Comic Review: The Punisher: World War Frank

Published: August 22nd, 2018 – December 19th, 2018
Written by: Matthew Rosenberg
Art by: Szymon Kudranski, Greg Smallwood (covers)

Marvel Comics, 129 Pages

Review:

It’s been a long time since I cared about the Punisher. So long in fact that even though I knew this new series was starting, I didn’t seek it out. It wasn’t until someone I trusted told me that I needed to check out the first issue, as it read like classic Punisher and was a no nonsense, balls out, action packed, political thriller.

They weren’t wrong. This thing was a high octane festival of testosterone overload. While that might not appeal to some people, to fans of the Punisher comics of the late ’80s to early ’90s, this comic is a true throwback to that style and tone. Although, it is modernized, it still feels like those old comics I read when I first fell in love with the character as a scrapping young comic reader and creator.

Now this story arc is full of cameos but no one distracts from Frank Castle being his best self and even when other people (heroes and villains) try to prevent his one man war, he is too driven to be deterred.

The main antagonist here is Baron Zemo, who is one of my all-time favorites and who has been underutilized outside of Thunderbolts comics. Zemo isn’t the only villain though. We also get the Mandarin, Jigsaw and some others.

The issue that sees Jigsaw confront the Punisher while he is in a jail cell is incredible. It was the biggest high point out of several. But that’s what this story arc is, it’s a lot of high points and it’s jam packed with action and even some mystery.

World War Frank is not just solid storytelling, it is one of the most solid Frank Castle stories in years.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: old school late ’80s to early ’90s Punisher and the recent Marvel Knights 20th anniversary event.

Comic Review: Spider-Gwen, Vol. 5: Gwenom

Published: April 18th, 2018
Written by: Jason Latour
Art by: Robbi Rodriguez, Khary Randolph (covers)

Marvel Comics, 136 Pages

Review:

I think that I took too long of a break between reading volume 4 and volume 5 of Spider-Gwen. Reason being, this felt like the title had run out of steam. Maybe that’s because it did run out of steam by this point but it could be my own fault for lacking the enthusiasm I had for this series before I took a long break.

This just didn’t hit the right notes for me but that also probably has a lot to do with this being just another story of a Spidercharacter becoming Venom. Marvel has done this to death. Apart from the original Spider-Man titles, we got to see this with Miles Morales and Otto Octavius, both fairly recently.

I’m not saying that the Gwen Stacy version of Spider-Woman shouldn’t have a Venom story but this felt forced and like the writer was pushed into this by Marvel or because this series has now be rolling for a couple years and its hard to not become formulaic. It’s almost as if a Venom story was expected.

But just because something worked a few times, doesn’t mean that it will keep working. Also, it doesn’t mean that you can’t veer away from it and do your own thing. In fact, it’s much better to do your own thing and to explore new ideas with new characters, as opposed to rehashing some tired ass shit most Spider-fans have lived through multiple times.

I’m also just getting tired of this alternate universe. I kind of like the evil Daredevil thing but it’s also become a bit tiresome, as has this version of the Punisher and just about everyone else. It’s like the comic had some good ideas for twists on these characters but there wasn’t much else there beyond those twists.

This story arc also wedges in so many characters that it feels like a mess. I’m not even sure why some of them were there other than to have cameos galore in an effort to show how different this alternate reality is. But if you haven’t already done that by volume 5, hell, by volume 2, then maybe this series doesn’t deserve to continue.

I love Gwen Stacy and I really like this take on her character but she’s got to find a purpose for existing other than just being a cool idea and a really cool costume. And I feel like that’s all that she is now.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Spider-Gwen collections.

Comic Review: Cosmic Ghost Rider: Baby Thanos Must Die

Published: July 4th, 2018 – November 14th, 2018
Written by: Donny Cates
Art by: Dylan Burnett

Marvel Comics, 112 Pages

Review:

As of late, Donny Cates has been on a level that most writers in the comic book industry aren’t even close to. Everything the guy writes is stellar and man, I hope his level of creativity maintains going into the future because I’m really excited about his Guardians of the Galaxy run starting in early 2019. And that Guardians team will also feature Cosmic Ghost Rider.

