Big pieces of Marvel’s core lineup these days is defined by what it isn’t, rather than what it is. Many titles unapologetically point out what’s missing: Captain America: Sam Wilson isn’t about the real Captain America, or even the other two Captain Americas—it’s about Sam Wilson. It leaves the impression that these aren’t the actual books, but instead alternate titles that will soon be gone.
All-New Wolverine sticks closely to this new paradigm, focusing on Laura Kinney, formerly known as X-23, who is now the world’s new Wolverine since Logan/James isn’t quite as available as he has been in the past. After the end of the first main story arc, All-New Wolverine #7 (Marvel) certainly doesn’t have nearly as much punching as the first six issues, but it’s all the stronger for it. In this issue, writer Tom Taylor focuses not on violence and the struggle for Laura and her new friend Gabby to gain their freedom, but instead on a lighthearted and sweet adventure with Squirrel Girl. It’s hard to be pessimistic under the weight of Doreen Green’s boundless enthusiasm, not to mention her gift of an actual wolverine, and this guest star seems to do a lot for Laura’s peace of mind.
It’s strange to see Doreen drawn by someone who isn’t Erica Henderson, but Marcio Takara does a decent job. Takara’s style is firmly rooted in motion and facial expressions, but it is weakened by the fact that his female characters tend to have nearly identical facial features and body types under the trappings of their costumes. Jordan Boyd’s excellent color work sets the tone beautifully and takes Takara’s art to the next level.
The biggest problem with All-New Wolverine isn’t Taylor’s writing or Takara’s art. It’s that we’ve already read this story before, and unfortunately this issue highlights that fact. It opens with Laura confronting Logan, making demands of him, and closes with Laura repeating his words back to Gabby, accepting her new role as a member of a family with about the same grace and ease as Logan did. Gabby is Laura’s clone, just as Laura is Logan’s, and the parallels are too familiar and recent to not feel stale. It also means that the entire book is framed not from Laura’s individual perspective, but from the perspective of a woman who isn’t the man she replaced. She spends so much time trying to fill Wolverine’s shoes—in some ways literally, since she wears his old uniform—that she’s not given the opportunity to be her own person. She does the same things and makes the same choices he did, because he did them first and she is trying to fill the hole he left behind. It’s also yet another book about a young woman that’s written, and in this case also drawn, by a man. Laura is an interesting character who deserves the chance to be her own person and to tell her own story. Hopefully there’s an all-new Laura Kinney somewhere in there with the all-new Wolverine. [Caitlin Rosberg]
Rules For Dating My Daughter (Uncivilized Books) is deceptively named. Its cover is a lie, too—a mean-looking father, shadows at his back, a dog at his side, and a shotgun in his hand. It implies authority, prescription, and the presumption that a father gets to make those particular rules for his daughter. Fortunately, these expectations are subverted and author Mike Dawson quickly acknowledges how foolish that presumptive position would be. A collection of drawn diary entries, the book is Dawson’s reflections on parenting, and while the image that is emblazoned on the cover is contained within, it’s an imagined scene that Dawson uses to examine that fatherly trope. He concludes that his daughter makes the rules, and most of the interludes contained here are similarly epiphanic. Pitched in the well-worn register of memoir, Rules For Dating My Daughter agglomerates a number of slice-of-life stories, and some of them contain genuinely interesting introspection (rather than the familiar uncritical recitation of the author’s life). Most of them, however, are simply of a kind with the long and storied autobiographical tradition which privileges a very “literary” notion of story—a tradition which has both its pros and its cons. In his favor, Dawson’s explication of his life is sincere, reflexive, and imbued with an admirable level of craft, but for readers simply averse to the genre, that craftsmanship will not overcome autobiography’s hurdles (nor should it be obligated to, in that case).
