Review: Punisher #4

The new Punisher series by Greg Rucka continues to be a good read, but we’re four issues in and we don’t know anything about the bad guy, the bride has yet to leave the hospital and the Punisher has barely interacted with the rest of the cast. Heck, this issue doesn’t even feature the bad guys. It’s essentially a recap issue, giving us the origin of the Punisher and sort of catching everyone up to the story so far. We’re only four issues in and we need a breather? I don’t think so.

Punisher #4

Four issues in, I want some Grade A badassery.

Comic rating: 3/5: Alright.

That’s not to say Punisher #4 is a bad comic. It’s still a good read, with the mood, atmosphere and art still top notch for this kind of story. Rucka is still telling a grim and gritty Punisher tale, which is how it should be. It’s just that not enough is happening. He’s created a nice cast of supporting characters, all of whom seem more fleshed out than the Punisher, but he’s not doing enough with them. None of them seem to matter more than their particular role in the story, which is essentially just their job. Norah is a reporter. Clemons and Bolt are police detectives. That’s all these people seem to do, and it has yet to go any deeper.

I think Rucka’s trying to make the Punisher into something of a supernatural force of nature…but it’s not working. One problem is the art. The Punisher looks like a freakin’ cover model!

Seriously, look at this pretty boy mug. He’s young and handsome, and that just strikes me as wrong for the Punisher. But then I am heavily biased in favor of the Garth Ennis series, which had the Punisher as a 50-year-old man with a face of weathered scars to prove it.

Cute blonde reporters just can't resist a handsome fella

The issue opens with Daily Bugle reporter Norah Winters recapping the Punisher’s origin. She’s supposedly writing an article on the Punisher for the paper, which is a good cover story for why this issue starts with a recap. Better than just general narration. I suppose it’s a good idea for this series to tell us the origin of the Punisher, for the sake of new readers. But as a long-time Punisher fan, it’s stuff I didn’t need to be reminded of. Especially since it’s essentially white-washed to no longer include Vietnam specifically. A shame. At least they get the origin right, as opposed to a certain potential TV series that I’ll tell you all about later today.

For those of you who don’t know the origin of the Punisher, he was a Marine serving overseas with an impressive record. He served multiple tours of duty and was essentially an American hero. When he came back stateside, he settled down into a nice life with his wife and their two young children. As Norah puts it, he was a “reflection of our own national identity.” But then that nation failed him.

One day at a family picnic in Central Park, Castle and his family were shot in the crossfire between two rival gangs (or mobsters, depending on the story). They were innocents, had nothing to do with the dispute, but were gunned down nonetheless. Castle survived, but his family died.

With his family gone, Castle falls back on his military training and connections. He gets himself a ton of firearms and other weaponry and starts waging a one-man war on crime in New York City. No one is safe. No one is spared. If you break the law, you will be punished. He isn’t out for vengeance or revenge (though I do believe he killed those specific rival gangs), he is out to punish the criminal scum of the city.

He is the ghost story that gangsters tell their children at night to scare them.

But Norah isn’t happy with the article she’s writing. I agree, it’s a pretty crappy news story. She’s tying the Punisher’s origin to the Wedding Day Massacre, the overall story we’ve been following since issue #1. The Punisher has been killing his way to the truth, with a body count so far of almost 24. Norah folds up her laptop and calls her boss, Ben Urich, for advice. (quick note, in my last review, I got excited that they had mentioned a ‘Urich’ at the newspaper, and I thought it was a favorite character of mine, Phil Urich. Turns out it’s his uncle, Ben Urich. Oh well.) Urich shows up at the pub where Norah is writing her article and they discuss the journalistic merits of writing the story about the Punisher, considering the new information Norah has on the man.

Basically that she found him bloodied and beaten in a dumpster last issue, then drove him home.

Kind of a limited vocabulary there...

She takes him to one of his safe houses, filled with weaponry. Norah, ever the reporter, is constantly asking questions. About his fight with the Vulture, his wounds, his stockpile of weapons, where he got them all…but the Punisher doesn’t answer. He just barks orders about driving the speed limit and then telling her to leave. She does, because she’s not going to argue with the Punisher. She’s recounting all of this to Urich, but Norah leaves out the Punisher detail on purpose. Reporters don’t need to tell their bosses everything. Norah’s excited about this big story, but she’s not sure what to do with it.

Ben lays some advice on her: “Not every truth we learn is a story, Norah. Not every story needs to be told.”

And it’s true. Just because she knows about one of the Punisher’s secret lairs does not mean it has to be published in the newspaper. Without going into specific detail himself, Urich tells Norah that he too once learned a big secret about one of the superheroes. (He knows Daredevil’s secret identity) But Urich never wrote the story and never told a soul, even though it could have made him rich and famous. Because in the end, the only person that story would have served was himself. So Norah writing her story: would it serve the public? Or herself?

Norah knows the answer.

That was a really good scene. Rucka really understands some of the tenants of journalism, and gives everyone a hard lesson in reporting the truth or reporting the scandal. I’m grateful that he’s treating news reporters with some respect. I love it when that happens. Plus it helps the reader get a bit more into Norah’s head, which is great if she’s going to remain a supporting character in this book. Even if she’s already a supporting character in Amazing Spider-Man.

