Tag Archives: Big Guns

Mutants, Guns, and a Pariah

When it comes to the 90’s, we have lots to talk about.  There’s the early 90’s with great stuff like Acts of Vengeance, Foolkiller, Armageddon 2001, and more.  There’s the late 90’s with Kingdom Come, Avengers, Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., and more.  The 90’s are more than just one title or even one genre, (Although as I am sure you have discerned, I’m a super hero guy), but sometimes it seems like they are boiled down into one guy.

 

Rob Liefeld.

No matter how many times I talk to folks about 90’s comics and insist that they are fairly good, and no matter how many times I even manage to find someone open-minded enough to let me talk to them as though 90’s comics might actually be worth looking at, they almost inexorably have to savage Rob Liefeld.

And I don’t mean just say they don’t like him, but you hear everything from how idiotic he is to how he can’t draw to how he ruined comics to how he wants to destroy Denmark.

Ok, you never hear that last thing; what you do hear though, is how much he loved shoulder pads, pouches, and big guns.  Hey man, he’s guilty of that, and guess what?  IT’S USUALLY AWESOME!

No one has ever had larger shoulder pads juxtaposed with a smaller gun.  Also, Boom Boom looks as 90’s as anyone ever has.  Possibly more so.
No one has ever had larger shoulder pads juxtaposed with a smaller gun. Also, Boom Boom looks as 90’s as anyone ever has. Possibly more so.

My biggest issue with all this now is how anyone fails to see how this captured the zeitgeist of the early 90’s perfectly.  Someone could take a gander at that, not know anything about superheroes, and could tell it is 90’s as hell.  Liefeld has faults, but he captured the essence of this era perfectly.  The 90’s were all about being bigger, bolder, and more confrontational than ever before.  We were extreme, and we didn’t give a shit who knew that or cared about it.

Look at the way wrestling was in the 90’s, or the way we Alternative Music rose to the heights it did.  Look at what we did at Woodstock ’99!  We wanted to be in everyone’s face, breaking all the rules, and making the big dot-com dollars!  We were all going to be rich, famous, and good-looking.  Obviously, I got all three, which is why I make so much money writing these blogs, people everywhere can’t stop saying my name, and folks never look away from my picture.  Or something different, whichever.

For better or for worse, these were the values then, and for better or for worse, X-Force was the embodiment of these values.  They were hard.  They were edgy.  They were led by a kick-ass, take no nonsense, character who believed in delivering the dream that Xavier had conceived that mutants and humans could live in harmony right to the doorstep of those who would destroy that dream.  He also carried a GIANT GUN to said doorstep.  And while that doorstep is a metaphor, that giant gun is most certainly not.

cable 1991
That gun sort of looks like how a Swiffer will look in the future.

My first exposure to X-Force came in the form, like many of my early 90’s comics exposure, of the 1991 Marvel Universe card set.  They’re just so cool.  Look at them!  There’s all sorts of delightful minutiae for a guy like me to devour.  First appearance?  Durability Stats?  Did You know?  Um, now I do, and I am ecstatic.

That’s sort of a stupid Did You Know.  You can’t see his leg, but I can tell from this picture that his leg and arm are obviously cybernetic, and cybernetic legs count for little as far as cool goes.  I mean, they don’t suck or anything, but they don’t scream cool the way a cybernetic arm does.  Although nothing beats a cybernetic eye with crosshairs on it.  I am a freaking mark for those.  HOW COULD THEY MISS?

But I digress, I wanted to show you the card that introduced me to X-Force…I reckon I can now!

Rather than their headquarters being unknown, I like to think of them as sharing a headquarters with The Riddler.
Rather than their headquarters being unknown, I like to think of them as sharing a headquarters with The Riddler.

I’m sort of a sucker for a few things, some of which y’all are already aware of, like cyborgs.  That alone would have had me enthralled with X-Force, but it didn’t stop there.  We also get a giant Native American, and while Warpath seems rather racist now, I loved him then, as he tied into my love of the Atlanta Braves. (I know, you’re thinking, what about the Kansas City Royals, Dean?  Relax, they’re still number one.  The Braves are my second favorite team.)  Throw in a guy with cool pilot goggles and a lady with a Spuds Mackenzie eye named Domino and I was instantly spellbound.  I didn’t even need to know anything else about the team, but the fact that they were once the New Mutants rang a bell for me.

