Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Review: The Black Dossier

Spoilers shall abound in this review, just to warn people...

I find myself surprised, depressed, and more than a little intimidated to say this, but...wow, that was really disappointing. I never thought I'd say that about something Alan Moore wrote, but it's true.

It's not all Moore's fault, I have to say. Some of it comes from the fact that LoEG volumes are so few and far between (due to Kevin O'Neill's somewhat deliberate speed of drawing) that each one feels more like an "event" than a story, and DC's delay of the release (due to all sorts of reasons) merely amped up the hype. It's possible that there's just no way that anything could live up to the excitement of the idea of the Black Dossier.

But I do think that some of the fault, and I say this as someone not nearly as talented as Alan Moore, is...well, Alan Moore's. For one thing, the sex. I am no prude. I admire greatly Moore's stance that writing 'Lost Girls' opened his eyes to the idea that human sexuality is natural and healthy, and something that can be included in his stories without shame or fear. But I do think that like any writer who's using a new storytelling technique, Moore seems to be overusing it in his first flush of enthusiasm. Much like Brian Michael Bendis scatters random thought balloons in every panel of 'Mighty Avengers', things like "I like pie," or "Where are my keys?", Moore seems to be sticking sex scenes in just to say, "Look! I'm not afraid to include a sex scene!" (In fact, that's literally the case at one point--a porn pamphlet from Orwell's '1984' is inserted between two other pages, seemingly at random.) The overall effect is more numbing and pointless than erotic. A few years down the road, I'm sure Moore will integrate this stuff better, but for now, it feels clumsy and forced.

But that's not the big problem with the Black Dossier. The big problem is...well, the big problem, to put it bluntly, is that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Not the plot, that's relatively straightforward. Mina and Quartermain steal the "Black Dossier", a compendium of secrets of the various incarnations of the League, from British Intelligence, and spend the rest of the book on the run while reading it. But very little of the actual material makes sense.

I suppose I should have seen this coming. Moore has been very forthright in discussing how the LoEG books have been and will be getting more and more elaborate in their "continuity references", working in more and more oblique references to other literary works of the period and using them as plot points. After all, Jess Nevins has published two annotated guides to the previous two mini-series, explaining all the "Easter eggs" for people who aren't walking pop culture encyclopedias. But even so, it's very frustrating to read an entire book that's nothing but knowing winks to things you don't recognize. The original series worked because the "Easter eggs" were just that, asides in a story whose main thrust was broad and immediately recognizable. Mister Hyde, the Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, and Allan Quartermain were major literary characters that the average person could recognize, and villains like Moriarty and the Martians from 'War of the Worlds' worked perfectly precisely because they were legendary villains that the legendary heroes could believably struggle against. (Although even in the original series, the veiled references to Fu Manchu were probably a mistake...but more on that in a moment.)

'The Black Dossier' is full of oblique references and veiled hints at other fictional stories, but that's all it really is. There's nothing for a reader except for the satisfaction of picking out a reference they recognize, or more often sighing in frustration as another obscure character shows up that they've never heard of. And since Moore appears to be hanging his hat on the notion that Jess Nevins will be publishing an annotated guide for this series as well, reading 'The Black Dossier' is a bit like buying a trivia quizbook without an answers section.

Worse, even in the parts where Moore probably wants to make things clear, he can't, because he hasn't learned his lesson from Fu Manchu. Too many of the important characters in the book are still under copyright from their respective authors, meaning that Moore has to make veiled allusions and hope that his readers are well educated enough to pick up the hints. (This was the problem with Fu Manchu in the original mini-series...if you're not familiar with Sax Rohmer's pulp villain, then large parts of the series are downright incoherent.) Admittedly, the key reference (a British secret agent named "Jimmy" who worked with Felix Leiter in Jamaica) is clear enough, but for every reference like that, there's a whole series of plot points that turn on You-Know-Who working with Wink-Wink to uncover the secret of That Famous Place With The Buildings, Get It? If you do get it, you'll no doubt be smiling faintly at the way the references dovetail. If you don't, you'll be wondering why they didn't just bundle the damn book with a coupon for the inevitable Nevins guide.