Out of all of Cates’ recent stuff, this series is my favorite overall, even though it was really just a five issue miniseries to help lead into the relaunch of Guardians of the Galaxy. But it also served as a bridge from Cates’ run on Thanos.

For those who don’t know, Cosmic Ghost Rider is Frank Castle a.k.a. The Punisher. So how did he become this bizarre mashup of a character? Well, the Punisher became a Ghost Rider and after that, was given cosmic powers by Galactus. So everyone’s favorite murderous vigilante from Marvel is basically the Punisher with Ghost Rider and Silver Surfer powers. He’s also a lot older and pretty insane.

The premise of this sees Castle try something no one else has. He goes back in time to murder Thanos as a baby. Thus, freeing the cosmos of all the death and suffering that Thanos, the Mad Titan, can unleash on the universe in the future. However, once Frank Castle confronts the baby, he can’t pull the trigger and instead, takes baby Thanos with him in an effort to raise him better. Of course, all that baby Thanos experiences while gallivanting around with Castle is lots of violence and death.

So did Cosmic Ghost Rider actually create Thanos? This explores that and throws a lot of other curveballs at you.

Plus, you get lots of cameos and crazy situations in this strange pocket of the Marvel universe. And yes, somewhere, the Punsiher still exists in his normal form because this Frank is Frank from a future timeline.

This miniseries was hands down one of the most fun comic books that I’ve read in quite awhile. It’s also badass and feels like a real throwback to ’90s “extreme” culture. It reads more like a balls to the wall indie comic I would’ve read in my teen years than anything Marvel would typically put out.

Dylan Burnett’s artwork is also enchanting and I spent a lot of time really soaking in the art of this series. Plus, I didn’t just buy a copy of each of the five issues, I also picked up a lot of the variants, as this series had great covers throughout its entire run.

I loved Cosmic Ghost Rider. It delivered in a time when so few comics from the two major companies are worth reading.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other recent Donny Cates stuff like Death of the InhumansVenom and his Thanos stories before this.

Comic Review: Marvel’s What If? (2018 Minieries)

Published: October 3rd, 2018 – October 31st, 2018
Written by: various
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 136 Pages

Review:

Marvel has had several different runs with their What If? title. I have always been a fan of it, as it gives us new and different takes on Marvel characters. Usually, they show what happens if characters made different choices or if a major event had a different outcome. I couldn’t read enough of these when I was a kid and in a lot of ways, when I first came into comics, it was What If? that pinpointed the moments throughout Marvel history that were the most pivotal.

This 2018 miniseries was only six issues and all of them were unfortunately released over just five weeks. I wish they would make this an ongoing series again or at least spread them out more.

Like the X-Men: Black miniseries, which also came out weekly over October, this had different creative teams with each issue and it showed.

The six stories in this series were What If Flash Thompson Became Spider-Man?What If X-Men? (not a clearly defined title), What If Peter Parker Became the Punisher?What If Marvel Comics Went Metal with Ghost Rider?, What if Thor Was Raised by Frost Giants? and What If Magik Became Sorcerer Supreme?

Out of the six titles, the only ones I really enjoyed were the Magik and Punisher ones. Thor and Flash Thompson were okay but the X-Men one was a mess and the Ghost Rider one was one of the worst comics I’ve read in several years. I mean, it was beyond atrocious and getting through it was a hell of a chore.

Marvel could rectify their problems with this series, if they don’t rush them next time. If this was a regular monthly series like it was at its peak, the stories would probably have more time devoted to them.

Some of the art even felt rushed and half assed.

Ultimately, I liked a few issues but I can’t really recommend the series over all.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: old school What If? comics, many of which have been re-released for $1 under the True Believers imprint.

