Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Punisher's Aging Problem

As I was driving to work today, I was stuck behind a Chevy S10 with a walker bungied to the bed. Just above it, stuck to the rear window of the cab, was a sticker that read: Proud Vietnam Vet. The juxtaposition of these things lead me to one thought: The Punisher's getting old. Like, really old.

As a point of reference, consider the miniseries Punisher: Born.

In this gripping, but dark-as-all-get-out pre-origin story, we see Frank dealing with the dark days of the Vietnam War during his third tour in 1971. A quick extrapolation of dates puts Frank between 20 and 25 years old during this period. Tack on thirty years to get him to present day, and suddenly Frank becomes a very angry middle-aged man.

So ol' Frank finds himself in a unique position in the Marvel Universe. For most heroes, the sliding and compressed timeline isn't so much of an issue. Changing small details like locations (See Iron Man going from the jungles of Asia to the deserts of the Middle East) or motivations (See the Fantastic Four going from a race against the Communists to an unbridled sense of adventure) aren't a huge deal because the core tenants of the origin still remain. For The Punisher though, it's different, he's intrinsically tied to the Vietnam War.

More than the tragic death of his family, It's the horror and atrocity of Vietnam that shaped Frank Castle into The Punisher. Call it a stereotype bias, but there's something infinitely more tragic about soldiers fighting in a war only to be disregarded (or worse) when they returned home than there is in a modern day soldier. It's that combination of seeing/doing horrible things with the lack of public support when he returned that makes The Punisher who he is, the death of his family is just what keeps him going.

Of course there are methods to aging slowly in the Marvel Universe. From magical formulas (I'm looking at you, Nick Fury) to the classic de-aging trick (Magneto, Xavier please stand up), there are some definitely options to help Frank still stay relevant while approaching old age. The problem is, of course, that the fans don't like to mix their vigilante justice with magical Marvel technologies, as witnessed in the massive flops that were Angel-Punisher (The less said about, the better) and Franken-Castle (which is still awesome!).

The conclusion is clear: The fans want their Punisher to remain 'realistic'. Or at least as realistic as a 60 year old man with an unlimited cache of weapons and boundless mafia-rage can be.

I'm honestly at a loss for a solution here. On the one hand, I fully enjoy the grizzled old veteran Punisher that's been presented over the past few years. On the other, I know that septuagenarian super-heroes are kind of a rough sell to the younger generation.

It's a problem that's going to need to be solved in the next decade or so, otherwise the next major transformation the Punisher will go through will involve a new hip and a walker.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Venom is a Slut Part January

Apparently Venom is going to grace the covers of all of Marvel's books this coming January ala those 'I am Captain America' variants earlier this year and the 'Deadpool' variants a few years back. As a result, I think I just found the fodder to keep this feature going well into the next decade.

Thanks for making things easy for me, Marvel! It's much appreciated!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Bill November, 17 2011

Another week, another stack o'books. Is it going to be another disappointment fest like last week? Or am I going to finally learn my lesson and start buying only the good books again? There's only one way to find out, and like hell am I going to spoil the surprise in the preamble.

Come on, let's talk comics.

Success in Symbiosis:
Venom #9
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Stefano Caselli

I can't tell you how happy this book makes me. I've said it before, but it bares repeating: This is how I want every Marvel Comic to read. Venom is face paced, full of character, and overflowing with crazy ideas; it's hands-down one of the greatest books on the shelves today.

I'll admit, that I might be a little overly gushy this week because Spider-Island took over the last three issues of this book, leaving me confused and slightly confused at the goings on. Not this month though, this month things are back to normal.

Well, mostly anyway.

You see, this issue picks up with the aftermath of the aforementioned Spider-crossover and the titular hero lost in a sea of heavy emotions. Guilt over failing relationship and unresolved issues about the recently deceased come to a head as Venom encounters a hapless, up-and-coming villain and finds a target for those pent up emotions. It doesn't end well, to say the least.

While there are some very dark things happening in this book, it's one of the most pure, old-school 'comic book' books I've read in a long while. Introducing a one off villain, pitting the internal conflict against an external foe, and an ongoing story that doesn't seem tied to a future trade collection; if that's not old-school, I don't know what is. Remender is one of those writers that seems to understand that when I read a superhero book I want action with my emotion, not just talking heads. couBENDISgh!

