Thursday, April 26, 2012


Ladies in Waiting
Credits: Tom Sniegoski & Christopher Golden (writers), Pat Lee (penciler), Alvin Lee (inker), Angelo Tsang & Pat Lee (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Wolverine goes on a date with his new girlfriend Caley Blair, while the Punisher escorts his friend’s sister Lucy home. After stopping a drive-by shooting with his new angelic powers, the Punisher is abruptly kidnapped by the Council of Thrones, a group of angels who demand he use his powers in their service. He refuses and returns home. During Wolverine’s date, Caley is called away on museum business. He follows her to the museum’s dig underneath New York’s subway tunnels. A mysterious force emerges from the tunnels and kills Caley. Simultaneously, a sickness infects the local citizens, including Lucy.

“Huh?” Moment: As he dons his costume on the final page, Wolverine reflects: “It ain’t been long enough since I had occasion to dress like this. It sure ain’t what I wanted. But Caley was somethin’ special.” Is there an implication here that Wolverine doesn’t wear his costume all of the time while fighting evil? In titles such as Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, and Wolverine?

I Love the ‘90s: Caley wears a beeper, and is even paged 9-1-1 when the excavation accident happens.

Review: I haven’t really discussed the Marvel Knights line yet; the line that seemed like such a good idea at the time, and has aged about as well as a Backstreet Boys album. The narrative that certain people like to advance is that Marvel was a creatively bankrupt storing house of old IPs in the late ‘90s, the House of Dull Bland Comics that apparently no one was buying. It took the vision of Joe Quesada (and, oh yeah, Jimmy Palmiotti) to create a line that rose above the banality to produce Smart Daring Comics that could reach a mainstream audience. I will politely call this revisionist history.

Bob Harras had his faults, and favoritism was certainly one of them. It’s obvious that certain creators of dubious talent were allowed to stay way too long on various X-Men and Spider-Man titles. It’s clear that too many X-titles were being published and the overall line was lacking focus, while the Spider-Man books were mired in an embarrassing attempt at forced nostalgia that seemed to be alienating both old and new readers. But the “core” Marvel Universe was doing just fine, and that’s not a minor accomplishment. A portion of the audience had turned on Dan Jurgens and Chris Claremont by this point, but the rest of the line was being written by Kurt Busiek, Roger Stern, and Mark Waid. These guys know superheroes. Young Turks like Joe Kelly, Brian K. Vaughn, Joe Casey, and Joseph Harris were starting to make a name for themselves on other titles. And what about the art? George Perez, John Romita, Jr., Andy Kubert, Ron Garney…nothing to sneeze at. For the first time in years, mainstays like Captain America and Thor were consistently outperforming the average X-spinoff.

So…X-titles in a rut, but still selling (comparatively) well. Spider-Man forced into a relaunch that commercially flames out within a year. Mainstream Marvel titles doing very well. Not a perfect track record, but Marvel is still selling more comics than anyone else, and there are really no problems that couldn’t be fixed with a little planning and a couple of new creative teams. That leaves the “edgier” Marvel books. The ones that once were literally called “Marvel Edge” (I swear.) Well, Marvel had mixed results farming four of its core titles out to Wildstorm and Extreme Studios during Heroes Reborn, but overall those books sold quite well and generated a lot of publicity for characters that had been ignored for years. Why not license a few of the street-level books, along with some of the more obscure titles that ordinarily can’t make it to issue twenty-five, to another studio? Only this time, the books will be firmly set in the Marvel Universe, no continuity is rebooted, and the people responsible for the books physically move into the Marvel offices. It’s almost as if they learned something from Heroes Reborn.

In the fall of 1998, Event Comics founders Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti moved to Marvel to create Marvel Knights. The idea was that only top-tier creators would be assigned these comics, and the art and production values would be impeccable. The first book announced was Daredevil by Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada. At the time, Joe Quesada wasn’t known as an artist with a penchant for chubby heroes with dopey faces, and Kevin Smith was viewed as a promising young screenwriter who happened to like comics. Really, someone from movies writing a comic? That’s crazy. Plus, everyone likes Daredevil, even if his book is rarely in the Top Ten. This was going to be a hit.

The other Marvel Knights titles included an Inhumans miniseries by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee (an unusual pairing that actually worked out, even if some people complained that the series was too slow), an ongoing Black Panther series by cult-favorite writer Christopher Priest and former Wolverine artist Mark Texeira (which debuts strong and receives great reviews), and a supernatural-themed Punisher miniseries by Tom Sniegoski & Christopher Golden and legendary horror artist Bernie Wrightson (umm…).

Marvel Knights was a massive hit, commercially and critically. These were intelligent, stylish superhero comics with production values that were previously reserved for overpriced prestige-format titles (slick paper was still something of a rarity on standard-line Marvel and DC comics of the era). I’m not sure if any of those books have aged well, with the exception of Black Panther, perhaps because it didn’t try to be so SERIOUS, but at the time, the consensus seemed to be that the Marvel Knights titles were the best mainstream superhero comics in years. Some fans began to demand a Marvel Knights takeover of the entire line. And yet, whenever the brilliance of Marvel Knights was discussed, everyone seemed to forget about that Punisher limited series…

The initial Punisher miniseries received scathing reviews; forget the Bernie Wrightson art…this thing was dumb. The Punisher should not be hanging out with angels. He should not be facing supernatural villains. His guns shouldn’t be glowing, and they should actually look like guns. Who the heck were the guys writing this thing, anyway? Because people liked the other MK titles so much, they were willing to dismiss this as a fluke. Surely if Joe Quesada (the more vocal of the duo, and clearly the one with the highest profile) was to take over Marvel, you wouldn’t have a series of no-name writers making arbitrary and shockingly misguided changes to established Marvel characters…right?

