The Books Are Better: The Walking Dead (2)



If you look at the front covers of The Walking Dead (TWD) hardcover collections there is the subtitle “A continuing story of survival horror.” That one sentence epitomizes what the comics are all about. It takes ideas from the original Dawn of the Dead from George A. Romero and takes them to their logical extreme. What if a zombie apocalypse actually happened and how would it affect real people, who have never known starvation or been in a survival situation? That is and has been TWD since its publishing 15 years ago.

Being real people means the characters have emotional baggage. They find love, lose it, move on, or go crazy. All the while the characters are in a constant fight against the elements, starvation, and hordes of undead. How they cope with this new reality informs who they become and how they act towards fellow survivors. To quote the comic’s tagline, “In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.”

Being character oriented and set in a hostile world, TWD does not shy away from putting survivors in danger. While zombies are slow and easy to kill, they are never taken lightly. The same can be said for other survivors. More often than not characters are killed or horribly maimed, no matter how long they have been around or how much you like them. Everyone is expendable in TWD. This is not the Mad Max apocalypse; it is The Road with zombies.

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TWD Season 2/Volume 2

It was all downhill after Season 1. How the quality of TWD skewed so far is simple, but I want to begin with the season’s corresponding volume to start off on a positive note because it will not get better from here on out. For the sake of brevity, I will not go in depth about who certain characters are because I assume you have either watched the show or read the comic. Also, some of them are not important enough to mention until they actually are.

Volume 2 is where the themes really set root and create a road map for the series. Rick finds out Lori is pregnant and juggles between thoughts of her dying in childbirth and that the baby is Shane’s. Tyreese makes his debut, my favorite character, with his daughter and her boyfriend Julie and Chris. Tyreese is pretty much a bigger, blacker version of Rick with more experience in wild. Before joining the group he beat an elderly man to death for almost raping Julie and is scared that he does not feel bad about it.

After finding a seemingly deserted gated community, the group is free to move out of the RV, and take up residence in one house. It is here the characters get more intimate within the privacy of their chosen space. To cope with the loss of her sister Amy after the group was attacked in Volume 1, Andrea has sex with a much older Dale. At the same time, Tyreese gets closer to Carol, a more dependent character compared to her television counterpart. Though implied, she is not really a battered wife, and her husband is already dead, but she has many issues that come up later on.

The next morning Rick discovers a sign by the gate that inspired the hospital door sequence from the premiere of Season 1. It is also one of the better scares. When the dead emerge from the surrounding homes, Donna, the wife of Allen and mother to twin boys, is bit in the face, and the group becomes surrounded. In the midst of escaping by jumping onto the RV from the second floor of the house, Tyreese finds Julie and Chris about to have sex before they get clear. Back on the road the food supply dwindles and Rick, Tyreese, and Carl go hunting. Out in the woods, Otis shoots Carl in the back, and before Rick could perforate the man’s face, they realize Carl is still breathing. They rush to Hershel’s farm not far away and the elderly veterinarian patches him up just as the rest of the group arrives.

How people cope with grief and loneliness becomes a strong part of the story. While Andrea has Dale to get over Amy’s death, Allen has no one to provide such support and shuts down. When Andrea tries to talk him into getting over it, Allen lashes out. When his own prospects of intimacy dry up within the group, Glenn expresses to Maggie his need for a woman, who then reciprocates. Julie and Chris also have a thing that escalates very quickly in Volume 3 in the wrong direction.

How Hershel dealt with the loss of one of his sons would come at odds with what Rick wants for the group. He is well aware they are guests on the farm, but Rick wants to settle down and stay for a while. He suggests they move into the barn and Hershel reveals that he keeps zombies there, one of which is his son and some neighbors. He had no idea what to do once he turned and settled on keeping him confined. Hershel understands full well that the zombies are people, sick people that need to get better, and he is shocked when Rick tells him the group has been killing them.

Then Hershel has to come to terms with reality after an attempt to put a zombie in the barn costs the life of another son and one daughter. Hershel personally executes them and turns the gun on himself before Rick stops him. They bury the dead and much like Allen, Hershel shuts down. And after almost shooting Rick for suggesting they move into his dead children’s rooms, he questions if he has lost his mind. After leaving the farm the group continues to struggle along the way until they come upon the prison.

Volume 2 is where TWD hit its stride and continued to run with it from there. It was also the debut of current artist Charlie Adlard after Tony Moore’s departure. I see Volume 2 as the blueprint for the series and how it would juggle its themes as the group adapted to new challenges and transitioned from roving nomads to a community.

Given the immense jump in quality from Volume 1 to 2, why was Season 2 of TWD so awful? Frank Darabont wanted a bigger budget to pull off his original vision, but AMC wanted to save as much as possible despite previous success. Budget cuts would be most obvious in the make-up department with the number of zombies on screen reduced or relegated to a single appearance per episode. These single appearances would be a set piece of effects work that would become a mainstay for the series.

This is rather off topic, but one set piece zombie included the “Camp RV Walker” that attacked Andrea in the RV and it just so happens I went to high school with the actor who plays him, Travis Charpentier.