I had a weird New Mutants comic when I was very young.  I got it when I was five, and I didn’t really comprehend it.  I remember Warlock being in it, and it being over my head, but I mostly remembered those guys looking like this:

Cannonball is cool because his legs disappear into back blast when he flies, but why is there magic marker all around Karma’s head?
Cannonball is cool because his legs disappear into back blast when he flies, but why is there magic marker all around Karma’s head?

Still, when I saw the connection between The New Mutants and X-Force, comic books became another thing I could know more than others about, and since trying to make others feel stupid was how I dealt with my insecurity at that time, this was truly a treasure trove of defense for me!

X-Force spent their first few issues kicking ass and looking cool, and if you tell me anything more important to a 13-year-old-boy than kicking ass and looking cool, I will tell you that we don’t discuss such things here and you are crude for having such a thought.

I would also show you this splash page from X-Force #1.

Between Feral, Wolfsbane, and Wolverine, all the X-teams at this time had a wolf person.  Was that mandated, or were wolf folks really that cool?
Between Feral, Wolfsbane, and Wolverine, all the X-teams at this time had a wolf person. Was that mandated, or were wolf folks really that cool?

 

Where is Cable jumping from in that picture?  He seems like he is hanging from an invisible trapeze, and let’s be honest, if he was, that would just make him even more hardcore.  Also with all of the other stuff we see Cable do, being in possession of an invisible trapeze would be completely unsurprising.

The issue culminates around X-Force raiding the headquarters of the greatly-named Mutant Liberation Front.  That name is amazing.  There should be more “front” teams in comics.  I mean, I guess they’d all have to be bad guys since terrorist groups seem to have a TM on using Front in their team name.

The MLF ruled though, and they looked so distinctive.  I liked Reaper with his scythe, Tempo in her quasi Iron Man get up, and Forearm with his…four arms.  Also, there were like a million guys in the MLF, from their Cable-clone leader Stryfe (hey sorry if I spoiled that for you!) to the enigmatic Zero.  There were all the guys I have mentioned plus Zero, Kamikaze, Wildside, Sumo, Dragoness, Strobe, Tumbelina, and more.  The idea of the numerous legions vs. the elite but small task force is an intriguing one in all sorts of fiction, but it was made familiar to us all in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

TMNT had swords on their cartoons too, but as awesome as it might have been and as much as we wanted to see it, Leonardo never did anything like this to Baxter Stockman or Slash, the Evil Ninja Turtle.

Shatterstar is able to easily slice people up because his sword has two blades.  DOUBLE CUTTING ACTION!
Shatterstar is able to easily slice people up because his sword has two blades. DOUBLE CUTTING ACTION!

 

Later, it would sort of become a thing that Reaper had body parts cut off.  I think he wound up with a cybernetic hand and leg.   After that, he ended up in the Ultraverse.  That’s a different conversation for a different article, though.  For now, just understand that Reaper was in the MLF, which was awesome, and therefore, by extension, Reaper is awesome.

I like Forearm a great deal, too, but I know his name is silly.  You don’t have to chastise me.

What I don’t like about X-Force is the entire “should I kill or not” trope that dominated superheroes also comes up quite often,  It’s extra annoying here because Cable is all “I can kill, but you can’t” to the rest of X-Force.  It reminds me too much of my own issues with authorities.

Of course, Cable is super awesome, so even when he is being a tight-ass, he is still a cyborg being a tight-ass.  Perhaps I would have tolerated authority better if the authorities had glowing eyes and metal arms.

 007 X-Force #1 - Page 12

Personally, I think it’s racism against Wolf Folks that made Cable decide it wasn’t ok for Feral to kill, but it was perfectly all right if he did.
Personally, I think it’s racism against Wolf Folks that made Cable decide it wasn’t ok for Feral to kill, but it was perfectly all right if he did.