The ending, on the other hand, is a species of error that we haven't seen from Moore yet. It's all in 3-D, for starters (word to the wise: people with glasses hate 3-D effects, because we have a choice of either missing the 3-D part or sitting with the damn book an inch from our nose because we're nearsighted, for Pete's sake...I suppose it could have been worse, Moore could have persuaded DC to include a vinyl record I'd never be able to play on my CD player), and it takes place in the "Burning Realm", a place that's sort of a walk-in imagination where all these fictional characters can go when they get tired of dealing with the real world...except that obviously some of them can't, because they're not "fictional", except that they clearly are, because "Jimmy" is James Bond, but obviously he's not the right kind of fictional, so perhaps it's to do with being the right kind of fictional, but honestly, this isn't a story that has been doing the meta-fiction at all until now, and ringing it in right at the end of the third book for about ten pages feels odd and takes you right out of the story. The ending feels really like a chapter of 'Promethea' that wound up in the wrong book--don't get me wrong, I like the idea of fictional characters traveling into and out of the realm of imagination, but that's not the concept of 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'. LoEG suggests that it's all real, every last bit of it. Having it suddenly be all real except for the bits that aren't and some of them are and they can go into the imagination when they want to so they don't age...it's a pretty severe tangent, and it muddles the message.

I don't wish to sound wholly negative, since even disappointing Alan Moore is still Alan Moore, and there's one short story in there that works perfectly as an example of how LoEG should work (Jeeves vs. C'thullu, a clear example of two iconic and legendary characters facing off on a grand literary stage.) But on the whole, it really came off as self-indulgent and esoteric, and strangely pointless. Perhaps when Jess Nevins writes about it, I'll be more impressed.

Monday, November 26, 2007


I have edited the post "I Am King Geek, All Bow Down Before Me!" to correct an obvious omission...I'd totally forgotten about Lana Lang's checkered journey from Superboy's college sweetheart to hardened FBI agent.

Silly me.

Storytelling Engines: Dazzler

(or "A New Lens To View An Old Idea")

If the storytelling engine for 'Dazzler' doesn't automatically seem familiar to most comics fans in the 1980s (when the series came out) or in the present day, that's probably forgivable. After all, super-hero comics pretty much dominated the market from the 1960s onwards, and they still dominate it today, at least in financial terms. Looking at 'Dazzler' through the lens of super-hero comics, it stands out as something quite new and different...arguably so much so that the writers of the series weren't quite sure what to do with it.

Alison Blaire, the Dazzler (she dropped the 'Disco' part of the name after a very short while) was a mutant with the power to absorb sound and convert it to light. But unlike every other person in the Marvel Universe, gaining super-powers didn't make Alison decide that she needed to save humanity, or conquer the world. All Dazzler wants is to make it big in the challenging world of rock music, and to her, having super-powers is more of a hindrance than a help. It's hard to make gigs if you're getting kidnapped by Galactus, fighting the Hulk, or foiling the plans of the evil Enchantress, but despite her best efforts to be an ordinary rock star, she keeps bumping into the Doctor Dooms of the world and has to do her best to stop them. It's an idea pretty thoroughly unlike any other Marvel or DC were publishing at the time...

And yet, when you take away the whole "super-hero" aspect, it's a pretty normal idea for a series. In fact, 'American Idol' re-enacts it every season with a new cast. "Talented unknown struggles to make it big" is a classic concept, one that borders on hackneyed...but by taking the smaller storytelling engine of Alison Blaire and her quest for fame and acceptance (would it really surprise you to know that her father doesn't approve of "show business" and wants her to become a lawyer?), and placing it within the larger storytelling engine of the Marvel universe, the storytelling engine suddenly finds new directions for exploration it never had before.

In retrospect, it seems like nobody was sure quite whether or not the traditional super-hero audience wanted to explore any of those new directions; after a while, 'Dazzler' turned into a "Fugitive" type series, and after its cancellation, Alison became a bog-standard super-hero and X-Woman, albeit one that spent lots of her thought balloons whining about how she'd rather be singing. But don't underestimate the impact that 'Dazzler' had. Over the next two decades or so, as the idea gained currency, lots of comic books started taking storytelling engines from other genres, implanting them in a super-hero universe, and watching the resultant interaction between the two sets of ideas. You could make a case that 'Powers', 'Top 10', 'District X', 'She-Hulk', 'The Initiative', and 'The Power Company' all owe some inspiration to 'Dazzler'. (Detectives, cops, detectives, lawyers, soldiers, and lawyers, respectively.)