Anyway, AMC also wanted more episodes, doubling the original planned quota from 6 to 13, which would later become 16, further straining the already reduced budget. When Darabont pushed against the channel’s mandates, some fuck named Glenn Mazzara was brought in to rewrite a few episodes, and take over as showrunner once Darabont was fired. Like its comic equivalent, Season 2 would set a precedent, but for the worst.

The thing about television writing/production is everything can be changed at a moment’s notice. If an actor quits, dies, or the studio wants to make crippling edits to an already planned show, then the production is forced to adapt. Once AMC made its demands, there had to be rewrites in addition to reshoots. From what I could tell, Darabont had a small chuck of his vision on film. If you look at the Season 2 trailer, there is footage that did not show up in the original cut of Shane shooting zombies and the group returning to the location from the “Vatos” episode. Whatever was already shot and written had to be scrapped and reworked once AMC made their demands.

This is where Mazarra came in. His vision and voice would inform the rest of TWD, even after his exit in 2013. He was AMC’s man and what he decided for the show was of the channel’s design. One demand was to restrict shooting locations, which is why the whole of Season 2 takes place on Hershel’s farm. Keep in mind the farm did not come up until the latter half of Volume 2. To cope with the lack of a setting, the writing took on a lot of what we authors call bullshit, better known as padding. Take the average narrative of an episode and less than 25% of that is relevant to story progression. The rest is stuffing to balloon the runtime to meet the required 44 minutes. As a result you have these meandering conversations between characters and plotlines that do not lead to anything important to the overall story.

Hershel wants Rick and friends off the farm. Rick does not want to leave. Hershel is mad they will not leave.

Glenn rails Maggie and is later mad at him for wanting to kill zombies… even after getting attacked by them? I still have no clue what that was all about.

Andrea is sad about losing Amy and cannot shoot for shit. Andrea bangs Shane, gets over her issues, and turns into an unlikable tart.

Lori flip-flops between resenting Shane for almost raping her and being nice to him while telling Rick that he is dangerous and ignoring her very young son. Then she attempts to abort her baby and changes her mind at the last minute while ignoring her still alive and vulnerable son.

Dale also knows Shane is dangerous and does not bring it up before he is eaten.

The whole group cannot decide what to do with a single captive bandit for half the season and keeps him around as a plot device.

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That is the entirety of Season 2 and the rest of series. The comics could not be simpler and more devoid of useless fat, but to drag out 13 episodes of a story that was six issues long, Mazarra and company just made shit up or bloated insignificant details because they are creatively bankrupt and lack artistic dignity. The great thing about TWD comics is they are entirely bullshit free and writer Robert Kirkman made sure to keep it that way. When characters were not given enough coverage or they had nothing to do, he killed them off, forgot about them, or saved them to kill later.

You like Donna? Now she’s zombie food.

What about Allen and his twin boys? Brace your ass.

Boy, I hope nothing bad happens to Maggie’s little sisters and her last brother.

You think Gabriel is a great character with a lot of potential? Get ready for Volume 27, you stupid pig.

Do not forget about Lori and her bastard Judith. Oh, boy, do I have a delicious splash page for you (emphasis on splash).

The comics are fantastic in how focused they are. The group needs to survive, there is some drama going on, and Rick has to keep it all together. That is it. Could not have been simpler and it remains so to this day. But because AMC wanted to save money and make wasteful demands in the same breath, we got 13 episodes of boring bullshit. It hurt not just the story, but the characters, the actors, and no one said anything because they needed something to watch on Sundays.

Rick is barely a protagonist because the show is too busy worrying about what other characters are doing. I guess 13 episodes are a little much for the poor guy. Rick is supposed to be the leader, but there is so much crap in his way and everyone is too concerned with their own shit. Andrea, who becomes Best Girl in the comics, is the most unlikable character on the show. For no reason, she turns into this vindictive wench pulled right out of a soap opera. She is snarky and does not care about anything except herself. Granted, she is only slightly tolerable than stupid and irresponsible Lori, but she was begging to be killed off sooner than later.

Season 2 was also where Chandler Riggs, the actor who plays Carl, was set up for failure. It is well known in television and film that child actors should say as little as possible. It is not their fault they are not great actors, but it is best they are set off to the side to learn from their adult costars. In Volume 2, Carl has maybe two pages worth of dialog, and he is always with Lori and Rick or a very much alive Sofia. In Season 2 Riggs had more lines than he could handle and I blame Mazzara. He was a good kid, decent actor, and deserved better. It is a shame we did not get to see him develop into the cyclopean badass he is in the comics today.

It is also important to mention the actors that left before their characters were killed in the comic. What movie buffs will notice is three of the supporting cast worked with Frank Darabont in the past. Jeffrey DeMunn who played Dale was in all of Darabont’s movies while Andrea’s Laurie Holden and Carol’s Melissa McBride were both in The Mist. Once Darabont was kicked from the show, everyone but McBride was killed off, possibly upon request, but it is difficult to say. There is more to this story and I highly recommend checking out Adam Johnson’s video on Season 2. He is a nitpicker, but does not make you hate movies like other YouTube pricks.