This leads us to 1999’s second wave of Marvel Knights titles. Wolverine/Punisher: Revelation is a follow-up to the previous year’s Punisher series, and it’s a sign that maybe someone at Marvel Knights can be slow to admit to a mistake. Perhaps it’s the same person who thinks adding Wolverine to everything makes it better. Aside from the addition of Wolverine, the commercial hook of the mini is allegedly Pat Lee’s colors and art. Pat Lee was already pretty unpopular with the hardcore internet comics fandom of the time, but Wizard magazine loved him. His status as a “hot” artist seemed to be based on his ability to mimic not just manga but more specifically anime. His pages looked like something out of Ghost in the Shell…until you actually looked at his art and realized that he can’t draw faces or anatomy or tell a coherent story to save his life. Credit to Lee for using technology to develop a new coloring style for comics, but everything Udon Studios publishes today puts this work to shame.

The story opens with Wolverine going on a date with a previously unknown girlfriend named Caley. It’s kind of a presumptuous idea for people who aren’t in charge of the character to be throwing into a miniseries, but in fairness, Wolverine’s love life has been virtually non-existent for around ten years at this point. I mean, he’s married to Viper, but everyone tried to forget that. I don’t necessarily mind the debut of a new girlfriend, and Sniegoski & Golden do have the decency to do a believable flashback that establishes how they met. My first thought upon seeing Caley was that she was going to be killed off in the final issue. She doesn’t even make it to the final page of the first issue. So much for being daring and unpredictable, Marvel Knights. Having Wolverine do a mental rundown of all of his other dead girlfriends just a few pages into the story doesn’t exactly make Caley’s ultimate fate too hard to figure out, either.

Wolverine’s story is intercut with scenes of the Punisher starting a new domestic life with his friend’s sister (I initially assumed this was his friend's daughter, since Punisher served with this guy in Vietnam and Lucy looks around twenty), using glowing supernatural cannons to non-lethally stop criminals, and later talking to angels. All things the Punisher should not be doing. His path begins to cross with Wolverine’s when the generic mystical plot device underneath New York is accidentally unleashed. Not that they actually meet in this issue, of course. “Sophisticated” comics take time. Doesn’t this sound exciting? Quesada and Palmiotti have been given creative freedom, huge budgets, high production values, and this is what they produce? If this is the Marvel Knights’ idea of “quality control,” it’s a bad omen for Marvel’s future.


Matt said...

I haven't read this mini-series (though I do recall flipping through the first issue and being blown away by the "anime coloring"), but I just wanted to say that your first two paragraphs comprise one of the most even-handed and honest analyses of Bob Harras's Marvel that I've ever seen. Thanks for that!

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine saw Jimmy Palmiotti at a con a few years back and busted his balls about how bad the 'Angel Punisher' was. Palmiotti got excited then claimed that they meant to piss everyone off so that we'd all be excited when the brought back the original Punisher.

I don't believe that for a second myself.

Anonymous said...

I doubt it.

It was only a few years later that we saw the Garth Ennis run on Punisher, which was under the Marvel Knights banner.
So, they at least corrected their mistake.

Anonymous said...

we knew we were going to piss people off with the change in Punisher at the time...but at that point the book had been cancelled. We tried to get Garth out of the gate, but he had a year on his contract, so we had some fun with a wild idea and a great team, and knew as soon as Garth was available, with steve, we would make the comeback with Welcome back frank.

The bigger plan was to revive the dead character and we did.

hope this helps.

Dont get the " oh yeah...jimmy palmiotti " comment , but all good.

Anonymous said...

I interpreted the 'oh yeah... Jimmy Palmiotti" comment to be that these days Quesada gets the lion's share of the credit for Marvel Knights in most people's memories, even though it was clearly a collaboration from both men. Sort of like with Lee and Kirby.

kerry said...

That's how I took the "Oh, Palmiotti" comment as well.

Yeah, as... ill-advised as "Angel Punisher" was, they obviously realized the mistake pretty quickly (they even made a joke about in a letter column) and followed it up with Ennis on Punisher, which is one of those why-hadn't-anyone-thought-of-that-before? pairings that worked out well for everyone involved.

Anonymous said...

If you happen to read this Mr Palmiotti, I have a quick question;

Was there a back up plan had the original MK Punisher been a hit? I imagine that Garth Ennis wouldn't have been interested in writing that version of the character, yet I'm sure you'd want him writing for the line. Could there have possibly been two titles running simultaneously, one with the 'Zombisher' as well as Welcome Back, Frank?

G. Kendall said...

Anonymous and Kerry are correct. I was making fun of the way people seem to only remember Joe Quesada for Marvel Knights.

Erik said...

I love Angel Punisher, just like I love Electric Blue Superman, Azreal Batman, and Ben Reilly.

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