I originally intended to use this article to rate the five books that I highlighted in My Five Most Anticipated All-New Marvel Now Books. Unfortunately, the Silver Surfer book has still not been released. Its new date seems to be the last week in March. The other problem is that due to the staggered release schedule, I have read a varying number of issues in each series so far. Despite that, I would like to use this article to rank and give a brief review of the eight new series I have tried.
1. Punisher Written by Nathan Edmondson Penciled by Mitch Gerads
The Punisher has always been a tough sell for me personally and I think for a large number of other readers generally. Traditionally, Punisher stories seem to break down into two categories with each type producing their own set of problems. The first is trying to fit him into the greater, superhero dominant, Marvel Universe. This usually defeats any sense of fictional authenticity; the verisimilitude ultimately fails. The Punisher is a soldier, with guns, on a revenge mission. This gets lost in a world that is also inhabited by a certain green-skinned monster. The second type of Punisher story is the MAX story popularized by Garth Ennis. These are the grim and gritty, hyper violent, foul-mouthed Punisher comics, with covers by Tim Bradstreet. These are good on one hand because they show that Frank is crazy and holds the character to his core, without softening him. At the same time, this can veer into gross territory pretty quickly. This factor, too much blood and guts and swearing to the point of oversaturation, can take you out of the story, just as quickly, as capes and super villains. This new series seems to walk the line between both types and so far hasn’t faltered. After a string of three bad Punisher movies, fans have been arguing that the Punisher would work far better as a tv show. To that I say, CBS’ show Person of Interest, now in its third season, is the best version of the Punisher ever attempted onscreen. Yes, fans will probably complain that John Reese isn’t exactly like Frank Castle because he doesn’t kill as often or as indiscriminately, but I think the softening is its strength and why Punisher movies have never worked in the past. Edmondson and Gerads seem to be taking cues from this show. Their Punisher still kills but his edges have been softened, he has a dry sense of humor, a dog and he eats breakfast at a diner where he interacts with people. It fills up the space in the comic. The story is strong and mixes elements from both types of Punisher stories. On the one hand, representing a more military minded Punisher story, there is the Howling Commandos, who have transformed into an elite black ops team, tasked with capturing the Punisher, once and for all. At the same time the drug cartel that Frank is after has employed Electro as their muscle. In a rare instance Edmondson and Gerads have made two very different genres work together within the same book.
2. Black Widow Written by Nathan Edmondson Penciled by Phil Noto
Even though I have ranked this series second it may actually be number one and that’s the main problem. The tones of both Punisher and Black Widow are too similar to one another. This was brought into focus when the first issue of the Punisher and the third issue of Black Widow, both featured alligators, when they were released in the same week. Black Widow is very good but its reliance on first person narration and military tactics almost makes it not worth the time to read both books. In my opinion, the Punisher edges this one out. At the same time, the Phil Noto artwork makes this book, almost impossible, to drop.
3. Winter Soldier: The Bitter March Written by Rick Remender Penciled by Roland Boschi
Rick Remender is the current mad genius of comics! The tone of Remender’s writing matched by Roland Boschi’s Steranko infused art situates the reader firmly in the Marvel Universe of the 1960’s. Even though the story is called Winter Soldier, this is really a Nick Fury spy story with the Winter Soldier being cast as his opponent during a Cold War mission. The book captures the feel of the time without sacrificing Remender’s insanity. The main Hydra villain in this book, Madame Worm, is both disgusting and ridiculous, which fits right in Remender’s wheelhouse. And if the first issue wasn’t Bond or Hitchcock enough, the next issue appears to take place on a train evoking both From Russia with Love and North by Northwest.