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I was one of the millions that did not notice the dramatic drop in quality following Season 1. Though I knew the comics were far superior and remain so, I failed to process the show’s downfall because I loved zombies. Name a zombie show in 2011 with the best practical effects in the business. CG squibs aside, it cannot be understated the majesty of Greg Nicotero’s work. This is how zombies should always be portrayed, no matter what, and it remains the only good part about the show. The comics only got better and the more I think about delving deeper in The Walking Dead, the more I am happy and regretting starting this series. Now I am forced to talk about a show that never got better and I will do my best to give you plenty of reasons to read the comics.

Binge Review 9: Marvel’s The Punisher: Season 2

Here we go again.

With Frank’s revenge well and truly gotten, the season that followed was in a great place for introspection. Instead of regurgitating the same “being a killer is wrong” and “why can’t you stop killing” dreck that permeates the Walking Dead from episode to episode, season two of Punisher got into the actual motivation behind Frank’s vigilantism. I would rather not spoil how the show approaches the subject, but if you have read my other Punisher related posts, it would not be hard to imagine.

Season two is a remarkable improvement in quality. The narrative is not convoluted with five different plots happening at the same time and settles for the standard three. First you have Frank’s story, then Jigsaw’s, and a new character named Amy, a teenage con artist on the run from a mysterious hitman. Each episode devotes an equal amount of time to each plot without feeling too bloated, but not as often as anyone would like.

I understand the demand to fill time in 13 one-hour episodes. In school, I was taught you need to not only write complete stories, but also space them out between commercial breaks. All entertainment is based around a blueprint that has worked since Man learned to draw on cave walls. Everyone follows this blueprint, but like all the Marvel Netflix shows, there is a consistent issue of each show having too much space to fill.

While the story is not convoluted, the show spends so much time on its three plotlines that it becomes a slog. Rather than compartmentalize the plots with Frank’s character exploration as a framing device in a comfortable nine episode run, we get thirteen where different elements of each plot tag-teams converge. What you get is a season that flows about as well as bowels packed with concrete. The show is still better than before, but it is a chore to watch.

Jon Bernthal remains the best incarnation of the character since Ray Stevenson. His signature intensity has made his take on Frank wholly his own and I could not be happier. However, Ben Barnes’ version of Jigsaw took me completely by surprise. Instead of a villain that is a little more deranged than your average goodfella, Jigsaw is extremely traumatized from what happened to him last season. He has no recollection why Frank slashed his face and cannot remember events up until the maiming. Jigsaw lashes out at his therapist, has constant mood swings, and endures spats of pain. He is in pieces, but as he puts it all together, he develops into a great foil for Frank’s own journey.

The action scenes received a well-deserved upgrade with more brutal, close-quarters combat. Almost every episode Frank is stabbing or smashing someone and bathing in their blood. He also never walks away unscathed, either sliced or plugged with a hole or two. It is really a credit to the character as a hero that does not care about personal injury or that he is vulnerable. Frank wants to get loud and nasty.

The downside is relegated to the gunfights. As you probably know, I am a gun owner and an Effects Nazi, and I can tell when real blanks and squibs are being used. It is hard to fake unless you have a great VFX team. On the subject of bad gun effects, the Walking Dead does not hide the fact they use fake guns because, somehow, the production could not get real guns and blanks in RURAL FUCKING GEORGIA! There are airsoft weapons that simulate blowback and/or recoil and they could not have bothered buying just a few for less than grand of budget.

Jesus Christ.

Taking into account Punisher was shot in a New York, it is understandable that the best practical weapon effects could not be utilized and the show made due in both seasons. The issue with the gunfights is they are poorly choreographed. Early on no one acts like they know what they are doing. They just stand around holding rifles poorly before getting shot. Then there are scenes where muzzle flashes and accompanying sound effects are out of synch or poorly timed. Actors fall over before they are supposed to be shot or they are shot and do not fall down at the right time. Chalk it up to poor editing, but if maybe the guns functioned in a way the actors could see and hear them go off, you would not have much of a problem to begin with.

I also have a personal problem with how Frank is portrayed in the gunfights. 80% of the time he uses the same pistol over and over in a C.A.R. stance, where he is holding the gun to his face. This method works in the John Wick movies, but it looks stupid and everyone in the show does it. How about hold the gun like you are not trying to give yourself permanent hearing damage? When Frank is given a rifle it is a breath of fresh-air and adds a little diversity. In the comics he uses a variety of weapons depending on the situation, but all he has on the show is a pistol.

Lastly, and this is something I intentionally neglected to mention in my review of the first season, the Punisher costume sucks. In fact, it has sucked since its introduction in Daredevil. Nobody makes body armor like that. Not because it does not look practical, but because it looks stupid. There are exposed adjustable straps at the front, some shell loops that are not big enough for any caliber of ammunition, and there is no webbing for attachments like modern body armor.

This is kind of unfair, but if you look at this shot from the Edmondson/Gerads run of Punisher, Frank is wearing gear that works for his job.


He has a plate carrier with ammo pouches painted with his signature skull and a hitcoat to protect his arms. The man is dressed practically and it looks cool because Frank makes it look cool. He is a military man that does not need fancy high-tech crap that looks like it was made by a cross-eyed cosplayer. He needs something that will keep working in hazardous situations and there is nothing more practical and foolproof than genuine military gear. I apologize to the costume designers, but if my own Punisher vest looks better than the one you made for a big budget show, it is time to go back to the drawing board.

