Friday, May 22, 2009

Living in Darkness: Part 5 (Marvel)
Punisher #5 When: July 2009
Why: Rick Remender How: Jerome Opena

The Story So Far...
When opportunity presented itself, Norman Osborn branded former Director of SHIELD and man in whom the people put their trust, Tony Stark, a traitor and coward. A conspiracy of events, including the secret invasion of disguised Skrull aliens, created the circumstances through which the former Green Goblin was able to elevate himself from directorial position within the Thunderbolts, to the head of a newly formed intelligence agency replacing the corrupted SHIELD.

Recognising Osborn for the man he truly is -- (rather than the man records show was once wrongly accused of being a super-villain) -- the Punisher sets out to do the thing he knows best: wage a bloody war on the bad guys!

Standing in Frank Castle's way is a network of allies Osborn has formed both on the right and wrong sides of the law. After clashing with membership of Osborn's Avengers, he now faces the ire of card carrying powers from Osborn's secret Cabal, forcing him into a much less public fight with the self-proclaimed "Kingpin of super-villains," Parker Robinson, aka; The Hood. Joined by whiz hacker "Henry," Punisher attempts to turn the tables on his pursuer, but the Hood's demonic powers will provide a twist Frank Castle could not possibly have a contingency for, bringing him face-to-face with an old friend and new enemy...

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Mr. Hyde 5 (Superhuman)
Intelligence: Punisher 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Mr. Hyde 3 (Street Wise)
Stamina: Mr. Hyde 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Razor Fist 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Razor Fist 5 (Martial Arts)
Energy: Punisher 4 (Arsenal)

- When his family was murdered by the mob for witnessing a gangland execution, Frank Castle dedicated himself to a zealous one-man war against all organized crime as The Punisher.

Drawing upon his extensive training as a soldier during the Vietnam War; Castle adopts the death's head skull as his symbol, dealing death to gangsters, drug dealers, kidnappers, and any other criminal who crosses his path.During his career as the Punisher he continues to hone his abilities while also amassing a wealth of standard and unusual munitions, including supernatural and super-science weapons stolen from super-villains he has defeated. Combined with a rare tactical mind for warfare, and his skills in hand-to-hand combat, Frank Castle's arsenal makes him a formidable opponent even for superhuman targets.

Prominent enemies include; Jigsaw, Kingpin, Bullseye, Barracuda, Ma Gnucci. Violent activity in New York has made Punisher a regular sparring partner (and sometimes ally) for heroes such as Spider-man and Daredevil, as well.

Most recently, Castle has set his sights on Norman Osborn; the former Green Goblin who usurped Tony Stark's position as the head of the foremost intelligence agency connected to super-powers. Punisher's attempts at assassination have earned him the attentions of Osborn's allies, including members of the Avengers and the legion of villains operating under the leadership of The Hood.

- The Hood's Super-Villains are: Brothers Grimm (Grimes), Mr. Hyde, Grizzly, Razor Fist, and Microchip.

A series of attacks on rival criminals and low rankings superheroes earned Parker Robinson the role he sought as Kingpin of Super-Villains in New York City. Tigra and the The Owl were among the first key victims in a showing of strength that gained The Hood the trust and loyalty afforded by cult status within the ranks of the underworld.

The Hood's immediate associations include the demonic sorceror who sponsors his powers, Dormammu, as well as members of the secret organization called The Cabal. Their ranks include Norman Osborn, Dr. Doom, Loki, Sub-Mariner, and Emma Frost.
Among the prominent figures holding membership within Hood's syndicate of villains are; Jigsaw, The Wrecking Crew, Madam Masque, The Wizard, Crimson Cowl, The Controller, Electro, Grey Gargoyle, Night Shift, Living Laser, Scarecrow, Nitro, Mr. Hyde, Purple Man, Razor Fist, and Tombstone.

Math: Punisher (Avg) The Hood's Gang (Ttl) Ranking: Punisher (#101)

What Went Down...
Having infiltrated The Hood's base via the use of Ant-Man shrinking technology and a strategic pizza delivery, Punisher successfully storms the villain's street level security, enabling him to go straight for the prize -- The Hood himself!