Film Review: Punisher: War Zone (2008)

Also known as: The Punisher 2, The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank (working titles)
Release Date: December 4th, 2008 (United Arab Emirates)
Directed by: Lexi Alexander
Written by: Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Nick Santora
Based on: The Punisher by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, John Romita Sr.
Music by: Michael Wandmacher
Cast: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Julie Benz, Colin Salmon, Doug Hutchinson, Dash Mihok, Wayne Knight

Valhalla Motion Pictures, MHF Zweite Academy Film, SGF Entertainment Inc, Lionsgate Films, Marvel Studios 103 Minutes

Review:

“God be with you, Frank.” – Priest, “Sometimes I would like to get my hands on God.” – Frank Castle

Well, my memory of this film was better than what it actually is now that I’ve seen it again, ten years later.

It has a big problem and really, it’s that it’s boring. Yeah, the action stuff is pretty damn good and badass but all the filler in-between is just uninteresting and really f’n derivative.

Now I do like Stevenson as Frank Castle. I think he looks the part more than any other actor who has been in the role. However, he’s missing the charm of Thomas Jane even if he makes up for it with a much needed harder edge. I mean, I also liked Dolph Lundgren’s version of Frank Castle but that 1989 movie really wasn’t up to snuff and he didn’t even have a skull on his chest.

The only real problem with Stevenson and it’s not his fault, is that he is just very one-dimensional. But the script was written without Frank Castle feeling all that human. But I get it, even in the comics he’s typically a quiet badass that doesn’t let people into his orbit on any sort of emotional level. I just feel that the character, in a cinematic sense, should fall somewhere between Ray Stevenson and Thomas Jane. And that’s something that probably needed to be done at the script level.

Lexi Alexander did fine behind the camera from a visual standpoint and also handled the action sequences nicely. The big battle in the hotel at the end was fun to watch and that early scene where the Punisher murders the mob in their mansion was fantastic. Granted, spinning upside down from a chandelier was a bit stupid, as one of the thugs outside of his line of sight could’ve got in a head shot. Unless the mob has the accuracy of Star Wars Stormtroopers.

This movie just makes me sad though. It had the makings of something that could have been a great Punisher film but it fell flat in just about every regard outside of the action. Plus it had parkour in it, which is just a silly form of freestyle walking. I respect the athleticism but people pushing for it to be an Olympic sport need a lobotomy.

Anyway, if you just want a lot of awesome and senseless violence, this will be right up your alley. Unfortunately, you spend a lot of time waiting around for it between those high octane scenes.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Punisher movies from 1989 and 2004, as well as the current TV show.

Talking Pulp: Why I’ve Grown to Hate Deadpool

If the title of this article is fightin’ words, then prepare for 1485 more.

I’ve come to the realization that I just don’t like Deadpool. I mean, I used to love him back when Rob Liefeld created him and he was a thorn in the New Mutants and X-Force’s side from time to time. Plus, I was twelve years-old.

But what’s not to like?

He’s pretty much a ninja or at least, he looks like the bastard lovechild of a ninja and Spider-Man. He was also snarky and a pain in the ass. He even wore a badass red outfit with badass swords and badass guns. He had lots of pouches… so many pouches.

However, as much as I enjoyed seeing him pop up in stuff, I never really liked it when he had his own solo comics.

Okay, I did like those first few miniseries that he had because he still wasn’t quite the Deadpool that we would eventually get and I actually loved the bromance between villains Black Tom Cassidy and Juggernaut. But Deadpool would go on to change and he would also go on to have a villain problem.

Let me get to how he changed first.

