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The Punisher series could possibly, one day, have more volumes than a set of encyclopedias. It already has seven different volumes, and that’s not counting “War Journals” or “War Zones” or any of the various and sundry miniseries from the character.

But this didn’t stop Marvel from giving us an eighth volume. They cancelled the successful Punisher War Zone series, renamed the current Punisher MAX series Frank Castle: Punisher, just to make way for a brand spanking new Punisher #1.

Why would they do this? Well, it all has to do with the era we live in. Blame the recent spate of comic book movies doing boffo business at the box office.

The logic is that people who flock to the cineplexes to watch the latest comic book movie might leave the theater and make a beeline to the comic book store to read more about the hero they just saw on the screen. And the conventional wisdom is that these new readers would be turned off by an issue #26 or issue #63 and the convoluted continuity those numbers imply.

So, Marvel tries to have a number one in stores for these fans so they will think they are getting in on the ground floor (forget that new number one comes after 30-plus years of past history, so these new fans aren’t really getting in on the ground floor of anything). The company put this into practice close to the Iron Man movie (starting up Invincible Iron Man) and again near the Incredible Hulk film (starting Hulk).

So, this new Punisher volume was created to tie in to the success of the new film, Punisher: War Zone. The hope was that the film would still be in theaters when this new series began, giving fans of the blockbuster a brand new title for them to satisfy their Punisher craving.

The only problem is, the movie was anything but a blockbuster and left theaters weeks ago. Punisher: War Zone was released on December 5th and only ranked a “22% fresh” over at Rotten Tomatoes. It opened in a paltry 8th position, grossing only $4,271,451 in its opening weekend. It was out of theaters 3 weeks later, with only $8,816,788 in ticket sales worldwide, earning back only a quarter of its $35 Million estimated production budget. That would be a flop anyway you look at it.

So, an unnecessary new number one became even more unnecessary. Granted, the new series also comes with a creative change. Rick Remender is now taking over solo writing duties (he co-wrote the last Punisher War Journal arc with that version of the title’s originator, Matt Fraction) and he’s bringing Jerome Opeňa with him (Opeňa was Remender’s partner on the cult favorite Dark Horse series, Fear Agent. This is his first ongoing series for a major publisher).

The focus on the book is also shifting, as it appears in the new “Dark Reign” world of the Marvel books, he is hunting a new breed of prey—heroes who might not be as heroic as they seem. For example, in the first issue, Frank Castle tussles with The Sentry.

But these changes don’t necessitate a new number one. Punisher War Journal was a respectable seller for Marvel. Without the push a new Punisher title might have gotten if Punisher: War Zone was a hit, this new series might have a slight jump in sales, but will probably settle down to similar sales numbers.

Restarting a series with a new number one is a long-time trick companies use to increase sales. In these new comic-movie happy times, it has been even more successful. But cancelling a series that barely made it two years just to cash in on the possible success of a movie is a risky proposition. Hopefully, this disruption doesn’t come back to haunt Marvel in this circumstance.

Also out this week:

Black Lightning: Year One #1:

The character Black Lightning has had an interesting history. His was one of the first, if not the first, African-American DC characters to receive their own book. That book was cancelled as part of the now legendary DC Implosion of 1978. He has also held a special place in the hearts of the men who created him—Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden.

Both creators are still active in comics today and I’m sure would love to take part in this “Year One” story. Unfortunately, they are not. Instead, the tale will be in the hands of Jen Van Meter and Cully Hamner.

Van Meter and Hamner are great creators, but I believe that Isabella and Von Eeden should have had first shot at this series. If anyone should write a “Year One” story about any character, it should be the people who created it.

Jen Van Meter (W), Cully Hamner (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Six-Issue Miniseries.

Secret Invasion: War of the Kings:

For the last several years, Marvel’s publishing plan was to put out one major annual crossover event, such as Civil War, and then a minor crossover cosmic-themed event such as Annihilation, and the connection between the two would be tenuous at best. That has all changed this year.

The “War of the Kings” event dovetails directly out of Secret Invasion. Skrull kidnapee Black Bolt and his Inhuman Royal Family play one faction in the struggle, and his time as a Skrull captive is a motivating element to the plot.

“War of the Kings” has been led up to in a variety of other places, but this special sets the event into high gear. If “Dark Reign” just isn’t doing it for you Marvel fans, maybe you you should try this as an alternative.

Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning (W), Paul Pelletier & Bong Dazo(A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. One-Shot.

Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising   #1:

Dystopian futures usually take place exclusively on Earth and usually deal with an apocalypse of some sort—be it nuclear, zombie or other type. Shrapnel expands the concept to the entire Milky Way Galaxy and there is no apocalypse, only a take over by an oppressive regime.

Humanity has colonized all of  the galaxy, and such rampant expansion comes with a cost. The oppressive Solar Alliance has come to power and rules the planets with an iron fist. Well, all planets except for Venus, the last democratic planet in the galaxy. But, before long, the Alliance comes calling on Venus, and will bring it on board anyway possible. There is only one hope—a woman name Samantha Vijaya. She only wants to keep Venus free, but what she might do is destroy the Solar Alliance once and for all.

M. Zachary Sherman (W), Bagus Hutomo (A), Radical Publishing, $1.99. Five-Issue Miniseries.

Terror Titans #4:

We have already said that Black Lightning is making his return to comic books, now, another electricity-wielding, African-American hero is making his return to DC Comics.

As Black Lightning was in the 1970s, the Milestone Imprint served as an example of DC being ahead of the curve when it came to cultural diversity. The imprint was run by African-American creators and its characters were from a broad ethnic spectrum. And the breakout star of the company had to be Static.

Static, the electricity-wielding, African-American hero mentioned above, is by far the most famous Milestone character, having made his way into the world of Saturday morning cartoons (renamed Static Shock, the program ran for 52 episodes from 2000 to 2004). Now, he is back, and returning to the DC Universe proper with this issue.

Sean McKeever (W), Joe Bennet (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Six-Issue Miniseries.

Archibald Chases the Dragon:

All you really need to know about the Archibald franchise, which is now in its third installment, can be found out by the title. Yes, chasing the dragon can mean the pursuit of the red, mythological creature Archibald Aardvark is tussling with on the cover, but it more commonly refers to the evils of drug addiction—the dragon in this case being the elusive next high.

Whether Archibald goes on an opium bender in this one-shot is uncertain. What is known is that his quest to find his brother’s killer takes him to Little China. There, he finds mystery, drama, intrigue, and, apparently, a gigantic red dragon, which may or may not be real. Maybe that opium bender isn’t that far off.

Dara Naraghi (W), Grant Bond (A), Image/ Shadowline Comics, $3.50. One-Shot.

Blue Monday: Thieves Like Us #1:

Blue Monday is one of the most renowned comics to come out of the “indie” scene in the past 10 years. It’s being nominated for an Eisner Award might make you think that it is some stuffy art project, but its not. Think of it more as manga by way of Judd Apatow or John Hughes. It has a protagonist with blue hair, but it is wrapped in all the trappings of a teenage sex comedy.

That aspect comes into play in this series, as Bleu, the lead character of the franchise, tries to gain some experience in the ways of sex to try and catch her history teacher’s eye. But the way she goes about it causes chaos throughout her whole school. Will it all be worth it? Will Mr. Bishop finally notice her?

Chynna Clugston (W/A), Oni Press , $3.50. Five-Issue Miniseries.

Faces of Evil: Grundy #1:

DC is making January a theme month. The focus is villains and its presence will be felt through out all of the DC books. Many will have special, villain-centric covers and DC will be releasing a new special each week devoted to one of its most famous bad guys.

First up is Solomon Grundy, one of DC’s most unique and oldest characters. Surviving from the Golden Age, the character has gone from being a murderous force of nature to a simple hero and back again, from a mindless brute to an intelligent schemer, which is his latest incarnation.

This special might be of interest to you because it will set up next month’s Grundy miniseries. If you plan on picking that series up, keep in mind it starts here. 

Scott Kolins & Geoff Johns (W), Scott Kolins (A), DC Comics, $2.99. One-Shot.

Official Index to the Marvel Universe #1:

The idea of publishing indexes of comics is not a new idea. It has been in practice for over 30 years, dating back to the Marvel Indexes published in the 1970s. These were fountains of information which gave you names of the characters, a plot synopsis, and other important information about every comic every published.

Now, the indexes are back, and I, for one, cannot be happier. I loved these things with a passion during their resurgence in the 1980s. They are an invaluable source of information about comics. Now, to celebrate their 70th anniversary, Marvel is starting a new series of indexes, focusing on Spider-Man, Iron-Man and the X-Men. I hope this series finds an audience, because they are a record of the history of comics and that is something the medium definitely needs.

Various (W), Various (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY and is expecting his first child with his wife Jennifer. He also is a comic reviewer for PopMatters 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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