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Penance: Relentless #1

Posted: Friday, September 21, 2007
By: Jon Judy



Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artist: Paul Gulacy

Publisher: Marvel Comics


Penance: Relentless #1 was… good. Overall. But I just can’t recommend it.

Gulacy’s art is decent as always: Stylistic enough not to draw attention to the inherently unrealistic nature of the superhero genre, realistic enough to bring weight and gravity to a story about a man consumed by guilt. Perhaps it is a purely subjective thing and I am the only one in the world bothered by it, but attempts at photorealistic depictions of people performing superhuman feats always distract me from the story by reminding me of how artificial the whole thing is. I also have difficulty connecting emotionally to characters who are drawn in too stylized – read “cartoony” – a manner. Neither extreme is a problem here.

And the premise is intriguing – something is going on in that guilt-ridden brain of Robbie Baldwin’s, and it involves a seemingly random chain of numbers and… Dr. Doom? – which is no less that I’d expect from Paul Jenkins. I once told Jenkins at a con appearance that I liked about 60% of what he writes. He seemed to take that as an insult, but I meant it to be a compliment. Only Joss Whedon, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Brian Michael Bendis, off the top of my head, have as-good-as or better batting averages as far as I’m concerned. And one of the “little things” I appreciate so much about Jenkins’ work is that he always tries to give you something different – a new approach, a new angle, something other than the superhero-slugfest-of-the-month (not that the superhero-slugfest-of-the-month is always a bad thing. Did you read World War Hulk this month?).

That’s certainly the case here. We get a minimal amount of superhero action with a whole lot of emphasis on the causes of Robbie’s post-traumatic-stress disorder and the fun – read sickeningly evil – intra-team dynamics of the Thunderbolts.

And therein lies the book’s real flaw: We get a whole lot of Norman Osborn – did you know he was driven and obsessive and that he regards the T-Bolts as mere cattle? – some of the team – did you know that Venom was nuts? – and some more of the Robby status quo – did you know he was consumed by guilt over Stanford?

Yeah, we knew. Because who else would be reading this other than people who read and liked Civil War and/or people who read and like Thunderbolts? So do we need to rehash all of this information?

We get one page of text summarizing Robbie’s insanity, two pages of Osborn and Robbie’s discussing Robbie’s insanity, two pages of some anonymous government agent telling us the T-Bolts are expendable and explaining how their plane works – how their plane works?!? Hey, when Jack and Stan gave us a diagram of the Baxter Building it was cool, but this is not 1964. And then we get some actual action, which includes a panel of Osborn threatening Songbird via a communicator that they had better not screw up this mission – I haven’t seen that in Thunderbolts a dozen times.

By my count that’s at least seven pages of this book that don’t actually contribute anything new to the character, that don’t do anything but take up space and eat into my $2.99. This book is slated for five issues, and if this first one is any indication it could just as easily have been done in four.

This looks like its going to be a really intriguing mini-series and I have a lot of faith in Jenkins, but so far I’d say we’re off to a mixed start. I’m sure that next month they’ll pull a Robbie and make amends for that, but until then you would do well to spend your money elsewhere.



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