They’ve come to town, which—following the events in issues one to seven and also Robocop 3—has no functioning city government or government services.

Brisson does a rather good job addressing that situation without a lot of exposition, which wouldn’t be appropriate because it’s a shortcoming of issues one to seven and Robocop 3. Even if the enemy gang is a little bit too cartoonish. There’s just not enough time spent developing them. It seems like an editorial issue—Oztekin’s only got so much space and there’s a lot of action; character development—even caricature-y character development—takes a third seat. Back seat is already taken (by humor). There are some decent smiles thanks to Oztekin’s visual pacing.

By the end of the issue, it’s clear Brisson isn’t just end-capping Boom!’s pseudo-Frank Miller Robocop comic, he’s also end-capping the Robocop franchise. But subtly. He’s getting around to answering narrative questions you didn’t bother answering in eighties-born movie franchises. Robocop: Last Stand #8 sets up a fine sequel possibility for Boom!, a good starting point for an ongoing series.

Though none of the subsequent Robocop ongoings have used the Last Stand continuity (or the Last Stand #8 continuity).

As a franchise, film or comic, Robocop is a disaster zone. Brisson at least makes some attempt to put order to it here. As an epilogue to the previous seven issues, I guess it works fine? It does work fine, but it does some extra credit too and the extra credit is where it’s interesting. Brisson’s got some franchise enthusiasm not seen in the previous issues. There’s an actual surprise cameo.

Robocop: Last Stand is a singular success. It’s a good Robocop comic and a good Robocop sequel. Brisson at least seems to understand its possibilities (and responsibilities) and turns in the right finish. Even if it is too short.