Thursday, January 05, 2006

2005 2GBC Awards: Best Story Arc


Serving on a jury has prompted many a great tale, from Twelve Angry Men to... um... boy, I guess I have to go with Jury Duty. Okay, maybe jury duty hasn't prompted that many epic stories afterall. Just slightly more than have been inspired by biodomes or cavemen thawed out in modern day Encino, I suppose, but I digress.

In this story arc, Mayor Mitch Hundred decides to set a good example for his constituents when he is called to do his civic duty and serve as a juror in a civil trial, a decision he'll come to regret. Meanwhile, a vigilante is attacking misdemeanor-level criminals with lethal means. Worse, it first appears to be someone mimicking the mayor's old alter-ego, The Great Machine. Later, the attacker confesses to being an android created by The Great Machine to carry on his legacy, which is news to Mitch.

While the police and Mitch's closest friends, Bradbury and Kremlin, track down the vigilante, Mitch is tied up himself when a psychotic Gulf War vet on the jury threatens to kill an old woman unless the mayor uses his machine-talking powers to fix whatever is wrong with his brain.

From the positively mundane setting of a jury room, Brian K. Vaughan crafts a tense stand-off and with the main character of the book tied up, he fleshes out the supporting cast as they try ambush, espionage, and strong-arming to track down The Automation.

While both the crazed vet and The Automation are taken down, both with unexpected twists leading to their downfalls, but the ending can hardly be dubbed a happy one.


One of the strengths of this series has been Bill Willingham's ability to juggle a huge cast. Part of why the cast is so large is because of another strength: Willingham's ability to make one-dimensional background characters into fully-developed stars.

"Return to the Homelands" does that with Boy Blue (of "come blow your horn" fame). Prior to "Homelands," he'd been an administrative assistant in Snow White's office with a talent for playing the trumpet, but by the end of this arc he was possibly the Fables' greatest warrior and spy. Armed with the vorpal blade and a magic cloak, he cuts a swath through the conquered lands of the Adversary.

An overall theme of Fables to this point was the hidden nature of the Fables in the mundy world, exiling those who could not blend into every day society to the farm upstate and requiring those who could to keep any special abilities or curses a secret. Since this story took place in the mythical lands, Willingham and penciller Mark Buckingham could cut loose with magic and monsters and action and intrigue, while never changing the feel of the book.

Of course, there are wrinkles along the way and when the Adversary appears defeated is when things get most dangerous for Blue. We get several loose ends tied up from the previous two and a half years while setting up plenty of other potential future conflicts.

In the interest of full disclosure, I correctly predicted the Adversary's true identity about 10-15 issues earlier, so the appeal of this arc to me may have just been the confirmation of my brilliance.


I'll have more to say on this tomorrow (guess I'm kind of tipping my hand on where one of my top three Ongoing Series medals is going), but for now I'll just say the Punisher is one of my favorite characters.

This is the greatest Punisher story ever told.

Garth Ennis managed to shock us without it seeming like a desperate attempt to shock us just for the sake of shocking us (like... oh, say... an Irish terrorist whose face has to be held on by a masking tape). Instead, he took a simple story of a mobster who figures out how to get to the Punisher and escalated it from one shocking event to another, upping the ante every time, but to the benefit of rather than at the expense of the story.

Realizing people have been gunning for the Punisher for decades with no luck, Nicky Cavella decides he has to hit the Punisher in what little is left of his heart. Nicky and his boys dig up the Punisher's wife and kids' corpses and proceed to videotape themselves urinating on them.

This pushes Frank over the edge. If you stop to consider that since the late 70's, this guy has been blowing up drug dealers with claymores and mowing down gang members with anti-aircraft guns, it's hard to imagine there was much edge left for Frank Castle to go over, but Ennis found it. In the ensuing days, the Punisher starts hitting every gang in town, slaughtering them wholesale, but always leaving one person alive to deliver the message to the police to take the Castles out of the evidence locker and put them back in their graves or things will get worse.

Frank gets about as low as we've seen him and somehow, despite taking us there over and over, he manages to prompt the Waylon Jennings as the Dukes of Hazard balladeer-esque question, "Well, how is the Punisher going to get out of this one?"

In the end, the Punisher triumphs, a lot of people die, and Cavella suffers, but more than anything, the title gets a revitalization on the proof there are still new and better Punisher tales to tell.

Honorable Mention: Y: The Last Man: Girl on Girl; Conan: The God in the Bowl


Blogger Spencer Carnage said...

Great. Now I have buy a Punisher trade, too. Then again, that's not bad. Punisher was the 2nd comic I collected, after GI Joe. Thanks for selling me on it.

8:12 PM  
Blogger Jake said...

If you like Punisher at all, you'll love that arc. I'll give you a money back guarantee. If you don't like it, I'll buy the trade off you.

Let see some other blogs make that offer!

9:41 PM  

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