Deadshirt is Reading… is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt’s staff, contributing writers, and friends-of-the-site offer their thoughts on Big Two cape titles, creator-owned books, webcomics and more.
David Uzumeri is reading…
The Wicked + The Divine #33
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie
Colored by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
“Am I the only one who didn’t see that coming?”
The Wicked + The Divine is a rare gift: an ongoing book that starts off strong and ramps up into the sublime. With this 33rd “anniversary,” the book’s Jesus issue is, appropriately, an apotheosis as the book finally reveals its true self, shedding the disguise it’s been wearing since jump and turning into a completely different kind of story that, nonetheless, was its destiny all along. It’s the Xorn-is-Magneto, the Rabum-Alal-is-Doom, the Tyler Durden moment, the big twist that shines a new light on everything that preceded it and clears the way for everything to follow.
And there’s somehow fucking two of them.
It’s wild how different this series is from previous Gillen/McKelvie collaborations, as while those felt heartfelt but somewhat improvisational, WicDiv is now revealing its Hickmanesque machinery to great effect. It’s the creative cohesion and character insight of Phonogram married to the intricate plotting and blow-your-mind climaxes of Journey Into Mystery, the best of Gillen, McKelvie, Wilson and Cowles. Sometimes, when books run on for extended periods of time with the same creative team, it runs the risk of coming off as monotonous; a groove is settled into and it refines that until the end.
What makes this creative team so special is that despite having reached a real creative simpatico, they keep trying new shit, experimenting with page layouts and storytelling structures, colors and digital effects, letterforms and balloon placements. There’s the cohesion and structure of a predetermined, planned story with meticulously laid out foreshadowing and beats, but combined with the anarchic energy of four mad scientists in a lab trying to one-up each other with cool shit.
As the series enters into the underworld and finally flips over the third card in its flop, I find myself less settled into a familiar groove as a reader of the title than someone in the audience in a really good DJ set, one where you stop checking the time and surrender to the flow of being manipulated by master craftsmen who respect your intelligence, know you’re smart, and manage to keep surprising you anyway. This is the kind of stuff that keeps me engaged with the $3-4 floppy medium, serialized storytelling at its best.
Max Robinson is reading…
Dark Nights: The Batman Who Laughs #1
Written by James Tynion IV
Art by Riley Rossmo
Colored by Ivan Plascencia
Lettered by Tom Napolitano
“I’m…I’m sorry. That wasn’t…funny.”
At this point in the game you’re either onboard with the Scott Snyder-orchestrated mini-event METAL or you’re not. Supplementing the main title is a series of one-shots focusing on each of the seven twisted Caped Crusaders plaguing the DCU, culminating this week in The Batman Who Laughs. Still, Tynion and Rossmo’s look at the secret origin of the most twisted of the Dark Multiverse Batmen is probably the best of the tie-ins, even if it maybe wants to be a more serious comic than it ends up being.
The Batman Who Laughs is kind of a walking mass appeal fanservice concept: What is Batman *became* The Joker? Tynion’s over-the-top backstory for the Barbatos head henchman has shades of Robert Kirkman/Sean Phillips’ Marvel Zombies as it veers between genuine tragedy and “watch this character die horribly” gruesomeness. The story’s overall thesis is kind of faux-insightful (What if Batman and The Joker…complete…each other???) but there’s something undeniably a little fun about watching a Joker-infected Batman Grand Theft Auto killspree his way through the DC Universe.
Riley Rossmo’s pages, which pop here thanks to Plascencia’s warm color palette, are pretty much tailored to this kind of gleefully tasteless Batman story. The one-shot’s array of deceased or defiled DC heroes are rendered well and Rossmo shines in a handful of pages that allow him to experiment with layout (A splash page of a Dark Multiversal army, a series of panels meant to mimic tarot cards).
As a whole, the Dark Nights one shots feel like they’ll read better collected in a trade but if you have to get just one of them, The Man Who Laughs is probably your best bet.
David Lebovitz is reading…
The Punisher #218
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Art by Guiu Vilanova
Colors by Lee Loughridge
Letters by VC’s Cory Petit
“Frank, you’re a psychopath who lives in a van full of guns. I don’t need you. But I can use you.”
I picked up this comic on a whim, because A) I’m a sucker for new story arcs, and B) the title of the arc is “Punisher: War Machine,” which has a half dozen fascinating implications from the get-go. I’m glad I picked it out, because this comic is a blast and is well worth your time.
A big source of discussion and debate among comic fans—especially over the past few months, if not years—is how a character like Frank Castle fits into the modern world. The Punisher Netflix series was pushed back due to the Vegas shooting, and there’s always going to be some discomfort around that idea. I’m not here to take sides on this, but I can’t in good faith write a review about a Punisher property without at least acknowledging this. Matthew Rosenberg has an essay in the back of the comic where he grapples with how “Frank Castle is a simple answer to very complex questions” and it is well worth a read.
That said, Rosenberg understands how to best make Punisher a sympathetic character: put him against a bigger, more brutal opponent. It’s essentially the same reason why we rooted for Walter White for four seasons of Breaking Bad. In this case: a foreign general who has taken over his country and let civilians suffer as collateral damage.
In terms of plot, there are three major parts to this issue:
- Punisher interrupts a weapons deal and wrecks the shit out of a bunch of Chernayans
- Punisher gets recruited by Nick Fury, Jr. to take out the general of the Chernayan army, who ousted the country’s president after a military coup
- Nick Fury, Jr. sends Frank on a mission to get weapon that was confiscated once S.H.I.E.L.D. went under to take out the general
The weapon he finds is revealed in the last panel is given away in the name of the arc if you squint closely enough, but it came as a surprise to me in the best possible way.
Even though the story is simplistic, the character work is solid. Rosenberg isn’t Garth Ennis (who is, besides Garth?) but he knows how to mix violence with enough humor and humanity to make it palatable. This issue is for the most part a conversation between Fury Jr. and Frank, with Fury trying to feel out Frank and convince him to work for him. Punisher doesn’t say much in this issue, but he doesn’t have to—Rosenberg clearly trusted that we’d know enough about the Punisher going in that the only exposition we’d need is from Fury, and he’s right.
The creative team as a whole deserves a lot of credit for the layout. It’s easy to fall back on splash pages in Punisher comics—at least 10% of any Punisher comic is just explosions and punching—but every page in this issue has at least three panels, and even the larger panels justify their size by fitting in a lot of detail. Vilanova’s art is ideal for a Punisher comic; he straddles the line between “bombastic” and “gritty realism” with ease. All of the violence looks realistic enough to fit the tone while being just over the top enough to feel comfortable reading. Villanova can also fit a lot of detail into small spaces. My favorite bit in the issue comes on the first page, where he draws Frank in the background of a warehouse behind a few crates in the shadows. It takes up less than an inch of space but packs enough detail for us to recognize the skull logo without the character being too obvious. Loughridge’s color work—full of the dark tones associated with Punisher but knowing when to throw in some warm colors to get attention—is also worth commending.
I don’t expect this to be the beginning of the most substantive arc in Punisher history, nor the best. That said, it’s clearly set to be a blast.
Thanks for reading about what we’re reading! We’ll be back next week with a slew of suggestions from across the comics spectrum. In the meantime, what are you reading? Tell us in the comments section, on Twitter or on our Facebook Page!