I thought about going in depth into the pre-release controversy, where people promoting season 2 were saying one of the characters is Alt-Right, but I decided otherwise. I will say, however, the character in question played by Josh Stewart is a reformed Neo-Nazi and born again Christian. That is not Alt-Right. The Alt-Right does not give a shit about Christianity, most of them are Pagans or Atheists, and they care even less for Neo-Nazis, a catchall for gang-bangers that hate each other more than non-whites. This controversy was just manufactured outrage to drum up viewers from a demographic that do not watch these shows in the first place.

Despite the pacing issues and bloated runtime, Punisher season two is a great watch. The lapse in better action takes away from the appeal, but seeing Frank and Jigsaw’s dueling progression into who they really are was better than the best gunfights last season. If you can make it through the slog, the show is worth your time. Oh and be sure to skip over the parts with Madani because they still suck.

The Books Are Better: The Walking Dead (1)

I was at military school when the first season of The Walking Dead (TWD) premiered. No one had access to cable, but on Thanksgiving break I used my sister’s Hulu account to watch the first episode. Later I bought the season on DVD. Before then I was a fan of the comics the show is based on. It was 2010 and in the comics, Rick and company were about to enter Alexandria, which did not happen until Season 5. I knew what to expect, but Season 1 was a fantastic adaptation of Volume 1. A year later came the trailer for Season 2 and I hoped for another exceptional bit of television… until I sat down and watched it.

I touched on the subject of show versus comics on a friend’s blog some time ago. I got into the broader differences, but here I want to get into the minutia of each season and the volume it follows. I would like to try and analyze the whole series, maybe two or three per new post. It will give me something comic-related outside of Punisher to write about and give you new stuff to read.

Here we go



If you look at the front covers of TWD book collections there is the subtitle “A continuing story of survival horror.” That one sentence epitomizes what the comics are all about. It takes ideas from the original Dawn of the Dead from George A. Romero and takes them to their logical extreme. What if a zombie apocalypse actually happened and how would it affect real people, who have never known starvation or been in a survival situation? That is and has been TWD since its publishing 15 years ago.

Being real people means the characters have emotional baggage. They find love, lose it, move on, or go crazy. All the while the characters are in a constant fight against the elements, starvation, and hordes of undead. How they cope with this new reality informs who they become and how they act towards fellow survivors. To quote the comic’s tagline, “In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.”

Being character oriented and set in a hostile world, TWD does not shy away from putting survivors in danger. While zombies are slow and easy to kill, they are never taken lightly. The same can be said for other survivors. More often than not characters are killed or horribly maimed, no matter how long they have been around or how much you like them. Everyone is expendable in TWD. This is not the Mad Max apocalypse; it is The Road with zombies.

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TWD Season 1/Volume 1

This is the only case where the show is better than the comics. Unlike most new shows TV-TWD started out very well with film-quality production values. Thanks to director Frank Darabont and his crew, there is an atmosphere of widespread catastrophe that a lot of zombie movies fail to nail down. The world is quiet and empty where the dead have replaced the living. The sense of isolation even following live characters is so prevalent. Episode 1 alone has this feeling of hopelessness bearing down on you as Rick wanders the desolation in a daze.

On top of that, the first season is actually scary. Like a good monster movie there is an escalation to the threat. We do get a zombie in the cold open, but we do not understand the extent of their presence until later. After Rick wakes up, there is a great scene where he comes to a pair of chained doors and hands start reaching out from the opening, the sound of moaning growing louder behind them. This does take away from a great moment in the comics, but is very well utilized in the show.

The rest of the season’s frightening moments center on claustrophobia and how even open spaces contain veiled threats. Taking place in and around Atlanta, Rick and company contend with tight streets and alleys packed with zombies. Add on the scarcity of resources and vulnerability of most of the characters, even small encounters are dangerous. The zombies are a very real threat and you feel it from start to finish.

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The atmosphere and horror is where TV-TWD surpasses the comics. Unless you are Junji Ito, it can be difficult to scare readers with static images or convey a feeling a constant dread. What author Robert Kirkman does is show horrific and disgusting things and puts the characters in dangerous situations. Granted, the art is beautifully disgusting, but it is hard to feel real horror and tension in drawn pictures.

The writing of the comics is also very technical aside from dramatic moments. Take the dialog from the original Dawn of the Dead about the characters trying to secure the mall and that is 60% of the comics. After all, it is a survival horror. This is where the show decides to balance the drama and the technical equally with neither overshadowing the other. This is the first and last time TV-TWD gets it right.

Where the comics were superior is in the characters Shane and Lori. In the show Shane is the archetypical bad-boy that was a perfect fit for actor Jon Bernthal. Lori, played by Sarah Wayne Callies, is a headstrong matriarch looking out for not only her son Carl, but also everyone in camp. Both fall flat compared to the comics in ways indicative of the series core themes.

