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10/18/2019 22:10:56 •••

Intentionally Nihilistic

Comic books are a medium just like any other form of storytelling, not just reserved for superheroics. However, it’s safe to say the niche wouldn’t have survived without them.

Garth Ennis seems to be in resentful denial of that fact.

It’s no secret that Ennis holds nothing beyond absolute contempt for superheroes, with only three known exceptions, chief among them being the Punisher. Why is anyone’s guess, but I think reading this comic will give you a few ideas.

Frank Castle AKA The Punisher - a noted Marvel anti-hero and murdering vigilante whose dead family is one of the few attributes that keep him from being completely unsympathetic - is here recast as a psychotic Serial-Killer Killer Sociopathic Soldier almost completely devoid of any semblance of humanity, fighting criminals that represent the worst dregs that modern society can offer.

This series wears its juvenile interpretation of “maturity” on its sleeve, with stylistic and gritty writing that masterfully tricks the readers into thinking there is depth where there is none. The caricatures that masquerade as characters range from misogynistic to downright racist, without an ounce of relatability that could make them the slightest bit sympathetic, that are all merely walking targets that only exist for Frank to viciously dispatch in the most ruthlessly efficient way possible. The women, meanwhile, mainly serve as objects to be abused or to be madly in lust with Castle’s raw animalistic masculinity. Sometimes both.

Ennis is a noted military buff and it shows in his discripive ways Castle stalks his victims like he is still in the humid wetlands of Vietnam. Now, whether the writer is attempting to glorify or condemn Frank is a matter of debate, but one could argue that Ennis himself doesn’t even know. The Punisher will contemplate ad nauseam the inherent merits of his eternal war, while massacring the poor and disenfranchised with the detachment one would use to kill an irritating mosquito.

It says something when a Terminator can have more believable emotional depth than this Punisher, who possesses a near-permanent Clint Squint scowl, which is about as close as he gets to emoting.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so intolerable if it wasn’t so hypocritical — out of all of the superheroes he hates, Garth Ennis hold particular disdain for Captain America, whom he considers an insult to “real heroes” of WWII. Ignoring that the character was actually created before America entered the war (so was actually a huge anti fascist statement, and was enjoyed by real G.I.s), but generally evolved into an avatar for everything that could be good about the country he represents (something an Irish WWII-buff Americophile like Ennis should love). Conversely, the intention for the Punisher was to be a tragic anti-hero, and as an symbol of the failure of the American military and legal system. The Punisher as a concept is an massive anti-war statement; which should logically be interpreted by Ennis as an insult to the poor soldiers who suffered in a war most of the country was against.

Even ignoring that, the unrepentant, Straw Nihilist, killing machine is as far from a favorable depiction of a veteran as you can possibly get.

Over all, I would recommend this series if only for its attention to realistic action, and more broadly, because it’s almost complete antithesis to the human condition.

04/05/2019 00:00:00

...Man. \'s great both as a review, and as analysis. 10/10, no complaints spring to mind.

I mean, *maybe* some mention of the art as well as the writing? But \'s not like you don\'t mention its visceral look and Frank\'s inability to emote.

04/19/2019 00:00:00

I\'m not entirely sure what you were expecting from a series with the basis of \"The Punisher, but he\'s been at it for 30 years in real time\", because that\'s exactly what Ennis delivered.

Maybe you personally don\'t see it as \"enough\", but just about every arc shows Frank is still human and something of a good man deep down - whether it\'s ignoring his own wounds to help resuscitate a man caught in a bombing, protecting a little girl and doing his best to shield her from the violence of his world, or making sure his illegitimate daughter gets to lead a good life with good parents without being tied to him and his crusade - to avoid this \"complete sociopath\" picture you\'re painting of him, in addition to the general sparing of innocents.

You\'re quite right that Frank\'s targets are always the worst of the worst, but that\'s not really unique to Ennis\'s run; how many mainstream Punisher victims can you name that were fleshed-out, understandable villains and criminals? He works in the dark side of society, of humanity, so that\'s what we see. You also seem to be ignoring the considerable amount of sympathetic and memorable side-characters caught up in Frank\'s crusade like Yorkie, Fury, Howe, Budiansky, and Russ. As for the women, I guess you only remember Kathryn O\'Brien and Jennie Cesare, because Marcie, Kathryn\'s sister, and Jen Cooke all make it through just fine. Is that a lot of female characters? No, but that\'s true of a lot of media so let\'s not get into that right now and move on.

