Friday, February 6, 2009

Comic Review: Punisher Max, Vol. 1: In The Beginning

The Punisher MAX
The Punisher MAX Vol. 1: In The BeginningVolume One: In the Beginning
Back in his hey-day, Frank Castle AKA The Punisher, was a young man in black spandex waging a war on organized crime for wiping out his family years prior. And although there was much talk about his brutal and bloody methods, the really good stuff was done off-page, thanks to the Comic Code Authority, leaving it all up to the reader's imagination. His only friend and ally in this venture was Microchip, a chunky and geeky fellow whose mechanical and electronic expertise came in quite handy. After all, you never know when you're going to have to hack into the Roxxon Corporation's mainframe, or customize a weapon to do much more damage that God ever intended it to do.

But somewhere along the way, things changed. Microchip retired and went away. The spandex was traded in for a skull logo tee-shirt and black leather jacket. And what's more, Frank Castle got old. Not old like your grandfather, but old like a grizzled war veteran who got so used to the fight that he is unable to accept that the war is over. Which, in a way, is precisely what he is.

Enter the new age of the Punisher. Not only has Frank Castle grown up, but so has the comic book, finally delivering the gooey grue and red stuff that you always knew existed somewhere beyond the panels of the printed page--just look at the absolutely brutal attack at an aging mobster's birthday party. While many mainstream Marvel heroes would seem out of place in this dark corner of the universe (can you imagine Speedball in a Max title?), the Punisher has never been a true hero. He's an anti-hero, which is why he seems so at home here.

Marvel Max's Punisher Volume 1: In The Beginning collects the first six issues of the 2004 The Punisher series, covering the entire "In the Beginning" story arc.

After a text-heavy refresher course of the character's history, we're launched into the story proper, as Frank wars on, completely unaware that he's being tailed by persons unknown. Said persons are reporting back to a very familiar face from Frank's past: the Fat Boy himself...Microchip.

It seems that during his extended absence, Micro has landed himself a new job, and his first order of business is two-fold: locate and neutralize the Punisher; and then recruit him or eliminate him, whichever is more feasible. I don't want to spoil any of the fun, but suffice it to say that it all leads up to an explosive ending that will lead you speechless, even if you see it coming.

It's all written by the neigh-legendary Garth Ennis, so you know it's going to be excellent, and the art by Lewis Larosa is good, leaping into amazing when his characters are ensconced in shadows (which, fittingly, is quite often.) It's enough to make you forgive the returning-to-the-fold mobsters that look a little too much like Joe Pesci and Elvis Costello for comfort.

The Punisher's black-and-white view of the the world is very believable, as is the evolution of the character himself. The new dynamic between Frank and Micro the Prodigal Son is twisted and torturous, exactly what you would expect to see if Robin found reason to turn on Batman. If you're a Punisher fan (and are old enough to read it), this is one collection you do not want to miss.

The Punisher the way he was always meant to be? It's about time.

Oh, this is a Marvel Max title. Excuse me.

It's about fucking time.


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