I was thinking about characters that just don’t resonate for me a couple weeks ago. It just happens in fiction. Sometimes you can’t connect with a protagonist, no matter the actor playing them, or the writer writing them. For me, the number one character on that list co-stars in this annual, and somehow the creative teams make me actually LIKE them.
Old Man Logan Annual #1 is split between two different creative teams – a lead story by Ed Brisson and Simone Di Meo, and an eight page back-up by Ryan Cady and Hayden Sherman with colors in both by Dono Sanchez-Almara, and letters by Cory Petit. The issue chronicles the life of one particular Marvel favorite in the Old Man Logan universe – Frank Castle, the Punisher. Both take the unstoppable killing machine-slash-vigilante and strips him down to a very human protagonist.
In the lead story, a gang of marauders calling themselves the Punishers rage through the Wastelands in the wake of the Hulk Gang’s fall. Feeling guilty for his role in the tragedy, Logan vows to stop the Punishers, and teams up with an unlikely ally – Frank Castle himself.
In the back-up, Castle finds himself taking a more heroic role after the fall of the heroes, taking justice on those wronged in the Wastelands. He comes face to face with the War Machines, a paramilitary group using old super-tech to create a new nation. Frank looks their leader in the eye (via a body cam) and promises he’s coming for him…
I have never been a big fan of annuals. They often end up feeling bloated and ultimately unnecessary. I have to appreciate Marvel’s efforts to make sure the stories are, if not important, good. In this extra sized issue, I’d say they succeeded.
In the lead story, Brisson jumps through a couple hoops to ensure the team-up works (since Castle supposedly died before the original OML story) but it works so easily that it’s not distracting. He also is able to write Frank as a sorrowful man who wants to make up for what he was as a younger man. He’s not penitent, but he wants to be better here.
The story could easily become nihilistic. Instead the script remains hopeful throughout. The message is that we should be better than the evils in our world not succumb to them. It’s a timely message that isn’t heavy handed and really works.
Di Meo’s art helps that a lot. His style is line heavy in a way that evokes Steve McNiven, but is more cartoony. He doesn’t shy away from the violence in this story, but keeps it from being oppressive. His characters are also very evocative in a way that sells the point Brisson’s script is making.
Cady and Sherman’s story is so effective in just eight pages that I wish it went on longer. Cady’s Frank Castle is halfway between the character seen in the lead story and the killing machine so many fans love. He’s a man that’s moved past the massive arsenal and is instead interested in the human cost of violence. The final page also sets up a story that I HOPE Marvel follows up on soon.
Sherman’s style is perfect for this. He’s blocky and sketchy, but gives us so much pain in Castle. The reveal of the contents of the War Van are both terrifying and heart wrenching, and I don’t think many artists could have done that as well.
Sanchez-Almara’s work is great. He shifts his style significantly between stories to the point that I thought it was two different color artists working on the issue. In the lead story, his work is moody and washed out. In the back-up, it’s sparse, with just a few splashes to draw your eye or convey something important.
Like I alluded to earlier, I do not like the Punisher. But this issue makes him more sympathetic and interesting than I think I’ve ever seen him in the past. I would read an Old Man Frank mini series from either creative team in the issue, and that says a lot.
This is truly what an annual should be.
Old Man Logan Annual #1 is available now from Marvel Comics.