Thursday, October 29, 2009
Great moments in comics! The Punisher disarms!
Marvel's "Dark Reign" continues, with slick super-villain Norman Osborn convincing everybody (including the President) that he's not only a good guy but the right man to be in charge of the super-C.I.A. that is H.A.M.M.E.R.
Norman Osborn keeps a list of things he wants to get done during his open-ended time in office, and one of those things is: exterminate the Punisher. Naturally, I agree.
This is and always has been one dumbass character, the fetishization of stupid brutish revenge, the anti-Batman. Frank Castiglione's family is gunned down by the mob, and he swears an oath to punish the criminal underworld for the rest of his life. Yawn. If the character hadn't been plucked from obscurity by Frank Miller during his epic run on Daredevil and given some choice scenes (including a naked-fighting-in-prison-shower scene that so impressed a certain filmmaker that he put it in a movie last year without so much as a tip of the hat), he'd have been remembered about as long as Fool-Killer or Mad Dog. But no! Instead, we get not one, not two, but three crappy movies and who knows how many crappy comic book series, all dedicated to convincing us that some dumb thug with lots of guns can ever be worth attention.
It makes sense that a control-freak like Norman Osborn would want to simply eliminate somebody like the Punisher. And you know what? It makes sense that he'd succeed. Thousands of mobilized, well-armed soldiers, infallible surveillance equipment, and, in this case, Wolverine's claw-sporting mutant son Daken ... Osborn's got all this, and the Punisher has a couple of rifles, a couple of knives, and a couple of wet-washed one-liners that would've made Clint Eastwood blush with embarrassment. It's no contest - and it shouldn't be. If Marvel's "Dark Reign" story line is going to have any bite to it at all, the bad guys have got to win a few rounds - and win big.
So of course I was expecting the worst from this issue, despite the fact that it's penciled by John Romita Jr., one of the most talented artists in the business and definitely the guy you want drawing a nasty brawl (he has, to put it mildly, a very direct sense of violence). I expected that the Punisher would easily evade or defeat Osborn's troops, and I expected he'd find a way to beat Wolverine's son, even though Daken has claws popping out of his knuckles, extra-fast reflexes, and a mutant healing factor that, apparently, allows him to re-grow an entire arm (complete with tattoos!) in about a minute. When the writers of the Punisher's own comics titles started having him mix it up with actual super-powered folk, that should have been the end - Spider-Man tackles thugs with guns all the time, after all, and so do all the other heroes - but nevertheless, nothing exceeds like success, and the Punisher is, gawd help us, a fan favorite character.
And in page after gloriously choreographed page, he seems to be keeping the upper hand. He defeats Daken in the sewers and is ready for his standoff against Osborn's army - when suddenly Daken reappears (I know virtually nothing about this character, but I'm fairly certain writer Rick Remender gives his fast-healing powers way too much kick), lunges at the Punisher - and proceeds to carve him up like a Thanksgiving turkey, including (but not culminating in!) this Great Moment scene:
There's no last minute miracle, no mistaken identity - some guy with guns and knives faces off against an expertly-trained super-powered mutant killer on a rainy rooftop and gets viciously dismembered. Osborn gets to cross one more thing off his list. As depressing as it is to read a comic book in which there's no heroism and absolutely nothing good happen, it felt great to see a dark, well-thought story line advance by such an important step.
You can sense a 'but' coming on, can't you? You know me so well by now!
BUT .... the issue doesn't stop there. In frantic little back-up features, readers are reassured that this isn't the end of the Punisher's story! Something about gathering up the sliced and diced pieces of his body, stitching them together, and making some kind of Franken-Punisher? I don't know, and I'm sure whatever actually gets written and drawn will appall me even more than the teasers do. Not only because it's a stupid idea, but also because this issue, this sequence right here, is exactly right - a violent, sordid, unpredictable end for a peripheral character in the whole "Dark Reign" saga, one further chapter in making Norman Osborn's de facto dictatorship feel real. The Punisher's story should just stop here - but some things (Franken-Punishers are the least of them) just can't be killed ...