Welcome to Postal Notes, a critical read through of the series “Postal.” This series of columns will be done in a mixture of essays and observations of various lengths. I will be using the seven core trade paperbacks that collect issues #1-25 and the various one shots for a total of 28 issues overall. In this column we’ll be working through the seventh trade, issues 25 and the one shots “Mark” and “Laura”. The first four issues of “Postal” are on Comixology Unlimited.
On the Potential for More
When it first came out “Postal” volume 7 felt a little off. Mostly out of misplaced frugality, the idea of 3 issues being worth the same as 4. Due to “Postal” #25 being double sized volume 7 is only about 10 pages shorter than previous collections. Once I got over that hurdle and contended with what this collection offered, it proved to be a worthwhile entry in the series. The three issues collected, #25 and a pair of one shots “Mark” and “Laura” are an effective epilogue to this cycle of “Postal.” It offers a glimpse at the cast in the months after the final confrontation with Isaac in #24. Matt Hawkins returns to pen an issue for the first time since #8, with a new artist, and creates some interesting comparison points with normal writer Bryan Hill. In the aftermath of the main arc, volume 7 shows the potential of what else “Postal” could be.
Certain publishing decisions by other major publishers have led me to be increasing disinterest in their product. One of the most effective hooks they have, due to their age and economic clout, is the ability to secure new and interesting talent for their properties. This revolving door creates a continuum of experiences that allows a book like “Batman” to be varied generically, tonally, and artistically. Some readers lament these shifts but I like them, viewing them as a chance to see how a creative team differs from another. Sandwiched between “Postal” #25 and “Laura” is the “Mark” special written by series creator Matt Hawkins with art by Raffaele Ienco. Together they don’t move or read like a Hill-Goodhart issue. This creative team strikes a tone closer to those first 8 issues that are co-written by Hawkins, with copious use of internal monologue and the isolation that creates, along with other little things such as the references to the Bible and related symbolism. These differences distinguish the creative teams from one another and expand the narrative potential for what an issue of “Postal” could be.
Early on one of the key narrative tools employed was internal monologue, primarily from Mark. It was a simple and effective tool to bring readers into the world and add character to the rest of the cast. When Matt Hawkins left as credited co-writer with issue #8 the use of that tool dropped precipitously with Hill more often employing it to clarify complex action or highlight a brief flair of emotion. That is not the case for “Mark” with just under half the issue (8 pages) featuring that blue-gray box filled with Mark’s thoughts from letter Troy Petri.
Hawkins scripting in this issue is more effective than earlier ones. It does a better job at representing the difference between Mark and a neurotypical person like his partner Maggie. The comic does a better job of expressing what Hawkins described in the backmatter, that his roommate and inspiration for the character didn’t feel like the same species as everyone else. This monologue when mixed with Ienco’s art creates a very isolated reading experience. In the early pages as Mark talks about the new names people call him behind his back, Ienco often employs an extreme high angle perspective. Even when the perspective pushes closer the environment is such that it denies a clear view of him. This visual isolation matches the feelings expressed in his thoughts.
These representational choices create a for a different read on Mark Shiffron, it changes how scenes like his brief encounter with Maggie at the diner playout compared to previous ones. Most scenes between the two in the Hill-Goodhart comics often revolve around Maggie’s inability to read Mark and him giving her all the time and space (sometimes literally) she needs, often with a light comedic element. In “Mark” with his running thoughts and panels cutting away to his kidnapped father, the reader is made very aware of all the thinking and decoding Mark is doing in the present moment when speaking to her. By intercutting these sequences it juxtaposes and draws a connection between his romantic checklist for Maggie and the checklist he has for father. Hill-Goodhart reads as more classic romcom, “Mark” reads with a facet of realism.Continued below
Structurally this issue also strays down a less traveled path in order to ramp up the drama from a straightforward question: What will Mark do to his Father? Will he kill him in one of the three ways on the cover or something else? In order to tease out that question the issue becomes something of a clips episode, briefly revisiting scenes from prior issues or to the start of the series.(If this wasn’t the end it’d be a good preview for people looking to read “Postal.”) These clip sequences are recontextualized with slightly different readings, in particular one with Laura on what constitutes and is the usefulness of “love” and its modes of expression. These new meanings help to if not write off, make the forced lobotomization of his father less heinous – symbolic patricide aside – by showing his thought process. The lobotomy continues the tactically brutal streak Mark has employed and learned from his parents, but without the aggrandizing spectacle they would’ve made out of such an act.
