This week: Alan Moore doesn’t owe DC anything, Garth Ennis finishes his Punisher run in style, and two weeks of What I Read.
IT’S NOT PARANOIA IF THEY REALLY ARE OUT TO GET YOU
WHEN IT WAS FIRST REPORTED in July that Alan Moore had turned down DC Comics’ offer to return the rights to Watchmen to him because the rights came with requirements he considered undesirable, the derision from fans loyal to corporately owned characters over actual people was instant. I noted the kerfuffle in this space only in passing, as I was amused that many commenters spoke of Moore as though he was a figure from the past, though he had a new comic out that week from Avatar.
But now, after his recent interview with Bleeding Cool, in which he provided additional context for that decision, and spoke of several encounters with DC and with Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons that took place around the time of the Watchmen movie adaptation and since, the volume has turned up. And more disturbingly, the tone-deaf criticism of Moore is no longer coming exclusively from the subterranean realm of web comments sections, but from comics news outlets themselves.
The most prominent example is probably ComicsAlliance, which ran an article headlined “Alan Moore Goes Beyond Paranoid in His Latest Crazy Old Man Rant.” In a piece that completely ignores the history of DC’s dealings with Moore and his legitimate problems with the publisher, instead weakly stating that Moore “feels ripped off by DC,” David Uzumeri accuses Moore of “petty douchebaggery” and goes on to cherry-pick quotations from the interview, a few of which he misrepresents. The reason this is so disappointing is that ComicsAlliance has in many ways been a continuation of the editorial vision of Comic Foundry magazine, at which ComicsAlliance Editor in Chief Laura Hudson served as Senior Editor. As I’ve written before, Comic Foundry was a magazine about the creators of comics, not its characters or corporate entities, and I’ve always felt like ComicsAlliance continued that tradition admirably. I’m surprised and disheartened that this article about Moore made it onto the site.
Much more reasonable readings of the interview come by way of Tom Spurgeon on his Comics Reporter site and Susana Polo on Abrams Media Network’s Geekosystem, both of which put Moore’s comments in their proper context. Polo actually praises Moore’s restraint, while Spurgeon points to Moore as an example of the ways that comics writers and artists are still treated poorly today and says that he should be listened to rather than mocked.
I’m going to put it even simpler than Spurgeon and Polo. I have no real interest in litigating each of the claims Moore makes in the interview, but what Uzumeri and the “fans” who side with corporations over people fail to understand is that Alan Moore simply doesn’t owe DC the benefit of the doubt. DC doesn’t deserve it from him. End of story. DC may not have been quite so underhanded in each instance as Moore interprets, but many of the incidents he details indeed sound very fishy, and the publisher has been dishonest and manipulative in its dealings with him in the past. Nor could his reactions have been particularly surprising to DC; no one has been more clear than Moore about his disinterest in engaging with the company, yet still they contact him directly and indirectly about a project he has all but disowned. It’s distasteful to say the least.
Whatever one thinks of Moore, he has been far more respectful of DC than DC has been of him. Many, many creators have received similar treatment or worse, and Moore’s response only seems unreasonable in that it is unusual. If everyone with similar experiences spoke as frankly as he does, this kind of behavior from publishers would probably be far rarer. But I understand the fear of speaking out when there are reprisals from not only publishers, but from fans as well. I don’t expect fans to change anytime soon, though I do hope ComicsAlliance’s response is simply a lapse and not an indication of more derision of legitimately aggrieved creators to come.
READ THIS WEEK 8/29–9/4—THE PUNISHER
- Punisher MAX HC vol. 5 by Garth Ennis, Goran Parlov & Howard Chaykin
- Punisher: War Zone by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon (library)
- Punishermax: Kingpin by Jason Aaron & Steve Dillon (library)
THE END of Garth Ennis’s Punisher MAX does not disappoint. The series narrows as it goes on, but in typical Ennis fashion this feels like the necessary consequence of what has come before rather than becoming insular. This version of Frank Castle has spent a relatively small amount of his time fighting the mob and other street crime, and a lot more of it involved with military and intelligence affairs, the distinction between soldiers (noble) and company men (venal) frequently highlighted. In this final volume, the degree to which Castle is a liability to the latter comes to the forefront, as both stories involve attempts by a group of generals he ran afoul of back in the second hardcover to kill him.