Speaking of supporting characters in Amazing Spider-Man, forensic investigator Carlie Cooper visits the scene of the Vulture’s murder from last issue. She’s Peter Parker’s current girlfriend, but she pops in to banter a bit with Detective Bolt. He and Clemons are investigating the dead super-villain after he crashed onto a rooftop. Clemons asks around with some witnesses and follows the crime scene to the dumpster where the Punisher landed. He can tell that the Punisher got into a car and left the scene, so Clemons knows that the Punisher had help. Bolt tries to get his partner back on task by telling him that they’re supposed to be investigating the Wedding Day Massacre, and Clemons tells his partner that the Punisher is connected, and he’s just following the leads from one moment to the next.

Clemons also lays down some truth about the series as a whole.

No matter how many rapists and murderers he kills

This is the sort of attitude that cops need to have about the Punisher. Clemons and Bolt are important supporting characters to have, because we the reader need to know how the NYPD reacts to the Punisher. Garth Ennis did a great story about it in his run. And, of course, Batman has always had his alliance with Commissioner Gordon, informing everyone how the Gotham City Police feel about a vigilante like the Batman. But the Punisher, unlike Batman, kills his opponents. So he’s not the hero in the eyes of the police. This is another scene that establishes the motives and values of the supporting cast.

The problem is that nothing else happens, and the scene doesn’t get personal enough. We know from issue #1 that Bolt has some sort of working relationship with the Punisher…but it’s not touched upon in this scene. In fact, it hasn’t come up since issue #1. I guess we’re just supposed to read into the dark shadow over Bolt’s face in that image. The idea that the cops don’t think the Punisher is the hero is important to note, but we don’t get any sense as to how that effects Clemons or Bolt personally. Other than just matter-of-fact.

With the exception of Norah’s brief encounter with the Punisher (in which he spoke in nothing but one-word orders), none of these characters have interacted with Punisher in any meaningful way. The Punisher is just a thing that’s currently effecting their jobs. Nothing more.

Meanwhile, the Punisher kills some guys.

It's what he does

To be fair, it was their own fault. They were beating up a guy outside the animal hospital where Punisher was sewing up his wounds. Then the Punisher has the guy they were beating up help him out. So perhaps he’s not totally heartless. Punisher abandoned the hideout where Norah took him and is now on the move as he recuperates.

We finally check in on the bride in the hospital this issue when Norah goes to visit. She’s still working on the story, and goes right to the source. The bride is still annoyed at people walking on eggshells around her, so Norah is sort of straight with her. The bride tells Norah to go to hell when she surmises that Norah’s just there for the story: the irony of a bride getting shot on her wedding day. But Norah is friendly enough that the bride relents and lets her stay. Misery loves company, she says. So Norah gets the bride’s story.

Another nice scene. As a reporter, I know the hardest part of the job is talking to grieving family members in the wake of a tragedy. But Norah handles it with class, and writer Rucka gives us a great scene between the two women. Norah may be there as a journalist looking for the story, but it is a story and maybe the bride will find some relief in talking about it.

So Norah heads back to the pub to write up her story, which is where Detective Clemons finds her. He has eye-witness accounts that she helped the Punisher out of the dumpster and he wants answers.

Just the facts, ma'am

Norah admits to nothing, even as the detective presses her for information. She tells Clemons that it isn’t about the Punisher. Then she blows him off because she’s on deadline. It’s a nice little moment between two of our supporting characters…but again, it’s all about their jobs. He’s a detective, she’s a reporter, and reporters aren’t going to snitch on their sources to detectives. All these characters so far are just their jobs. That’s their entire character. But they could be so much more.

Anyway, Norah has scrapped the Punisher story from the beginning of the issue and instead writes a great article about the bride, Marine Sgt. Rachel Alves. It’s a nice example of a ‘second-day story’, in that the story of the brutal massacre as news has already been written. Norah is writing the story that comes after, the one about the people involved. She writes a great little piece on how the bride is recovering, and is still very proud of her husband and the marriage they had for less than two hours. But the bride isn’t completely satisfied yet. The killers are still out there.

And that’s where the Punisher will come in.

He asks the tough questions

So great, the Punisher’s going to kill some people! But who? Who are these people? Why did they kill the wedding party? We’re four issues in and so far we have no idea! I would like a better understanding of the bad guys in this story. If we don’t know who they are then it’s meaningless for the Punisher to kill them. He’d just be wiping another group of bad guys off the street. I want to feel some emotion when he pulls the trigger. Maybe regret that they have to die. Or excitement that they are getting punished. Something! That’s the heart of a Punisher story: wanting to see the bad guys punished.

Rucka is doing a fine job creating a supporting cast for the Punisher. Clemons, Bolt and Norah Winters are all good characters so far, but they are only defined by their jobs. They each have distinct personalities, but those only come in to play on the job. But then for characters like Clemons and Norah, the job is all they have. Even in Amazing Spider-Man, Norah Winters is defined pretty much only by her journalistic drive. Even when she’s given romantic entanglements, those relationships depend entirely on her job as a reporter and how that effects the men in her life.

Does she ever turn it off?

Maybe that’s what the focus on their jobs is about. They never turn it off, just like the Punisher never turns it off. That’s something, I guess…

About Sean Ian Mills

Hello, this is Sean, the Henchman-4-Hire! By day I am a mild-mannered newspaper reporter in Central New York, and by the rest of the day I'm a pretty big geek when it comes to video games, comic books, movies, cartoons and more.

Posted on October 24, 2011, in Comics, Marvel, Punisher, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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