dark-avengers-14 Dark Avengers #14 by Brian Bendis, Mike Deodato & Rain Beredo

The characters demonstrate the expected dialogue ticks, the speech balloons are bloated fit to burst, and the most powerful people on the planet don’t kick anyone in the face or blow up any universes, but instead sit around having Important Conversations About Themselves. If you asked someone who didn’t like Bendis’s work to describe one of his comics this is exactly the sort of thing they would come up with. A move away from what the genre supposedly does best – ideas, iconography, adventure, action, scale – towards character psychology, character motivation, and character relationships.

But the superhero genre is a flexible beast, flexible enough for some to question whether it should be considered a genre at all, and in recent years Bendis’s best work has played a not insignificant role in highlighting this fact. If all superhero comics were like this I would have a problem but they’re not so I don’t. The fact is that Bendis does what he does well, on the whole he writes plausible people who behave plausibly and gives them plausible and fun problems to chew over. In the mighty Marvel manner he understands that one very effective way to build drama is from the characters up rather than from the plot down, an approach which is particularly useful here because it gives him a way to tackle the problem of water treading, a by product of this issue’s logistical relationship to the Siege miniseries.

This issue finds us splunked into Siege without a motor, cast drift on a plot-lite sea with only a lot of character-centric chat for company, but, given that the Siege is Bendis’s baby and that characters inevitably form the bulk of his plots’ atomic structures, it is inherently interesting. By way of an example, the tension between Norman Osborn the public servant, Norman Osborn the power hungry megalomaniac, and Norman Osborn the Green Goblin in waiting is a live and important issue. Victoria Hand’s suggestion that Osborn is working himself so hard precisely because he wants to force himself to snap and become the Goblin adds colour to what has gone before and considerable drama to the current proceedings, especially when you consider that later in the issue he finds himself trying to talk the Sentry down from destroying the world, and that next week he plans on invading Asgard.

I would argue that this sort of tie-in filler isn’t just a practical solution to the kinds of plot and scheduling problems faced by Siege, it’s key to getting the most out of the series. As I’ve noted above Siege is a Bendis scribed event, and as ever with Bendis most of the big moments, however epically framed, will be about the characters. That being the case quality time spent with the main players is worthwhile because it stands to bolster the big payoffs down the line.

A solid three and a half brains from me (z)

punisher_max_4_by_devilpig

Punisher Max #4, by Aaron, Dillon and Hollingsworth

Rapidly losing brains, this one. The Mennonite and Franky Frank  face off (literally – it’s all faces this episode, where fists should be), and nothing quite works. Dillon’s art is overlit and poorly staged, never quite fixing where the combatants are in relation to one another, and none of the punches, shots and stabs ever feel like they connect. And since when does Frank Castle use a taser? Did he use a taser on Barracuda’s balls? No, he used jump leads and a car battery, like hard men have done since the dawn of hard time (the seventies).

Dramatically, the introduction of The Mennonite (still the best word to type in all the Marvel U, so points for that, if we have to) and his killer peacenik horses has got to count at this stage as a clear mistake. The narrative focus, the threat embodied by the Kingpin, what his ‘go for the family’ ethos means against Frank’s MO, has been thrown out of the window in an enervating slush of baby’n'bathwater soup. How can the Kingpin not have been a big enough baddie to fill out six issues of escalating tension and fat, full-bodied catharsis? I don’t get it, what am I missing? It shows nothing but a disappointing lack of self-confidence from the writer, and a total lack of being awake at work on the part of the editor who greenlit it, who didn’t anticipate the sudden loss of life from his shotgun-shot balloon of a comic.

There’s one bit of unintentional comic genius in this comic, which, if I allow myself to sober up, stops me from weeping at the waste of three (or is it nearly four?) fucking quid that I spent on this comic. Check out big Willy Fisk’s phone on page 6. The phone is emphasised on panel two, which is tehnically OK because there’s nothing else for that panel to do except to go ‘then the Kingpoin’s phone rings’. So it makes sense to emphasise the phone, to perhaps exaggerate its size, to place it on a piece of very small furniture whose convenient existence you just can’t quite believe in. Now, yes, it’s graphic storytelling, yes, I see. I see. I see a fucking big phone is what I see. A big phone for big fingers. A big phone for someone who is going to get laughed at by children. You ain’t taking over the local high school with a stupid big phone like that fatty. Time to upgrade, in all sorts of ways.

