Reviews: The Punisher MAX

Quality Writing & Catharsis in Spades

The Punisher MAX is a unique beast among the comics I've read. Not only does it forgo supers and their crazy adventures in favor of far more realistic and reality-based conflicts, it also (across several different series) puts surprising detail and thought into how someone like the Punisher could come to be, with Frank's character stemming not solely from his family being murdered, but from much of his life before that fateful day as well, such as his tours in Vietnam and his growing up in Mafia territory. The result is a main character who, while not incredibly deep and dynamic, is someone whose actions you can understand even if you don't necessarily condone them.

Speaking of which, this series is *incredibly* cathartic. It's not always easy, but Frank spends much of his time giving complete monsters exactly what they deserve and sometimes just a bit more for good measure. I'm not sure how anyone can look at any arc other than Mother Russia and not root for Frank to prevail because holy shit, he's up against real scum almost all the time. And while the man himself is no paragon of virtue, there are enough moments of humanity from him to remind you that he's ultimately a force for good even if he himself is not the nicest guy around.

Oh, and Ennis is a fantastic writer, as always. Not much more to say there without spoiling stuff, but he really shines here.

10/10, would recommend reading with Alice in Chains/Stone Temple Pilots/Soundgarden/similarly grungy bands playing in the background. Really enhances the experience.

Repetitive and boring

I'll give any series of comic book a try, and although I prefer to stick with Spider-Man and Batman, I enjoyed Moon Knight enough to think that maybe the more violent anti-heroes of in the Marvel Universe had stories worth telling. I just wish I hadn't started with Punisher MAX.

I have the first six volumes of the series and I can describe them all similarly because... they're pretty much all variations on a very repetitive structure. The scene is usually set with a famous criminal figurehead, so famous that they've never been mentioned before. Frank Castle then kills them in case the person reading the comic is unfamiliar with Frank's M.O.

A small stream of petty criminals will die while Frank does some navel-gazing about what he does, while setting his sights on the higher target who will be dying in Issue 6. Maybe at some point he'll get into trouble - maybe he'll be captured - maybe he'll even be held at gunpoint by someone with power to kill him, at which point a Deus ex Machina will occur and Frank will escape. It feels like these scenes only occur so that people can't accuse Frank of being an invincible Marty Stu - I get that superheroes can't die in their own books unless planned for and advertised extensively and then they're brought back in 3 weeks anyway, but it still hurts when the villains leave no impact on the (anti-)hero whatsoever. Daredevil never fully defeats Kingpin. The Joker goes back to Arkham Asylum to escape again later. People who face Frank Castle just... die.

The arc will then end the same way it began; with Frank killing loads of people, but this time they have slightly more plot-relevance and maybe there's some dialogue too. What's left of the supporting cast then draw straws, and whoever is judged to be the most interesting is immediately killed to stop them from taking the spotlight from The Punisher. At least the supporting cast are interesting before they die (and they will die. All of them. Every last one.)

Garth Ennis described the Punisher as seeing the world in black and white, and maybe this interpretation is why it's so boring to me. Punisher, good. Criminals, bad. Punisher kills criminals. Repeat forever. It's not completely devoid of attraction - The Slavers arc was alright - but altogether it doesn't hold my attention.

Still better than the 2001 series though.