Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Of course, the day after I mention how nice it's been around here, it rains like monsoon season. And I biked to work this morning, so I was sopping wet by the time I got home. It happens at least a couple times a year...but, since it's not bright and sunny, I guess I should have time for a more substantial post...crap.

Although I'm not making as much progress as I was, I'm still sifting through that pile of comics in the basement, and putting together series I haven't read in a while. Or, in a lot of cases, series I haven't ever been able to read in one sitting, like this one: Marvel Knights, volume 2. Written by John Figueroa, art by Alberto Ponticelli.
'Then, Frank would hit me, LIKE THIS! And then I'd kick him in the face, LIKE THIS!'
In the first volume, Daredevil and the Black Widow, among others, had formed a makeshift team; with at least the occasional goal of bringing the Punisher to justice. This time, the three are forced to work together, seemingly in direct opposition to Garth Ennis' Punisher, where Frank beats the stuffing out of DD multiple times. Then again, Frank does seem to be having a little fun here:
This sequence does go on for another, unnecessary page: you already know that guy's boned.
The above is something you see Batman do more than the Punisher or other characters: a nameless thug or faceless goon rattles off a plot point or sets the scene, only to find his comrade is really the hero in an overly-elaborate disguise over their usual costume! Well, traditionally these situations take place in a sewer or a dark alley or warehouse, somewhere dark; so you may be able to excuse the thug not noticing they're talking to someone wearing four layers of clothing. I'm 90% sure Frank doesn't need any info or confirmation from the above thug; he's just messing with him.

The series opens with new criminals moving into the New York crime scene, with several bizarre rituals and sacrifices. A detective from North Korea, Sgt. Helen Kim, brings the three together with information about "one of the most sinister international syndicates in the world. Marco and Polo Grace, also know as--the Brothers Grace." Silly names, for rather interesting characters: a bit more outre or avant-garde than usual for Daredevil or Punisher, while not quite as grotesque as Batman villains. The Brothers were quite insane, but had a variety of interests: addicted to plastic surgery and fortune-telling, current war-profiteers and former failed movie directors. Their main enforcer was Mr. Tune, a surgeon and assassin, who often left his victims in contorted 'sculptures,' and led the Graces' army of 'Shockers,' who were fanatics willing to kill themselves at a moment's notice and dressed like Snake-Eyes circa 1983.

Even allowing for that, the Graces, and Tune, and the Shockers are all just a air above any of the generic cannon fodder the Punisher mows down in the first few pages of any given storyline. They are given some interesting quirks, true, but they don't seem to go far enough. Maybe the storyline wraps up too quickly, or maybe the drama's undercut a bit since you know damn well Frank, Matt, and Natasha are going to make it out of this series in one piece. Well, at least it wasn't waxing... However, at one point Sgt. Kim is captured, and it looks like she's going to be tortured to death. Instead, Tune tattoos mascara on her. His devotion to his art overwhelms expedience (and common sense...) more than once: at one point, Mr. Tune complements everything about the Black Widow except her employers, and her haircut. Maybe he was going to harass her to death. Again, unusual, but maybe not quite far enough.

And as long as we're mentioning inappropriate behavior, there's this:
Not that this was a bad series, but wouldn't it have been far more memorable if Frank had complained about never getting a backrub? Daredevil doesn't have a ton to do in this series, really: he's the straightforward superhero, without his trademarked gloom or angst. The Punisher's there to shoot bad guys and that's it. But the Widow actually gets some interesting moments, like training Kim to play at the same level as the big kids.

So, the verdict: not a bad series, but not as quite fun as Dixon's Knights and as hardcore as any of Ennis' Punisher. As has probably been said before, it's not reinventing the wheel, but what is? I'm not sure this has ever been collected, but I don't think it should be too tough to find.

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