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Daredevil – Semper Fidelis (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

There is probably no greater single missed opportunity during the second season of Daredevil than the trial of Frank Castle.

The show does not necessarily do a great job with Elektra, but that character was always going to be deeply problematic owing to her comic book origin. Ironically, the changes that the show makes to her arc do little to alleviate the issues with the character, just shunting them around a little. The Hand are also ill-served by the second season as a whole, but it is hard to imagine how the Hand might have made a credible and organic season-long threat in the first place. Even Frank Miller made a point to tie them into his larger character/thematic arcs.

This visual is more compelling than anything actually tied to the trial of Frank Castle.

This visual is more compelling than anything actually tied to the trial of Frank Castle.

In contrast, the trial of Frank Castle is a legitimately good idea. In fact, it is a brilliant idea. On paper, the idea of “the trial of Frank Castle” is one of the smartest concepts applied to the character in recent memory. The season has struggled with the challenges posed by Frank Castle, opting to smooth the rough edges off the character by having him walk through a familiar “avenging father” arc three times over the course of the year. Building a trial arc around Frank Castle goes a long way towards mitigating that; it is a story about Frank that doesn’t need to soften him.

More than that, it is an arc that seems designed to shore up some of the season’s weaknesses. The second season of Daredevil suffers from a lack of generality, a feeling that Matt and his cast exist in the tapestry of a larger New York; not the version of New York seen in The Avengers, but a real place inhabited by real people somewhat disconnected from undead ninjas and blind devil vigilantes. By providing a public spectacle, the trial of Frank Castle provides the opportunity for Daredevil to anchor itself back in a living and breathing New York.

The hole in things...

The hole in things…

It also ties neatly into Matt Murdock’s secret identity as a defence attorney, in a manner that is more interesting and engaging than simply offering a half-assed impression of Law & Order. By its nature, “the trial of Frank Castle” is a plot that is only really possible in the shared fictional space of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, it is a concept that is a more intriguing application of the shared universe than “… gee, I hope Iron Man shows up.” It plays with some of the genre’s core ideas in a way that is fairly novel and ripe for commentary and metaphor.

It is a shame that the show messes up this plot point so spectacularly.

Trial be there.

“Absolutely, one hundred percent, not guilty.”

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The Demon by Jack Kirby (Review/Retrospective)

Of all of Jack Kirby’s seventies DC work, I think that everything must be somebody’s favourite. His Fourth World books bristled with ambition and perhaps serve as the most high-profile, influential and long-running of Kirby’s work with the publisher, but you never have to look too hard to find a proponent of the author and artist’s work on O.M.A.C. or Kamandi. While I am fond of all of Kirby’s DC work, enjoying the raw energy and sheer volume of ideas he brings to his high concepts, I have a soft spot for The Demon, if only because it’s a delightfully off-the-wall example of Kirby’s multiple interests bouncing off one another and familiar archetypes to create something that is often quite difficult to pin down.

Night of the Demon!

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The Punisher by Rick Remender Omnibus (Review/Retrospective)

Rick Remender’s Punisher is a fun run. It’s not the most important or iconic take on the character, nor is it the writer’s best work at Marvel (or in the industry as a whole). It’s disjointed, it’s awkwardly paced, it seems to resolve itself merely because Remender was moving on to another title, but it’s also fun, exciting and interesting. Somewhat akin to Jason Aaron’s Ghost Rider work, it’s a great writer cutting lose with a grindhouse character and concentrating on telling a tale that is entertaining rather than definitive. In many respects, Remender’s Punisher really shouldn’t work half as well as it does, and that’s certainly a testament to the writer’s skill.

Here there be monsters…

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J. Michael Straczynski’s (and John Romita Jr.’s) Run on the Amazing Spider-Man – The Best of Spider-Man, Vol. 1-2 (Review/Retrospective)

It’s easy to forget just how iconoclastic that early parts of the new millennium were at Marvel. The comic company was in the midst of recovering from its bankrupcy, and was going throw a massive creative shake-up. Many would argue that the late nineties represented the company’s creative nadir, and there was a very definite sense of change in the air. Some of that change involved a radical restructuring of core concepts, placing them in the hands of more radical creators.

The early part of the last decade gave us Peter Milligan on X-Force, Grant Morrison on New X-Men and Garth Ennis on Marvel Knights: Punisher. It also saw a number of big-name creators working on these characters. Kevin Smith wrote the introductory arc of the new Daredevil book. While J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man has a controversial and divisive legacy, it was a product of those times. While it was flawed even in its early days, it’s still a bold re-working of an iconic comic book mythos.

King of the swingers…

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Ultimate Marvel Team-Up (Review/Retrospective)

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up occupies a strange place in Marvel canon. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by a rake of top-tier talent, it was essentially a series designed to showcase these impressive artists while adding a bit of depth and breadth to the then-fledgeling Ultimate Marvel Universe. Essentially a continuity that had been launched from scratch, with the goal of attracting new fans put off by decades of back story in the regular shared universe, Brian Michael Bendis had pioneered the line with his superb Ultimate Spider-Man, a book that he is still writing today (albeit in a slightly different form). Due to its nature, Ultimate Marvel Team-Up is a somewhat disjointed effort, where quality varies almost from issue-to-issue, but it’s still worth a look for anybody with any interest in Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man work.

Who says there aren’t crocodiles in the sewer?

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Avengers Disassembled: Iron Man – Turf War (Review/Retrospective)

It’s probably true that in comics, like in any other medium, you have a preference towards the stories that brought you into that medium. While I think Marvel was doing some truly exceptional stuff during the early part of the 2000s, like Morrison’s New X-Men or Waid’s Fantastic Four or Garth Ennis’ Marvel Knights: Punisher, I think that the Avengers line of books were all struggling to find a direction. While I have some issues with the clunky crossover- and tie-in-reliant nature of the period, I do think that there was a lot more energy for the Avengers-related titles after Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers Disassembled. Ed Brubaker’s Captain America and J. Michael Straczynski’s Thor can stand alongside the best interpretations of the characters, with Matt Fraction’s later Invincible Iron Man run also standing as a classic Iron Man run.

These Disassembled tie-in issues offer a pretty solid indication of where Marvel’s Avengers comic book line was just before the crossover, and most of them seemed to be in very serious trouble. There are two arcs from The Invincible Iron Man collected here, from two very different teams, and neither seems to know exactly what it is doing.

Iron Man decompressed?

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Acts of Vengeance: The Punisher vs. Doctor Doom (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

In celebration of the release of The Avengers, this weekend we’re taking a look at the massive 1989-90 crossover “Acts of Vengeance”, which pitted various villains against some unlikely heroes. I’ll be looking at some of the most fun match-ups. This arc is collected in the companion omnibus.

I tend to like my Punisher stories with a hint of the ridiculous about them. I seem to be the only person who thought that Garth Ennis did his best work on the character as part of Marvel Knights rather than Punisher MAX, because I tend to think the character works best as a sort of an absurd straight man in mainstream comics. He is, after all, a character who uses superhero iconography (a giant skull on his chest, no matter how stripped-down the iteration) while being a guy with a gun who likes to kill criminals. I’ve always felt that the character required a suspension of disbelief that that only really worked if he was played just slightly ridiculous. Of course, that’s my opinion, and I seem to be in the minority on this, but it probably explains why I found Mike Baron’s tie-in to Acts of Vengeance – pitting the Punisher against Doctor Doom – to be so much damn fun.

Closing in to seal his doom…

Note: The always wonderful Chris Simms took a more indepth look at this unlikely crossover on Comics Alliance, perfectly capturing the wonderful insanity of it all.

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