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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Terrible Twos. 

(Is that how you spell "Twos"?)

It's been two years since I made this rambling, largely embarassing post. I don't know that I had any real concept of what I was doing, and at the time I knew more about comics blogs than I did about comics. (It was easier, then; there were, like, five worth visiting, out of about ten total. Only one of those two numbers has changed in two years' time.)

So technically Ringwood is two, despite the fact that more than half that time I've been updating about once every financial quarter. (Props to David Lawson for that particular phrasing, though I can't find the exact post he made it in.) Whatever. This place is two, even if the business hours have been wonky.

I don't know what people do on these anniversary posts. Talk about what they've learned? Somehow, "learned" seems like the wrong word. Maybe a more literal phrasing: What, in two years, have I observed and internalized?

Certainly my blogging friends have given me better instruction in comics than ten years of visiting comics stores ever could. They have likewise been expert in provoking me to care, passionately and vitally, about this artform, whether they did so by making me laugh, making me pause, or pissing me the hell off.

Not that it's all been shiny hearts and flowers. Like most I've simply lost interest, which led to the steady decline in posting frequency you longtime readers are all too familiar with. (Can you believe there was a time I'd make seven posts in a day?) Predictably, I don't pull down nearly the amount of hits I did in my prime, and and where I used to pull down 10-15 comments per post, now it's more like... well, scroll down a bit.

Even updating on the comics weblog updater thingy doesn't pull in the hits like it used to; there are now so many voices screaming to be heard that I simply get lost in the mix.

You see, I've got this idea in my head. This idea that there's a whole new breed of comics blogs readers that have no fucking clue who I am and find me a completely unnecessary stop on the whole 'sphere. Simplistic and self-centered, I know. But there it is. I wouldn't be a blogger if I didn't angst like fucking crazy.

Rose and Rick, two of my dearest partners in blogger angst and two people I consider good friends, have heard me go on and on (and on) about My Place in the Blogosphere. What purpose do I serve? What voice do I have? What unique spin or angle do I bring to the discussion? This isn't mere tempest-in-a-teapot vanity; I despise useless hangers-on and me-tooists and would sooner hang than become one myself. If I'm not serving a genuine purpose, the theory goes, I should get the fuck out of dodge and stop wasting everyone's time.

I ask these questions a lot when talking to those two. Rose has been pretty sage-like recently, offering sound advice to a guy who frankly needs some fucking direction. As a result, I won't be closing the doors here. There's no shame in letting the blog lie fallow, she said, until inspiration strikes. Fucking A right, Rose.

Anyway, "closing the doors" is the kind of vanity only permissible to those moving on to better things -- such as Rick going from EMP to DBS -- or for those who are genuine goddamn rock stars, like Graeme or John. I don't qualify.

Not that I've found my place, even now. There's a lot of sloppiness in blogging now; we seem to be going more for entertainment than edification, and as you'll see in the comments for the previous post, I'm leery of those situations. God bless you comedians for your recaps of old comics, for your "remixes" of current overblown hype comics, for your fond ribbings of silver and golden age lore. You have obvious talent and a smart fan's grasp of the material.

But the more of that shit I see, the more I feel like we're all extras in a Kevin Smith movie.

On the other side are the rare handful who post consistently insightful material all the time, who reach a level of constant analytical genius that's almost obnoxious. I can't compete with those guys, no fucking way. I'm not smart enough. Nor can I churn out the entertaining material that makes up the bulk of the "funny" blogs. I'm not funny enough.

I'm not in either category, and I don't know that I want to be. The "funny" guys offer safe, unchallenging material that fills the stomach without providing any nutrition. The "smart" guys preach to a small group of the converted, often confusing overanalysis with good criticism.

And that, to my eyes, is all we have left.

The blogosphere has lost all ambition.

Everyone's very comfortable, and the current Rock Stars of the comics blogosphere got there by doing safe material. No one's trying to change much of anything. The ones who "go places" use their blogs as launching pads into careers in established arenas... something comics professionals are often criticized for doing when they launch into movies or TV.

So, I will withdraw for a little bit. I will plot Ideas. I will see if I can, as has so often been suggested, put my money where my mouth is and lead by example. This isn't a battlecry or a manifesto or anything tiresome like that; fuck, it's not even a decent State of the Union.

