Botswana Beast: So the central arc of Punisher MAX, which I think really begins in Mother Russia and ends in Valley Forge, Valley Forge, is all based on this plan, post-9/11, causing terror in order to provoke more foreign interventionism. It’s something to do with the Soviets — well, the Russians, not the Soviets, because it’s not 1989 –

Maid of Nails: But it is framed very much as “the Soviets,” because, you know, General Zakharov from Man of Stone is old-school.

BB: He’s a great character, but he also does horrible things like throwing a baby off a cliff.

MoN: Yeah, he herds a bunch of people off of a cliff and this one woman who’s about to go over gives him her baby to try and save it. And he lifts up the baby like it’s The Lion King or something, and then he throws the baby over the cliff.

BB: That’s literally one of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen, certainly in a Marvel comic.

MoN: So it’s okay that the Punisher’s trying to kill him.

BB: I can’t actually remember the intricacies of this general’s plan, but it’s to provoke war. And of course these are not real soldiers like Frank Castle, like the other respectable Special Forces –

MoN: Or the SAS.

BB: Ennis has a fucking erection for Special Forces guys. In the story they’re just pen-pushing dirty motherfuckers that never saw a day’s combat in their lives. It’s just an ant farm; it’s a game to them, and they’re total shitlords. And they get killed as well.

MoN: That’s very satisfying, though, because they’re not cool like the SAS or Frank Castle.

BB: He doesn’t actually kill the SAS guys, does he?

MoN: No, because they’re too cool.

BB: Well, they’re not SAS guys in this story. They’re American Special Forces.

MoN: But Yorkie’s in there. He’s SAS. Anyway, Rawlins is the guy who’s going around stirring up shit on behalf of the American government, and he’s just the worst person in the entire world.

BB: He is a gigantic piece of shit.

MoN: If someone has completely no feeling for fellow human beings at all, then I can see how they might end up in something like human trafficking. But Rawlins — he has passions, at least, so it’s even worse. O’Brien, you know, the one who wants to bang the Punisher, is his ex-wife. There was some kind of attraction there. Then there’s the thing with Nicky Cavella, when Rawlins comes in to see him like, “Heyyyy, remember me?” and then goes down on him.

I really hate torture scenes, but when he got his, I was like, “YEAH! Fuck you, Rawlins! I hope they take your OTHER eye out!” This comic kind of makes you want horrible things to happen to people.

There’s a bit where he pays off a bunch of Middle Eastern guys to fly a plane into something and make a giant deal out of it –

BB: And the CIA do do things like that. He makes a fake jihadi cell, because that’s his job and there’s essentially profit in war. Frank Castle ultimately gets to the top of the fuckin’ tree and kills these bitches with the help of Good Soldiers, as opposed to the bad soldiers.

MoN: The bad soldiers, who are bureaucrats.

BB: Middle-class soldiers.

MoN: Rawlins is a really good contrast to the Punisher, though.

BB: A lot of characters are set up that way. Like the Russian general, Zakharov. They are all sort of counterpoints: men who have broken in different ways — well, broken to the civilized eye.

MoN: See, “civilized” — people like Rawlins are the ones who make civilization, and the implication is that it’s kind of always been like that. But Frank didn’t know that when he was in Vietnam, although he probably learned while he was there how bad it could get.

BB: I think there’s certainly an issue with his origin, that this bureaucracy isolates his encampment, which would be overrun but for –

MoN: His awesomeness?

BB: Essentially, although it does kind of delve into this slightly fantastical thing where he makes a deal with Death. Which is his totem, after all, with the skull.

MoN: How many of those shirts does he have, do you think? Is it like how cartoon characters have an entire closet filled with just the same outfit?

BB: 40 or 50, anyway. He’s got the T-shirt versions, he’s got the versions where you suspect there may be clubs held in the skull’s teeth.

MoN: That seems like it would make it really hard to bend over, because they’re right up against his stomach. They’d be in the way. It’s one of the few things that is slightly unrealistic about the Punisher.

Maid of Nails: Before we get into the Punisher, I think we should let people know how XTREME his fans are.

Botswana Beast: Should I read the letter?

[To paraphrase Keats: beauty is truth, truth beauty, and this letter is both]

MoN: So that is what we’re dealing with.

BB: It doesn’t ever mention race, that letter, but it’s fairly indicative of what a lot of early Punisher comics were, which is shooting “street toughs” of undetermined race –

MoN: Were any of these “street toughs” ever named Tyrone or Leroy?

BB: They may have been. Or Hector. So yeah, the Punisher’s origins are as a Spider-Man villain-cum-antihero who is hired by — possibly the Chameleon, I can’t remember, to take out Spider-Man under some false pretext. I think that was 1973, and his debut series was actually a decade later. At that point he became a leading character, shooting largely mafiosi and, as I say, street toughs (that’s not entirely fair characterization; Mike Baron’s a good writer — well, he’s written some exciting action comics), until 1999/2000, when Garth Ennis, the infamous Irishman, took over and really redefined the character.

MoN: A lot more mafia and organized crime, and a lot fewer street toughs.

BB: He does still shoot quite a lot of black people, but –

MoN: There’s a lot fewer story arcs devoted to him shooting black people. Except for Barracuda and John James Toomey (RIP), who gets shot in a setup that the Punisher coerces one of Toomey’s crew into. And then the guy from his crew is yelling at John James Toomey like, “Who’s gonna get your fuckin’ fried chicken now?” DUDE. A lot of people like fried chicken, but I find it odd that Garth Ennis went there.

BB: What really came to define him — and I think they are among the best, if not the best comics ever published, then certainly the best researched — is the adult imprint stuff from Marvel MAX.

MoN: Stuff with more war.

BB: Another favourite topic of Garth Ennis. Anyway, it began in 2003 with the prelude miniseries Born.

MoN: Let’s tell the readers: what is Born about?

BB: It’s about the Vietnam War, of course — because that is the sort of defining thing about Frank Castle, although it’s kind of difficult now; I don’t think Marvel can really sell a character who fought in the Vietnam War, because he would be 65 or something. So Garth Ennis does enjoy a war story, and Frank Castle, prior to any of this, was a guest star in issue #7 of Marvel’s The ‘Nam comic, where he appears as a young man. And it sort of nicely counterpoints him against Captain America because you have someone who fought in a good war and was treated extremely well on returning, and then you have someone who returned from an unjust, shitty piece of American interventionism.

MoN: I’m curious to see how they’re going to handle this, because with Vietnam, it quite quickly started to occupy this symbolic space in the popular American imagination. It was, yes, American interventionism biting America in the ass — you know, you have all these movies about people going to Vietnam: manly men sticking together but, surprise, everything is terrible and everyone is cynical.

BB: And loads of the guys are strung out on dope.

SILENCE! podcast #2

February 15th, 2012

In the second scintillating episode, The Beast broadcasts live from Alan Moore’s beard, while Lactus continues his lonely (yet chatty) vigil orbiting above the South Coast of England in his galactic treehouse… Topics include the many Jason Aaron’s (or at least the ones who write Wolverine and The X-Men and PunisherMaxExtremeZero), Prophet (in which Lactus does a very horrid alien vagina impression) Casey & Fox’s lurid Haunt, superhero comics ‘ending’, Adventure Time, and the possibility of forcing children to review comics. And it all gets very romantic at the end, in this pulse-pounding Valentines episode…

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