4. Fantastic Four Written by James Robinson Penciled by Leonard Kirk
The debut issue of this series was well executed and made for an entertaining read. James Robinson who cut his teeth on characters like the Justice Society of America at DC, has the perfect voice for a book built on a family dynamic. The narration in this issue crackled with the same passion as early Stan Lee issues. It is interesting to finally see Robinson, put his stamp on some Marvel characters. The artwork is very cartoony and filled with motion and strong lines that add to the overall excitement of the story. I have always liked the fact that the Fantastic Four series is very good at launching a new direction, under a new creative team, without completely getting rid of what came before. I have been reading the books since the Millar and Hitch run and from there, through the Hickman run and the Fraction run, a through line has continued. I give the credit to the editorial office and I am glad that the Fantastic Four can change direction as often as it likes, without sacrificing what makes it the Fantastic Four.
5. All-New Invaders Written by James Robinson Penciled by Dale Eaglesham
This book exists to capitalize on Captain America’s growing popularity in both the comics and the films. The Invaders featured prominently in Ed Brubaker’s storied run and the World War II era was integral to the first Captain America film. And because the Winter Soldier has gained such a strong following, Marvel needed to put him in a book. It is cool to see Captain America, the Human Torch, Sub- Mariner and Winter Soldier team up for a cosmic battle with the Kree. Just like Fantastic Four, Robinson is able to capture the voice of these retro characters and Dale Eaglesham who worked with Geoff Johns on JSA, is more than capable of capturing their exploits. For some reason though, this book didn’t hold my interest as much as I would expect, especially considering how much I like these characters. It is a book that I read and enjoyed, but didn’t feel the need to run right out to see what happens next. It is good, but not essential and therefore, hard to justify, in the current landscape of great comic books.
6. Moon Knight Written by Warren Ellis Penciled by Declan Shalvey
Moon Knight, like Dr. Strange, seems to be one of those secondary characters that have a difficult time holding down their own series. Moon Knight seems to represent a particular challenge to Marvel, as they continually try to make him work. Since 2006, I think there have been four different attempts. I have tried most of them, but I usually fail to make it past the first couple of issues. Each new series represents a new potential and I always hope that one will find its footing and appeal to me. The problem with the character is that the things that make him cool are limited to his surface appeal. His costume is cool, his gadgets are cool and he looks really cool during fight scenes. For me, his back story has always been a wash, and costumes and gadgets can’t sustain a series for very long. The writers always want to focus on Moon Knight’s mental illness, which manifests itself in a multiple personality disorder. Unfortunately, this is never sufficiently explained and usually grows tiresome. Until now. I am not sure if this can be attributed to Warren Ellis, but I thought it was interesting how he explained the different personalities. Each personality is now linked to a specific phase of the moon, and a characteristic role, that is brought on by each of the phases. This is the first time, that part of Moon Knight, has ever made sense to me. The rest of the issue is a little too sparse and subtle to really grab the reader. There isn’t really much of a fight scene and the idea of the book is a little vague, although it seems interesting to cast Moon Knight in a slight Sherlockian role. I need a few more issues to really see where this is going. The art on the other hand is really strong especially the colors by Jordie Bellaire.
7. Wolverine and the X-Men Written by Jason Latour Penciled by Mahmud Asrar
Marvel’s decision to relaunch this series doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, especially when you consider that the old volume ended one week prior to this relaunch. Why bother, except to signal the arrival of a new creative team, which is the only factor, this book has going for it. The story was way too reliant on past story threads, to make an impact on me, but I hope that Jason Latour and Mahmud Asrar are able to make this book their own, in time. Asrar’s art is really strong and is crafted with a bold cartoony style that continues the line of artistry, which has come to be associated with Wolverine and the X-Men since the last volume.
8. She-Hulk Written by Charles Soule Penciled by Javier Pulido
Charles Soule is a really cool guy and I wanted to like this book more than I do. It is by no means bad. It just didn’t grab me. The problem is that I have seen this book before, and more than once in the last few years. This book is very similar in tone and aesthetic to all of the following Daredevil by Mark Waid and Marcos Martin, Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughn and Martin, F.F. by Matt Fraction and Mike Allred, Hawkeye by Fraction and David Aja and the upcoming Silver Surfer book by Dan Slott and Mike Allred. It’s a good book, but it just doesn’t stand out. The dialogue is witty and the art has a brightly colored pop sensibility. The problem is the art house is full.