Review: Punisher #9
Holy crap this is a terrible comic book. What a difference an artist makes. And what a difference crappy storytelling makes. Sheesh. All of the mood, all the badassery, all the sensible storytelling goes right out the window with this lackluster and downright pathetic issue of Punisher. What the hell happened? I remember last issue ending on a very cool cliffhanger. But this issue just drops that cliffhanger flat. I half expected a sad trombone to play. The rest of the issue does not make up for it. We have a dull fight scene, a downright bizarre interruption and when we finally get to the moment the entire series has been buildings towards, it lacks energy and excitement because writer Greg Rucka has created a Punisher that just doesn’t interact well with people.
And he looks freakin’ ridiculous!
Comic rating: 1/5: Terrible.
Rucka’s Punisher build up has come home to roost as we finally reach several confrontations that have been building all series. Punisher faces off against one of the leaders of the Exchange, and Punisher has a conversation with the Bride. But both encounters are absolutely botched. Punisher comes off as a pathetic lightweight against a villain who has not earned even an ounce of villainous cred, and then the fight ends in a ludicrously convoluted way that just flies in the face of the entire series up to this point. I could barely believe what I was reading. I know it all has to do with the crossover coming up with Daredevil next month, but couldn’t they have found a better way to introduce this idea?
Then when we finally get to the momentous meet-up between the Punisher and the Bride, it falls completely flat because Greg Rucka’s Punisher is very short on words, thoughts, emotions or anything else. There’s no chemistry between these two characters, but frankly that’s not surprising.
Join me for a full synopsis, with spoilers, and more analysis after the jump.
Allow me, if I may, to recap the story so far in Punisher so that we can all understand what has gone wrong and why the key moments of this issue fall flat.
The Punisher is the Punisher. No new origins, nothing fancy about him. He’s Frank Castle and he kills criminals. That’s fine. The villains are the Exchange. We’ve been told repeatedly – most often in the recap page alone – that the Exchange are the hot new criminals in New York City. They are close to becoming the top crime syndicate in the entire Big Apple.
Except the only criminal thing we have seen them do is hire a couple of thugs to massacre everyone at Rachel Cole-Alves’ wedding. We don’t know why this happened, nor have we been given any indication that the ‘why’ is all that important. It happened, and Rachel got pissed off about it. But all the thugs are now dead, killed by either Rachel or the Exchange. If they had a reason to kill everyone at the wedding, we have yet been told.
So Rucka fails the first rule of storytelling: show, don’t tell.
All he’s ever done is tell us that the Exchange are a bunch of badass criminals. And we’ve mostly been told that on the recap page. The Exchange have done nothing in the actual comics.
We’ve also only been told that the Exchange are made up of multiple people, that they’re a whole organization. Aside from its two leaders, we’ve met a bunch of random people who got killed those same issues. On the recap page in this issue, we’re told that all of the Exchange members are former agents of AIM, HYDRA and the like. That’s news to me. Thanks recap page.
The two Exchange leaders are Christian Poulsen, ex-SHIELD, and Stephanie Gerard, ex-AIM. The only things the two of them have done have been to grumble about the Punisher and have Poulsen make googly eyes at Gerard. But at the very least that’s some kind of character trait and real human interaction. Remember that, it’s going to come up later.
Anyway, on with the issue.
If you remember last issue’s cliffhanger, Poulsen had sprung a trap on the Punisher by feeding him a fake address. Poulsen then ambushed the person he thought was the Punisher with a bunch of robot sentries. In reality, however, it was Rachel, the Bride, who had fallen for the trap. The Punisher was actually standing right behind Poulsen!
I was very excited at the potential for excitement.
And sure enough, Punisher gets the drop on Poulsen.
But look what happens when the Punisher pulls the trigger.
A Combustion Nullification Field? Seriously? I know that Poulsen has been established as an ex-SHIELD agent, and fancy technology is part of the Marvel Universe, but is that really the best way to play this scene? Obviously Punisher can’t just straight up kill Poulsen at this moment in time because Poulsen is needed for the rest of the story. But Rucka controls this scene. Instead of inventing some magic technology that saves Poulsen, couldn’t he have thought of some other way for the Punisher to attack?
And then, even after Poulsen has announced why Punisher’s gun didn’t work, the Punisher reloads and fires twice more! All while Poulsen continues to explain the technology out loud! Then Punisher looks at his gun as if he’s confused why it didn’t fire!
The Punisher is not a moron!
There are plenty of reasons why his gun didn’t fire the first time, so he might try to shoot again. But when Poulsen immediately explains a very specific reason why the gun didn’t work, the Punisher wouldn’t stand around and try to take two more shots. He just stands there taking shot after shot while Poulsen calmly pulls out his own weapon and then explains, OUT LOUD, that it fires a micron stream of water at very high pressure and does not need combustion.
And Punisher just stands there and lets Poulsen shoot him! It takes getting shot in the arm before Punisher runs and hides.
They play a little cat & mouse, with Punisher hiding in the shadows while Poulsen skulks around hunting him. Poulsen starts teasing Punisher about a ‘partner’ and why all of a sudden the Punisher is no longer working alone. The Punisher doesn’t give in to Poulsen’s teasing and instead climbs into the rafters for a badass knife attack!
Except he only stabs Poulsen in the shoulder. I guess this really isn’t a MAX series after all and can’t show any real blood. The shoulder was the best that the Punisher could do? Poulsen stands up and has time to utter a few insults while Punisher just stands there with the knife watching him. I realize that Rucka doesn’t want his villain to die already, but what excuse does the Punisher have for not finishing him off!? He just stands there and lets Poulsen react to getting stabbed in the shoulder. Punisher still has the knife, Poulsen is unarmed, but nothing happens!