Following instructions from his tech-advisor, Henry; Punisher navigates toward the basement level of the Hood's establishment. There, Frank Castle comes face-to-face not with the red garbed Kingpin of Supervillains, but rather, his former ally and tech-support, Microchip. His once dead ally attempts to persuade Castle to abandon his violent quest, dangling the prospect of resurrecting his family like a carrot infront of a mule.

Before Castle can send his former partner back to the grave, he's ambushed by one of the tricks of the Brothers Grimm! They, along with Grizzly, Razor Fist, and Mr. Hyde, emerge from the shadows to defend Microchip and Hood's interests.

With Henry piping instructions in his ear, it becomes apparent the Punisher had not entered the fray without anticipating such an arrival. Armed with a stolen alien ice gun, he swiftly incapacitates Mr. Hyde and the other villains within constructs described as having a molecular desnity greater than a small sun. Despite this trivia shared by Henry, Mr. Hyde is able to break free of the ice!

He flings Punisher like a ragdoll, effortlessly sending the vigilante hurtling across the basement space. With blows that have rattled the Hulk and Thor, Hyde swings wildly at the scrambling Punisher, destroying computers and other incidental scenery in his wake. The Punisher evades each strike narrowly, scrambling while Henry formulates a back-up plan.

Cool under pressure, Castle dives for the tiny gun he'd used with dramatic effect in his entrance into the building. Though small, the advanced weapon packs a mighty punch, bathing Hyde in the explosive discharge of his fire.

Though impressive in scope, the weapon fails to phase the immensly powerful Mr. Hyde. Smouldering with his clothes in tatters, Hyde promises a grim fate for the intruding vigilante. Clutching his prey by the ankle, Hyde again tosses him across the basement, this time triggering an explosion from the impact delivered to Punisher's backpack of munitions.

With his weaponry options drastically reduced and his own body suffering the impact of the assault, defeat and even death appear to loom over the Punisher as Mr. Hyde steps over him. With seconds to spare, Henry orders Castle to activate his stolen Ant-Man helmet's external speakers, allowing the tech-whiz to pipe "dungeon metal" at a high frequency uniquely effective against Hyde!

Uneffected by the high pitched Three Inches of Blood concert, a battered Punisher rises to his feet to return to the foyer of the building. The Hood watches from behind the safety of bullet proof glass, while Punisher goes about planting C4 around the criminal headquarters, unable to reach the villain himself.

The Hammer...
With a well earned strategic victory, Punisher is your winner!

If you've been following sporadic activity on the site throughout 2009, you'll know that for the first time in the blog history, we've been focusing on releases from each week. That fact is slightly ironic, given the fact that preoccupation and lack of energy have seen the site slip well over a month behind schedule. Hopefully that'll change sooner than later, but I would hope the spirit of the content makes up for the lack of punctuality. On that subject, you might be surprised to have seen this week's entry overlook the more prominent and inevitable battle in Battle of the Cowl (#3). I'm sure developments in the Bat-books will become a regular talking point in the coming weeks, but one of the most interesting things about blogging the Infinite Wars based upon fights from each week is the opportunity to deliver a very naturally diverse selection of titles. I've made little effort to avoid repeat posts, happily following the most fitting and interesting battles that I've read in whichever title they've happened to be in.

Punisher was a title I tried with it's first issue in January, but was unimpressed with. The series debuted with a somewhat arbitrary #1 to signify the title's relaunch, sans War Journal, a mere two years after that successful relaunch.
As with the War Journal relaunch, the series promises to deliver Punisher stories intrinsically linked with the Marvel Universe itself, in this case, following on from the developments established as "Dark Reign" -- described by Marvel as a "status quo" rather than an event. To that end, they've done very well to live up to their claim, firmly establishing the 'wolf in sheep's clothing' motiff of repositioning Norman Osborn as the ruling denominator of the Marvel Universe.

To Marvel's further credit, a title like this really has been necessary. Over the course of the past decade, the character gradually became increasingly detached from his shared universe origins as he became part of mature reading imprint brands that somewhat divided editorial control over the character. It began with Marvel Knights, but became completely sequestered when the freedom offered by the MAX imprint saw the character's exploits become chiefly adult in nature.

