Friday, June 03, 2005
THE PUNISHER vol 3 # 4 Marvel Comics, 2000
In a show of restraint, Marvel decided NOT to graphically depict a man getting his head swatted off by a polar bear in the pages of The Punisher (third series) #4.
Instead, the head swatting is done in a tasteful silhouette, with a WHAMFF sound effect. If it were me, I would have gone with a wet SHWOKK sound effect, but that's just my layman's opinion. For those of you who have not had the pleasure or reading The Punisher #4 and have wondered how exactly a guy getting his head swatted off by a polar bear would actually play out in a non-Avatar Press comic book, here it is:
That is comedy. All that is missing is the bear yelling "boo-yah!" I think that would be even funnier. Or if it was a pirate bear.
The plot of The Punisher (third series) #4 is pretty simple: A squad of Mafia gunmen stalks a wounded and unarmed Punisher through a zoo. The Punisher turns the tables on the Mafia guys, killing them all with the help of his zoo animal friends. He dunks one of them head-first into a tank full of piranhas and they eat the guy's upper body down to the bone; he serves another guy to an inexplicably huge and aggressive anaconda or something; and he orchestrates the death-by-polar-bear of the remaining two. Throw in some subplot stuff and bam! You're done. The Punisher #4 has all the subtlety of a simultaneous crotch/throat grab:
Violent humor was the name of the game for the third Punisher series. The character's popularity had waned since the Dark Age of Comics we call the 1990's, when every single fucking Marvel comic had The Punisher in it (or Wolverine or Ghost Rider or that dick Cable). It was too much - the guy was supposed to be a one-man war against crime, but he was showing up in Quasar and shit. It was too much. The Punisher's career tanked harder than Joe Piscopo's. After the pop cultural radioactivity had faded a little, Marvel decided to publish yet another Punisher series. This third regular series was the twisted brainchild of Irish writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon and their take on the title character was somewhere between Jason Voorhees and Bugs Bunny. Played for grim laughs, it was all about The Punisher killing people in a variety of exotic ways, with some grotesque supporting characters thrown into the mix. Unlike previous incarnations of the character as an obsessed but professional vigilante, Ennis and Dillon's Punisher really enjoyed what he did for a living - and what he did wasn't very pretty. Basically, he's a psychopathic killer who only kills "bad guys."
But you know what? He's our psychopathic killer, and darn it, we're rooting for him. I mean, setting aside the ethics and larger morality implied but never examined in Ennis's Punisher, you kind of have to take the character for what he is. Nobody expects Conan the Barbarian to sit down with his adversaries and reach a peaceful resolution to a conflict through dialogue -- you shouldn't expect The Punisher not to stalk and kill gangsters. And if he's going to do that, it might as well be funny, I guess.
Here's a goon getting jumped by The Punisher:
The big punchline of the book is when The Punisher lures the last two incredibly stupid gangsters descend into a polar bear habitat in pursuit of our hero - I mean our protagonist. The bears are docile and sleeping, so The Punisher hauls off and punches one of them in the nose, riling them all up. He escapes, leaving the hapless gangsters to face White Death:
"It's bears." That's a great line.
This is one of those stories that requires certain improbable things to happen in order to keep it moving. The goons who chase the wounded and unarmed Punisher have to split up so he can pick them off one by one. The Punisher can't ever get a gun in this book - if he does there's no reason to have his zoo animal friends kill the bad guys. Consequently, the first guy he kills drops his weapon in the piranha tank, while the mutant anaconda inexplicably takes the weapon of the second goon he kills. Then, in order for the big final gag to work, the last two gangsters have to suspend all reason and sense of self-preservation and climb into a polar bear exhibit.
I'm not complaining, because I thought it was funny and all, but I think you can see why I compared this to Bugs Bunny: it's funny, violent, and doesn't necessarily make a lot of sense.
UPDATE: I shamefully forgot to mention that the trippy Punisher-in-repose/piranha/skulls cover to The Punisher #4 was done by artist Tim Bradstreet, who rules.