Of course the most obvious difference is Raffaele Ienco’s art. Ienco has done a number of books published by Top Cow and is the current artist on this series continuation, “Postal: Deliverance.” He employs different visual language from the use of perspective and page design compared to Goodhart. His line art and coloring are at the opposite end of Isaac Goodhart and K. Michael Russel’s work. Goodhart’s line work gave the book an updated “Archie” vibe. Ienco is somewhere in between Marc Silvestri and Philippe Delaby. Interestingly his use of color reads like a fusion between original colorist Betsy Goina’s lower value and blended application and Russel’s bolder rendering. His art sells the tone of Hawkins’ writing, with things like the highly realistic crow eye.
I wouldn’t consider “Postal: Mark” better than other issues, just different. That difference is important as it opens the door a crack to a new way of seeing what “Postal” could be and is.
Despite being a major figure in every issue of this collection, the nebulous time between issues doesn’t give Mark a traditionally smooth arc. Instead they highlight the various roles he now plays as a son, husband, and Mayor. The connection between #25 and “Laura” do pay off the unborn child plot and gives the volume a closed loop feel.
“Postal” #25 is primarily centered around Laura Shiffron and her guilt, but it has a profound effect on Mark as he learns his families original sin. The knowledge that his Mother was a party to the ritual sacrifice of an unknown sibling shakes him to his core. Finding out your Mother and town tried to kill your demagogic, abusive, Father, is rough. How that same Father murdered a sister you never knew as part of a complex revenge scheme is rougher. This latest revelation cements a pattern of familial murder that no amount of Zucko’s “that’s rough buddy” can console.
Shortly after finding all this out, he discovers Maggie is pregnant leading to the defiant statement that “his family must end.”
What stands out about this reaction his is reasoning behind it, it is fueled by superstition: that something about his genetic history is supernaturally, inherently, tainted or evil. During the consultation with the doctor the potential of the child being on the Autism spectrum is broached but it is his insistence that it would have his parents “legacy” that drives everything. Superstition is the opposite of Mark’s normally rational-empirical view of things. In his dealings with his Father in “Mark” he continually denounces his Father’s spirituality as a false quilt of poached pop culture.
This reaction leads to the opposite of action of how he and Maggie would normally handle the situation. The most chilling aspect is how much his actions mirror his Father. Normally Mark gives or attempts to give Maggie as much space as she needs to come to a conclusion. It was the foundation of a joke in issue #21. Hill writes Mark speaking for the both of them with “we” to the doctor, that linguistic unity belies the split between the two and his selfishness. Maggie is visually marginalized through this sequence. The initial “I want the baby” is in a diminutive medium shot with Goodhart’s body language selling the sentence like a whisper. She gets one close up, compared to Mark’s 4, when she has a strong declaration of “I do.” In his superstition Mark has isolated himself from his support structure and attempted unilateral action on a grueling decision that doesn’t even involve his body.Continued below
The ultimate fate and decision making process about the child is left to the gutter space, all we know is that in “Laura” (roughly a year after #24) there is a crib and no baby. Maggie mourns her loss while Mark pretends to mourn his.
In “Laura” Mark is playing a role he’d rather not, Mayor. The issue is a slice of life that drops in on where the cast is now a year later. Mark is the mayor. Maggie the town sheriff, with Curtis as a deputy. Rowan is the new mail man. Laura and Magnum have faked their deaths. Mark seems more willing to play the role this time around even as he bristles against the institutional memory of his Mother. She made herself a goddess in Eden, Mark doesn’t want apotheosis. The scene in the prison sell continues to show Mark’s subtler and effective brutality compared to his Mother.
This volume of “Postal” highlights how far Mark has gone over the course of the series and the new roles he’s taken on and showing how he is different and potential like his parents.
Hill and Goodhart close “Laura” out on a hopeful note with the adoption of an orphan baby girl they name Laura. Mark talks about the end of the Heaven and Hell aspect of Eden, WY as it being no longer useful while the new family lays in bed together. It is an ending that promises the chance for change.
Originally I intended for these Postal Notes to be out before the start of “Postal: Deliverance.” That didn’t happen. Having a couple issues of “Deliverance” to think about is useful, however. Back in Vol. 6 the series has its first quasi-dream sequence in a while. We see an older Mark with greying temples looking on to Maggie and their daughter from their beach house. By the next page the vision goes down in flames, revealed to be a drawing by Mark, “It would be nice if this could happen.” Compare that image with our first look at this family in “Deliverance.
The gap between phantasy and reality has never been more pronounced. These new scenes bring out the tragedy of Mark and Maggie. At the start of Vol. 6 Mark asked Maggie to run away with him and rip off his Mother. Instead Molly Schultz was right, he is stuck here while his Mother lives a life of boredom in Florida. It isn’t all bad, they have each other, but there is a tired quality to Mark’s expression from Ienco that echoes the frustrated Mark from Vol. 6 when the job was first thrust upon him.
