I’ve recently begun to read the Punisher: Max series (first two volumes so far) and this seems to me to be how mature superhero comics can be done well. I know that the Punisher isn’t really a superhero per se, but being a Marvel creation is enough. I mean he is the guy that thugs are freaked out by because he just shoots them in the face while Spider-man or Cpt. America might slug them in the jaw.
The level of realism is jacked up in the clothing style and, (not being a gun guy) I’m guessing weapon design. Although I’m pretty sure some of the facial damage is exaggerated for effect. Still, having the stories of a cold, unfeeling killing machine actually be interesting, tense and perhaps a bit heart breaking is no small feat.
At the core of the motivation for Frank is the death of his family that he couldn’t prevent and the atrocities from Viet Nam that he never recovered from. This felt a bit in the vein of First Blood more so than Rambo II (until they dropped him into Russia and he flew out of a military base on a nuclear missile). This feels mature like a great grindhouse movie. It’s simple, I get the motivation, and it’s just damn fun to look at. Then there’s the ridiculous amount of blood spilt and the various amputations and extremely villainous plot for revenge on one man.
Frank is the unmoveable object against the unstoppable force of crime and harm in New York. New people are always ready to fill in the gaps of the people he brings down and he’s ready to oppose them too. He’s fatalistic and accepts his role and eventual death. He continues his fight despite the hopelessness of his situation. He is a self aware man and it is that self awareness that allows him to win. He knows he can stand in one place and fire a gun until the bullets run out while someone else will duck and cover when attempting the same thing.
It’s his self awareness as an unmoving force and not his ruthlessness that allows him to be the Punisher. Only if he is fully aware and realizes his abilities can he be as unfeeling and ruthless as he is presented here. Sure the self awareness is brought to extremes but it was refreshing to read about a character that is completely accepting of his role and the place he created for himself rather than another old man riddled with self-doubt, wondering if they’re doing the right thing. Frank just knows that it won’t stop, he knows he won’t inspire the populace to behave and get along, that for every bullet he spends, he’ll need ten more. He just accepts that and gets on with it. No grandiose statements, no profound personal codes, just one man doing what he can to the best of his abilities.
And sometimes, those abilities mean he gets to take on the entire Russian army and fly away on a nuclear missile, which in case you didn’t know is completely rad.