Friday, July 28, 2006

THE PUNISHER KILLS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE Marvel Comics



I did not like this comic book.

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.

After that Frank shoots Jubilee (I'm OK with that) and a New Warrior or two, and gets arrested, tried, and sentenced to life in prison. He’s sprung from jail by a coalition of wealthy, revenge-crazed victims of superhero violence who want to use Frank as their instrument of vengeance. He agrees, and begins systematically murdering every superhuman in the Marvel universe, starting with Spider-Man.

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.

83 comments:

Erik said...

Great review, man! I think a lot of times writers think they can just put out anything and believe people will buy into it. But even in the comic book world, the story has to make sense. Plausible makes it enjoyable.

This is my first time reading your blog but you have made me a fan. Thanks for the honest review. And how does stinkin' Punisher take all those heros anyway?!?!? What a dunce!

Anonymous said...

I'm not as steeped in Marvel lore as many others (I'm in the 'DC geek' sub-set of comic geeks) so I have to ask, "What the pho is the '616 Universe'"? I realize it's short-hand for "Marvel" but from whence did it come?

Please and thank you.

googum said...

I think Alan Moore's responsible for the "real" Marvel U. being numbered 616, from his Captain Britain books.

Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe: yeah, not great.

Punisher: The End: So, so, good.

High Power Rocketry said...

That box is pretty long : )

Welcome to the blogger "blogs of note" list.

Phil Lee said...

There's one thing to be said about The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe: it's pretty cheerful compared to, say, Ruins.

Juggernaut said...

I haven't read the issue, but was just curious if the Punisher took out Thor. Anyone got the details?

Anonymous said...

philip: I didn't know what the "616" was either(first thought: Detroit has its own universe now?), so here's the Wikipedia link that edjamacated me.

Dave, my eyes thank you for sparing them a lye washing. I'm really repulsed by the few panels I've seen here. Seems like a lot of over the top violence for no good reason, but hey, I'm not a 13 year old glue sniffer, so what do I know?

Anonymous said...

Am I the only person who thought that baby seal was about to be clubbed? I actually own this issue I may dig it out since I can't remember anything about it.

BionicBuddha said...

Very funny post...I can appreciate the disclaimer at the end!



www.bionicbuddha.com

J'onn J'onzz, Martian Manhunter said...

That harp seal should've been in "cute little baby harp seal blows up the punisher, because he's an obnoxious idiot"... or maybe not.

weas_chatas said...

god blog, congratulations

Hawaii Vixen said...

congrats for making the blog of note list.

Mark W. Hale said...

I love this comic. I loved it when I read it in high school, I loved it when I reread it last year, and I loved reading about how much you didn't love it. See, I'm hardly a sociopath. Is a sociopath so filled with love as this? I think not.

PS - Garth Ennis's "Preacher" lettrcol introduced me to the best joke ever: "Two baby seals walk into a club."

PPS - Zombie Night at the Gotham Aquarium.

Anonymous said...

"Ennis doesn’t portray Frank as a barking mad lunatic – he pretty much acts like your standard-model Punisher"

Seems like a distinction without a difference to me, but then the last Punisher appearance I enjoyed was drawn by Ross Andru.

rgl

Anonymous said...

No need to extend your 'everybody dies' session. 'Dave's Long Box' moves through time at the same rate as the Marvel Universe.

So whenever you say 'week', I say 'whatever'.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to second what weas_chatas had to say. This is a god blog, indeed.

ohgrl, thanks for the elucidation. I've been trained (bullied) by my copyeditor at work not to trust wikipedia so I often forget to try it.

Bully said...

Oh, like you haven't always thought about shooting Cyclops in the face.

Twice.

Nothing said...

congrats for getting into blogs of note ! impressive blog !

UB said...

nice blog - keep up the good work ! visit my blog also - Quotations on Education

None of your business said...

Are you gonna talk about RUINS, the marvel project that pissed off Alex Ross. Talk about dark...

Ralph Dibny said...

Mr Fantastic was found dead in a dumpster. You can't take that away from me.

dwinn said...

Actually, 616 is the other side of the state from Detroit, but hey. :)

Anonymous said...

I *totally* agree with you. Punisher as Mary Sue. Not fun.

Anonymous said...

Also, we need a Baby Harp Seal Destroys The Marvel Universe graphic novel. In tabloid format, done by Alex Ross.

Anonymous said...

Awesome comics review blog, I love the 'what if' standalones where eveyone gets wiped out. They really make you think.

