The Punisher Presents Barracuda (2007)

The Punisher Presents Barracuda  2007

Barracuda is one of Garth Ennis’s… what shall we call them… NC-17 action comedy limited series. He’s got a bunch of them at Vertigo, a few a handful of other places. The difference with Barracuda is it’s for Marvel (it’s the only Punisher MAX spin-off, which is something since Ennis loved spin-offs for Preacher and The Boys) and it’s maybe a little more… edgy as a pejorative for that thing White guys do edgy. Bad Tarantino and Tarantino knock-offs. Every twentieth word or so from series hero Barracuda is starts with ni- and ends in -ga. I wonder if you counted them you could figure out how many the editors at Marvel let Ennis have each issue….

Then there’s the main villain, Big Chris (as in Christopher Walken—Barracuda works best when you read Chris’s lines in Walken’s voice, which the lettering actually works towards, and Barracuda in JB Smoove’s, though you’d never really want to see Smoove play Barracuda as Barracuda’s a vicious sociopathic cannibal and Smoove’s really likable). Starting with Big Chris’s return to the story—he hires Barracuda in the first part, then Barracuda betrays him in the second, and Big Chris is back in the third issue and calling Barracuda a different racial epithet at the end of every sentence. Because Barracuda buys into brothers in arms—Airborne, crime, etc—over racism. Because it’s funny to have a racist sheriff hang out with Barracuda and call him slurs. It’s the kind of post-racist thing you’d expect to see after Obama was president but Ennis is a trailblazer so it’s a couple years early.

It also doesn’t add up to anything so it’s kind of pointless to look at it so hard.

Ennis fills the five issue series with eclectic, funny but unlikable characters. There’s Barracuda, obviously, who—at least in this series—only sexually assaults men; the women are all willing. He puts together various plans throughout, which keep changing based on his inability to successfully predict how his machinations will play out. We don’t get a lot of the plans. Occasionally Ennis showcases them with a monologue or two, but more often we hear the adjustments when Barracuda’s telling other people about them.

The biggest subplot in the series are these two FBI agents, one old, one young, who are trying to use Barracuda’s plotting to arrest Big Chris. It all takes place in a fictional South American Reagan Republic, where Barracuda and his team of military advisors slaughtered the existing socialist government to put drug-runner Leopoldo in charge. Lots of great real American history stuff here, though it’s just garnish. Oddly, Goran Parlov’s art is best on the FBI guys, just for their expressions. The older one’s in sunglasses but the curve of his lips, you can see what he’s thinking. Great work from Parlov.

So Leopoldo’s the drug-running dictator, Wanda is his ex-porn star wife who’s sleeping with Barracuda, there’s the child molesting priest hiding out with them—I forgot for how long “adult” humor just meant directly targeting Howard Stern listeners. Barracuda’s there because Big Chris has entrusted him with Oswald, his only son. Oswald’s supposed to kill Leopoldo. Barracuda double-crosses Big Chris for Leopoldo, then will try to double-cross Leopoldo to take both him and Big Chris out. Plans within plans.

Oswald’s a hemophiliac and, therefore, can’t be touched or in any way injured.

Fifty is Barracuda’s fellow military advisor from the eighties who went to work at the Pentagon but is a closeted trans woman, which Barracuda somehow knows abut but maybe has never seen Fifty dressed for her gender. It’s unclear. Ennis’s take on it seems to be so transphobic it’s no longer transphobic? He also throws in some homophobia but… again, is it through the looking glass and circular? Doesn’t matter, because there’s no reason to read Barracuda. Not even for Punisher MAX completists. It’s not great or even good really, but it’s not incompetent or bad. Ennis just doesn’t have a story and tries to mug his way through it. Parlov’s art is good but it’s not particularly interesting stuff. It starts in Florida, which is basically just as tropical as the South American city-state; actually, Barracuda’s adventures in Florida seem more interesting than his attempted coup with an eclectic supporting cast.

Can’t wait to see what Disney does with the property.

The Punisher (2004) #49, Widowmaker, Part 7 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  49

Bill Reinhold’s back on inks—solo—this issue. It doesn’t have to be Tom Palmer, it could be someone else, but it needs to be someone else because Medina and Reinhold completely botch the finish. Ennis is going for something—something confused, because there have been too many issues in the arc and not enough focused ones, but something and the art screws it up. The final page (to the issue and arc) is a full page spread of hero Punisher in what ought to be a tragic, noir-ish Punisher. It’s an absolute fail and you’ve got to wonder what the editors were thinking okaying that page for the finale.

It looks less like the conclusion of an arc about Frank discovering what’s sown in the blood he’s spilled and more like reference art for a special edition Slurpee cup. It’s a really bad final page. The art’s wanting throughout—Medina’s pacing of the final shootout is deliberate without being interesting; that last page is a disaster. Especially since it’s a sunrise scene. It doesn’t exactly ruin the arc, but it definitely leaves it on some wobbly ground.

Ennis tries to bring everything together while still mostly following vengeance-seeker Jenny. She takes on the other widows before kidnapping her sister and tying her to a chair in front of Frank’s bed. Frank’s still recuperating; he opens the issue, watching TV, narrating about what a bum rap the news is giving the Sam Jackson but not Sam Jackson cop, then imagines how Jenny’s final run on the widows is going.

