Time to round up some recent punches and kicks, some of which think they're so special...
The Punisher MAX Annual #1: Non-exhaustive use #1 for the 'Annual' in the 21st century - a tryout, and/or a sample. I expect you've all heard the rumors that Garth Ennis will be leaving the main Punisher series soon, and that this issue's writer, Mike Benson, is one of the people under watch as a possible replacement. Benson's a writer for television's Entourage, and is already taking over for Charlie Huston on Moon Knight. It's hard not to see this special as a possible glimpse of what's to come.
Of course, writing a single issue and constructing a full storyline are different things; I've always felt much of the pleasure in Ennis' work on the title is in how his storylines play out, and how earlier storylines feed into later ones. Benson obviously doesn't have that chance here. Ennis' work will also have a gravitational pull on whatever's next, so it's also maybe understandable that Benson leaves the title character off to the side for now, focusing instead on the panicked reactions of a crook being pursued. A handy stock plot for an unstoppable character of Frank Castle's type.
However, Benson accomplishes absolutely nothing beyond what you'd expect from hearing the premise. There's typical regrets of past mistakes, bravado giving way to terror, the usual hopelessness closing in, and inevitable resignation capping it all off. The particulars of a story like this have to sing to give it any resonance, but there's only serviceable profanities and dull narration here. Artist Laurence Campbell and colorist Lee Loughridge do provide a few striking panels of city lights and gunfire, with a very crisply paced sepia shootout sequence, but that's not getting the package higher than EH. Who knows what'll happen with the main series, but I hope its broader space will prompt some zest.
The Immortal Iron Fist #9 & The Immortal Iron Fist Annual #1: Non-exhaustive use #2 for the 'Annual' in the 21st century - a means of stretching out the plot a bit, while taking a side route, without the need for visual consistency with the main series. For all intents and purposes the Annual here is Iron Fist #9.5, and it's too bad it had to come out on the same day as its direct predecessor, since it might have acted as a treat for fans in between issues; released concurrently, some browsers might presume it's more extraneous than it actually is.
Issue #9 is an easy enough GOOD, starting and immediately pausing the big fighting tourney, rolling around in artist David Aja's faintly tongue-in-cheek battle compositions while colorist Matt Hollingsworth insists that everything is very slate and serious. Charm enough to burn.
The Annual moves that plot forward a little bit more, and dives back into issue #7's Tales of the Iron Fists style, which is proving to be a smart way for writers Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction to build up the background while providing relief for the main storyline. Howard Chaykin ably handles the 'present' action, with Danny Rand hearing the tales of Lucky Pierre (which I'll always think of as an H.G. Lewis reference first), while danger lurks on the fringes. Meanwhile, pulpy flashback half-stories are handled by two different artists. Dan Brereton is fitting and impressive, adopting just the right raised-eyebrow tone for his painterly visuals. In contrast, Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic plays it a little too murkily slick for my taste, even allowing for the relative darkness of her vignette.
Certainly OKAY, but it sometimes feels less like a fun exercise in suggestion than an extended prelude to a grander story that'll have to wait, given the main plot. Still, it's a pleasant tease.