This is a western written by Garth Ennis that he did through Avatar a few years back. As you’d expect from his previous collaborations with the publisher it is quite violent, gruesomely so in some parts, and also hits upon some of his favorite subjects. In this case, the necessity of hard, uncompromising men to the well-being of this country and the unscrupulous men in power who benefit from their hard work. While longtime readers of Ennis’ work will find much familiar here, this still represents the first “pure” western he’s written without the need to accommodate a superhero (see the Punisher in “Streets of Laredo”), a supernatural influence (see the “Saint of Killers” mini-series from “Preacher”), or science fiction (see “Just a Pilgrim”). Freed of these requirements, the writing feels more invigorated and it still remains an entertaining story in spite of this familiarity.
Now that I’ve said that, let’s talk about race.
The word out of the New York Comic-Con today is that “American Vampire” will be going on a not-quite-year-long hiatus soon as writer Scott Snyder and artist Rafael Albuquerque pursue other projects. This will include a ten-issue mini-series with Sean Murphy and a new Superman title for Snyder and what I can only assume is some unannounced DCU work from Albuquerque. It’s disappointing that both creators are taking time off from their signature series, but at least they’re formalizing it. At least they’re not going to try and juggle everything at once and we wind up in the same territory that Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Oeming’s “No, it really IS still being published!” “Powers” finds itself in now. Anyway, the new volume isn’t quite a return to the level of quality that we saw in vol. 2, but it is an improvement over the previous one.
Rucka’s go at building a “Punisher” series around the title character’s supporting cast continues in a fairly readable fashion here. It’s not to say that this approach isn’t panning out, but it does feel remarkably subdued for a story involving Frank Castle and I imagine that some of these issues must’ve pretty slow when read on a monthly basis. Still, read together here, there’s some good stuff here with the writer’s approach. I’m personally more interested in the plight of Detective Bolt who owes his promotion to detective to the vigilante and has been passing him police info ever since. He gets called out by his old-school partner here, and the fact that I can’t tell how this thread is going to go is exciting. Less exciting, but still interesting is the transition of Rachel Cole-Alves from being a widowed victim of violent crime into the Punisher’s partner.
I’ve been down on Ed Brubaker’s “Captain America” for quite some time now, but this is a step in the right direction. Things kick off with an epilogue from “Fear Itself” which explains that Bucky wasn’t pointlessly killed off during the crossover and is now going to use his “deceased” status to take care of some unfinished business. Specifically, the business of the other three Winter Soldier sleeper agents that he trained when he was working for the KGB. This leads him and the Black Widow into the dirty underbelly of the Marvel Universe and straight into a conspiracy to frame Doctor Doom for an attack on the United Nations and start a war between the U.S. and Latveria.
I picked this up on a whim at Comic-Con, as it came from the solid creative team of Chris “whole lotta X-books” Yost and Scott “Atomic Robo” Wegener. The premise, about an ordinary office drone, Dave Sloan chosen by the Almighty to be his demon-slaying agent on Earth also sounded pretty nifty. Unfortunately, while Yost gets some good zingers in with the dialogue, he forces the main character’s arc and the story itself into some pretty contrived places. His decision to play up Dave’s ambivalence about his work, and his sanity as well, is a storytelling dead-end. The book is called “Killer of Demons” after all, so whenever the subject of him being crazy is brought up, it comes off as nothing more than false tension. This is symptomatic of a larger problem with Dave as Yost pretty much has the character responding to any situation in a way that the beats of the plot dictate him to. He never comes off as a three-dimensional character and remains a cipher whose sole purpose is to assume the stock emotional response for whatever scene he finds himself in.
What salvages the story to the point where I didn’t feel that it was a complete waste of my time and money was Wegner. The man has already shown us on “Atomic Robo” that he has a knack for drawing all kinds of craziness and for great deadpan visual humor. That’s on full display here as we get to see all sorts of demons mixing with the most mundane aspects of modern life, like fast-food service. He also delivers some great action sequences, such as Dave’s battle with a cabal of satanists led by a stripper in a schoolgirl outfit, and a one-page assault on a demon from the second floor of an asylum with nothing but a pen. In his mouth. To the extent that anything in this story works can pretty much be attributed to Wegner’s skill and how well his style fits the material. Though a sequel is clearly set up at the end of this collection, I’d still rather see him continue to work on “Atomic Robo” or something more deserving of his talents.
Is this Kieron Gillen’s mutant ability? To get good tie-in stories out of Marvel crossovers?
With this current arc, still giving off “H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’” vibes, I was prepared to be frustrated if not utterly let down by the fact that it’s essentially a distraction from the main arc. Yet, after reading through this volume I still came away satisfied. That’s partly because the wickedly intense fantasy action that is the title’s stock-in-trade is delivered as strong as ever here. From the opening which depicts Guts’ latest rampage in the Berserker armor to the ship battle between his comrades and the tentacle pirates, the action comes fast and furious without a dull moment in the volume. Most noteworthy is mangaka Kentaro Miura’s depiction of the old god of the sea that is behind all of this. We never see the creature in full, but Miura gives it a frightening sense of scale just by showing us parts of it -- the gigantic mouth full of fangs, or its spherical body crashing through the island. It’s fantastic stuff that shows us the artist is still working at the top of his game.
It’s been a few years since I’ve read about the Ultimate version of the “X-Men” as the end of Robert Kirkman’s run seemed like a pretty good jumping off point. The series then limped on into the “Ultimatum” crossover before Jeph Loeb gave us the “Son of Wolverine” in “Ultimate X”. Now it’s in the hands of Nick “Morning Glories” Spencer and the results aren’t bad. Granted, that’s a little disappointing after Jonathan Hickman was tearing it up in “Ultimate Comics Ultimates” but it means that I won’t be bored waiting for Brian Wood to take over with vol. 3.