Puppet Master

Spoilers Ahead.

The final chapter is here. After three years, the Puppet Master comic series has come to a close. I’m sad to see it go, I wish I could continue to get these stories from month to month, but I’m also amazed that it lasted this long. We got a Puppet Master comic book with a three year run consisting of a total of twenty-five issues. This series expanded the mythology in smart and satisfying ways, but also did the much harder thing of not only attempting to fix plot holes, but to use those as jumping off points for new and exciting stories.

Writer Shawn Gabborin became something of an expert at that—dangling threads like Camille and the Bouldeston Institute led us to our new protagonist, Anthony. Revisiting the Retro Puppets led to the (sadly unfinished) “Retro Now” arc that saw a Jonestown-esque cult of people who actually wanted to abandon flesh for wooden bodies. The old was used to introduce and elevate the new and that is one of the key factors that will cement the Puppet Master comic’s, well, legacy.

The final issue of Curtain Call picks up immediately where the last one left off. There’s no room to breathe between any chapter in this final arc and part of me wonders if it would have been better off being released as a “Giant Sized” chapter in the classic X-Men tradition. We ended the previous issue with the shocking cliffhanger of Jester’s death and pick up immediately after that, with the puppets now fighting a losing battle.

Puppet Master Curtain CallThis is the biggest thing they’ve ever gone up against, these are the biggest stakes they’ve ever seen, and it is ultimately up to Anthony to save the day. What’s amazing is that Gabborin uses the same trick he’s used in this series once before in this series, and it works just as well the second time. In “Rebirth” one chapter ended with Joseph—then formerly Tunneler—being killed by his own puppet and let that hang for a month, only to proceed to take out every other member of the gang in the next issue. Last issue, we saw Jester die. This issue, we get to see every puppet get taken down as well.

Of course, we know that the puppets can be repaired, can be brought back to life at pretty much any time. And I think that’s the smartest thing Gabborin did when writing this issue. He was counting on us knowing that, on us questioning the stakes, to make the ending of the issue that much more impactful. As was set up in Puppet Master III, these characters chose life after death. They chose to keep fighting. In “Rebirth” we saw that the afterlife was of no comfort to them, a Hell that they had to bargain to escape. But that’s gone now. Ultimately, this final chapter if not this entire series is about bringing them to the decision not to keep fighting. They don’t have to anymore.

For the puppets, there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel. For nearly eighty years, they’ve been manipulated, forced to do things they did not want to do and have even done some things of their own accord that they’ve wound up regretting. They’ve been fighting this battle a long time, and they’ve earned a rest. As a fan, the decision speaks volumes. Sure, the characters have kept going without letting up, but so has the franchise. Maybe the puppets do deserve to be at peace, at least for a little while.

And that’s another great decision, made by the ending as well. The puppets are gone—all but one of them, at least—but they’re not gone forever. They make no illusions about the fact that they will be back. Of course they will be. Even when the earth is scorched by nuclear war and the cockroaches have taken over, Charles Band will still be producing Puppet Master movies. The story will keep going—but not here. Not right now. The decision the puppets make has real and earnest weight to it.

Puppet Master Curtain CallIt’s also important that that decision is reached without Anthony feeling like he’s failed as a puppet master now that they’ve gone to rest. He was their caretaker for a very short time, made them do some questionable things and led them to the decision to stay dead rather than re-enter the puppet bodies once more. But this is, for Anthony, about learning responsibility and literally conquering his demons. By the end of this issue, he’s grown up a lot and it feels completely natural.

One of the things I love about this ending is that it feels like a passing of the torch back to the fans. Ultimately, fans will always be conceiving their own stories, dreaming up their own scenarios, because that’s just the nature of fandom and of concepts and characters like this. People feel inspired by them. You can imagine anything that happens after the end of this comic and you’d be right. The puppets could return from the greatest or most horrific adventure you can think of. It’s especially true for Blade, who is the only puppet who chooses to remain as such. Many fans have speculated as to what a solo Blade adventure could be like, and now the greatest Blade spinoff feels like it could begin the moment this comic ends.

Of course, the true impact of this ending is that it manages to wrap up three years of stories—old characters, new characters, even new characters made out of old characters—in a way that feels natural and truly complete. This series has taken many different turns, but it feels like one story and that’s no easy feat to pull off. The final shot of the trunk being lowered into Toulon’s grave, with Blade left alone to watch Anthony and Cedar walk off into the sunset—it’s heartrending for a fan, but hopeful and even somewhat sweet. It’s an image perfectly realized by Daniel J. Logan as well.

The people who manage to evoke emotions like that in a title about killer puppets, from Gabborin and Logan to Michela Da Sacco and Andrew Mangum and everyone who has worked on the title, need to be commended. It’s not an easy thing to pull off. But each and every person who worked on this book made it look easy. Even though it’s over, it is already clearly one of those things that will always be remembered and ultimately celebrated by the fans.

WICKED RATING: 9/10