Saturday, December 17, 2011

Punisher’s Peculiar Predicament

While they were featured in LA Confidential, clippings from Hush Hush were much more prominent in it’s sequel White Jazz. It was these clippings that made me fall in love with the book and its associated writter. When I found out later that he adopts an entirely fictitious persona for when he talks about the book I decided I loved him more. James Ellroy you are one crazy bastard. Salute. Hush Hush articles were filled with alliteration and it was delicious. Every single god damned word.

That is not what this post is about, but they are tangential. This post is about the Punisher. The Punisher is weird. I mean since the day of his arrival on the stands there isn’t anything else quite like him. Well to be more specific there isn’t anything like him with that sort of endurance. At one time Marvel had 3 Punisher titles all running at the same time. They have had 2 “end of days” Punisher specials. He even made an appearance in the 2099 books, which weren’t half bad actually. As of recently he had two concurrently running books, and he even took center stage during the major marvel event Civil War. He also played a decently major part in the Atlantis Attacks series which was a mega event on a scale that makes the current marvel event cycle look limp and pale. Oh he also has the dubious honor of being the subject of the most Marvel live action movies which is also its own thing. Yet, the Punisher is, at his core, a maniac with a gun who has decided to take a bite out of crime using fancy military training and rage. I mean come on his entire back story is that his family is gunned down by mobsters and so he amasses an arsenal that would make most third world dictators blush and sets about killing as many criminals as he possibly can before the law puts him down like the mad dog he is. His first appearance was in a spiderman book, he was a villian and rightly so.

So what we have here is an utterly two dimensional character with little personality or life. Yet he has been around for almost thirty years, often times he is supporting anywhere from one to three books. How does this happen? Even more troubling, why are so many of his runs really good?

When I say really good I don’t mean in the fun heehaw sort of way, but rather in the, “This is some of the best work the author has done” sort of way. Garth Ennis and Jason Aaron have both produced amazing books featuring this 2 dimensional amoral shell of a man and I think that it is interesting. It is also sad because while I just spent all this time talking about endurance and what not the Punisher Max book Jason Aaron has been working on is canceled. I am not sure if the main marvel universe still has a book for him or not. I stopped paying atension after the Dark Reign ended. I liked that era of Marvel and if more people would take their heads out of their asses they’d like it too. But that is for another day.

The punisher is what got me into comics. And even if it didn’t Preacher got me back into comics which means I would have been picking up his run on the Punisher anyway. He is sort of like this inevitable force that draws me in and won’t allow me to escape. Again and what troubles me is that many of his books are actually very very good. To me I found his books to be a welcome breath of fresh air from things like X-men, Spiderman, and the Fantastic 4. These books focus more on the interpersonal relationships that the characters have with each other more than, well you know super heroics. This is especially true with Spiderman who can barely step foot in costume without having some sort of family/work/relationship based angst going on in the background. There would be times where I would dread spending my hard earned allowance money on these books because you never knew if something interesting was going to happen. You knew that there would be some wandering around, so tension building, and maybe a fight or two, but then there would be pages of blah blah blah. Marvel has some terrible writers just look at the x-men line and you’ll find them. ANYWAY. With the punisher you’d have no such worries about that. It wouldn’t be long before he is either killing someone or planning to kill someone. He doesn’t wax poetic about the nature of what he is or what he does. He doesn’t concern himself with the nature of mankind. He doesn’t piss and moan about his family. The Punisher has one friend. His name is MicroChip. He’s been killed three times in two different time lines. Once in the main line, once in the max line, and again in the main line because the hood brought him back from the dead and so the punisher put him back where he belonged. It was good stuff.

Purity of purpose. You buy a punisher book and for the most part you are gonna get what you asked for. He is grim, gritty, anachronistic, and while his actions are insane he very clearly is not. Well most of the time. Writers do get bored with the property and look to spice things up a bit. These always fail. The avacado project is the least worst of these attempts, Franken Castle is the worst but there are many others. Yet when we go back to Jason Aaron’s run on the Punisher instead of using lasers, or big titty Russian men, or the Punisher going after real villians, he instead rewrote a large portion of the Punisher’s origin story. Not the bit about the family. But rather his war on organized crime which allowed for the rise of the Kingpin and the arrival of Bullseye. He took a story featuring a 2 dimensional madman, that has been told at least twice before and made it all shiny and new without any real gimmicks or annoying things. You’d think a man with Frank’s backstory wouldn’t have anything to add. I mean how many Crack dealers can you shoot down in various ghettos before you just don’t become interesting anymore? The answer seems to be, “An aweful lot of them” which is pretty cool and now it is over. Arron is off the book and while I don’t know what is currently going on in the Marvel universe I do know it is a mess.

Oh well. Something tells me that the Punisher will be back though. He never stays away for long, and who knows maybe we will get lucky and Brubaker will take a swing at him. Now there is something that would make my fucking day.

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