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Review of PUNISHER #1

The Punisher's back and he's killing me!

This comic is a throwback to a previous decade, if not a previous century. With little plot or character development, it's an orgy of gore and violence. Frank Castle saunters through the comic dealing what he deals best: death.

The only "advance" over previous versions of the Punisher is that now his killing is explicit. There's no question of Castle's using rubber bullets or other nonlethal means anymore. The head twisted 180 degrees, the shoulder bursting with ruptured veins, the drug dealer plummeting off the skyscraper make this perfectly clear.

Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon have failed to bring the charm and sophistication they've shown in PREACHER to this comic. Which isn't surprising considering Ennis's essay in the back of the book. The so-called writer is going for what he calls "entertainment," which apparently means a bigger body count than any other comic.

Ennis compares his take on the Punisher to "The Itchy and Scratchy Show," among others. Unfortunately for Ennis, this analogy has several flaws:

1) Itchy and Scratchy are exaggerated cartoon animals who do things humans can't. Viewers would be hard-pressed to copy them even if they wanted to. In contrast, Frank Castle's actions are eminently human and well within the realm of emulation.

2) The Itchy and Scratchy segments appear on The Simpsons only a few seconds at a time. In contrast, Ennis is presenting us with a sustained immersion in Frank Castle's monomania. A child may read this comic repeatedly or pass it on to friends.

3) Most fatally, "Itchy and Scratchy" is a satire on earlier violent cartoons, especially "Tom and Jerry." We're supposed to laugh at the violence, not with it. And we're supposed to laugh at Bart and Lisa for being engrossed in the mindless mayhem.

Bart's approach to life is suffused with Itchy and Scratchy principles, and he usually suffers for them. Itchy and Scratchy aren't role models to emulate, they're fright figures to avoid. On The Simpsons it's ironic that kids love "Itchy and Scratchy" when it has no redeeming value.

What's PUNISHER's excuse? Are we supposed to read #1 as a satirical or ironic take on America's cult of violence? If so, it isn't obvious. Everything about the story screams that it's, you'll pardon the pun, dead serious.

Does Ennis really think there's such a thing as pure entertainment? If so, he might want to bone up on reality. Here's what David Grossman, co-author of Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: a Call to Action Against TV, Movie and Video Game Violence, wrote in the LA Times, 10/21/99:

...[A] review of almost 1,000 studies, presented to the American College of Forensic Psychiatry in 1998, found that all but 18 demonstrated that screen violence leads to real violence, and 12 of those 18 were funded by the television industry. In 1992, the American Psychological Assn. concluded that 40 years of research on the link between TV violence and real-life violence has been ignored, stating that the "scientific debate is over" and calling for federal policy to protect society.

Ooops. So much for the pure entertainment model. Looks like it's evidence and awareness 1, Ennis and the Punisher 0.

To Ennis and those who want to ignore the weight of psychological studies, I can only say, "Get a clue." Do you deny that people are influenced by parents, peers, school, and church? Do you seriously claim people don't absorb and regurgitate what they see and hear in songs, in videos, and on TV? Not to mention in every known form of advertising from Calvin Klein billboards to Pokémon cartoons? How is it possible that violence, alone among external influences, has no effect on people?

When Ennis can answer these questions, he can do a PUNISHER comic as pure entertainment. Until then, he's contributing to the decline and fall of American society. While profiting from it. Any other claim is intellectual sophistry.

PUNISHER #1 is an early contender for most worthless comic of the decade. Its only redeeming value is that, once again, I can point to the Punisher as the epitome of everything wrong with comics, the media, and America. Thanks for that much, Garth. It's a big burden, but I trust you and Frank can shoulder it.

Just what the world needs: more mass murder as entertainment. Columbine kid killers and the like will rejoice, because this comic is prime source material for them. My generous grade: D-.


More thoughts on PUNISHER
I also skimmed PUNISHER #2. Frank shoots someone 30 times. Frank pushes someone into the path of a subway. Frank forces someone to jump out of a car into traffic. Same ol' Frank? Gee, I could've sworn he was a soldier, not an assassin. Considering all the Punisher stories I've read, I wonder how I missed all the times he killed defenseless criminals in cold blood, executioner-style.

This is violence for the sake of glorifying violence, nothing else. As anyone could tell after reading #1.

My thoughts on PUNISHER #3

Related links
Another PUNISHER reviewer who understands what good writing is
The evidence against media violence
Violence in America
America's cultural mindset

Readers respond
In his essay in PUNISHER #1, Ennis called the people who disagree with him "morons." Many readers of this review thought I, or anybody who doesn't love violence, must indeed be a moron. Here are some excerpts from their responses, along with my replies:

"The Punisher is a serial killer...end of story."
"I really wish you...would bother to read the stories to the end before reviewing them."
"Raw rap and film may stir a fuss, but hist'ry shows 'twas ever thus."
"Japanese (and Asian) popular culture is MUCH more violent and sexual than here in America...."
"Even Howard Stern would have totally approved."
The "responsibility lies with the parents of this nation."
"I think you're taking this too seriously."
Are "Justin" and "John" typical Punisher fans?
"I give your interview a F, along with your taste in comics."
Is Ennis's PUNISHER contributing to society's downfall?
Are Grossman's conclusions based on his own testimony?
"The most moronic, off-topic, pompous view point...I've seen."
"You're not addressing the real problem: parental apathy."
"Columbine...Punisher...I don't see the connection."
"To think trees had to die in the printing of this piece of crap."
"Thoughtful stuff. Made me re-think my own postion on violence."
Columnist denounces whiners who won't take responsibility.
Comic-O-Matic uses review but disagrees with it completely.
Are PUNISHER buyers "fools" who wasted their money?

Hey, violence fans...here's one of your own. A brother-in-arms, so to speak. A true Punisher disciple.
I think his posting speaks for itself.  (WARNING!  This page contains adult language.)

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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