But I did used to do stuff like the GREAT LOSERS GIVEAWAY, which kicked off a giveaway trend that lasted well over a year. (It may still be going, I don't know; all I do know is that no blog had tried anything like it till I did. Call me egotistical if you want, but it's the fucking truth.) I got something like 5,000 unique hits (you read right) in one day for that contest. A dialogue was created, by which I mean the formula of "I Write, You Read, That's It" blogging went out the window and communication became two-way. I put a comic I love in front of 5,000 people who may have had only an incidental awareness of comics at all.

Who the fuck is even trying to do that anymore?

So. Time to rebuild.

Happy birthday. I'll let you know what I come up with.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Hey, comics publishers. 

Yesterday, for the first time ever since I started going to my comics shop every Wednesday, I picked up no comics. This was not a Gesture of some kind; nothing was on my pull list and nothing on the racks interested me. Ironic that this should happen so close to the 2-year anniversary of this corner of blogdom.

I draw your attention to this legendary speech by then-FCC chairman Newton Minow. If you've ever heard TV called a "vast wasteland," it's because of this speech.

Pertinent points that may or may not relate to the first paragraph of this post:

When television is good, nothing -- not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers -- nothing is better.

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit and loss sheet or rating book to distract you -- and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And, endlessly, commercials -- many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you will see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, try it.

Is there one person in this room who claims that broadcasting can't do better?

[...]

Why is so much of television so bad? I have heard many answers: demands of your advertisers; competition for ever higher ratings; the need always to attract a mass audience; the high cost of television programs; the insatiable appetite for programming material -- these are some of them. Unquestionably, these are tough problems not susceptible to easy answers.

But I am not convinced that you have tried hard enough to solve them.

I do not accept the idea that the present over-all programming is aimed accurately at the public taste. The ratings tell us only that some people have their television sets turned on and of that number, so many are tuned to one channel and so many to another. They don't tell us what the public might watch if they were offered half-a-dozen additional choices. A rating, at best, is an indication of how many people saw what you gave them. Unfortunately, it does not reveal the depth of the penetration, or the intensity of reaction, and it never reveals what the acceptance would have been if what you gave them had been better -- if all the forces of art and creativity and daring and imagination had been unleashed. I believe in the people's good sense and good taste, and I am not convinced that the people's taste is as low as some of you assume.


[...]

If parents, teachers, and ministers conducted their responsibilities by following the ratings, children would have a steady diet of ice cream, school holidays, and no Sunday school. What about your responsibilities? Is there no room on television to teach, to inform, to uplift, to stretch, to enlarge the capacities of our children? Is there no room for programs deepening their understanding of children in other lands? Is there no room for a children's news show explaining something about the world to them at their level of understanding? Is there no room for reading the great literature of the past, teaching them the great traditions of freedom? There are some fine children's shows, but they are drowned out in the massive doses of cartoons, violence, and more violence. Must these be your trademarks? Search your consciences and see if you cannot offer more to your young beneficiaries whose future you guide so many hours each and every day.

What about adult programming and ratings? You know, newspaper publishers take popularity ratings too. The answers are pretty clear: it is almost always the comics, followed by the advice to the lovelorn columns. But, ladies and gentlemen, the news is still on the front page of all newspapers; the editorials are not replaced by more comics; the newspapers have not become one long collection of advice to the lovelorn. Yet newspapers do not need a license from the government to be in business -- they do not use public property. But in television, where your responsibilities as public trustees are so plain, the moment that the ratings indicate that westerns are popular there are new imitations of westerns on the air faster than the old coaxial cable could take us from Hollywood to New York. Broadcasting cannot continue to live by the numbers. Ratings ought to be the slave of the broadcaster, not his master. And you and I both know that the rating services themselves would agree.

Let me make clear that what I am talking about is balance. I believe that the public interest is made up of many interests. There are many people in this great country and you must serve all of us. You will get no argument from me if you say that, given a choice between a western and a symphony, more people will watch the western. I like westerns and private eyes too, but a steady diet for the whole country is obviously not in the public interest. We all know that people would more often prefer to be entertained than stimulated or informed. But your obligations are not satisfied if you look only to popularity as a test of what to broadcast. You are not only in show business; you are free to communicate ideas as well as relaxation. You must provide a wider range of choices, more diversity, more alternatives. It is not enough to cater to the nation's whims; you must also serve the nation's needs.

And I would add this: that if some of you persist in a relentless search for the highest rating and the lowest common denominator, you may very well lose your audience. Because, to paraphrase a great American who was recently my law partner, the people are wise, wiser than some of the broadcasters -- and politicians -- think.