It will be interesting to see if the trapped, dissatisfied feelings Mark hand in the initial run as Mayor bubble up to the surface in “Deliverance.”
Originally there was supposed to be an essay on Laura Shiffron in Postal Notes Vol. 2. Plans changed as I became more interest in other concepts, this was a good change since it gave you, the reader, a chance to read along and see the complexity and insecurity beneath Laura’s thorny, domineering, manipulative, abusive behaviors. In the first volume the writers used her correctly, presenting her as the harsh emotionally distance parent she is. That vision begins to be obscured in the second volume, with issue #6, as she becomes the primary focus for the first time and over the next 20 issues as readers get a better understanding of why she is the way she is. This isn’t condoning her actions, narratives are more enjoyable when they are less didactic and instead give the reader information and understanding and let them draw their own conclusions. “Postal” #25 is the series last major chance to explore the complex at times contradictory nature of the character.
A flash back in “Postal: Mark” provides the cleanest articulation of Laura’s views on love and relationships. When if she loves him by Mark, Laura counters with a list of things she’s done for him in her role as caregiver ending with “if being there and taking responsibility isn’t love then I’ve no use for love.” That’s Laura in a nutshell, go back and look at the way she treats Magnum there is an emotional connection and appreciation between the two, but it is primarily defined by transactional interactions – often one sided on her part.Continued below
Despite being referenced in the title of “Postal: Laura,” Laura Shiffron’s primary role is played in the double sized issues “Postal” #25 as everything comes out in the wake of Isaac’s defeat. In those pages we learn her deepest secrets and the answer to what Magnum meant when he said “The worst thing your Father ever did was make you Mother hate herself” back in issue #11. She ritually sacrificed her first child to a God she didn’t keep faith with or believe in, and it’s eaten away at her, even as the blood magic seems to have worked and protected Eden.
Three of Isaac Goodhart and K. Michael Russel’s best pages in this run are when she is telling Mark what she did. They follow the same pattern, the upper third focusing on Mark and Laura in two panels with the bottom two thirds showing the story. Russel’s decisions to show these pages shades of blue or red creates both excellent contrast plays into the heightened emotions Laura is feeling. Goodhart tracking of Laura as she slowly break down across three panels is some of the best character acting he’s ever done.
Laura Shiffron is not a good person. She is most definitely not a good mom. and with Isaac out of the way her knowledge of that failing all comes out. She emotionally abused her son, thinking of him only in terms of what is useful to her, not his own well being. These abuses are born from her own abuse at the hands of Isaac, mastering it an turning it into a sword and shield to protect her with. It doesn’t make what she did “right,” but you can connect the dots. With Isaac dealt with and the threat subsided, Laura is left with all her protective and aggressive actions that got her to this point and nothing left to fight.
Tormented in her dreams of what that child endured, she seeks out William aka Big Injun – who is reading The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion (or The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion depending on editions) by James Frazer originally published in 1890. Laura seeks absolution for what she did, “I set this place free of Him” she yells into the woods as if that should pay the debt. Eden is free of him, but it isn’t free from her. She honestly told Mark she would never let him leave Eden at the end of Vol. 6. She wants to be free of her past and continue to live in the space it created. While this scene is not as emotive or melodramatic, her conversation with William is the best at explaining her psychology and the effect of Isaac’s abuse had on her. She never believed what he did, and yet all these years later it is seeped into her unconscious where she must fulfill the bargain somehow to be free of it.
After deciding against replacing the sin eater with Mark and Maggie’s unborn child she decides to offer herself up instead, leading to a tense standoff with her son and the issue ending on quite the cliff hanger. Visually all the indications are that Laura fired the shot, the ravens are flying as “put the gun down” is repeated again. This of course is not the case, Laura and Magnum would eventually fake their deaths and move to Florida as seen in “Postal: Laura” and “Deliverance.”
The scene between Mother and Son is touching and echoes something she never did for him, but it also makes Isaac right. In issue #23 after praying and discussing Bremble’s lack of faith, Isaac parts stating that “we are not redeemed by our actions. We’re redeemed by our children.” Google defines redemption as “the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.” It is to be saved. Mark might not be able to absolve Laura of her previous actions, but he can save her from committing another sin in certain faiths, suicide, and he does. Laura was redeemed by her child.
“Postal” has shown a complex view of what it means to gain a sliver of redemption and the end result. Like Rowan, Laura’s past isn’t excused but context is offered. Now that she has been saved, what is she going to do with this new life? Judging by “Deliverance” something very good or very bad.Continued below
K. Michael Russel “Postal” #25 Cover Video