The cop spends the issue internally debating whether or not he’s going to cross the line into Punisher-like vengeance, but he’s always a few steps behind Jenny so he doesn’t get the chance until the end. Shame Ennis cuts away from the scene between the cop and Frank, which might’ve been really good. Instead, there’s no time for the cop, so quick wrap-up. Frank’s still got some thinking—and narrating—to do about his encounter with Jenny, which has a horrifying conclusion; Ennis starts the final narration like it’s going to go somewhere interesting, somewhere significant. Jenny’s had a lot to say about Frank, both as man and symbol, but it all gets wrapped up with a pretty little bow instead of another albatross for Frank. I mean, it’s possible it’d have worked out if Medina and Reinhold hadn’t so bungled the last page, but it would’ve had to be a great page. The conclusion reads like Ennis knows he has to give some postscript from Frank but doesn’t want to get too deep into anything because, really, we should’ve been getting Frank narration throughout.

Same bad eye closeup reactions too. Medina really did this arc a disservice; he’s way too bland for the story.

The Punisher (2004) #48, Widowmaker, Part 6 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  48

Tom Palmer on inks this issue—he also did some of the previous issue’s inks; he makes Medina’s pencils look a lot more pensive. People are thinking, listening, far better than before. Even if maybe Palmer on inks just show off how Medina isn’t the right fit for the material. It’s mostly a talking heads issue, people standing around talking, sitting around talking. Lots of both. Along with Ennis’s very questionable AAVE with the Black female character, who’s angry this issue and speaking in a lot more contractions than before. She’s also not really thinking. See, it’s crisis time for the widows—the Punisher’s probably out there, Jenny the other widow is out there gunning for them, plus the cop (who no longer looks anything like Sam Jackson besides basic description thanks to Palmer) is questioning them. The issue opens with the questioning. Ennis going through everything a reader might have missed as far as the widows and their plan to take out Big Frank.

The exposition is some padding. It’s a decent scene thanks to Ennis’s sense of humor with the cop, but it’s all padding. Get the arc to seven issues; sure, it probably makes it easier to pick up and read just this issue, which isn’t really a usual concern for six issue arcs. And Ennis isn’t too concerned with it anyway. He’s intentionally padding here. Plus, bringing the cop in for the exposition dump with the widows and being likable makes it all the worse when tragedy befalls the cop—at the widows’ behest—to get him into position as a potential Punisher himself.

Meanwhile, Frank and Jenny spend the issue hanging out while Jenny prepares for her final assault on the widows. Frank’s healing, she’s talking about herself. He’s trying to be… sensitive, which she doesn’t have much time for. She’s got her take on the Punisher, the emotional void of Frank Castle, and she’s not off. She talks, he listens, often with these reaction shots emphasizing his baby blues; Frank’s tragedy and Jenny’s tragedy are completely different but the emotional deadness is the same. They’re similar because of circumstances, coincidences, brokenness; despite her “heroizing” him, she’s able to see him without romance. There ought to be some kind of juxtaposing with O’Brien, Frank’s previous female counterpart, but Ennis doesn’t. He stays out of Frank’s head this issue. It’s all from Jenny’s perspective and then just the observations she’s sharing (with Frank and the reader).

The soft cliffhanger—rather viscerally—sets up the next issue’s finale, while also commenting on Frank the symbol, Frank the man, Frank the not-mentor, Jenny the not-protege, Jenny the widow, and Frank the, no pun, widow maker. There’s a lot of meat to Widowmaker, too much for Ennis to chew but he certainly does gnaw here.

The Punisher (2004) #47, Widowmaker, Part 5 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  47

It’s not a light issue. There’s barely any Frank; he’s just sitting around and listening to sixth widow Jenny tell him her life story. She was a mafia princess. She got married off to a full-on psychopath who, on a good night, just beat and raped her. The other mob widows knew about it, lied to her to get her into the marriage, handled her to keep her at home once she was in. Nothing changed until Frank killed the husband, just another dead crook reaching for his pistol. Then Jenny lost a husband and got diagnosed with breast cancer (what Ennis laid on a little thick in the first issue no longer seems it, not after the recounted horrors of her married life); when she decided, fatalistically, to go to the FBI, her big sister arranged to have her killed. The killers botched it. Fast-forward ten years—which seems like a bit too long but whatever—and Jenny’s back to take them out, Frank having considerably thinned the mob herd since she’d been gone.

Ennis and Medina go all in on the awfulness of Jenny’s life, the intensity and constancy of the abuse being enough to get them past any lingering questions about whether it’s too much, dramatically speaking. Or Ennis’s writing for the Jenny character’s narration being a little too light on specific personality. It’s a heavy comics, with the release valves being the widows trying to figure out what they’re going to do after failing their first shot at the Punisher.

They’re finding out the same things Frank and the reader are finding out from the narrated flashbacks. Everyone’s getting on the same page, including the not Sam Jackson anymore Sam Jackson cop, who’s piecing together the widows’ plan for the attempted hit on Frank. He only gets a page, just to remind readers he’s still around. There are two issues left, after all. Anything could be coming next.

Ennis closes it out without a cliffhanger, just a feeling of profound sadness over its broken “heroes,” Punisher Frank and the widow he made.

It’s an unpleasant read, especially for a mainstream book, even for Punisher MAX, but Ennis pulls it off. He’s able to keep the humanity, no matter how awful the specifics.

The Punisher (2004) #46, Widowmaker, Part 4 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  46

Ennis brings all the threads together this issue. Frank, the widows, the mystery woman, the cop. The cliffhanger resolve has Frank taking one to the chest. The issue opens with Frank thinking about how unlikely the house where the damsel widow has brought him seems like a front for a trafficking operation. He’s just about to bail when he gets shot. Ennis sticks to the ambushing widows for most of the action (including a somewhat confusing sequence—Medina’s fault—about why they can’t take a second shot). Then the mystery woman shows up and saves Frank and guts the damsel, which is the most gory the arc’s actually gotten so far. Or maybe seeing intestines exposed to oxygen just seems like the most gore.

