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Welcome Back, Garth and Steve

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December is a pretty busy month for Punisher fans. The character returns to movie screens this month in Punisher: War Zone. Marvel’s MAX Punisher title is getting a renaming to Frank Castle: Punisher. Why? The change is to avoid confusion when the Punisher War Journal series is cancelled and restarted with a new, if somewhat unnecessary, Punisher #1 (which I think is the 76th Punisher #1 to hit stands in the character’s 35 year history).

If that wasn’t enough, Rick Remender is taking over solo writing duties on the new title (bye bye, Matt Fraction) and Jerome Opena is taking over for Howard Chaykin.

Whew! That’s a lot of stuff for any Punisher fan to be excited about. But the hardcore Punisher fans are probably most excited by another series hitting the stands to cash in on Frank Castle’s latest cinematic foray. This one reunites two creators that revolutionized the character and made everything that came before—and after—look pale in comparison. The book is Punisher War Zone and the creators are Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.

Longtime readers of this column will realize how much of a fan of both creators I am. Separately, they are great creators whose books always seem to make their way onto my pull list. Dillon’s art made Wolverine: Origins and Nighthawk readable and Ennis’ work on The Boys and War Is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle was some of the better comics writing in the past year.

So, while Ennis and Dillon are great on their own, when they get together, something magical happens. Whether it is because they bring out the best in each other or they have so much experience working together that the creative process is a breeze, the pairing results in a winning combination every time.

While their partnership might not immediately spring to mind when it comes to legendary creative teams, they have collaborated on some of the best story arcs in comic history. Their run on Hellblazer was legendary and one of the most memorable spans on the long running series. Their work on Preacher made that title one of Vertigo’s most highly regarded series. And then, there’s “Welcome Back, Frank.”

When Ennis and Dillon took over the Punisher, the character had two strikes on him. A victim of the ‘90s “Speculator Bust”, the character went from one that could support three titles to being damaged goods. He was given over to Marvel Knights to see what they could do with the character. MK’s first stab at a revamp—turning Frank Castle into a heavenly assassin—went over like a lead balloon.

Ennis and Dillon brought the Punisher back to basics and sent him after mob bosses again. They also brought something new—a sense of humor. Frank Castle doesn’t seem to be a character that could ever be funny, but the creators filled this first arc with a laugh or two, without diminishing the character.

The main villain of “Welcome Back, Frank” was a mafia matron by the name of Ma Gnucci. She became a great nemesis for the Punisher because her desire to kill him equaled or surpassed his desire to kill her. Even having her arms and legs ripped off and eaten by polar bears (yes, polar bears) couldn’t dissuade her from her vengeance.

Neither, apparently, could death. The original arc ended with her being left for dead by the Punisher in her burning house. But it seems she survived that almost certain death and will return to plague Frank in this new series.

       

   

There is a lot of Punisher-related entertainment out there competing for your entertainment dollar. In these uncertain financial times, you might be hesitant to pay $4 a week for this six issue miniseries. Don’t be. The combo of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon is well worth the money. Add the Punisher to the mix and you have a bargain at any price.

Also out this week:

Booster Gold #15:

This week is a big week for creators returning to characters they are known for. While Dan Jurgens has been the artist on the latest Booster Gold series since the very beginning, this week marks him taking over the writing chores on the character he created in 1986.

The character has changed quite a bit over those 22 years. Back then, he was an opportunist from the future more concerned with making a name for himself than truly being a hero. Now, it’s the opposite, as he hides behind a veneer of shallowness so he can preserve history from all sorts of threats.

Jurgens’ creation was unique for the time it was created. It should be interesting to see how he handles his baby now after so many years in other people’s hands.  

Dan Jurgens (W/A), DC Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

X-Men Noir #1:

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, by now you’ve seen the ads promoting this series. The black and white ads did garner some attention, but is a Noir version of the X-Men a good idea?

Don’t get me wrong, I like Film Noir as much as the next guy. Shadowy people doing shady things in, well, the shadows, what’s not to love?

But what I don’t like is trying to force something into a genre where they just don’t fit. Granted, this isn’t the X-Men you see every month in about 50 titles, but a reinterpretation of them. However, it will take a lot of reinterpretation to fit some X-characters into the Noir genre. So much so that you might lose what made said X-characters great in the first place.