Comics-Shane is basically Rick with darker hair and a larger build. There is nothing much in the way of personality that differentiates the two until after the zombie apocalypse. As mentioned before these are real people forced into a survival situation where everyone is on constant alert. Under these conditions, people will show you who they really are, and Shane shows himself to be jealous and envious of Rick. He’s a husband and a father who has all the right answers when it comes to leadership, something Shane knows he does not have, and he wants it all.

In the show, Shane does not seem concerned about leading and differs to Rick more often than not. The jealously is still there, but the actual shift from normal Shane to envious psychopath is fast in the comics, like it would be for real people. He wants what Rick has and Shane had it until Rick miraculously showed up at camp. Shane’s change in personality was so immediate that when he tried to kill Rick in Issue 6, a very young Carl blew his neck out without hesitation. In the show, Shane does not get what is coming until Season 2 after the remains of his character was butchered.

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With Lori’s character in the comics, she is still a devoted mother and wife, but what is missing is the vulnerability. Call me sexist all you like, but when you’ve spent a chuck of your life growing up in a stable world and become a mother mere years before a zombie apocalypse, you are going to need help. Comics-Lori is focused on taking care of Carl and nothing else. She cares so much about him that because Carl is just 9 years old, she does not want him anywhere near guns, despite being the most useful tool at the moment. And when zombies eventually attack the camp, Carl has to save her.

Now, I am not saying it is a bad thing that TV-Lori is not dependent on men, but it makes more sense that she needs help while taking care of her son. And this may sound offensive to some people, but men usually do not expect anything of women because men tend to do the heavy lifting on their own. We do our part and women do theirs. That is just logic and TWD comics are very logical. In the show, it doesn’t feel right at all. TV-Lori strikes me as just another character that “don’t need no man” and does her own thing, including ignoring her son.

More on that when I cover Season 2.

The last issue with TV-TWD is the ending. On the season finale, Shane is still alive before Rick and company go to the CDC to find answers. They do not get their answers beyond things they already knew before the building self-destructs and the group moves on to find shelter. In the comics the CDC is never mentioned and once Carl kills Shane, the group moves on.

Honestly, I do not find anything wrong with the group going to the CDC. In fact, it makes a lot of sense if you are trying to figure out how to stop the zombies by scientific means. The group does not know if they are dealing with a virus or something biblical. They have no idea and the best place to find answers would be one that specializes in civilization-killing diseases. It is not a bad idea, but the way it happens in TV-TWD is rather corny given the tone of the show. Other than that, the first season is still great.

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And that was the best start to a new show probably ever. Performances were great, especially Andrew Lincoln, and the effects are to die for. All of the zombies are wonderfully gross with make-up on par with Tom Savini’s work on Day of the Dead. They look like actual dead people undergoing necrosis like the comics. As days go by on the page, zombies appear more and more rotten. The earliest issues have zombies with color still in their eyes before it goes cloudy with time. Season 1 of The Walking Dead was truly the best the show was ever going to get…

Punisher Comics Review 6

Season two of Daredevil herald the coming of a new incarnation of Frank Castle, the Punisher, played by Jon Bernthal. The character has his own series on Netflix and it remains to be seen if Bernthal can keep up the momentum. Since my blog’s inception I have used it to examine the character and express my fandom, but I never talked about the comics that inspired me. And so, I will dedicate a new series to covering my favorite Punisher stories.

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The Slavers (2005)
Garth Ennis
Leandro Fernandez

If you were to compare Frank Castle to a movie slasher, Michael Myers is a perfect match. They are both shapeless entities with a singular drive, operating on instinct to get what they want. Where they differ is Frank has a defined moral compass, but remains an emotionless automaton. Nicky Cavella came close to getting a tangible emotional reaction out of Castle, but pissing on the corpses of his family was not enough. What came next would ultimately do the job in one of the darkest Punisher stories ever written.


Lining up his crosshairs on a Balkan crime boss Frank prepares to do what he does best when someone tries to steal his kill. A lone woman nearly kills the boss before fleeing the scene. The boss sends his boys to get her, leaving him alone for Castle to perforate from his rooftop perch. Tracking the woman Frank contemplates abandoning her before the boys catch her and drop their pants. Castle makes quick work of them, saving the woman from humiliation.

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On his way out the woman begs for help, but Frank wants to stay out of it until she mentions a baby. The next day the woman wakes up in Castle’s subterranean home where she tells her story. Her name is Viorica and she lived in a village in Moldova before she was kidnapped and forced into prostitution. After enduring months of abuse and selling her body to multiple men on a daily basis, she was sent to America as a part of a larger operation run by a Romanian father/son team and a woman named Vera.

After the move Viorica gave birth to a baby named Anna, but she was only allowed to see her if she worked hard. Desperate to escape with her child, Viorica ran away and met a social worker named Jen Cooke, who was building a case against the Slavers. One day, when Jen leaves the baby in what she assumed was a safe place she gets an email from Vera meant for Viorica.

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A dead baby is more than enough motivation for Frank to rip and tear. All he needs is a who, what, and where. While telling her story, Viorica laid out the details of the operation. The Slavers have middlemen to attract clients before sending them to discreet locations where the girls are held. One of the middlemen was the boss Castle deep-sixed beforehand, leading him to the man’s club for answers. Wiping out the remaining gangsters, Frank interrogates the boss’s replacement, and gets an address.

