Straight Shooter

The Psycho (Trade)
Story by James Hudnall
Art by Dan Brereton
$17.99, 172 pages

Punisher War
Journal: Civil War #1

Story by Matt Fraction
Art by Ariel Olivetti,
Dean White
$2.99, 30 pages

The Last Christmas (Trade)
Story by Gerry Duggan,
Brian Posehn

Art by Rick Remender,
Hilary Barta

$14.99, 176 pages
Somebody should’ve slipped some Zoloft in DC’s breakroom coffeepot in the ’90s. The company’s darker Vertigo line released the bleak masterpieces Preacher and Sandman, and even DC’s big guns were facing some heavy shit. Batman got his back broken, and Superman, the solar-powered boy scout, was brutally beaten to death in the streets of Metropolis. Who knew having sweet-ass powers could be so depressing?

But this severe lack of happy thoughts didn’t always produce a classic. For every Preacher there were probably 20 Psychos. In many ways, Hudnall’s 1991 book sounds suspiciously like the most famous cape-angst series, Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns: in an atmosphere of Cold War paranoia, superhumans have become the ultimate weapon. Psycho borrows heavily from its better predecessors while adding very little to the formula. Twenty pages in, you’ll begin wondering why Image decided to reissue this competent but unoriginal book. The answer is simple: because you paid $18 for it.

On the upside, Brereton’s artwork, dark and borderline impressionistic, almost makes your purchase worthwhile. Although if you’re just in the market for some creepy, weirded-out comic art, you’re better off tracking down some issues of Crisis, currently selling on eBay for about $2 apiece.

Let me put my unhealthy obsession with Punisher this way: I have, wrapped in plastic, both the Punisher/Archie Comics crossover and the Punisher’s Hawaiian-tropical-vacation issue featuring Frank Castle in a Hawaiian shirt on the cover. If I ever win the lottery, I’ll buy a mint copy of Amazing Spider-Man #129 before I pay off my credit cards.

So when I say that Fraction’s excellent work on this issue actually kept me from bitching that Garth Ennis didn’t write the Civil War tie-in, and his apparent understanding of the dark comedy inherent in the character and the War Journal plotline is renewing my interest in a megaseries I was getting bored with, you have to understand I’m just trying my best to use my big-boy critic’s voice. What I really mean is I almost pissed my pants with how freaking sweet this whole idea is. With all the superheroes occupied fighting each other in the Civil War, the Punisher will be free to kill any supervillain that crosses his path, and he’s taking full advantage of it so far. Now if we could only find a way to work Archie and Jughead into all of this …

If you ever watched Santa Claus Is Coming to Town hoping for zombies, cursing, and suicide gags, you’ve found item No. 1 for your wish list this Christmas.

The story starts off slow, with a downright horrible explanatory song performed by Gary the Snowman. World War III has finally happened, it seems, and every post-apocalyptic movie ever was right on the money. Survivors of the nuclear holocaust include tribes of frightened but good-natured people, bands of roving marauders, and, of course, zombies. The North Pole, however, has remained largely unharmed, and Christmas proceeds as usual, at least until the pillaging hordes make their way to Santa’s workshop and off Mrs. Claus. This is pretty much where the less-than-spectacular first issue ends, and if you stopped here, I can’t blame you.

The second issue, “Violent Night” sets the real tone for the series, ditching the lame songs in favor of gross-out gags and some really twisted humor. If we’ve learned nothing else from Christmas movies, we should know by now that everyone deserves a second chance around the holidays. And like Linus’s blanket supporting Charlie Brown’s puny Christmas tree, Duggan and Posehn manage to build a passable story on a fairly crappy base; all it took was a little love, patience, and, of course, some zombies. The trade paperback, collecting issues 1-5 in the series, makes for a good yuletide impulse buy, even if you didn’t like the first issue.

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