And then the worst, most unexpected thing in the world happens…
The two of them are interrupted by a squad of lumpy henchmen dressed in wrinkly blue uniforms wearing yellow helmets with little dangling elephant trunks.
I am not kidding.
This is ridiculous. This comic series has, for the most part, been grounded in reality. The Punisher isn’t wearing his ‘superhero’ outfit, and he’s been fighting normal criminal types. Even the Vulture was treated realistically. It’s all been very street-level. Then Rucka throws this insanity at us.
And not only do these henchmen look ridiculous, but they talk in awkward stutters and incomplete sentences. So they sound ridiculous as well.
Poulsen recognizes them as a group called ‘Black Spectre’. A quick Google search reveals that Black Spectre is a terrorist group from the 1970s Marvel. They were a bunch of brainwashed women working for the Mandrill, and they haven’t been seen since the mid-70s. A few more searches reveals that I guess writer Mark Waid has brought them back (or is just using the name) for a new group of bad guys in his Daredevil comic book. I don’t read it. But I know that the Punisher is going to have a crossover with Daredevil about something called the Omega Drive. The Black Spectre goons mention that Daredevil has the Drive, thereby setting up the crossover.
Unfortunately, nothing has ever been mentioned about the Omega Drive before or why it should matter to the Punisher. So sorry Marvel, as a reader of Punisher, I don’t care. You got Daredevil in my Punisher, and that’s not cool!
So much for the grand showdown between the Punisher and one of the lead villains in his comic book. Interrupted by a criminal organization who looked to anteaters for inspiration.
Fortunately, the Punisher feels the same way about these Black Spectre idiots as I do.
The stupid Combustion Nullification Field is still working, so none of the henchmen can shoot Punisher. So they all pull out knives and surround him, ready to take him all at once. But meanwhile, remember when I said that the Bride had been caught in Poulsen’s trap? Well all this time she’s been figuring out what really happened, and can see across to the other building and sees that the Punisher is in trouble. So she whips out a big gun and sniper kills all the Black Spectre members.
All but one, that is. Punisher grabs the survivor and demands that she tell him about the Omega Drive that Daredevil has. As if Punisher should have any reason to care. But he’s in the crossover, so of course they’ll force some reason to care on him. The problem is, I don’t care.
It’s like Marvel has some kind of magic box of macguffin names, and this time they picked out ‘Omega Drive’.
Anyway, we cut to some time later after the place has cleared out and the cops have arrived. Our other protagonists, detectives Bolt and Clemons, show up for a few panels while the Bride slips away in the crowd. The Punisher sees her and pulls up in his van, opening the door and telling her to get in. They drive out to an all-night diner on Long Island to get some food and so that Punisher can bandage himself up.
Then they talk stiffly and unlike human beings.
And that’s all it takes. The Punisher stands up and tells her to “form on me” because they have a new target and they’re going to war.
That’s it? That’s the big moment between the Punisher and the Bride where she joins him? They talk awkwardly about what type of gun she used, then fall into robotic military speak? Throughout the entire series, Rucka has been treating the Punisher as a silent, emotionless ghost of a killing machine. So now when he actually needs to have a human conversation with someone, it utterly fails. I feel nothing between these two characters. They are not soldiers in the same war. They are not kindred spirits.
He is the Punisher, and she is a super model Mary Sue who wants revenge. Rucka doesn’t seem to be trying to teach us any lessons about what it’s like to be the Punisher, or the sort of toll it’s taking on Rachel’s life. She wants to do this, she seems to have everything it takes to do this, and he’s apparently just going to shrug and let her tag along. And what new target? The Omega Drive? Bullshit! What about the Exchange? Poulsen’s still alive. Gerard is still alive. The Exchange is still operating. You’re going to tell me that Rachel cares at all about the Omega Drive? We don’t even know what the stupid thing is or why even the Punisher should care.
There is no emotion in this scene and that makes it fail.
But you know what makes this entire comic fail more than anything else? The fact that the Punisher looks like a sad, lumpy hobo!
The art in this issue was atrocious. We have a guest artist in the form of Mirko Colak, and everything has an almost ethereal tint to it. The subtle blues are heavy, permeating each scene as if that makes it darker somehow. Some of the action scenes look alright, but when characters are just standing around they look disheveled and uncomfortable in their own skin. Faces are ugly and sometimes oddly shaped. The clothing all looks baggy and rumpled. The worst victim of this art style is the main character himself.
Look, I understand that the white uniform was a tactical advantage when the Punisher went on that snow-based mission. But between that adventure and this issue, he had time to go home and change clothes! He should have been wearing his traditional black outfit in this issue. The white outfit looks ridiculous and is tactically stupid! He’s in a dark room, full of shadows, about to ambush Poulsen, but he wears an all-white uniform? And because it’s white, there are no shadows to hide the frumpy look of the outfit.
Not to mention that on two separate occasions, when the Punisher shrinks into the shadows, the black skull on his uniform suddenly turns white.
Why not just have him wearing black with the white skull like normal!? Then he could really blend into the shadows!
And for the love of God, would you please lose the massive white bandage around his head and eye! It just makes him look pathetic!
I’m no doctor, so I have no idea how long it takes for an eye to heal, but Rucka specifically had one issue that said 100 days had passed since the Punisher got injured. Why include such a long passage of time if you’re not going to heal him completely? Did he lose the eye, is that it? And if that’s the case, why not just give him an eyepatch? Why the massive white head bandage? Us comic book fans are not going to get all that angry if you have the Punisher heal from an eye injury too medically soon! He just looks stupid.
And the Punisher loses all of his danger if he looks like a god damned clown.