Editor's Note: Punisher Max: Butterfly arrives in stores tomorrow, March 3.
Plot: When a hit woman begins to write a tell-all about her exploits, shooters come out of the woodworks to stop her from getting in the last word.
Comments: Punisher Max: Butterfly is a work that unavoidably brings to mind the personal/professional history of its writer, former editor and prominent blogger Valerie D'Orazio of the Occasional Superheroine. Over the last few years, D'Orazio has blogged extensively and candidly about her views on the current state of the comic industry as well as her own challenges as an editor at DC in a memoir called Goodbye to Comics. When D'Orazio, then, pens a fictional story about a woman being targeted while attempting to complete her own memoirs, it's hard to resist synthesizing the character and the creator when assessing the work.
Which is a shame, because it creates an unfair expectation of a story that has less to do with the writer's professional experiences and more to do with her commentary on the destructive nature of the cycle of abuse.
The one-shot tells the story of the titular Butterfly, a hit woman for various, shadowy clients. She decides to write a tell-all about her experiences, merely as an exercise in catharsis. Unfortunately, she approaches a publisher to help get her story in order and word gets back to her employers and a bloodbath ensues.
There are three elements of the story that draw the most attention for the reader. The first and most obvious element is that this is a Punisher story in name only, really. Outside of appearances in both the middle and final pages of the book, Frank Castle is largely absent, somewhat to the detriment of a story called Punisher Max: Butterfly. Indeed, but for those token references to Frank this could largely be considered a one-shot for an original character in need of some type of branding.
The second thing readers will notice is that Butterfly is a profoundly damaged individual as a result of years of sexual abuse (this point will lead to my last observation about that story, namely how the men are characterized). Violated by her father, Butterfly has become numb to human experience, lacking empathy or, as she claims, really any connection with human experience. This disconnect is actually the major failing of the work: the character's remove from humanity and human interactions makes for an at times dry and distant narrator. In the grim accounting of the events of her life, Butterfly loses some of the emotional impact of her often harrowing experiences.
The final element of note is the frequently dire and cruel characterization of men as they relate to Butterfly. Either users, abusers, or would-be killers, the men in Butterfly’s life create and reinforce her murderous existence. To a certain extent it works for the type of story D'Orazio is telling about the impact of abuse. But on a long enough timeline it becomes kind of outlandish, the level of harm heaped upon Butterfly – and again, D'Orazio loses (or rejects) an opportunity to gain sympathy for the story's lead.
The story itself is actually fairly thin – Butterfly never really gains any real insight about her experiences nor do we readers. D'Orazio fails to give us any compelling reason to follow Butterfly on her journey. This lack of insight is ultimately what dooms the story.
It is, at least, well-produced. The mood (aided substantially by the art of Laurence Campbell) is suitably dark and oppressive. The colors are, as is par for the course of stories of this type, brown, but that's what you get with Lee Loughridge. Still, stellar production values can't overcome the weaknesses of the story and its lead.
Final Word: A story that doesn't feel plugged in emotionally, Punisher Max: Butterfly fails to justify its existence.
If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of the author’s work at Monster In Your Veins
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