This comic gets  two brains: One for the funny big phone, one for the adult way in which someone gets called a cunt (To the MAXXX!). And one for ‘The Mennonite’, which is such a joy to type. But still only two brains in total. (b)

11 Responses to “Chew tues reviews: Dark Avengers #14 & Punisher Max #4”

  1. Zom Says:

    To the MAXXX indeed

  2. The Satrap Says:

    The narrative focus…has been thrown out of the window… How can the Kingpin not have been a big enough baddie to fill out six issues of escalating tension and fat, full-bodied catharsis?

    Focus, focus is the word. It tends to be at a premium in Aaron’s superhero work, I’ve found. “Ghost Rider” has been a mess. The overarching plotline is simple enough, it’s about a Mary Sue of the angelic host who gets all uppity and rebellious and tries to succeed where Satan failed. It’s almost lifted straight from GM’s JLA run and that spin-off miniseries by Millar and Olivetti, and yet the lack of originality is of far lesser concern than the fact that the premise is diluted by innumerable guest appearances, cameos and continuity shout-outs. Look, the archangel guy has rounded up every obscure villain who ever graced the pages of a GR comic! We have nuns with guns! Nurses with uzis! The Antichrist! Daimon Hellstrom and his kinky ex! Master Pandemonium! The Ghost Riders of all nations!

    It’s supposed to be one of those proverbial roller coaster rides but, instead, when the no less proverbial kitchen sink is thrown at the reader the result is more painful than entertaining.

    Anyway, “Scalped” is still going strong.

    …the threat embodied by the Kingpin, what his ‘go for the family’ ethos means against Frank’s MO…

    Good point about the Kingpin, BTW. A guy like Fisk is a natural foil for Castle.

  3. Zom Says:

    Well, to be fair Aaron’s Ghost Rider run was also a bit of a road movie, and like all road movies it’s somewhat episodic. Also, he was taking his cue from a grindhouse sensibility hence stuff like nuns with guns. I’m not sure what a boiled down plot focussed version would look like but I’m pretty sure it would be radically different, so different in fact that it would be tough to make meaningful comparisons.

    For me Aaron’s entire approach to this PM arc is wrong. If you’ll allow me to be the fan that knows better for a minute or two: What we need to see is Frank being totally fucked both physically and strategically by the Kingpin, so fucked that he has to go away and totally rethink his usual MO while nursing his very serious wounds. The whole arc should feel like one blood chilling disaster from Frank’s POV; It shouldn’t be the Mennonite beating Frank into the floor, it should be Frank beating Frank into the floor as a by product of doing what he does best.

    Hmmm… if I were to rip off a story it would be Knightfall with the Kingpin in something like Bane’s shoes. Fisk would feed Frank info about his competitors which Frank would be compelled to act on, but for every take down a price would be paid. Each encounter would be trap of sorts, some would demand Frank’s blood, some would demand the blood of innocents, some would put him into conflict with the police or maybe even the army, some would test him philosophically, you could have all sorts of fun basically, but at the end you’d want a character who had no stable ground beneath his feet and then the Kingpin would make his move.

    As well as building up the Kingpin and creating a strong dramatic story, you need to establish why the Punisher can’t just bring down the Kingpin in exactly the same way that he brings down everyone else. You need to establish why the Kingpin remains above it all and just why he’s so unbelievably dangerous.

  4. The Satrap Says:

    Knightfall is not a bad reference. It’s only a few steps removed from Born Again, which clearly influenced it, and BA gave us the “definitive” Kingpin.

    Warning: fanwank to follow.

    I guess there are many cracks in Castle’s rock-hewn façade for Fisk to exploit. For starters, the stories almost always assume that Frank is nigh-on omniscient, which allows him to establish who’s guilty and who’s innocent with absolute certainty. That’s a handy ability to have, for a guy who cares so much about the distinction. In other words, Frank is jury, judge and executioner in a very steeply increasing order of importance. This is way too glib, and Fisk would be the guy to force Frankie to make mistakes. I’m certain there must be stories out there that deal with this, the repercussions of the Punisher having bumped off some blameless slob, but they can’t be any good because I’ve never heard of them.