In the first story, they send a man who previously nearly killed Castle after him: Barracuda, introduced a few storylines ago and apparently eaten by a shark (how he survives is detailed in Punisher MAX Presents: Barracuda, but remembering that to be pretty shallow when I read it from the library years back, I skipped it this time around). This time we learn Barracuda’s origin, and while it’s different from Castle’s (with the military the common denominator), it’s clear that the reason he is so dangerous to Castle is the thing they have in common: neither are at all interested in the political games played by men like the generals, instead methodically focused on what’s in front of them, even though Castle’s approach is grimly serious and Barracuda’s is jolly. Once again Castle barely survives his encounter, though this time Barracuda is definitively dead.
The final storyline pits Castle against the generals more directly, as they decide that sending U.S. soldiers after him is the one way to ensure that he won’t fight back. This backfires when the leader of the team sent after Castle has less tolerance for their motives than they anticipate, but the more interesting thing about the story is the framing device that structures each chapter. Throughout, Ennis includes excerpts of a book about the Valley Forge firebase where Castle served in Vietnam, written by the brother of a character who appeared and died in Punisher MAX: Born, bringing the series thematically back to where it began.
The decision by Ennis and Marvel to maintain that Castle is a Vietnam veteran, while other Marvel characters have had their origins updated to be tied to more recent wars, casts a shadow over the entire series. The Punisher is a product of Vietnam, a war fought for political ideology rather than necessity, and here he represents the enduring legacy of Vietnam on the U.S., a reminder of the ugliness unleashed by men like the generals and who must be destroyed so that they can do it again. A woman interviewed in Valley Forge, Valley Forge, the book-within-the-book argues that similar horrors will be coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Incidentally, it was around this time in the real world that the debate over ending the Iraq war began leading to claims from the Right that the U.S. lost in Vietnam because the Left refused to let it win by engineering a loss of will at home and was doing so again today.
What’s fascinating is that Castle is never shown in any moral high ground. He can’t be; he’s a mass murderer. But his experiences in Vietnam and since have uniquely positioned him to be the enemy of those who make war for profit. Punisher MAX views them as no different from the mobsters Castle also fights, but with a veneer of respectability. When the generals give their reasons for coming after him, Castle notes that they sound like businessmen, not soldiers, and he is a problem for them for no better reason than that someone who won’t play politics with them is bad for business.
As I mentioned, Ennis’s stories often have an inevitability to them. His stories end the way they must, despite any character’s efforts to the contrary, and it’s usually clear how they must end early on. The drama is in the twisting of the knife. The conflict Castle finds himself in in the final story was explicitly set up early in the series and seeds of it were planted in Born. Of course, the Punisher is a company-owned character, so he can’t die like Hitman’s Tommy Monaghan or ride into the sunset like Preacher’s Jesse Custer. He just continues, which is his tragedy. But thematically Ennis’s run is closed, and successfully so.
Most of the book is drawn by Goran Parlov, who drew much of the series, and his work has almost an old-school look to it, bold and simple, with some quirky flourishes like Barracuda’s giant arms and tiny head and hands, that make it feel unique, and the fact that virtually every panel (maybe every panel?) is page-width marks it as modern. Despite a lack of detail, Parlov’s art can get awfully grimy, and proves a great fit. Oddly, Howard Chaykin provides the first chapter of the Barracuda story. I love Chaykin’s work, and it looks great here, but man is it different from Parlov. You can tell a Chaykin page by the layout alone, and it’s unlike anything else in the Punisher MAX run. I can’t complain about Chaykin showing up anywhere, but why a single chapter has a different artist is confusing to me.
OF COURSE, Ennis did write one more Punisher story, but it was a return to the Marvel Knights version of the character, with all the broad comedy, focus on the mob, and character reprisals that implies. This was serialized to coincide with the movie of the same title, and it’s an odd choice, as it’s so overtly a sequel to a story from ten years before. It’s pretty much fluff after what’s come before, but not an entirely unwelcome breather after the deep thematic darkness of MAX. It’s also fun to see Ennis reunited with Steve Dillon, the artist on Ennis’s original Marvel Knights Punisher run. The incongruous restraint of his artwork still heightens the feeling of violence and makes otherwise juvenile humor feel a little more dignified and therefore all the sillier. This story couldn’t live up to what’s come before, but neither did it leave a bad taste in my mouth.
