Doctor Strange / The Punisher – Magic Bullets (#1 -4) – John Barber

2 out of 5

A great first issue to a light-hearted mismatched buddy-cop type mini-series gets bogged down in an unfortunate inability to sensibly – even distractingly – tease the plot out.  Along with a not-so-great artist changeup in the middle two issues and some odd script-to-page discrepancies, Magic Bullets ends up being a big disappointment, dragging its reader along to its conclusion.

Barber starts things off outside of an eatery apparently owned by the Fusillis, a brother/sister gangster family vying for power in lieu of The Kingpin’s presence – which we’ll assume ties in to some other Marvel event – a thug named Bonfrisco nervously chatting up a hooded dude about the open tryouts the fam is having.  Hooded Dude isn’t very chatty.  He pulls down his hood and we see why: He’s The Punisher.  Frank stoically War Journal narrates his way through a slaughter, until he gets to a door in the basement, opens it up… and swears at something off-panel.

Mid-page: an effective cut (mimicking the Pun panel) to Doc Strange, who turns out to be in mid-scuffle with a demon, explaining to the reader about the recent loss of magics in the world (see Jason Aaron’s run) and laying out the notion that regular folk can’t see the spiritual stuff that does remain – like the demon – so his scuffle looks quite silly to the many bystanders.  Who, because the Marvel non-hero community has a short memory, view the antics as performance art.  The magic / reality halving is handled well by artist Andrea Broccardo and colorist Andres Mossa, picking up the black and white / color divide from Strange’s ongoing and (perhaps guided by Jason Muhr’s storyboards) applying it excitingly on page.

Post battle, Pun shows up at Doc’s door, a’bruised and bloodied, explaining that he discovered demons behind that basement door, and he needs the ol’ Sorcerer Supreme touch.  Some humorous repartee before the inevitable team-up, which – of course – ends up being a bigger deal than either imagined.

I’ll spare you the rest of the play-by-play.  The Fusillis are attempting to gather a demon army to battle the other main gang – The Steelgraves – but their demon-summoning partner, Mangrove, has other plans.  The limitation of Mangrove’s / the demons powers continually flip-flop, and Barber and his artists (Dominike “Domo” Stanton starts being co-credited on art in issues 2 and 3) keep attempting yuks with the way all of the magic stuff is only visible to those in contact with a magical source but the timing of it is horrible, and/or the art just isn’t up to the task.  The rest of the run sends our duo scurrying for items they can use against the demons, but because of the fluctuating sense of threat, there’s zero feeling of urgency or necessity to it, despite an inspired discovery in issue 3.  It also was apparently necessary to overstuff Mangrove’s power-nab plans with a white supremacist cleansing angle.

The plot floundering would be more enjoyable as a silly romp (which is the definite tone) if the art didn’t get in the way.  I’ve already called out the comedic timing – which is a general strike – but when Stanton joins the team, the figures look off in a lot of panels, and his use of gutter space (or however he affected that) is just disruptive; it feels like a web comic panels’ just spread out on the page as best as possible.  It always puzzles me when mini-series get art changes midway through, especially when they’re pretty short like Bullets.  The demons admittedly make for some crowded pages, so we’ll assume this was necessary to stay on target.  Also curious: ‘Mast’ is credited as ‘Print Adaptation,’ which makes me wonder if this was scripted differently than a regular comic…?  It might explain the complete disconnect between what’s said and seen sometimes.

Anyhow.  There’s a fun, old-school team-up in here somewhere, but it’s rather over-ridden by odd plotting, pacing, and art choices.

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