But I think it’s the most.

Anyway. The mystery woman saves Frank, leaving the remaining widows to deal with the arriving cops and recover from a launched grenade, bringing the not Sam Jackson Sam Jackson cop into the issue. His investigation is a bit of a water tread; Ennis gets in a (very dated) jab at “C.S.I. New York” and recaps the opening action into exposition to get the cop caught up. But other than the cop figuring out the four women in the bad neighborhood late at night and discovering their identities, it’s just filler. Widowmaker is the first seven issue arc—instead of six—so there’s going to be filler. It’s not bad filler, but it’s definitely filler.

The widows regroup and calm down, with the leader realizing the mystery woman is the actually her little sister (who’s been mentioned in hushed tones since the first issue of the arc because there’s some kind of joint history involving all the widows and the little sister). Meanwhile, the little sister is busy patching Frank up. The soft cliffhanger reveals she’s yet another widow made by the Punisher, except instead of hating Frank, she’s his biggest fan (or so she says). Ennis does a fine job getting the reader wondering about the explanation but it’s time for the issue to be over so something for next time.

It’s a bit of a stretched issue, but still a good one. Maybe Medina and Reinhold aren’t the most interesting when it comes to the cop questioning and investigating scenes, but they do all right enough. It’s unclear why all the widows are wearing the same green turtleneck sweaters; you’d think the cops—even the dumb ones—would notice they’re in matching outfits. But apparently not.

Ennis treads water well and the build-up to the cliffhanger—specifically the widows freaking out over their plan gone wrong—works well.

The Punisher (2004) #45, Widowmaker, Part 3 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  45

Lots of action this issue. Frank’s taking out of a convoy of mob cars—the first page has Medina and Reinhold doing photo-reference on James Gandolfini but the character never figures in later so it’s not The Punisher vs. The Sopranos—but there’s a catch. The widows have put their decoy damsel in distress in one of the trunks and it’s her job to convince Frank to go with her into a trap. Since he’s a dumb lug when it comes to endangered women, he’ll go for it.

The comic goes from the action to the widows figuring out their plan. They luck out because one of them is willing to sleep with the mobsters to get information… and to just generally distract them. Ennis doesn’t specifically contrast the mobsters’ inability to refuse an easy lay with Frank’s weakness for women in danger, but there’s a general mood to it: men aren’t bright.

While the widows are plotting, they’ve got the mystery woman following them around and watching from afar. The issue’s either from the widows’ perspectives or the mobsters’. Frank gets some action-packed panels, but other than his full page establishing shot, the firefight is entirely from the mobsters’ perspective. No narration. Even when he finds the damsel, it’s still from her perspective, with Ennis offering no hint at how Frank is processing her bullshit story, which the reader knows all about.

It is a juxtaposition as far as Frank’s damsel in distress weakness and the mob guys thinking more with the little head than the big, but there’s nothing explicit about it. It’s a fact of life, kind of like how Ennis utilizes the randy widow. At least one of the other women seem to understand the plan only works because of the randy one’s willingness, but Ennis doesn’t dwell. He’s got the story he’s doing and he doesn’t get distracted. There’s a lot of context, which he establishes, but doesn’t engage.

The issue ends on a hard cliffhanger: Frank walking right into the trap, presumably unaware of anything being amiss, blinded by his sympathy.

It’s very nicely plotted, even if it is just moving Frank into position for what comes next. It doesn’t feel particularly bridging thanks to Ennis splitting the action sequence up with the widows’ plotting. He also gives the mobsters under attack just enough personality to keep things moving. It’s an efficient, effective issue.

The Punisher (2004) #44, Widowmaker, Part 2 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  44

Ennis opens the issue with Frank killing a couple child pornographers. It’s a few pages, with Frank considering his options considering the kids (and victims) are at home, as well as how much he wants to watch the perpetrators suffer. The growing itch he didn’t realize he had the desire to scratch. It’s Ennis’s long-term character development with Frank as the series progresses, understanding and exploring what’s going on under the skin.

After the opening, Frank’s out of the issue. Ennis splits the rest between the widows, the mystery woman stalking the widows, and Black NYPD detective Paul Budiansky.

The widows decide they’ve figured out Frank’s weakness—vulnerable women—from reading about The Slavers arc. Ennis plays their scenes for a combination of comedy and exposition, in case someone picking up Widowmaker had somehow missed the early arc and needed some catch-up. It’s fine exposition and decent enough comic relief (there’s no other place for it in the issue), but it’s all set up for the mystery woman, who’s right on the widows’ heels.

The mystery woman gets a scene where—if the reader paid attention last issue—there’s a bit of information conveyed. A little of the mystery revealed. Though it takes a reader who’s not just paying attention to the many Italian surnames the comic throws around, but also interrupted exclamation statements. Even though he’s very thorough with the expository catch-up, Ennis seems confident his reader is paying at least some attention.

Black NYPD detective Paul Budiansky—who Medina and Reinhold visualize half the time as Sam Jackson, half the time as… someone else; not Sam Jackson—is a complete aside. His big scene is in a mandatory therapy session with a shrink who condescends to him in an incredibly unprofessional manner. Budiansky took out a school shooter, saving kids but also killing one, and Ennis juxtaposes him and his processing of the event with Frank (as Budiansky—and everyone else—is as aware of Frank as Frank’s oblivious to them). Then there’s a scene with Budiansky and his wife as they try to support one another being Black people working in White supremacist institutions (he’s a cop, she’s a nurse).

