Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Frank Castle is a Bad Mutha – A Review of Punisher Max #16

Punisher Max #16 marks the final chapter of “Frank”, the story arc title. We get to see how Frank escapes from prison and what happen the day that Frank’s family got killed in the park. It all wraps up with the parallel of Frank escaping the prison of his normal family life as well as escaping from the prison he has been locked up in.

What has been so damn compelling about this arc is the portrayal of Frank Castle. I have felt many things about the Punisher over the years and felt that Garth Ennis has done a definitive run on the character and he did. Writer Jason Aaron is hitting some different notes and this book is standing up to Ennis' run. It is rare to have back to back definitive runs on a character, but that is what’s happening.

At this point at the end of Aaron’s run Frank has to die, otherwise the book will lack the emotional resonance that the story has been building up to. Frank is basically dead already, he walks, breathes and still kills, but whatever made Frank human is long gone. We now see Frank exposed as to not only what he is, but how he feels about himself. On the faithful day when his family was gunned down the last words to his wife is that he wanted out and would sign over everything to her just to get a divorce. The tear rolling down her eye was streaming down her cheek before she was shot. Frank’s regrets losing everything and wishes he some ways he died that day, but now believes his life is his punishment. It is all mixed up in the guilt he feels for being what he is, but he is what he is.

We see a man who no longer can function in a normal world. Whether due to the Viet Nam war or just a cold self realization Frank understands that he is a killer and any semblance of a normal life is a cold hard prison that is killing him as sure as if he took a bullet to his head. The problem is that Frank grew up in a time and place where the wife, two kids, a dog and a picket fence around your house was the thing to aspire too. So Frank is having guilt about not being normal. Of course this isn’t like Frank has discovered his sexual identity is wrong or he wants to be an artist, this is something dark, twisted and deep inside of him that he needs to kill. The only thing that prevents Frank from being a monster is his moral sense, so that he is only killing the bad guys.

We can root for Frank because he takes out people we hate, but Jason Aaron has also made it so we have to understand how empty and cold Frank is and Frank has discovered that himself once again. What iced the cake for how hard Frank is was his killing the prisoner who helped him to escape. Frank’s world is a hard and lonely place. 

Steve Dillon has done an extraordinary job showing us a young Frank and an older Frank. While Steve will not wow you with his page designs or any real fluidity in his art, his work is fantastic. The story reads easily and each action is mapped out perfectly. When Frank is in a fight, the entire sequence feels real. The emotions are so well displayed on the character’s faces Jason does not have to waste words telling us what a person is feeling. 

Scalped is Jason’s best work, this is a damn close second. If you can handle the heat and the adult tone, you should be reading this book.

So why do Comic Books Suck? In this case the $4 price tag for 20 pages is steep, but if it is this good I can almost accept it. The main reason is this book shows off what a comic can be and way too many can’t hold a candle to this book.

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