Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Punisher: War Journal #14

The Punisher has been messing around with Spider-Man's rogue's gallery lately, specifically the Rhino, so it was probably only a matter of time until he crossed paths with the web-slinger himself. Sure enough, the two met last month and came to blows, with Spidey restraining the Punisher just in time for the son of Kraven to get the drop on them both. Now Rhino's being held in Kraven Junior's superpowered "zoo," the Punisher is back at square one and god only knows what's happened to Spider-Man.

Writer Matt Fraction is someone I'm still trying to get a firm handle on. I loved his work when I first discovered it in his creator-owned Last of the Independents, but haven't been as impressed by his recent, more mainstream work. War Journal has been his playground since his arrival at Marvel, and it's certainly been through some ups and downs. The current story is more of an up, fortunately, and though it covers a lot of territory I never felt bogged down or overwhelmed by the events. Fraction has a talent for telling an intriguing story without a mess of words, and that makes his writing very easy to read and enjoy. It's not going to explore any deep, dark intellectual corners, but it's at least very entertaining — like a strong summer blockbuster. It's smarter than a simple guns-blazing 'splosion fest, but it's never too smart.

Scott Wegener's artwork matches the lighter tone of the story fairly well, although he has regular moments of weakness. His clean, thick-lined style serves the fast pace of the action scenes very well, and he knows how to bring motion to the page without overdoing things. He has an original take on the characters that's fun to witness, especially in the animal-inspired villains that populate Kraven's prisons. He knows his way around the Punisher (although Frank's always wearing his prolific skull-imprinted top, even in broad daylight) and knows how to highlight the difference in size between a muscular boulder of a man and an average civilian.

The artist's storytelling is frequently difficult to follow, though, and his speedy, under-detailed illustrations often look like they were rushed to meet a deadline and incomplete. It's all right to limit the amount of lines on any given page — artists like Mike Mignola have been doing it successfully for years — but that luxury must be backed by a strong layout and precise, consistent modeling before it can work. Wegener isn't quite at that level, and several of his pages required a second and third look before I could even figure out what was supposed to be going on. He has moments where I think he's maximizing his potential, then others where I'm sure he's got a long way to go.

I suppose it's understandable that Marvel would want a cleaner ongoing series for this character, since Garth Ennis's Punisher is definitely not for everyone, but the differences between that book and this one are significant. Naturally, you can't have the Punisher blowing people's heads off with a shotgun in a non-MAX title, but Frank should still be preparing for his work with the same mindset, that same military precision. Instead, it's like he's a different character. He doesn't case a joint before he barrels in with a small armory strapped to his back. He makes the same kind of mistakes that he'd take advantage of in the mature-themed Ennis book. It looks and feels like the same guy, but he's been partially lobotomized.

And that's really my biggest qualm with War Journal. The writing is inventive and explosive — you're never more than three or four pages from the next punch or muzzle flash — but it doesn't fit the mold established by the Punisher's other book. This is fine light reading, and if Frank weren't doing what he is in another series, I'd probably be able to look past a lot of these inaccuracies. I guess as an alternate-continuity take on the character, I'd say this is worth borrowing. It's got a lot of bright moments but it also has some issues with consistency, so just remember to temper your expectations.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7


Scott! said...

To say I was rushing to meet a deadline would be an understatement of galactic proportions. :)

Hopefully I will remember to check back and see if you notice this comment, but in the very likely event that I totally forget to let me say; excellent critique. I felt the same way about my art.

Lucky for me I had the very talented Mr. Fraction to draw attention away from my rushed work. LOL

drqshadow said...

Hey, Scott, very cool to hear from you! I'm amazed you found the review, actually, since I haven't yet done much to promote the blog yet.

Glad to hear I wasn't out of left field in thinking your contributions were a bit rushed. You show a lot of potential, but I'm sure the stresses of a tight deadline can take a toll. Keep going, I liked a lot of what I saw and I'm looking forward to catching more of your work in the near future.

Also, thanks for the kind words and for keeping a level head about a not-so-flattering review. I really don't set out to do these with malicious intentions, and I'm glad that you took them as constructive criticism, rather than as a flame. :)

Scott! said...

Oh I'm a big kid, I can take it :D

I'm not sure how to link things in these comments, but if you look at this there is a Punisher piece I just finished. There is a colored version on there too.


Also, come FCBD on May you can pick up the free Red5 Comics anthology at your local shop and see an Atomic Robo story that is in the works now. I'm taking my time and setting my own pace on that one. lol

Scott! said...

That link didn't work at all :(


Its in obnoxious chunks but if you put all those in the browser nav bar it will get you there. :P