You\'re right that Ennis is a military buff and it shows in just about every chapter of this series, but he\'s never glorifying or condemning the Punisher and his actions, just showing them and letting the reader judge. And please, don\'t come at this with the \"poor and disenfranchised victims\" angle - over the course of the series, Frank goes after (in order) the Italian mafia, the remnants of the IRA, Russian gangbangers, the REST of the Italian mafia, sex slavers, upper-class elites trying to blackout Florida for profit, higher-ups in the Russian military and Taliban leaders, Barracuda, and finally eight high-ranking American army generals...and that\'s not even getting into Jason Aaron\'s run, where he has to start contending with actual mainstream foes like Bullseye and Kingpin. At no point does he ever just start unloading on homeless people in the streets, or whatever it is you\'re insinuating, and in the end the lower class actually sees him as an iconic figure and begins rioting in his name. Frank doesn\'t punch down, he punches through.

Boy howdy I sure do wonder why this guy who\'s been killing for 30 years straight is emotionally stunted and only briefly opens up when exposed to the most heartrending of circumstances after going through hell over and over when compared to a machine made to learn human behavior that is exposed to a child in need of a father figure. What a 1:1 comparison.

Did we read the same comic? At what point does Ennis glamorize war or idolize soldiers? Every arc that references or involves Vietnam shows just how abysmally shitty it was for everyone involved on BOTH sides, it\'s made abundantly clear that it didn\'t accomplish anything aside from making lots of money for the American businesses involved, Frank himself disavows fighting wars for any government ever again after it because of how inhumane it all was...this sounds like a lot of projection on your part.

And what part of all this makes you think Ennis is trying to make Frank an ideal veteran? There are quite a few other vets in the series, like Yorkie and Howe, that are well-balanced and readjusted to normal life, and Ennis never shits on them or their service. On top of that, it\'s made clear over and over that the war in Vietnam is far from the only thing that made Frank Castle the Punisher: it was a deciding factor, sure, but he\'d been on that path since he was a boy watching someone burn a young man to death for raping his sister. \"They\'ll blame it on Vietnam. And they\'ll be right, and they\'ll be wrong.\"

To conclude this, I want to echo my own review and say that it\'s entirely in your right to not like this series: it\'s very much an Ennis work that is largely depressing and gritty, so it\'s not for everyone and that\'s fine. But that\'s far from an excuse to brand it as absolute garbage because it doesn\'t meet YOUR tastes.

04/19/2019 00:00:00

...He doesn\'t call it garbage and literally concludes by recommending it on what he considers its merits, so I find your persecuted, hyper-defensive tone unwarranted in the extreme.

04/20/2019 00:00:00

So I guess almost every paragraph/"point" misrepresenting the series and including a jab at Ennis and his style shouldn't be taken at face value, mkay then.

Spectral, you're cool and I've got nothing against you, man, but it feels like you're praising this review less because it is good (because it isn't) and more because it feeds ever further into the Ennis hatedom this site seems to have.

04/20/2019 00:00:00

I’m sorry if I offended you, Xilinoc. I’ll admit that I haven’t read the whole series all the way through, but I doubt it would change my opinion if I did.

My main problem with this series is its depiction of Frank; You can argue that it’s more “realistic” for the Punisher to be so emotionally stunted, but I found the Netflix’s version more interesting because it found a balance — Frank is good at war, period. It wasn’t until his tragedy that he started knocking down gangsters and white supremacists. This Castle felt like I was reading Charles Bronson directed by David Fincher (what more can you say about a guy who was so addicted to killing people that he signed up for war he didn’t believe in, twice, and literally sent people to their deaths just to keep it going).

I do not like Garth Ennis because I think he’s a very talented writer who’s wasting said talents bitterly writing masterbatory pieces about why superheroes suck. Thor: Vikings is, I think, probably the best indication of what he’s capable of when he’s keeping his satirical impulses in check (though we’ll probably never know how tied his hands were for that).

If nothing else, I think this series shows he could make a truly epic Captain America series if just got over his myopic views on the character. You have rightly pointed out that I missed certain details about this comic, and I apologize if you detected any projection on my part.