The comic-book universes DC and Marvel operate are vast and strange, and operate under a set of rules that we're rarely shown in any detail. Stories like Dazzler's operate in parts of those universes that we don't usually see, but that's as much to their advantage as it is to their detriment. By exploring an old idea in a new way, they make a whole new set of options available to an old storytelling engine, making those stories fresh for the telling for a whole new generation. Not bad for someone who started off as a novelty disco act, huh?

Essential Update '07

Last year at about this time, I made a list of
the top fifteen Marvel series I wanted to see made into Essentials. It's now a year later, and I thought I'd take a moment to ask, "How did Marvel do?"

Unsurprisingly, they did a lot more volumes of existing series. I can't say I mind, honestly; it was good to get another X-Men volume, a couple more Spider-Man trades, more FF, more Silver Surfer, more Punisher, more Werewolf By Night, and more X-Factor. But of the fifteen titles on my list, only two were actually collected: Ms. Marvel, and Dazzler. (Which isn't to say there were no other new series being collected--'Essential Marvel Saga'? I didn't list it because I didn't dream Marvel would collect something so wonderful, yet so esoteric...now I've learned that my fanboy dreams can truly become reality.) So what does this year hold in the Marvel release schedule of my dreams?

15. The Champions. To be honest, I'm not sure what the rights issues are with this series, and I suspect nobody else does either, including Marvel (they did, after all, get within two months of publishing a new 'Champions' series before deciding to call it 'The Order'.) But I know there's a 'Champions Classic' set of trades in print, so Marvel must have the rights to reprint its old stuff. So howbout an Essential, Marvel?

14. Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu. Another one where the rights might be in limbo...they can obviously make use of Shang-Chi himself, since he's an original Marvel character, but the series also used Fu Manchu, and I'm sure the rights have lapsed on him by this point. Still, I will fall back on my "Godzilla" argument: If Marvel can hash out the rights to an Essential Godzilla, how much harder can any other character be?

13. Micronauts. I really don't know what the rights status for this series is. But somebody's got to be able to reprint these. Even if it isn't Marvel, I'd settle for another company putting out an affordable black-and-white reprint volume...

12. Adam Warlock. With all the "cosmic" characters enjoying a big renaissance due to the success of 'Annihilation' and 'Annihilation: Conquest', putting out affordably-priced reprints of the old adventures of these characters sounds like a smart move to me. And it's not like Adam Warlock doesn't have a fan following. (OK, certainly the sales figures on 'Adam Warlock and the Infinity Watch' suggests he doesn't have much of one. But that was a whole different era.)

11. New Warriors. Another series that seems more relevant than ever in the new year...there's a new 'New Warriors' series out, Nova's got his own series again, Night Thrasher and Penance (the former Speedball) both have mini-series, Justice is a prominent character in 'Avengers: The Initiative'...really, Marvel, this one just makes sense.

10. Spider-Man 2099. The only reason this didn't make the list last year is because I figure a series should be at least fifteen years old before being considered "Essential"...and that time has passed by 2008, meaning that Peter David's wonderful reimagining of the Spider-Man concept can see print. It's the best of the 2099 line, it's got a surprisingly faithful cult following, and it's the only series to feature the line, "I have tough nipples." What's not to like?

9. Power Pack. They're already doing new, family-friendly out-of-continuity 'Power Pack' mini-series. Why not reprint the classic adventures as well?

8. West Coast Avengers. Hawkeye. Team Leader. I should not have to speak of this one again next year.

7. Alpha Flight. Another one of those series that's had a bit of a renaissance lately, and one that I really think would work well in big, 24-issue chunks. It was ahead of its time in "writing for the trade", with lots of ongoing subplots and character developments that unfolded over many issues, and now is the time to reprint it.

6. ROM. I am aware, thank you very much, of the rights issues regarding ROM. Pah, I say to them. Pah! If you can do 'Essential Godzilla', why are you letting the only records of our great struggle with the Dire Wraiths languish in Marvel's vaults?

...don't make me get Congress involved here.

5. Quasar. See everything I said about 'Adam Warlock', only with bells on. This really was Mark Gruenwald's magnum opus, and I don't think it ever got the attention it deserved. I think it would sell very well in trades, and I really enjoyed the series.