The arc’s shaping up to be both accessible and not. Ennis is laying out the pieces, examining them as he does, situating them in relation to one another—how does Budiansky’s story look through this lens, how does it look when the lens is tilted (the loving husband bit is a—pleasant—surprise). Ennis is never too obvious, even with the deliberate expository sections, but he always spends enough time on each piece to make it resonate.

It’s not the most exciting comic—Frank taking out the bad guys at the open intentionally doesn’t get to have the emotional pay-off the Punisher offing child pornographers could easily have—instead it’s a gradual, intentional one.

Medina and Reinhold’s art, with the possible exception of Budiansky looking markedly different between his two scenes, is solid.

The Punisher (2004) #43, Widowmaker, Part 1 (of 7)

The Punisher  2004  43

There’s barely any Frank in this issue. He opens it—gets the first two pages, then writer Garth Ennis shifts the action entirely to the villains. Frank’s been up against the mob, he’s been up against the Russians, he’s been up against big business, but now he’s up against a group of women he’s widowed.

Hence the arc title.

Their story—five women who band together to try to do what the men can’t, kill the Punisher—is separate from what it seems like Frank’s got going on. He narrates the first two pages, thinking about how he’s back to the basics, not torturing criminals anymore in imaginative ways, just terrifying them into talking then putting one in the head. Given the last arc has left Frank with many of the MAX series’s threads tied, not necessarily neatly either, he’s in a new place. A somewhat self-reflective one, where he’s not unsure of himself as much as interested in what not being unsure says about him.

The women have varied histories with the Punisher. Three of them just had their mobster husbands killed (one of them is widowed from a previous arc’s supporting player), one of them stands out because she’s a Black woman (which causes problems for one of the other widows), the organizer calls back to the first issue of the series when Frank took out almost fifty mobsters in the same family. She’s the daughter and granddaughter of the family. They bicker amongst themselves a little—actually it’s mostly telling the racist one to stop being racist and get with the program—then tell their stories, which Ennis flashes back.

He juxtaposes the widows’ plotting with another woman’s night out at the bar, picking up a rando, beating the shit out of him when he gets crosses a line (despite him being a shitheel, he doesn’t actually realize the line’s there… or what being disrespectful is going to get him). The issue ends with the somewhat problematic reveal the woman has had a double mastectomy. She’s also scarred on the face, which she had make-up concealing before… but that detail’s not the emphasis. The double mastectomy is the end reveal, making the issue—which features some questionably written AAVE from the Black widow—maybe Ennis’s most problematic?

But it’s also the most ambitious he’s ever gotten with the villains. He’s giving the mob widows all the power of being just as awful as their husbands. It’s rocky, but far from unsuccessful.

Good art from Lan Medina and Bill Reinhold. There’s a lot of detail, though Medina’s Frank is kind of boring. He’s a generic big guy with nowhere near the personality Medina and Reinhold put into the widows, which doesn’t really work. Showing Frank from their perspectives—their imaginations—would be something. Instead, he’s even more generic and bland (he looks like marketing key art) in the flashbacks than he appears in the first couple pages.

From the first issue, it certainly seems like Widowmaker is going to be a far more intimate affair than Punisher MAX, Frank, and Ennis have been having lately.

Punisher: The Platoon #6 (April 2018)

Punisher: The Platoon #6

Here’s the thing about Garth Ennis. His story arcs might read well in trade. His limited series might read great in a sitting. But he writes comic books. He paces comic books. And Punisher: The Platoon #6 is one hell of a comic book.

Ennis goes an unexpected route resolving the previous issue’s cliffhanger. He uses the frame a lot, revealing the frame isn’t a frame so much as a perch. It’s the reader point of view, whether they know it or not. Ennis has his epical story arc and juxtaposing and it flows nicely, but these things aren’t the most important thing. The most important thing is how the comic has read and reads.

Because Ennis delivers. He confirms he made a promise earlier in the series–one entirely without verbalization–and he delivers on it. He shows he can do this comic and do a war comic and also do a Punisher comic and then he moves past proving he and Parlov’s abilities to someplace else.

Or maybe Ennis just wanted to make a bunch of grown men cry. With the added bonus it’s a Punisher comic making them cry. It’s one hell of a comic.

Parlov’s art is on, of course. There are a lot of talking heads moments cut into the big action–with the narration and the talking heads so strong the big action flashback panels are almost intrusive. They don’t break the pacing because they’re supposed to be intrusive. Ennis is sort of doing the Wizard of Oz reveal on how the comic works and he needs to get the reader alert.

Damn.

What a comic. The issue and the series. Ennis and Parlov.

Damn.

CREDITS

6: Happy Childhoods; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Nick Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Punisher: The Platoon #5 (March 2018)

The Punisher: Platoon #5.

One issue to go. Why am I so surprised Ennis is bringing the two plotlines together–Frank and his platoon, the Viet Cong and the female soldier. But he handles it in a way it can surprise, even after a whole issue of visual reminders the two subplots are very, very close to intersecting.

Ennis and Parlov do it on the last page. They completely change what Platoon might be about. They introduce all sorts of new potential in the penultimate issue. In the last page. Because Ennis has been so careful at advancing the Viet Cong plot line. He never neglects it.

The Frank plot line has the platoon on a body reclamation mission. Ennis gets some history and some commentary out of that subject. Parlov gets to do some gorgeous green landscapes. Those Jordie Bellaire colors. Then, little by little, Frank and the platoon lose the sky. It’s not night, they’re just going deeper and deeper into the jungle. It’s incredibly claustrophobic.

And it’s all a distraction so Ennis can bring out the proverbial big gun. He foreshadows it a little and builds expectation, but it’s still a surprise; the foreshadowing is nonspecific, ditto the expectation. Parlov and Ennis pace this issue deftly, confidently guiding the reader to the cliffhanger.

