Last Wednesday, December 7, issue 6 is this extraordinary comic book series came out. The character is a frightening and dark anti-hero. The Punisher has all the classic elements of the revenge story, a decent man pushed to extremes by the senseless death of his family. However, Frank Castle (The Punisher) went beyond simply making those responsible for his family's death. That story is already over, but for the the central character, the war goes on. The Punisher is like a darker reflection of Batman.
However, whereas Batman becomes the great detective, The Punisher is first and foremost a soldier (Marine). He is not solving crimes and mysteries, he is conducting a vigilante campaign where the solution is cutting off the enemy and then killing them. Over and over. The Punisher speaks to that deep cultural theme in western culture of vengeance. Ultimately, we have turned away from vengeance as a tenant of acceptable society, but we cannot seem to fully escape it either. Somehow, it appeals to us that by exacting retribution we can achieve peace. In practice, this seems not to be born out well.
However, in literature, we can vicariously experience the catharsis that comes with seeing those who have done dark deeds meet deadly justice and feel the satisfaction of knowing in that closed fictional universe that they deserved it. This is what is appealing about Punisher. If we had this guy actually doing things in our cities, we would be pretty damn terrified, but in the pages of a comic book, he can embody our fantasies of dark age justice. As the character Beowulf communicates to the King Hrothgar who mourned for the loss of one of his thanes and friends, vengeance is better than tears. The Punisher gives us this.
So, what about issue 6?
Up to this point the story has centered on the Punisher's investigation of a shadowy organization called The Exchange, which came to light when its operatives had a shootout with a rival gang in the middle of a wedding (which was in the wrong place and the wrong time), resulting in the death of the groom, the wounding of the bride, and the death of almost 30 guests. From issue 1, The Punisher has been killing members of The Exchange, those directly responsible and those in charge. However, he is still far from the heart of the criminal enterprise. The Exchange, meanwhile, is trying to figure out how to kill him. In issue 3, the hit they paid for on him severely wounded him, but left their "contractor" dead and just made The Punisher more determined to finish the job.
Much of the story so far has been told through the eyes of two police detectives hot on the trail of The Exchange and the Punisher. One has secret ties to the Punisher, and the other seems to have a history with him as well. The action is also being covered by a determined reporter, who has become friends with the victim/bride of the wedding massacre, Rachel Cole Alves, a decorated Marine. Rachel has started using the friendship to obtain intelligence for her own purposes.
Throughout the first five issues, Italian artist Marco Chechetto has brilliantly illustrated the adventures, but with issue 6, he is on hiatus.
Taking up the artist mantel are the reliable Matthews, Southworth & Clark. Their take is different from the atmospheric and dark cityscapes done by Chechetto, but this issue takes place almost entirely in semi-rural upstate New York, and the change in art suits the change in environment. The snowy killing fields that emerge are eerie and beautiful as The Punisher opens a new front in his unending war.
While issue 5 hinted at the fact that Rachel might be taking the same path as Frank Castle in seeking her own vengeance, this issue we see that she has indeed committed to this path. The Punisher and the Bride both zero in on a meeting of operatives of the Exchange with deadly effect, and it brings them gun muzzle to gun muzzle with each other by the end of the book.
The art and story flow very well, the action is intense and visceral, and there is some serious vengeance going on. The only regret I have from reading is reaching the end and knowing I have weeks to get the next bit, and months ahead to enjoy as this arc plays out.
This is a book worth investing in. Issue 6 introduces as new level of risk and complexity into the story. Now, we have to see what does Frank Castle do when confronted with someone who could be his younger self. Does he take on an ally in his war? Does he dissuade her from the path of unending death and struggle, revealing the emptiness of vengeance that he cannot give up? Is she destined to conclude her vengeance story and escape, whether crippled or not, or does her vengeance story end like so many (Hamlet comes to mind) with vengeance consuming everything and killing the hero in the end?
These tantalizing questions remain and will keep me reading. You should be too.
Here are some other views:
ScienceFiction.com http://sciencefiction.com/2011/12/10/comic-book-review-the-punisher-6/ (
CBR http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=user_review&id=4231 (5/5 stars)
Henchmen for Hire http://henchman4hire.com/2011/12/10/review-punisher-6/ (4/5 stars)
iFanboy http://ifanboy.com/reviews/the-punisher-6/ (Story 4/5 Art 4/5)
Weedbeater's Comic Reviews http://www.comicbookmovie.com/fansites/Weedbeater/news/?a=50871 (3/5)
IGN http://comics.ign.com/articles/121/1214228p1.html (7/10)
Comic Vine http://www.comicvine.com/the-punisher-issue-6/37-305783/ (4/5)
The Weekly Crisis http://www.weeklycrisis.com/2011/12/weekly-crisis-comic-book-reviews-for_11.html (Verdict: Buy It)
Mark's Comic Book Review Center http://markscomicbookreviewcenter.blogspot.com/2011/12/quick-comic-reviews-december-8th-2011.html (9/10)
Vasegurt's Review of Comic Culture http://vrcc.vasegurt.com/2011/12/thisweek12-7-11/ ("This book remains high quality, and the art is perfectly suited for the story being told.")