4. New Mutants. As I understand it, the reason this hasn't been collected is that Bill Sienkiewicz's art doesn't translate well to black and white. But I still hold out hopes that somehow they could "remaster" it to make it work, because this really is the definition of an "Essential" title. Following the X-Men during the 80s meant following the New Mutants, and the X-Men and X-Factor titles feel incomplete without the missing third of the story.

3. Excalibur. Less "essential" than the New Mutants, but oh-so-gorgeous...and don't even try to tell me that Alan Davis' art doesn't look good in black-and-white, because I ain't buying it.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy. Still one of my favorite series ever from my childhood (well, teenage-hood), still needs to be reprinted, still needs to be relaunched (I wanted to see 'Civil War' end with the Guardians showing up and siding with Cap), but I must bump it down a spot, because...

1. What If? I must, at this point, confess the deepest of fanboy shames. I totally forgot about 'What If?' when making last year's list. Two series, hundreds of issues, one-shots to this day, the inspiration for 'Exiles' and the only place where you could see seriously dark stuff go down in the Marvel Universe, this cries out to be reprinted. Yes, I'm aware there's a "Classic" line for this series, much as there is for many of the series on this list. But I loves me the big thick black-and-white volumes, and that means I wait in anticipation for the day this one gets released.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Storytelling Engines: Nova

(or "An Idea Ahead Of Its Time")

One of the fundamental points I introduced right at the beginning of the 'Storytelling Engines' series, now eleven months ago (wow, time flies, huh?) is that not every status quo is created equal. Some settings lend themselves to more stories than others, some characters act better to generate stories than others, some concepts just work better than others. Whether a writer thinks consciously about the potential in their status quo or not, and whether the reader notices the way the storytelling engine works or doesn't work, they still react better to a good engine than to a bad one, and a good storytelling engine sticks around better than a bad one does...even if it doesn't quite seem that way at first.

Richard Ryder, "the man called Nova", is a good example of a storytelling engine that had some thought put into it. Marv Wolfman, one of the industry's great craftsmen, took some time to actually design the status quo of Nova's comic for the long term. He worked out Nova's personality, as a self-deprecating, somewhat under-confident teen who received powers from the Nova Corps; he came up with a family, friends, a social life that supported (and occasionally antagonized) our hero; he worked out a rogue's gallery (with somewhat mixed results--Diamondhead and Condor never really caught on, but the Sphinx and the Corruptor have continued to make appearances in the Marvel Universe.) He did, in short, everything to make sure there was a lot of potential in Nova's storytelling engine...

And after twenty-five issues, the title was canceled anyway. Nothing to do with the character or the status quo, really. Marvel was just going through some tough times in the 1970s, a new series is always a bit of a gamble, and the comic just didn't build up enough of a following to justify keeping it going. Wolfman tied up the loose ends in other comics, depowered the character (but didn't kill him, significantly) and let Richard Ryder be forgotten.

Except that he wasn't. Because, as I said before, while a reader might not consciously appreciate the effort that goes into designing a good storytelling engine, they notice that some titles seem to have a lot of good stories, while others don't. Nova might not have had a ton of readers, but those that did read the series remembered it fondly, and when the 80s rolled around and comics hit a boom, the New Warriors combined Nova with a few other "cult" heroes from the last decade, and made a solid 75 issue run over the course of the 1990s. They, in turn, had fond memories and fans of their own, leading up to revivals of the series that continue through the present day. Not to mention, Nova's back in a series of his own.

The key point here is that the character had time to develop and build a fan following due to its strong central concept, an average guy trying to do his best with amazing abilities. (Sometimes these aren't rocket science, but it's still a solid concept for a series.) The character was out of the spotlight, but the idea wasn't forgotten, and when Nova got relaunched, the audience was there waiting for him. It's a good argument for not throwing away minor characters simply to pad out the bodycount in a big crossover; sometimes, all that's needed for a character to become a hit is a chance to build up a little nostalgia with the fans.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Review: World War Z

Many apologies for the late post, but I'm in the middle of recovering from a nasty attack of malware that forced me to erase my hard drive. (No important files were lost, thanks to good backups, but it is a bit time-consuming, reinstalling everything.)

So nothing ambitious today, because I'm still recuperating, but let me take a moment to mention how very, very well 'World War Z', by Max Brooks, evokes the idea of a zombie uprising. It shouldn't surprise anyone who reads this blog that I heard the phrase "zombie uprising" and was right there in line to buy the book, but Brooks really does do an excellent job with the idea. The book takes the form of a number of "interviews" with survivors of the plague that reanimated the dead and gave them an uncontrollable hunger for the flesh of the living, and each interview is almost a short story in miniature. The various survivors' tales interlock to form a vast, sprawling narrative of a world in crisis, progressing from denial, to panic, to full-fledged chaos, and finally our struggle to fight back and reclaim our world.

At each stage, you'll be impressed with Brooks' sense of realism; having laid down ground rules for the zombie virus in 'The Zombie Survival Guide', he then proceeds to come up with very authentic human responses to a plague of the walking dead. I quibbled about a few things (I think, for example, that the military would come up with an effective response faster than they did--ultimately, no matter how implacable and terrifying zombies are, they're basically unarmed, unarmored people who use no subterfuge or tactics and move at a slow walking pace.) But Brooks paints a compelling picture, and gives each survivor a unique voice. I could have read a book twice this length, and I'd be more than happy to see a sequel out of Brooks.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Storytelling Engines: The Atom

(or "'Fate of the Flattened-Out Atom'?")

I've previously discussed in these pages how the popularity of science-fiction in the 1950s brought about the comics renaissance of the Silver Age, as DC revamped many of its popular characters as science-fiction heroes. The Atom, for example, changed from a diminuitive super-hero who punched people to a scientist with a belt that gave him the ability to shrink, complete with a costume that was made out of dwarf-star matter and shrunk with him. He uses his powers to fight Jason Woodrue, a man from a parallel universe inhabited by "wood nymphs, dryads, nereids, air sprites and flower-spirits"...um, and travel into a sub-atomic world inhabited by ancient Atlanteans...er, and fight Doctor Light, who trapped him in a giant light-bulb that slowly turned him to gas...and then, there was the time where a super-villain ironed him into a two-dimensional shape with a specially-designed iron...

Obviously, "science-fiction" is something that has different meanings depending on who's using it, which is what today's column is all about. We've discussed tone as being an essential element of the storytelling engine from time to time, and it bears repeating; it's just as important to know what kinds of stories you'll be telling as it is to know who, what, and where they'll be about. To say that the Silver Age emphasized "science-fiction" is to merely mark off a piece of the territory; science-fiction can mean anything from "action-adventure, demarcated from fantasy purely by its terminology" to "an extrapolation of current scientific achievements, using concepts believed to be true even if not yet proven by modern science in order to model potential changes in human civilization." (Obviously, 'The Atom' falls pretty firmly onto the former of the two options.)

Different writers make different uses of this spectrum of "science-fiction", and indeed many consider the different elements of the spectrum to be different genres entirely. (Certainly, one suspects Warren Ellis would have a stroke if he saw 'The Fate of the Flattened-Out Atom'.) In addition, "science" is by definition not fixed or dogmatic in its opinion. One generation's "hard science fiction" is the next generation's "science fantasy" (witness Isaac Asimov's classic 'Lucky Starr' series, which features novels set in the oceans of Venus and on Mercury, one side of which always faces the sun and the other side of which always faces away.) As the public grows more educated, the fictional science needs to grow more sophisticated simply to convince the layman--Ray Palmer frequently uses explanations which no doubt sounded convincing to a 1950s audience, but which modern readers (even those in the target age group for the comic) would find hard to swallow today.

Still, the Atom is not trying to give kids a science lesson. (Or a history lesson, in the time-travel stories that were a frequent feature in his Silver Age adventures.) The series is predominantly an adventure comic, with the trappings of science-fiction appropriated to move the adventure along. This is a marked difference in tone from a series like 'Transmetropolitan' or a novel like 'Ringworld', but the adventures of the Atom show that there's a place for all sorts of "science-fiction", even science-fiction with wood nymphs and Atlantis.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Odd Businesses Update!

I saw again tonight a check for a Mexican restaurant here in Minnesota called 'The Taco King'.

Now 'Taco King', by itself, isn't bad. Conveys a sort of fast food, Taco Bell meets Burger King vibe. But every time I see 'The Taco King' on a check, I picture all these animals kneeling down, watching this aged baboon head up the mountainside. He arrives at the pinnacle, and holds up...a taco! "Behold...your king." (And then he takes a big bite.)

It's just not the image I think they wanted to provide when they named their business. "Simba...it is time for you to return to the pridelands and take your place in the Combo of Life."

Or it could just be me.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Storytelling Engines: Hawkman

(or "World-Building")

When 'Hawkman' moved from the Golden Age of Comics to the Silver Age, it brought with it a peculiarity of the science-fiction/fantasy genre. Actually, "peculiarity" is an unfair term; a better phrase would be, "additional design complication." Because when editor Julius Schwartz updated Hawkman, he changed him from a reincarnated Egyptian prince to a policeman from the alien planet of Thanagar (reboots being a bit...bolder...in those days), he and writer Gardner Fox needed to pay more attention than usual to the setting of the comic. After all, it wasn't just "Midway City" they were setting up as the usual home of Hawkman's adventures. They also had to set up the planet of Thanagar.

The concept of "world-building", setting up an internally consistent alien setting with a history, culture, and geography separate from the planet Earth, is one aspect of designing a storytelling engine that hasn't been left to chance. Many science-fiction writers have discussed ways of going about world-building, and it's considered to be an essential element of the craft in both the sci-fi and fantasy genres. Perhaps, at times, people have paid a bit too much attention to it--many fantasy novels seem to be more excuses to show off the world-building by crafting a plot than coming up with a plot and finding a world for it to take place in. However, it is at least one area where writers have some resources to guide them.

How does Hawkman's world work? A bit haphazardly; as with many comics of the Silver Age, the primary focus was on coming up with quick, pacy kid-friendly stories, and things like "continuity" took a backseat. But it does hang together; the Thanagarian society was peaceful and technologically advanced, but had no cultural concept of "theft". Alien raiders called 'Manhawks' arrived to plunder the planet, and Thanagarians formed their first police forces, the Hawkmen, to repel them. The damage had been done, though; once the concept of theft had been introduced to the culture, Thanagarians began stealing things for fun. The Hawkmen had to learn how to be policemen, not simply a militia, and sent Katar Hol and his wife Shayera to Earth to learn our techniques. (This, of course, explains the sudden 1,000,000% increase in police brutality on Thanagar.)

Obviously, this isn't Tolkein (although the notion of a society without a concept of "theft" isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.) But in this particular case, it doesn't have to be, because Thanagar is a background setting for Hawkman's adventures on Earth. Other, more overtly science-fiction comics, like 'Guardians of the Galaxy' or 'Adam Strange', worked a bit harder at building a world for their characters to inhabit, and in the wake of 'Crisis on Infinite Earths', even Thanagar got a makeover in keeping with the increased emphasis on world-building in genre fiction.

The main point is that adding in a science-fiction/fantasy world does mean extra work for a writer, at least in the initial design stages. Fox didn't need to flesh out Midway City too much, because human beings are generally familiar with big cities, and can let our minds fill in the details that Fox didn't bother with. (And let's face it, Midway City was just Chicago with the serial numbers filed off.) But when you have an alien world, you have to work out all of the major elements yourself, because the reader isn't going to do nearly as much of the work for you.

The pay-off, though, is that once you've done that initial design work, you have a number of additional story elements that will keep generating ideas for you. Thanagar's setting becomes a new story generator, and with any storytelling engine, the more story generators you have, the better.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Meet 'N Greet #4

Once, he was an ordinary clown. His was a happy lot, entertaining children, loving his beautiful wife (also a clown), and looking forward to teaching his young son the craft of circus entertainment.

Then, one day, all that changed. A group of renegade mimes from the infamous 'Cirque du Soleil' crime family gunned down his whole family with invisible bullets. With no ballistics to trace, the police could do nothing. But he could.

Now, he's no longer a clown. He's a clown with a gun. And he's going mime hunting. No invisible box can save them. He's a one-man force for justice, an unstoppable white-faced, big-haired torrent of revenge...

No. Not revenge. Funishment.

He is...the Funisher.

(True story: This character was inspired by a "wannabe" on the 'City of Heroes' game, someone who'd simply made a copyrighted character and changed his name slightly to avoid being deleted for copyright infringement. He had made the Punisher, but had added an "h" so it was the "Phunisher". Apart from being appalled at the lack of imagination, I was quite irritated at the poor understanding of phonetics. That wouldn't sound like "punisher", it'd sound like...and then I realized it was the Best Character Idea Ever.)