Thursday, January 24, 2013


Evil is all there is. Evil and the extirpation of evil. Personal injury and an unending feeling of loss propel you. This is the world of Marvel Comics' Frank Castle, The Punisher. He is an archetypal American hero. The lone killer. The outsider. The perfect nihilist. John Wayne's Ethan Edwards in The Searchers.

Last year at this time, the work week following the MLK holiday, we enjoyed the unusual bounty of four days of snow closures at the local. I celebrated this windfall by reading the entire run of PunisherMAX. Written by Jason Aaron with art by Steve Dillon and colors by Matt Hollingsworth, I want to call it a masterpiece.

The Punisher doesn't have super-strength or a healing factor; he's not a mutant or a mystic. Frank Castle is an ex-soldier whose family was gunned by the mob. He is a vigilante and a killer; he brings to mind D.H. Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature and the ruminations found there on Deerslayer of the Leatherstocking Tales:
But you have there the myth of the essential white America. All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.
The Punisher's credo is when in doubt subject yourself to more pain. So during the week of heavy snow, despite feeling over-trained and suffering a sore throat, I went out running  four miles in the abandoned, silent, white streets each day except for one.

What really affected me about PunisherMAX is Frank Castle's return to the house he lived in with his family prior to the slaughter of his wife and children; he uses it as a base of operations for his war against the Kingpin. Similarly I find myself forever returning in dream to the apartment in Berkeley I shared with my ex-wife; it's always abandoned and blighted -- sick -- like Frank Castle's old suburban home. Why am I always going back there? Over the years it has become such a familiar pattern that when I find myself there I know I am inhabiting a dream. Is it in The Future of an Illusion that Freud says to be an adult is to be at home with loss?

Frank Castle is a guy without specials powers; a guy without an ounce of levity in his soul; someone who is always injured and exhausted and suffering. Then it dawned on me as I finished the last few issues in the series that what PunisherMAX is about is work. Going to work. Everyday. We got to do it. It's a nasty business that requires a lot of painful compromises. But we got to do it.

Below are three scans from PunisherMAX. The first two are facing pages from PunisherMAX #21. The third is from the last issue in the series, PunisherMAX #22. I selected pages that caught the haunted vibe of his occupation of his old, abandoned house.

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