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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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Avengers Disassembled: Captain America (Review/Retrospective)

The fourth volume of Captain America had a brief but troubled run. Launched on the Marvel Knights imprint by John Nay Rieber, the book was originally intended to follow the eponymous hero as he attempted to make sense of the world after the September 11th attacks. It was precisely as heavy-handed and awkward as you might imagine. After Rieber departed the series, supposedly due to differences with editorial, Chuck Austen arrived to write a story where the US government apparently conspired to freeze Captain America in the block of ice because the hero had discovered plans to use a nuclear weapon. So, when Robert Kirkman was assigned the task of helping the series limp across the finish line so that it could be relaunched as Ed Brubaker’s Captain America, it felt somewhat appropriate that the writer cast the story as a much more conventional and goofy superhero adventure.

A punchy little run?

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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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Marvel Knights: Punisher by Garth Ennis Omnibus

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, this month we’re going to take a look at Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis’ run on that iconic Marvel anti-hero, The Punisher. Check back every Friday and Wednesday for a review of a particular section.

Solo act again. No Micro. No gimmicks: no fancy ammo, no battle-vans, no high-tech surveillance. Just the basics. Been gone a while. Distracted. The scum in this city need a wake-up call. And here it comes.

– Frank Castle gives us a mission statement

Looking back, it’s hard to imagine how big a mess the Punisher was in before Garth Ennis got his hands on the character. The fascination with “darker and edgier” in the nineties had given the character a huge boost, but it was quickly wasted. From a character who had supported multiple books during the “boom” years, he was reduced to one core title with a radical new direction. Imagining the Punisher as some sort of avenging angel figure hadn’t worked out, so it seemed like that character was truly struggling to keep his head above water. Then Garth Ennis arrived, writing a twelve-part maxi-series that would be the first step in a long and fruitful relationship with the character. He didn’t try to radically revamp the character, opting for a back-to-basics approach with a healthy dash of black humour, realising that there was something inherently absurdist about a gun-carrying psychopathic killing machine with a skull on his chest, sharing a universe with angels and demons and superheroes.

Welcome back, Frank...

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Garth Ennis’ Run on Punisher MAX – Hardcover, Vol. I (Review)

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, this month we’re going to take a look at Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis’ run on that iconic Marvel anti-hero, The Punisher. Check back every Friday and Wednesday for a review of a particular section.

It’s Omaha Beach. Wounded Knee. Rorke’s Drift, The Killing Fields, the first day on The Somme. World War Three in North Jersey. And only now, pouring automatic fire into a human wall — do I feel something like peace.”

– Frank Castle, In the Beginning

I don’t like The Punisher as a concept. It’s not some out-dated “heroes don’t kill” or “I need a good guy to be morally straightforward”, it’s more that the character is extraordinarily childish. This is the very embodiment of the nineties anti-hero explosion, the bubble in the mid-nineties which say Wolverine become even more outrageously (and inexplicably) popular, turned Ghost Rider into a major player in the Marvel Universe, and saw The Punisher hold down three (yes, three) monthly comic books. This is a guy who wears a skull on his T-shirt and kills criminals… that’s his schtick. And somehow, he became “uber-kewl”.

Armed and dangerous...

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Mark Millar’s Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 3 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, I’m taking a look at some of the stories featuring the characters over the past half-century.

Mark Millar isn’t quite the tough guy he makes himself out to be. Asked a few years ago about whether the birth of his child might tame some of his more sensationalist tendencies, Millar replied that – if anything – he would be even more motivated to push the envelope in order to demonstrate he hadn’t mellowed. And, in fairness, the years since have seen ideas like Kick-Ass or Wanted or Nemesis, all excessively and ridiculously cynical, graphic and violent. However, I maintain that Millar is a stronger writer when he channels his inner softer romantic – for example, demonstrating the respect he showed Superman in Red Son. Taking over Ultimate Fantastic Four for a year (perhaps on a trial run before writing for regular Fantastic Four), you get a sense that Millar has a genuine affection for these characters and their world – too much to try to make them “darker and edgier”, for example. While his run on Ultimate Fantastic Four isn’t the best thing he’s written, it is sharp and entertaining – and delivered with enough energy that it can’t help but warm the reader’s heart.

Never a drag...

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My Knight With Danny McBride

After attending the premiere of Your Highness, I got a chance to grab a drink with actor and writer Danny McBride in The Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Dublin. “This place is older than my country,” Danny jokingly observes we take our seats. He promptly explains why we’re gathered in this rather casual faction. “We thought about doing the standard thing, the interview in the hotel room, but we figured it would be a bit awkward with the lights and everything, so we thought we’d just go out and have a drink instead.” And, if there’s one thing about Danny McBride, it’s that the comedian is never awkward. He seems surprisingly at home in this establishment, no sign that he’s been out touring the world promoting his new movie – this could just be a nice after work pint.

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