Dawson’s aesthetic will be similarly familiar to readers of autobiographical comics or the more well regarded “indie” comics, and his people look more or less like people. There is minimally exaggerated anatomy, and Dawson ever so slightly stylizes his characters; heads are oversized, while the limbs are comically thin and stick-like, and eyes are abstracted to varying degrees. Dawson’s acting is pronounced, and he emphasizes facial expressions and communicative body language. Panels are often not separated by clearly demarcated gutters, and the pages are text heavy. Much like the adherence to the formal conventions of his genre of choice, whether or not that aesthetic observation is derisive or not depends on how you find that style—though, to Dawson’s credit, he does vary his aesthetic somewhat at points. There are moments throughout the book where narrative is thrown by the wayside in favor of more reflexive moments.
In these brief vignettes, Dawson’s lines become looser and more immediate. They grow simpler, more abstract, and in some instances the lines are broken and incomplete, though you are still able to get a strong sense of the object they would have enclosed. In one sequence: two bodies, seen only from the chest up, sit in the middle of the page, floating in a sea of negative space. Often, these sequences interrupt the drudgery of the diary strips, and they see Dawson reflecting, questioning—“Am I a good person?” and “What does that mean?”—both on his work and himself. Here Dawson’s working at his most interesting, because he’s not relying on the narrative or aesthetic clichés of the autobiographical tradition. Unfortunately, these peaks are short lived and quickly overtaken by the tired milieu that dominates the book. [Shea Hennum]
The Punisher is a hard character to do right, and the proof can be found in the number of mediocre-to-bad Punisher stories that have been written over the last three decades. Garth Ennis is by popular consent the definitive Punisher writer, having pioneered two distinct versions: one a slightly farcical ultraviolent black comedy, the other a deadly serious and politically informed gritty crime story. Mike Baron deserves mention, too, for defining the character during his first burst of popularity in the late ’80s and early ’90s as a stoic men’s adventure character in the same mold as Remo Williams and Mack Bolan. But the Punisher has proven especially problematic of late, with some right-wingers adopting him unironically as a patron saint of the “righteous kill,” the most prominent example being the connections drawn between Chris Kyle and the Punisher in the divisive American Sniper.
There are many interesting things that can be done with such an unreservedly brutal fellow, however, without turning him into a repulsive, reactionary revenge fantasy. The most recent run, written by controversy-magnet Nathan Edmondson, came unsettlingly close to portraying the Punisher an actual hero. Marvel’s latest attempt with the character represents something of a course correction, then: rather than a hero, the Punisher is an ambiguous figure whose violent war against crime places him in direct opposition to law enforcement. He’s a monster who emerges from nowhere to kill a lot of people as efficiently as possible before once again returning to the nowhere from which he came.
The Punisher #1 (Marvel) has been advertised as the first Punisher story written by a woman. This is false, as Valerie D’Orazio wrote a Punisher one-shot in 2010. Still, writer Becky Cloonan shouldn’t be blamed for Marvel’s suspiciously spotty memory in this regard. She delivers an excellent script that treats the Punisher as essentially the villain in his own book. He inserts himself into a war between varying narcotics dealers at the expense of the DEA’s painstakingly constructed investigation. Lead agent Ortiz, stumbling across a warehouse full of dead drug dealers, realizes that if the Punisher is involved her case is as good as dead—you can’t prosecute a dead criminal, after all. She’s interesting, and the promise of using her as a principled foil against Frank Castle (whose attitudes toward law enforcement are complicated) has serious potential.
The new launch is being penciled by Steve Dillon. No stranger to the character—having worked with Ennis on some of the most important Punisher stories ever—he reinvents the Punisher’s look again just slightly, giving us a younger-seeming take on a fellow whose origins in the Vietnam War have mostly been scrubbed to reflect the fact that the character can’t actually be 65-plus years old in 2016. It remains to be seen whether or not this approach will last past the first issue, but the idea of portraying the Punisher as an amoral force of nature working at odds with due process, as seen by the law enforcement who actively pursue him, may well prove quite effective. The Punisher is hard to do right, but Cloonan and Dillon have succeeded in crafting a strong premiere issue that promises an interesting variation on a very old theme. [Tim O’Neil]