Sunday, June 13, 2010

Punisher MAX #8 - Grusome Awesome

Before I type another sentence, allow me to post a fair warning in case anyone from the Religious Right or some other morality toting pussy gets some broken glass in their vagina. Punisher MAX is a mature and graphic comic. It in no way is meant for kids. In this book they do not censor swear words. When people say fuck they don't bleep it out with this f$%# shit. What they say is pure an unabated. In addition, it isn't tactful about hiding nudity. If there is a shot of tits in the panel, they show actual tits. There's none of that conveniently placed steam or random covering bullshit. It's all there for the eyes to see. If someone can't handle that, then they shouldn't read this comic and should find seek counseling to help them become less of a pussy.

If you can get around the graphic details, Punisher MAX is an awesome comic. For years Garth Ennis wrote the grimmer grittier version of the Punisher that in no way was connected to the 616 universe. It made for some of the best Punisher stories of the past decade. Then Jason Aaron took over and he took what Ennis did a step further. He didn't just restrict the MAX universe to the Punisher. He brought in other characters like the Kingpin and Bullseye. The last arc showed Wilson Fisk brutalizing his way towards becoming the crime lord he's so well known for being in the 616 universe. Needless to say, it wasn't pretty. The man actually let his own son get his throat slit and he didn't shed a tear doing it. That should offer a clue as to just how brutal this title is. But if what Fisk did was considered brutal, Aaron's portrayal of Bullseye one-ups him at least 1000 times over and throws in some deranged psychosis for good measure.

Most people know Bullseye from the 616 universe as a cocky, arrogant, highly skilled assassin. Well most of that still applies here. In the previous issue he took out a whole room of people with nothing but a small gun he had concealed in his ass. No, that's not a dirty joke. The man literally kept a gun in his ass and shit it out when he needed to do the job. If you're not too grossed out by that, you'll have a small understanding of just how deranged this guy is and it doesn't stop there.

Now Bullseye is on assignment from the Kingpin, who is still reeling from his first encounter with the Punisher. In order to do this assignment, Bullseye doesn't just want to find him and kill him. He wants to get into Frank Castle's head. It makes sense on the surface, but the way he carries it out is fucked up on at least a million different levels. It really doesn't make him like his 616 counterpart and that's both a good and bad thing. What he does here is he's trying to get into Castle's mind by re-enacting the way in which Castle lost his family. To do that he basically took a family hostage, killed the father, and started playing house in his own made-up world. It's pretty crazy and a bit on the corny side. But it makes for some entertaining moments. It helps lighten the mood on some of the other darker elements going on with Kingpin and the Punisher.

As stated earlier Fisk is still reeling from the last attack that left his son dead. While he seems to brush it off as simply as a man brushes off the death of a goldfish, the same cannot be said for his wife, Vanessa. In the Kingpin arc she was portrayed in a somewhat different manner. She seemed to love Fisk, but she was also under no illusion. She knew what Fisk was doing and she didn't care. She even encouraged him at times, asking that he kill those she was suspicious of. She's made a radical turn since the death of her son, which is also kind of strange because Fisk mentioned she didn't even want kids to begin with. Now she's a fucked up drunk who is pissed at everyone and everything for the loss of her son. Furthermore, Fisk doesn't seem to care. That's to be expected, but Vanessa's character had a lot of potential back in the first arc and it seems to be wasted somewhere here. Now she's already walking the same path her 616 version did, becoming disillusioned by what Fisk is doing. It's understandable, but if the point was to give these characters a MAX-like twist Aaron failed to do so here with Vanessa. However, he more than makes up for it in how he handles Frank Castle.

