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.

But I mean, that must really suck, because you go to Vietnam, you do all this stuff, for some reason you still believe in America enough to be in the military —

BB: So much of the American workforce is military.

MoN: You go through all that, and then there’s Rawlins. You go through all that because of people like Rawlins. That’s always been happening. It’s basically saying, “You got screwed from the beginning, before you were even in Vietnam.”

BB: Yeah. So what I was saying about Born — certainly in some of the Marvel Knights comics, there’s some fantastical elements in there; Spider-Man appears, and there’s that ridiculous character, the Russian. Whereas the MAX stuff is very grounded and realistic. But with Born, there is this implication that he has made a deal with, fundamentally, Death, with something very dark, and that is ultimately, really, the exchange that takes his family. I think this does kind of tie into the original Marvel Knights relaunch, because the Punisher was one of the biggest characters of the 90s. My memory of the 90s is Cable, and Lobo, and Wolverine, and the Punisher. And there was a lot of fucking guns. It was a sweet as hell decade in comics. But they ran it into the ground with — he was killed off in a sort of crossover in a preemptive imprint called Marvel Edge, which also featured Morrison and Millar’s Skrull Kill Krew. Then they had a 4-issue miniseries where they had to bring Frank Castle back from the dead.

MoN: Is this the one where he’s an angel? I hope somebody’s embarrassed about that.

BB: Yeah, there’s a little bit of continuity at the end of Ennis’ first Marvel Knights issue: “I caught a glimpse of heaven once. The angels showed me. The idea was I’d kill for them. Clean up their mistakes on Earth. Eventually redeem myself. Tried it. Didn’t like it. Told ‘em where to stick it.” This is narrated as a man has been thrown from a very high watertower.

MoN: It’s a very high watertower, so there’s a lot of time for him to do the narration.

BB: So Ennis does accede to some Punisher continuity just a little bit there, and at the end of Born — you can read it literally or read it metaphorically, but either way…

MoN: With MAX, I think part of the reason it’s so grounded is that Marvel probably wouldn’t let Ennis use most Marvel superheroes.

BB: I don’t think he wants to anyway. He just wants to use Nick Fury.

MoN: Well, no, but I can’t imagine — here’s the human traffickers, here’s Frank Castle stringing some dude’s intestines around a tree, and everyone’s saying “fuck” —

BB: And here’s the Rhino or whatever.

MoN: And occasionally, because the Mafia is racist, people are dropping N-bombs if they have to deal with a black person ever. You don’t want Spider-Man to show up in the middle of that like, “Hey, guys!”

BB: They certainly won’t allow Spider-Man to do that.

MoN: Or to be saying, “Aw, fuck!”

BB: The interesting thing about Nick Fury — well, I don’t know if it’s that interesting, but in the 1990s Punisher was sufficiently popular that he had his own side-scrolling shoot-’em-up video game, and the Player 2 character was Nick Fury.

MoN: Being a girl and also being pretty young during a lot of the 90s, this all passed me by, and I feel like that’s not fair.

BB: It’s sad. I’m crying for your loss.

MoN: See, I remember the decade of Wolverine and Cable, and to a lesser extent Lobo, but the Punisher stuff just kind of never made an impression on me.

BB: I mean, basically the most Marvel team of all time was Hearts of Darkness — they didn’t call themselves Hearts of Darkness, although maybe they did, I didn’t read it — which was Wolverine, Ghost Rider, and the Punisher. And was there one other person? I almost feel like Cable could have been in there, but Cable and Bishop were kind of like offcut Punishers. So that’s where the superhero decadence narrative had led to at that point.

MoN: I hope they did call themselves Hearts of Darkness, and that they wore matching jackets.

BB: It was, essentially, those three characters. And much like with Wolverine, although they have killed Wolverine now, they just ran it into the ground. They were on to a good thing, and then the Punisher was in everything. Cable was in everything. Ghost Rider has never really recovered from the 90s. But how sweet is that John Romita art?


Parkour for no reason
The Fascist Avengers
The Miller-Ellroy-Castle trifecta

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