Monday, June 30, 2008

Punisher War Journal #21

No longer satisfied with tackling the mafia, drug smugglers or gang members that frequent the city streets, the Punisher has shifted his focus to include the superhuman community. Backed by the technology of Rampage, a reformed evil genius, Frank has taken his fight to a whole new level. But in so doing, he’s made a lot of angry people even angrier, particularly his old nemesis Jigsaw. Framed for murder (why would he need to be framed?), on the run from the NYPD for what must be the sixth time this year, Castle was surprised by an attack from the Hand. Though he managed to cut through the guild’s ranks in last month’s issue, the victory came at great personal expense. Now on the verge of unconsciousness, the Punisher has one more battle in front of him: the Hand’s mighty leader, Lady Gorgon.

Earth-2 whipping boy Howard Chaykin is back in the saddle, personally handling the artistic chores for the whole of War Journal’s current story arc, and I do not exaggerate when I say that his work here may be the worst Marvel has ever published. I mean ever, as in, throughout the company’s entire publishing history. Good lord, this is bad. Chaykin’s characters are so under-detailed, so hurriedly thrown down to the page and rushed to the press, that they reminded me of Frank Miller’s disgraceful artwork on The Dark Knight Strikes Again.

Chaykin’s work is painfully awful, not to mention quite telling in several circumstances – Lady Gorgon has a sword with a lopsided blade and hair that can’t have taken more than thirty seconds to render, but her nipples are carefully highlighted in every panel. Two characters share a facial expression, though one is taking a kick in the stomach and the other is actually doing the kicking, but their ass cheeks are treated with the utmost care and attention to detail. By the time I finished the first six pages, I’d seen enough to fill an entire issue of Penthouse.

Writers Matt Fraction and Rick Remender have actually pieced together a wonderful conundrum for Frank, but it’s so lost behind the atrocity of Chaykin’s artwork that I imagine it’ll be completely overlooked by the readers. The internal narration that opens the book is personal, emotional and suitable to the situation, but matched with artwork that a nine year old would’ve tossed away. These writers give Lady Gorgon a legitimately chilling personality and powers to match, but paired with her assless outfit and inconsistent appearance it’s hard to take her seriously. Noticing a trend? I did too.

Fraction and Remender’s story isn’t perfect, and it would have to be to overcome the hurdles that Chaykin distributes throughout the issue. While they deliver a cast comprised almost entirely of strong female characters, (a real rarity in comics, even today) it’s almost impossible to take them seriously when the artwork focuses so exclusively on their sexual adequacy. And, in the end, that’s what it all boils down to: a very good story that’s absolutely spoiled by hideous artwork. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy, so naturally I can’t recommend you do anything but skip it. If you accidentally touch it on the shelves this week, wash your hands. Fast.

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

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