AND THEN Punisher MAX was relaunched as, strangely, Punishermax. The old series actually continued without Ennis, but no one’s had anything positive to say about any of that material, and Marvel seems content to forget it happened, so I skipped to the beginning of Jason Aaron’s run. Steve Dillon has come along as well, drawing the MAX version of the Punisher for the first time. Interestingly, even though both versions of the Punisher have aged in real time since Vietnam, Dillon draws him noticeably older and more tired-looking here than in the War Zone series he drew less than a year earlier.
Aaron has been tasked with bringing some of the Marvel wackiness to the Max playground, and comes up with a clever way to bring in the Kingpin, considering that no such single figure has ruled the mob thus far in the series. Next up will be Bullseye. Aaron’s well on his way to a comfortable middle ground between the Max and Marvel Knights tones, but there’s not yet any sign of a greater ambition than that. Where Ennis transcended the Punisher to write about war, crime, business and the intersections of the three as they affect the American way of life (and which he is now satirizing in a different form in his broad comedy series The Boys), Aaron is so far content to stick within the usual Punisher milieu, though he’s doing so excellently.
READ THIS WEEK 8/29–9/4—EVERYTHING ELSE:
- 20th Century Boys vol. 10 by Naoki Urasawa
Please just read this. You’re hurting me, you’re hurting yourself, you’re hurting future generations—it’s just not doing anyone any good, you not reading it.
- Aliens Omnibus vol. 1 by Mark Verheiden, Mark A. Nelson, Den Beauvais, et al.
- The Authority: The Lost Year #10 & #11 by (Grant Morrison,) Keith Giffen & Brandon Badeaux
- Batman Beyond #2 by Adam Beechen, Ryan Benjamin & John Stanisci
Mixed feelings. Cool to see this world again, and a bit of a mystery, but really the stakes feel very low. The victims so far are Batman villains and the suspect is an old Batman villain who only ever went after Batman himself. What I meant above by insular; the genre eats itself.
- Booster Gold #33 & #34 by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Chris Batista, Rich Perrotta & Prentis Rollins
- The Incredible Hercules: Dark Reign by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Takeshi Miyazawa, Rodney Buchemi, Dietrich Smith & Ryan Stegman (library)
I think this is the second “Dark Reign”-branded collection I’ve read (the first being Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four one, which is sort of a prelude to his run on the series proper). (No, wait, I forgot Zodiac.) I had assumed “Dark Reign” was just a status quo, but in both of these collections the titular hero actually fights Norman Osborn, DR’s big bad. I wonder if he shows up in all of them. That would definitely keep him busy. Anyway, his inclusion here feels organic enough, and the story that is actually the bulk of the collection, Herc and Amadeus entering the underworld to find Zeus, is fun in the series’ usual comedy/action way, with lots of tidbits from Greek mythology mixed in. The art is sadly uneven, though, with a different artist drawing just about every chapter.
- Orc Stain #1 by James Stokoe
- Stumptown #4 by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth & Rico Renzi
Satisfying ending. If you haven’t, check out my recent interview with artist Matthew Southworth.
- Superman #700 by James Robinson, Bernard Chang, Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund, J. Michael Straczynski, Eddy Barrows & J.P. Mayer
- Sweet Tooth #13 by Jeff Lemire
- Wally Gropius by Tim Hensley (library)
If someone asked me what the cliché notion of a Marvel comic is, I’d probably show them X-Men Forever. If they asked the same question of a DC comic, I’d lean toward Identity Crisis. Ask me for a Fantagraphics one, and Wally Gropius fits the bill pretty well.
I expected to like this, like, y’know, everyone else did, but it did pretty much nothing for me. The craft that’s gone into it is undeniable, but it’s in service to not much at all. It claims to be a satire, but appears to be one without a point, unless “rich people can be jerks” merits 60 pages. Did I miss something?
READ THIS WEEK 8/15–8/21:
- Action Comics #892 by Paul Cornell, Pete Woods, Pere Pérez, Jeff Lemire & Pier Gallo
I think it’s really smart how this take on Luthor is completely divorced from Superman. You can forget that he sometimes thinks about other things. Definitely along for the ride.