Hey please do a review of RUINS! The most depressing, cynical two issues I've ever read. Also 'The End' for Hulk and Punisher, respectively.

ps. the F&*K YEAH's crack me up.

KaraokeFanboy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
KaraokeFanboy said...

Thanks for helping me finally realize why this book has perplexed me for so long. I picked it up during my fanatic scramble for all things Ennis, right after I read the "Preacher" library. I couldn't understand why the tale didn't sit well with me. I liked Ennis. I liked the Punisher. What I didn't like was the thin motivation, the sheer effortlessness of his methods. Even in the context of his weak m.o., I would've dug some consistent subplot about that elusive B-lister, that thorn Frank just can't pluck. Cloak and Dagger come to mind. Cloak absorbs all of Punny's bullets and disappears before further capture, something like that. Here's the cool Ennis line: "Because someone had to GET AWAY." Eh? EH?

Looks like a great blog and I can't wait to read more! I'm new at this, so if you get a chance to check mine out and offer some feedback, I'd appreciate it!

ancient clown said...

Howdy.
your humble servant,
Ancient Clown

Kevin Church said...

Dave, for the love of God, you are overthinking a book where this was the editorial process:

Marvel: Ennis, have the Punisher kill everyone.
Ennis: Get me a case of Sierra Nevada and give me three hours. Prepare the wire transfer.

Chris Sims said...

Campbell, you know me.

You know what I do.

That said, I was a little iffy on this the first time I read it back when Marvel reissued it with the Steve Dillon cover (circa the Marvel Knights Punisher ongoing, I believe), but when I read it again last year as part of the Box of Punishment, I thought it was a hoot.

You're absolutely right when you say it's stupid, but brother, it's hilariously stupid. On my second pass at it, it didn't read like overblown Punisher fan-fiction, but instead like a dead-on satire on every lousy What If Punisher story where he accidentally kills Daredevil (or Conan, or the Silver Surfer, or whatever) and things end up like Potterville in It's A Wonderful Life.

Does that make it a Cousin Larry trick? Maybe. But I can't imagine that it's actually meant to be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

Congrats! I found your "Long Box" in the blogs of note.

You know, I escaped the "famous Seattle company scene", you can too.

Btw, Isn't a fortnight 14 days?

*wink*

Mike said...

Interesting site here - I'll be back to visit more!

Bethany said...

good read. I also found you on blogs of note. love the seal pic. hope it wasn't about to be clubbed

mika said...

the bastard kills spiderman? what desicration!thats like sacrilidge! never again will i read a punisher comic. spidey's gone?

Phillip R Goodman said...

it strikes me that this comic book could have been a great place for ultra tong in cheek anti republican/conservative satire.

Sleestak said...

Too bad the Punisher doesn't take on spammers.

Yet.

Anonymous said...

The word you're looking for is immoral, not amoral.

Rayner said...

i really like the punisher but yea i thought this issue was kinda a slipshod effort

Greg said...

Like you needed any more publicity, you bastard.

Heidi on Vashon said...

Fellow Islander, your blog is too cool! SD is my hometown, land of Comic-Con.

shashavica said...

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Nice Blog!
Please come and visit mine too.

www.shashavica.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Eagerly awaiting The Punisher Kills Cousin Larry and Mary Sue comic...

My thought when I first read this comic is that it was supposed to be stupid and over-the-top, but your criticisms are right on.

My biggest gripe at the time was that if it so easy to walk up to these heroes and shoot them, why weren't they all dead long ago?

But I love Ennis' sick sense of humor. Nothing will ever top The Punisher blowing off Wolverine's face and gonads, then parking a steamroller on him. Hee!

Mutt

FashionWhore said...

....
THAT is weird. Remind this new-to-the-comic-world gal to buy some DC & Marvel comics, stat. Or is that STAT? Anyone got a clue?
LOVE that baby seal. Everybody now: Awwwww.

Anonymous said...

Why is that nobody wants that baby seal to die a horrible violent death?

It would be so kwel

Anonymous said...

"The word you're looking for is immoral, not amoral."

I think Dave picked the word he wanted to use.

Amoral: Lacking moral sensibility; not caring about right and wrong.

Anonymous said...

I work with a guy who eats, drinks, and breaths comics.

Anonymous said...

FINALLY!

SOMEone who hated that piece of drek as much as I did/do.

Freakin' thing made ZERO-ASSED sense.

EVERYWHERE on the interweb (and a LOT these days) are people using that "Because someone had to be First" line as if it were hip.