Read the whole fucking thing. Tell me every single word could not be applied to comics.

(Props to Jim Emerson.)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Priorities. 

I was going to do a review of yesterday's comics today, but really.

This is the only thing worth reading today.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Why no one cares what fans think. 

I've done a pretty good job keeping to my "buy no Marvel books not written by Garth Ennis, Daniel Way, or Dan Slott" resolution -- though I admit I modified it after I dropped She-Hulk and started picking up Peter Milligan's Dead Girl mini.

Way and Steve Dillion are doing Punisher vs. Bullseye, whose fourth (of five) issues came out today. It's a fun read. Definitely popcorn comics, but told with enough sly wit to rise above the usual bottom-line-padding minis Marvel turns out on a regular basis.

There's even a letter section in the back. I say "letter" section because there's only one -- and that one letter pretty much explains exactly why letters sections should have died out in 196-fucking-8.

Here's the first paragraph:

Just finished reading PUNISHER VS. BULLSEYE #2, and I'm loving it! It's already running laps (sorry, Lapham!) around PUNISHER VS. DD, which didn't portray Frank in the best light. But this is coming from a lifelong Frank Follower. I'm also happy to see the return of a letter page! Brings me back to the old days when there was new Punishment each and every week at my local comic shop.


Now, I like the Punisher. He is, in fact, my favorite Marvel character. I like to think of the character as a far more rational (and far more cynical) take on the Batman concept, and in the hands of the right people (Steven Grant, Chuck Dixon, Garth Ennis) arguments can be made with the character, even if that argument is the validity of a particular genre in comics (as Grant used Castle to make a case for modern-day crime comics.)

But I will do everything within my power, up to and including kicking down the doors at Marvel and shooting everyone there, before allowing them to return us back to the "old days" that guy is talking about. I guess he figures himself an authority on the character because he has "the largest collection of Punisher merchandise in the US."

Me, I think that makes him a fucking wanker.

But not only for that. It's that little dig at Lapham at the beginning of the letter that associate editor Cory Sedlmeier for some fucking reason chose out of what must have been a pile of fanboy man-jam in letter form.

Here's how that paragraph reads to me, with Fanwank Filters on:

I don't like it when crossovers are presented as a clash of very real ideals that affects a large tapestry of characters surrounding the two main ones. I'm even less comfortable when fictional characters I for some reason idolize are presented as having flaws or ideological blindspots. Also, I prefer "clever" dialogue to anything resembling organic human speech. Oh, and hey, thanks for letting me prattle on inanely in print! I love it when you give us the opportunity to wash your balls in a public forum and act grateful for the opportunity to do so. Maybe if we keep this trend up, we can return to the glory days when comics were complete and utter horseshit.


The response to this letter becomes a PR spiel for other Marvel titles within two sentences, and keeps that ball rolling for seven more. God, I love free speech!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Bliss. 

(A short story worth your attention. On a few people's short lists for Hugo nomination.)

Sam dragged his sister Elizabeth out of the tenement on a bright December day, her face swelling from bruises and puffed-red with tears. She didn’t speak when the cops cuffed the shouting, swearing stereotype of a beater she’d called a boyfriend: Sam had given him a right hook to the face for symmetry’s sake and now the jerk was none too happy. With that same hand wrapped so firmly around his sister’s thin arm, he felt almost ashamed. His wrist hurt, and there had been something about those neighbour kids who’d been staring with wide, knowing eyes, like it was something they saw every day...

I shouldn’t have hit him. I’m better than that.

Elizabeth didn’t speak as Sam piled her into his car. She shivered and stared blankly at the house that had been hers, no evidence that anything was sinking in but the tear-tracks on her face. Neither did Sam; it was enough to concentrate on the road and hold the wheel with that sore wrist, one stoplight at a time until they reached his condo. Last time it had just turned into a fight, another flight back into God-knew-where, and now another call from the cops, another lie he’d have to tell his mother about knowing where Elizabeth was. He wasn’t going to ask why this time, and he wasn’t going to judge. It was her life.

He gripped the wheel tight and kept driving.

When he helped her out of the sedan in the parking garage, arm wrapped firmly around her waist to hold up that too-frail body, she started to sniffle again.

He could have sighed, or slapped her, or cried. “Why didn’t you call me? If something was wrong, you know I wouldn’t tell Mom, or...why didn’t you call?”

“He made me so happy,” she whimpered.

Fuck, thought Sam.

She was back on the Bliss.