- Adventure Comics #517 & 518 by Paul Levitz, Kevin Sharpe, Marlo Alquiza, Jeff Lemire, Mahmud Asrar & John Dell
I’m cooling on the Legion feature just as I’m warming to Lemire’s take on the Atom. Equilibrium, people!
- The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects by Mike Mignola
- Casanova (2010) #2 by Matt Fraction & Gabriel Bá
Weird how they’re just smashing two of the old issues together with just an ad in between. There must be a better way to do the transition. I had to turn back a page to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Fraction and Bá are both better today, but I’m enjoying this revisit to the original series, and am definitely primed to see what the new material will be like.
- King City #11 by Brandon Graham
Can’t wait to see how this ends.
- Legion of Super-Heroes #4 by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Francis Portela & Wayne Faucher
- Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolo Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou, Alecos Papadatos & Annie Di Donna
This was a real page-turner with beautiful art, even as I was conflicted all the way through. I think I’m okay that it didn’t contain much actual math or logic, since the story of the people developing modern logic, chiefly Bertrand Russell, is pretty riveting and the book bends over backwards to tell you that this is a human drama rather than a textbook. Still, it was weird how much the authors had to insert themselves to explain the import of various events and provide background. I think they explain more of the math than Russell does. The whole book has a double framing sequence, with Russell telling the story as a lecture and the authors of Logicomix discussing the whole thing—the lecture and story within—on top of that. If it is to work as drama, I wish the authors hadn’t interrupted it so often. However, the notes in the back are illuminating, so I’m inclined to think of this as an intro to the topic and a guide as to what to read next in the field.
- S.H.I.E.L.D. Director’s Cut #1 & S.H.I.E.L.D. #2–#3 by Jonathan Hickman, Dustin Weaver & Christina Strain
Silly Marvel. Comics don’t have directors!
- Strange Science Fantasy #2 by Scott Morse
- True Story Swear to God #13 by Tom Beland
I had been reading this in collections, but it’s been over three years since the last one, and since Image vol. 1 collected issues #1–#6 of the Image series, I figure vol. 2 will collect #7–#12, making this the perfect place for me to start with issues. Hopefully vol. 2 won’t be too long now.
Anyway, this issue. Generally liked it. Beland’s pacing and storytelling are excellent, his art keeps getting smoother, and I support his switch to computer lettering. The lettering was sometimes a bit tough to read in the first half of the Image series, and the font he’s using now is very readable and quite pleasing to the eye. The story, about Beland dealing with erectile dysfunction with Viagra, is sincere but never humorless, and Beland draws bugs eating his own brain really well. Beland also doesn’t allow the problems he has with the drug—primarily debilitating migraines—to become monotonous, breaking the story up with a B-plot about losing his one football buddy in Puerto Rico to a breakup. Still, I had the feeling that a scene or a line was missing toward the end, as his problems stop without much explanation. Which perhaps is what actually happened, but someone remarking upon the fact would have made the read a bit smoother. Still, I’m very happy to revisit this comic, and the rest of the story completely had me.
- What If… vol. 2 #18 by Dwayne McDuffie & Luke McDonnell
“What If… the Fantastic Four Battled Dr. Doom Before They Gained Their Powers?”
Long before his brief run on The Fantastic Four, McDuffie already had the characters’ voices down, with more Stan Lee added in, likely because he was writing a younger version of the FF. Being a What If…, it still ends reaffirming the status quo—the four still become the Four and Von Doom still becomes Doom—but it’s a cute story.
- Zatanna #1–#3 by Paul Dini, Stephane Roux & Karl Story
The comic Paul Dini has been waiting his whole life to do, and it’s . . . a little boring. Stephane Roux brings some nice draftsmanship, but his panel-to-panel storytelling has some problems. Dini’s idea here is to make Zatanna more familiar to superhero fans by pitting her against a villain more like those fought by other heroes, in this case a cypher gangster, just with a mystic bent. The result is that it’s not sufficiently unique. I liked the more cosmic bent Grant Morrison brought to his Zatanna series, but Dini’s grows more firmly out of stage magic and the result is bland. Given Dini’s well-publicized love of the character, he may just have too much affection for her to actually do anything interesting with her.
Poster from Watchmen Movie © Warner Bros. Images of The Punisher © Marvel Characters, Inc. Cover from 20th Century Boys vol. 10 © Naoki Urasawa. Cover from True Story Swear to God #13 © Tom Beland.