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Here is the reason for the season: Jog on the Holiday Gifts of 12/4

Brian Hibbs

Drop your cocks and grab your socks, irregardless of anatomy! I’m taking you on an old-fashioned sleigh ride through today’s seasonal Marvel comics, just like Grandma used to do back in the ’60s, when she posted comic book reviews on the internet via heroic doses of hallucinogenic substances. Those were some good comics, or good hallucinogenics.

Moon Knight: Silent Knight #1:

One thing I’ve gotta say: I do like that Laurence Campbell & Lee Loughridge art, and there’s 32 pages of it in here (for $3.99, mind you), so that’s something. They’re also the current artist-colorist duo on The Punisher MAX, where some fun stuff is going on with heavy, angry blacks and hot & cold colors – there’s a thing at the end of #63 where the Punisher is literally vanishing into a bush, just scraps of face and white skull, and it does an awful lot to bolster the mood for writer Gregg Hurwitz, who’s mostly working from a stock ‘Punisher agrees to help folk in need; encounters awful villain’ scenario.

Their work isn’t quite as vivid here, since the action is mainly kept to chilly city exteriors, but I appreciated how snowflakes are used as a sort of static, really aggravating the action into worse violence, and even giving peaceable scenes some visual overload. There’s some kitchen interiors too, which Loughridge washes over with a sick green tone, which adds an extra queasiness to the rather plain ‘superhero love interest is upset’ caption monologue writer Peter Milligan has going.

Yes, Milligan! That’s why I always read the solicitation copy for these one-shots – you never know who might pop up! Unfortunately, the best that can be said of this comic’s writing is that it’s sturdily adequate in its workmanlike approach. The story sees Moon Knight hunting killers for the holidays, with Khonshu (I think; I don’t read the ongoing) acting as demonic comic relief a la Ryuk from Death Note (just the first example that pops to mind). It’s pretty tough being a superhero — innocents die because Moon Knight just wasn’t fast enough — but it’s also a bother being a superhero’s longtime lover, as a subplot with Marlene indicates from its lack of shared turkey and wine.

A tiny little beam of light shines through on occasion, like a fantasy panel with a monster leaping out of Marc Spector’s skin, or Khonshu commenting on the racial dynamics of Moon Knight’s hunt. But this is mostly dead-typical costumed angst, with no more compelling narrative drive than its lust to remind us how being a Marvel superhero is the apparently the most difficult thing ever, and really bad when it’s a holiday. And while those visuals make it crueler than usual, in a good way, they’re not the type to overcome a story like this on their own merits. ‘Tis the greatest EH of all.

The Punisher MAX X-Mas Special #1:

This, on the other hand, climaxes with a blood-drenched shootout in a manger at the birth of a boy, so it pretty much has the contest won right there.

I might have expected that. The writer’s Jason Aaron, who’s proven to be pretty good at these one-off issues (this one’s 34 pages of story for your $3.99), and here he strives to present an extra-special Christmas wonder: the beloved story of the birth of the Christ, as a Frank Castle adventure in mob slaughter.

Really! A dreaded boss sends a horde of gun-toting thugs into a hospital to shoot every baby in the nursery to death with large automatic weapons (one guy’s pretty unsure about the whole thing!), but they miss the also-evil Mary and Joseph characters from a rival gang. There’s little the Punisher can do to miss a good birth (cue ‘Nam flashback!), so he winds up protecting the trio from three kings of the East… kings of murder, that is!! There’s even a street thug named Shepherd who wants to find the baby for the purposes of ransom. He and a cohort:

You know how much smack a million dollars would buy?

A lot, I bet.”

Anyway, the Punisher kills the bad people for the baby’s sake, because there’s nothing good around save for the fragility of innocence; the only savior around him is potential, and even that counts as a holiday miracle.

The focus isn’t quite on all that, however – Aaron is more interested in having a wise man enter the nativity scene with a blazing gun, only to get kicked in the head by a nearby animal. It’s all deeply silly — almost proud in how obvious it all is — and probably would collapse into rubbish with an even slightly more ponderous approach (or something more blatantly slapsticky, in the Garth Ennis Marvel Knights manner), but the right aesthetic of total scriptural irreverence and nonstop movement is thankfully struck.

I haven’t seen artist Roland Boschi’s work with Aaron on Ghost Rider, but I like how Daniel Brown is coloring him in a very similar manner to Goran Parlov’s work (especially on similarly comedic The Punisher Presents: Barracuda), almost as a form of visual continuity. If I’m gonna compare, Boschi isn’t as strong an artist – there’s a strange distortion to some of his character work, like faces are bending a little, which I find more distracting than evocative. But he serves up the gory enthusiasm with just enough of a straight face to keep the script on the level, which is most crucial. GOOD all around.

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