Next issue’s going to be something.

CREDITS

5: Deadfall; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Nick Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Punisher: The Platoon #4 (February 2018)

Punisher: The Platoon #4

The tragedy of Punisher: The Platoon is almost unbearable. Ennis juxtaposes the Americans and the Viet Cong. The female Viet Cong Frank Castle, the Frank Castle Frank Castle. The one with a dark shadow over him, even though only the reader can see it. It’s not in the bookend narration. The vets sitting around being interviewed? They don’t acknowledge the tragedy of Frank. It’s the saddest thing in the world… an earnest Frank Castle.

And something I suppose you wouldn’t get if you weren’t entirely versed in the character. Or at least in Ennis’s Punisher MAX. Or some of it, anyway. It’s freaking intense. Nothing happens this issue; violent-wise, I mean. The two times things could go violent? They don’t. Ennis and his war comics realism.

Frank’s marines are on R and R. Drinking and whoring. Ennis loves writing the old men jovially recalling those days. It’s actually kind of cute, as very little else in Platoon ever gets to be cute. Frank’s Viet Cong alter ego’s mentor is sort of cute. But he’s also a brutal commander so it’s a problematic cute.

There’s a conversation scene with Frank and one of his men. Just talking about their lives. Frank Castle talks about his personal philosophy. The other guy offers him advice. It’s extremely affecting as it continues because it’s so foreign from Punisher comics. Freaking Ennis. So good.

Parlov’s art is awesome. No action, lots of talking heads, just beautifully paced visuals. Parlov’s really got this one down.

CREDITS

4: Absolute Consequences; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Kathleen Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Punisher: The Platoon 3 (January 2018)

Punisher: The Platoon #3

This issue of Platoon is Ennis looking at the quiet time for Frank Castle and his unit. Most of the issue has to do with Frank trying to get better rifles for his men. There’s some stuff with the Viet Cong, there’s the framing sequences, but really, it’s just an issue about Frank trying to get better rifles for his men. It’s very, very strange.

The comic itself is phenomenal. Ennis’s dialogue, his narration, the plotting, it’s all great. Parlov’s art’s great, but playing more for… humor. There’s some absurdity of war stuff going on and Ennis tries to find the humanity in the characters’ reactions to it. He also nicely echoes sentiments from the past to the future with the modern day framing stuff. It feels very whole.

But it’s strange. It’s not really a bridging issue, not unless everything hinges on Frank going to the black market for better rifles. It seems like an aside. A texture issue in a limited series. Does Ennis have time to do it?

Of course he does. Because it’s Ennis and Punisher. He never lets Frank down.

CREDITS

3: The Black Rifles; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Kathleen Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Punisher: The Platoon 2 (December 2017)

Punisher MAX: The Platoon #2

I think three times this issue there are full page panels with the credit “Ennis/Parlov.” I’m not sure if they’ve got their first names on it. They’re heavy panels. Ennis is doing a Vietnam story. He’s got the vets, he’s got the author, he’s got Frank. The vets get most of the time, whether telling the author their story or just in flashback. The author opens it, introduces some details and some unexpected reality (a former Viet Cong officer being a happy old man visiting the U.S. frequently).

Ennis saves Frank. He and Parlov do a lot with the violence, starting with the Viet Cong launching an attack and the Americans having to go to bayonets. But then they go farther. They go so far you’re scared to see Frank again.

No one but Ennis could take what should be a Punisher cash grab and deliver The Platoon. Anyone else would be foolish to try, but with Ennis, his ability to plot this thing… it’s unreal. Reading it, the world off the page goes silent.

CREDITS

2: Ma Deuce; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Kathleen Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Punisher: The Platoon 1 (December 2017)

Punisher: The Platoon #1

Punisher: The Platoon is Garth Ennis doing a Vietnam war comic with Frank Castle. Young Frank Castle. Green Frank Castle. An author has tracked down Castle’s first platoon to interview them for a book; the author is never seen. Is it Ennis? Peter Parker? Maybe we’ll find out by issue six.

The Vietnam stuff is excellent. Castle’s just become a second lieutenant, it’s his first ever command, his first ever time in a war zone. Platoon is a colorful story, almost jarring the reader from Goran Parlov’s art. It’s precise and tranquil. There’s no violence until Castle arrives.

Ennis is using a couple different points of view devices for the flashback. Subjective narration, presumably objective events. It’s interesting. Art’s great. Seems like Ennis found something else to say about Big Frank. And, if not, hopefully he can get a new car from the Marvel bucks.

CREDITS

1: Crack the Sky and Shake the Earth; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Goran Parlov; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Kathleen Lowe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Punisher 1 (July 2016)

The Punisher #1

What a lousy comic. I mean, I didn’t even care about Steve Dillon’s artwork. His lines get thick during action sequences and lose all fluidity. Dillon’s precise line work always implies movement, entropy, never static. He looks like he’s doing pin-ups this issue. Punisher pin-ups. Is it 1993 or something?

I can’t figure out who Marvel is targeting with this Punisher variation. Let’s go through all the pieces of the pie. First, Steve Dillon’s back. He hasn’t been on the book for a while, right? And he was on the book during multiple good new (or post-Angelic) Punisher titles. So Dillon alone might be a sale. Except now you need a writer–Marvel should’ve just gotten Dillon a ghostwriter for the book, it couldn’t have been any worse and probably would’ve been better–but it’s 2016 and Marvel has a diversity problem. So get Becky Cloonan to write the book. Name female creator. It’s almost an event comic.