 

I have complained about this before, and I am sure I will complain about it again, but it is just so stupid.  Kill or don’t, but quit the damn whining about it.  It’s as if many writers decided faux pathos and trite dialogue somehow substitute for genuine character development.   I’m not against tension or indecision in characters, but this gets old fast.  I’ve seen it in Darkhawk, and now I have seen it here.  Something tells me I am going to see it a lot more in this blog, whether I like it or not.

What I do like though, is Rob Liefeld’s Juggernaut.   Nothing can stop the Juggernaut, so nothing should look more powerful than he does, and few have drawn him with the inherent power and danger that Liefeld imbued him with.

Again, I have to ask, where is Shatterstar jumping from?  Did Cable lend him his invisible trapeze?
Again, I have to ask, where is Shatterstar jumping from? Did Cable lend him his invisible trapeze?

 

My favorite Juggernaut pic though, is this one.  In fact, it may be my favorite Juggernaut image of all time, which is saying something, because Juggernaut is my favorite super-villain.  Juggernaut looks angrier than a kid who had his pie stolen.  Not as sad though.

Is balloon stuffer a euphemism for a heroin dealer?  Also, note how Juggernaut is bleeding from his eyes, but he can still see.
Is balloon stuffer a euphemism for a heroin dealer? Also, note how Juggernaut is bleeding from his eyes, but he can still see.

 

 

X-Force is one of those titles that you love or hate.  I have been on both sides of the fence on it, and I like the view from both yards.  I can see why both sides come down on the side they come down on, and to be honest, I came into this expecting to detest it, or at least be meaner and snarkier about it.  Instead, I found myself enthralled by the magnitude of Liefeld’s art.  I found myself smiling as I recalled my days as a teenager who loved the excesses of this comic and just wanted to drink up the entire medium.  I smiled when I recalled how I became the comics hipster we all are at some point, denigrating Liefeld’s work as though it was inherently awful.  Now, I’m a man who appreciates that somehow, the dichotomy of those views make me work, and by bridging them together, I can appreciate the work for what it is while still recognizing its flaws.

There’s lots of X-Force left, and much of it doesn’t have Liefeld at all, but some of my favorite moments of the book (aside from the X-Statix stuff, which is crazy good), come from the period just after Liefeld leaves and forms Image; we will get to those next time I tackle X-Force, which will be quite sooner than later!   I had much more fun than I thought I would here; I miss X-Force tons, and I never would have believed it had I not gone back and devoured these Liefeld classics.  That’s right, I said classics.  No matter how you feel about him now, Liefeld changed the game.  X-Force changed the game.  No matter whether the change was for better or for worse in your opinion, the paradigm shift that came about can be directly attributed to Liefeld.  His early 90’s work had an energy and style that translated into what the era wanted at the time, and despite my days as a hipster, I find myself wanting more of his work now.  I don’t think I will be as kind to Youngblood, but X-Force is truly amazing in its own way, despite the flaws.  Give it a once-over and see if you don’t wind up agreeing with me, much to your shock and dismay over betraying the silly notion that you have held for years that “Liefeld ruined comics.”  If your self-revelation doesn’t cause you to die of a heartattack, then pick up the next issue of X-Force and enjoy the grandeur.

Be back here in two days for Bane and Doomsday in the Super-Blog Team-Up!

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FOLLOW-UP FRIDAY!!!!!! Assassin’s Run-Punisher War Zone #3-11

 

Hey folks, it is FRIDAY FOLLOW-UP here at The Unspoken Decade!   For the second week in a row, we have brought you Punisher!  Now, don’t fret over the overexposure, Angel, will be in next week with some decidedly non-vigilante stuff, and when I come back the week after that, I will be bringing you the great Justice Society of America series from 1992 by Len Strazewski and the late Mike Parobeck!  So good!

But for now, we are looking at the end of the storyarc I have been covering in Punisher:  War Zone.  Punisher’s cover gets blown because he gets too greedy and keeps hitting too many Carbone establishments.  The Carbones hit Punisher hard, and they leave him for dead, only for Shotgun, the guy from #1 who killed 103 people, to show up and save him.  They then attack the Carbone family at Rosa’s wedding, where Punisher kills her Dad and her fiancé.  Then because her day was already going so well, he informs her that he never really cared about her, and he sort of calls her spoiled and naïve.

She reacts to this very well.

She hires several assassins who are named after what they do because sometimes life is an awesome exploitation film. (Silence is a ninja, Garrote uses a Garrote.  I Love it!)  They all attack Punisher, forming and disbanding a variety of alliances.  Punisher, believe it or not, kills them.  For real, dude, dead.  Of course, he kidnaps Rosa Carbone and uses her as bait to basically draw the killers into a trap!  He gets some help from Lynne Michaels and old pal along the way!  I won’t spoil anything else for you but the covers!!!!!

255 The Punisher War Zone #3 - Page 1 260 The Punisher War Zone #4 - Page 1 275 The Punisher War Zone #6 - Page 1 286 The Punisher War Zone #7 - Page 1 291 The Punisher War Zone #8 - Page 1 292 The Punisher War Zone #298 - Page 1 301 The Punisher War Zone #10 - Page 1

267 The Punisher War Zone #5 - Page 1
This one is very special to me because it was one of the first comics I bought when I started getting big into comics. I got it at Wal-Mart, and I read and re-read it until it came off the staples. Being a 7th grader, I also though the blood coming out from under his eye was amazing.

All Men, Women, and Things Are Weapons-Punisher: War Zone #2

      Hey there everyone, and welcome back to The Unspoken Decade!  I hope you didn’t have too difficult of a time dealing with an entire week between entries here!  If you did suffer from withdrawal, though, we ain’t responsible!  If you are new to the game here, we here at The Unspoken Decade do 90’s comics like nobody else.  LITERALLY.  Literally, this is the only 90’s comics blog dedicated solely to the 90’s that I can find, so can’t nobody tell me different!

Last week, we started a sojourn into the wonderful world of Frank Castle, the Punisher, and it was so nice, I decided to do it twice!  The first issue of Punisher:  War Zone just was not enough to sate the always intense hunger for Punisher material that I carry with me every second of my life, and so I decided to go ahead and review issue #2 in full here for you and summarize the arc that ran for the first eight issues of the title in the Friday Follow-Up this week.

To put things in perspective here, Punisher was as hot as anyone in the early 90’s.  He appeared in all sorts of titles in the Marvel line, and he was especially present in any new title coming out, e.g. Darkhold, Terror Inc., Cage, and many more.  He also carried three ongoing titles (Punisher, Punisher War Journal, and Punisher:  War Zone), several mini-series, and several specials including annual summer, holiday, and back-to-school specials.  I love Punisher as much as, and probably more than Goddamn anybody else, but what the hell is Punisher doing in a special celebrating the time of year when kids return to school?  Also, summer, back-to-school, and holiday sort of follow each other.  Why was there no Punisher Easter special?  Punisher President’s Day special?  Punisher Major League Baseball Opening Day special?

What there was though, was a great cover of Punisher looking like he just invented a spin-off of another 90’s staple, Urban American Gladiators.

249 The Punisher War Zone #2 - Page 1

(Despite that title, there is neither blood nor water on this cover.)

 

                Punisher has infiltrated the Carbone mob via Mickey Fondozzi, and they are sent to take out a produce importer who has been working to carve a slice into Carbone territory.  Punisher mentions that he would have never found this place as Punisher, but as Johnny Tower, he is privy to much information that would be hard to glean just as Punisher.  Punisher takes the lead on the tactics, and the results can be measured in shell casings and blood.

249 The Punisher War Zone #2 - Page 4

(Is that Bradley Cooper from American Hustle running this crime den?)

The Punisher and his war are relentless as always, and I love how Chuck Dixon never allows the reader to forget that Punisher sees all of his enemies as the evil men who massacred his family.  Chuck Dixon never shows you how Punisher treats his friends because Frank Castle has none.

Punisher isn’t happy with just the massacre on these goons outside the Carbone family, though.  He is very aware that this hit means the Carbone family would benefit from the records of their rival’s now destroyed operation, so he destroys the bookkeeping records.  Since he hates tattling, he strikes an interesting deal with the rest of the family soldiers with him on this mission.

249 The Punisher War Zone #2 - Page 6

(What can I say?  I find Punisher blowing people away interesting.)

Julius and Sal, the brothers who run the Carbone family, see the outcome of the operation differently.   Julius, the Don of the family, sees the operation as an unmitigated success as he ponders the classy move of sending flowers to the living family members of the folks he just had Punisher kill. His brother Sal points out that the team failed to extract the books as instructed, and he is leery of the fact they lost so many guys, (including their nephew).  Julius uses everyone’s favorite useless boss’s line, “I’m in charge”, to brush aside his concerns.  As well everyone knows, that always solves every problem.

Julius is so impressed with the Mickey/Punisher (who they believe is Johnny Tower) combo that he gives them the operation their nephew used to run.  Mickey also takes this opportunity to shut Castle out of the decision-making process by informing the Don that Castle “ain’t good for much else besides parking the car.”  Punisher, however, finds a way to glean information that involves neither Mickey nor Julius, but this hurts Julius in a much different and more personal way.

249 The Punisher War Zone #2 - Page 10

(So, Rosa was apparently just sitting around in her mini-dress, designer boots, and BODY-LENGTH FUR COAT and planning her wedding.  Oh, Mafia Princesses!)

Mickey Fondozzi must be the biggest Goddamn idiot of all time.  How could he think his plan to make Punisher look like a dumbass would somehow work to his advantage?  It’s being stuck in a cage with a rhino who has left you alone and then deciding to poke it with a sharp needle and make fun of its mom.  Everyone knows rhinos are fiercely protective of their families.

Here’s another example of the blatant lack of emotion and empathy found in Punisher.  Rosa is certainly not a teenager or anything, but she is obviously a young lady who is being put through an emotional minefield.  Punisher sees her as nothing but a path to more information, and he sees nothing at all wrong with manipulating her in a time of duress to get what he desires.  There is no such thing as a man named Frank Castle; there is only a force of nature called The Punisher and his war.

Punisher has decided not to allow Mickey to keep the spoils given to them by Julius, but I am pretty sure half of the reason he did it was to look cool as hell while riding a motorcycle through a window as he fires automatic weapons.

249 The Punisher War Zone #2 - Page 17

(To me it seems that if the police or the mob really wanted to find Punisher they would find the guy who does his custom motorcycle and motorcycle accessories.)

Punisher seems to be having too good of a time, as Mickey tells him that his hit on the numbers operation is a huge deal.  The family isn’t taking it lightly, and Mickey cannot cover up for Punisher.  Someone else is covered up for Punisher, but would rather be uncovered for him.  See the following picture!

249 The Punisher War Zone #2 - Page 20

(People sure were excited for a third ongoing monthly title for Punisher.  Not as excited Rosa Carbone is for Punisher though, as she must have been waiting with that towel for hours for this moment.)

Obviously, this is going to work out very well for all involved parties.

This arc goes through the first eleven issues of the new title, and it establishes Lynn Michaels and Shotgun as great supporting characters in Punisher lore.  It’s a shame the characters have been used so little since then, as they make for great allies and foils depending on circumstances.

This arc doesn’t drag at all despite the large number of issues.  The title shows the range and ability of both John Romita, Jr. and Chuck Dixon, but even more importantly, it shows readers how everyone and everything is nothing to Punisher.  The creators really show readers how Punisher will do any and everything to any and everyone in order to gain even the slightest amount of ground in the war against criminals.  Usually, the psychotic nature of The Punisher is displayed via violence, torture, sadism, and the like, but the true measure of the depths of Punisher’s sociopathic nature is how he treats the folks around him.  Microchip is nothing but a tool for him to use and discard of if he gets to be too risky.  Rosa Carbone is just a key to a chest of information.  I love this, and it is this combined with John Romita, Jr.’s great depiction of the violence and Punisher’s always empty facial features that makes this my favorite Punisher story of all time.  Look for more on Friday in the follow-up!