In 1997, Joe Kelly came along and wrote an ongoing series for Deadpool. It was here where the character’s real super power debuted: the ability to break the fourth wall. This would continue to be a trait that Deadpool would have going into the future. Without Joe Kelly, Deadpool wouldn’t be talking to you and me, the audience, during his movies. Kelly, essentially turned the “Merc with a Mouth” into Zack Morris from Saved by the Bell. It was unique and fun at first but as time rolled on, I personally found it more distracting than amusing. But I also prefer tough looking characters that kick a whole lot of ass to spend less time chatting and more time kicking a whole lot of ass.

But really, breaking the fourth wall is not a super power. And neither is talking and being a snarky jackass.

Deadpool’s actual power is pretty much just a super healing ability, which makes him Wolverine without the claws, cool skeleton and good looks. And since Wolverine speaks softly and carries a big can of whoop ass into every situation, I will always prefer Wolverine.

Wolverine is a man’s man where Deadpool is that awkward thirty-something juvenile guy that shows up at parties, makes a fuck ton of jokes and people just leave the room. And then he follows them around making more jokes, oblivious to the fact that his routine is stale and he can’t converse like a normal, well adjusted adult.

I’m not saying that he’s completely unfunny but there comes a time when you need to nut the fuck up and shut the fuck up. This is why Deadpool is amusing from time to time when he cameos in someone else’s comic but to read 30 pages of his shtick, every single month, doesn’t interest me in the slightest. Point being, he’s a character that is much better and more welcomed in smaller doses.

Now circling back to the villain problem, Deadpool just doesn’t have any that are worthwhile. This is really apparent in his movies. Sure, Juggernaut and Black Tom show up in Deadpool 2 but they aren’t a main focus and are really just afterthoughts in the film.

Deadpool typically goes after one-off scumbags. I guess that’s fine if you only read Deadpool for Deadpool but for the rest of us, we want to see him actually face off with credible threats. Comic stories of Deadpool cracking jokes, leading up to killing a random mob boss have been done to death at this point. Lack of good villains is why I’ve never been a huge fan of the Punisher in his own titles either. I prefer the Punisher when he actually goes against Jigsaw or the Kingpin, as opposed to a random Russian sex trafficker.

The times where I do love Deadpool is when he is a real fish out of water and playing against his typical situation. For instance, whenever he’s trying to court Death and drawing the ire of Thanos. Or in Venomverse when he’s one of a few dozen characters but he finds a way to be more than his one-dimensional self and stands out while adding something worthwhile to the story beyond just comedic relief. I just don’t want Wade Wilson to be to Marvel what Santino Marella was to the WWE for several years. But he’s basically Marvel’s Jerry Lewis. A lot of people liked Jerry Lewis but a lot of people also post Onion stories like they’re real news… still.

Getting back to his humor, what is it mostly comprised of? Sex jokes and chimichangas.

A good sex joke can go a long way but when you’re writing a character that’s in comics for teens, there is only so far that you can go. And really, while this does work for a juvenile audience, the humor is still juvenile and who hasn’t heard these tired ass jokes for years already? Well, assuming you’re older than high school age.

Chimichangas are just delicious deep fried burritos. I guess it’s a funny sounding word but how many jokes can you make centered around chimichangas? Apparently, at this point, over twenty years worth strung over multiple creative mediums. You know that meme of the cartoon taco that says, “I don’t wanna taco ’bout it?” Now imagine someone holding that in your face for twenty-plus years.

Another aspect of Deadpool’s humor is pop culture references. He runs off at the mouth referencing movies, video games, bands and everything else like it’s the final battle in Ready Player One. He’s like Marvel’s equivalent to Family Guy, which I guess a lot of people like but I don’t see the humor in just mentioning some past nerdy thing. Actually, doesn’t that make Deadpool The Big Bang Theory of the Marvel universe then?

When it comes to the comics themselves, looking beyond his humor style, the stories are typically a jumbled up clusterfuck. Everything beyond his dialogue is wacky for wacky’s sake. It’s like reading a Sunday paper comic strip that is stretched from a few panels to 30 pages worth of panels. And nothing in his stories ever seem to hold much bearing over the bigger picture. It’s like every story could just be his own delusional power fantasy where he’s the only one laughing at his jokes.

