The West Coast Avengers are back and more eclectic than ever! The superstar creative team of writer Kelly Thompson and artist Stefano Caselli have assembled the oddest line-up imaginable, and we’re here to talk about how they fare on their first outing. Plus, Marvel is trying a new approach to Frank Castle with a new Punisher ongoing series with writer Matthew Rosenberg and art from Szymon Kudranski. Don’t miss our coverage on this week’s Fresh Start titles!
Written by Kelly Thompson
Illustrated by Stefano Caselli
Colored by Triona Farrell
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Alexander Jones: Joe, AJ! Fan-favorite Marvel writer Kelly Thompson is returning alongside one of my personal favorite Marvel artists, Stefano Caselli. What were your first impressions of West Coast Avengers #1?
AJ Frost: This book was as bright and cheery as a Los Angeles summer day! Or… I guess every day in Southern California. While I have no doubts about the talents of Kelly Thompson, I tempered my expectations just a bit because I wasn’t sure how much the team dynamic would work out. Although I was a fan of the Hastings’ run on Gwenpool, I wasn’t sure how she would work in the greater context of a hero team. And I’ve been skeptical on America Chavez since her debut several years back. Thankfully, this issue hit it out of the park. I enjoyed it on every level.
Joe Grunenwald: I loved both Thompson’s previous run on Hawkeye and the ongoing Gwenpool series, so I’m very glad to see both of their adventures continuing, and them being in the same book is even better. This first issue does a nice job of setting up all of the characters on the team and their purpose for being together. I really liked this comic.
Frost: This was as strong a first issue as I’ve read from Marvel in the last few years (and God knows how many #1 issues are being pumped out right now).
Grunenwald: The whole team is together before the issue ends! That’s an achievement on its own.
Jones: I liked this issue. However, I’m not sure I’m going to stick with this for the long haul. The issue was cute and endearing but it bears a tone resembling lots of other titles Marvel is publishing. I want to like it more, but it almost serves as an extension of Thompson’s Hawkeye—I enjoyed the issue but didn’t think it was one of the best books Marvel was publishing. I just don’t think there is anything other than the interaction between the characters to compel you to pick up the next issue from a writing standpoint. This comic is almost excellent but it just resembles so many other charming, but disposable Marvel titles. Did I rain on everyone’s parade again?
Grunenwald: Grab your umbrellas, Alex is here to bring everyone down. I actually found the story feeling like an extension of Hawkeye to be a big positive. It made it easy for me to get into the issue, and it felt natural when the other characters on the team were brought into the fold.
Frost: Dammit Alex! Just enjoy the good times! Haha. Actually, knowing your preferences, I did wonder what you would think. This is a book firmly fascinated with Marvel’s current “quirky” characters, and I know those aren’t your style. On the other hand, what makes this book strong out of the gate is that Thompson already has a feel for the characters and utilizes them at the precise moment for maximum effect. The framing of the issue–with lots of time shifting–while not original in any way, amped up the “sitcom-y” aesthetic and made it extremely accessible from the get-go.
Jones: I love crazy Marvel characters, take that back!
Grunenwald: Speaking of the framing, that’s the only thing I was somewhat wary of here. The story seems to set it up as something that’s going to stick around, and I’m worried it’s going to wear thin after a few issues. That said, I appreciated how Thompson worked the storytelling device into the plot.
Frost: Fair points Joe & Alex. I’ll take it back a bit. I thought it was a clever technique to introduce that this book is going to be a little different. It could go awry, and then we’re left with an Arrested Development for the superheroes set. But until the banana stand goes outta business, I’m going to stick with it.
Grunenwald: There’s money in the banana stand.
Jones: Everything in the issue was mildly amusing on some level but there was nothing that stuck with me. The part about this issue which really left me cold was the length. This is an insane tone Thompson is going for and the double-sized debut was kind of a lot. The last sequence put a really bad taste in my mouth. Did you guys have a similar reaction?
Frost: I thought the length was decent. I get why it had to be longer to introduce the team. And yeah, now that you mention it, the climactic battle of the first issue was a little jarring. Maybe we didn’t expect to be thrust so quickly into an epic battle. But I also felt that the ending of the book, while certainly ridiculous, equaled the ridiculousness of the book as a whole. So it didn’t leave me cold.
Grunenwald: I had no problem with the length of the issue, either. The battle at the end does sort of come out of nowhere, but I also found it appropriately bananas for the rest of the story, and it raises some questions about how it came to be in the first place. And the final page made me laugh out loud. It’s so perfect.
Frost: And so dumb! But it works!
Grunenwald: Stefano Caselli seems like a great fit for this book, too.
Jones: I love Caselli’s work. I think he did an excellent job conveying some of the humor while still making the cast look badass. He really gets the emotion and the comedic timing the script calls for. He also makes the fight scenes look pretty awesome.
Frost: The art was great throughout. The poses were that perfect balance between energetic and hilarious. The “interview” sequence where Kate is looking for team members could have just been a static, bland scene if not for Caselli’s masterful use of the constricting space to just fill every possible nook and cranny with humor.
