Neonomicon Hornbook byneonomiconpreview Alan Moore, Jacen Burrows, Avatar

New Moore, but is it MOAR Moore? Seeing as this is a 9 page preview (plus script) you’d hope that it was. It would be failing somewhat in its job if it wasn’t, eh? So the good news is that yes I wanted MOAR but only because Al’ is so good at this stuff. His (spoilers) set up could have been phoned in: two FBI agents – an uptight plain Jane and a handsome go-getter – visit the looniest of murderous loonies who is currently imprisoned in a maximum security blah blah to get his insights into blah blah horribleness. This being the sequel to Moore’s The Courtyard (a prose story previously given the oxygen of publication by Avatar) the Cthulhu Mythos has been carefully kneaded into the mix, but that will come as no surprise to any of the readership.

This being Moore it shines just bright enough in the details to pique your interest, and we are left with the distinct impression that Alan’s take on the Cthulhu Mythos probably will be at least half as fun as we’d expect it to be which is considerably more fun than most comics littering the racks. I don’t want to speak much more about the specifics because, given the slightness of this demi-issue, to do would spoil absolutely everything for you.

Art paras: Jacen Burrows is currently the darling of Avatar and one of the go-to guys if you’ve got horror in mind. His work here is fine, just expressive enough to handle the dialogue heavy script, and the pivotal interview with the maniac, and on the strength of his work on Ennis’s Crossed we know that his gore cred has been earned, but at heart I suspect Burrows is strictly a body horror kind of guy. I certainly haven’t seen any work of his that would suggest his range stretches far past naturalism and stock monsterous forms, and that worries me because ideally I’d want to see an artist tackle the Outer Gods who was just as at home with the abstract as the everyday. Someone who could take visions of the hackneyed Cthulhu mythos to new and surprising places.

Perhaps I’m underestimating Burrows, and if there was a ever a creative partner who had it in him to stretch a guy it’s Moore. Unfortunately another possible outcome is an artist overwhelmed by the talent of his collaborator. Certainly the current lack of synergy between the inking and the digital colouring isn’t working in Jacen’s favour. We’ll just have to wait – 8 months – and see how it turns out.

My go.

PunisherMAX 3
by Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon

The last two issues of this had been really quite good – a superhero plot cleverly thrown into naturalistic lighting, a big fat threat coming up strong, while Frank goes about his dreary business, killing for the Kingpin without really realising it. The art was cool and controlled, seeming to promise an imminent break from its self-imposed limitations, like it was itching to get some blood in the ink as soon as the story would let it. Wise heads seemed to be in control. The odd rapey Millarism aside, all was going great guns. Was this title actually going to get back to its former glory?

It should have been so straightforward. Straight as a laser, the plot of the Punmax’s first (and ideally, only) Kingpin story should have been very simple indeed – four and a half issues of Wilson Fisk’s terrifying ascent to the top of the gangster tree, with Frank, largely absent,  slowly circling closer while realising the enormity – lets not be coy: the fatness of what he’s dealing with. Half way through issue five they come face to face, and the next issue and a half is Manhattan in flames as they go at each other, finally getting down to a fists-and-teeth fight to the finish in Fisk’s office penthouse. Just as Frank has finally won and is about to cap the deal, Fisk is all like, if anything happens to me then my men will kill three innocent families etc., so Frank begrudgingly lets him live, just, in his ivory tower. ‘This ain’t over, Kingpin…’

So obviously, I don’t know what I’m talking about, and just because I am a simple man yearning for simple comics to reflect simple times. The introduction of The Mennonite (which is a cool name for a super assassin) was, though I live to be proved wrong on these things,  an unnecessary fork in the road. The past two issues have successfully established big Willy Fisk as a force to be reckoned with, the great white shark of the underworld kingdom. That would have been enough really – the remainder of the plot could have been carried along under that momentum, the PunMax equivalent of the game-changing moment in Gyo where the shark heads into the beach and does-not-stop. The dramatic tension should have just built and built onto itself, stretching the readers nerves to snapping point. Instead, The Mennonite’s arrival deflects the tension – ‘You thought the Kingpin was scary? Wait til you meet this guy!!’ No. tell me more abot the Kingpin. ‘Killer Amish’ is a fine idea on its own, I guess, but it can wait for another day. Tell me more about the Kingpin. Tell me more about why his existence is such an affront to Frank’s history.

This seems like such a clear point, such an obvious narrative mis-step, that it does incline me to think that there may be a very clever plan at work here, and that’s enough to keep me reading for now, to see if that suspicion is borne out. The uncertainty surrounding The Mennonite, whether he will be gunning for Frank or Fisk, puts the former into an interesting position. Can he kill The Mennonite without becoming the thing he hates most? But again, are these not issues that the Kingpin’s family would have made Frank confront equally well? Why the doubling up, the waste? This comic is about steel, not butter.  The Mennonite feels like a good character, on any other day, anywhere else, but here it’s threatening going to overstuff the compellingly lean narrative that had been established earlier. Never forget – MAX whatever, but this is still Marvel Comics, where rubbish things can and do happen without a whisper of warning…

In this issue, sadly, some rubbish things definitely did happen, even aside from the questionable, if intriguing, introduction of a new Big Bad. Frank and Fisk come face to face (you would normally say ‘finally come face to face’, if the episode wasn’t so thoughtlessly structured) in a scene that is completely undercut by some really ill-timed and juvenile, faintly misogynistic ‘humour’. It’s the sort of gag that Ennis does sometimes, though never in this title, and in that regard it is probably supposed to be a homage of some kind, but it falls completely flat, sacrificing the tension of the scene itself and retroactively reaching back into the previous two issues and deflating their impact as well. The two main players then do a bit of stagey, knockabout fighting that completely doesn’t get across how lethal they are, and generally the main line of the entire plot is sacrificed, with all of the effort and interest in the issue going into the maybe-significant arrival of the previously completely untelegraphed The Mennonite. (The Mennonite is a very satisfying thing both to type and to say over in your head – I really hope that’s not why he’s suddenly the most important character in the Punisher book.)

Art Para: A naked centenarian. A fat bloke. A crazy old vet. Some other stuff. None of it connects. Dude who did this art used to be the best in the game when it came to meat and impact, but it all feels a bit like sacks of spuds strapped onto dodgems. The word ‘meh’ was invented for art like this.

It’s almost like… mmm, not sure where I’m going with this… but by introducing the Kingpin and opening the Max Punisher up to influences from the mainstream Marvel U (it had been its own hermetically sealed universe herotofore, with Nick Fury being the only other pre-existing character to follow Frank in the leap between universes, though even that was the Ennis-verse Fury Fury, not the traditional 616 version), it’s almost as if the PMXU can’t survive on its own logic any more, and extra elements are required, shipped in from across the galaxies, to make the internal logic of the comic balance. Hands up who wasn’t thinking ‘Daredevil’ when they saw The Mennonite originally (tough, Christian-conflicted, family pressures, ginger)? The Kingpin graft tore a Murdock-shaped hole in the story, and this is how you fill it. Didn’t the scenes with his wife in her sickbed make you think of Matt in the convent in Born Again?  Rationally, and if handled with care, there’s no reason that the MAXiverse shouldn’t be able to support its own weight, even if we are going to have mainstream guest stars. Is there the craft here for it, though? Do people think this book is about naked grannies with shotguns, that that was all there was to it? This is after all Punisher MAX we’re talking about. This book matters. With this issue it took another step towards making itself irrelevant, again.