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Punisher. Daredevil. Black and White. Rashomon. Jesse “The Body” Ventura? – The Punisher Magazine #8

April 2, 2012

Let’s consider this cover for a moment. Before we’ve paused to ponder, ruminate over and generally admire lovingly crafted and mantel-worthy paintings such as “Apes in Coonskin Caps” and “Conan with Gun.” Granted, this Punisher painting by Joe Jusko lacks a strange juxtaposition to weigh in its favor. But… I think the sheer absurdity of Frank Castle dangling out of a wildly out of control bullet-riddled helicopter as another bullet tears through his pectoral as he looks for someone to stab with his blood-dipped push knife as a gut shot dude plummets to a watery grave as cash flies all around them (pant pant) IS PRETTY DAMN GOOD. All that’s lacking is a squealing baby tucked under Mr. Castle’s arm, and it would get an A+.

Hell, I’d give it credit just for all those little buildings in the background cityscape and the nicely detailed — though not up to legal tender levels — cash. Jusko has greater patience than most of us.

Yeah. It’s pretty great.

It’s almost enough to overcome the disappointment of The Punisher Magazine not being a gritty version of such glossy publications as GQ and Elle. It’s straight-forward Punisher storytelling, and you aren’t going to find any features like “Hot Spandex Skull Fashions for the Spring,” “Is Your Micro Falling out of Love with You?” or “Ways to Turn Your Family’s Murder into a Positive (And Unlock the New You)” inside. OUR LOSS.

Still, the black and white reprints within (there’s some Jim Lee action as well, as the Punisher gives a tutorial on how he cracks bones and snaps backs) are surprisingly entertaining. “Surprisingly” because I can’t possibly care less about the Punisher (as detailed before). But, in the ultimate compliment I can give this mag, my loathing went down a tick while reading it — more on that in a moment. The two main stories in this magazine are from the regular Punisher and Daredevil series — issues #10 and #257, respectively. They tell the same story from their two different worldviews in a half-hearted, but still good, comic book take on Rashomon. Actually, there are three perspectives. The Punisher half centers mainly on his thirst for lethal retribution, while the Daredevil side focuses on both the Man Without Fear’s quest for justice and the criminal motivations of the muscled up idiot (Alfred Coppersmith) caught between the two heroes.

We begin with the Punisher chapter, “The Creep,” written by Mike Baron with art from Whilce Portacio and Scott Williams.

What’s all the fuss about? Alfred’s a weightlifter guy who looks a lot like Jesse Ventura ca. 1986, complete with a balding mullet, and he’s been poisoning medicinal supplies like aspirin and reveling in the resultant chaos from his crappy apartment. Here’s a three-panel sequence that sums up their personalities well:

So the Punisher starts hunting this sumbitch down, a search that occupies much of his half of the story. What does he do when he finds him? It’s a big surprise, actually. Inspired by Daredevil’s even-tempered words on the boob tube, he has a polite, soft-spoken sit-down with the poor lost soul that’s been harming all those innocent people.

BELATED APRIL FOOLS. There’s no jibber-jabber. The Punisher went to the Mr. T school of problem solving, which means he likes to kick guys in the face — HARD:

The bigger they are, the faster their teeth fly out.

Daredevil, also on Alfred’s trail, shows up just in the nick of time, right before the Punisher’s about to defenestrate the big guy and his all-show muscles. MORE FLYING FEET OF FURY:

Daredevil’s arrival has put the Punisher in an awkward spot. He can’t kill the poisoner without going through Daredevil (i.e. killing him), so he “lets” Hornhead win. And Daredevil gives him one to grow on:

Now we move over to the Daredevil half — “The Bully,” written by Ann Nocenti, with art from John Romita, Jr. and Al Williamson. Here’s our Ventura proxy multitasking by 1) filling us in on his motivations, 2) getting some military presses in, and 3) airing out his hairy armpits:

His computer skills were lacking, and he got fired because of it. So a little vocational training and this guy wouldn’t have cyanided unsuspecting citizens? THIS IS THE BEST AD THE DEVRY INSTITUTE HAS EVER HAD.

We follow Daredevil’s sleuthing (he’s more above-board than the Punisher), as he tracks the medicines to a factory, gets the lowdown on a disgruntled employee, and goes to said disgruntled employee’s residence. Our stories converge as he comes upon the Punisher holding the guy aloft about to splat him David Letterman-style on a NYC sidewalk. This time around we see their fight from the eyes of the criminal, complete with his dumb narration. Romita the Younger was made to draw stuff like this in black and white, no?:

Visceral, baby. Love the simple Daredevil shadow inks on the top pages-spanning panel.

We know how that fight ends, and Daredevil does indeed bring the creep to justice. And hey, he happens to know a really good lawyer:

I remember one Christmas dinner back in my law school days when an aunt challenged me on how a lawyer could represent someone accused of a heinous crime, someone whom the lawyer knows is guilty (I think a guy who admits poisoning medicine with cyanide qualifies). I gave the stock long-winded, high-minded answer about “innocent until proven guilty,” how keeping the government prosecutors on their toes by making them prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt keeps the justice system as a whole strong and fair, how the American legal system would rather a guilty man go free than an innocent man go to jail, blah blah blah etc. I confess that at no point do I recall the magic word “rehabilitation” worming its way into my long-winded answer. I probably just wanted to get back to the stuffing and cranberry sauce.

I don’t know if Matt Murdock’s do-goodery and his dabbling his social work makes him a better man than me. I think that it might.

Anyway, the reason this thing overcomes my usual Puno-phobia is the black and white reproduction — a reprint format that I usually rail against, so maybe there’s a double amelioration taking place. The lack of color works extraordinarily well with the Punisher character. It suits him (no pun intended — and no pun intended on the “pun” either). His stark black and white take on crime and life in general goes well with the Oreo shades. And, all respect to Portacio, but it’s Romita Jr.’s half of the magazine that really takes off. That two-page spread above is a fine example of the quality on display that’s only enhanced by the black and white and the enlarged size. His gritty work with Daredevil, with its forays into slums and the Kingpin’s underworld, was worthy of the Frank Miller era, and his style gives a voice to the Punisher that he so often lacks. [Edit: A commenter pointed out that I should have mentioned Williamson’s inks here. 100% correct. I meant to, but forgot. Williamson’s inks are big and bold and great. There.]

And there’s the North Star that is that cover. Suitable for framing, people. Suitable for framing.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 2, 2012 11:45 pm

    That cover is amazing. I like to think of myself as an artist – and then I see covers like that and I’m suddenly not so sure.

  2. April 3, 2012 9:49 am

    HAHA! Glad you like the cover! It was a lot of fun coming up with absurd situations to put poor Frank in every month! 😉 Definitely the patience of a young man as I’d never be crazy enough to paint all those bills today. The ambition of youth is a wonderful thing! 😉

    • April 4, 2012 8:53 pm

      Hey, thanks for stopping by.

      That’s such a great cover, I’d offer to buy the original off you, but I’m assuming it’s hanging in the Louvre or at the National Gallery of Art or something.

  3. April 3, 2012 10:16 am

    Let’s not forget that although Romita Jr.’s work is impressive, it is the inking of the late, great Al Williamson that makes looking at this black-and-white work the treat it is!

    • April 4, 2012 8:47 pm

      You’re right, and I meant to mention that when I was writing the post. I’ve gone back and rectified things.

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