Jones: Do either of you get the same feeling of been-there-done-that with other comics on the shelf that I do when it comes to this issue?
Frost: Can you elaborate a little bit more on what you mean?
Grunenwald: Yeah, I’m curious what you mean by that as well.
Jones: Marvel is publishing lots of solo-titles containing a pleasant demeanor but come off as inconsequential in my opinion. This issue, while charming and funny, gives off a modern Marvel vibe a little too well. I’m thinking of books like Ms. Marvel and America. It’s not that they are bad per say, it is just that we are getting a lot of them right now.
Frost: Ahh. I see what you’re getting at. Marvel is definitely trying to go for the throw-as-much-as-you-can-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks method right now, to objectively mixed results. I think some titles really resonate better (Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, etc.) and some are just DOA (America). Maybe it’s just that this part of the Marvel Universe is doing better overall in terms of engaging newer readers, which is probably why a lot of the stories have a similar flow.
Grunenwald: I see what you’re saying as well, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. There are always going to be your ‘serious superhero business’ books out there, and I think it’s nice there are multiple books offering an alternative tone. I’m never going to complain about there being fun comics on shelves, and it must be working for Marvel or they wouldn’t keep putting them out.
Jones: I like this issue, but I do not feel compelled to come back next month.
Frost: More of a one n’ done thing for ya?
Grunenwald: AJ and I can fill you in on what you’re missing. What’s everyone’s verdict on this one?
Frost: This is a definite BUY from me! I had a great time reading it and, even though the ending was a bit wonky, am excited to see what the next installment of the tale has in store.
Grunenwald: It’s a BUY from me as well. Strong characters, a fun story, and great art. The last page is worth the price of admission alone for the Sensational Character Find of 2018.
Jones: BROWSE I think it is a good comic but not great. The ending was super weird. Love Caselli’s work on the issue.
Final Verdict: Joe and AJ say BUY, Alexander says BROWSE!
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Illustrated by Szymon Kudranski
Colored by Antonio Fabela
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
Joe Grunenwald: AJ, Frank Castle’s back with a new mission and a newly-relaunched series. What did you think of the new Punisher #1?
AJ Frost: Hey, Joe. Man, I came in with some really ambiguous feelings about the character. I know a lot of readers love this guy because he uses his rage to destroy evildoers or whatever, but this “Death Wish” schtick is just not in tune with the times. The ultra-violence really has no purpose except to titillate those who wish they had the power to blow away their enemies. I found the whole thing really unsettling. And I say this as someone who enjoyed the latest Netflix series. But there was an extreme unease lodging itself in the forefront of my mind while reading this issue.
Grunenwald: I have never cared for the character of The Punisher at all. I think I’m not into anti-heroes in general, but this one, in particular, has never worked for me for the same reasons you mentioned. The ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ mentality doesn’t work for me. So I go into this issue having a fundamental problem with the character. And unfortunately, the issue didn’t really help much with that, which is disappointing, as I think it had the potential to be…maybe not fun, but at least entertaining.
Frost: I don’t know. Wanton death really isn’t entertaining. And it projects a really unhealthy view of masculinity, which is why the Punisher is really not a dynamic character. Well…at least not anymore. I sense Matt Rosenberg was really giving it his all to craft a story of Frank taking down the irredeemably bad actors of HYDRA. But the moment when human beings are nothing more than sponges for the ordnance is really when I just get turned off by the whole thing.
Grunenwald: I get that. The fact that Frank faces HYDRA in this issue is the thing it had going for it for me as I went in. I like seeing Baron Zemo show up – I have a soft spot for him from the original run of Thunderbolts, which oh god was that twenty years ago I’m so old – and the new role for The Mandarin is interesting. But then Frank shows up, and it seems like it’s supposed to be all badass, but it’s just not. He comes across kind of like a force of nature – murderous, murderous nature – but not in the way other characters have been portrayed that way. The Punisher is a blunt object – no finesse, just straight killing, and I find that painfully boring. And if the story problems weren’t enough, the art on this comic is not good.
Frost: Yeah. Everything about this issue was just hideous – the ideology, the spent cartridges running down the splash pages, the interior art. All just hideous.
Grunenwald: This is an action-heavy comic, but the visuals are so ill-defined that it’s easy to lose track of what’s supposed to be happening. A truck explodes at one point and I have no idea why. Things happen and there’s no continuity between panels. It’s very strange.
Frost: It also looks like a bunch of traced faces, which is always a turn-off. So, what’s your final verdict on this issue?
Grunenwald: I try to come into the things we discuss and review with as open a mind as possible, and I was ready to have my mind changed about The Punisher, but it didn’t happen here. This is a SKIP for me.
Frost: Heavy SKIP. Stop feeding the fetish of the man with gun on a crusade.
Final Verdict: AJ and Joe say SKIP!
Next week the hunt for Wolverine continues!