Punisher: Max 58 Review
Punisher: Max 58 review by Donna Jackson
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Goran Parlov
Garth Ennis has been putting the "graphic" in graphic novel for 15+ years, and now, he's putting the finishing touches on one of his most famous characters. Sure, the Punisher was already known as one of the most extreme vigilantes in the Marvel universe and was wearing skulls on his clothing before it was fashionable, but it was Garth Ennis who gave Frank Castle new life. He re-teamed with his Preacher artist Steve Dillon to write the classic Welcome Back Frank, a violent miniseries heralding his return, with doses of humor. Ennis went the complete opposite with the debut of the Punisher: Max series; nothing funny about a wimpy detective carrying his own severed testicles in a Dixie cup. By retelling Castle's origin in "Punisher: Born" and introducing sick new psychopaths like the hilariously brutal Barracuda, Garth Ennis" name has become synonymous with Frank Castle, becoming as much his property as Preacher or Hitman.
Garth has saved his best Punisher story, "Valley Forge, Valley Forge", for last, and ironically, it's less about the violence that the Max series is known for. A group of corrupt, high-ranking army officials ponder what can be done to take down the Punisher. Castle has damning evidence of army abuse on a video that could send them all to jail. They recruit troops to finish Frank off, knowing full well that Frank Castle would never kill a fellow US soldier. Issue 58 begins with a standoff at a local cemetery with the Punisher tied to enough explosives to blow up a city block, demanding to speak to the leader of the crew that has vowed to take him in. Frank has been taking the soldiers to the limit without even pulling a trigger and it won't stop until they know the truth on why their higher-ups want him and the video.
This story focuses less on the Punisher than it does on the people trying to capture him. But in that way, it's a brilliant character study on Frank Castle. The soldiers asked are his equals in every way. In fact, one could say these men are more honorable than Castle himself, and their reason for agreeing to the task is understandable. They've been trained in the same techniques that the Punisher has, therefore know his mindset of capturing criminals, and feel that Castle is disrespecting them all. The storyline shines thanks to a great supporting cast of characters, including Colonel George Howe, who bares such as resemblance to Morgan Freeman you can almost hear his voice, and Lt. Tom Geller, the leader of the brigade that has a quiet admiration for the Punisher's meticulous methods.
I didn't much care for the random textbook pages on the war book that Castle and Nick Fury discuss at the beginning of this story line. I have to say I skimmed through most of these pages since the beginning of this arc, though this issue does feature some good illustrations of the Vietnam War. It's not for me personally, but there is definitely an audience for this novel text in comic books. An issue of Grant Morrison's Batman, which was completely made up of this technique, sold very well. Unfortunately, this issue has more of these pages than previous ones of the arc. It doesn't overall hurt the story, but dedicating almost a fourth of the book to it is a little too much. The art by Goran Parlov doesn't work as well as it should. It's gritty and rugged enough for the Punisher, but a bit too exaggerated and unrealistic. It was fine for previous arcs, since the violence was so over-the-top, but not for a story such as this one.
"Valley Forge, Valley Forge" is a fitting close to Garth Ennis" run. With a few more issues to go, it's still a good time to jump in on an enjoyable final adventure before the book is handed to a different writer. Best of luck, Ennis" bloody shoes will not be easy to fill.