04/20/2019 00:00:00

Honestly the best things he\'s written tend to be ones that involve proper \"superheroes\" very minimally or not at all - Preacher and Hitman are genuine greats, The Boys lets him rip on heroes but his own versions, not established and beloved characters mangled to his own ends.

04/20/2019 00:00:00

I liked Enemy Ace: War in Heaven myself. Fit the dour tone of his usual writing style well, and the little touches, like the Translation Convention where the low-class Germans have low-class English accents. And the bit he usually does about a tortured protagonist who has a low opinion about the meaningfulness of his work but grinds on doing it anyway had a genuinely great end, in addition to fitting the Enemy Ace character extremely well.

Was still a bit gruesome and gritty for my tastes, but it came off better overall than in, say, Just a Pilgrim.

10/18/2019 00:00:00

Okay, this is long overdue, but I think I'm emotionally ready to tackle this, Xilinoc.

Full disclosure, when I wrote the review I hadn't gone through the whole series with a fine-toothed comb, so I mainly relied on what I saw and what I read on his trope bio. Now, having read more-or-less the entire back-catalogue of Ennis' run on eponymous "hero," I feel I'm prepared to reevaluate my opinions.

I think what I dislike about the series as a whole is that it's very much an extension of Garth Ennis as a human being ... it's not pretty.

They say that you should write the kind of stories that you want to read, and I think Ennis did just that with this Punisher. I don't think he even really hates superheroes, but more of what superheroes epitomize — wholesome do—gooders possessing incredible powers with integrity and idealism, and he seems to just seems to love it when those kinds of characters either fall into existential despair at how ineffectual they are, or just die. Brutally.

He once said something to the affect that the difference between the villains and the heroes in his stories is that the "villains aren't lying to themselves," and from the start it's obvious that any time Frank shows any kind of sympathy towards someone, he's just going through the motions to further convince himself that his war is justifiable.

It's not. He's just psychotic (who possibly made a deal with the devil or went completely ‘’insane’’, but that’s something else entirely).

But what's worse, Ennis chooses to portray Frank's world as the real world, and the safe existence that everybody else leads is just a fantasy that regular people have deluded themselves into leading that is all too easily ripped away at the first trauma.

You mentioned that Ennis did feature sympathetic characters and veterans who're on the side of good — I'm not impressed. They ‘’never’’ re-adjusted to civilian life and are just as corrupt and cynical as Frank is, but are just better at hiding it. There's not a single good person in the series that doesn't die horribly due to their own naive stupidity.

I think what cemented my loathing for this comic was the oft lauded Slavers arc for how it portrayed the victims: people who're absolutely fucked. There's no hope for them healing, or becoming activists, or any kind of good coming out of the whole ordeal.

It's as if therapy doesn't exist in this world.

And my comment on women falling madly in lust with Castle's "raw animalistic masculinity" still applies because O’Bryan wasn't supposed to be a recurring character with any kind of depth.

Moving beyond that, I can only think of one villain that has any kind of realistic motivations behind their actions and it was that IRA dude who’s portrayed as an idiot for sincerely believing in his actions. The rest (when he’s not just shooting random gang members) are all vicious killers who feel their entitled to get what they want and to be as awful as they wish (like Barracuda, who basically exists so Ennis can write the word “nigga” for as long as he finds it amusing). Now, sometimes that can be compelling, but not like this. A good example is the Enron expy; the actual Enron scandal can largely be chalked up to out-of-touch executives that became victims of their own impulsive decision-making and not truly recognizing the consequences of their actions. The Dynaco executives are all coked-out douche bags that are fully aware of the immorality of their actions, but just think they’re untouchable.

[As a side-note, I was talking about the Terminator from the ‘’first’’ movie.]

And the less said about his double-standards when it comes to rape, the better.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so grating if Ennis wasn’t so fucking pleased with himself for going against conventions and being oh so “realistic.”

I can’t help the way I feel, and I stand by my criticism that ‘’Punisher: Max’’ is intentionally nihilistic. I can understand that storytelling in Europe has different standards and history than what became dominant in the Americas, but I don’t have to like it.

Garth Ennis is the Bill Maher of comic books.

This series clearly isn't for me, and I think it did irreparable harm to the Punisher as a character because he was supposed to be a more tragic, Rambo-esque tortured soul.

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