Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Seven or so reasons why I'm nervous about Garth Ennis ever leaving Punisher: Double Edge: Alpha

Sigh. I can't find my Heckler comics, my old issues of Adam Warren's Dirty Pair are buried somewhere, and who knows what happened to that Marvel Knights run I was looking for. But Double Edge: Alpha #1? Right on top of a pile. OK, fine...

Larry Hama has written some pretty good Punisher stories. This was not one of them. At least, I had thought he had, going back over this, I'm not so sure. For good measure, Double Edge was right after years of over-exposure for the Punisher; and this was Marvel's idea of 'fixing' the character. By killing Nick Fury, then having Frank Castle become head of a crime family. I think John Ostrander wrote that series, but I have to believe that premise wasn't his idea.

Quick recap: finally captured by Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., the Punisher is still being hunted by psycho-mob princess Rosalie Carbone, subjected to psychoanalysis by the old Hulk supporting character Doc Samson, and finally brainwashed by a never-seen-before government spook...named Spook. Take a deep breath, let all that settle, and let's go:

1. Even if the Punisher had been wacking mob bosses at the rate of about 3.2 a month since the 70's; Classy.I still kinda have to doubt Rosalie Carbone could become the head of the organization. Not because she's insane, or because she's a woman, or even if she seems to be more interested in killing Frank for sleeping with her and not calling than revenge over her dead family. No, it's just that if your boss dresses like that and yells all day in a voice that has to sound like a super-pissed Fran Drescher; well, working for the Kingpin has to sound like a better deal. Heck, working for the Owl probably starts to look pretty good.

2. Doc Samson is a supporting character I've liked in other books, but here he's a bit of a tool. Now that I think about that, Peter David wrote him pretty well in Incredible Hulk and that one issue of X-Factor, and while he was more likable there, has Samson ever been an effective psychiatrist? All of X-Factor's still messed up, and all his work on the Hulk was more-or-less a band-aid. Samson is usually trotted out when the plot calls for a recognizable face to drop some psychobabble; so he's often used merely to shovel some exposition. (Most of Nick Fury's appearances probably fall under that description as well...)
Pink hearts, blue moons, yellow stars, green clovers...
His default characterization seems to be that he sincerely wants to help, but is a bit pompous and/or useless. Err, now I don't think I could write Doc Samson if they paid me, because all I can picture now is Frazier Crane with super-strength. (I checked out Polite Dissent for Doc Samson info, since I wasn't sure he was an actual doctor.)

3. The Spook manages to convince Frank that Nick Fury was one of the shooters when his family was killed in Central Park. How? Drugs and um, Photoshop. And my vision just went all red, since my suspension of disbelief just hemmorrhaged.
Frank is chock full of drugs at this point, something I won't discourage if you're reading this issue.
Spook interrupts Doc Samson's regression therapy session, showing Frank a doctored photo behind his back, and dropping none-too-subtle keywords to put the idea in his head. (Like Krusty the Clown's "If my banker is watching, let nothing STOP you from PAYMENT of this check!") Which makes him a more effective therapist than Samson.

Why the Spook wants Fury dead isn't made clear this issue, and I'm not sure it ever was. Also, he's a pisspoor retroactive villain: Fury and Castle both recognize Spook as a scumbag they've crossed paths with before, but this is his first appearance.

4. Nick Fury had previously been portrayed as an ally of the Punisher: not officially sanctioning his activities, but not going out of his way to bring him in either. This time, he's a lot more down on Frank. Which is what Marvel had to do with the Punisher after this one:  bury him  for a few years, until all this blew over.
Ah, remember when Nick Fury could smoke...indoors, in a comic? Strangely, I think Chaykin had been trying to get Fury off the smokes in his recent limited series: By the time Double Edge came out, Nick's last series had been gone for a couple of years, and even the Howard Chaykin scripted Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. had disappeared without a trace. (It came out in April 1995 for four issues, Double Edge lists as August 1995, the month after Fury would've ended.) I have to wonder if maybe Marvel wasn't washing their hands of Nick and writing him off for good: the one-eyed superspy was already a cliche, and had anyone done a honestly good Nick Fury story since Jim Steranko?

Either due to fan outcry, or possibly the Hasselhoff movie; Fury would return in Fury/Agent 13 in 1998, which was, despite having Mike Zeck covers (I think. GCD wasn't sure), terrible. There's some virtual reality WWII nonsense, but Fury's 'resurrection' boils down to, "Oh, it was a Life Model Decoy that was killed. Even though we promised it really, really wasn't."

Years later, Garth Ennis would have Nick use Frank as an asset again, in the Mother Russia storyarc; in which no one mentions that time Frank killed Nick. Neither should you.

5. Recently, this interview at Comic Book Resources with Punisher War Journal writer Matt Fraction reminded me of Double Edge. It mentioned a recent story where the Punisher was forced by the Hate Monger to kill an innocent woman. That would be at least the third time, in continuity, that the Punisher's been mind-controlled into killing an innocent. Granted, other more super-heroic characters get mind-controlled all the time, but their method of operation usually doesn't involve shooting people in the face.
Do they sell Jack Daniels with a skull-and-crossbones label?  That's kind of cool.
6. After the Carbone assassins drop a bunker-penetrating bomb (!) on the S.H.I.E.L.D. safehouse, Frank escapes but thanks to the brainwashing and drugs he thinks it's only moments after his family's death. In a shoeless rage, Frank guns down the assassins, then gets a ride with a drunk guy. A drunk guy who happens to be wearing a Punisher-skull t-shirt, and gets shot in the face for his trouble. It's dramatic shorthand that intends to say, "The Punisher's crazy and out of control!" but more loudly says "We're running out of pages, and the Punisher has to escape and get his shirt, and this guy's kind of skeezy, so..."

7. That Double Edge cover is everything that's wrong with 90's comics, as a drooling Punisher brandishes...an unidentifiable metal thing. But, the comic is durable and seems to have held up to me throwing it around, setting my coffee on it, etc.

Never leave, Garth. Please.


The Fortress Keeper said...

Maybe they could get Mike Baron to come back ...

SallyP said...

Ah, nothing like 90's comics artwork. Almost as terrifying as fashion in the 70's. It's as though we all collectively lost our minds.