Review: Punisher #6
A healthy dose of action and murdery excitement kicks the Punisher series up a notch. Writer Greg Rucka finally answered my call to do something with the book, but there are still a lot of holes and problems with the story. The same sorts of problems that have been ongoing, like a shocking reliance on the recap page to tell us important information, an almost characterless version of the Punisher and a story that jumps ahead rather than progress naturally.
Still, the Punisher actually punishing people is a good read.
Comic rating: 4/5: Good!
The biggest development in this issue is that The Bride has finally gotten involved in the overall story. The problem with that is it’s an incredible leap from where she was last issue to this issue, and an even larger leap from where she was only two issues ago. It’s easy to understand her motivation, but I don’t think we have been properly shown her mental progression to reach this point. We also haven’t been shown nearly anything about the bad guys in this story, called The Exchange. And that is a very big problem when reading a Punisher story.
I think it’s crucial in a Punisher story that you really want to see the bad guys get punished. Whether it’s movies, comics, TV or any medium, having a fully-realized antagonist is key. Think of all the great villains you love to hate. Or the villains you can really identify with, who think they’re doing the right thing, like Magneto. These are villains you can get behind because they are well-fleshed out. It’s why the hero’s eventual victory over them has such an emotional impact. And it’s moreso with the Punisher, because hated or beloved, that villain is going to die by his hand.
But with the Exchange, I just don’t care about them. Nor do I care that they and their faceless henchmen will die. I stand by my rating that this issue was a good read, but I have a lot to nitpick after the jump.
We start, just like last issue, with the recap page explaining what’s been happening so far. And just like the last recap page was the first place we learned the full names of the villains, and the name of The Exchange, this issue’s recap page likewise drops some pretty big information. Basically that villain Stephanie Gerard is a former scientist for A.I.M. Wait, what? First of all, how is that important to her character of all? What does it add? Second of all, why tell us in the damn recap page!?
It’s also spelled out for us on the recap page that the Bride, Rachel Cole-Alves, has been using her friendship with Daily Bugle reporter Norah Winters to gain information about The Exchange. Last issue, we saw a single panel of the Bride checking out Norah’s notebook with no other indication what that was about. It was also heavily hinted that the Bride had started killing members of the Exchange, even though everybody last issue thought it was the Punisher. Well goodbye ambiguity, because the recap page simply tells us that the Bride is indeed using Norah’s notes to target members of the Exchange.
Two issues ago the Bride was still in her hospital bed. Last issue she was up and about and having Thanksgiving coffee with her new friend Norah, with very subtle hints that she could be doing something more. In this issue, she’s a straight up action assassin.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
This issue opens with the Punisher back in action, having killed a member of the Exchange in a diner in Brooklyn to get his cell phone. The phone has information about an Exchange meet-up, which the Punisher is going to use to his murderous advantage. Punisher’s suited up and ready to return to his war. Though he still has a stupid-looking bandage over his eye. Did he lose the eye in his fight with the Vulture in issue #3? I don’t remember. Also, there’s a new artist. Not as good as the regular artist, but I have no real complaints against artists Matthew Southworth and Matthew Clark. I think one handles the Bride’s pages, and one handles the Punisher’s pages.
Across town in Manhattan, the Bride is hanging out with Norah Winters. Once again, we see the Bride using Norah’s notes to get information on the Exchange, without Norah noticing. Norah must have a damn good source, since the Bride is able to use her notes to find actual secret Exchange meeting places and people. Like the same one the Punisher has just found out about in upstate New York.
Cut to a snowy road up in North Creek, New York, which is where the Exchange is having their meeting. The Punisher stops his van and opens the back door, where he has a bottle of Ketamine and some linked sausages. A winning combination. Then he’s on his way again after possibly injecting the sausages with the Ketamine. The Bride is also on her way to North Creek, but she arrives right at the front door of this fancy lodge, while the Punisher is out in the woods somewhere. Who else is out in the woods? Some Exchange guards with dogs and snowmobiles.
Every other page here cuts back and forth from the Punisher’s story to the Bride’s story. Rather than keep cutting, I’ll just explain one at a time. Basically the guard dogs go nuts and chase off after something in the woods. The guard goes with them and finds the dogs chowing down on the linked sausages, which the Punisher injected with female dog urine so make sure the guard dogs went nuts. There’s also the Ketamine, knocking the dogs out.
The guard barely has time to call for back-up before…
Punisher then kills the back-up. And I’m sorry, but when I saw this next page, I laughed out loud.
I understand the need to dress in white in the snow, but going the extra mile to paint on the black skull? That’s just funny. The Punisher just looks bad dressed in all white. Maybe if it was white camouflage. Plus there’s that stupid eye bandage as well. Punisher just looks all together ridiculous in that outfit. Regardless, the Punisher continues to kill his way through a few guards before kicking his way into the lodge…
And now we’ll skip back to the Bride.
Using Norah’s notes, the Bride made her way to the same lodge. Dressed as a rich, young socialite out in the snow, the Bride easily slipped into the lodge and followed one of the Exchange’s men. She watched quietly as the man was taken up to his room, and a porter took his bags. Norah then slips the porter some money as part of her wicked plan.
The Bride’s plan works, and she’s able to slip into the Exchange guy’s room posing as a bellhop. Once inside, she kills him easily and then unpacks her gear. I posted the picture of it above. She’s got a whole ninja stealth outfit and a gun. Then she waits for night to fall, just sitting quietly on the bed. It’s a sign of how hardcore she is, not moving from that one spot for however many hours she waits.