(More.)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Gratitude beam: on! 

1) On recommendation from Rose, and with extra incentive added by my favorite shop's 40% off sale, I've finally (finally!) picked up the first volume of Sgt. Frog.

I'm still laughing. Seriously, every fucking page is funny. I realize that there are bloggers who've been talking about this for, I don't know, a pretty long time now -- but not everyone comes to something at the same time.

I'd almost forgotten that you can be riotously funny and clever without being crude. There isn't a mean bone in this book's body, but holy god. Hysterical.

Do yourself a favor.

2) I should explain something about my feelings toward Grant Morrison. I like his work. Like many others, I can't quite pinpoint why I like him as easily as I can with other writers -- Ennis and his gift for dialogue, Ellis for the endless wellspring of capital-I Ideas -- and the selection of his works that I adore and those that leave me cold is almost random, with no discernible pattern that I can see.

But the cult of personality bothers me, and the slavish devotion shown to him by otherwise sane bloggers is frankly embarassing. The basic conceit behind All-Star Superman is really pretty simple, as is the premise behind The Invisibles, and is capable of summary in, oh, three or four sentences.

I wonder: Will we be treated to panel-by-panel breakdowns and thousand-word treatises of his and Jim Lee's WildCATS project?

Grant Morrison on WildCATS. Wow. That's like using a bazooka to fire a BB, i'n't it?

3) I'm living on my own for the first time since ever, and about three weeks ago I finally got around to ordering basic cable when I realized it wasn't going to break the bank. And I missed The Daily Show.

Because it's Comcast, though, it should surprise no one that the package listings on their web page are deceptive and misleading. Long story short: I won't be getting Comedy Central. I'm getting CNN, though, which is the other 50% of the reason why I got basic cable in the first place.

These days, you can't swing a dead hobbit without hitting a story (usually in print format) about the Death of Newspapers and how readership is down down down because 24-hour news channels and the internet are killing the need for newspapers. (Maybe it has something to do with lying about circulation numbers, guys -- advertisers lose faith after a scandal like that. God knows why.)

Certainly, my paper has become a pale joke of its (admittedly already jokey) former self in a desperate ploy to attract readers in my demographic. The reasoning is thus: Remove deeply-researched content (bad), make everything in color (good), and reduce all events in the world into easily digestible bullet points (poisonous). The rejuvenated ad campaigns reflect this mentality, and seem to scream We Think You're All Rich Idiots.

Nevermind cultivating an intelligent audience. Don't donate newspapers to schools so kids will have something to read while they're waiting for class to start, after the bus drops them off: Just pander to this imaginary demographic of rich morons.

But I can't watch CNN for more than 45 minutes straight without turning the TV off in frustration. I argue with my television, which is never a good sign. Is this what newspapers are afraid of? The same three stories repeated over and over ad nauseum with little to no true analysis, while the news crew desperately prays for some dumbass bride to bail on her wedding so they no longer have to work to bring you news?

(Let's not even talk about Fox News. There are only two possible explanations for that channel: One, it's a biting satire of the American Neanderthal more nuanced and savage than anything Mark Twain ever dreamed of penning. Two, it's real. I have a sneaking suspicion the more depressing option is the true one.)

I guess the concern is "immediacy." Newspapers cannot compete with the "immediacy" of 24-hour news networks and the internet.

I'm sorry, but I would've figured "immediacy" went down the list of newspaper priorities about the time the fucking radio was invented. (Anyway, any journalism 101 teacher will tell you newspaper stories should be timely, not immediate, two terms that are not synonymous.) No one goes to newspapers for immediacy, and I'm pretty sure that's been the case for, oh, about eight or nine decades now. No. Newspapers supply depth and complexity; that's the working theory, anyway.

But nevermind. We need more color pie charts.

I read the New York Times every morning. I read Newsweek. I pick up an issue of The Economist about once a month. And let's not forget stellar interviews and think-pieces I get from subscribing to Esquire and Playboy. Or the pulse-of-the-minute fix I get from Entertainment Weekly. Or Premiere.

I'm not saying this because I think I deserve a merit badge; I'm saying this because I'm pretty sure I'm not too far off the norm for people in their mid 20's. I'm not a stupid person and I'm almost positive most of you aren't, either.

Tell me you're still reading print news. Tell me the newspapers of America, the ones gutting their staff and throwing out articles that are "too wordy" for bullet points, tell me they're wrong.

I need to hear this.