Only bad Punisher comics aren’t events, they’re the standard. Cloonan and Dillon turn in a lame issue. Cloonan writes Frank with less personality than a slasher movie villain, only Dillon draws him very superhero, very compensation Frank. Cloonan’s got these moron DEA agents who would have been lousy cop characters in the early eighties, much less now. Her dialogue’s thoughtfully written but it meanders in exposition land. Or she just has terrible editors.

Finally, this Punisher is the first series since regular people started caring about the Punisher, thanks to the “Daredevil” TV show. Shock of shocks, a “Punisher” show got announced just a few days before this issue came out. It’s buzzy. It’s Disney (and if Disney just means nostalgia-based brand synergy, so be it). Anyway, buzzy says it needs to be accessible as well as notable. Cloonan’s there for her buzz cred, not because she has some great Punisher story to tell.

Or maybe she does and it really is just another Lethal Weapon riff with war buddies selling dope and one of them having to stop it. But I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt.

Marvel apparently thinks they need it to have mass appeal, which is admirable but impossible. **The Punisher** is pulp, it’s exploitation. For it to succeed, it’s got to have an edge–it can’t be bland. And this book couldn’t be blander.

CREDITS

TITLE; writer, Becky Cloonan; artist, Steve Dillon; colorist, Frank Martin; letterer, Cory Petit; editors, Kathleen Wisneski and Jake Thomas; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Punisher 5 (December 2001)

The Punisher #5

Good grief–Ennis end the comic with a big Dubya is an alcoholic moron joke right before 9/11. Did they change the reveal for the trade?

It’s a dumb joke too. Instead of giving the Punisher an actual enemy, it gives Ennis a scene. He has lots of scenes this issue, some better than others, some pointless like this one. The big finale with the Russian is sort of pointless because there’s a predetermined finish to it.

Or maybe Ennis is keeping the Russian around even longer, because it’s easier for him to do absurdist humor than to write the comic.

There are a couple okay moments in the issue, like when the Punisher stands off against the big villain. The villain’s a mercenary general who has a long speech. Ennis goes for a cheap finish.

It’s a tired finish but it works okay… just like the comic itself.

B- 

CREDITS

No Limits; writer, Garth Ennis; penciller, Steve Dillon; inker, Jimmy Palmiotti; colorist, Chris Sotomayor; letterers, Richard Starkings and Saida Temofonte; editors, Kelly Lamy, Nanci Dakesian and Stuart Moore; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Punisher 4 (October 2001)

The Punisher #4

Ennis has lost track of any real person–by real person, I mean the bartender from the first couple issues or maybe one of Soap’s cop antagonists–and he’s back to having a jolly old time. Lots and lots of pop culture references. Some day you’ll need footnotes to understand all the references and then further footnotes to explain why they’re funny.

Oh, Sixth Sense plot twist jokes. Let me wipe the tear from my eye.

Still, Ennis is taking Frank a little more serious this issue. He’s the protagonist for his scenes in the issue, not the subject, not the butt of wry jokes. And Ennis does give him some vaguely interesting things to do. Not inventive so much, but diverting.

The problem is the lack of content and the villain. The villain is lame and boring, which even Ennis seems to accept.

Dillon does well on the art.

B- 

CREDITS

Dirty Work; writer, Garth Ennis; penciller, Steve Dillon; inker, Jimmy Palmiotti; colorist, Chris Sotomayor; letterers, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott; editors, Kelly Lamy, Nanci Dakesian and Stuart Moore; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Punisher 3 (September 2001)

The Punisher #3

It’s the Punisher on an island of dumb mercenaries. Or the next issue will be–and Ennis even goes so far as to promise it’ll be a good one for the soft cliffhanger. Actually, this issue is mostly exposition.

There’s exposition at the beginning while Frank hangs some corrupt cop off a roof for information, then it’s Frank narrated exposition about Mr. Big, then it’s Frank’s pilot with a bunch of exposition; all the action comes at the end on the island.

The strange part about the comic is how engaged Ennis gets with the material. There are a few times where he almost seems like he wants to be serious. Then he remembers he can’t be too serious, but the intention is definitely present.

The result is a mediocre comic in a lot of ways, but also the best issue of this Punisher series so far. Ennis’s finally interested.

B 

CREDITS

American Ugly; writer, Garth Ennis; penciller, Steve Dillon; inker, Jimmy Palmiotti; colorist, Chris Sotomayor; letterers, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott; editors, Kelly Lamy, Nanci Dakesian and Stuart Moore; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Punisher 2 (August 2001)

The Punisher #2

More funny stuff from Ennis. He’s got some cheap jokes but he sure does thoughtfully arrange them. He’s even for a bunch of Marvel puns in the comic–referencing Giant-Size Man-Thing and Marvel Team-Up, though he could have gone further with the pun about the latter.

But the comic itself? The Punisher and the new, improved Russian duking it out on the Empire State Building. Spider-Man shows up. Foreshadowing. There’s not much else to it. It’s an amusing read; if Ennis had any good observations about Marvel comics, it’d be better, but it’s amusing enough.

The many misadventures of Martin Soap continues as well. Ennis doesn’t try hard with Soap either. He doesn’t have to try hard.

The Spider-Man cameo is sort of wasted and it doesn’t help Dillon can’t draw the costumed figure well.

But it’s fine. Painfully unambitious and disinterested and totally fine.

B- 

CREDITS

Does Whatever a Spider Can; writer, Garth Ennis; penciller, Steve Dillon; inker, Jimmy Palmiotti; colorist, Chris Sotomayor; letterers, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott; editors, Kelly Lamy, Nanci Dakesian and Stuart Moore; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Punisher 1 (August 2001)

The Punisher #1

Garth Ennis takes a rather strange approach to this issue–and presumably this Punisher series. He does it as a comedy. There are levels of mocking, with the Punisher getting the least and Soap getting the most. There are some actual criminals in there and their stupidity gets mocked, but they’re at least aware. Soap isn’t even aware.