There's no inconsistency between Ennis and Aaron. Frank Castle is still a sadistic badass who will torture, maim, and disembowel anybody who gets in his way. Usually, he goes out of his way to avoid hurting cops or authority figures. Not so this time. He has with him a dirty cop who has information on getting to Fisk and to make him talk, Castle begins cutting off body parts and stapling them to the wall. It's the kind of torture that Jack Baur would smile at. You would think even a dirty cop wouldn't be stupid enough to taunt Castle, but this guy has the kind of weapons grade stupidity that North Korea would kill for. He doesn't say anything and Castle just keeps hacking away. It's the brutality anyone should expect of the Punisher.

But in a ways his actions take a backseat to what's going on with the Kingpin. He's being warned left and right about hiring Bullseye and he's not listening. Add to that, Vanessa Fisk is being an irrational bitch. Even a guy as powerful as a crime lord cannot take everything going at him at once.

Now this is where the issue takes yet another turn for the bizarre. The plot with Bullseye is already fucked up enough. The man is clearly two globs of shit short of a cow pie, but Vanessa Fisk is ready to give him a run for his money. She comes out screaming at Wilson, crying at how he's the one that killed their son. That's a little unfair (as if anything can be fair from a guy as cruel as Fisk) because Fisk didn't technically execute their son. It was a rival crime lord who basically held a knife to his throat and cut it. Yet for some reason Vanessa says he's the one that killed him? At this point the reader may wonder if they've taken a hit of LSD because it doesn't stop there. Vanessa's yelling eventually subsides and out of nowhere, she asks Fisk to fuck her. And yes, those are her exact words. It's a MAX comic, remember? They don't use pussy ass euphemisms when it comes to bumping uglies.

From here, the LSD trip wears off and things get back to normal. And by normal I mean Frank Castle has since cut off two more fingers and an ear from the dirty cop he's interrogating. It's a pretty bloody scene and Castle isn't batting an eye. In this sense he and Fisk are kind of similar. They have no problem exacting unspeakable cruelty on people. Their expressions remain eerily similar every step of the way. I'm not sure if this is just the artist being lazy or if it's meant to be an over-arching theme in the book. Whatever the case, it's pretty damn gruesome.

What's even more outrageous is the man still hasn't talked yet. He isn't telling Castle how to get to the Kingpin. At some point he knows he's going to run out of digits and he's just making it harder on himself. In a ways it feels like Aaron is just trying to stretch this scene out, but the brutality only escalates. Since losing fingers and an ear isn't enough for this guy, he goes for the home run. He goes to a digit no man can stand losing and even the ballsiest of henchmen crack under the strain. Anyone who has ever seen torture on shows like 24 might often thing "If they want to really torture the guy, why not just go for his dick or balls or something? Wouldn't that work better?" Well in Punisher MAX, look no further. That's exactly what Castle does and squeamish men will feel an unpleasant clench at the mere sight of it.

The man finally does talk. He reveals that Fisk has become really paranoid since their last encounter is and keeping his movements secret so as to avoid detection. It also explains why he's willing to hire someone as crazy as Bullseye to take care of him. To Frank Castle, that means he's applying the right kind of pressure and that's going to work to his advantage. Since Fisk seems to be getting so powerful, it's nice to see a little crack in his armor. That was one of the shortcomings of the previous arc and it seems to be shifting gears here.

This plot with Castle as well as the plots with Fisk and Bullseye all coincide near the end in a beautiful coming together of bloody and brutal awesome. Bullseye finishes his reenactment of Castle's family and Vanessa Fisk makes her move while she's fucking Wilson. In one page, the hostage family is executed, Vanessa tries to shoot Wilson, and Castle kills the dirty cop with a bullet to the head. It's by far the strongest part of the issue. There's no loose ends or beating around the bush. There's just pure, brutal Punisher MAX style awesome.

