Monday, August 11, 2008

Punisher #60

Frank's finally crossed the wrong people. In a group of US Army generals, Castle has met an enemy who knows who he is, where he came from, and all of his strengths and weaknesses. They've confronted him with a combatant he refuses to fight, (United States soldiers) chased him from his most secure safe houses, survived his booby traps and plundered the vast economical reach of the entire American army along the way. And, surprise surprise, they've got their wish: he's in captivity. As it turns out, though, the real question isn't how they plan to capture him, but how they intend to keep him there.

The last issue of Punisher under the watch of longtime scribe Garth Ennis is a conclusion in every meaning of the word. Since launching the series under the MAX imprint, (I'd just as soon forget what he did with later issues of the Marvel Knights title) Ennis has left dozens of plot threads dangling, confrontations unresolved and burnt men breathing, and it's all come to a head in this arc. Naturally, that means if you're picking up the series for the first time, you're going to be left almost completely in the dark, but if you've been following it all along (as I have) then you're reaping the benefits of years and years of build-up. It's a rewarding payoff, if not the most instantly accessible.

Strangely, this penultimate chapter in Ennis's skull-chested career isn't his finest hour with the character. The brunt of the action took place earlier in the arc, and this issue is really little more than one last chance to wrap everything up, provide a sense of closure, and talk about it. Yeah, let's all sit down with Frank freaking Castle and have one long, introspective chat... not exactly what I think anyone would expect from an issue of Punisher. If that weren't drab enough Ennis breaks up the issue with full-text chapters of "Valley Forge, Valley Forge." The biography of a soldier who fought in Vietnam, the book provides an interesting look at the birth of the Punisher through the eyes of a man who was there to see it personally. It's insightful reading, but it's also infuriatingly distracting. I understand that this was probably something Garth wanted to get out in the open before he washed his hands of the character, but it doesn't match the present-day story that it's interrupting, and it feels like an excess of copy, dropped into an already slow-moving narration.

Goran Parlov, Ennis's most recognizable partner in crime during his stay on Punisher, delivers another strong performance on the artistic side this month. Parlov has caught his share of grief during his work with the character, and while I'll concede that his artwork isn't for everyone, I've enjoyed his stay. In the same vein as Steve Dillon, Parlov's simple, blunt style provides an excellent counterpoint to Ennis's brutal, action-packed storytelling. While his work has shown some signs of decay recently, (some of this month's contributions show either a lack of time or effort) his compositions remain strong and I continue to enjoy his work. Even when he's tasked with long, dreary scenes of conversation and not exploding muzzles, sailing body parts and thick fountains of blood, Parlov keeps things interesting and I appreciate that.

This is a rewarding conclusion, no doubt about it. The bad guys get what's coming to them, walk right into it, and you'll be surprised at how easily it all comes together. Unfortunately, it isn't the crowning moment I was hoping it might be. Upon concluding this sensational five-year run with the series, I'd thought maybe Ennis would give himself a better sendoff. Instead, he's produced something that's worth a borrow, but not a buy. It's a fine tale, with roots planted long ago, but that doesn't instantly make it a great read. The excruciatingly slow pace and abundance of words keep this from being all it could be.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

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