Punishing Punisher

Bloggified by Jake on Monday, January 30, 2006

I have made no attempt to hide the fact I love the Punisher and I love Garth Ennis and the combination of Garth Ennis and the Punisher for these many years has been the one constant joy for me in comics.

Well, admittedly, it hasn't been quite as constant as I'd like to convince myself. I've made references in a few past posts about the storyline that almost made me give up on Ennis's Punisher, but unless you actually read it, it's hard to imagine just how bad it was. One problem I've long had with Ennis is his need to periodically take a break from good solid storytelling to do something completely bizarre for pure shock value. Let me stress there is a difference between bizarre to promote a storyline--such as the guy in Preacher who cut off people's faces and stapled them back on upside-down--and bizarre for shock value alone--such as the guy in Preacher who made a sex doll out of raw meat.

Fortunately, Punisher moved from the Marvel Knights line to the MAX line a few months after this, following an over-the-top battle between Frank Castle and Daredevil, Wolverine, and Spider-Man that reunited Ennis with Hitman co-creator John McCrea. The move to the adult format revitalized the character and Ennis's interest.

Before even discussing the story, I have to give Tom Mandrake some credit for his work outside this run. As the artist on Spectre for about 60-70 issues in the early 90's, he was very good. His style, however, doesn't really work for the Punisher's urban war. Admittedly, Ennis's story has some of the horror story elements where Mandrake shines, but for the other 90% of the story, Mandrake's art is just plain ugly.

Every issue of this arc begins and ends with a flashback to this creepy looking cartoony kid and his collosally fat mother.In the present, Ennis makes some kind of attempt at social commentary, addressing the homeless problem in America. In doing so, he portrays the homeless as ranting lunatics unable to speak complete sentences without meaningless gibberish and those who help the homeless as bleeding heart liberals who see "uncaring" as the only evil in the world.

At a homeless shelter, people are lined up to get food when one of them starts throwing a fit and babbling about the "man down below."The social worker at the shelter asks this obviously psychopathic man to take her to meet the "man down below," certain she can't be hurt while cloaked in her goodie-goodiness. When her friend tries to convince her it might not be a good idea to follow a mentally deranged man into the bowels of abandonned subway tunnels, he's immediately dismissed for not caring enough about the downtrodden masses.

Meanwhile, the Punisher sees fit to make an appearance in his own book, pursuing mobsters into the subway. One of them runs down a tunnel and Punisher takes chase. Unfortunately, both he and the criminal get lost in the underground labyrinth. Eventually, the criminal runs out in front of a train wrapping up that plot device and allowing the Punisher to turn his attention elsewhere, just in time to save our social worker friend, who has surprisingly been betrayed by the homeless sociopath.

The social worker finds herself staring down a group of a dozen or so homeless men and starts screaming for help, which the Punisher provides in the form of a hail of bullets.Another group of homeless thugs comes after them and the Punisher and the social worker are separated. She falls through a manhole, though it's never clear why there is a manhole in a subway access tunnel, and lands atop a pile of dead bodies... about seven stories high.

The flashbacks continue with the weird little boy's extremely obese mother telling him a bedtime story while eating two dozen hot wings.Back in the present, we see what became of the little boy as he emerges from the Mount Everest of murdered bodies, setting up a scenario that makes Preacher's meatfucker look as mild-mannered as Clark Kent.The story is that this guy pays some homeless guys to kidnap people "who won't be missed," toss them on top of the pile, and bleed them out. He then lives in the pile, where he squirms around naked.

When his mother died, we learn, it was almost a week before her body was discovered. He was pinned beneath her enormous girth that entire time, and had to eat her flesh and drink her blood to survive. It was the happiest time of his life and he's taken to the murder of thousands to relive it every day.What's unclear is where this guy got the money to pay his homeless army. He doesn't appear to have a job, as I doubt most employers would hire someone who came in smelling like the rotting juices of twenty thousand corpses. There couldn't have been a legal settlement as his mother didn't choke on a defective hot wing. He doesn't have rich relatives to inherit money from because he's taken to an orphange after his mom dies.

Argh! So little of this story makes sense, I'm almost embarrassed to focus on something like the financials. Anyway, the Punisher shows up with a flamethrower and burns all the bodies, blows up some homeless people, and the pacifict social worker comes to understand the all-important lesson that there are times in life where you just have to kill a whole lot of people.

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