Punisher Max #69

A comic review article by: Dan Hill

This issue picks up right where the last one left off: The psychologically disturbed Walter and Frank Castle finally face off with Walter beating Castle to a blood pulp in a hallucinatory rage. Writer Duane Swierczynski (I pride myself on the fact I no longer have to check if I’m spelling that name right) has heaped obstacle upon obstacle upon Castle during the course of this arc... and still Castle keeps on coming. The bloody beating is only stopped when the manipulative Deirdre calls a halt to the proceedings.

Temptation is offered to Castle in the form of flesh and the antidote to the poison currently in his system. Of course, Castle refuses, backing up the notion that he's more of an elemental force now, an instrument, rather than a human being. Not long after, Castle has found a way out of his predicament and escapes down a stairwell, mentioning that he paused along the way to vomit. This might go against the image of Castle as a force to be reckoned with, but we don't actually see him vomit. I might be reading too much into what is such a small moment in the overall narrative of this issue, but I thought it was a nice touch (be it by artist, writer or both) to not show it. With it there Castle is portrayed as being physically vulnerable but that it doesn't deter him from his "mission." This is further emphasized with a great close up on Castle at the end of one page. Michel Lacombe draws every cut, bruise, swelling on Castle's face as he prepares for another showdown.

There have been some really great characters in this arc so far, but the stand out to me is Walter. When writing this review, I gave some thought as to why the character has stuck in my mind more than the others have. He's almost a mirror image of Castle himself, albeit a cracked one. The MAX interpretation of Castle has the genesis of "The Punisher" in the jungles of Vietnam. That taste for killing, that urge to right wrongs, that elemental force took hold in Frank Castle there, got him through it even, though at a price. This too, is where Walter's transformation into the man he is today began. Where that urge to kill crept into Castle, it took hold of Walter too, though for very different reasons. What set Castle off was that fateful day in Central Park, and what set Walter off was his torture at the hands of the Vietcong. It could be argued that ever since Central Park, Frank Castle has been acting on impulses that had been festering since Vietnam. Walter, on the other hand, suppressed those impulses, letting them out occasionally in the face of impending violence. Walter is therefore a version of Castle that might have been; he is the other end of the scale, and this is why he is such a great character.

One thing I haven’t really spoken about in my reviews on this arc so far is the story's location. Those who know a little about Swierczynski and his work will know that he is a native of Philadelphia and that he has worked the city into his body of work quite a bit. His recent Werewolf by Night series (also under the MAX imprint) took place in the city as does this Punisher arc. Swierczynski seems to have an almost intimate knowledge of the city and utilizes real world locations within the story quite well. It adds another layer of realism to what is already a series soaking in it.

Swierczynski has found a good footing with the character of Frank Castle over the course of this arc. Taking a leaf from Ennis' run, he has also populated the story with a memorable cast of supporting characters. Lacombe's work in this issue is probably his best so far on this arc. Some people frown on the use of photo referencing for artwork, but it enables Lacombe to really capture the nuances in the characters expressions. Val Staples' coluring continues to impress, a contrast of violence tinged with neon reds and the shadows of a sleeping city.

Overall, the issue ratchets up the action and suspense nicely culminating in a classic Mexican standoff that looks set to explode (in the literal sense too) in the next issue.

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