Fred Van Lente (W), Dennis Calero  (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

Phonogram 2: The Singles Club #1:

Considering the music centric world of Phonogram, you might think that the term “Singles Club” deals with song recordings rather than pick-up joints. Well, you’d probably be right and wrong. I’m pretty sure music singles will play a part, but the subtitle also refers to the fact that each of the seven issues will tell a stand alone story that takes place over a single night in a nightclub.

The first Phonogram series was very well received by critics and fans alike. Kieron Gillen’s witty writing meshed with Jamie McKelvie’s beautiful artwork excellently and really created something special. So, if you like British music and tales of magic and fantasy, then you should pick this one up.

Kieron Gillen (W), Jamie McKelvie (A), Image Comics, $3.50. Seven-Issue Miniseries.

Secret Invasion: Dark Reign:

The invasion is over and there is one clear winner—Norman Osborn. What? You heard me. Tony Stark is on the outs and Osborn is in like Flynn. Of course, what the people don’t know is that Osborn is, at the very least, criminally insane, at worst downright evil. What do you get when you give an evil man unbelievable power? You get a Dark Reign.

Marvel isn’t allowing fans to catch their breath by ushering a new and exciting crossover so soon after their popular Secret Invasion ends. This special acts as a bridge between the two. They are giving us a look at what would really happen if the bad guys win. Gee, that plot point sounds awfully familiar!

Brian Michael Bendis (W), Alex Maleev (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. One-Shot.

Detective Comics #581:

The third legendary creator returning to a character that he is known for is Denny O’Neil. But what sets O’Neil apart from Ennis and Dillon or Dan Jurgens are two things. First, his association with Batman goes back more than 30 years. His classic run with Neal Adams on the character hit stands when the other creators on this list were only children. Second, is that O’Neil also worked with Batman behind the scenes as an editor, manning the stations when Jason Todd was killed and when Batman broke his back.

Now, he’s on a special, two issue crossover with Batman that details the aftereffects of “Batman R.I.P.” on Gotham City. So, okay, technically, O’Neil will not be writing Batman, per se, since Bats is among the missing after that arc. Nonetheless, having O’Neil on the Bat-playground is still a good thing.

Dennis O’Neil (W), Guillem March (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

The Death Defying ‘Devil #1:

It’s not that big of a stretch to see how Alex Ross decided upon this renaming of the Golden Age Daredevil, since pesky Marvel grabbed the trademark on the name after it hadn’t used in over a decade. After all, most daredevils do defy death on occasion. So the renaming certainly fits.

Ross’ taking of long forgotten Golden Age characters and making them into a new cottage industry for both himself and Dynamite Entertainment continues as yet another one of the Project: Superpowers cast gets his own series.   And, apparently, a green and blue doppelganger as well, one with the similar sounding name of The Deadly, Dreaded Dragon. What is the connection between the two and does our ‘Devil have anything to fear?

Alex Ross & Joe Casey (W), Edgar Salazar (A), Dynamite Entertainment, $3.50. Ongoing Series.

Wonderful Wizard of Oz #1:

In comics, there are creators that are known as “go-to-guys.” These are writers or artists that excel at a certain genre or character that editors turn to when they need a position filled. For horror in general, it’s Steve Niles. For zombies, it’s Robert Kirkman. Mutants, at one time, were the main forte of Chris Claremont.

When it comes to adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, that go-to-guy is Eric Shanower. Between 1986 and 1992, Shanower wrote and drew a number of graphic novels that brought Baum’s Oz series to comic store shelves. He became renown for his loving attention to detail and his faithfulness to the original text. So, when Marvel decided to adapt the Wizard of Oz for it’s Illustrated line, it was no question that Shanower was the guy they went to. 

Eric Shanower (W), Skottie Young (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Eight-Issue Miniseries.

Green Arrow/Black Canary #15:

When it comes to writer changes, many are viewed with trepidation, unless, of course, that writer is Judd Winick. He has been lambasted by so many fans and critics that it seems like his leaving a title becomes a cause for celebration.

However, I kinda liked his work on this title. He wrote a breezy action adventure story were his usual irksome tics were held mostly in check. So, I really can’t be that happy he’s off the book.

What I am happy about is his successor being Andrew Kreisberg. He is the writer of the absolutely awesome Helen Killer series who has been getting quite a bit of work from DC of late. I can’t wait to see what he brings to this series.     

Andrew Kreisberg (W), Mike Norton (A), DC Comics, $2.99. 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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