A couple of random Exchange people walk down the hall, flirting and chatting. The Bride kills them both after shutting off the lights. Then she ambushes an executive meeting, again filled with nobody we know. Just some suits who say they work for the Exchange.
With everybody dead, the Bride continues to make her way through the lodge. Until she comes face-to-face and gun-to-gun with the Punisher!
So next issue, maybe, promises to have something interesting in it. The Punisher meets the Bride. Maybe they’ll have a lot to talk about. I’m not really sure they do, but I’m hoping it’s better than what we’ve seen so far. Rucka has put work into building up these characters, will it pay off?
I’m not sure, because as I’ve been saying, there’s a lot wrong with this book. Allow me to elaborate with a look at the Punisher and what makes a good Punisher story.
The Punisher is a constant. With very few exceptions, it’s unlikely that he’s going to go through any dramatic character changes over the course of the story. Especially not when it comes to killing criminals. He has his own moral code, but if you’re a criminal, even if you’re low on the totem pole, you’re dead. That’s one of the strengths of his character, one of the reasons why we love him. He’s as solid as a rock when it comes to killing criminals.
Rucka recognizes this. It’s why he’s made his Punisher such a silent, stoic figure. His Punisher barely speaks and doesn’t have an inner monologue, like most comic book heroes. I would argue that this is turning into a detriment for the series, but I understand how it works for the character. Rucka is writing the typical Punisher, so we readers already know what to expect. No fancy gimmicks here, just straight-forward Punisher. The character’s unmoving attitude also explains the use of supporting characters to flesh out the stories and to show character growth, because the Punisher can’t do that himself.
But the villain has to share in the character load, and that’s the main failing of Rucka’s story so far: Who gives a fuck about the Exchange?
Another key to understanding the Punisher is knowing the difference between revenge and punishment, a difference that the Thomas Jane Punisher movie got wrong. It’s ‘revenge’ when it’s personal, and it’s ‘punishment’ when the protagonist has no personal stakes in the killing. The Punisher, of course, mainly focuses on punishment stories. Rucka’s story is one example. The Punisher has no stakes whatsoever in the Exchange. But he’s going to kill them anyway because that’s what the Punisher does.
Therefore, since it’s not personal for the protagonist, the writer has to come up with other ways for the reader to care about the killing. As entertaining as it may be, the Punisher killing a bunch of nameless, faceless henchmen means nothing. Likewise, if the lead villains are bland and meaningless, then who cares if they die? That’s the problem facing the Exchange. We know very little about Stephanie Gerard and her man Poulsen, and we know absolutely nothing about what the Exchange does. We’ve been told that they’re criminals and that they’re close to becoming the top criminals in New York City. But the only crime we’ve seen them commit is having someone else shoot up the Bride’s wedding reception. And six issues in, we don’t even know why they wanted to do that!
So I suppose we can understand why the Bride would want revenge, but we don’t know or care yet why the Punisher is specifically involved. Other than just the Punisher got wind of it and he’s gonna kill them.
Let’s compare this story with what I consider to be the greatest Punisher story ever told: The Slavers by Garth Ennis. I’ve mentioned Ennis’ run on the title before, and how I consider his 11-volume Punisher story to be an absolute comic book masterpiece. Ennis’ Punisher is the definitive take on the character, and everything else, including Rucka’s new series, exists in the shadow of Ennis’ masterpiece. This may be an unfair comparison, but Rucka undoubtedly has Ennis on his back, so I think it’s apt.
The Slavers is a very similar story to this Exchange storyline, in that both of them are about the Punisher going after a criminal organization in which he has no personal stakes. Punisher gets wind of a criminal group and goes after them like he does. The Slavers in question were a group of human traffickers from Eastern Europe, who would kidnap young girls off the street in impoverished villages, gang-rape them until they broke their spirits and then ship them to America to work in brothels. That’s horrible! And what’s worse, Ennis’ found ways to let the reader know that this sort of thing happens in the real world. So from that alone, you want to see The Slavers destroyed!
And Punisher, with his unflinching drive, is the only one capable of killing them as badly as we want them killed.
Ennis also introduced us to the three people at the head of the Slavers: Cristo, Vera and Cristo’s sadistic father. From the first issue of the Slavers story, we’re introduced to the three of them and how they relate to one another. Cristo and Vera are in a relationship, and they both think the sadistic father is going too far with his old-school criminal ways. Cristo and Vera would prefer to run their sex slave ring like businesspeople, not like gangsters. They’re all evil people, but we get to know them as the story goes along. So within the first two issues, we know the individual people that the Punisher needs to kill, and we know the depths of their crimes, we know why they need to die. So for the whole rest of the story, we are rooting for the Punisher to kill these horrible, horrible people and end their sex slavery ring!
The Punisher even shares our utter hatred of them after he tosses one out a skyscraper window.
None of that anger or hatred exists with the Exchange.
Like I said, we don’t know their crimes and we barely know anything about Stephanie Gerard or that guy she works with, Poulsen. Unless you’re absolutely still stinging from the massacre at the wedding from issue #1, there is no energy or excitement in killing the Exchange. They didn’t even kill the Bride’s family, they had someone else do it. Why? Who knows! Six issues into this story and neither the Punisher or the reader has any real, meaningful reason to see Gerard, Poulsen or the Exchange be killed. That’s a problem.
So I hope, I really hope, that Rucka starts giving us some answers and some understanding very soon. Right now, he’s all style over substance. That was a great way to launch the series, but it’s time to give us some meat to chew on.