4) Netflixed The Weather Underground and finally sat myself down to watch it last night. It's definitely of the Talking Heads/Archival Footage/Somber Understated Music For 30 Minutes Straight school of documentary filmmaking, but the "story" of these well-meaning, ultimately naive militant revolutionaries is told with confidence and clarity. Priceless to this documentary's success is access to most of the key members of the Weather Underground, almost all of whom are still alive.

Immediately after finishing I went to my shelf and plucked out Human Target: Living in Amerika, and found myself enjoying the "Where the Wind Blows" storyline so much more than I originally had. There was a certain joy in seeing the fictionalized Weathermen of Peter Milligan's tale, who they were meant to represent, and what of their actions translated from real life. It really is a fascinating slice of American life that you sure as hell don't hear about in history classes, and once again reiterates to me why losing Human Target is something to mourn over. Who's even trying to tell stories like this anymore?

From what I can tell, DC has no plans to collect the rest of the series into trades. Get yourself a copy of Living in Amerika and its predecessor, Strike Zones. Milligan leaves the same impression on me that Morrison does -- white-hot or lukewarm -- and this is him at his absolute best.

(There are two Human Target stories that Milligan wrote previous to the ongoing, one simply called Human Target and the other Human Target: Final Cut. Both are good but not necessary, though Final Cut may clear up some confusion gained by reading Strike Zones.)

5) I also treated myself to a screening of the little-known horror film My Little Eye. I could swear the film was recommended to me by Dorian, but he has no recollection of doing so. Whatever. Whoever it was that recommended it to me: I'm glad you did.

The premise is basic: Five people are selected to live in an isolated house for six months as part of a web-based reality TV show. The prize for everyone staying all six months is a million bucks -- but nobody wins if anybody loses. The housemates fall into their heirarchy and remain comfortable until the mysterious, unseen producers begin needling at them, applying pressure, and bringing bad news that makes one of the housemates want to leave. Things begin to devolve there.

Sounds simple, and you probably think you know how the story unfolds. Maybe you do, but it's not likely; characters that start off one-note (though no more so than actual people in actual reality TV shows, it's worth mentioning) gain depths and dimensions that are surprising and never dishonest, and the "horror" of the movie lies more in tension and uncertainty than jump-scares.

It's also a pretty effective criticism of society's general worship of celebrity culture. A few monologues given by the people trapped in the house directly to the web cameras could easily have been pulled from the angry id of any actor hounded by paparazzi. I make it sound clumsy and obvious, but it's not -- it is, in fact, a story constructed as a savagely apt metaphor, but told with the style and confidence to keep its real motives moving beneath the surface.

Give it a shot, especially if you're tired of modern splatter horror and could do with a dose of something more bare-bones and character-driven.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Ultimate Showdown. 

As far as I'm concerned, this once and for all ends all silly discussions of pirates, ninjas, Indiana Jones, and other pop culture detritus that, frankly, has carried on far too long.

(Courtesy Leah.)

Shameless attention ploy. 

I'm 25 today.

Throw money.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Teh New Comics. 

Yes, "Teh."

Hellboy: Makoma (or, A Tale Told By a Mummy in the New York City Explorers' Club on August 16, 1993) #1 of 2, (Mike Mignola, Richard Corben) - It could be I just have a touch of that particular brand of comic book fandom nostalgia, but I enjoy any Mignola story told with Hellboy about twice as much as those told with the other members of the BRPD at center stage. I was having this conversation last night, actually: the reason I enjoy myth so much is how cleanly and without fuss it melds the surreally supernatural with a completely unphased tone. Hellboy works so well because the title character adds that unphased, even worldweary tone to even the strangest tales. He is the perfect myth wanderer.

That said, I'm not sure I understand the apparently random shift in art duties between Mignola and Corben (not that I would ever complain about seeing either artist.) Sure, Corben basically handles the "flashback in Africa" duties, but doesn't do all such panels. (Witness tiny Hellboy confronted by an enormous rhino.) Ah, well. An entertaining read, and welcome after a few slightly dull BPRD shorts.

Supreme Power: Nighthawk #6 of 6, (Daniel Way, Steve Dillon) - I guess these two are the new kings of Mean-Spirited Popcorn Comics at Marvel. Which sounds harsher than I mean it: I rather enjoy their collaborations, and the sly sinister wit underlying most of Way's work appeals directly to my sensibilities. Without a doubt, this is not much more than the Batman and Joker story retold with a more modern sensibility (and a knife to the eye), but it's a solid read all the same, with a genuinely detestable villain. This writer and this artist may actually get me to pick up a Wolverine mini-series, god help me.