Gah!

That was one of the only comic books that I got rid of right after I bought it.

And, yes I KNOW it's worth some bucks.

Don't care.

I also tossed out Cry for Dawn # 1.

Crap is crap.

~P~
P-TOR

Anonymous said...

There's a small part of me that wants the Marvel Earth to be 2112, and also I want everyone on it wailing like Geddy Lee.
That would rock.

UB said...

very nice blog ! keep up the good work ! visit my blogs also -
The JOKES Blog
Quotations on Education

Brack said...

Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill's "Marshal Law Takes Manhattan" did the nihilistic slaughter of Marvel characters a lot better.

And the main villain in that book is "The Persecutor" - a thinly veiled parody of the erstwhile Mr Castle.

Anonymous said...

you are really stupid

Anonymous said...

bubby

FashionWhore said...

Like I would visit a blog that spammed for publicity. Not. QUIT doing it people. It just makes it harder to read the rest of the comments.

Derek Quenneville said...

Hah, I actually thought the big mutant wipe-out was fun...

"Ironic that you should lure us to the moon for this challenge Storm, here where we are far from humanity that seeks to destroy us!"

"Ironic or not Magneto, we simply followed the directions of the challege *you* sent!"

"Wait a minute, if neither side sent the challenge... What's that bomb-looking thing coming out of the ground?"

(BOOM!)

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Anonymous said...

because, really, fuck those superheroes and all the saving-the-world shit?

Yes! Authority isn't popular. Welcome to Civil War. No one wants to see the good guys triumph over evil, they just want to see them as twisted and messed up as the rest of us. And sometimes that means pitting hero vs. hero or sometimes it's hitting Doom with a hammer.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the kill-the-mutants scene was, IIRC, we didn't even *see* it. It was just mentioned in dialogue.

Chris Sims said...

No, they get blowed up real good with a lunar nuke right there on panel.

Sam Wallin said...

Great blog - and a great review of a terrible sounding book. I got into Punisher back in those carefree days of yesteryear when Dolf Lundgren rocked our worlds as Frank Castle. Since then I've wandered far from Marvel into Dark Horse and Vertigo and some of the better manga. Oh, and Transmetropolitan. That's the good stuff right there. Hot diggety.

Anonymous said...

who the hell is bellxone ?

BIG said...

Nice insight to a world usually shrouded in stigma.

Anonymous said...

Well, crap. Who am I thinking of? The Avengers?

Anonymous said...

My main problem with it was the fact that there wasn't any creativity or zing behind the deaths. It was just The Punisher shooting or bludgeoning various super-heroes. Wow! Really? You're just going to beat Dr. Doom to death with a hammer? You sure you don't want to try something a little more clever than that? OK, whatever. You're the fan favorite Garth.

You're right about the Hembeck book it's wittier, smarter and actually, in some ways, darker than The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe.

Gwynplaine said...

I thought your review was spot-on and well-spoken -- and very funny. Thank you for the harp seal. I look forward to reading more, and especially to killing off those darn DC heroes in an alternate universe. Heh heh.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said, "My biggest gripe at the time was that if it so easy to walk up to these heroes and shoot them, why weren't they all dead long ago?"

This is actually a common problem with newer comic books; they want to be darker, so they have to kill some guys off, right? Having your newest villain shove a stalagmite through Midnight Stranger's face will really show how badass your new comic is, right?

The thing is, you always end up wondering why nobody tried that in the first place. I mean, gosh, nobody ever though of blowing up the New Warriors? Nobody thought of shooting Spider-Man?

Even worse is when it works on guys who you already know could beat it:

Anonymous said, "My main problem with it was the fact that there wasn't any creativity or zing behind the deaths. It was just The Punisher shooting or bludgeoning various super-heroes. Wow! Really? You're just going to beat Dr. Doom to death with a hammer? You sure you don't want to try something a little more clever than that"

This is what I've never understood about Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe: Is it supposed to be funny, or what?

I mean, it doesn't seem like it should be takenseriously, because what, we're supposed to buy that a guy who matches wits with the smartest man on earth and has wrestled guys who can knock over whole buildings with their bear hands is going to be laid low by an ordinary dude with a sledge-hammer?

But at the same time, it's not particularly funny, either.

What's the point?

And yeah, you have to do DC's Word's Funnest, which can briefly be described as "Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxysptlck kill the DC Universe".

Matrixdancer said...