    In that vein, the best story of Ennis’s extended run –of which, incidentally, I’m not the biggest fan, truth be told– is “the End”, where he basically gives the middle finger to the human race in a gesture that has as much to do with futile defiance as with meting out punishment for the guilty. What Fisk would try to do would be to force Castle to own up to his misanthropy, without having to drop any nukes.

    An interesting thing about Fisk is that in a way he’s the antithesis of the mobsters who killed Frank’s family, because he’s hypercompetent and they were sloppy thugs. Rather than a “superstitious, cowardly lot”, Frank would say that criminals are above all lousy dumbfucks. The Punisher’s methodical approach, his love of the rhythmic rattle of guns and all those things Ennis went on about, bespeak a deep-seated fear of chaos. Fisk could fuck with Frank’s head simply by keeping out of the picture and trying to show him that things are worse on the streets when there’s no Kingpin to impose order. This consequentialism is obviously very alien to Frank’s the-guilty-must-be-punished categorical ways. Which is to say, a possible way to stretch the whole “I fight on though I know the war will never end” bollocks to breaking point is to show Frank that he’s making the war worse.

  5. The Satrap Says:

    The first paragraph of the fanwank is an attempt to elaborate on the “blood of innocents” thing you’ve mentioned, of course. It’s a very good idea.

  6. Zom Says:

    Yeah, I see the blood of the innocents thing as central. Ennis’s Punisher wan’t just tough because he was… well… tough, he was tough because he possessed something of Morrison’s impossible morality and as a consequence he is always capable of acting and acting in his own best interest. Take that ability away and you depower him significantly.

    Ultimately the Punisher’s morality would have to reassert itself, but it would need to be reintroduced on the back of some radically altered strategy and tactics, at least as far the Kingpin was concerned.

  7. bobsy Says:

    The only way to hurt the Kingpin is through his family, something that Frank couldn’t do (though he could be tempted). Fisk is untouchable because he has an insurance policy: if anything punisherlike happens to hhim, then x marine veterans’ families will be ececuted by his thugs. Frank can’t move.

    Zom has spoken behind the scenes of the adaptability of the crime gangs under Punisherlike duress – they start grabbing innocents off the street and making them run packages for them; or they literally do deals with babies strapped to their chests.

  8. Daily P.O.P. Says:

    I got a ping from a link to my blog from an old article on FC, so I was reminded of your site and thought i would drop a line.

    As a fan of Aaron’s work, I checked out Punisher max and was immediately let down so I opted out of the high price/low quality series. It was far too similar to the Punisher Marvel Knights series that Ennis wrote back in 2000 for me. On the flipside, the Frankencastle story I am thoroughly enjoying, however.

    Bendis drives me crazy because he can be quite brilliant and inspired as a writer at times (Daredevil) and other times (in my opinion), he clearly drops the ball (take your pick). His Avengers work rides the middle road with a few moments where I am not furious that I invested in a subscription to the series. I’m also enjoying his Spider-Woman series which is just the right mix of superheroics and espionage… I think.

  9. Zom Says:

    Crikey, the ping took that long to get to you? hmmm… think we got one from an aeons old Savage Critics article the other day.

    I think I want to read that Frakencastle arc

  10. Daily P.O.P. Says:

    You may like it, you may hate it, I dunno. But Tony Moore’s art is great, the colors are wonderful and it got artist Dan Brereton out of ‘retirement.’ It’s certainly the most interesting thing to be done with the character in ages… if admittedly a bit brutal to his fanbase.

    Here’s my take for all its worth: http://dailypop.wordpress.com/2010/03/02/quick-review-the-punisher-no-14/

  11. Zom Says:

    The fanbase has been well served in the MAX books over the last few years. I suppose some people want a straight up Punisher in the straight up MU, but while I’ve known similar pains in the end I value story over everything else and if they have a good story going on then I’m interested

    Frankencastle just sounds brill

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