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Back For More Punishment

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The MAX version of the Punisher floundered a bit after Garth Ennis left. Now a rising star and an old favorite set out to raise the title to new heights.

The Punisher might have been the perfect fit for Marvel’s MAX imprint. After all, his entire modus operandi is tracking down the worst scum on Earth and killing them with great aplomb. But the Punisher MAX series was actually made for Garth Ennis.

Ennis had been working on the character for four very good years before Marvel cancelled the series and restarted it as a new number one under its MAX imprint. And while Ennis’ run up to that point was excellent, what came next was the definitive version of the character.

The writer always works best when he doesn’t have a filter, as witness with his work on The Boys and Preacher. The new Punisher series was adult in every sense of the word. The violence was more graphic, the bloodshed was gorier, and there was sex and full frontal nudity added for extra measure.

But the writing also matured. Ennis wrote Frank Castle as an old warrior fighting wars that would never end. He took on the mafia, including a group of mafia widows, but also tackled stories dealing with his military background. Yes, the content got more graphic, but the stories got even better.

Nothing lasts forever in comics, especially when it comes to creators staying on titles. After nearly a decade writing the character, Garth Ennis left for other opportunities and Marvel was left trying to replace the irreplaceable.

The best Marvel could come up with at the time was to hand the title over to a trio of  crime novelists—Gregg Hurwitz, Duane Swierczynski, and Vincent Gischler. On paper, having the Punisher being written by a group of renowned crime writers seemed like a can’t miss situation. After all, the Punisher essentially fights crime, right?

However, each arc by each of the novelists didn’t ring true to the character. They didn’t write Punisher stories, they wrote other stories and tried to make the Punisher fit into them. Hurwitz’s tale of a child slavery ring in Mexico was far removed from Frank Castle’s usual jurisdiction, and for the plot to move along the character had to make a mistake a man of his experience would never make.

Swierczynski’s effort was closer to the tone of character, but hampered by a gimmicky “I’ll be dead in six hours if I don’t get an antidote” plot which seemed out of place. And the less said about Gischler’s arc, the better. It was every redneck, backwoods stereotype molded into a Bayou tinged horror story. It was a location the Punisher shouldn’t be at, a situation he would never be in, and a story he didn’t fit in.

That experiment ended last month and this week brings a step in the right direction. The series is restarting with a brand new number one. It features up and coming writer Jason Aaron, whose Scalped is the best Vertigo book on the stands and his work on Wolverine: Weapon X is one that will define the character for generations to come. Aaron is the real deal and the Punisher is right in his wheelhouse.

He is joined on art by Steve Dillon, the artist who was with Garth Ennis when he started on the character so many years ago. He is a master of comic art and is working on a character he excels at.

The plot involves the mob bosses trying to get the Punisher off their back. Their idea is to create a “Kingpin” to act as a powerless figurehead for all of their organizations. The hope is that the Punisher will be so preoccupied with trying to take down the Kingpin that he will leave the rest of the Mafiosos alone. This figurehead’s name? Wilson Fisk.

If you left the title when Ennis did, now is a perfect time to rejoin the war on crime. The pairing of Aaron and Dillon might not be as great as Ennis and Dillon, or Ennis and anybody for that matter, but it will be very good. I’m excited about this new era, and you should be, too.

Also out this week:

Dark X-Men #1:

If you think Marvel is going overboard with using the “Dark Reign” event to spin-off so many “Dark” versions of their most popular teams, be thankful the event didn’t hit during the 80s. If you think Dark Avengers and Dark X-Men are bad, try to imagine Dark Defenders, Dark Alpha Flight and Dark Power Pack.

Spinning out of the recent “Utopia” crossover, Norman Osborn’s own brand of mutants, or what’s left of them, have become Osborn’s own representation of what mutants are or should be. But they aren’t the most stable group of people to begin with. How will they stay together to keep on promoting Osborn’s vision? And what does Nate Grey, the mutant also known as X-Man, have to do with the team?

Paul Cornell (W), Leonard Kirk (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Five-Issue Miniseries.