Additionally, what’s the fucking point of it all? Where is he going as a character? Is he even a character that has the elements that a character should have? What’s his life arc? It’s just a long running aimless joke. Thankfully, the films fleshed him out into something actually tangible with real human emotion but I think that Ryan Reynolds and the writers were smart enough to know that the film wouldn’t succeed as a two hour dick joke. People need to connect to something and Deadpool, in comic book form, doesn’t have anything to connect to. He probably doesn’t connect to you either unless you’re just a basic bitch that thinks Semi-Pro is a better film than The Shawshank Redemption.

Looking back to the beginning at what Deadpool was, as a character, he’s just Rob Liefeld’s attempt at parodying Deathstroke. He was also purposely given a look that is reminiscent of Spider-Man. Deadpool has never been anywhere near as interesting as either of those characters though. Seriously, read Deathstroke by Christopher Priest (the current run of the character) or go back and read Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. Deadpool has never had a story arc anywhere near the quality of Deathstroke. And I don’t even need to compare him to the incredible history of the Peter Parker version of Spider-Man.

Other things to nitpick about is that the character has a terrible origin story, the art in his books is usually mediocre, he’s an amalgamation of ’90s cliches that people have made fun of for years, all he cares about is amusing himself at anyone else’s expense, he’s a prick most of the time, he’s barely heroic, he fucks up constantly and we’re supposed to laugh about it because he’s a Mary Sue that can survive anything, he’s usually in the way when other heroes are present and he relies on his healing ability over honing his actual skills.

I used to love Deadpool. But again, I was twelve years-old. I never cared about his own solo books because I guess I never thought he had much to offer outside of quick appearances. But as time moved on, the gimmick ran tired and Deadpool became the Dane Cook of comic books.

Plus, when someone says that he’s their favorite superhero, chances are they didn’t know who the hell he was until three years ago… and they probably don’t read comic books either.

Comic Review: Wolverine: Old Man Logan

Published: September 22nd, 2010
Written by: Mark Millar
Art by: Steve McNiven

Marvel Comics, 224 Pages

Review:

Old Man Logan has become one of those stories that has reached a sort of legendary status. That’s a very rare feat in the more modern era of comic books but this story, now having reached ten years of age, has had some lasting power and has gone on to influence other works. In some regard, it is Marvel’s versions of DC’s The Dark Knight Returns in that it takes a well known character and shows him in an alternate future after the world has fallen apart around him.

Granted, this is in no way a ripoff of Frank Miller’s classic Batman story. Old Man Logan is very much its own thing and what a great thing it is.

When the story starts, we discover that Logan, the former Wolverine, is living in California on a farm with his wife and two children. Times are hard and the Hulk’s inbred gang demand the rent. An old Hawkeye shows up and gives Logan a deal that he can’t refuse, which will pay him enough to keep the Hulk’s gang off of his back. The story then sees these two aged heroes travel from the West Coast to the East Coast to deliver a package. We discover that the entire United States is completely screwed up and while the now villainous Hulk controls the West Coast, other villains control other regions. The Kingpin (a different guy than Wilson Fisk) has Vegas, Dr. Doom has the Midwest and “The President” a.k.a. Red Skull has the East Coast.

I don’t want to give much more away for fear of spoiling the story.

This book has a lot of surprises and cool things thrown in. Logan is a pacifist, at this point, but what happens when he is pushed beyond his breaking point?

Old Man Logan is one of the most refreshing things Marvel has put out since the turn of the millennium. The story and the characters were so well received that Logan and Hawkeye have both made other appearances as their elderly selves.

There are very few comic books that I will say are must reads, especially out of the more modern titles. This is a must read though, whether you are a Wolverine fan or just a fan of the comic book medium in general.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The Death of Wolverine and it also has some similarities to Frank Miller’s classic aged Batman tale, The Dark Knight Returns.