The Flying Friar, (Rich Johnston, Thomas Nachlik) - This book disappointed me to the point of actually pissing me off. What starts off as a compelling story of a preternaturally gifted monk-wannabe and his skeptical, scientifically oriented friend in a chokingly religious 17th century Italy turns out to be just another fucking Superman story, and not a subtle one at that. I don't know the story behind the creation of this book (did Johnston originally pitch it to DC as an Elseworlds title?) but really, I think the last thing the comic book world needs is another goddamn retelling of these done-to-death themes. It also bespeaks a lack of imagination: as troubled a company as Speakeasy Comics is, they manage to have a presence in comic book stores that other small publishers would kill for, and this is what they put out: an homage to one of the Big Two's staple corporate trademarks.

The writing and art are OK, servicable but not spectacular, but what are they in service to?

Hard Time #3, (Steve Gerber, Mary Skrenes, Brian Hurtt, Steve Bird) - Now this, on the other hand, is about as compelling a mainstream comic as I've ever seen. The story is extremely well-crafted, stretched to fit over a theoretically infinite run but dense enough with setting and character to contain surprising moments in every single issue rather than a lot of empty space. (New Breed of Comics Writers, please take note.) Somewhat surprising (and pleasing) is the use of Ethan's gift taking a more organic role in the story: in Season One it generally was "this thing that occasionally happened" that usually distracted from the main thrust of the story: Young Kid in Prison Environment. Now? It's fully a part of it, and has made it all only stronger. You are doing yourself a disservice if you aren't reading this book.

Y the Last Man #42, (Brian K. Vaughan, Goran Sudzuka) - This book tears at me. I want to talk about clever but not too-cute dialogue, distinct and well-formed characterizations, generally compelling ideas and turns of plot -- but then I realize this is issue fucking 42, and I no longer have any clue that this story has forward thrust. In series like Preacher, by issue 42, you're already tearing ass at mach 10 toward a distant but looming climax somewhere over the horizon, and you can feel it coming. Not so, here.

I'm switching to trades. Maybe I'll find more satisfaction there.

Fury: Peacemaker #1 of 6, (Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson) - I'm dying to know what Joe Kubert thinks of this. What we've got here is Garth Ennis doing straight-up war comics -- no, not like the meditative War Stories he did for Vertigo, but motherfucking war comics, with that sheen of naiveté washed away. The encounter at the end between a stranded young two-eyed Fury and a German command jeep is pretty typically Ennis -- grizzled old war vets who care more about the sport than netting convenient kills, men who do not realize how much trouble they would save their side by capping this guy Fury right fucking there. I figure this is another of Ennis's ruminations on How War Brings Out the Beast in Man, which from him can be either spectacular or pedantic.

I'm mildly skeptical, but I'll give it another issue.

The Punisher #30, (Garth Ennis, Leandro Fernandez) - The conclusion to "The Slavers," an arc that shows Ennis hitting another stride on a writer-character pairing I thought was running out of steam. This arc is the pitchest-black of a long series of nihilistically grim Punisher Max stories, and that is really fucking saying something; what Ennis taps on here created such a reaction in me that the last page got me, ah, emotional. There, I said it.

Here's the insidious thing about the Max series: Ennis has a gift for creating scenarios ("pulled from today's headlines," as they say, or perhaps "pulled from today's intelligence reports") that have such a ring of casual, horrific truth to them, that Frank Castle's response to the world seems to be one that makes perfect sense. Ennis implicates you by giving you Castle's thoughts, by presenting those who oppose his reasoning and methodology but really can't think of any way around it -- it all makes for a deeply personal, deeply unsettling experience.

So, yeah. I liked it.

Dead@17: Protectorate #3 of 3, (Alex Mamby, Benjamin & Marlena Hall) - An interesting case where a spinoff turns out to be far more compelling than the original property. This last issue is a bit of a wrap-up from beginning to end, so nothing new or particularly unexpected happens. Still, the ideas presented are compelling, told in perfect tone halfway between Deadly Serious and, well -- the kind of horror that has busty blondes in negligees as its heroines.

I didn't really need the end part, either, where it's All Tied Together into the original mini-series published lo those many moons ago. What we're given here is an epic enough history that not every single story has to tie in with that gothy chick what kills zombies with axes. Basically, give me an Expanded Universe, already.

And that's all she wrote.

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