Monday, March 10, 2008

Punisher #55

This month's Punisher serves as an epilogue to the gigantic “Barracuda” arc that climaxed last month, a sort of tying up of loose ends... as if tearing the villains nose off, slicing away both of his arms, sticking an axe in his chest and unloading a full clip, point-blank into his face wasn't conclusion enough. At the same time, it also serves as an introduction to Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov's next (and final) arc together – a nice segue from one horrifically violent war zone to the next.

There have been a lot of takes on Nick Fury over the years: Stan Lee's James Bond-style portrait, Jim Steranko's legendary surreal, experimental version, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar's mastermind of the Ultimate Universe; in the opening pages of this issue, Ennis adds his twist to the patch-eyed veteran, and it's just as inspired as the creators who have come before. His Fury is angry at the world, at his friends and at himself, and seems to be constantly three inches from a blind rage. While that's a very different side of the character, it's not an altogether unbelievable one either, considering what he's gone through in the last few years. His Fury has a lot in common with the Punisher, which also makes a lot of sense. These two have been working with and around each other for years, and it's understandable that they've become so similar in the twilight of their lives.

While Fury's physical appearance in this story is fairly fleeting, his impact is felt throughout the issue. With this storyline, Ennis gives the indication that he intends to wrap up every single remnant from his four year run with the character, (in MAX format, that is) even those that readers may have thought were already dead and buried. In just the first few pages, he ties the Punisher's constant run-ins with Barracuda, along with almost every misadventure since the series launched, to one specific source... and Fury's every bit as pissed about the culprits as Frank is. If Punisher MAX were a video game, this issue would be introducing the final boss. While the breathless explanations and revelations grow a bit too wordy and involved around the midway point of the issue, it comes off as a necessary evil. Three pages of intense dialog and references to countless back-issues are a fair price for the mother of all story arcs.

I'm not sure what more I can say about Goran Parlov's work that I haven't already said before. I love the guy's work, which was particularly well-suited to Barracuda, and while he occasionally stumbles in his first issue since that character's elimination, the majority of his work is still firing on all cylinders. He doesn't dominate the reader's attention unless the story calls for it, and in an issue that's as word-heavy as this one, that's a godsend. His greatest strength is his ability to almost effortlessly give each character a unique, consistent face, even amongst the masses, and that skill has never shone brighter than right here. He's good enough to know what part he needs to play in the process, and for this issue that's to introduce a metric ton of new, unique faces and try to stay out of the way of the word balloons.

As first chapters go, this one wasn't Ennis and Parlov's best. It's got a lot of potential to deliver the goods as the storyline unfolds, though, and after what they've put together over the last few years, I'm willing to give this team the benefit of the doubt. It's a strange premise for a Punisher story, but sometimes those offbeat, unexpected arcs are the ones I look back on the most fondly when a run like this one concludes. Give it a borrow, especially if you've been reading the series, even erratically, during Ennis's run. It could be his finest hour or his meager last hurrah, but you'll no doubt be lost if you try to come in halfway through the arc.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8

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