Hey!
Nice Blog! By the way,
I appreciated
"Sergio Aragones destroys Marvel"
(and "Sergio Aragones destroys DC"),
which I think were incredibly funny.
I'd like to see one of your reviews on those:-)
Thanks again for the nice blog.

Anonymous said...

u are idiot!

Anonymous said...

ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss

Anonymous said...

Never read it but I have this weird feeling that I need to club that baby seal to death...BLOOD ON THE ICE!!!!

Anonymous said...

Oooh, yeah, World's Funnest. I especially like the Kingdom Come part.

OhPunk! said...

The punisher is hardcore!

.

Check out my AWESOME blog:
ohpunk.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Yikes. Dave's comment section is starting to look like a cross between the DC Comics message board and a Hotmail account. Here's hoping things settle down soon.

jinx protocol said...

I'm in the minority here, but I liked the Punisher kills the Marvel Universe book. I haven't read it in a really long time and seeing it brings back memories.

Of course, I'm a slave to gratuitous violence.

That's perhaps why I liked the Marvel Zombies books and The Walking Dead and such.

So thank you, Dave's Long Box, and good day, sir.

http://www.jinxprotocol.blogspot.com

David C said...

I actually kinda like that Dr. Doom scene, at least in isolation. It's good Comic Book Irony, especially for a guy who's as grandiose and self-important as Doom.

Doom undoubtedly expects that, in the unlikely event that he dies, it'll be a glorious death - while finally destroying the accursed Richards, he's simultaneously overcome by one of Richards' brilliant inventions.

But to meet his end at the hands of a regular U.S. Marine-turned-vigilante with a big hammer? That'd just piss Doom off to no end!

Anonymous said...

Christopher said...

"Having your newest villain shove a stalagmite through MIDNIGHT STRANGER's face will really show how badass your new comic is, right??"

Is this a real dude's name? If not, I am so stealing it.


David C said...

"I actually kinda like that Dr. Doom scene, at least in isolation. It's good Comic Book Irony, especially for a guy who's as grandiose and self-important as Doom.

Doom undoubtedly expects that, in the unlikely event that he dies, it'll be a glorious death - while finally destroying the accursed Richards, he's simultaneously overcome by one of Richards' brilliant inventions.

But to meet his end at the hands of a regular U.S. Marine-turned-vigilante with a big hammer? That'd just piss Doom off to no end!"

That's the way I saw it, too. That was the best scene in the book to me, just because of that.


And Dave, I came across your blog through a link on a wrestling message board and dug it so much I started at the first post and read all the way through.

It's one of my favorite sites on the net, now.

I've gotten tons of books you've reviewed and haven't been disapointed yet.

But yeah, I dig your shit, keep doin' what you do, dawg.

Peace and One Love,
FroGG NeaL

Anonymous said...

"Are you gonna talk about RUINS, the marvel project that pissed off Alex Ross. Talk about dark..."

Why did it piss off Alex Ross???

Although I never read RUINS, so it might have pissed me off too if I had read it. ;))

BTW... Great blog.

Kris said...

Yeh way over the top, but the Punisher still rules. I'd be more pissed of if someone else went crazy and killed the Punisher

Anonymous said...

You're a twat. Stop reading Ennis comics.

rgdinmalaysia said...

I'm in the minority I know but I kind of liked it....I interpreted it more as a parody.

a few thoughts....

1.) Since ths subject of realism came up, the idea that innocent people would be killed in superhero crossfires makes perfect sense....In the Welcome Back Frank storyline, The Punisher himself makes that distinction when he tells the vigilate Payback that he shot a cleaning woman by mistake while killing a CEO. The DC storyline Kingdom Come was also good in this regard.

2.) I'm not one of those who find The Punisher particularly heroic....He kills criminals in cold blood without due process of law....I don't think it's much of a stretch to have him murder heroes in the same way and that's what's clever about this comic and also one of the reasons why I like The Punisher MAX series....It's the Punisher undiluted.

3.) I particularily liked the part where he killed the Hulk....He simply tags him with a homing beacon and then shoots him when he turns back into Bruce Banner.

www.xanga.com/rgdinmalaysia

muebles granada said...

Thanks so much for this post, really helpful material.

Zakaria shalih said...

how about Captain John Price kills the Nolanverse where this is basically Punisher kills the Marvel Universe parody with Punisher replaced by John Price from Call of Duty Modern Warfare games and marvel universe replaced by Nolan Batman universe(it isn't alternate reality to nolanverse)?