3 out of 5
The “European vacation” arc is a thing we see often in serialized media like tv or comics: an American type has to take a trip to Europe, and we spend a little bit of time in location X, Y, and Z, hijinx ensuing along the way, and then we go home.
Maybe it’s my lack of interest in travel, but I’ve always kind of hated these arcs. They seem so freeing, conceptually – a vacation from whatever’s going on in main continuity, and an easy way to bring in new characters and plots – but that also ends up being part of the problem for me: that these arca never seem of consequence. Not that every story has to resonate eternally – Mike Baron’s preceding run on Pun was pretty quick and dirty with its subplotting, and Marvel and DC comics are often ephemeral in the long run – but these tales have the same “meanwhile…” offhand tone as filler issues, except they tend to stretch on
.. here to seven parts.
This era of Dan Abnett’s writing, though partnered with Andy Lanning, is also very word heavy, so it’s a lot of text, and a lot of bluster, and then… not much happens. That I can describe seven issues of plot easily – Kingpin is trying to consolidate power in Europe – is telling; each issue essentially just swaps in and out a particular baddie Pun must fight, working his way to Fisk.
So all of that’s kind of churning as I read: a general detachment from the story, furthered by excess exposition, and a cycle of side characters who end up feeling incidental by dint of the constantly moving structure, even though they all have important parts to play.
Abnett and Lanning seem to be quite aware of all the “European vacation” problems that exist. And we have Dougie Braithwaite on art with Al Williamson as his inker. So the m.o. is geared more towards having fun, and things look pretty damn good while doing it.
The mix of new baddies and some existing kooky ones is entertaining, and Dan and Andy keep mixing up the combinations, and trying to keep Frank on the outs – no weapons, no micro – to have the stakes at least as high as they can be. Braithwaite, while sometimes missing cues in the action (it’s like he goes a bit too cinematic, and forgets to guide us), is overall a fantastic fit, with Willaimson’s sharp inks keeping everything looking fittingly rough-edged, grounding the over-the-top action which involves tons of gunplay, martial arts tussles, and wild motorcycle and helicopter stunts.
While the story still gets clogged up by overcomplicating Kingpin’s plan and the a to b stringing along that directs Frank across Europe, because of the writers also embracing an off-the-cuff vibe, it all flows well enough – like, you can pay attention if you want, and it’s well written, or you can just skim and watch dudes kick one another.
Did it need to be seven parts? No. Is there a more hard-boiled, serious version of this story? Absolutely. But if we needed to fill seven issues while continuity on other Marvel events happened or whatever, and thus someone decreed a European vacation arc was in order… this is definitely a passable use of that time, written and artrd with more effort than such filler probably deserves.