Batman/Doc Savage Special #1:

Doc Savage is no stranger to comics. The world’s most famous pulp hero has starred in a number of comic books over the decades from publishers such as Gold Key, Marvel, DC and Dark Horse. DC is giving the character another go, and it seems to be doing it right this time.

This special reintroduces the character and introduces a brand new take on the DC Universe. This version of DC reality is darker and more heavily influenced by the pulps than the one you are already familiar with. The one-shot will set the stage for a brand new miniseries featuring the characters in the title and others such as The Spirit that will work well in the boundaries of this new universe.

Brian Azzarello (W), Phil Noto (A), DC Comics, $4.99. Special.

Supergod #1:

The whole examination of “superhero as a god” has be covered so many times over the last 30 years that it has become a comic book staple. Heck, Alan Moore wouldn’t have had a career if it wasn’t for it. Now Warren Ellis is covering the topic as the third part of his deconstruction of the superhero over at Avatar.

But leave it to Ellis to add a scientific spin to it. This series is about a Cold War involving superheroes, with each country trying to create a better superhuman. But it also asks the question, what happens when the heroes that you create really don’t want to fight for you anymore? And what happens when they decide it’s time for you to die?

Warren Ellis (W), Garrie Gastony (A), Avatar Press, $3.99. Five-Issue Miniseries.

Star Wars: Purge—Seconds to Die:

All this month, Dark Horse has been running a promotion called “One Shot Wonders” which features one-shot specials or stand-alone issues of some of their greatest properties. This week brings in one that could be a perfect entry for fans of the Star Wars films into Dark Horse’s line of spin-off comics from the franchise.

This issue takes place after the events of Revenge of the Sith. It deals with the aftermath of the Jedi purge and follows a lone survivor of the massacre at the Jedi Temple, Sha Koon. Sha Koon is struggling to keep the Jedi way—and herself—alive. Too bad Darth Vader and the Emperor want the exact opposite—and have the power to make it happen. 

John Ostrander (W), Jim Hall (A), Dark Horse Comics, $3.50. One-Shot.

Tracker #1:

Tracking a serial killer is tough. Tracking a werewolf is tougher. Tracking a serial killer who is a werewolf is the toughest of all. But that is the task that is put to FBI Agent Alex O’Roark. Unfortunately, that task has gotten even tougher as he has been turned into a werewolf himself.

Now, he has an extra reason to hunt the killer, because the quicker he catches up with his man, the quicker his curse will be lifted. If he doesn’t get his man, then the FBI will be tracking two serial killers as Alex will lose control of the monster inside him. It was a race against time before, now the clock is about to strike midnight.

Jonathan Lincoln (W), Francis Tsai (A), Top Cow/Image Comics, $2.99. Five-Issue Miniseries.

Ghoul #1:

Hollywood is the home to a lot of weirdness concerning both the living and the dead. It is one of the few places where tours of the stars’ death places sell almost as well as tours of where the stars live. It’s a place where a tragic end is almost as good, if not better, than a scandalous life.

This makes it the perfect location for horror legends Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson’s next work. It deals with a L.A. Detective Lieutenant Lloyd Klimpt who deals with some odd cases in his career. But when things get too weird, then he calls in a monster of a detective who goes by the name of The Ghoul.

Steve Niles (W), Bernie Wrightson (A), IDW Publishing, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

S.W.O.R.D. #1:

One of the best things about when people from outside of comics enter the field, they sometimes bring in concepts that are so great that it makes you wonder why no one has ever thought of it before. S.W.O.R.D. is one of those ideas. Created by Joss Whedon for Astonishing X-Men, this S.H.I.E.L.D for the extraterrestrial set seems a natural for Marvel to come up with, but hadn’t before Whedon came along.
 
Now Whedon’s brainstorm is getting their own series in which the concept becomes further entrenched in the Marvel Universe. The aftermath of the Secret Invasion sees Agent Brand being replaced as the head of the organization by Henry Gyrich. His new policy? Rid the Earth of all aliens, which is something Brand is not going to take sitting down!

Kieron Gillen (W), Steven Sanders (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Ongoing Series.


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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer and daughter Vanessa. He also is a comic reviewer for PopMatters, has written for Comic Foundry magazine and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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