Writer/Artist: David Lapham
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Publisher: Marvel Comics
David Lapham’s DD/Punisher title started off with a strong first issue, but seemed to lose its way in the following few installments, threatening to collapse under the weight of its many villain characters and never taking the time to really examine the central relationship in as much depth as it demands. Happily, this month sees something of a return to form for the miniseries, and it’s largely due to the simplicity and efficient nature of the tale that’s being told in this issue.
The issue begins with the aftermath of last month’s cliffhanger, where Frank Castle inadvertently injured an innocent man during a throwdown with Daredevil, at the same time as the Bastelli family’s home was hit by two gangsters. As the police recover bodies from the Bastelli household (including the still-living daughter, brutalised in the bedroom by the villains in an attack which is never shown but still keenly felt through Lapham’s well-judged words and upsetting visuals), a powerful page shows Daredevil’s relentless trudge across town to save the life of the Punisher’s accidental victim. The shot of DD arriving at the hospital with the injured man brings a similar scene from the character’s classic “Born Again” story to mind, and subsequent panels seem to draw inspiration from the visuals of Frank-Miller-era DD (which also included significant Punisher/DD confrontations). It underlines Lapham’s classic take on the character, and reinforces the timeless nature of the conflict between the two men which springs out of their very different approaches to crime fighting.
If anything, the series seems to be more sympathetic towards Matt Murdock’s constant frustration at Frank Castle’s “zero tolerance” approach, which more often than not only seems to leave more mess for Daredevil to clear up. And whilst Daredevil continues to be proactive in helping the police and attempting to protect the remnants of the Bastelli family with their aid, the parallel scene shows a sorry-looking Frank Castle bemoan his accidental victim only to take it upon himself to sneak into the hospital where Mary Bastelli is being treated in a lame attempt to save her on his own. Lapham seems to be exploring the Punisher’s self-loathing nature (as well as the requisite self-obsession that goes along with it) here, and his constant flashbacks to his wife’s murder not only assert his guilty pledge to put an end to crime, but also enforce the personal nature of his crusade. However, there’s an implication that Frank’s single-minded war on crime has in fact led to a very narrow and selfish worldview when compared to Matt Murdock’s "bigger picture" approach to justice, and it’s an implication which paints the Punisher in a fairly negative light. It’s not by accident that the Punisher’s story is narrated in the first person whereas Daredevil’s tale is told in the third, and it again underlines the solitary and overly introspective mindset that Lapham seems intent on proving is the Punisher’s fatal flaw.
A final exciting sequence shows the Punisher absconding from the hospital with Mary’s brother at the same time as Matt Murdock attempts to track him down to deal with things in his own way, yet again bringing the two heroes into conflict. Again, Lapham shows up the chinks in Punisher’s armour as his lack of self-discipline puts him in dangerous situations, and again it’s up to Daredevil to save his life. With two such strong personalities in conflict, it seems as though Lapham is building up to an exciting finale which pushes their relationship to the limit, and that final page holds a lot of promise for the concluding issue. I’ve been down on this series for being overly complicated and a little too cartoony-looking over past issues, but this installment proves that Lapham is up to the task of shedding the excess detail, rendering grim and gritty visuals when the material demands it, and crafting a lean, accessible story about the legitimate conflict which is thrown up by the very different ideologies of these two heroes. A surprisingly enjoyable read.
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