This book is just too good to continue. Which means, with my luck, it'll get cancelled tomorrow. I swear, with all the cancellations that Marvel has been announcing over the past week, I keep waiting for them to drop the axe on this one. So far, so good though. It seems that maybe, finally, my comic luck is turning around....

Just in case it isn't though, I'm going to buy two copies next month.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Bill November 10, 2011

Another week, another batch o' comics. But of all the ones I bought this week, there's only one that needs a thorough examining. Think you can guess which one?

Oh, you can see it, can't you... Well, whatever. Just come read my rants!

Looking Towards the Future:
Marvel Point One
Writer: Just about Everybody
Artist: Everybody else

This is it. The big Rosetta Stone of the next great Age of Marvel. The one that will set the tone for years to come. It's the big time, get-you-excited-for-the-next-few-years book that should have me swinging from the rafters delirious with excitement, but instead I find myself not-so-quietly worrying where my favorite universe is going.

Let me back up a second and say that there are a lot of good things about this book. There's a cool, if kind of overly-obtuse framing sequence that involves an information heist at the Blue Area of the Moon. Here the intrepid hackers are privy to fleeting glimpses of stories yet to happen. It's clever and it works well enough, it just gets a little funky here and there.

Honestly, that's the problem with the whole piece: It's just a little funky, and not in a good way. The stories themselves are all pretty decent, but there's nothing that really ties them together that makes me feel like I need to read them all together. It reads like a preview book that would ordinarily be for free, but instead has a six dollar price tag on it. Call me a sucker for expecting a bit more from my preview books when I actually pay for them.

On top of that, everything's a tease but not a very good tease. If the stories aren't already reenforcing information that's already known, they're presenting new information in a very vague way. What I wanted was big surprises dropped every other page, and instead I got things like this:

I don't know what to make of that, but it certainly doesn't make me clamor for more. I wanted that nugget of information that would entice me to keep up on everything, but instead I get the barest of hints that leave me confused and uninterested. That's the true tragedy of this book: I just don't really care about anything that was revealed.

And don't even get me started on the big Bendis story in there. The less said about that Ultron War mess of a 'teaser' the better. The more I try to understand what's happening in that story, the less it all makes sense. Never a good sign.

As the big kickoff to the next big Age of Marvel, I'm legitimately worried. As the books have less pages, I pay more, and the stories become more obtuse, I'm more than a little concerned that this new age might fizzle before it even starts.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Bill November 3, 2011

Jeez, it seems like just yesterday I was writing one of these. Time flies when you're QCing DVDs, I guess. Regardless, it's that time again for another scintillating review session with yours truly. What's on the docket this week? Come join me after the image to find out.

Oh. And massive spoilers on this one, so be wary.

Or don't. You know, whatevs.


Making the World Right Again:
Fear Itself 7.1: Captain America
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Butch Guice

Just when you thought we were finally done with this event, here Marvel goes pulling us back in with an extended additional epilogue. Fortunately, this one is pretty darn good, with some fantastic art and some stellar writing. Oh, and that twist.

True story: Five months ago (or so) after the release of Fear Itself #3, I was having drinks with a friend of mine who just started reading comics who asked "Do you think Bucky is really dead?"

I laughed her off. I quoted the old comic lore that if there's no body, there's no true death. Hell, that's how Bucky returned in the first place. I was convinced that Buck's run-in with Skaddi (or whatever) was nothing more than some quick 'cheap heat' (as they say in the wrestling world) and just done to move Bucky off the board for a few issues. "There's no way he's dead," I told her confidently, "that 'death' was so arbitrary and forced. There was no emotion, no build up, no hype. He's totally just hurt really bad."

Then Fear Itself #4 showed up with a big plate of crow for me to eat. I still refused, holding strong to my experience as a long time comic reader.

Finally, with issue 7.1 my intuitions proved correct. A more cynical man might write this off as a mid stream change up from the higher ups at Marvel, but I'd like to think it was in the works since the beginning. Suddenly, it makes sense that Bucky's death wasn't hyped, talked about, or lingered upon. Or you know, at least is a No-Prize explanation of those things...

Either way, I'm excited. The more I think about Bucky Barnes as a character, the more I like him and can't wait to read his continuing adventures. Especially if they're apparently going to be in the vein of the classic Nomad series from the mid-90s (of which I have a complete run...). Just a man, his motorcycle, a dark past, and the open road. I'm so there, it's not even funny.

Of all the series to come out of Fear Itself, I think I just found my new favorite.