The end result, however, is somewhat ironic. Bullseye is strangely unsatisfied by having an innocent family murdered in front of him. He says he feels nothing. Either he's a lousy actor or he's more fucked up than than previously hinted at because he tells the Kingpin's henchmen they have to do it again. As if that wasn't screwed up beyond all recognition, Vanessa's attempt to kill Wilson fails and in spectacularly lame fashion. She just shoots him in the shoulder and he doesn't seem to wince. I know it's a comic book and all and Fisk is a tough guy, but this is seriously pushing it. There are major veins in the arm and even a tough guy should at least flinch a little. But for Fisk it's like being bitten by a mosquito. There's nothing else to it and he doesn't even react that violently with Vanessa. It just seems like a real whimper when there should have been a bang. But there is an underlying message to it all. Vanessa makes the point that even for everything Fisk has gained, his paranoia and brutality will ultimately leave him with nothing. It's a powerful message that doesn't seem to phase him, but does set the tone for just how messed up his world is becoming as the Kingpin of crime.

There's a lot to love about this comic. There's a lot to love about any comic that thumbs it's nose at the censors and lets all the blood, guts, and tits hang free for everyone to see. But it isn't just gratuitous for the sake of being gratuitous. There's a real story here, one that doesn't just follow Frank Castle. It's an eerie insight into the fucked up minds of a ruthless crime lord and a bat-shit insane assassin. Their plots along with Castle's make for a very compelling story and all the blood and brutality just adds to the overall awesome.

Yet there's still some room for improvement. The characterization of Vanessa Fisk has been wildly inconsistent from the previous arc to this arc without much substance in between and Bullseye's insanity is being a bit overplayed. But it's not so detrimental that it brings down the whole series. There's enough awesome to compensate and taken all together, Punisher MAX #8 gets a 4 out of 5. It's the only comic where readers can get a raw, uncensored view of the awesome that is the Marvel universe. If only they would adopt this style to others. Punisher MAX is it's own special world and it should stay that way, hopefully bringing in as many other Marvel heavyweights to share in the awesome along the way.


  1. Nicely reviewed.I'm not interested in Punisher MAX,but I guess it really is a matter of taste.

    On an irrelevant note,I still don't understand what the point of Marvel's "no-smoking policy" is,when they publish books such as Punisher MAX,which contain anti-feminism and lack of censorship...

  2. I always LOVED Punisher MAX, the mainstream Punisher never interested me, and this god-awful Franken-Castle is a JOKE, but this version of him is just AMAZING. I think the previews issues were part of the continuity on the same level as Astonishing X-Men are part of the X-Men line, there were just no capes allowed. But this new MAX is surely something different and alternative - and than God, too.
    I agree with you on so many levels, however, I can't agree on your seeing of Vanessa. Her son's fucking throat was slit in front of her. Even if she didn't want a son to begin with - she's still a woman, a mother, it's a crazy thing on so many levels and the mother-love drives some desperate women bat-shit crazy, too. She has a right to be insane and behave irrationally and stupid - she is in hundred levels of pain. And I think that Fisk is absolutely guilty on his son's death - how can he not be? He could have at least TRIED to save him. At least freaking said something. But he is a goddamn animal and I bet my ass that Vanessa never knew how much of a fucking machine her husband is. I would try to kill him myself, i just swear to you, and I think I wouldn't try to punish him like she did - I'd just fucking kill him like a pig and get on with it. Nothing personal, but there is no way a man can understand instincts of a mother. Ever heard of this "lifting a car to save a baby" thing? Here it is, but there is no baby to save anymore. Her life is over, as simple as that.
    But otherwise I have been enjoying everything you write! Please don't stop! I especially like your taste in comics - it resembles mine very much. Thank you for this review!

  3. I'll concede your sentiment on Vanessa Fisk, X-23. She is a grieving mother and I think that does earn her the right to be a little irrational. Wilson being so callous about it sure isn't helping either. But I still find it odd she's blaming him completely when it was one of Wilson's rival that did the deed and given who he was dealing with, I'm surprised he hasn't pointed out that his son would have been killed anyways. I never expected him to be let go regardless of what Fisk did. But maybe that's just speculating. That being said it makes Vanessa seem a bit too much like her 616 self and I was hoping for a new twist on her. Maybe we'll get that twist yet. Only time will tell.