Most of you will know straight away that I'm the kind of guy that loves the concept of the shared narrative of a corporate superhero universe. I must say, I do have a fondness for the more adventurous nature of stories that isolated Punisher. This blog doesn't always adequately convey the multiple dimensions of my interests, or the potential of these characters, but a Punisher free to push the boundaries from concepts derived from he and his world is a good thing. Garth Ennis commands immediate association with the character for his unmistakable style that arguably led to the character's surgical removal from the Marvel U.

All of that said -- I'm glad Punisher's back in the thick of things again (again).

Perhaps because of the subconscious influence of the MK/MAX work - or the fact that Punisher is essentially a murderer fighting in a world of immortal intellectual property licenses - War Journal took the character into seperatist deviations once more. If anything has seperated this version of the title from that one, it's that the topical nature has been returned, all the while the story manages to be tailor made to fit. The first arc has thrown Frank Castle against opponents we knew he would never succeed against, but with this second story arc, the odds changed dramatically as Punisher fixes for a rumble with an army of resurrected D-list villains previously murdered by fellow gun-toter, Scourge of the Underworld.

This isn't the sex and drugs of the MAX comics, but casual fans of the character can rest assured that the compromises are kept to a minimum. The white boots and gloves might be there, but this isn't quite the pacified Punisher you might get carried away with imagining. The location of the Marvel Universe affects the character in ways that really feel like coming home for fans of the character's popular solo exploits in the eighties and nineties. It's a threat of violence with a twist of Marvel iconography that just wouldn't work in the MAX world.
Spending the issue in an Ant-Man helmet pretty much sums it up. It's referencial, a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but with all the zealous direction that makes the Punisher an uncompromising character. (Albeit, with mostly non-lethal results).

A lot of the credit has to go to the art team.
Jerome Opena gives his lines, which are presumably inked by him as well, a suitable roughness that differentiates it from what could be considered a Marvel superhero style. Granted, these days, a lot of the major books will carry rougher art styles and dark colour palettes, but Opena's work walks a line of the emotive competence of the MAX artists, with an accepting flair for Dan Brown's injections of the primary colours that come with fighting super-villains in Marvel comics.

Rick Remender succeeds far beyond his first issue, but I'd be expecting an improvement from the second arc. There's a sense of a common style persistent amongst comics written by certain Marvel writers that can sometimes feel a little lazy. It's competent, but has an air of expected praise for a consistency of tone, rather than the strength or depth of the content. There's a sense at times that Frank Castle has become a passenger in his own title because of this, but between writer and artist, this issue succeeds in dancing somewhere between a classic Marvel style, contemporary tone, and the musky indifference of writers like Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, some Brian Bendis, and a few others. Fans of those names have percentage odds of enjoying the book, but ten years from now, might find themselves looking back with a desire for more protein.

I don't want to be negative about the book, because it definitely turned out to be a pleasant bet on uncertainty. I really hope Remender can continue to grow even more comfortable in the book and capitalize on the rather delicious premise of the resurrected "mort" villains. It was certainly a delight to see the likes of the Brothers Grimm, Razor Fist, and the other villains, even if only in a conceptual cameo role. Fanboy delight aside, I think when these characters aren't so awful that they're redesigned in every appearance, they become the true custodians of the Marvel Universe, telling it's tale through their occasional visits in more involved chunks than anything Spider-man or Wolverine could ever hope for.
I really enjoy the obscure history these characters accumulate, which can be found in example by following some of the character tags on the site. Many, (like Mr. Hyde), haven't got a massive catalogue of examples on offer, but I think you'll note quite quickly how intriguing it is to observe these characters through their various contexts and appearances. In that respect, maybe it's not so bad Frank's killings are restricted to nameless goons and pizza enthusiasts.

NOTE: For more Punisher pizza antics, check out Deadpool: Suicide Kings #2!

The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 4.5

Punisher is released monthly by Marvel comics and begins a brand new storyline, "Dead End," with issue #6! For more information about releases check out the weekly shipping lists, or enquire at, your local comic store, or one of the many other comics sites online. If you've got a hankering for some more readings, check out the Gift Shoppe, where you'll find collected editions from most issues reviewed in the Secret Archives on sale via Amazon. By using purchase links on the site, you help punish overpriced retailers and sponsor future justice on the Infinite Wars!

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