Normally I dig Garth Ennis’s writing. I enjoy his war stories, particularly the Enemy Ace limited series he wrote a few years back. Ennis breathed a murderous new vitality into Marvel’s The Punisher, rescuing a property that had fallen out of favor with fans. And his brutal limited series Thor: Vikings had an honest-to-God F*$% Yeah moment that I will have to write about some day (Thor: “’Tis on.”)
But this comic, The Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe? It’s pointless and ugly and gratuitous and pandering and amoral and I felt like showering after I read it. So of course, it’s a perfect book for Alternate Reality Where Everybody Dies Week!
As is our custom here at Dave’s Long Box, the theme week will stretch beyond seven days. Perhaps I should have called it Alternate Reality Where Everybody Dies Fortnight. I realized that I have been focusing exclusively focusing on Marvel comics where everybody dies and have been neglecting all the fine DC comics where everybody dies, so I must continue on into a second week of carnage.
Back to The Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe. The premise is simple, but stupid: What if Frank “The Punisher” Castle’s family were killed in the crossfire of a superhero battle in Central Park instead of getting killed in the crossfire of a mob hit like they were in the “616” universe. Instead of dedicating his life to eradicating crime and punishing criminals, Castle dedicates his life to wiping out superheroes…
…which makes no damn sense whatsoever.
Ennis wastes no time putting The Punisher in full-on killer mode. A police detective, Frank Castle shows up at Central Park where The X-Men and Avengers have just finished repelling an invasion of Brood and Skrull aliens. A stray optic blast or flying tree or something takes out Castle’s family, which pisses him off to no end.
Cyclops feels bad and tries to apologize to Castle, who responds by shooting the X-Man in the face. Twice.
I can understand that the guy would be pissed. Heck, I’d be sore if my family were killed in a superhero fight, too. It seems like pretty thin motivation for killing EVERY SINGLE SUPERHERO EVER. Ennis doesn’t portray Frank as a barking mad lunatic – he pretty much acts like your standard-model Punisher – so the reader is asked to make this huge leap of faith and just accept that Frank must act irrationally and kill all superhumans, even if it doesn’t make sense.
I mean, it’s not like The Avengers and X-Men were playing a game of touch football in Central Park that got out of hand and people were killed. They were stopping an interstellar invasion, for Chrissake. If there were no superheroes to repel the attack and Frank’s family was accidentally killed in a battle between the aliens and the National Guard, would Frank systematically wipe out all Guardsmen? And why isn’t he pissed off at the Brood and the Skrulls? They started the whole thing.
The other thing that bugs me about this comic is its inconsistent stance on violence and retribution. After providing Frank with thin motivation to hate all superhumans, we follow him along on a series of vignettes in which he murders heroes and villains in clever and sadistic ways. Are we supposed to be rooting for him? Some of the execution scenes are played for black laughs, like this scene where The Punisher takes out Dr. Doom with a hammer:
I don’t know, is that supposed to be funny? Maybe you have to be a hormonal, socially retarded, glue-sniffing 13 year old boy in a trench coat to truly appreciate the nuanced humor. Or maybe it’s just kewl, in the same way it is kewl when a cheerleader gets stabbed in the throat in a slasher movie. I can’t tell what reaction Ennis is going for.
Here’s another example: Frank tracks down Spider-Man and kills him and Venom in a New York sewer. Just before The Punisher shoots Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man in the head, the hero asks him, “Why me?” Ka-BLOW!
We get a full-page shot of The Punisher looking all tough, striding through the sewer. He tells the (dead) Spider-Man, “Because somebody had to be first.” Oh, snap! Again, what is the desired effect? Is it supposed to be cool? Dramatic? As a reader am I supposed to be cheering The Punisher on because, really, fuck those superheroes and all the saving-the-world shit?
I could go on – he kills all the mutants by luring them to The Moon and setting off one of Dr. Doom’s nuclear bombs. He shoots Captain America in the head. Wolverine goes out like a sucker. Mr. Fantastic is found dead in a dumpster. Let that one sink in: the guy who saved the planet from being chowed on by Galactus gets shot because he has superpowers. That’s fucking stupid. Finally, The Punisher stabs Daredevil in the chest, feels bad, and kills himself. The end.
Man, I knew I should have reviewed the Fred Hembeck book instead. You can't go wrong with Hembeck.
Not only does The Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe suck, but it’s no fun and it makes me feel icky after having read it again. Don’t get me wrong, I love gratuitous superhero extermination as much as the next guy, hence Alternate Reality Where Everybody Dies Week, but do I have to switch off my critical faculties and sense of morality in order to enjoy comic books with a high body count? I would have to be stupid and sociopathic to enjoy a book like this. Am I saying that you, Dave’s Long Box reader, are dumb and amoral if you enjoyed this book?
Yes. Yes, I am.*
Gaaah, I’ve got this crappy taste in my mouth now. I need to counteract the effect of this comic book by exposing my mind to something diametrically opposed to The Punisher, something like this:
Thank you, baby harp seal. Thank you.
Next, let’s see how DC heroes fare when they’re put in an Alternate Reality.
Hint: everybody dies.
*Sigh... OK, to be fair I have to say that it is possible for moral and intelligent people to enjoy this book, even if I didn't. I'm not a big meany like The Punisher.