Meanwhile, Steve Dillon does some pretty good art on the issue. He’s not drawing anything particularly fantastic, subject-wise, but he’s doing good work.

I just read the comic and I can’t remember much about it. The cliffhanger is a big one, but not as big as the reveal of the villain. Ennis is going for Preacher-level absurdity without any justification. It’s goofy, but he thinks it’ll be funny, so he’s using it. Not just logic be darned, but sense of reality be darned.

He’s not trying, but it’s still okay.

B- 

CREDITS

Well Come On Everybody and Let’s Get Together Tonight; writer, Garth Ennis; penciller, Steve Dillon; inker, Jimmy Palmiotti; colorist, Chris Sotomayor; letterers, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott; editors, Kelly Lamy, Nanci Dakesian and Stuart Moore; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Punisher 12 (March 2001)

The Punisher #12

Why is the only good scene in the issue–besides the apartment cast’s send-off, of course–when Soap meets the Punisher? The rest of the stuff with Soap is dumb, as are the other subplot resolutions, but there’s something about that scene. Maybe Ennis thinks of the reader as Soap, someone dumb enough to be amused even after a seagull tags you’re forehead.

Because The Punisher is pointless. There’s no story for Frank, not since the first or second issue. There’s no story for the mobsters or the cops. The story for the apartment cast would be more amusing than this comic but only because Ennis actually worked on them.

The series has had some very high points, but Ennis failed to follow through on anything. He introduced ideas, did some development, then forgot them.

Even Dillon seems to have given up a little, especially with his figure drawing.

D 

CREDITS

Go Frank Go; writer, Garth Ennis; penciller, Steve Dillon; inker, Jimmy Palmiotti; colorist, Chris Sotomayor; letterers, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott; editors, Kelly Lamy, Stuart Moore and Nanci Dakesian; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Punisher 11 (February 2001)

The Punisher #11

Ennis continues with the goofy issues. The dialogue out of this one is hideous. Ennis is going for cheap one liners. It’s awful.

But, hey, the detectives might have something to do next issue. Maybe for a minute or two. Though Ennis could have given them something to do this issue; instead he reminds the reader of their presence, which he’s been doing for the last few issues. Promising they’ll eventually pay off.

Kind of like the other idiot vigilantes. It’s not good comic relief or anything else at this point. Ennis tries to rationalize the absurd way too much in this comic. He goes for humor in those rationalizations and it gets old fast.

The supporting cast all get their page time this issue and Ennis continues to protect them.
Like everything else, Ennis has no idea what to do with them but at least they are likable characters.

C 

CREDITS

Any Which Way You Can; writer, Garth Ennis; penciller, Steve Dillon; inker, Jimmy Palmiotti; colorist, Chris Sotomayor; letterers, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott; editors, Kelly Lamy, Stuart Moore and Nanci Dakesian; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Punisher 10 (January 2001)

The Punisher #10

An issue long fight scene with the Punisher mostly getting his butt kicked. Ennis goes for light, edgy humor from the Russian. Nothing too far, but some of the jokes are still smart.

Then there are detectives Molly and Soap. They get a talking heads scene and then it’s off to the vigilantes teaming up. Unfortunately, Ennis doesn’t have anything for the detectives to talk about because they’re not doing anything anymore. They’re sitting around.

The vigilantes are not sitting around, they are driving around. Ennis goes for a lot of humor with them. It’s the worst he’s done with the Elite one and Mr. Payback. This issue brings them down to the level of the priest. It’s really too bad.

As for that big fight scene… it’s only the first round. There’s another round; hopefully Ennis will have mercy and cut to the best parts instead of plodding through.

C 

CREDITS

Glutton for Punishment; writer, Garth Ennis; penciller, Steve Dillon; inker, Jimmy Palmiotti; colorist, Chris Sotomayor; letterers, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott; editors, Kelly Lamy and Nanci Dakesian; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Punisher 9 (December 2000)

The Punisher #9

Enter the Russian and Ennis bringing in another weak villain, but one he can try to use for humor. Why use him for humor? Apparently there’s not enough comedy with the Punisher caring about his neighbors. The scenes with the neighbors are all soft, sensitive scenes. I thought Frank was going to tell the overweight guy to eat healthy.

The villain gives the mob story some freshness and then the detectives get some freshness and it feels like something might be happening. But it’s not really happening, it’s just Soap and Molly talking and Ennis trying to figure out the most rewarding moments. Rewarding to the reader, not to the story, which is the big problem.

Even the good scenes don’t hold up. Ennis has Frank too jaded, given though he’s clear about the series not being too jaded. They’re probably supposed to be black humor moments but they flop.

C 

CREDITS

From Russia with Love; writer, Garth Ennis; penciller, Steve Dillon; inker, Jimmy Palmiotti; colorist, Chris Sotomayor; letterers, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott; editors, Kelly Lamy and Nanci Dakesian; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Punisher 8 (November 2000)

The Punisher #8

It’s kind of a talking heads issue. There’s some action with Frank having to save Dave and he bonds a little with Joan. Ennis has problems working Frank into the humor. He’s the Punisher is the punch line to too many of Ennis’s jokes.

There’s also a lot with Soap and Molly. They don’t serve a purpose in the story at all, so Ennis just fills out with them. They’re another enjoyable part of Ennis’s big Punisher story, which ostensibly should have been about him getting Ma Gnucci.

