Sunday, November 11, 2007

Punisher #52

Frank’s been throwing down with the Barracuda again. Already perhaps the Punisher’s toughest enemy, this time ‘Cuda has made things personal. Upset over the way Castle dispensed of him in their last encounter, (he’d never tasted that kind of a defeat before) he’s gone out of his way to make Frank regret ever meeting him. He’s dug up an infant girl, the daughter of an old flame, taken her hostage and revealed that the Punisher himself is the father.

Barracuda is a character who really doesn’t work unless he’s being illustrated correctly. When this arc kicked off in Punisher #50, it left a bad taste in my mouth for that very reason. Goran Parlov, who actually co-created the character alongside Ennis, wasn’t the artist of choice in that issue and his absence was a major detriment. Where the fill-in artist for that month rendered the villain in great detail, he also took a much more realistic direction that eliminated a lot of Barracuda’s charm and personality. Parlov’s loose, cartoony style is perfectly suited to a four-hundred pound black man with no fingers on his right hand, a grenade launcher on his hip and a gold-plated set of front teeth inscribed with the phrase F- -K YOU (Frank punched out the other two in their last meeting). Sketch him too realistically, and he’s just another stereotypical gang-banger on steroids. When in Parlov’s care, he’s somebody you see on the page and just smile, because the shit is about to hit the fan.

Likewise, I don’t think the character could work without Garth Ennis there to write him. He’s quickly become one of the author’s signature creations, to the point that I’d compare him to Herr Starr in Preacher. Ultimately he’s a terrible guy, but because he’s so driven and self-assured, you can’t help but pull for him a little bit.

Despite his cold, all-business demeanor, Ennis’s take on Frank Castle is clearly very human. He’s frequently reminded of his previous life, whether he’s remembering his service in Vietnam or lamenting the death of his family. This story in particular has really emphasized that portion of the character’s psyche, as he tries to deal with the prospect of fresh fatherhood when his first pass at it ended so disastrously. He’s reacting to Barracuda’s attack with the same kind of precise, strategic mindset he always brings with him, but for perhaps the first time he isn’t quite sure how it’s all going to end, how he even wants it to end.

Parlov and Ennis are becoming quite the team on Punisher, writing the lead character with military precision and dedication, then illustrating him as a larger-than-life monster of a man. They’re pairing him off with a phenomenal series of foils, of which Barracuda is easily the strongest. They’re taking risks with established names and faces (in this arc alone, Frank’s been thrown out of a building, shot, stabbed, freed from police custody and revealed as the father of an infant girl) and wrapping up each story with a distinct set of consequences. This is the kind of material that’s going to find itself collected into a “Marvel Milestones” paperback in a few years, so if you aren’t currently buying it, get with the program. The last page of this issue is the stuff legends are made of.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9.5

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