Comic Corner, Issue #2: “The Punisher” (2004)

(Before I begin the post proper, let me say that it’s unfortunate, if not entirely unexpected, that people who suck at life have grossly misunderstood the character of The Punisher, and subsequently co-opted his – admittedly badass – skull insignia for their own dipshit reasons.[1] Despite that, I still thoroughly enjoy the character, and doubt that will ever change. More to the point, I refuse to allow people who suck to ruin the fun – especially when considering that Frank Castle, if real, would hate these people even more than I do. In short, illegitimi non carborundum.[2] If you like the character and hate that it’s being corrupted by fucking assholes, co-creator Gerry Conway has launched Skulls for Justice– a t-shirt campaign designed to “[re]claim this symbol,” with 100% of money raised going to Black Lives Matter. – Ted)

(One last note: I try to avoid spoilers below, at least for specific events. Some general moments are covered, but these are things you would expect to happen in a Punisher comic and so I don’t really consider them spoilers. In places where I do mention explicit spoilers, I mark them. – Ted.)

The Punisher

  • Publisher: Marvel Comics
  • Published: Beginning 2004
  • Writers (Issues 1-60):
    • Garth Ennis
  • Illustrators (Volume One):
    • Leandro Fernandez
    • Lewis Larosa
    • Darick Robertson

Garth Ennis didn’t create Frank Castle, otherwise known as The Punisher.[3] Nor did he attempt to recreate him.[4] However, he did seem to understand the character, cutting away layers of unnecessary chaff in order to get to Frank’s core, and only making additions that made sense and fit. 

Ennis understood that the character was simple: Marine makes it home from war only to have his family brutally murdered in Central Park, decides that all criminals must die.[5] In the first five or so pages of the first issue Ennis did on the MAX[6] imprint, we get an understanding of the character, his backstory, and his motivations: “The world went crazy on a summer’s day in Central Park… And now every night I go out and make the world sane.” Quick, to the point, simple. This isn’t Watchmen, but then again it isn’t trying to be. And, as I’ve said before, “simple” is not synonymous with “bad.”

That said, Ennis’ run isn’t entirely “simple,” regardless of what definition you use. He packs in passably complicated characters, generally speaking, although I can admit a few are as flat as the paper they’re printed on. He weaves together story threads over time. Characters reappear, but never in a way that screams “Hey, look, remember this person?” Ennis is astute enough to have each reappearance make sense, and never feel too cute or convenient. He inserts our reality where needed, whether to satirize or examine ours,[7] or just give a little more believability and depth to the world he created.

Ennis generally succeeds in these attempts, going so far as to exclude all superheroes from his stories. Other recognizable faces do appear from time to time, like I said, so it isn’t just the Frank Castle show.[8] All said, though, the world that Frank and company inhabit, though believable, is not realistic.[9]It is still very recognizable as a comic book world.[10] Then again, that is probably for the best. Frank Castle in the real world is a monster, a bona fide war criminal, and deserving of a tribunal at the Hague and the gallows – in that order. Frank Castle, comic book character? Praise God and pass the ammunition.

So, like I said, maybe it’s for the best Frank only inhabits the stark black and white, good and evil world of comic books. Since there are no stakes, it doesn’t matter that the characters commit such gruesome actions. (A specific spoiler is coming up.) And gruesome the actions are. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t part of why I liked it. For example, when Frank burns an Eastern European sex trafficker alive, recording the inferno as a warning to any of the dying man’s old-world compatriots with a “don’t come back here?” Yes, it turns out I am very pro that happening.[11]

I have recommended this series for years, to mixed receptions. If you’re a fan of the character, I can almost guarantee you’ll enjoy these. If you’re not a fan, it could go either way. As I said before these were published under the MAX imprint, so it’s not unlike reading an R-rated comic. A very graphic R. Aside from the extreme violence, there is profanity and some less than savory dialogue, and some other heavy themes and topics. Is it for everyone? No, not at all. Is it worth reading? I think so.[12]

I am going out on a limb and assuming that everyone who reads this is capable of making their own decisions regarding the art and media they partake in, so don’t take my word for it based on a blog post I wrote over a weekend. Research it for yourself; read some other posts about it. If you read it, cool. If you enjoy it, even better. If you don’t do either, that’s OK. The cool thing about comics, and the greater “nerd culture” macrocosm, is that there is something for everybody.[13]

If you’re interested, the entire MAX series of The Punisher was re-released with the omnibus treatment. This is pretty cool, as a lot of the books had become pretty difficult to find. As always, check out your local shops first. Even if they don’t have it in stock, they may work with you to order it. They probably also have the knowledge to recommend other things you may (or may not) like also. Some other information can be found at goodreads, including where you can order it online if you don’t have, don’t know of, or are unable to visit a local comic shop. 

[1]Exhibit A: Gross and wrong.

[2]Dog Latin (read as: nonsense) meaning “don’t let the bastards bring/grind you down.”

[3]No, that credit goes to writer Gerry Conway, and artists John Romita, Sr., and Ross Andru.

[4]I am referring here to the now infamous and oft-ridiculed 1998 series Purgatory, wherein the Punisher becomes a (literal) avenging angel. The blame for this is placed firmly at the feet of not only the authors – Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski, who I am sure are not terrible so much as misguided – but everyone who allowed it to happen. Shame.

[5]There have been some retcons to the character for various reasons, such as to keep him in line with the floating Marvel timeline. Some of these changes have worked better and made more sense than others. I tend to agree with former Punisher author Chuck Dixon that some characters – particularly their origins – don’t need to be muddled with. Anyway, for the purposes of this post, I will be focusing on the timeline and characterization used by Ennis. 

[6]A hit-and-miss sub-section of Marvel used for, essentially, R-rated comics. Ennis’ run on The Punisher, the first sixty issues, to me stands as the pinnacle of what MAX offered and is in fact among my favorite runs in comics ever.

[7]Like art is, you know, supposed to do. I grant you, this isn’t high art, but I’m counting it.

[8]Most notably Nick Fury, in his original, grizzled WWII vet form – albeit with a little added Ennis flair. While I do take a ton of enjoyment from the updated Ultimate turned canon iteration of Fury, modeled after and later played by Samuel L. Jackson, the cigar-chomping commando will always have a soft spot in my heart. 

[9]I wish I could recall who to attribute this idea to; I believe I read it in a Wizard magazine years ago. Anyway, it was something like: Comics can be believable, but never realistic. A believable Batman story is that he uses high-tech gear and martial arts to beat up street criminals. A realistic Batman story is that he slips off of a roof on a rainy night and falls 30 stories to his death. Paraphrasing, but that gets the point across.

[10]Maybe this is a problem to me, having read a lot of comics. I wonder if others have a similar outlook, or if this one is on me. Would love to hear some other takes. 

[11]I refuse to apologize for that, too.


[13]For better or worse. 

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