She’s not a good villain though. So Ennis has to do really awful things around her to make her seem like a good villain. The secret of this series is its shallow depth. Ennis is just doing enough character work to make it seem substantial, but he’s really just trying to get done with his twelve issues.

And he’s doing relatively fine.

B- 

CREDITS

Desperate Measures; writer, Garth Ennis; penciller, Steve Dillon; inker, Jimmy Palmiotti; colorist, Chris Sotomayor; letterers, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott; editors, Kelly Lamy and Nanci Dakesian; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Punisher 7 (October 2000)

The Punisher #7

Should I call this a bridging issue or maybe I should call it a highway interchange issue because Ennis is bringing so much together. This subplot meets this other subplot and leads into the connection to the next subplot. It goes on and on.

It’s amusing. Ennis writes it well. The stupid priest thing has the detectives in it and they’re still funny. Whenever Ennis writes loser guys and their female partners who don’t want them romantically, it’s good. He should really do a series of just them.

Oh, yeah, Frank’s neighbors–who he mocks in his first person narration–once again get the kid glove treatment from Ennis. Dave and Joan are protected characters. Ennis coddles them; it’s a strange thing, since they’re the most obvious characters for him to coddle.

Still, it’s pretty good. Mr. Payback and the Elite are both funny. Ennis’s clearly exercising entertainment over ambition.

B 

CREDITS

Bring out Your Dead; writer, Garth Ennis; penciller, Steve Dillon; inker, Jimmy Palmiotti; colorist, Chris Sotomayor; letterers, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott; editor, Joe Quesada; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Punisher 6 (September 2000)

The Punisher #6

The issue starts so much better than it ends. It opens with everyone but the Punisher and the serial killer priest. There’s a little with Frank thinking about how he needs to move and some comedy with his neighbors, but not a lot. Ennis almost makes it seem like he’s switching over during that comedy and then pulls away again. The two cops are getting a lot more important.

Then comes the big action scene and Dillon doesn’t do great with it. He does okay, but not great. All the first person Frank stuff is comparing his current life to Vietnam and it doesn’t work. Ennis is making fun of the character at this point. The whole issue has had a wink about Frank. But no one else. Everyone else Ennis takes seriously.

The result is less rewarding than it should be… but it’s still amazing how hard Ennis works.

B 

CREDITS

Spit out of Luck; writer, Garth Ennis; penciller, Steve Dillon; inker, Jimmy Palmiotti; colorist, Chris Sotomayor; letterers, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott; editor, Joe Quesada; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Punisher 5 (August 2000)

The Punisher #5

Ennis develops Frank this issue and it’s unexpected. He’s fully aware of his mental state. He knows he kills criminals to feel a little better, a little more in control, whatever. He’s even mad at Giuliani for lowering crime in New York.

It’s an odd line. Even with all the odd stuff with Frank walking around the city bemoaning his situation, the Giuliani thing is still odder. Maybe it’s because all these other murderous vigilantes, each attacking different segments on the community. The priest hits the sinners, the Payback guy hits Wall Street crooks, the Elite guy gentrifies with a vengeance. I feel like there’s another one.

Maybe not. It doesn’t matter. Ennis is playing up the comedy, even though he still stays respectful of certain things. His principal supporting cast for Frank–the lovable apartment dwellers–Ennis doesn’t quite sell them out. Soap and Molly are seemingly safe too.

B 

CREDITS

Even Worse Things; writer, Garth Ennis; penciller, Steve Dillon; inker, Jimmy Palmiotti; colorist, Chris Sotomayor; letterers, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott; editor, Joe Quesada; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Punisher 4 (July 2000)

The Punisher #4

I wonder if Molly the detective wears sunglasses so Steve Dillon gets a little less to draw. I assume they’re also there so she looks too cool to hang out with Detective Soap, but still. It’s disconcerting having a character without expressions.

This issue, save the killer priest scene, which is particularly crappy, is rather good. Ennis sets up the detectives teaming up and does a little comedy relief with Soap. But most of the issue is real time with Frank on the run through Central Park. Some of the exposition is odd–Frank pauses to watch polar bears eat a bad guy and Ennis all of a sudden introduces the idea he’s a sadist for sadism’s sake. It’s brief, all by itself and very strange.

There’s a gentleness to how Ennis handles some of it. Frank’s oddly gentle, even when vicious, and Ennis handles Soap gently.

It’s good stuff.

B+ 

CREDITS

Wild Kingdom; writer, Garth Ennis; penciller, Steve Dillon; inker, Jimmy Palmiotti; colorist, Chris Sotomayor; letterers, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott; editor, Joe Quesada; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Punisher 3 (June 2000)

The Punisher #3

Ennis brings in Daredevil for what seems like a bad idea cameo and turns out to be a great one. It’s a lot of talking heads with Frank and Matt Murdock arguing about what’s justice and whatnot. Only Ennis makes sure to bring in some action every few pages so it doesn’t get boring.

Elsewhere, Ennis is building up the black comedy adventures of the cop. There isn’t much to the scenes, but they’re fine. All of the issue, except the serial killer priest, is fine. Ennis doesn’t get ambitious, except maybe with the Daredevil twists; he and Dillon are selling a deliberate product.

The rest of the issue has just Ennis setting up for the Daredevil confrontation. It figures into the big mob family plot tangentially. I think they just wanted to have the cameo. Or guest star. Daredevil’s in here a lot.

It’s a shame about the priest.

B+ 

CREDITS

The Devil by the Horns; writer, Garth Ennis; penciller, Steve Dillon; inker, Jimmy Palmiotti; colorist, Chris Sotomayor; letterers, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott; editors, Joe Quesada and Palmiotti; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: