Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Men of Wrath Review (Jason Aaron, Ron Garney)


The Raths are a cursed family. Since great grandpappy Isom stabbed a man to death over some sheep a hundred years ago, the Rath men have lived bloody lives. Today, Ira Rath is the most ruthless hitman in the south, coldly killing men, women and children with brutal efficiency. But as good as he is at dealing out death, everyone meets the reaper in the end and Ira’s just received news that he has lung cancer. He’s also been given a new contract: his estranged son, Ruben.

Aaron’s called this his darkest story yet which isn’t totally right – if you’ve read the Bullseye issues from his Punisher MAX run, you’ll know how fucked up Jason Aaron can be - but Men of Wrath is still pretty damn bleak. The story does open with the murder of a family, ending with Ira hurling the baby seat – with the baby strapped in – into a swamp!

As the opening scene establishes, Ira is a wholly unsympathetic anti-hero. He’s a bit like Frank Castle except even The Punisher has a code: don’t kill innocents. Ira is black rage unleashed in human form – and he’s the main character!

But this isn’t an exercise in bad taste or shock value and Men of Wrath’s story is a grimly compelling, fast-moving one. The story barrels forwards as we’re introduced to the Rath family history alongside Ira’s dark mission of death, and Ruben’s disastrous handling of his life. Aaron does throw some curveballs at the reader so the story changes so things don’t turn out like you might think - just know it doesn’t end well for anyone. 

There’s something very biblical about Men of Wrath, the story of a southern family’s violent history – Old Testament biblical, that is, the super batshit crazy book! The story starts with one man killing another over some sheep (the blood of the lamb), beginning the curse of the Rath family. The Raths are metaphorically marked from then on – the sins of the father passing on to the son, from generation to generation (original sin) – culminating in a father trying to kill his son (Abraham and Isaac). 

Then there’s the title – “Wrath” like the wrath of God – and the strong sense of place in the American South, a heavily religious area, underlines this overall impression. There’s even an indication early on that Ira’s cancer is punishment for his wickedness - he says that he’s not a smoker and that he knows who caused it, turning to spit blood at a picture of Jesus. 

It’s this religious veneer that gives it this sense of timeless savagery despite it’s contemporary setting and separates it from a story of southern hicks killing one another like in Aaron’s other series, Southern Bastards. Men of Wrath feels epic at times despite being essentially another revenge story. 

There’s nothing especially distinct about Ron Garney’s art and I was surprised to note that he and Aaron had created so many comics together, especially as I’d read them all! But it’s not bad art either and the comic looks fine throughout - I also liked that Ruben wears a Wolverine mask when he attempts to rob the gas station, a nod to the several Wolverine books they’ve worked on in the past! 

If you enjoy dark violent thrillers, Men of Wrath won’t let you down. If there’s one type of story Jason Aaron knows how to write, it’s that kind. And fans of Scalped, Southern Bastards, Punisher MAX, and Weapon X will definitely like this intense, dramatic comic. It’s unpleasant at times and filled with horrible people doing horrible things, but Men of Wrath is a very enjoyable, viscerally exciting read.

Men of Wrath

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