Posing as a driver for a pair of clients leaving the house, Frank pulls over the van and makes them an offer. He wants the clients to tell him everything and then to lie to the house guards about losing their wallets once they drove back. The clients oblige until a cop shows up, siren blaring. Intent on sparing the officer Castle puts the fear of God into him before fleeing, the cop’s arrival no doubt spooking the Slavers.

While trying to get information on a new house location, Frank butchers random pimps until he realizes they do not know anything. He later tracks down Jen Cooke to get something more and she gives it up without protest.

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Tiberiu and Cristu Bulat ran a militia of foreign fighters during the Bosnian War. As they massacred whole villages, the militia took the young women, and killed the rest. Castle assumes once stability returned to the region, the sex trade would be difficult to maintain without NATO intervening. So, the Bulats took their operation underground and moved west. Frank realizes trying to get more information from veterans of the Yugoslav Wars would take extreme measures and plans accordingly.

Following up on a potential location from one of Jen’s rescues, Castle heads into rural New York in search of a house on a lake. Watching from a distance he spies a squad of heavily armed men enter the house, Cristu among them. Knowing they were ready for him, Frank knew to come at dinnertime, and spike their stew with a knockout drug. Soon the whole house goes to sleep and he gives each of the men a twelve-gauge face-lift. The only man to survive was Cristu because Frank needed answers. What followed is one of the most disturbing pages in comics.


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Having gotten what he needed Castle makes his way back to the house when he notices Tiberiu and a dozen men had arrived. Apparently, the father came to kill the son over a business dispute. Frank takes the smart route and hides under the cabin’s dock, hoping to given them the slip. Without a second thought he decides to go loud and gives the closest man a 45-caliber castration. Frank opens fire topside until he realizes he is not fighting street trash. The Slavers are real soldiers with more than a decade of experience. As Tiberiu gives orders the soldiers overwhelm Castle, forcing him to dive into the lake.

After returning to the city he meets Jen at a diner with two off-duty cops, Russ and Miller. They came to her after learning Jen was under surveillance by a Detective Westin, a known shitbag. Russ and Miller eventually reveal Westin is on the take from the Slavers. The cops agree to help, but on the condition that the Detective lives. Frank agrees and moves to pull apart the remains of the operation.

Making his way to a business office Frank confronts Vera, the brains of the Slavers. Plunking her two guards he throws Vera face-first into the window of a secluded room. The glass does not break, giving Frank enough time to reveal how much he knows after dissecting Cristu. He throws her again and again, slowly turning her face into a bloody pulp, while looting filing cabinets for information on Westin. With his final throw the window pops out its frame and Vera plummets to the street.

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Vera’s files give Frank the address of the last house and a possible location for Tiberiu. After setting up an explosive under the manhole by the curb of the house he waits across the street for the old man’s arrival. Triggering the bomb after making a positive ID Frank charges inside. He chases Tiberiu to the top floor where he uses a girl as a shield, knife to her throat. The old man eggs him on and Castle knows he is at a disadvantage with a scattergun. Out of options he settles for a gamble and calls Tiberiu a coward in Romanian. The old man tosses the girl aside and charges Frank before Tiberiu takes a knee to the face.

Later, with Tiberiu chained to a chair, Castle brings in Detective Westin to make a deal, threatening him with Vera’s file. Frank offers to surrender the file if Westin delivers a package to the Bulat’s contacts back home and acquires Visa’s for the rescued girls. Westin asks what package before Frank turns on a video camera and douses Tiberiu in gasoline. Sparking a flame from a flip-lighter Castle looks into the camera and says “Don’t come back here,” before tossing the lighter.

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The Slavers is Taken if it were a horror movie and actually good. It shines a light on the darkest criminal enterprise in the world and makes sure you see every detail. While acts of sexual assault are not shown on the page, the description and implication thanks to Ennis’s unparalleled storytelling makes you feel all sorts of uncomfortable. Unlike the usual story arcs, trafficking and slavery is very real, and having the Punisher in the middle of it was surreal to say the least. Instead of cartoonish gangsters and run-of-the-mill thugs, Castle is faced with real monsters that make their money on sexual violence.

If you cannot stomach sexual assault and/or violence against women, stay far away from this book. For Punisher fans, get ready for Frank’s most visceral and disturbing story yet.

Netflix Review 1: Marvel’s the Punisher

Oh, boy. Here we go.

Six months after finishing off the gangsters responsible for the death of his family Frank, played by Jon Bernthal, retires from vigilantism and goes into hiding. While haunted by nightmares of his dead wife, a former NSA analyst named Micro, played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach, contacts him incognito. They team up when Frank learns there is more to his family’s murder than he once thought.

I am going to say something out character as a fan of Punisher. I know the guy like the back of my hand and when you get down to the nitty-gritty, why his family was killed does not matter. The what is more important because it was the trigger that turned Frank into the Punisher. The only why that has any meaning is the question of why he keeps killing after getting revenge.

