Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A short introduction, and some opening thoughts

So the whole point of this blog, I guess, is to get down thoughts of mine on a variety of works in a variety of media, be they unfinished or finished.  In the coming time, I'm hoping to cover comics, movies, TV, books, what-have-you.  If you're interested in something, I'd love to hear about it; if you agree with me or think I'm an idiot, I want to hear about it (the latter, of course, civilly).  Some future blog posts, hopefully, will cover things like Bendis' mammoth Avengers run, the HBO show Luck, David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, and yes, the entire original GI Joe series (the stuff by Hama, even the Special Missions series and the Yearbooks), because I absolutely love some GI Joe.

But, right now, I'm gonna be talking about something that I finished a while back, Rick Remender's run on Punisher.

Now, the Punisher's an interesting character.  He was borne of a very 1970s fixation on revenge-driven, break-the-rules heroes, like Charles Bronson in Death Wish or Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry, or any of a million other action heroes.  He slid easily into the '80s, where action heroes were big and loud and grimy and over-the-top, like Schwarzenegger in Commando or Stallone in, yes, Cobra.  But all of a sudden, the '90s hit, and nobody had any idea what to do with him (I have an inkling this is because the creators stopped watching the action movies of the time, and I'm being completely serious about this).

But then the aughties hit, and Garth Ennis came along, and he made the Punisher the villain of his own book.  All of a sudden, aside from just being the character who got to do what everybody else wished they could, he was the guy who got his old friends and the mother of his child (unknown to him) killed.  He was the one the government wanted to use because they simply didn't make killers that way anymore.  The time when he gets somebody to act like him?  She can't handle it and kills herself.  Anytime he intersects with anybody outside his world, they end up dead or scared stiff or horribly, horribly damaged.  This then went on to inform other writers, like Jason Aaron (who I'll talk about later), Greg Rucka, and the aforementioned Rick Remender.

Remender's run starts in media res, and the first 10 issues or so hinge on the big Marvel event of the time, Dark Reign.  Granted, if there were ever a Marvel event for the Punisher to sink into so wonderfully, it's the one where the bad guys are in charge.  Anyways, Frank's (Frank Castle is the Punisher's real name) starts off trying to assassinate Norman Osborn, chief baddie in Dark Reign, and failing horribly, because nobody's got his back.  From there, he goes after Osborn by going after his money, attacking casino after nightclub after hideout.  In a truly breathless five-issue sequence, he gains a new sidekick/analyst, a new arsenal (including Pym particles and an Ant-Man helmet), and, eventually, the eyes of his enemies.  Oh, and he manages to treat his new sidekick, Henry, like crap.

Which is sort of the point.  Frank isn't the villain anymore; he's a screw-up.  It's just that his life is writ so large that his screw-ups are, too.  He attacks the top cop of the country without any eyes into the situation, and he gets a huge target painted on his back.  He works too hard at going after the bad guys, never letting up, and they come after him even harder, by digging up his family and potentially resurrecting them.  And on and on it goes.  If there's a central thesis, it's this: If you're just one thing, you're no good at it.  Henry's a good analyst, but he's even better because he can leave it.  The Legion of Monsters are good protectors because they're more than that and they realize it.  The bad guys are even good at what they're doing because they're wearing a few different masks.

But Frank...Frank has to go off and kill the bad guys and steal their stuff.  And then do it again.  And the next day, he goes off and asks for more work and kills some more guys.  And he kills them and kills them and kills them.  And he does that all day, and he doesn't notice it when he's in over his head and gets himself killed (yes, killed), and even when he gets to be Franken-Castle, he does a barely tolerable job and only comes out ahead because of others.  As much as others think of him as some great soldier, he manages to stumble his way through.

Oh, yeah, Franken-Castle.

That happened.  Frank died and was resurrected by monsters and became an enforcer for them, and he was only good at it because he got incredibly, incredibly lucky.  It was a great storyline, and did a fantastic job of encapsulating Remender's entire run in microcosm.

So, I hope you enjoyed that.  Thanks for reading, and I hope you come back for more.


  1. I think this is a great post. I haven't read much Punisher—pretty much just the volume 3 "Welcome Back, Frank" series from 2000. I thought you covered his comics-philosophical origins well, and I'm pretty happy that you dropped a mention of Stalone's "Cobra." I remember hearing about the Frankencastle storyline when it happened, and I was pretty skeptical. But the way you frame it makes it easier to swallow, and now I'm interested in checking out the run.

    Good post.