All this stuff in the show about the CIA’s wet-work operation and tying up loose ends was boring and played out. We get it; Frank did some stuff back in the day that the Company wants to keep secret. They try to kill him, it does not work, and he kills them back. His very simple and complete revenge story was finished in Daredevil season two and the first five minutes of Punisher. We did not need all this convoluted Jason Bourne crap with Homeland Security and a private security firm caught in the middle of a CIA agent’s quest to redeem his masculinity.

The overarching story is the only major issue I have with the show. It was run-of-the-mill, had way too many moving parts, and I totally understand why. Frank is not a difficult character to get, but trying to make a watchable season of 13 one-hour episodes about a Nietzschean Void is impossible. Imagine a show about Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men; that is what a proper Punisher series would look like and it would be horrifying.

An action-based deconstruction of the anti-hero archetype would be an ideal show. Thing is, no one would watch it. It would be depressing with Frank mass-murdering criminals without feeling or remorse with accompanying narration. It is all he wants to do because he is driven by pure animalistic instinct. Delve deep enough into his character and you find there is so much that cannot be put to screen for mainstream audiences. The show Mindhunter is all about the psychology of murderers, but that is not Marvel-friendly material.

Taking out the depth of the character, a straight action show would be indistinguishable from the rest. There has to be something else to break up the monotony. Punisher’s convoluted story had to be that way with a lot more meat on its bones. So, we got the family connection, the CIA operation, and Homeland Security to pad out the show. It would have been fine with just Frank, Micro, and a bad guy in nine episodes.

The actual execution of the story was fine. Each plotline per episode got an equal amount of coverage without overshadowing one another. It worked as a cohesive whole; it is just too bad half of it was not very interesting.

Frank and Micro’s arc was the best part. They have great chemistry as partners in vigilantism with similar experiences. Where Frank lost his family, Micro had to leave his family after a little whistleblowing almost got him killed. Things get interesting when Frank plays surrogate father/husband for Micro’s family. Their personal conflict comes out of their dueling personalities. Where Micro is sympathetic and easy to understand, Frank is a killer with a moral compass. In that way they worked really well together and I cannot wait to see them again for season two.

Another good element of the show is the action. From what I could see, real blanks and squibs were used for the gunfights. You can tell a lot of work was put into making each fight different with a heavy dose of visceral violence. People are stabbed, punched, and pumped full of lead like an old fashion action movie. While not very creative these scenes are flawlessly executed. There is also no shaky cam and you can tell what is happening at all times. I would love to talk about my favorite scene, but I think you should see for yourself.

Those two elements make the show. The rest you can skip.

First is the Homeland Security plot. We follow Agent Madani, played by Amber Rose Revah, and she is terrible. I get characters need motivation for narrative, but Madani was so unlikeable and one-note I could careless. Her whole deal was meant to parallel Frank’s quest for vengeance. She wants justice for an Afghani police officer that was killed under mysterious circumstances and that is all. There is nothing to her. Madani is a boring strong female archetype that no one put any thought into when they had to meet a quota.

She is not even big or tall enough to come off as an agent of anything. She is five-foot nothing with the body of model. In the scenes where she is holding a gun, the weapons are bigger than her. My short friend in the Army was looking to replace her old personal side arm because it was the size of her head. She had to buy a tiny Sig Sauer to have any hope of hitting something. Madani looks like a Barbie doll got mixed in with the GI-Joe toys by accident.

And do not get me started on her partner. The guy is David Arquette annoying.

Then there is the CIA story taken from Punisher MAX. Here we follow the character Rawlins, played by Paul Shulze, who wants to kill Frank before he exposes the Company’s operations. There is a character in MAX of the same name and a million times more interesting. Show-Rawlins is a standard Company man who uses national security to justify his actions. MAX-Rawlins is an asshole that relishes being an asshole before Frank pries out his eyeball with a knife. Being a tough guy piece of shit was a façade because his persona and business depended on it.

Show-Rawlins has that masculine insecurity evident in his need to torture Frank for taking his eye, but the rest of him is boring. He is this box-standard dude that believes in protecting his country, even by illegal means. Something with depth, like the implication he enjoys torture and murder, is nonexistent. Maybe it was the actor’s lack of charisma, but there could have been a scene or two where he is smiling and laughing at the possibility of getting his hands dirty. MAX-Rawlins had a lot more to him beyond the traits of a cartoony Gareth Ennis villain character.

There is plenty of good to be had, but the whole of Punisher would have fallen apart if not for Bernthal’s best performance to date. The guy has the makings of a young Kurt Russel or Clint Eastwood, full of charisma with intensity to boot. Not only does he sell the character’s pain and anger, but he is also scary to watch. I expect nothing less from the guy that accidently clocked Jonah Hill in the mouth on Wolf of Wall Street because he was so into the scene. I have no idea how Bernthal could top this in the future.

When it comes to expectations everyone has a vision they want to see come to fruition. For me and other fans, we wanted an incarnation of Punisher to rival Ray Stevenson in War Zone. The second season of Daredevil gave us a taste of what was to come in the following year. Marvel’s the Punisher is the most we can ask for. There will never be a perfect incarnation, but Jon Bernthal is damn close. I highly recommend it if you are a fan of the character and of action, especially the graphic kind. But get ready to skip over a lot of boring shit to get to the good stuff.

Movie Review: Wind River

Taylor Sheridan is one of the best new talents in Hollywood. When it comes to writing he does it better than a lot of his contemporaries. His scripts are tight as a drum and to the point with great command of timing, visuals, and dialog that is so far unmatched. I wish I saw Sicario and Hell or High Water when I was in writing school. There is so much you can learn from his work and Wind River is his first crack at directing. Does he have what it takes to realize his vision or should it have been left in the hands of a professional?

While tracking down predators that killed livestock on the Wind River Indian Reservation Cory, played by Jeremy Renner, stumbles upon the corpse of a young woman. When FBI Agent Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen, comes to investigate, she must team up with Cory to help find the killer in the unforgiving wilderness.

With three movies to his name, you can easily spot a handful of signatures in Sheridan’s work. They are Neo-Westerns with modern themes that have an honest, yet nihilistic outlook on life. His films do not shy away from the reality of situations, including violence and the nature of humanity. In Sicario, the Drug War was regarded as a conflict that needed to be fought like an actual war, without concern for conventional law. Hell or High Water dealt with a pair of brothers fighting against the system that was consuming their rustic, old fashion reality in west Texas.

Wind River is about the relationship between man and nature, not unlike The Revenant, but more obvious and to the point. Other than Banner, Cory and many of the characters are used to living out in the middle of nowhere, in the naked heart of the wild. They understand their reality as plain as anyone who grew up in such rough terrain. It influences how they see law and order, especially on the reservation. You could say the whole movie is about what Amerindians deal with in their territory if you wanted to make it political (and you shouldn’t).

Before Banner comes into the story, we get an idea of life through Cory’s perspective. It is enough to go on until we are reminded that the world we know still exists outside the reservation. It becomes frontier justice versus bureaucracy, but more in the manner in which an investigation is conducted while dealing with the elements. It compounds the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land once Banner gets shot at and has to travel long distances to get anywhere.

Granted, this is nothing new to Westerns, but what matters is the execution. Sheridan took the idea of a city slicker going out west and modernized it. The idea of reservations fending for themselves in the face of crime and corporate exploitation in a harsh environment was the next logical step. He makes it easy to understand while using common tropes of the genre. Wind River has a lot in common with the show Longmire, which does the same thing, but is darker and more violent.

In terms of direction, the film is very standard and ordinary. There are some nice landscape shots and well constructed chaotic action scenes, yet it lacked the essential ingredient to set it apart from the norm. The movie did not have Villenuve’s aesthetic or Mackenzie’s cinematography like his last two. Sheridan’s strength is definitely his writing and he needs a little more practice directing to come into his own. That being said, I appreciate his use of practical effects. The environments seemed to be shot on location, there were real blanks in the guns, and real blood in the squibs. I have a good feeling he will continue this trend in the future.

Wind River would not stand out if Taylor Sheridan did not pen the script. The directing leaves much to be desired, but if you want a simple and honestly written Neo-Western look no further. I was pretty late in buying a ticket, so you better get to the theater as soon as possible. If you missed it, I cannot recommend Sicario and Hell or High Water highly enough.

Movie Review: Baby Driver

New Edgar Wright movie. How can anyone say no? Was Baby Driver another stellar entry in his filmography or has the limey genius reached his pique?

While playing getaway driver for a crew of professional thieves Baby, played by Ansel Elgort, dreams of living a normal life with a waitress named Debora, played by Lily James. Shortly after his last job his boss Doc, played by Kevin Spacey, pulls Baby back in.

As I said in my Ant-Man review, I like all of Wright’s films. They are tightly written with fantastic comedic timing, great characters, and they just happen to feature pretty decent action. The style of his movies, however, is somewhat understated. The camera work, use of music, and editing make them standout out from their respective genres. The snap-zooms and insert shots on mundane actions give Wright’s a signature edge that is all his own.

Driver is the culmination of these stylistic choices. Everything you have seen in his previous work is brought to the fore and multiplied. Close-ups, long shots, and elaborate timing make the movie what it is. It has a lot in common with a musical where the action is in synch with the beat. More often than not gunshots sound at the same time as a string of notes. Certain edits and shots are also determined by the tune in question.

For all its style, Driver does not have much in the way of substance. That is not to say it is entirely superficial. Generic is the operative word where the characters, their desires, and motivations are a vehicle for all the good stuff. Baby’s tinnitus is there to justify the use of music. Debora’s goal of a road trip into the unknown was meant to give Baby a reason to want to escape his life of crime. Basic though it may be, the sparse substance provides short breaks between what matters most.

As for the performances, everyone gave it their all despite of the lackluster material. Elgort and James worked very well together, especially come the last third of the film. Jamie Foxx was at his most intimidating as the insane Bats while Jon Hamm was the cool-headed Buddy with a subtle mean streak. Most of the cast was fantastic, but Spacey grabbed the movie by its balls. If he had more scenes, he would have stolen the whole show.

Been a while since I have written a short review. Those I save for the good ones and Baby Driver is pretty great. If you can set aside the lack of real substance, you better not miss this one. The style alone is reason enough to buy a ticket